The Gimpy Belay

More and more, I’m getting emails and calls from folks that are either an adaptive climber themselves - or work with someone who is - about how to belay. Sometimes it’s just a check in for the best technique, other times it’s because the gym they’re going to refuses to belay certify them because they don’t fit in the belay check box.

Photo by Kris Ugarizza

Photo by Kris Ugarizza

Hopefully, in the near future, my partners and I will develop a video to accompany this blog post. Until then, I’ll be building this out to work as a reference to how folks with different disabilities CAN belay. This will be a work in progress, so keep checking back and shoot me messages with any questions, clarifications or suggestions). I’m going to go ahead and publish this unfinished for now, because this information really needs to get out there!

Note - this will only make sense if you’re already quite familiar with a typical belay method of PBUS. As always, seek qualified instruction.

UPPER LIMB DIFFERENCE

HAND AMPUTEE (CAN USE ELBOW)

This is the category I fit it. Top rope belaying is quite simple and you can use either a tube style device or assisted braking device. For lead or toprope, I prefer to belay with a Petzl Gri Gri. I can use just one hand to pull slack up, use my stump to hold the tail and to slide my hand back up to the device or tuck the tail between my knees to slide my hand up. If the rope is double wrapped at the lead anchor, I’ll often squat to take rope and bring up the slack as I stand up.

Lead belaying took a little longer to figure out, but again, there’s totally a way to do it. Here I always use my Petzl Gri Gri *. I’m able to use my right hand just like the official Petzl method, but instead of using my second hand to pay out slack on the climbers side, I pinch the climber’s rope with the inside of my elbow and pull it out that way.

Step 1 - snag rope with elbow  Photo by Kris Ugarizza

Step 1 - snag rope with elbow

Photo by Kris Ugarizza

Step 2 - pull rope out  Photo by Kris Ugarizza

Step 2 - pull rope out

Photo by Kris Ugarizza

I don’t get the same amount of range and can short rope if my climber is doing a giant monkey clip that I’m not ready for, but this method is completely legit as the business/safety end isn’t affected.

ARM AMPUTEE (NO USE OF ELBOW, NO USE OF SECOND ARM AT ALL)

This is folks who truly have one arm, or function as if they have one arm. For this, I’ll use my friend Dan as an example. Dan actually has two arms, but had a bike accident where he hit his shoulder so hard that all of his nerves were severed in his right arm. So, he can feel with it still, but he can’t move it or grip with his hand. His left arm is still totally normal.

LOWER LIMB DIFFERENCE/SEATED

STANDING

This might be a no brainer, but someone with a prosthetic leg or other conditions that allow them to still stand while belaying…are just regular belayers. Nothing exciting to see here, folks!

SEATED

Allison has a chronic pain condition that makes standing to belay untenable. She belays on her butt just fine!

Allison has a chronic pain condition that makes standing to belay untenable. She belays on her butt just fine!

My friend Jess is an amazing climber and a super safe belayer - and she’s missing her leg through the hip. She uses crutches to get around, and sits while she belays. Sitting is often a point of contention when it comes to belay checks, especially in a facility that rigidly follows rules that aren’t meant to be inclusive. The thing is, when you stop to think about WHY that’s a rule - it’s because a seated climber implies a lazy belay from someone who’s not paying attention, or is seated in a comfortable location that’s too far away from the line of the rope to be safe. Outside, you do have to deal with the belayer being able to move around from objective hazards, but in the gym? Just make sure the climber doesn’t have loose shit in his pocket and they’ll be fine. For Jess, and other disabled climbers that would sit to belay, as long as she is in the correct line of the rope and is paying attention, a seated belay is a safe belay. Sure, keep enforcing the no-sitting rule for every gym bro and broette, but think outside of the box when it comes to adaptive belayers.

VISUAL IMPAIRMENT