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Dynamic Belays and Running Belays: Do you know all there is to know?

Submitted by tenn_dawg on 2003-08-26

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It is apparent that the "Dynamic Belay" is one of the most misunderstood techniques in climbing. I find this kind of unnerving. I have had the good fortune to climb with experienced belayers who understand the dynamics of belaying (play on words there, eh?) and explaining the concepts of proper belaying have never been necessary.

Let me make this one point real quick. Gyms teach you only what they and their insurance companies think is best FOR THE GYM. This does not mean that how they instruct belaying, is the best way to belay. Hell, I'd be suprised if more than 50% of gym instructors could have a legit conversation about dynamic belaying beyond the standard "Gri-Gri's are more static than ATC's."

My point is, belaying is not a simple, or easy task. Being a good belayer takes practice, experience, and a good attitude. As you progress in the sport, your belaying should progress as well. If you find you have been climbing for 4 years, and you still belay the same way the instructor in the gym explained 4 years ago, you may need to do a little research. For nearly a year, I was of the school that "the shorter the fall, the better" and me and my partner always crouched down when catching a fall. This was fine for less than vertical, easy trad and sport climbs, but as the rock got steeper, and the falls more frequent, we found a huge problem with belaying this way. Falls from less than about 4 feet above a bolt on steep rock resulted in slamming HARD into the rock 5 feet below the bolt. One day while working an easy .11 (far beyond my RP ability at the time), I heard my ankle crack, and knew we had better rethink how we were belaying.

In the same situation, we found that if Jeff (my partner) jumped as I was weighting the rope at the end of the fall, I would keep an even trajectory toward the ground, rather than swinging into the rock. We experimented a little by pitching off the route over and over (what can I say, we didn't believe in teachers) and with a little practice, we could catch feather soft falls, that we previously would have hurt ourselves on.

The belayer would end up about 4 to 10 feet off the ground depending on the severity of the fall, and the strength of his jump. Conversely, the climber would end up 4 to 10 feet lower after his fall. If the route is steep however, and there is little to hit, there is no harm done due to the extra lengths of the falls. In fact, falling, and belaying falls became a bit of a challenge in it's self. My eyes were opened to a new kind of climbing, where falls are okay!

We had no idea what the technique was called (or even that it was a technique for that matter), but used it all the time. We still do when the situation warrants it. [page]

Now, lets take a little road trip. We're headed east to North Carolina. There is a crag there known as Stone Mountain. It's a pretty lame and generic name, that's for sure, but the mountain is home to a belay technique of the same name.

The Stone Mountain Running Belay

This technique is the polar opposite of the Dynamic Belay. It is done by placing an omnidiretional placement (such as a slung tree) at ground level, and running the rope through it after the belay, then to the climber. When the climber falls on lead, the belayer takes off running through the woods at break neck speed (Gri-Gri's Helpful) with the intention of shortening the climbers fall as much as possible.

You may wonder why this technique is any good, since I just explained a good reason for having a dynamic belay. Well here's a little info. Stone Mountain is a 600' Granite dome, the majority of which is completely devoid of all features and holds, and FAR less than vertical. Having been equipt by North Carolina climbers of the era of bold climbs, big balls, and puckering assholes, the routes are less than ideally bolted. It is not uncommon for a 150' route to have 3 bolts.

Now it doesn't take much math to figure that if you blow the second clip, the ground will catch you before the first bolt if your belayer simply locks off, and watches the show. Hence the running belay. Since the climbing is very slabby, your terminal velocity in a fall will be far less than through the air. (Picture a guy in a motorcycle crash) By running through the woods, your belayer is taking in slack at (hopefully) the same speed as you are falling. If your belayer is really fast, he will catch you at the first bolt, having run 50' as you fell 50'. Good stuff huh?

Now, to make my final point. There is a reason I have covered these two completely different belay techniques in a post about "Dynamic Belays". One reason is that I wanted to expose everyone to aspects of belaying they may have had no idea existed. If you have never heard of the "Running Belay" or the "Dynamic Belay" then you really should consider learning a bit more about belaying in general. There is much more to it, than "Keep your break hand on the rope at all times".

It is easy to become complacent and grizzled as you become a competent climber. It is even easier to assume you know all there is to know about something as seemingly simple as belaying a leader. Remember that there is always more to learn, and stay open to the advice of others. At a bare minimum at least know why YOU disagree with what someone says about a new technique. Don't simply disagree because you've never heard of it before.

And Second, there are many, MANY, contributing factors to a belay. Many (most) of them have been covered here on this website.

Anchoring in, or not. GriGri's or ATC's. Jumping or Running. Locking off, or letting the rope slide.

These are all techniques that are to be used when the situation warrants it. It is your duty to be educated enough in the plethora of belay techniques to make sound decisions about which of them you use. You should never do something just because that's the way you learned, or it's the only way you know how. Branch out, and be open to the knowledge of others. Learn all you can, and make the right decision not out of luck, but because of forethought and knowledge.

Climbing is all about making decisions when the life of yourself or your partner lies on the outcome of your actions. Do all you can to make the right decisions.


(This article was originally a post on To read the discussion, click HERE. Feel free to comment, or call BS if need be! -TAG)


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5 out of 5 stars thank you for giving a detailed explanation to the rock climbing aspect of a running belay.

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