Below is a list of items to be considered when setting up for a top rope climb and during the process of climbing and belaying. The list is not exhaustive, but includes the basics that will have been covered during the beginners course. The below assumes a solid, redundant anchor; as found at an indoor wall or set up outdoors by a qualified instructor and with the rope preset through the anchor.
Ensure your harness is fitted correctly for climbing and belaying:
- Check the harness manufacturer’s instructions.
- Check the harness is the correct size.
- Check the waist loop is correctly orientated and fitted securely above the hips. A good rule of thumb is to be able to slide a flat hand down between the waist loop and thigh, but not be able to pull a fist back out.
- Check leg loops are correctly orientated and fitted securely. The leg loops can be fitted a little looser than the waist loop.
- Ensure waist and leg straps are double backed through buckles. Where a harness has a quick adjust type double buckle, ensure the straps are correctly secured.
- Tuck all waist and leg straps away neatly.
- The harness is to be fitted over clothing.
Tie into the climbing rope and ensure the following:
- Use a rethreaded figure-8 or bowline knot as a climbers knot.
- Tie a stopper knot after the climbers knot.
- Tie into the harness belay loop for an alpine harness and into the waist and leg tie in loops for a sport sit harness.
- Keep the knot loop as tight as possible to the harness. The knot loop should ideally not be larger than the belay loop.
- Dress all knots to ensure a neat fit.
- Stopper knots should be dressed directly up against the rethreaded figure-8 or bowline. A bowline MUST always have a stopper knot.
- Aim to have about a handful of tail left over after the climbing knot and stopper knot.
Use a suitable belay device such as a manual ATC or an assisted braking Gri-Gri, and ensure the following:
- Check the belay device manufacturer’s instructions.
- Ensure the rope diameter is appropriate for the device.
- The belay device should be fastened to the harness belay loop with a locking carabiner, such as a screw gate. A HMS (pear shape) screw gate works best for belaying.
- For an ATC, insert a bight of rope into the device so that the climbers side ‘live’ rope is coming out the top of the device. The ‘dead rope’ should be out the bottom of the device. It is best practice to position the rope on the side of the device that your dead hand will be on.
- Ensure the screw gate or locking mechanism is locked.
- Ensure the carabiner is not cross loaded.
- Remember that Gri-Gri’s and similar assisted belay devices require the dead rope to be held at all times. They are NOT auto locking.
Ensure you do partner check as follows:
- Check each others harness fitting prior to the first climb and whenever a harness is removed and refitted.
- The climber to check the belayer setup: Locking Carabiner on belay loop, carabiner locked, rope correctly positioned in the belay device.
- The belayer to check the climber setup: Climbers knot (figure-8 or bowline) with stopper knot dressed neatly with enough tail, tied correctly onto the harness.
- Partner checks to be carried out after every new tie in.
- Remember that partner checks reduce risk and help to make climbing safer.
Rope and Anchors
Rope and anchor checks prior to a climb as follows:
- Always check that the rope is running freely through the anchors with no twists.
- Always make sure the climber and belayer are using the same rope!
Utilise a safe belaying technique, incorporating the following for an ascending climber:
- Never let go of the dead rope!
- Use a guarded and braced position close to the wall. Standing slightly sideways with the brake hand behind is optimal.
- ‘V, knee, 1, 2, 3’ for taking in climbers slack.
- Keep slack to a minimum.
- Always keep the dead rope hand down by default and minimise the time an ATC is in an open (V) position.
- Avoid taking in too much rope at a time – it is better to make smaller, faster movements.
- When a climber falls or is having a ‘take’, keep both hands on the dead rope.
Utilise a safe lowering technique, incorporating the following:
- Use both hands on the dead rope when lowering with a manual ATC.
- Always ensure one hand is gripping the dead rope at any time.
- The belayer should not slide the rope through their hands.
- Stand close to the wall to remove any forward force, especially when the climber is heavier than the belayer.
- Lower slowly and smoothly.
- The climber to use a wide stance and walk or lightly bounce down the wall.
- An ATC with a grooved end can be reversed so that the friction is removed – this is helpful when belaying lighter climbers.
Refer to manufacturer’s instructions in all instances, but especially for the operation of assisted braking devices as each will have there own method of safe operation, which has not been included above.
Use recognised calling signals to clearly communicate between climber and belayer. A good tip is to use your partner’s name prior to a signal to avoid miscommunication, especially in a busy setting.
- ‘On belay, climb when ready’
- ‘You can Lower’
- ‘Lean back’
Utilise ground anchors when the climber is considerably heavier than the belayer and ensure the following:
- Tie into a ground anchor with a clove hitch.
- Ensure that the length of rope to the ground anchor has very little slack.
- The belayer to stand over the ground anchor so that the load does not pull the belayer forward or up.
- Attach the belay device to the tie in knot loop so that the load is transferred directly to the ground anchor, with the beanery indirectly in the system.
A belay proficiency test will need to be undertaken by new climbers when registering at a climbing wall and when climbing at new walls to demonstrate proficiency. The following will need to be demonstrated:
- Put on an appropriate climbing harness and fit correctly.
- Tie into the harness with a climbers knot (figure-8 or bowline) and stopper knot.
- Correctly setup a belay device and attach to a fitted harness.
- Take in slack, simulating a climber ascending.
- Catch a fall, demonstrating an arrest.
- Lowering a weighted climber.