Technical issues- direct belays
A direct belay system is one in which the load is transferred straight to the anchor rather than passing the belayer first, for example using an Italian hitch attached to a sling on a spike. This is simple and quick to set up, uses minimum gear and fewest knots. However, because the entire load is transmitted to the anchor it must be able to with stand a high impact. In other words if the anchor is at all suspect do not use this method.
Testing the anchors
Before using a direct belay system the anchor must be checked thoroughly (see anchors and attaching). In addition to being totally solid the anchor must not have sharp edges and it must be angled in the right direction to ensure that the sling cannot slip off the spike. The direction of pull must be anticipated and allowed for.
Types of direct belay
The simplest form of direct belay is to pass the rope directly behind a spike of rock and take the rope in on the other side of the spike either using a waist belay or securely hand over hand. This is the least foolproof system because if you let go of the rope the whole system falls apart very dramatically. Only use this system if you are confident that there is enough friction to hold a fall easily, this requires considerable judgement and practise.
By using a sling and Italian hitch you can create a more reliable direct belay system, as the amount of friction gained with the Italian hitch is predictable. The simplest way to set it up is to use a spike, block or thread with a sling attached and an Italian hitch tied in the wide end of a pear shaped karabiner.
Operating an Italian Hitch
Consider first whether the belayer needs to be attached. If the belayer is standing at the back of a wide ledge it may not be necessary for them to be tied on but more normally they will attach them selves with the rope or a long sling to the anchor so they have room to move around but cannot fall off the ledge. To operate the Italian hitch effectively you need to be in front of it and in position to hold both ropes securely, feeding it through the Italian hitch and never letting go of the dead rope side.
This is a simple and quick belay system but it is only appropriate if the anchor is solid, in the right place and angled accordingly. If you have any doubt about the anchor then use an indirect belays system instead.
Libby is a highly qualified mountain leader with over 25 years experience, having worked as an instructor at Glenmore Lodge and Plas y Brenin and also having travelled the world seeking out the best climbs. She offers bespoke guiding, instruction and coaching sessions in climbing and mountaineering in her local area of North Wales - one of the best areas in the UK for outdoor sports.
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