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Hanging belays on ice quick notes

Date: 26th February 2013

Be careful sending me emails, you may get turned into a blog post, ha ha!
Here’s an interesting “hanging” belay on ice, maybe done to practice hanging belays? It has a few interesting things going on (plus in other images I won’t publish here) that I thought I’d comment on.
-In 30 years of ice climbing I’ve never had to do a hanging belay. Put belays in flat spots where the belayer is sheltered. Seriously, there is no reason to do a hanging belay–the belayer is a sitting duck for falling ice, which will hit him or her as he’s not sheltered if he’s hanging…
-Maybe don’t hang climbers off to the side on individual ice screws; if that one screw fails (and screws under load often slowly melt loose…) the shockload on the other screw is going to be MASSIVE, and may very likely rip it. If you have to do hanging belays, and again I never have on ice, put the climbers into the “focal point” of the belay.
-Clipping a screw in the anchor for the leader is generally not a good idea; if the climbing is really insecure put the belayer a few meters below the belay and run the lead rope through the focal point of the belay. This is much, much stronger, and the belayer likely won’t get slammed into the ice really violently if the leader falls off. A direct anchor belay may be an option with ice screws also.
-In general don’t clip into the belay with sling; use the rope, makes for a lot lower impact forces in a factor-two fall onto the belay (assuming you don’t clip a screw, which I generally now don’t for a lot of reasons).

Posted in: Blog


  1. Harri   March 2, 2013 3:43 am

    Hey, interesting as usual, but why do do you think it’s such a bad idea to clip a screw in the anchor for the leader? And do you think it only applies to ice climbing, or rock climbing, too? Thanks!

  2. Steve Traversari   March 2, 2013 7:46 am

    Hi Will, I was out this week and set up a belay on the route. It wasn’t exactly a hanging belay as I managed to set up on a small ‘ledge’ (3 screws, min. 16cm., each located on a separate vertical plane). Over to the right above us was a partially formed curtain with lots of daggers hanging from it. We weren’t under these, but there was no shelter on the route except to move out of the potential fall line. In your comment to not ever having had a hanging belay (and I agree that on ice there’s always some ledge available or one that can be partially hacked out) but is your concern over the safety of the strength of the belay anchor or to allow for extra mobility of the belayer from falling debris potentially created from the leader? My other question was the same as Harri’s comment above: when I left the belay to lead the next pitch I clipped an anchor screw with a screamer to avoid the fall factor two potential. The BD screws have double holes on the hanger, which my understanding is are intended for that purpose. I know it would have been better to place a separate screw immediately after leaving the belay, but there is still exposure to a fall factor two right on the belayer. I figure the impact force on one anchor screw with screamer (somewhat less that fall factor two, potential even less than fall factor one) is less and thus safer than falling right on the belay/belayer.
    By the way, and I know this may sound chessey right here out in public, but you are the one responsible for my new found ice climbing skills over the past year! If you ever need a belay slave, sub-man or groupie in your travels it would be a privilege to tag along.

  3. Will Gadd   March 4, 2013 9:37 am

    Hari, if the leader clips the top piece in a belay and falls off the belayer generally gets launched face-first at a very high rate of speed into the wall. Most will put their hands up instinctively, which isn’t a very good way make an ATC work, rope angle is wrong. So if the belayer doesn’t raise his hands up, yet survives the face-first impact still conscious, then great. I’ve experimented with this vs. taking the factor two straight onto the belay loop; in most situations most people really prefer to catch the fall directly on the belay loop, and nobody wants to keep catching falls of more than a few feet when clipped through the top piece… Just too violent.

    And then there’s the fact that all the force comes onto once piece that’s part of the anchor, and is multiplied by two (the force of the falling climber plus the force to stop him falling from the belayer…). It’s actually a lower impact force to take it directly on the belayer clipped to the focal point of the belay. But that has some problems too; best is to not fall off immediately after leave the belay, it’s a harsh fall (I’ve caught a few of those over the years, and experimented more).

    Lots of other reasons, solutions, etc., and occasionally I will clip the top piece (a big traverse below the belay, makes sense, low impact force, easier to hold, etc). The trick is to practice, explore, understand and not let rhetoric or “I think that…” be the last word. If you’re really worried position the belayer ten feet or so below the focal point, and have the leader clip the focal point. Strong, little chance of the belayer getting smacked into the wall, lower impact forces, better solution.

    Steve, be great to climb with you anytime. If you’ve clipped the top screw your’e not theoretically in a factor two fall situation, although once the belayer gets launched into the screw things may get very interesting very fast, and I’d guess loads on that screw will probably be higher, and on only one screw…

    If anyone wants to play with this make sure you tie backup knots in the belay strand, start small, choose a “clean” location, and maybe wear gloves, a good helmet and some hockey padding… Things get really violent really fast when clipped either through the top screw or directly onto the belay loop.

    I expect we’ll see a lot more “direct anchor” belays in the future, that’s coming and solves a lot of problems. HTH.

  4. Will Gadd   March 4, 2013 9:44 am

    Oh, and yes, the main reason for not doing a hanging belay is to protect the belayer. I can tell how experienced ice climbers are without any other information than their first belay on a long route… If they put it into a cave they have a clue about ice climbing. If they hang the belayer in a nice little alcove directly in the line of fire then they are usually from England, Australia or Colorado. The really amazing thing is that they will put the belay in the line of fire for pitch after pitch… Or climb below another party leading above them, and then be surprised when they get hit with ice…

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