Articles - Libby Peter's Rock Essentials Clinic: Beginner's Special - Get out on rock
Libby Peter - Posted on 14 Oct 2010
This simple system will only work at certain crags – those that are not too high, you can walk easily round to the top of the cliff and have big obvious anchors to belay from, in other words trees or big blocks.
We’ll look at setting up a true top-rope (rather than a bottom top-rope) using a system that is simple but has the advantage of being identical to what you’ll do at the top of a pitch when you start leading.
A thick living tree with roots soundly embedded makes an obvious simple anchor. A big solid block of rock would also work as long as it could not be dislodged by bodyweight and doesn’t have sharp edges. Either way choose an anchor that is well back from the edge of the cliff and one that is also in line with your chosen climb. Place a sling around the anchor (Photo 1). For big diameter trees and blocks the extra-long 240cm slings can be handy, otherwise join two or more slings with screwgates.
In this system we start by tying into the rope as normal, even though you’re at the top of the crag. Just remember to incorporate the correct parts of your harness, normally leg loops and waist belt and adjust it so you’ve created a fist size loop and left enough tail to tie a stopper (Photo 2).
As you’ve chosen an anchor well back from the crag edge you want a system that is adjustable so clip the rope into the screwgate at the anchor but don’t tie a knot yet (Photo 3).
Stay safely back from the edge so you can’t slip off and then tie a clove hitch that will sit in a screwgate clipped to the central rope loop you created when you tied in (Photo 4).
Choose a spot where you can see your partner and are in line with the anchor. Sitting down just a little way back from the edge is most stable so can see but not be pulled off your perch. Slide the rope through the clovehitch until you feel snugly held in the place you want to be. There shouldn’t be any slack in the ropes going back to the anchor. Remember that the ropes will stretch considerably if you hold a fall so you need to allow for this as you get into position (Photo 5).
Give a shout to warn your partner (“rope below” is the standard one) and then toss the end of the rope with enough coils of slack to reach the ground, pull up any spare rope (Photo 6).
Your partner can tie on to the end you’ve thrown down while you put them onto belay. Your belay device needs its own screwgate, which will also be clipped to the central rope loop. The brake hand will be the one that is furthest away from the climber, (in this case my left – Photo 7) so that when you brake or hold a fall you’re able to pull the rope right back behind the belay device. It’s important to learn to be ambidextrous. Have one final check that everything is in order then you can let your partner start to climb.
If you only ever belayed in a wall or belayed a leader outside you’ll have used a basic taking-in and paying out technique but you won't have experienced it from the top so it feels a little different. Get into a good habit from the start so you’re never ever caught out by lazy technique. If your partner slips off you won’t get a warning and you need to be able to react in a split second.
A Take in the slack as they move upwards with a pull-push movement.
B Bring the brake arm back to the locked off position behind the belay device.
C Let the other hand come back and take hold of the rope behind the belay device.
D Cross hands so you can bring the brake hand back closer to the belay device.
E Move the non-brake hand back to the live rope and you’re back to the start and ready to take in again.
Getting the basics of belaying sorted at the outset is a really good investment. It means that if and when you do eventually get on the sharp end you’ll have less to worry about when you get to the top!
Libby has been climbing for over 20 years, she is a qualified Mountaineering Instructor and British Mountain Guide and is the author of Rock Climbing – Essential Skills and Techniques published by MLTUK and recently produced Get Out On Rock – the definitive instructional DVD, you can see a taster of this at libbypeterclimbing.co.uk
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