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Tech Tip: Answered Why do we bottom belay?

Discussion in 'Tech Tips and Gear' started by ratagonia, Apr 3, 2014.

  1. Mountaineer

    Mountaineer Is that an X slot?

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    Easy top rope climb? Hmmm... Lead climb? No way. ;-)
  2. tom wetherell

    tom wetherell tom(w)

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    I could envision a setup where you use a mass to represent the rappeller, and another mass connected to the rope simulating the belayer. The "belayer" mass would be on a platform, not tensioning the rappel line. Once the "rappeller" mass is released, the "belayer" mass is pulled off its platform tensioning the line. Obviously a lot of variables, but at least it would be safe for those running the test. I think that unless you instrumented the "rappeller" so you could measure any deceleration (or lower accel than 9.8m/s^2) you might think the bottom belay does nothing. In my mind, you don't have to bring the rappeller to a full stop. Any reduction in speed is beneficial.

    I may have to grab a beer and think about this more.

    -tom(w)
  3. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    So...two fatalities are better than one?

    If you're positioned straight below a person who loses control on a rappel...and...you fail to stop them, and, you're below them holding onto the rope...that could be a bad thing. A very bad thing.

    A friend was belaying another friend in the Swell a couple years ago. There were climbing a route with a creaky flake. Lead climber fell and pulled his gear out, plummetting, landing on the belay, who, was positioned trying to stop the fall. They were both hurt, the belayer a badly broken femur I dimly recall.

    Guy fell in Red Rocks and hit a dog at the base of the crag...killing the dog.

    Not sure I'd care to sign up for breaking someone's fall.
  4. tom wetherell

    tom wetherell tom(w)

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    Brian, Risk recognized. But I think you missed my point, which was that you don't have to *stop* the fall completely in order to reduce injury. No, I do not plan on becoming anyone's crash pad, and given the timing of such events, I don't presume to simply be able to let go of the belay and step out of the way while Wiley Coyote augers into the dirt. Meep Meep! Just trying to figure out how to test without squishing the tester. Their method was poor because of the redirect and mine is faulty since it would injure the belayer if it didn't arrest the rappeller.

    -tom(w)
  5. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Mike, GOOD post and points!

    My take aways:
    • Fireman's/bottom belay is a great tool
    • Understand its limitations
    • Use when appropriate (which is more the rule than the exception)
    • Not a "catch-all"
    • Technique is important
    • And chatting up the hotty…oh wait, that one was just funny!
    My 2 cents on the test article.

    While 9.8 m/s^2 is the gravitational acceleration of a free falling object – in a vacuum; I hope that as a rappeller I would never approach that speed...if so, only the big ball is going to stop me.

    Belaying, rappelling – it all comes back to friction. I accept the test results provided in the article (with maybe one exception), but submit that the results are very much open to scrutiny. Bottom line – any braking system will have to deal with speed-friction-space-time, all of which can be variable based on the quantity of the others. We are exposed to this on the freeways, every day.

    Tests 2-7 are subjective because 4 bars is typically used to start out a long rappel, e.g. when the weight of the rope, in relation to the rappeller's weight, and friction of the rappel device, is providing a belay, of sorts. Test #9, I personally think is suspicious outlier/bogus.

    The beauty of the SMC rack (which is what I use on a regular basis) is that bars can be added and subtracted on the fly. Given that, starting and ending with 4 bars, probably not inline with the manufacturer's recommendations. And yes, I realize we are discussing a loss of control scenario, which can occur at any time, and it is feasible that at any given time friction may be insufficient. At which case, slowing and or stopping the descent is going to be compromised.

    I can provide some anecdotal field evidence of an effective bottom belay at well over 800' and 200 lbs. Ultimately, had to radio down and ask the belayer to cool it. Opposing the argument that bottom belays are not effective over X height.

    Side note: I've participated in Bridge Day (from article) on several occasions. Out of 20 rappelling teams, most supply a mandatory bottom belay, and many of these have a spotter (someone watching the rappel with binoculars). I know of one instance when a member of our team stopped and out of control rappel, which would have certainly resulted in serious injury or worse.

    Good topic!

    Bridge Day, WV - 3rd Saturday in October
    IMG_7563.JPG
  6. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    I applaud your desire for rigor, for training, for caution, for not thinking that bottom-belaying is easy. But I think you are focusing on the wrong thing, and I think your claims and statements decrease the safety of the canyoneering community in proportion to the degree that people pay attention to your words. Bottom belays ARE effective, DO work, and are not nearly as difficult as you make them out to be. MY words here are intended to provoke people into giving bottom belays more often than they currently do; I see your words as implying "why bother", since our bottom belay technique is not up to the impossibly high standards of Mike Dallin and won't work. Which is false.

    The study you cite is interesting, but has just about zero relevance to canyoneering. In canyoneering, a three-second delay in implementing the bottom belay would find the letter-goer on the ground before the belay is implemented, on all but the longest rappels. Canyoneers do not traditionally use a Rack, and the mechanics of pulling on the rope is entirely different for the kind of devices that we use. The loss of control point is rarely 400 feet away.

    That's me in the photo providing the bottom belay. I have proven myself effective at the bottom belay on about 6 occasions when the rappeller slipped and may or may not have dropped the rope (mostly not). In most cases, I anticipated the possibility of the slip and perhaps took a different hand position for those critical moments, as any good belayer would. Call it 6-0. I resent your libel (edited) in stating my technique is poor to ineffective. It is not.

    Sure, its a matter of judgment as to how effective the bottom belay is in the field, since we have so little testing to base an opinion on. The numerous corpses of canyoneers who died while being bottom belayed point to the ineffectiveness... What's that you say? You cannot think of a single incidence of bottom belay failure, when a bottom belay was being used??? I can think of several failures and injuries that occurred when a bottom belay COULD have been used and was not. Certainly we can agree that people could be BETTER at this technique and should take it seriously - but I think the first step, Mike and Brian, is getting people to make it part of their routine, rather than as something done every once in a blue moon. Which really was the point of the Original Poster on this thread.

    Tom :moses:
  7. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Certainly not exhaustive research, but 6-0 is a pretty respectable record/test.
    Couldn't agree more!
  8. MikeDallin

    MikeDallin

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    It appears, in my opinion, that certain "emperors" choose to unfairly attack people based on what they write, out of misunderstanding/misinterpreting/reading extra into what was written, and because said "emperors" can't stand to have their techniques criticized (again, in my opinion). I have chosen to take the high road, so I'm editing this to remove the original, snarky reply to the unfair characterization and attack on myself and what I wrote (which I quoted above). If people choose to use techniques in a lazy fashion, based on someone on the internet telling them that it is ok without any meaningful data or studies, well, caveat emptor.
    Brian in SLC likes this.
  9. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Nope. The first step is learning how to rappel. Making something part of your routine that you have little knowledge of or practise with is a very poor recommendation.

    You blow your friction and plummet, a fireman's might not do you much good.

    Sure, Tom, the technique can work. I've done it, and, seen how effective it can be.

    My bet is when you've employed it, it was as a guide with very inexperienced people? So, you anticipated having to use it and probably employed it as a standard part of said employment. For guides with clients, yeah, probably required to provide some type of rappel back up for liability (rather than "dignity") reasons.

    And...its not that I think its a bad thing to do...there's a time and a place for it though. Routine? Nah, proably not. Around a drop with loose rock at the top? Nah, get out the way, bitch (in your best Ludacris voice). With a group of folks with unknown abilities who look sketchy but claim to know how to rappel? Yeah, probably.

    Until you really have the technique dailed, you probably shouldn't kid yourself that it'll work. Its not a "casual" system of safety.

    Call it slander if you want...if that's you in the photo, then, you're not stopping anyone with your fireman's belay, experience or not. Way too much slack, arms down...not even close. How 'bout using that photo of how not to employ an effective fireman's, so, your minions here won't think that poor technique should become "routine".

    Geez, first helmets, now every photo has to have a fireman's belay too? Ha ha.

    Anyhoo, I found Mike's reference study pretty good reading. I think it IS applicable to canyoneering rappelling. We can extrapolate the data and at least muse how it can apply to the canyon environment. At least, I'd think most folks with an engineering degree from MIT could. Most.

    Wonder if it could be done as a study over deep water...hmmm....
  10. 2065toyota

    2065toyota

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    How many injuries and deaths have occurred with a bottom belay?

    How many injuries and deaths have occurred without a bottom belay?

    Call me a numbers geek, but I will stick to the Vegas odds
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  11. Josh Schutz

    Josh Schutz

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    My partner and I rarely use a bottom belay. If we are doing a big rap, we will extend the belay device with a sling, and use a prusik. As far as I know, it's fail safe. The prusik will stop you, and won't jam the device. No belay needed.
  12. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    You use a Prusik above or below your rappel device?

    I hope below the device, and, hope that you use an Autoblock and not a Prusik, per se.

    Will only stop you if its set correctly. Won't jam the device if its positioned correctly. Won't set or work if its not positioned correctly (and has killed folks this way). And, would be deadly in water flow to use at all.

    Extending the rappel device is a great idear.

    Its funny, sometimes I think folks are just over concerned about having some type of back up for safety. Primary should be learning how to properly rappel and control your friction.

    Also, my other pet peeve, is single rope rappel on a device like a Pirana, with a skinny rope that isn't wet, seems like to good way to find out if you need a back up to a rappel, maybe the hard way. Way easier to control friction with a fatter rope and double rope rappel, especially with an ATC style device. But, that's not what the sheep, er, I mean cool kids are doing...

    All in fun on a Friday! Go out and be safe!
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  13. Josh Schutz

    Josh Schutz

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    Prusik below the device attached to a leg loop, a long ways from the device. I always test my prusik before starting a rap. Prusik not an autoblock. And yes, I understand the safety concerns in water
  14. Deagol

    Deagol too many hobbies

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    This is a well known vid that shows a guy falling on rappel, even using a backup (not sure if prussic or autoblock)
  15. Rapterman

    Rapterman

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    ALSO: the only two successful catches were with 'five bars' on the rack (instead of four).
    How much friction is present in the rappel device/system will be an important factor.
    If loss of control by the rappeller is due (in part at least) to not enough friction with the rappel device, then it will be that MUCH harder for the bottom belayer to arrest a fall.
    I think Bo Beck has an interesting tale to tell of arresting a BIG person with too little friction on a device....
  16. Deagol

    Deagol too many hobbies

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    I did a fireman's belay of someone who possibly weighed more than me on a rappel (the height was about 260 feet ??? not sure) and I had to really crank on the rope to slow the rappeler down to their desired rate of descent. They were using a piranha and I think they would have been better off with something better or with a higher initial friction setting. It was really hard to slow them down, was an eye-opener.
  17. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    I'm neither a self-appointed referee or mediator, but for the record, I've studied the picture of Tom's belaying technique - got no problem with it.

    Belay form and technique, while important, do not ultimately determine whether the fall is caught. Whether your hands are by your side, above your head, or munching on a power-bar, reaction time efficiency is the common denominator. How soon the brake is applied and the amount of opposing force, is where the rubber meets the road. The persons that I've caught in the past have yet to criticize my technique. That's not to say anything against teaching proper technique.

    All the mumbo-jumbo in the article about rope diameter, size of the hand, gripping strength, belayers weight, age/cleanliness of rope, vertical versus horizontal pull... while variables, each is more or less irrelevant, if the mass has reached terminal velocity. And this, IMO, is the greatest deficiency in their test plan. "Our belayer was ready and wearing rescue gloves but did not apply any tension to the rope until the mass had been released and allowed to 'get out of control'". Quantify and or enumerate that for me. (Rescue gloves must be the secret!!)

    Suggestion: To maximize belay force and mollify most of the above variables, the bottom belayer uses an ascender, jumar, tibloc, etc. device to give a mechanical advantage. If the fall cannot be stopped by pulling down on this device, run it up as high as you can and get out of the way. Even if you didn't halt the descent you have provided a bungee-style stop and shock absorber. I'm open to criticism with this technique, which I've employed without failure for a very long time.
  18. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Nope, not at all. When I am in the field with clients, I am always at the top of the rappel.

    At ZAC we use:

    1. guide-selected conservative rappel friction setting (first line of defense)
    2. a carefully monitored autobloc as our second line of defense
    3. a carefully selected client (or second guide when available) giving a bottom belay as our third line of defense

    All my bottom belay catches are with fellow recreationists, often experienced, mis-judging the fall line of a particular rappel.

    Tom
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  19. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Speaking high horse to high horse Mike. Seems appropriate to me.

    Tom
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  20. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    You mean, what he THOUGHT was a backup, but was not.

    But at least we got the video!!!

    Tom
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