It has always been common to belay the second off the belayer’s harness. There are often better choices, and this is nowhere more evident than when escaping a belay. Until the climber’s weight is successfully transferred, the belayer must hold the entire load. This often complicates the situation and can make it more dangerous.
The redirected belay, another common method, is also more complicated to escape than the belay directly off the anchor. With this method, the belay is off the harness but the rope is redirected through the anchor before going to the climber. It is easier to hold the climber’s weight when escaping the redirected belay because the friction of the rope through the anchors helps carry the load.
Here are the steps for escaping a belay directly off the harness or redirected through the anchor:
1. Block the belay by tying a mule knot with the brake strand around the loaded strand-this frees the belayer’s hands.
2. Attach a cordelette by tying a clamping hitch to the loaded strand (below the anchor, in the case of the redirected belay).
3. Clip the cordelette to a separate locking, pear-shaped carabiner on the anchor using the Munter-mule combination.
4. Pop the mule knot on the brake strand of the rope and lower the climber until the weight is held by the cordelette.
5. Feed 3 to 5 feet of slack through the belay device and block the original belay with another mule knot on the brake strand below the original belay device – this provides a temporary backup and ensures that the system cannot fail while the permanent backup is established.
6. Tie a figure eight on a bight in the slack rope below the anchor, and clip it to the anchor using a separate locking carabiner.
7. Pop the mule knot on the brake strand and remove the belay device from the system.
8. Feed rope through the figure eight on a bight on the anchor until all the slack is taken out between it and the cordelette.
9. Pop the mule knot on the cordelette and lower the climber onto the figure eight on a bight, remove the cordelette-the climber is now permanently tied off and the belayer is free to leave the scene. (The mechanics of leaving the scene are not described here. If sufficient equipment is not available to the belayer, retreat may be difficult and dangerous.)