belaying safely

Safe Belaying – Your friend’s safety is in your hands

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Your friend’s safety is in your hands

Not that many years ago, when life as a climber in Singapore was simple. Get yourself certified to sport climbing level 1 to climb top rope and sport climbing level 2 to climb lead in any Singapore climbing gym. Then as always, something happened to f**k up the whole system or at least some parts of it. Several climbing gyms in Singapore started to impose a mandatory use of ABD (Assisted Braking Device) and the need to verify your lead climbing skill even after you had your level 2 sports climbing certification. Before I go on any further this post is not trying to discredit any gyms, but to address the need to understand the inherent danger of sport climbing.

Belaying with ABDs and Verification Test

As a climber, I do have moments where my mind drifted away while belaying as I’m sure many others do as well. Having an ABD is helpful to minimize the chances of mishaps but making it mandatory may be unnecessary. Verifying your top rope and lead climbing skills is reasonable because there are certified climbers who had not been climbing for years or new climbers who haven’t gotten sufficient mileage to be proficient. But having to pay for verification is up to the individual to decide if it’s justified. Regardless, the main reason for implementing lead verification and ABD is for your safety.

Belay Devices – old school vs new school

belay header blog
Belay Devices old and new

I’m a fan of ABDs, I have a few and I think they are great, at least some of them are. But before you jump headfirst into getting one you should learn the fundamentals of belaying using a conventional tube device such as an ATC. I’m more of an old-school guy so I advocate the need to master how to catch your climber’s fall by yourself before using an ABD that will do it for you.

There are so many ABDs in the market and it is hard to decide which to buy. Newer ABDs these days come in all shapes and sizes, and to be honest some look like a component straight out of a spaceship. My criteria for an ABD are simple; it must be able to belay from the bottom, belay from the top, able to abseil on 2 ropes. I cannot comprehend spending over a hundred dollars on an ABD that is just good for belaying from the ground up. Another key aspect of an ABD I look for is the device should not have too many components hence if I am to recommend something it would be to get a geometry ABD instead of a mechanical ABD. Simplicity is good as there had been product recalls on a couple of mechanical ABDs due to mechanical faults.

SMF Sport Climbing Courses

Belaying with ABD
Belaying with ABD

As an SMF sport climbing instructor, I encountered participants with no prior climbing experience taking level 1 and followed by level 2 the following week. There are no rules against that, but I believe it is the role of the instructor to educate the participant that he or she should gain more top rope climbing and belaying experience before signing up for level 2. My advice to new climbers is to enjoy the sport and not rush into getting the next-level certification. Level 2 certification is no longer a requirement for lead climbing in some gyms because these gyms will need you to go through a one-time verification test before allowing you to lead climb even if you are level 2 certified. Instead, new climbers should look at SMF climbing courses as a program to become safer and better climbers. If leading on a natural wall and doing multi-pitch climbing is your goal then yes you should take the SMF climbing courses.

So my last parting advice is. If you are not experienced everything looks safe if you are somewhat experienced everything looks unsafe, whereas if you are experienced you will know what is or is not safe.

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