The one about the heavier climber…

Belaying an XL – Tips for Lightweight Climbers

Source: Belaying an XL – Tips for Lightweight Climbers 

One of the top questions new participants regularly ask me is this, “What if my bf/gf (Heaven forbid…) / partner / husband / wife (..again…) / friend / brother / sister (insert other names) is heavier than me? Can i belay him/her?”

My answer is usually Yes because there is no official guideline around the world now that states what is the “safe” weight difference. At most, they would usually give a “recommendation”. Hence there is nothing really stopping you from belaying your XXL sized climber. But come on, let’s face it, no one wants to fall and be lowered down half the wall because of a light belayer who himself/herself gets pulled halfway up the wall as well until the both of you can literally shake hands…. So this article is really quite useful to share what are some of the alternatives or tricks in the belayer’s bags that can be used at the right moment.

I usually teach about the the sandbags that you can get at most gyms as counterweights for the especially light belayers and i use the opportunity to teach them about the “assistant belayer” as well who helps back up the brake line and doubles up as an anchor man as well.

But there are other options as well. Something new on the market is the Elderid Ohm that is covered in the article. Cool piece of kit that can be purchased and it gives the belayer as well as the climber lots of confidence. But it costs a lot and it’s an additional piece of kit that the lead climber has to carry. Takes some training and familiarisation to get it right also. So those are the things i try to share with the participants.

Then there is the physics lesson that i will deliver. Basically the idea is simple. I ask the participants to share (for those who have been belaying a heavier climber so far) on their experiences. “When the heavy climber falls, where do you get pulled? Do you fly upwards vertically like a cartoon superman? Or do you get slammed into the wall horizontally?”

Most of the time the answer will be horizontally. I will then invoke their memories of those secondary school physics lessons and i say a silent thank you to my physics tutors for teaching me something i never thought i would ever have to use….angle

So basically, when a climber falls, he generates an Impact Force vertically downwards. He will also pull on the rope attached to the belayer which creates another force diagonally upwards towards the anchors. All these forces added together creates a resultant force which is the horizontal force that the belayer feels pulling him/her towards the wall every time a heavier climber falls on belay.

Now my Physics tutor also taught me one more thing, and that is the greater the angle is from the climber’s end of the rope to the belayer’s end of the rope, the larger the resultant force will be. Hence i will then follow up with a question, to keep things interactive with the class,

“So knowing that the angle at the top determines the force the belayer feels, when you are belaying a heavier climber, should you stand nearer or further away from the wall?”

The answer will usually be a unanimous “nearer”! I would then encourage my participants to try it out in their next practice where they should stand when they belay. In this way, they get to experience the effects of positioning rather than just listen to theory.

One thing to note, make sure they do not over do it like standing >5m away from the walls and if the floors are slippery have them remove their socks. It’s an interactive way to learn but we got to take care of safety as well.

So there you go, some ways to answer the inevitable question. Just try not to look at the bigger sized participants in the eyes every time you say “fat”…


If you ever need a reason to wear a helmet…


One of my climbing students climbing in Nam Pha Pha Yai was belaying at a relatively new route when this sharp chunk of rock fell onto his head. Can’t imagine what would have been the result if he had neglected to wear his helmet that day. Think you should only wear your helmet when climbing? Think again.

A good reminder to always bring your brain bucket along and use it.

Good picture to use to reinforce this point in class. Full post here:

The one about clearing my FB backlog…

Just a couple of sites i have been saving on FB for the longest time but never got around to sharing them. Great for teaching resources.

    A very useful article on using re-directions when we teach Level 2. I think this is one thing that is hard to recreate at the gyms because most of the routes simply go straight up and there’s very little chance for a redirection. So the climbers don’t really see the use of learning this. And rem, when you dun use it, you lose it. So sometimes i have to deliberately build in this practice by getting them to climb diagonally so that they will have a chance to practice considering the direction of their quickdraws.
    You know those autobelays you see emerging at climbing gyms. Ever wondered how they work? Here’s a good article about magnetic braking which some of the devices make use of. Good to know so that you will understand the limitations of the device.
    ABD’s are all the rage now. Here’s a good review on the different devices so that you can further advise your L2 climbers when they ask you which device is more suitable for them. I always tell them to get something that they feel comfortable and familiar with rather than the cheapest one on sale…
    This is more for those teaching Level 3. More different techniques you can consider to add to your arsenal of tricks. Can be a bit complicated but if you break it down and consider the intent of each step, it becomes easier to commit to your memory.
    Bolting. For the one or two curious climbers who want to know more about how climbers actually bolt routes on natural rocks. Good to know because it’s a fascinating topic for new climbers especially for those who don’t get outdoors much.

So there you go, some resources i hope you will find useful in your classes.

The one about the Unbelayable ending…

One of my fav columns in Climbing Magazine is ending. I love what the author Kevin Corrigan says at the end.

“You can know every skill in the book, but if you’re mindlessly going through the motions or filling your days with “It’ll probably be fines,” then you’re leaving yourself open to the chance that it might not be fine. Climbing responsibly is a choice, one you must make every step along the way.”

I was just thinking of printing out past editions of this almanac of stoopid climbing mistakes and passing it around during Level 2 or 3 classes. The more experienced participants would probably guffaw at them but for those few who do not get what is wrong, i will start to be worried. Can be used as potential case studies for discussions. Hmmph just a thought at the moment, will need some time to operationalise it. What were your unbelayable moments?

The one about the belay loop…

Just a quick on from my hp.

A great article on why we use the belay loops to belay. As silly as it sounds, there are really climbers still out there who so not belay through their belay loops. Do you teach the use of a belay loops in yoir courses?

The one when the Instructor was wrong…

To ask the question, “Can an instructor be wrong?” might be a tad too pretentious. Of course we can. We are humans after all. But what happens after we discover we are wrong?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Photo Source : Author’s own.)

So in a recent Level 3 class, i came to realise that i have been teaching something that was wrong. It was a case of “unconcious incompetence” because i had been taught that it was ok all these while and i have seen climbers doing so. I had a chance to talk to a more established climber and bolter (if there is such a word…) – QX, who shared with me that he has come across many bolts that come off… like literally just come out of the wall, with nothing more than just the climber’s weight. Hence he was always hesitant to teach beginners to clip on to a single bolt at the anchor but rather he would instruct them to clip into the master point of the anchor. In this way, at least the climber’s weight is distributed over two bolts whilst you check to make sure that they are bomb-proofed. Made a lot of sense to me then.

Just before this recent Level 3 class, i was arranging my notes when for some strange reason, i started to recall this conversation i had with QX. I flipped through my notes to see if i have covered that point when i realised that i have committed a tremendous error. All these years, i have been teaching my Level 3 classes to redirect the belay line to that one bolt at the anchor! It was not a case of being unaware that both the climber’s and the belayer’s weight are on that one bolt and that the weight magnifies (because of physics…i dunno why…), i just assumed that the strength of one bolt could deal with whatever forces i was generating. Now with QX’s input, it seems like it was a bad idea to continue doing that.

I scrambled to look up some books and google up some videos and i realised it is true. The world had evolved… The tendency now was to teach the redirection of the belay line through the masterpoint or more commonly the shelf on the anchors. It was easy to make the change, but i was haunted. Coz i had put a dangerous practice out there and now i wonder how i was to correct all my past Level 3 students.  It was easy to change the next day’s class. Just had to contact my partner instructor for that day and share with him my revelation. Coincidentally, he was also teaching the same thing as me so it was a good learning point for both of us. But it still bugged me that i got something wrong out there.

Oh well, i’ll just have to try and make things right again by trying to reach out to my past Level 3 students. For now, if any of you are interested, do watch this great video from the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) to see what i am talking about up there. Should be about 0.30mins in the video where she addresses the redirection part.

Anyway our other reflections after this Level 3 class was that it was very useful to teach and use the clove hitch in this class. Initially we thought that it would be a hassle because the new technique required the participants to use a clove hitch to attach themselves to the anchor. And this was exactly what i was trying to avoid last time by simplifying things so that it is easier for the learners to learn the concepts. But this time, JY and myself decided to press on by teaching them the clove hitch at the start of the day and by the end of the 2nd day, we were satisfied to see them tying it with ease for their anchors. So i guess lesson learned, dun do things for convenience.  If we take the time to teach properly, our participants will benefit from it.

We can get it wrong, we are humans after all. And that’s why we need to learn and evolve with the times. Only then can we do our best for our participants i guess.

The one about the Ram’s Horn…

Saw an interesting post on the Malaysian Bolting Fund website. For the uninitiated, they are kinda like the Dairy Farm Group here in Singapore. A group of climbers pooling money, resources and labour together to make their local crag better. A horrific incident happened at Nyamuk wall over the weekend over at Batu caves.

The response was swift from the Malaysian climbing community with companies like Verticale responding quickly. The word was put out through social media and they even pooled together resources all the way from QX in Taiwan to educate climbers on the dangers.

I’ll be frank that i have never encountered a ram’s horn anchor at the crags as well and this was indeed an eye opener to me to see such a catastrophical failure from a piece of hardware that is rated. Something doesn’t add up because there is no way a climber can generate that kind of forces whether he was lead climbing or top roping….

But again, what really impressed me here was how quickly the key stakeholders in the Malaysian climbing community got together to get the news out and put out the resources to assuage the climbers in general and especially the beginners who have never encountered such an anchor before. Thanks to the good people at Verticale and people like Alif Ahmad, climbing is not just a cold, clinical sport with medals and comps but a living breathing community that learns, unlearns and relearns together. Good job guys! Thanks for sharing.