Better Belaying... Learn to Share

Nearing the belay while scoping terrain for my lead on the next pitch

I wrote this article to be published elsewhere, but was told that is was potentially dangerous by an online editor, and Climbing magazine was keen, but had recently ran a very similar concept as one of their tech-tips. At least this second rejection validated the idea as: A. somewhat worth listening to and B: not completely crazy. Coincidentally, these are the only two prerequisites I use for filtering out potential blog material, so I figured I might as well post this here and see what others thought.

Keep it simple with the fastest and easiest way to use your new-style belay device.

On multi-pitch climbs, I like to take turns leading. I hate having to flip, or re-stack ropes at the belay, and after a stressful lead, I am always happy to follow a pitch. And as a naturally-cluttered person, I'll do anything to simplify things at the belay. That's why I like to take full advantage of my auto-locking belay device by using 'the swap'. An auto-locking belay device has become standard equipment on multi-pitch climbs, with nearly every company now making a lightweight device that can be hung from the anchor. These automatically lock off the rope should the second climber fall, but offer another, little-used advantage beyond hands-free belaying.

Simplicity - When swapping leads on a multi-pitch route, both climbers should have a hangable belay device like the Petzl Reverso, Trango B-52, or Black Diamond ATC Guide. The first climber leads the pitch and belays her follower like normal, by hanging her belay device from the anchor and bringing in rope in hands-free mode. When the follower reaches the belay, he should not bother with a daisy chain or other personal anchor slings. Instead, leave the desired length of rope out from the belay device to facilitate easy gear exchange or comfortable distance from the anchor. The follower can hang from the belay device--already in place-- using the rope, which was already tied into. The follower is locked off with a dynamic connection to the anchor, and avoids fiddling with extra gear.

Speed - The follower will lead the next pitch, and so he should begin to rack gear or quickdraws on his harness. The belayer should grab the team's second belay device off her partner's harness, and clip it into her own belay loop. The rope is already stacked with the new leader's end on top, so the belayer should immediately put her partner on lead-belay as he finishes racking his gear. The new lead climber is still hanging from the locked-off belay device he was brought up on, and now on lead-belay from his partner with the second device.

Patagonia, approaching the belay in a mountain range where efficient changeovers seemed vital.

Swap It- When the new leader is ready to begin, he confirms that he's on lead belay from his partner, and then un-clips from the hanging belay device, grabbing it to bring with him up the pitch. The climbers have now swapped belay devices, and completed a simple and speedy belay changeover without having to re-stack the rope, use a daisy chain/personal anchor, or carry more than one belay device each on the climb.

And as proof that I can occasionally get something published in the real world, the current edition of Climbing features a short article I wrote about collecting water and staying hydrated in the mountains. If anyone has seen it, I'd appreciate any feedback about that article, or the one above.



Leaving the city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand (the city actually sits among the Himalayas' most SE foothills), Allison and I caught a flight to Bangkok, I got miserably sick in the airport, and we caught a second flight to the town of Nakhon Si Thamarat. Why go to Nakhon? Because the flight was cheaper than the usual spots of Krabi and Phuket... that's why.

Even our trusty tourist guidebooks had little to say about this sleepy, backwater town. Tucked firmly OFF the backpacker/climber radar, it nevertheless provided a neat insight into traditional Thai culture, and allowed us to save $70 on the flight. From Nakhon, we caught a cheap minivan ride to the adventure jump-off town of Krabi.

Along the way, our minivan picked up passengers and packages from roadside stands and food stalls. It was a combination taxi, pony express, pizza delivery, and news/mail carrier. We had originally planned to catch a longtail boat directly to the Tonsai Beach area, but I had a fever of 103 and felt like I wouldn't be able to belay, let alone climb. We checked into a cheap hostel in Krabi and I drank tea and ached in bed for 3 days while Allison used her access to medical journals to diagnose the problem: Dengue Fever. I guess the Thai Mosquitos are a little more dangerous than the swarms I am used to in the North Cascades. It took all my energy to walk down the hall at our hostel and use the computer in order to submit a Mazamas climbing club grant application by New Years Eve, but after another day of rest, I felt well enough to head off once again.

Catching a longtail boat in Thailand is a fascinating experience, and one that baffles the economist in me. In Krabi, there are various folks running around the town, not even close to the pier, who suggest/cajole/persuade you to take a boat to basically anywhere that the boats will run to. If you agree to go, or even if you had already been planning for months to go, you are pointed generally toward the dock, to which you may already be headed. At the dock, you are again asked, probably several times by various boat drivers, if you want to take a boat somewhere. It was unclear how(or if) certain drivers 'claim' certain passengers, and how the drivers know we were approached by someone in town. Eventually a boat will arrive, and depending on the energy of the boat men, your skill at bartering, and the current flow of passengers, you'll need to have between 4 and 8 people present in order for your boat to go with the standard price of 150 Baht ($4.75) per person for a ride to Tonsai Beach.

After leaving the dock, our boat driver shouted out to a chubby middle-aged Dutch couple walking along the beach, and got them to join us as last-minute passengers. We couldn't figure out how the money for this business is divided up, who keeps track of what, and how they pay people for "referring" passengers who already planned on taking the boat. Just another mystery in Thailand that I'll have to solve on the next trip...

Tonsai Beach is the climbing epicenter of Thailand, and sits on the Phra Nang Peninsula, a jut of land with four separate beaches and no road access to the mainlad. Life on Tonsai is good. Lodging is moderately-priced by Thai standards, but very cheap my western standards ($8/night for a bungalow, $22/night for a nice hotel room). The food was awesome, with favorites being freshly-caught shark and tuna steaks, grilled, and served with salad ($2.75) or crepe-like pancakes, filled with banana, nutella, and Peanut butter ($1.15).

Here Mr. Pancake makes me an apple/cinnamon/honey treat

As I slowly recovered from Dengue fever (The Dengue, as we called it) we explored many of the limestone walls on the peninsula. Apart from lots of single pitch climbs on stalagtites, pockets, and even cracks, Allison and I climbed 5 pitches routes called "The Wave" and "Humanality.

Allison got to lead the last pitch on "The Wave", gently overhung with big pockets and tufas.

We met some great folks in Tonsai. Here's our friend Sun-Ho following the last pitch of The Wave. It was his first multipitch route and he had a blast 500' up off the beach.

A few things to know about Tonsai:

  1. Food is VERY cheap by western standards and ok by Thai standards. The restaurant where the Tonsai loop road meets the ocean has the BEST seafood grill. Big steaks of Tuna and Shark, with salad, for $2.75
  2. The other bestp food is the open-air cart/booth/stall near where the loop road meets the beach. Try the baked fried rice with chicken for $1.10. The fruit/Muesli/Yogurt bowl is a good deal as well.
  3. The Andaman hotel and restaurant plays free movies every night. They are typically awful
  4. There's a really good Indian restaurant a few minutes up the trail to East Railay. It's expensive by Thai standards, but cheaper than Indian food in the USA.
  5. Without sunblock, you'll get sunburned climbing in the shade if your route faces the ocean.
  6. Barter with the boat men for a price of 150 Baht to get there from Krabi. There were originally only 4 passengers and he was asking for 250 Baht each. When we told him we would just catch a ride the next day, he dropped the price to 150 Baht.
  7. Most hotels and bungalow operations will drop the price of your room if you negotiate, especially if you will be there for a while.
  8. DO NOT drink out of many disposable water bottles. Trash often gets piled up on Tonsai, and these 1-liter bottles are among the biggest culprits. We used Aquamira drops to purify tapwater in a few minutes, which meant that we went through two water bottles the whole time. If you don't have a way to pruify the tap water, buy a 5-gallon jug of clean water, and refill one smaller bottle as you go. This is cheaper and produces FAR LESS garbage.

Deepwater soloing proved scarier than I had guessed, partly because most of the harder moves were 30-40' off the water, and I knew that the higher I climbed, the longer my plunge would be. I preferred the deepwater "bouldering"

A personal favorite moment was onsighting "Pearl Jam", a 30m 5.12b hand crack that overhangs 10m and puts you high above the whole Tonsai scene. Cleaning this route while being lowered resulted in a massive swing and sudden intimatacy with some nearby palms. I should have had the forethought to grab a coconut as a reward.

Bulletin board on Tonsai Beach always had something worth reading:

Most afternoons it rained for a bit. We were told this was unusual, but I liked it, and it kept things cool.

Washington's own apple juice

From Tonsai, we caught a ferry boat to the Ko Lanta, and spent the final few days of our trip motorbiking around the quiet island, snorkeling in the Andaman Sea, and enjoying the last lazy moments.

An overnight train ($20) brought us all the way back to Bangkok and our flight across the Pacific. This fancy restaurant will make you a Pb&J for about 3x the prices of delicious Thai food you can buy next door.



For Christmas, Allison and I went into bustling Chiang Mai and spent several hours running around a busy, smelly, crowded, and amazing market, buying food for a traditional Thai feast. The girls were stoked, we were stuffed...

We learned that the smaller the pepper, the spicier it is, as the capsaicin and seeds are more concentrated. Also, green is spicier than red...

Rigging up for the party, the rope was good for something more than tug-of-war.

The girls at this orphanage came from Mynamar, and surrounding hill tribes in Thailand. Some were there because parents were in jail or on drugs, and others had been refugees from fighting in Myanmar. The orphanage was an awesome place, that provided a safe home for them from age 4 to 18. After graduating high school, the girls are encouraged to go to the local college or learn a trade, and the orphanage helps them to network a future that it far different from where they would have ended up without it.

From there, it was sightseeing, cooking classes with a Thai TV chef, and indoor climbing in Chiang Mai to burn off some of that cocnut milk.

Panang Curry flavored Larabars?
Important note: If you've just made concentrated Panang Curry paste from scratch, by hand-mixing the ingredients, definitely also wash your hands before peeing. Good Lord...

Che says we ought to curtail global warming, but his stance seems nuanced. What are those quotes hiding? Why wont he just commit?

The city of temples lived up to its name, but eventually they all started to look the same to us.

With our time in Chiang Mai over, we caught a longtail boat from Krabi to Tonsai Beach's famous limestone cliffs!

If some of the pictures from this post look a bit better than the traditional Herrington standard, it is owing to a new camera, rather than any increase in photographic abilities. I bought myself a Canon S90 for Christmas. Thanks to several knowledgeable friends who gave camera advice, they all have excellent photography to view:

Garrett Grove's Bellingham-Based Photography

Mikey Schaefer, Climbing Photos From Around the World

Alasdair Turner's Mountain Photgraphy from an Alpine Guide

Forest Woodward's Pictures of People and their Places