Climbing Weight Difference: How to Belay a Heavier Climber

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If the climber is considerably heavier than the belayer, there are some problems. The most obvious of course is the catching of a fall. With such a weight ratio, a fall can lead to dangerous situations:

    1. The belayer lifts off the ground and loses control of the climbing rope.
    2. If the belayer is pulled up by the climber’s fall, he can be brutally stopped at the first anchor and injure himself in the process.
    3. As a result of points 1 and 2, the belayer may let go of the climbing rope due to the instinct of self-preservation.

To solve this problem, there are a few techniques and equipment to help you secure a heavy climber. With these techniques and gadgets, it is absolutely doable to belay a 20 or even 40 kg heavier climbing partner!

How to Belay a Heavy Climbing Partner

With a few precautions, the above-mentioned dangers can be kept within limits. If you keep to them, your climbing partner will fall gently and you will not hurt yourself.

The simplest solution is mainly used in climbing gyms- you simply tie the belayer to the ground. This prevents him from taking off and injuring himself at the first anchor and the climber does not fall to the ground. The disadvantage is, however, that the fall is not really gently cushioned, which stops both the climber and the climbing rope more abruptly and thus exerts high forces.

How to Belay a Heavy Climbing Partner in Lead Climbing

The biggest problems caused by a large weight difference occur during lead climbing. As already mentioned, there is the danger of the first anchor.

If you cannot secure yourself to the ground, you should follow these rules to secure your climbing partner:

  • Wear gloves: First of all, the person who is belaying should wear belay gloves*, as a high braking force must be exerted on the climbing rope and it, therefore, glides through your hands with a lot of force. If you are not careful, burns can quickly occur. Also, you don’t have to fear to hold the climbing rope strongly when the climber falls, because you don’t have to be afraid to hurt your hands and fingers when you wear gloves.
  • Don’t clip the first anchor: The easiest way to avoid being pulled into the first anchor when your climbing partner falls is to skip it! Then you have a bigger buffer before you are pulled to the anchor. But if the second anchor is already quite far away and your climbing partner does not dare to let out the first one, he could also climb back after the second one to release the first one again. But there is also an ingenious device that saves you this hassle: a stick clip. It’s a stick with a device at the end, with which you can hook the climbing rope including a Quickdraw at the anchor.
  • Stand directly under the first (or second) anchor: If you stand directly under the first anchor on which the climbing rope is clipped, you will not be dragged over the ground when the climber falls but pulled directly upwards. This will soften the fall and you can’t trip.
  • Condition of the rock face: Look at the first few meters of the rock face before you start to climb the route. You will take off in a fall and then you have to support yourself with your feet on this rock face. But if there are dangerous objects like sharp edges or something like that, you should assess the risk and choose another route if necessary.
  • Sturdy shoes: Wear sturdy shoes when belaying. When you take off, you still need both hands to secure the climbing rope. Your feet keep you away from the rock face, so you should have shoes in which you have a good support. If you had to hike to the climbing route, just leave your hiking boots on.
  • Be ready: Once your climbing partner has left the ground, you should be ready to catch him. At the latest, when you realize that he’s reached a difficult spot. Look up permanently and don’t let the climber out of your sight. If this is difficult for you, there are special glasses that can help you. If your heavy climbing partner is not yet too high, you can support yourself with a knee on the ground to increase the distance between you two. If he falls, you shouldn’t jump high! This should only be done if the weight difference is exactly the other way around and the climber is considerably lighter than the person securing the rope in order to cushion the fall more gently.
  • Wearing a helmet: This goes without saying. But in this situation you need the helmet not only to protect you from falling rocks, but also from the climber himself! If the climber is not yet too high and falls, it can happen that you collide. If the collision can’t be stopped, try to get your head out of the way. You don’t have a climbing helmet? –> How to Choose a Rock Climbing Helmet

How to Belay a Heavy Climbing Partner in Toprope Climbing

With Toprope climbing belaying is a lot more easy. There is no first anchor into which you can be pulled and the effect of the pulley helps to hold the load of the climber well. The most important thing is not to panic and lose control of the climbing rope. If you’re still unsure, tie yourself to the ground.

Review: Edelrid Ohm – Special Device for High Weight Differences

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If you want even more support when belaying with a large weight difference, the Edelrid Ohm is just the thing for you (Edelrid Ohm on Amazon*). This device was designed for the classic case of a couple of man and woman. Here the difference in weight is often 20 to 30 kg. The maximum weight difference when using this piece of equipment can be 40 kg.

In addition to its ingenious function, it also offers a psychological advantage, as you feel safer when climbing and belaying.

The name “Ohm” is both a pun and the operating principle of this device. Ohm is the unit for electrical resistance in electrical engineering. The Edelrid Ohm gives you the necessary control over the climbing rope by giving you more resistance on the climbing rope. However, this resistance does not affect the climbing rope during normal climbing, so that the climber does not feel any resistance when climbing up.

The Edelrid Ohm is hooked into the first anchor with a quickdraw. The rest is exactly the same as usual. The belayer on the ground can belay and lower the climber with a normal belay device as usual.

If the climber now falls, the Edelrid Ohm puts a great deal of resistance on the climbing rope, which additionally slows it down. Lowering is also much more pleasant. The first anchor to which the device is attached then functions basically as a second belayer.

Especially on very vertical routes, the additional resistance has a positive effect on the handling of the climbing rope, as there is hardly any friction between the climbing rope and other carabiners on vertical routes.

The Edelrid Ohm should only be used by a light belayer and a heavy climber. If it is also used when the climber is lighter than the person belaying, the climber is stopped all the more strongly and thus too quickly in the event of a fall. The catch of a fall should always be dynamically. If it ends abruptly, injuries and damage to the climbing rope and other equipment may occur.

Final Thoughts

As you have hopefully noticed, it is possible and absolutely normal to secure a heavier climbing partner than yourself. If you follow the techniques and tips mentioned here, nothing should happen to you out there!

In addition, the Edelrid Ohm is an excellent tool to make things even safer.

Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on only helps you to learn. Before you climb, you should make sure that you have been properly instructed by an expert and that you follow all safety precautions.

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