Women in Belaying

Maybe it seems counterintuitive, but you have to agree: belaying is one of the most fun aspects of rock climbing. If anyone knows how to get me belaying at the Olympics, I’m totally in.

Needless to say, this week’s installment of Women in Climbing hits very close to home, and I’m so excited to share my belaying experiences with you DIHEDRAL fans out there.

The Weight Difference

In belaying, the weight difference between climber and belayer can make or break the catch. If your climber is much lighter than you, then when they fall, they will likely experience a rather hard catch unless you feed extra slack/give an extra hop. Conversely, if your climber is much heavier than you, they will probably fall rather far, increasing their chance of decking and/or hitting you. According to US News, the weight difference between the average American man and the average American woman is almost 20lbs, and the height difference is about 5in. This difference in size isn’t crazy, but when people start deviating from the mean, these differences can become increasingly noticeable. So, unsurprisingly, I’ve had my fair share of male climbing partners that were just so much taller than I that I really had to learn how to belay again to manage our size differences. Following national averages, this is pretty common for many women in climbing.

Some good times were:

  • I’m Getting sucked into first draw all the time
  • Getting hit by my climber
  • Needing others to weigh me down to help my climber boink up the rope
  • Running away from the wall when my climber falls at first draw
  • How long have you guys been together? (uh, never??)
  • Never needing to worry about falling more than ~2ft
  • Lowering with my ATC (we love some good rope burn)

In terms of sharing some wisdom:

  • Unless you have a reason, keep that rope tight
  • Assisted braking devices are really nice
  • Learn to lean outward so that your climber misses your head with their feet
  • A brake hand at your side helps with control while lowering
  • You can use your feet on the wall to slow down a fall
  • The Ohm is nice, but not totally necessary unless you are an outlier in size

The Brain

Traditionally speaking, I think women pick up on patterns/notice small things in general very well. I think that’s a huge advantage, and no matter your gender identity, it’s a good skill to learn in order to become a better belayer. 

Things to notice:

  • When will your climber clip? (low, high ;), like a normal person, etc.)
  • How does your climber clip? (grab and bite, quick grab and slide, slowly/delicately, etc.)
  • What are your climber’s tells (e.g. when they might fall, clip)? (infinite shake outs, a panicked look downward, screaming, etc.)
  • How do they fall? -> you really want to know: will they cheese grate?
  • What do they prefer? This is huge.
    • Do they like more/less slack?
    • Do they like a lot/little communication?
    • Words of encouragement?
    • Beta?
    • Gear? (e.g. thick/thin rope, assisted braking devices)

Once you notice these things, you can adjust your game to make your climber more safe and comfortable.

I know I have some wild belay stories, so hopefully you guys also have plenty to share in the comments! Belay safe out there!

High-Clip
Co-writer

Notes:

1.) I was not kidding about the Olympics. I could really break the belay beta over there.

2.) Read my comparison review of the GRIGRI (3) and the GRIGRI+ here for some GRIGRI/assisted braking insight.

6 Replies to “Women in Belaying”

  1. I enjoyed this . Belaying was a new word for me a few years ago when my grandson wanted to try rock climbing. It really does allow freedom when you know you have reliable security. It prompted me to go as well. Quite fun, but I decided best not to look down. 👍🏼🤙🏼

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I loved belaying too! I once had a guy over 6′ and 200 pounds and I managed just fine. You’re right because we tend to be smaller, we also tend to think in terms of compensating for our size. (I weighed around 120-25 then) For that particular climber and other tall lanky ones, I’d lean back and wedge myself between whatever supports I could find and used my legs for added leverage. In fact, that climber preferred me to some of the men in our group because I didn’t take for granted that “I had it” and therefore paid closer attention to him. Only once did I ever have to use another climber to help me, but that was before I developed my technique and was feeling like I was going to be lifted off the ground. In those days we didn’t have the fancy clips available today.

    Liked by 1 person

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