First Thank You for the amazing blog.
I was wondering would you be interested to make an article about building belays when you lead in blocks (2-3man team)?
I'm still using dyneema on either bolted or trad belays.
I'm growing concerned about dyneema mainly because how easily it looses its strength by surface abrasion ( every thread of it comes to the surface at some point, so after a while of using it you end up with every thread of it slightly weakened ).
I'm starting to lean towards switching to building belays using ’equalette'.
(even though it could mean carrying a bit more cord on me, I usually have some in my pack anyway.)
It would be great to see your perspective on it.
How do you build belays when you lead in blocks.
What thickness of the cord would you use?
Are there any other alternatives worth considering?
All the best
I’m guessing you’re talking about Dyneema cord and not 240cm slings? Well, I think even if your Dyneema cord gets worn, bent and tied a great many times, it’s still going to be strong enough (5.5mm: 13.7 Kn) compared to perlon cord (7mm 12.4 Kn). The main issue with Dyneema is probably the cost, while its real advantage is that it’s thinner, lighter and more compact than perlon (I would advise 7mm being the thinnest cord to use, but a lot of people do use 6mm, which is fine when new, but not when tatty, or when used as a single strand). Cost in itself isn’t such an issue (you’d be best to replace any type of cordelette made from a 6-metre length of cord as soon as it looks at all worn, which will probably be every year or two), but rather that you’ll be less inclined to cut it up for abseils.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the equalette as it seems to be a complex and overly fussy answer to a question that’s not actually a real-world problem, being more an intellectual problem. I must have used a standard cordelette style belay close to a thousand times and not once have I questioned its safety for sideways falls. If a sideways fall could be a problem, so that all the force comes onto one strand of the cordelette, and that piece is weak, then often an upward pulling piece can help reduce this problem.
When climbing in blocks I use a cordelette, taking the cordelette from one of the second at the start of each lead, plus also their belay device as well, leaving the two seconds locked off on the guide plate (tie a fig eight in the rope after it has passed through the guide plate and clip this into a second krab as a back up). A guide plate (like the Petzl Reverso) is absolutely vital for climbing as a three, or as a two, but I still often see slow teams bringing up seconds one after the other. Having three possible leaders means you have more fresh legs and arms (each leader has to do a third of the route), increasing speed instead of slowing a team down on long routes. Also, a three-person team can have a broader set of skills as well.
Alternative wise, if you’re climbing on bolted belays and not climbing on blocks, the leader can clip with a double-figure of eight (bunny ears), then clip the guide plate into the two bites of rope (I often clip it into a single bolt as well, as this puts the device higher, a modern 10mm or 12mm bolt more than strong enough to hold one or two seconds (or a hundred). This is much faster than getting out slings or cord. When the seconds arrive the one who will not lead next ties a clove hitch into their rope (after it’s past through the guide plate) and clips this into either a bolt or into the knot. The new leader is put on belay, then unclips the auto-lock cross krab from the guide plate and begins to climb (so both climbers are hanging from guide plate, non-leader clips rope in while still on guide plate, then both are free of guide plate as soon as the new leader is setting off). With this system, the leader always retains their guide plate and no time is wasted re-racking cord.
Another fast alternative on double bolt belays is to use a P.A.S sling (a daisy chain made out of closed loops of webbing, which means each loop is full strength). With this, the leader clips into one bolt with the far loop using a screwgate when they arrive, then again with a secondary loop (with a screwgate or snap gate). They then attach their guide plate to either locker krab through its clip hole (for guide mode), then use a third to lock the rope(s) into the plate. The other climbers clip their rope (or P.A.S slings) into one of the belay’s krabs on the bolts, or into the bolts, or into any P.A.S loop (all are full strength remember) using their own screwgates and a strand of rope.
Note: If you'd like to ask a question - no matter how dumb - then email me and I'll try and help.
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram