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What does belay mean?

The jargon used in climbing is endless: bomber, gaston, belay? Who comes up with all this stuff?? As climbing has evolved, climbers developed their own language to simplify concepts within the sport. Language helps us communicate clearly and effectively. As Kevin from the office so eloquently puts it, “Why waste time say lot word when few word do trick?”

What is belaying?

Belaying is a technique used by climbers to create friction in a rope system and control the descent of a climber. This system can be created from friction hitches or a belay device built specifically to be used by a belayer.

When a climber is on belay, they are relying on their belayer to control their descent and prevent them from entering an uncontrolled fall. In this system, the climber is the person on the climb and the belayer will be on the ground or secured at an anchor. The two are connected by the ropes in their system.

Rock climbing is an exhilarating and challenging sport that naturally comes with complex equipment and complex techniques that seem unfamiliar to those unfamiliar with the sport. Of them belaying is one of the vital skills about being able to do it as well.

Any indoor climbing gym will require a new guest to take a belay test to verify that they know and understand the belay system and can catch a fall. Any time you climb with someone for the first time, ask them to show you their belay technique on the ground. You don’t want to start climbing and look down to see bad belay technique!

Belay devices

There are three different techniques for belaying: top rope-climbing, lead climbing and auto belaying. Automatic belays do not require a human partner and are controlled by a separate control unit.

An auto belay device will typically have its own wall at the climbing gym

Auto-Belay Devices

In these units, auto-belay devices typically utilize friction brakes or hydraulic brakes as a braking technique. Magnetic brake systems utilize the same centrifugal force to trigger opposing magnetic forces to slow the climber during climb.

Petzl Reverso is a manual tube style belay device

Manual Belay Device

Tubular and assisted braking devices of the more common styles of manually operated belay that are used for top rope climbing and lead climbing. These are metallic devices that are durable and create friction for the belayer. These devices are clipped into the belay loop on the climbing harness and will control the rope while the climber is climbing.

Assisted braking devices, like the Petzl GriGri, are built with an additional component that assists the belayer with braking during a fall. When a climber falls, the friction of the rope being pulled activates a cam within the GriGri. This cam then cinches the rope and prevents any more rope from coming through the device. This is why the GriGri is also known as an assisted braking device.

The Petzl GriGri ias an assisted braking device that is excellent for all things belaying

History and Etymology for belay

The word belay comes from an Old English word that meant to secure or to fasten. The origin of the word comes from sailing when a belay pin was used to hold a line. Over time this came to be the climbing term we’re familiar with today.

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