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Belays - Part 3

What do you do if you get to the top of a route and find a not very reassuring belay? If you are beginner, you should get acquainted with the condition of the anchors of a route, before starting to climb it, so as to avoid such unfortunate situations

Here is some hints by Gianluca Di Benedetto, that could be useful if you, for a mistake, get in trouble at the end of a route.  An article aimed at beginners.

Part 5 / 6
Dangerous belays
Fig.1) Nightmarish belay Fig.2) Rusty belay
Fig.3) Belay damaged by a rockfall
Fig.4) Rudty belay, with a bolt in good condition
Gianluca Di Benedetto

If you arrive at the end of a route and the condition of the belay makes you concerned for your safety (for example the belay is like in Fig. 1 or 2), you need to try doing something.

If the anchors (that is the bolts and the hangers) are still in good condition (Fig. 4) and the problem lies in the connection between them (rusty chain, or a too old rope) or rather the element from which you will be lowered down (a not certified or worn out or unsuitable carabiner, as for ex. in Fig. 3), you could try to reinforce the belay.

You can adopt various solutions, depending on the gear that you have.

Worn out belay
Fig.5) Belay "to leave there"
Fig.6) Only one bolt is good: a reinforcement is possible
Gianluca Di Benedetto

Replacement of component from which you will be lowered down Fig. 6

If you are dealing with a rusty, not suitable or worn out carabiner (or "maillon rapide"), you can replace it with a certified "maillon rapide " (this is the cheapest solution), or with a carabiner, or with a quickdraw (in this last case it's better to set the carabiner of the quickdraw in the opposite direction of the element that has to be reinforced, provided that it does not give rise to a leverage effect on the rock).

Making a belay "to leave there" Fig. 5

It's a good choice if the anchors (that is bolts and hangers) are still in good condition and the link between them, instead, is compromised and not suitable (rusty chain or rotted rope). This option requires that you are equipped with a rope or a sling and a "maillon rapide".

Other strategies

If the belay is so compromised or dangerous that an eventual reinforcement is not enough to ensure an adequate level of safety (for example a belay that has undergone a rockfall or with the anchors completely rusted) you can anyway adopt some strategies: after an eventual reinforcement, arrange your lowering down doing a "Self-locking Machard knot", Fig. 7, with a lanyard (possibly made of kevlar) on the branch of rope that goes from the belay to the belayer, and tighten the knot with your hand during the lowering down to allow for its sliding. In doing so, if, unfortunately, the belay would give way, the Machard knot will shorten the length of the fall as the one of the fall from the closest anchors, provided that the anchors of the route are suitable, and except for the first anchors of the route (because if the belay cracks when you have already passed the first anchors, there is no anchor from which you can hang...).


Nodo machard
Fig.7) Machard knot on the rope's branch going toward the belayer
Gianluca Di Benedetto

If you don't have a lanyard, and the last anchor of the route is suitable, it might be useful to sacrifice a quickdraw to leave on the last anchors of the route (with your rope pulled, obviously).

If also the other anchors of the route were not suitable, it might be convenient to sacrifice other gear to save your skin. But at this point, you should ask yourself "How did I get into this?!?!"…

Some conclusions

From what has been said, it is clear how important it is to have updated guides, providing correct information about the condition of the anchors of each route. It's important also to bring along some material for an emergency lowering down, like lanyards, maillon rapide, and carabiners, which can be useful in many circumstances.

Part 5 / 6

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