Friday, June 3, 2022

Quick Belay Techniques

In the world of climbing, it's not at all uncommon for one climber to be stronger and more experienced than his or her partner. In such a situation, many climbers elect to move together on easier terrain. In some cases, teams with this kind of make-up even choose to simul-climb. If there is a significant difference in strength and skill level, then moving together and simul-climbing should probably be avoided.

Instead of "simuling," the better option would be for the stronger climber to scramble up easier terrain in short 20 to 50 foot pitches and then situate himself in a good stance or seated position. Once he's stable, he could then employ a quick belay technique to bring up his partner.

The author uses a quick munter-hitch belay on Mount Russell in the High Sierra

Before employing a belay technique, it is incredibly important that the climber is in a very solid stance or seated position. If the position isn't safe and there is the possibility that the climber could be pulled from his position, then he should place a piece of gear and clip into it. If that's not enough and there is still danger, then this is not a quick belay situation and a true SERENE/ERNEST anchor must be built.

There are a number of belay techniques that may be used from a stance. Following is a quick breakdown of each of them in order of strength:

Hand Belay

It should be obvious to everyone that a hand belay is very weak. The hand belay should only be used to assist someone through an easy move. It should never really be thought of as something that could arrest a real fall and it should never be used to protect someone in a truly exposed area. That said, a simple hand belay can occasionally help a someone step up onto something tall or can create confidence in a climber as they step over an obstacle.

Carabiner Pinch

A carabiner pinch is a simple and quick belay wherein a carabiner is clipped to your harness or an anchor. The rope goes from the climber through the carabiner and is then redirected back toward the climber. The belayer can simply pinch the rope on either side of the carabiner to create more friction.

Clearly, this too is a very weak belay technique. As with a hand belay, this should only be used for minor assistance on terrain where there are little consequences to a fall.

Though many guides use the carabiner pinch for quick and simple belays, I personally believe that it is just as effective to turn the carabiner pinch into a munter-hitch. Such an adjustment requires almost no additional time, but adds a great deal more security.

Shoulder Belay

A shoulder belay is a very quick body belay. In this technique, the belayer turns his body to the side so that his profile is facing the cliff. If his right shoulder is oriented toward the drop, then the rope from the climber will run up from the edge, through his right hand, across his back, over his shoulder and into his left hand. The belay will then look a lot like a hip belay, but from a standing position, over the shoulder.

To make this technique work properly, the climber strand should be at approximately the same angle as the leg closest to the edge. Ideally, this strand parallels that leg.

The biggest problem with this technique is that the center of gravity is really high. If the leg is not parallel with the strand going to the climber, it's easy to get pulled out of position.

Following is a short video that was made during a Canadian guides course in 1996 which shows a guide trainer instructing junior guides on the use of this technique:

Hip Belay

The hip belay is perhaps one of the oldest belay techniques and has been used effectively in a variety of circumstances. Due to it's limitations, however, most modern climbers only use this technique on terrain up to low fifth class.

To implement a hip belay, the climber must first find a good seat. Ideally there will be some kind of feature to place one's feet on in order to create more stability. Once in position, the belayer puts a wrap of rope around his waist and then uses the "pull pinch slide" belay technique to bring in rope. If the climber falls, then the belayer will wrap the rope more radically around his body.

If the belay seat is not solid, the belayer may elect to put in a piece to back himself up. If he does this, then the piece should be on the same side as the end of the rope running to the climber. This will keep the belayer from getting twisted if the climber falls.

And finally, Any anchor piece should be on the same side of the belayer's body as the climber strand.

The following is a very good video on hip-belays from a snow seat.

Please note three things in the preceding video:

1) AAI doesn't recommend the rope twist on the arm as shown in the video.

2) AAI recommends that one kick the heels of their feet into the snow in addition to the bucket.

3) It's not ideal for one to belay a leader from a bucket/snow seat.


An extremely quick and effective technique is to place a carabiner on the belay loop and tie a munter-hitch into it. From a good stance or a seat, this is an incredibly useful means of creating a quick belay. The trick though, is to be able to build the munter-hitch in the carabiner.

Once you are able to easily build a munter-hitch on a carabiner, this particular technique can be faster and more secure then either a shoulder belay or a hip belay. It can also be easier to get it into place due to the fact that backpacks often hinder the other body belay styles.

Quick belays are an incredibly important part of a climber's arsenal. However, they will really only be quick and effective with practice. Once each of these are dialed, then belaying a second on easier terrain becomes far more quick and efficient.

--Jason D. Martin

1 comment:

Jim said...

Mt Russel, that is some good stuff.