3 tips for better running snow belays

image: Climbing.com

image: Climbing.com


1 - The Better Way to rack pickets

What beginning snow climber has not cursed the cowbells of the clanking pickets, dangling off an ill-placed runner around your neck, threatening to trip you up at each step!  Here’s a much better way to rack them - you can carry 6 pickets like this, with them more or less out of the way yet still easily accessible.

First, girth hitch a two-foot runner through the top hole on a two-foot picket.  Clip a biner to the runner (light wiregate preferred). Next, clip this biner to the third hole down from the top of the picket, and finally clip the biner to your gear loop, either on your harness or on your pack waist belt.  By clipping the third hole, the picket rides high enough not to trip you, but stays oriented vertically. This works well for the leader and maybe even better for the second, who needs to rack the gear fast and be sure it stays out of the way when they are moving fast and protected by a top rope.

And, a related tip on who the cleaner should be: often the slowest or least experienced person can end up in the back, and guess what, that person becomes the cleaner. It's usually better to put a weaker team member in the middle of the team, and have someone with more experience doing the cleaning at the caboose end of the rope.

Whatever you do, do not put that sling around your neck and let the pickets dangle at knee level, a sure way to trip you up.

2 - Consider a whistle

Running belays require clear communication between the entire climb team, to tell the leader to stop and place more pro, or for the team to stop while the last person cleans.

If it’s windy, the route goes around a corner, you have your hood cinched down tight, you’re wearing a windproof fleece hat, your ice tools are knocking off chunks of ice and snow, you’re mentally focused on a tough lead . . . or all of the above, it can be very hard to hear the calls for “pro” or “cleaning”. Consider whistle blasts to signal the leader to stop and place more gear. Wear the whistle on a short cord girth hitched to your pack strap and be sure you can get to it with gloves on and using one hand.

The leader doesn’t need to have this, but all of the following climbers should consider it.

Running belays - Max party size is 3

A simple rule of thumb for running belays is this - keep the party size to 2 or 3 people max on a rope.  With more than 3 people, it’s almost always faster to fix the rope and have the everyone come up on a fixed line or simulclimb.

Reason: if the team always keeps one piece of pro between team members, with four people on the rope, the leader has to carry and place a LOT of gear!