Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Belaying for Lead

It's been nearly a year since I took up climbing, and almost six months since I had my first taste of lead-climbing. I'll be honest about why we haven't done more lead routes, though we obviously enjoyed that first time. There were a couple of deterring reasons, in addition to my belief that being just a little more than beginners in this sport, I was (I must use I for I daren't speak on behalf of someone) not experienced or skilled enough for leading. First, though we learned the basics of climbing and clipping, we didn't know the right way to belay a leading partner. Second, lead climbers very often need to hold the rope fast between their teeth before clipping, and well, we don't find that palatable.

His intent to get on with leading heightened considerably in the past couple of months and last week, at long last, we got Mr Expert who, the reader might recall, first taught us top-roping, to teach us, once again.

We refreshed our minds on the basics - climbing and clipping - and of course, gathered new knowledge. I learned that we ought to focus on the climb and find the most comfortable spot for clipping, rather than aim for the quickdraws and climb to clip. I also learned the reason why we should never back-clip - the rope could get unclipped in the event of the climber falling, and that, needless to say, would be disastrous! Most importantly, I learned the right way to belay the lead climber.

Before the first clip, it is advisable that the belayer spots the climber, though one mightn't think any climber good enough to lead would likely fall off the wall that early in a route. After the first clip, the actual belaying begins. The rope should be kept slack, but not too much. Compared to belaying top-rope, the belayer has to focus a lot more on the lead climber's every move, to the point of anticipating his next move - for it is crucial to give enough slack so as to not hinder the moves, but not so much as to risk hurting both should the climber fall. When the climber attempts to clip, the belayer needs to quickly feed as much rope as would be required. Right after the clipping, the rope should be slightly tightened. To hasten the slacking and tightening of the rope, the belayer is to move closer to and further from the wall just before and right after clippings. That, in addition to shifting from side to side according to the climber's progress, in order to avoid obstructing him with the rope and to be able to observe him clearly, makes it necessary for the belayer to be constantly moving about. It seemed, at one glance, a lot to remember, but after a while, it became mostly instinctive.

He climbed first. We hadn't the slightest ideas the routes' difficulty, and randomly picked one we thought was average. It turned out to be a very technically-challenging one, which was rather demoralising for though he climbed well, clipping correctly and smoothly all the way, he could hardly complete half the route. At that part was this huge void on the wall, which we initially thought was because some holds fell off, or were taken down and the route incomplete. It was only later that some other climbers informed us that it was meant to be difficult that way.

The next route we picked looked easy. Looked easy. It turned out to be a balance-critical one. I couldn't do it without cheating (using a few holds which belonged to adjacent routes to assist in some moves) He could, of course, and very well too. In fact, he was so focused on his climbing he missed clipping one runner. Mr Expert said that although it's no major fault, skipping quickdraws is not advisable. I could understand that, for if one skipped a clipping-point and falls before he clips at the next, he would fall a very, and I mean, a seriously very long way. Thereafter, whenever he looked the remotest like he wasn't stopping to clip, I'd shout at him. However, he managed to ignore my irritating, noisy reminding and skip two quickdraws for one of the routes. It is a plus to be that focused on the climbing though, Mr Expert commented.

So, we learned lead-belaying. It wasn't so hard, except on the neck. We both noted how strained it becomes, after just minutes, for the belayer has to be looking up at climber all the time. I don't know if it afflicts all the others, or if there are ways to avoid it. It is something I ought to look into. That, and how to effectively climb though we would not bite the rope, as it sometimes is necessary.

We both had used our knees to "hold" the rope by pressing it to the wall, while hanging on to tiny holds for dear life with one hand and attempting to clip with the other. It wasn't exactly neat or elegant or energy-conserving. He's thought of a few designs for contraptions we could wear to fulfill the purpose, but of course, we don't have any yet.

But hey, we could belay lead now. That's one deterring reason down. It'll be just a matter of time before we work our way around the second deterrent and we could then lead as often as we please!

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