Belay Escapes

A fundamental skill in all rescue situations is the ability to safely escape the system without compromising anyone’s safety. A climber doing something as simple as belaying his or her partner can become trapped in the system by an accident, which can put both their lives at risk. You can free yourself from almost any system if you have the proper equipment, are competent with the fundamental skills like belaying, and know how to:

  • tie a Munter hitch and mule knot, and use the two in combination
  • tie and use a clamping knot like the prusik or Klemheist

Just as it seems weird for a parachutist to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, it seems odd that a climber would want to leave a perfectly good belay. The reason is simple; the person climbing has somehow become incapacitated, and the need for belaying has been replaced by the need for rescuing. The typical problem is that the belayer is holding the climber’s weight when the need to escape the belay arises. Thus, belay escapes usually require the same basics steps:

1. blocking the belay-this frees the belayer’s hands

2. transferring the load from the original belay system to the anchor-this takes the responsibility of carrying the load away from the belayer, freeing him or her to physically leave the belay

3. backing the system up-this ensures that the system cannot fail while the belayer moves into the rescue mode

4. effecting the rescue-this can take many forms, from leaving the scene and going for help, to rigging a haul or rappel system to facilitate retreat, to ascending the rope to rescue an injured leader.

The first part of this section describes the steps to escape the belay using the standard belay techniques: belaying off the anchor, redirecting the belay off the anchor, and belaying off the harness. Each escape is described to the point of having the belayer free from the system and the anchor backed up. The steps necessary for the belayer to rescue the injured climber, whether he or she is the second or the leader, are beyond the scope of this article.