Friday, April 15, 2022

Universal Standard Belay - Toprope

Belaying is the baseline for everything that we do at the crags and in the mountains. The American Alpine Club, the Climbing Wall Association and the American Mountain Guides Association have been working hard over the last few years to try to develop a universal standard for belays in the United States.

Recently, the American Alpine Club produced a video that shows several belay variations. They demonstrate two versions of the PBUS (Pull. Brake. Under. Slide), one version of the two handed technique (a terrible and uncomfortable technique) and the shuffle technique (something that beginners should never do).

The universal part of the universal standard is that all belays should follow three baseline rules:
  1. The brake-hand should never leave the rope.
  2. Hands should only slide when the rope is in the braking position.
  3. Hands should be in a position of strength.
The video goes quickly through the belay commands. Unfortunately, the commands shown do use the word "take," which is a single syllable word and can be confused with slack, rock, or safe. At AAI, we prefer the term, "tension."

The video demonstrates a quick safety check, allows the two models to perform some of the worst line readings of "on belay" and "belay on" in history, and then launches into the belay technique for toprope climbers.

Check out the video below:

I am definitely not a fan of the shuffle technique. It is an acceptable technique, but I don't think it's appropriate for people learning to belay. If you are someone who has the opportunity to teach belaying, I would cut this from any training for beginners.

It's good to see that the AAC is putting these videos together. There are far too many people out there still using archaic belay techniques...and as a result, there are still too many accidents from inadequate belays.

--Jason D. Martin

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