Moving right along.
Why can’t I stand 20 feet away from the wall while belaying?
One reason is that it creates more slack in the climber/belayer system which can have dire consequences for both top roping and leading. If you are top roping at RJ1, you will be climbing on walls that are 37 feet tall with ropes that are about 80 feet long, allowing for about 6 feet of slack to be lying on the mats. If you lower your climber while standing 20 feet away from the wall, you run the risk of running the end of the rope through the belay device, thereby dropping your partner on the ground. One way to avoid this would be to tie a knot on the end of the belay side of the rope. The other way is, obviously, stand no more than a few feet away from the wall.
Belaying from a distance has undesirable effects when it comes to lead climbing as well. First of all, like our top roping scenario, it creates extra slack in the system. Imagine someone that weighs 120 lbs lead belaying their partner that weighs 150 lbs. The belayer is 20 feet away from the wall and the climber has extra slack out because he is attempting to clip the third clip. The climber pumps out and misses the clip. The belayer, being outweighed by 30 lbs, can’t arrest the fall and gets yanked into the wall while the climber splats on the ground because of the extra slack in the system.
Now, let’s reverse the situation. We have a 120 lb climber and a 150 lb belayer standing 20 feet away from the wall. We have the same scenario with the climber taking a bunch of slack out to clip the third clip but falls before he can make it. This time, the unlucky climber gets slammed crotch first onto a taut rope. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about. Still not a pleasant situation.
Another major problem with standing too far away from the wall on a lead belay is the wear it causes on the first biner. By standing far away from the wall, the rope bends around the biner with a more acute angle, causing serious friction between the metal and the usually dirty sheath. A nice notch will eventually be worn into the biner, usually with some nice sharp edges. Please go here to see a great post from Black Diamond on what can happen when climbing on a biner with rope wear.
The most common reason people give in our gym about why they want to stand so far away from the wall on a lead belay is that they can’t see the climber otherwise. There’s a simple solution to this. If you can’t see your climber, simply turn around and face out from the wall. See below.
I love everything about this picture. Kathryn is facing out to see her climber, her stance shows that she’s ready for anything, she has a moderate amount of slack out and she is giving her undivided attention to her climber. Which brings us to our last question.
Why can’t I sit on the mat while I belay?
Several reasons. You can’t lock off as well. You can’t move quickly if you need to. You can not give any semblance of a dynamic lead belay while sitting down. And most importantly to me, sitting down conveys a sense of complacency. Unless you are flying the space shuttle, most people sit down to relax. Belaying is absolutely not a passive activity. Compare the picture below to the one of Kathryn. Who would you want belaying you? (Disclaimer: Katie never belays sitting down, I made her pose for the picture)
Some further reading on the subject of sitting down while belaying can be found at rockclimbing.com (caution, there’s some foul language in this one) and rockandice.com has a post that spells out some great belaying tips in general.
There was a thread on Facebook recently in which someone was discussing the fact that he just saw another person get decked in a gym. The guy got away with just a broken ankle. One of my friends made a comment which sums this whole post nicely: “Belaying is a job and should be taken seriously. Focus.”
Climbing is obviously an inherently risky activity to engage in. Even though you can never erase all risk from climbing, we want you to know that every rule we have in this gym is designed to minimize the risk of climbing as much as we possibly can. If you ever have any questions, please come up and ask one of our staff members, it’s what we are here for.