Recently I've spent a lot of time holding the weight of my seconding partner (payback for all of the times in the past that I've climbed with better people and ended up hanging on the rope!), and I've come to the conclusion that holding someone for any length of time with the 'standard' method of indirect belaying at the top of the crag is pretty uncomfortable.
Obviously many single pitch crags (grit, in this instance) just end on horizontal ground somewhat by definition, and therefore it's common to not have gear above you, and so it's not possible to redirect the rope or belay directly in guide mode. I did some playing around the other weekend with building the belay back to an alpine butterfly isolation loop and belaying directly from that with an Italian hitch.
It's such an easy and convenient way of belaying, and so much more comfortable than belaying from the harness at the top of the crag. Why, dare I ask, isn't it more popular?
Fear of rope twisting and abrasion.
Why don't you belay in guide mode from the isolation loop?
Because just as often as not, the isolation loop is tied in a rope which goes horizontally to whatever massive boulder or thread forms the belay on the flat crag top, and even if the device did function properly* it seems like it would be awkward to use it like that. If I were able to get the gear above me and belay from below it (from a ledge with gear in the back wall or at the top of the crag, for example) I would do that, but the advantage of the Munter is that it works equally well regardless of the topography of the crag and the belay.
* - I've always stayed well away from guide mode when you can't arrange things such that the device is in textbook orientation - hanging vertically from some gear and away from interference from the rock. It doesn't seem likely to me that a device rigged on the flat will apply enough force to the dead rope in a fall to lock off reliably, but I've never experimented. jimtitt, where are you?
I'm in my workshop in 29° making bolts! I never use guide mode so have no views on it's practical application, I'd use an Italian hitch as well.
The main reason not to belay back from the edge is rock and rope wear. It's perfectly okay to guide plate/ hitch from several metres back and chill, but it will wreck your ropes if your pal falls off and cover the rock in shredded ropes (or even grooves). If I was confident my second wasn't going to fall off I'd use a belay plate in guide mode. I don't think it's a lot harder to use than a hitch and much better for your ropes.
I use guide mode lot as I too dislike twisted ropes from munters (and a like being able to go hands-free for photos/putting on shoes, etc. etc.). The orientation of the guide plate doesn't matter, the only thing to watch for is that it can't physically get caught again the rock as this could lock it open in theory, having said this, I think you would have to try very hard to get the guide plate to lock open in this way.
If in doubt, wrap a couple of loops of rope round your wrist while eating lunch/snoozing then if the plate doesn't lock when the second falls, your hand going into it will definitely lock it: Problem solved!! Joking apart, I do do this reasonably regularly as a sort of backup to the guide plate; I figure the chances of the guide mode failing (I've never seen or heard of this but that doesn't mean it's never happened) are extremely low so rope burn and a sore hand are something I'm prepared to risk for the convenience of not having to keep a tight hold on the deadrope at all times while still keeping my partner safe.
If your second spends a long time hanging on the rope, I'm surprised you haven't ended up hauling from time to time - if you have a guide mode, turning it into a 3 to 1 hauling system is very easy with a jumar or tibloc or prussic which is a significant advantage over a munter. Even having the 3-to-1 on just to get the rope super-tight is a good halfway house before trying to haul in earnest (which will totally destroy a rope going over the crag edge at a sharp angle) as it means the second only has to generate maybe half to three quarters their body weight in upward force to get past a short hard section.
> The main reason not to belay back from the edge is rock and rope wear.
I hadn't really considered this was part of the ops question but it's an obvious concern... I don't climb a lot in places where my second hangs a lot and the rope goes over an edge like that but if we are talking gritstone or something, wouldn't using a rope protector just laid flat over the edge where the ropes cross be a reasonable solution? I've recently found that a rope protector not attached by prussic or whatever will very much stay in the same place on the rock when pinned by rope pressure, irrespective of how much the rope bounces up and down.
If someone invents one that sticks to the rock, amazing. Unfortunately rope protectors just move with the rope. You can use a bit of carpet for the right edge, but on a sand or gritstone edge, you can can generally forget it. I'd go so far as to say that belaying well back on a Northumberland route with a second repeatedly falling off is as ethically dodgey as climbing when it's damp.
I wouldn't disagree with you there - obviously treating the rock with respect is a very important consideration, but I'd assumed that, as we hopefully all know that, we could work with the assumption that it had been thought about and dealt with. I see it as a basic and necessary consideration of building every belay, every time.
Make the isolation loop long enough, and it is normally no issue.
Munter hitch is essential to know, though: Abseiling when you have forgotten your ATC, quick belays off a piece of your rope on rocky steps on alpine ridges, the applications are endless.
> Why, dare I ask, isn't it more popular?
As Franco has said, on flat topped crags, especially gritstone, you're far more likely to damage the sheath of your rope when holding a fall than in a more usual semi-indirect method. Unless people are making silly errors in setting up, if they are really uncomfortable belaying, it's most often due to them, or parts of their body, stopping the rope from running more directly over the edge of the cliff which may not necessarily be a bad thing.
Unless it was my mate's rope, I can't think of many scenarios where I'd be using a Munter when I thought there was a large risk of holding falls. I use it loads but generally mountaineering on easy ground where falls 9r people weighting the rope are unlikely.
Second, when used lots it's tricky not to end up with a badly twisted rope.
Swinging leads on similar length pitches it's great as the twists put onto the rope belaying the second are than undone as you belay them leading off again. However on outcrops unless you are super cunning and can remember to tie your Munter the opposite way every other time you use it, twists tend to build up.
It's worth experimenting with guide mode more (in a safe situation), you'll probably find it locks off more securely and reliably than you expect in a wider variety of orientations.
Although while you're at it, it's worth practising lowering/giving slack when it's locked/under tension.
Also, locking off the belay plate with a quick release knot only takes seconds if your partners resting.
Munter/Italian's fine though, apart from the rope twist.
> Munter hitch is essential to know, though: Abseiling when you have forgotten your ATC,
or thrown it in the sea
or dropped it down a crevasse
or off the edge of a 1000m wall
or the one you brought is too small for the ropes
or you fell on it and bent it too badly out of shape to use
or a passing magpie stole it
.... sooooo many reasons :D
I might get a chance to test this in a week a couple of weeks when I'll hopefully be climbing a hard route at a crag with a flat top and sharp edge but until then I'll defer to you and others who have more recent experience with this kind of crag.
When I used to climb with a second who was a lot heavier, I used to just tie a double figure of eight. I’d clip into one loop myself and belay off the other.
A guide plate in a horizontal configuration works ok. Just make sure the plate isn't going to get jammed on anything. I've been using a Kong GiGi for work and the shape of this seems to be better for horizontal use than an ATC (plus it doesn't wreck my rotator cuffs). Just keep in mind that it's going to be an absolute plain if your second wants/needs to be lowered.
> Recently I've spent a lot of time holding the weight of my seconding partner (payback for all of the times in the past that I've climbed with better people and ended up hanging on the rope!), and I've come to the conclusion that holding someone for any length of time with the 'standard' method of indirect belaying at the top of the crag is pretty uncomfortable.
By uncomfortable, in what way? Your brake hand gets tired? You are being pulled over the edge? use of core muscles? Rope over legs?
Also do you use single of double ropes? And is it just a question of holding the second or lowering her/him a lot?
> By uncomfortable, in what way? Your brake hand gets tired? You are being pulled over the edge? use of core muscles? Rope over legs?
> Also do you use single of double ropes? And is it just a question of holding the second or lowering her/him a lot?
Are you suggesting it shouldn't be uncomfortable? My experience holding heavy seconds on steep gritstone routes with flat tops is that it can be very uncomfortable - much more so than holding a leader fall - especially if the second asks/expects to be held for a while rather than being lowered to the last rest. Of course, the rope to the second should never go over your leg, but you are often pulled down into the rock by the rope to your anchor (which will usually be passing over a leg) and, yes, my brake hand does get tired (Is that because I need a thinner belay plate or a thicker rope?). I've been climbing a long time (50 years) but never too old to learn.
I'm in danger of teaching grannies to suck eggs here, but if hand grip is the issue, use two carabiners. Both need to be clipped to the belay loop and the through the rope. This will greatly increase the holding power of the plate/hand combination for belaying or abseiling.
WRT the leg thing, I try to sit to one side, not in a direct line. The transverse vector of the force will be quite small and the friction between your arse and rock normally enough to counter the force.
It's uncomfortable because the locked-off position while sat (or standing) at the top of the crag isn't a very comfortable position in which to hold your arm for any length of time - or at least I don't find it so. Certainly not while someone is hanging on the rope trying to figure out the crux moves, and certainly not compared to giving a belay from below.
I try to use a single by default unless the route dictates otherwise.
Excellent to have confirmed. I'll have to do some experimentation.
I still quite like the munter though - no faff paying out slack or lowering, and so far rope twisting doesn't seem to be an issue whatsoever. I was under the illusion that twisting was only a concern if you run the rope through the hitch while weighted (such as lowering someone off) - is that actually fiction?
Agreed, especially if belaying for a very long time. Try the 2 krab trick in my link above, as then there is at least less need to hold the rope so hard.
Others have used an isolation loop 6inch max from the tie in point, with the anchor lines going back to it, and the belay device clipped to it. Sit to one side and make sure you sit behind the loop. If you sit in front you might not be able to control the rope. The belay device is in indirect mode.
> Fear of rope twisting and abrasion.
> Why don't you belay in guide mode from the isolation loop?
Not really so much of an issue. We did an intensive winter season ( full time) followed by a full alpine season using only Munters on the same pair of ropes. Twisting was aways manageable, never a problem. There were many abbs, epics retreats and a number of falls. It always worked: KISS.
I think the belay is always going to be uncomfortable if you are trying not to let the ropes rip to shreds on the edge of the crag as essentially you are having to use your body in one way to keep the ropes elevated away from the rock edge and there is no getting away from that... Just maybe lots of different variants where different parts of your body come under stress.
In terms of holding the second for a long period of time in non-guide mode, what I often do is loop the rope through the belay crab and then through itself and hold the resulting loop - it only takes a few seconds to do and it isn't a proper tie-off but it takes a lot of the effort out of holding the rope if the second is just bouncing around trying things and when the second does move up it has the advantage that you can just pull the rope and it comes undone almost instantly and you are belaying again.
Edit: I mean, I do first and 2nd step from this diagram (if you do the third step then undoing it to take in more rope takes some time and your 2nd might be banking on you taking in immediately). https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/54415277e4b090edefe289ba/1424885981666-UXGBW4P464KKU2VFRI77/FIG-29-locking-off-the-belay-plate.jpg?content-type=image%2Fjpeg
> Others have used an isolation loop 6inch max from the tie in point, with the anchor lines going back to it, and the belay device clipped to it. Sit to one side and make sure you sit behind the loop.
That's why I prefer the munter - because you lock it off parallel to the live strand, you can sit at the edge of the crag and both belay safely and see your second. I did briefly try belay device direct to the isolation loop, but quickly concluded that I really wasn't a fan of it. The drawbacks it adds are just as problematic as the original problem.
It's interesting to note that my suspicions about guide mode are unfounded - but I think I'm going to stick with the munter for now. No faff if the second needs slack or lowering, and a definite improvement in comfort. I doubt it's going to trash my rope any quicker than it being used solely (and very regularly) on grit crags will anyway, and so far I haven't noticed any twisting problems. Maybe I'll regret saying that in two weeks time - we'll soon find out
Originating from overseas, I would have always used a munter/italian hitch, or a guide plate when the first reverso was released (I think that was the first). I found it surprising coming over here and everyone belaying direct. Perhaps it's because I wasn't grit influenced? When I belay direct from my harness, I find it uncomfortable, and when I'm multipitching I tend to lead most pitches, thus prefer to be out of the belay. Personal preference I suppose.
Thanks David. Both sensible suggestions. I've not tried the two karabiner method - worth trying I think. With regard to sitting to one side, I generally sit in the position that best keeps the ropes in line given the position of the anchors, is comfortable given the layout of the cliff edge, prevents me being pulled to one side if the second falls, and allows me to see down the route. Lots of variables there and the ideal is not always possible. But I think I will pay more attention to your point about trying to sit to one side in future. Fortunately my seconds don't often fall off.
Thanks for that. I'll take a good look at the diagram and may try it out.
> or you fell on it and bent it too badly out of shape to use
Is that hypothetical or actually happened to you?
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