Monday, November 15, 2021

Fixed-Point Belay Techniques

There has been a lot of talk in the industry lately about fixed-point belay techniques. Many guides are beginning to employ these techniques on ice climbs and on sketchy alpine climbs.

Essentially a fixed-point belay is a lead belay directly off the anchor, as opposed to the more standard belay technique of operating a device off one's harness. The idea is that a lead fall simply doesn't impact  the belayer the same way that a lead fall impacts him or her in a normal setting.

At a guide training in 2008, a number of our guides experimented with this technique, finding mixed results.  We found that both a tube style device and a munter-hitch worked well, but not so much for a GriGri.  Assisted locking devices seem to transfer a lot more force into the falling person and without movement in the anchor, this resulted in a painful fall for our leader.

The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) has put out a video on this particular technique.  It is a long and comprehensive video on the subject, but it is very good. Please see it below:

The French Guide Training organization, ENSA has also put out a comprehensive video:

At a 2014 AMGA training we experimented with this technique some more and decided that using a tube-style device wasn't appropriate at all. The best application appeared to incorporate the use of a munter-hitch.

In the photo above, we built a separate anchor from the anchor the climber was belaying on. We found that when an individual took a leader fall, it was easier to manage if your hands were far away from the munter-hitch. If your hands were close, you got pulled up into the anchor more easily. Additionally, the fall was greater because the anchor moved up substantially before catching the falling climber.

In the photo above the belayer has just held a fall on a fixed-point system. This system with a piece designed specifically to deal with the upward pull was easier to manage.

So why would you use this system?

It is a very guidey thing to do and it does require one to learn a new belay technique, so it doesn't make much sense...unless you're working with significant weight differences in a multipitch setting. If you intend to take children or small teens up a multi-pitch route, a leader fall may be so dramatic that they get pulled into the anchor and let go. This negates that possibility.

And while there aren't that many uses for a fixed-point anchor, it is one of those things that when you need really need it...

 --Jason D. Martin


Unknown said...

Jason: I really liked your blog on fixed point anchors. One additional point that I thought might be worth making is that this method is also a good choice for a crux just above the belay when there is a greater chance that the leader may take a fall on a sketchy series of moves with no pro available for 8 to 10 feet or more; also later in the pitch when there is a significant risk of a factor 1 or higher fall. I have seen one video test where a FF1 fall on a normal belay viciously slammed the belayer up and into the rock, whereas the fixed point belay was far less severe and controllable. It was reported that none of the test researchers were willing to try to hold a FF2 fall with the usual lead belay method.

One device that may be especially suited for fixed point belays may be the Alpine Up. The relevant section of the video is towards the end.

Gene pires said...

hey Jason, thanks for this blog post. I have been thinking about how best to anchor the belayer while belaying a leader in a ice climbing multi pitch situation. I have seen videos of the belayer getting thrown around and the thought of that happening while wearing crampons concerns me. A while back, I heard of an accident on Louise Falls where a lead fall pulled and rotated the belayer and broke both legs. The cramponed feet where fixed in the ice.
It seems like belaying with this fixed point bolt anchor using a quad equalized is a good thing.

Jason Martin said...


Absolutely! It's my understanding that the AMGA first started experimenting with this around their ice instructor courses...


Dylan C said...

Just thought I would mention that the final photo shows an incorrect anchor configuration for the fixed point belay. Based on my training all the downward pull pieces should be connected to the master point of the cordelette. The belayer would then be cloved into the masterpoint and the rope would go from there to a clove on the downward pull piece, thus holding down the master point and creating a fixed point. The munter hitch belay would then off the masterpoint thus allowing the entire anchor to take the load of a factor 2 fall. It also means the belayer will provide some ballast to cushion the force of a upward pull on the single upward pull piece.


Dylan Cunningham