How to Give a Dynamic Belay—Chris Sharma Shows Us How

"Climbing is about falling and getting up. It's a process of trial and error. It is life itself." This quote from Chris Sharma perfectly represents what for many people who love the mountains is the metaphor for climbing. And to make these falls, in climbing and in life, as soft as possible a good partner on the other side is essential. Take a look at what Chris Sharma teaches us about belaying in climbing.

In the face of a climbing fall, trust is better than doubt.

Not being afraid of a fall is probably the factor that has led to the exponential progression in the maximum grades that many climbers achieve, along with, of course, specific training. This psychological factor in which falling no longer represents a danger of harm or injury is underpinned by the quality of the safety elements of the climbing gear, from today's virtually unbreakable ropes to the rest of the equipment we put our faith in, such as harnesses, quickdraws and belay devices.

However, gaining trust in the belayer is a much longer process, with more doubts along the way. It is not enough to assume that, once you know how to use a belay device, everything will go smoothly, as there are certain belay strategies that make an important difference between knowing how to stop a fall softly and not abruptly and painfully.

Focus, position and dynamism, the basics of belaying. Photo Petzl

One of these strategies to stop a lead climber from falling is dynamic belaying, which is sometimes misunderstood and often poorly implemented. To explain how to perform a dynamic belay in climbing we bring you the second of series of videos edited by Petzl in which we explain in a brief, simple and very visual way how to perform one of the most appreciated manoeuvres when lead climbing: having a partner capable of safely and smoothly arresting our fall.

The protagonist of the video is the Californian climber Chris Sharma. Lines such as “Biographie”, “Es Pontas” or “Dura dura” are just highlights in his extensive career. Here he talks about a part of sport climbing and climbing technique that is usually not covered, as the focus is usually on the climber. We hope you will learn a lot with this information:

Dynamic Belaying—Things to Consider

Dynamic belaying is not something that is innate. It tends to have more to do with experience gained from many hours of belaying and stopping many falls. Normally, Grigri-type assisted locking devices brake very effectively: a movable cam pivots and pinches the rope, preventing it from "running" and thus stopping the fall as soon as there is a pull. This braking efficiency is quite abrupt since, although minimised by the elongation of the dynamic ropes, the acceleration of gravity of an object - our body - in free fall is reduced to zero in a fraction of a second.

Belay a climber. Graffic Petzl.

To be able to perform a dynamic belay in a perfect way, we basically need to know how to operate the device we are using, be totally focused on the task in hand have free space to move towards the first bolt of the route. This last requirement limits the execution of this technique to route bases with plenty of space, forcing us to rule out uncomfortable areas or places where we must remain anchored, such as belay stations on multi-pitch routes. Thus, comfortable sport crags or climbing walls are the ideal places for dynamic belaying.

Chris Sharma explains, with some humour, but without a reproach to the truth of the statement, that the belayer's first objective is to prevent the climber from falling to the ground. To do this, the basic rule is never let go of the free end of the rope, always paying attention to the braking hand. After this very important self-evident fact, it is important to know how to carry out the famous, but not always well performed, dynamic catch.

The brake hand must always be in position. Photo Petzl.

How to Give a Dynamic Belay

Dynamic belaying consists of allowing the climber who falls while leading safely, to experience a more progressive and softer braking and thus avoid a very sudden impact on his or her body.

With assisted braking devices, unlike classic belay tubes or baskets that allow the rope to slide a little before coming to a complete stop, what is gained in safety is lost in dynamism. Thus, it must be the belayer - and not the rope - who adds those few metres that make the difference between a hard catch and a soft one.

To do this, the belayer must compensate, by taking a few steps forward or a small jump, with the pull received with the tension of the rope. It is of utmost importance to insist that this compensation of the pull is done just at the moment when the rope is taut, never before, as in this case we would only be giving dangerous slack that would not help the climber in any way.

Dynamic belaying sequence. Graffic Petzl

The attitude and position of the belayer is essential. Constant attention to the movements of the climber and to ensure that the pull of the fall does not surprise us in a distracted or unstable position is basic to any belay, but in the case of dynamic belaying it is fundamental.

The rope pull will always carry the belayer towards the first bolt of the route. If this first bolt is very close to the ground, it may be a good idea to unclip the rope from the first quickdraw so that, if the belayer reaches it, the collision with the carabiner does not unintentionally unlock the pivoting cam, which would cause the climber to fall.

What precautions should be taken for dynamic belaying?

Some of the precautions we have already mentioned: waiting for the precise moment of the pull to take a few steps forward or having a stable position are essential. Another recommendation is that whoever belays must wear a helmet, given that a collision with the rock is always possible, but this should not go unmentioned.

After the fall, the belayer will be displaced from their initial position. Photo Petzl

However, a warning that ties in with Chris Sharma's first explanation in the video - that the climber should never hit the ground - is not entirely obvious when we are prepared to make a dynamic belay. The impact force (the force the climber receives) is logically related to the height of the fall, but also to the length of rope between the climber and the belay device. The first few metres of climbing is where the force of impact will be greatest but where dynamic belaying is least advisable due to the proximity of the ground. Likewise, although it should not be usual on sport routes, dynamic belaying is not recommended when there are ledges.

We hope you have found this article and video useful. We hope that with skill and practice you will master dynamic belaying to perfection.

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