There’s a lot of information out there about how to belay, and sure, the mechanics of holding a rope are important. Project belaying is another cup of tea entirely, an art that walks the line between self-sacrifice and domination over your climber partner. A good project belayer will say only, “Excuse me—can you hold on a minute?” after being dropped ten meters headfirst down a slab from a hanging belay. An elite project belayer comes prepared with a stopwatch, ascender, and crag-specific accessories. The climber gets all the glory, but none of it is possible without the belayer.
This article is published in Volume 20 of The Climbing Zine, now available
Wanting to log some blue points on 8a.nu for belaying some hard climbs? Nervous about heading up to support your crusher friend on their epic proj this weekend?
Here are some tricks to help you be the ultimate project belayer:
Obviously, the best thing to do while project belaying is to slump forward and press your face against the taut rope. For the rest of the evening, you’ll have a black streak running from forehead to chin. This will help others recognize you for the hero you are, and soon enough the scraggly twentysomething with forearms wider than their calves will come by and say, “Hey, you got a partner for tomorrow?”
Strike up a conversation with the belayer next door. Or to be honest, talk at absolutely anyone that comes nearby. “Nice dog! Whatchya climbin’ today?” Don’t hide your desperation for entertainment.
Pick your nose. Gaze around with a laze till you happen to make eye contact with the guy down the way. Flick it off your finger. If you are wearing a mask, just eat the booger straight away. Unprecedented times call for creative thinking.
Eat snacks. There are amazing crag snacks, regular snacks, and there’s lunch. Then there’re pocket carrots. Munch away happily until your climber decides to make some moves quickly, and you’re stuffing the sandwich back in your pocket, and half of it falls on the ground. There’s also stolen coffee from your climber’s thermos, but I can’t condone the theft of something so sacred.
Swing back and forth along the wall. Tie them off and traverse, let go, and swing. Caves are perfect for kicking lightly across a wall or walking up a hill so you can spin gently as you swing back.
Sit in silence for minutes, watching and waiting patiently. Start to look at your phone or flake the rope just at the perfect time to miss your climber’s cue to take. This way, they’ll fall farther and will wear themselves out by pulling themselves back up. It’s a well-known fact that the goal of projecting is to find the easiest possible beta, so solving sequences while tired means they’ll be repeatable on point. You’re really just helping them out, see?
Put a podcast in your sports bra. It serves as a timer too, so when the forty-five-minute episode is up you can just dirt them. I like to imagine the infinite possibilities of CRISPR while listening to the inspiring Jad Abhumrad and iconic Robert Krulwich.
Watch them as they climb and then spray them with their own beta followed by your stellar advice based on having never tried the climb. “Hey! Have you tried a figure 4?!”
Power spotting isn’t just for bouldering anymore. Stand on top a rock if you can, time it right, and take in an armload of rope while hopping off your perch. You’ll launch your climber upward, which is especially helpful for dynos and pure sabotage for techy traverses.
Toprope belaying: Jumar. Gloves. Lie flat on your back, and don’t get up. Shout words of encouragement like, “You can always come down!” and “I saw a twelve-year-old onsight this last week!”
Look around through the belay glasses. Try to force other people on the ground to make eye contact with you and cross your eyes. Flip ’em upside down so you look like a frog and “ribbit” at passersby. If you can’t be attractive, you can at least be memorable.
Wrap yourself in all the puffys. Wear your jacket as normal. Your climber’s jacket around your butt, the arms tied like a belt above the GriGri, and the lower part zipped up below. Try not to trip as you waddle like a penguin forward while giving slack. Or, put your legs through the armholes and give the belayer next door with the puffy pants a solid head nod as they belay in style. You’ll be as cool as them someday…
Speaking of being cool: Absorb all the information about the climb. You can pretend to be doing this for helpful reasons (it is, after all, important to know where the tough clips and potential bad falls are). The side effect (read: purpose) is that you’ll be able to talk about the route with such ease and expertise that everyone will assume you’ve sent it. “Badass, that route is nails!”
And perhaps your superb memory of your partner’s beta will guide you on your own sends. Sure hope so—you’re up next!
A migratory bird born in Southern Oregon, Tanager organizes her life around dancing vertically on rock. She has a talent for finding silver linings, feeling limitless, microcrimping, and language.