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….
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”…