What is a hard catch?
A lead belayer can give a hard catch when they don’t have enough rope out. The climber falls, and then swings back forcefully towards the wall. If the belayer gives a hard catch, the climber can impact the wall and potentially hurt their ankles, hands, hips. Giving a soft catch is as important as tying your knot correctly. One of the best ways to give a soft catch is to provide a dynamic belay.
Dynamic belaying refers to a method of belaying where you slightly lengthen the fall to soften the impact. In this case, the belayer moves just as the climber hits the end of the rope, preventing the leader from the forceful swing back into the wall.
The dynamic belay was invented at Indian Rock in Berkeley by Dick Leonard and the Cragmont Climbing Club. The climbers would jump off the overhanging rock and give each other slack to allow for softer falls. At this time, climbers used hemp ropes and padded themselves to prevent rope burn.
Modern advancements in climbing ropes have helped immensely. New ropes are dynamic and will stretch and absorb more of the fall.
How to Give a Soft Catch
Make sure to stand close to the first bolt clipped. When the climber reaches the third bolt and is safe from hitting the ground in a fall, step back to watch the climber from a distance where they are more visible.
Watch the lead climber and be poised at all times. Make sure to hold onto the end of the rope so it stays in your hand. If the climber falls, wait until you see the rope becomes comes taut onto the last clipped draw, and then jump into the air. Jumping will add slack to the system and make the fall more gentle.
If the belayer is significantly lighter than the climber, than it is useful to anchor the belayer to the ground. The anchor line should have a small amount of slack in it to allow the belayer to be pulled off the ground but kept from being pulled into the first bolt.
There are a few exceptions to giving soft catches: if there is a risk of decking, they are on a slab, or they are working a project and want to stay close to the bolt.
Practicing in the gym with your partner will help immensely. The dynamic belay is less than intuitive but very helpful. If you would like to practice with an instructor, check in at the front desk to inquire about private lessons. We also offer Advanced Lead Climbing clinics to practice lead climbing.