Belaying (as) a Small Female

belaying_coffeetapeclimbYour average non-climber understands that ascending a cliff requires a certain amount of skill and expertise. This non-climber has little to no idea of the range of skill or what skills exactly that might entail, but (s)he gets that climbing involves some form of competence.

However, not everyone appreciates the skill involved in lead belaying. Yes there is the basic “this is your brake hand and EVEN IF A CHUCK OF GRANITE LANDS ON YOUR HEAD NEVER EVER LET GO” rule one must learn, but there is much more than just paying out and taking in slack involved in the art.

My climbing friends taught me the basics: How to give out slack when someone is clipping and take in the extra when (s)he has clipped, and not to think of lowering as a race from the anchors to the ground. However, as a small female being taught to belay from guys with 50-plus pounds on me, I quickly understood that I would need to adapt their methods to prevent them from grounding out.

Here are some things I’ve learned about belaying those significantly heavier than me:

  1. If the climber hasn’t clipped at least three bolts, I’m taking a whip too.
  2. There is no need to jump to cushion someone’s fall (see number one).
  3. Do not stand a casual 10 feet back from the cliff with extra slack in the line. If your climber falls, you will be dragged upward and forward, subsequently smashing you into the cliff. It will hurt.
  4. Bracing yourself against the rock with one leg can help prevent number three.
  5. Keep very little slack in the system for the first few bolts when the climber is not clipping (look to number one again).
  6. Boinking is nearly impossible for anyone weighing over 150 pounds.
  7. Belaying is a workout involving squat jumps and rope pull-ups whenever someone wants to up-rope.
  8. Never expect to be asked to belay if the route is hard off the ground and there’s someone bigger available.
  9.  Expect that larger climbers may fear grounding out for bolts one to three the first few times you belay them.

Now, here are a few things to note if you’re over 150 pounds and are belaying me (or someone weighing 110 or less):

  1. The belay device is simply a backup in case your non-break hand isn’t on the rope to catch me.
  2. If you’re not paying attention, you may not notice that I’ve fallen till you look up (or I shout something mid-air).
  3. JUMP. I like my ankles, so soft catches (giving a little hop when I fall) are much appreciated. If number two happens, you’re being a bad belayer.
  4. Up-roping is a non-challenge, same with boinking.
  5. If I’m on toprope, you can lift me to the chains simply by taking a walk backward. (Please don’t. I’m not really into A-1 aid climbing at the moment.)

In fewer words: If you have me as a belayer, it’s a soft catch guaranteed. However, if you’re belaying me (or someone else smaller than you), please pay attention—as you should do for every climber—and give a little hop, so I get a similar “cushy” experience.

Originally published October 13, 2014, on 

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