Learning to Belay

Climbing WallWe finally did it!  My friend Nick and I joined the rock wall at Bowling Green State University.  We tried it out during one of their free weeks at the beginning of the school semester, and we have been talking about it ever since.  It was only $56 for the rest of the school year (May 2010), it’s open 5 days a week, and shoe rental is only $1.  So today we finally signed up!

The wall at the BGSU Rec Center is 35ft high and full of friendly staff and climbers.  There are multiple routes for the novice and intermediate climber.  One thing that I noticed on my first wall experience was that some routes were easier than I expected, and others seemed almost impossible.  There is more strength and technique required for the challenging routes than I imagined.  But I love it for it’s fun workout, and mental challenge.  You really need to think through your moves, or you’re probabley going to fall off.


figure 8 knotToday we got our memberships and we took the 1 hour belaying class (pronounced /bi-ˈlā/ with a short i).  The first thing that we learned was how to tie a figure 8 knot.  At first I thought, “Oh, crap.  I have to learn a knot that my life will depend on!”  But it wasn’t too hard of a knot, and after a few attempts Nick and I both mastered it.

Next we learned how to properly use a grigri (pronounce /grē-grē/) and connect it to our rope and harness with a carabiner.  The grigri is a device designed to apply pressure to the rope when fast acceleration occurs.  When used properly it acts like a brake to stop a climbers fall.  It can also be slowly released to lower the climber safely to the ground.

GirgriThe most important thing to remember when belaying is to never let the slack go with your right hand.  You use your left hand to grab the rope above your right hand and then you slide the right hand down towards the grigri in order to release more slack.  You always need that right hand on the rope to catch your climber if he or she falls!  The grigri should lock even if the belayer fails to have a grip on the rope, but you never want to rely completely on the equipment.  Plus poor belaying technique can result in injury in the future when doing more complex climbs.  I know I don’t want a bad belayer holding my life in their hands.  So learn and use proper technique!

We took our little test at the end of our lesson and we passed with flying colors.  We are not the smoothest belayers, but we have the basics down.  Now all we need is practice.  We spent the rest of the night climbing and bouldering.  Everyone was friendly and helpful.  The more experienced climbers helped us locate footholds and gave us tips on how to move from one hold to the next.  Needless to say we had a blast!

I hope to climb at least 3 times a week now that I have a membership.  I will keep you posted on my experience.  As I get to know the staff and learn the sport I will take pictures and setup some interviews.

If you ever thought about climbing, now is the time to do it.  Look up the closest rock wall in your area and try it out.  It’s a great way to meet new people, and to get a great workout doing something that is challenging and exciting.

Happy climbing!

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