Belaying the second

Belaying the second is an activity which deserves special attention. It is a situation when, after reaching the end of the pitch, the leader belays her climbing partner from a top-managed belay station as the belayer while he climbs toward her from below.

It could seem that there is no issue here; after all, the second will sit into the rope at most, nothing disastrous can happen here. But wait: here it is critical to bear in mind that the total reversal of the situation has actually occurred; the belayer operating the belay device is on top and the rope is leading from the belay device downward.

Such a change understandably has a significant influence on the management of the belay device, and also on the construction of the belay station. When belaying the second from a top belay station the issues of assuming a braking position of the rope in the belay device are significantly reflected, as mentioned in an earlier section of this book entitled Braking Position.

There are two options for belaying a second from a top belay station:

  • place the belay device into the belay station (direct belay)
  • clip the belay device to the seat harness and belay “from the harness” (indirect belay)

Belaying the second with a belay device in the belay station (direct belay)

Even during this arrangement there are two other ways to conceptualise the belay.

On one hand you can have the rope placed in the belay device in a dynamic mode. Of course, in this case not in order to give the second a buffering slide of the rope when he sits into the rope (this would be pointless), but in order for you to be able to readily lower him downward if the ascent should exceed his strength. Another possibility is to belay statically while using the self-braking function of certain belay devices. In short, therefore, we can divide methods of belaying a second via a belay station as follows:

  • belaying a second with the option of immediate lowering
  • belaying a second with a self-braking function

Belaying a second with the option of immediate lowering

When belaying a second from a top belay station, it is absolutely critical with this method that you maintain the proper braking position of the rope in the belay device. If you are belaying in this manner, then it will be necessary to put the rope in the braking position when the second is sitting into the rope. And again be warned: setting the rope into the braking position by hand is contrary to your natural reflex, and therefore it is necessary when belaying to concentrate maximally and resist stress (less responsive individuals should rather use a belay with a Munter hitch on an HMS carabiner).

If you use certain belay devices based on the principle of Sticht plates (e.g. the popular “tubular” belay devices) you can partially lock the rope into the braking position using a carabiner that can be added to the belay station as a parallel to the belay device. This method should of course be practiced well during calm periods and tried out with the specific gear you have available, as tubular belay devices differ significantly in format, and you must above all make certain that our specific belay device and carabiner will press against each other when loaded with no problems and will set the rope into the required braking position.

Belaying a second from a belay station using a tubular belay device. The braking position is achieved by inserting the rope into the additional carabiner. The strand of rope marked "A" leads to the climbing second.

Belaying a second from a belay station using a tubular belay device. The braking position is achieved by inserting the rope into the additional carabiner. The strand of rope marked “A” leads to the climbing second.

Belaying a second with a self-braking function

Another option of how to belay a second is to use a belay device which enables belaying with automatic braking of the rope, for example the ATC Guide, Reverso, Piu, etc.

Static belay of a second using a belay device with self-braking function. The strand of rope marked with the letter "A" leads to the climbing second. Under loading the upper strand "A" pinches the lower strand, and the braking of the rope occurs.

Static belay of a second using a belay device with self-braking function. The strand of rope marked with the letter “A” leads to the climbing second. Under loading the upper strand “A” pinches the lower strand, and the braking of the rope occurs.

In this manner it is possible to belay one second or two seconds at the same time. For example, for the progress of a three-member rope team the simultaneous progress of two seconds represents a significant time savings. Self-braking is caused by the fact that the second who is loading the rope causes the upper strand leading to the belay device to press against the lower strand, thereby pinching it. The sitting second essentially brakes the rope himself. The belayer at the stance therefore does not need to continually hold the inactive part of the rope in her hand; it is enough if she takes it in during phases when the second is advancing upward. The belayer will value this particularly in winter with numb fingers.

Of course, take caution if a second belayed using this braking method cannot climb past a difficult spot and sits into the rope, as it will not be possible simply to lower him, because he will brake himself with his own weight. A possible way to lower him is to lift a carabiner clipped into the bight of the rope, or to rotate the belay device. This is accomplished as follows: from the carabiner clipped in the bight of rope, thread a runner through another carabiner clipped into the stance, that is, above the belay device, which the belayer then fastens by its other end to the seat harness and loads with her own weight (by sitting into it). In this way the carabiner fixed into the bight of the rope is lifted (or the belay device is rotated) and the braking of the rope is thereby interrupted.

If it is necessary to lower a second downward during a static self-braking belay of the second, and the rope is not loaded (for example, the second needs to climb down a slight distance), it is enough to lift the carabiner clipped into the bight of rope with the hand, in this case very slightly, and slide the rope downward.

Since, as mentioned previously, unbraking the rope can be more complicated with certain types of self-braking belay devices, we recommend using such belay devices (which do not enable easy lowering of the climber) to belay the second only in easier terrain, where it is not expected that he will have problems climbing given his climbing performance, and therefore it will not be necessary to lower him.

More in e-book.

Title Part 3Mountaineering Methodology – Part 3 – Belaying and Rappelling

ISBN 978-80-87715-09-3

MMPublishing, 2013

Available for download from Apple iTunes (in the Books section).

For example U.S. store – link

Another countries – look on the page Download

See layout.

Another possibility is Google Play. This version is a simplified (as PDF).

Title Part 3 GPMountaineering Methodology – Part 3 – Belaying and Rappelling

ISBN 978-80-87715-14-7

MMPublishing, 2014

Available for download from Google Play.