Anchoring a Lighter Belayer
I was taught to belay dynamically, and jump up when the leader falls, to soften the catch. Now, however, I climb with my wife, who weighs half as much as I do. I’m told that when she belays me, I should anchor her to the ground to keep her from being yanked into the sky. Is this a safe practice, given that she won’t be able to move at all to cushion a fall? What is the best way of anchoring her?
Dynamic belaying is a holdover from prehistoric times when hip or shoulder belays were the methods, and the rule was that the leader must not fall. With modern ropes and belay devices, you don’t need to actively give a dynamic belay. Let the rope do its job of stretching. Your job is to hold the belay.
Jumping up when you feel the weight of the falling climber begin to load your belay device will soften the catch. I use the technique sometimes myself, so I’m a hypocrite, but more often I don’t, and the load lifts me, which delivers the same effect as jumping up but without me doing anything.
The problem with a much lighter belayer catching the fall of a much heavier leader is that the belayer can rocket skyward with such velocity she is driven into the wall or lifted to the first bolt or gear placement, and the belay device gets pinned against it. Maybe her face smashes against the rock or she jams her brake hand and lets go of the rope. Anchoring the belayer will avoid such nasty encounters with the soulless stone. A ground anchor is often a tree, but it can be anything materially stout, from a large slung block to gear placed upside down in a crack at the start of the route.
Some routes simply won’t have anything to anchor to at ground level. Then you and your partner should decide if that route is a must-do. Perhaps you move on and find a climb that has an anchor. Or, maybe having your wife projectiled 15 feet isn’t a big deal. If there are no obstructions to hit and she is prepared to catapult, all can still be fine. That, however, can’t be predicted with complete accuracy. Just find a route with an anchor. Gear Guy has spoken!
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 256 (March 2019).