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One of my friends is just starting to get into lead climbing. I'd like to find some good approaches for providing them with a soft catch if they fall. However, there is a big weight difference difference between us. I'm ~95kg and they're ~35kg.

I normally belay close to the wall so if my normal climbing partner (~65kg) takes a fall I can push off the ground and get a foot onto the wall to provide a softer catch. Then when both our weight is back on the rope, we both hang and I can proceed to lower myself back down.

The issue when I tried this with the ~35kg climber was that as soon as my weight was back on the rope then it pulled them back up the wall and I fell back to the floor.

Is my only option to stand further back from the wall when belaying and try to take steps forward just as their weight hits the rope? When I was learning to lead belay, I was taught it is best to stand close to the wall whilst belaying.

Not sure how much difference it makes, but the climbing we are mostly do is on indoor walls in the UK, roughly 13m high, and I almost always use a GriGri.

2 Answers 2

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I'm ~90kg and one of my climbing partners is ~45kg. So similar-ish scenario. The bottom line is partners that are closer in weight will have better catches. It's much safer to climb with someone closer in weight to you. I'm pretty cautious about what I climb when she is belaying and vice versa. The bigger safety issue is really if you climb with them belaying.

When I'm climbing we use an Edelrid Ohm (And even for that we are technically over the suggested weight gap). When she is climbing I just do my best to time my jump. The timing of the jump makes a big difference. There isn't a whole lot to do beyond that. I sometimes take a few small steps back, but be aware of where you will be pulled if your partner falls. It's generally best to stay near the wall (although with the above mentioned Ohm things are different. Read the manual if you buy one).

In short, they just need to accept that the catch can only be so soft if you are belaying. Physics is physics.

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  • Thanks for the answer. We regularly use the ohm when I'm climbing, it's a great device. It's the only way that my really light friend is able to belay me on top-rope and we haven't taught them lead belaying yet (although the plan is too very soon). Thanks for the tip about timing of the jump. I'm probably not the best at it timing wise (I have been practicing to get better though with my heavier climbing partner). The issue is that with my light climbing partner, their weight isn't enough to suspend us both in the air so they get pulled towards the wall
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 11:21
  • Maybe getting belaying glasses helps, too; not directly, but because one is less prone to step back from the wall to get a better view of the climber. Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 12:49
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As a first note, I would not recommend belaying at a factor 3 weight difference. The forces involved can be huge, especially on lead. Even with a device such as the Ohm, I would not climb if I was that much heavier. On the other hand, it is very hard to provide a soft catch as you already noted. For some time I had a climbing partner where we had about a factor 1.5 weight difference (me 75kg, belayer 50kg).

Providing a soft catch involves two levels. First, auto locking devices such as the GriGri, etc. are always creating a hard catch on the device level. They basically do not allow for any rope slipping through the device, even on the peak of the force. This requires the belayer to move with his body for a softer catch. However, with locking devices this requires good timing of the belayer as the force of a light climber will not be sufficient to yank the belayer towards the wall.

I have made much better experience using dynamic devices. Tube style devices such as the ATC will allow you to provide a soft catch by feeding an arm-length of rope through the device while catching the fall. Moving your body or jumping around is no longer necessary for a soft catch if the climber is lighter. The disadvantage of those devices is that they do not provide a built-in safety net. If you mess up belaying, a severe accident is likely. This is where the Wild Country Revo comes in. It combines the ability for a dynamic belay with the safety net of a locking device.

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