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A belayer putting the “M System” to good use to ensure proper communication between climbers.
Get out your copy of Freedom of the Hills. There’s a command that’s heard often enough at crags nationwide to deserve a spot on the list of common rope commands: “F-ing slack!” Its proliferation could be blamed on R-rated movies, or single mothers, but more likely, it’s that lead climbers aren’t taking care to choose a belay spot that allows them to remain in easy communication with their seconds. Leaders often fail to realize how features such as roofs and slabby top-outs can make communication difficult to impossible. Unless you’ve run out of lead rope, the solution is tied to your waist. Use your remaining rope to extend your position close enough to the edge so you can hear — and hopefully see — your partner. There are a lot of rope tricks for this. Here are a few: The “M” System l Clip the rope through the biners at your anchor, but don’t make a hard attachment (e.g., a figure-8 on a bight or a clove hitch). Then, clove hitch the second’s end of the rope to a locking biner clipped to your belay loop (making a giant, closed-circuit rope runner out of your lead rope) and feed yourself slack as you walk back to the best belay spot. Alternatively you can have your second keep you on belay while you get into position — you can clove in once you get situated. l Use the rope to redirect. Tie a figure-8 on a bight (or better yet, a butterfly knot) on one side of your rope runner at least six or seven feet from your intended belay stance, and clip a locker to it. After pulling up all the rope leading down to your second, clip it through the locker at the redirect, and walk back to your stance — you will need to readjust your clove hitch, as tying your redirect knot shortens the length of your rope loop. Rig the rope leading to your partner through your belay device, clip it to your belay loop, and call “on belay.” l Your anchor is now dynamic. If your partner weights the system, with rope stretch, the distance between you and the redirect biner shrinks. Plus, if you’re a lightweight you might be pulled towards the redirect in the event of a fall. It’s possible that your belay device could bind with the redirect biner. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, position yourself far enough away from the redirect point so that it can’t interfere with your belay. Also, clipping into a solid opposing piece at your stance will prevent you from being yanked towards the redirect. l As always, position yourself directly in line with your last piece of gear on the climb. There is potential for movement with this system, and you might get pulled should your partner fall. This might cause you to lose your stance and possibly make you let go of the rope, but a solid opposing piece nearby will prevent this from happening. If you can’t get gear near your belay spot, or if you weigh significantly less than your partner and can’t efficiently counter balance this weight difference, or if the anchor is at or below your waist level, you’re better off not redirecting. “M” system without the redirect l Follow the first point of the above tip. When you position yourself at your desired belay stance, clove in with a locker clipped to the loop of rope at your waist created by your tie-in figure-8 knot. l Next, clip your belay device to your belay loop, pull up all the rope leading down to your second, rig your belay device, and yell down that your partner is on belay. In a fall, your partner’s weight will be almost entirely on the anchor, and not on your harness. By adjusting your stance and body position, you can affect how much of the weight you feel, and how much is on your anchor. Using the rope to attach yourself to the anchor has advantages. It’s got a core, so it’s more resistant to abrasion, and it can be any length you want it to be — as long as you’re not at the end of your rope. To keep your second from being at end of his, position yourself back at the edge. The view is better, and so are the prospects for partnering up with this person again.Julie Seyfert Lillis has guided in the Gunks since 1996. She is a frequent contributor of writing and photography to Climbing.