Being a good belayer involves more than just holding the rope
The support team — the right way to coax a leader
The bolt is 10 feet below your buddy, who is palming sloping huecos on a muggy August day. He hesitates, his hands beginning to slide. You, the well-intentioned belayer, yell, “Come on! You can do it! Go for it!” Is this helpful? Perhaps not. Your comments are “sweet nothings,” devoid of real meaning and content. Worse, they can nudge the leader into a potentially risky situation and get him hurt. So, how do you best support your partner? The “pre-flight” rundown. Before a climb, the leader will begin psyching himself up for the effort. You can help by doing a “pre-flight” rundown to clear up any points of concern. Do a buddy check, ensuring that the leader won’t have sudden tie-in worries while climbing. Verbally and visually confirm that his (and your) harness is doubled back, and that his knot is tied correctly. Show the leader your belay device — threaded properly, with the locking biner locked. Finally, ask the leader how he usually clips — in one continuous motion, or in a series of short pulls? This will allow you to pay out slack effectively and let him know that you’re ready to do so. Looking out for your leader. Keep an eye on the position of your leader’s rope; make sure he doesn’t get it behind his leg, which can turn a safe fall into an upside-down head-knocker. It helps to know the route as intimately as the leader, so chat about it on the deck prior to the climb. Knowing beforehand where the hardest clips and moves are will allow you to respond with fast rope-handling. Clipping correctly is also critical. Make sure your leader doesn’t back-clip (clipping backwards into the draw) or z-clip (pulling the rope from below the last draw, which can occur when bolts are closely spaced). Anxiety neurosis. You can also help reduce your leader’s fear while he’s climbing. Since you’ve talked with him about the route, you’ll know when he’s maxing out, a time he’ll most easily be distracted by negative self-talk or fear of falling. When he’s in these situations, help him refocus his attention on the climbing. Don’t yell, “Go for it!” Instead say, “Breathe, relax, and hold on loosely.” Doing so will help him regain his composure, allowing him to process himself through the chaos of the challenge, be it a slab or overhang. Do unto others. When you belay your partner you take on a lot of responsibility. This is not the time to gossip to other climbers about your latest send — give the leader your full attention. Holding a fall is difficult enough and needn’t be made more dangerous by inattentive belaying. Climbers yapping on the ground can also distract the leader. Don’t bother trying to quiet them down; instead focus on what you can control — coaching the leader and being attentive to his needs.