weight ratio between climbing partners

1:50 p.m. on April 26, 2002 (EDT)


New at the sport (just took first class and am hooked) and was curious about how to handle big weight ratios for climbing partners. For instance, if a male climber weighs in at 230 and the female partner weighs 130, there's a serious weight difference for belay. Short of finding a larger climbing partner, are there any recommendations on how to handle such an issue? How would a parent climb with a child? That seems to be a good analogy.

thanks in advance for any input.

11:48 a.m. on April 27, 2002 (EDT)
37 reviewer rep
748 forum posts

I weigh around 200 pounds with climbing gear and I had a partner that weighed 85 pounds soaking wet. She had enough finger strength to climb, but not enough to belay. I always tied her down to an anchor with a sling to the rear of her harness and made her use a grigri. If I fell she was jerked completely off the ground but she was able to hold me, then gently let us both down.

A grigri is a common belay tool when a good climber is leading smaller people who may not be secure belayers.
Jim S

10:40 p.m. on April 29, 2002 (EDT)
4,260 reviewer rep
5,954 forum posts

We run into this all the time with Scouts. As Jim said, one solution is anchoring the second. Another solution is to use the belay device hooked into the anchor, rather than off the belayer's harness (be sure you know how to properly set anchors - get instruction or at the very least read Climbing Anchors and More Climbing Anchors in the John Long series, but a book is no substitute for mentoring from a patient, experienced instructor). Still another solution which we use in Scouts a lot with small belayers is to use a backup belayer. That is, the belayer is himself belayed by another person, standing behind the first-line belayer. This helps the inexperienced belayer with rope handling (very confusing for the inexperienced) and places the second belayer where the rope through the belay device makes a sharp turn, hence increased friction, plus providing 2 body weights.

In actual practice, there is often enough friction from the rope running through the protection and over the rock that there is little problem once the leader gets more than 15 or 20 feet out. Still, when the Old Greybeard belays Brian in SLC at the gym (something like a 30 or 40 percent weight difference), OGBO sometimes gets yanked in the air. The bend of the rope over the carabiner provides a fair amount of extra friction, though, so I just sort of rappel back to the floor and then let Bri swing back to the wall (Brian is a Big Boy, while OGBO is a wizened little old geezer).

A grigri helps, but as Brian posted above, it isn't foolproof. Belay plates, whether in the form of the traditional Stitcht plate or tube devices (ATC, Tuber, Pyramid, Jaws, etc) work quite well if properly used, but require the belayer to pay attention to the brake hand continuously. A grigri at least provides some backup for the inattentive belayer (like our young Scouts or distracted parents).

While I realize it wasn't really your question, I really do not advise (or rather, do advise against) parent leading, child following, unless the child is well-tutored by someone _other_ than the parent, is fairly mature (usually means at least 14 or 15 years old), and has a fair amount of experience, and more important, the parent is very patient and understanding, and does not expect too much from the child. We have found in Scouts that the parent-child (or spousal) interaction carries too much extraneous baggage. Parents often expect that their own child will perform far better than other kids and somehow magically (esp? telepathy?) be able to reach master-level skill in a single, partial telling (often without even a demo). Having a patient instructor who is experienced in dealing with kids and who knows their limitations (strength, attention span, emotional maturity, responsibility, etc) is far better and far safer. Parents far too often lose patience with the boy who doesn't seem to get it right away (usually the parent's over-expectation and hence under-explanation), or maybe just isn't interested in the parent's latest enthusiastic activity.

August 23, 2017
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