Ropeburns on belayers hands


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 36 of total 36 in this topic

Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - May 21, 2010 - 09:48am PT
If someone decks, and the belayer has ropeburns on their hands, does not that somehow indicate that something went wrong with the belay?
I've never gotten rope burns on my hands belaying with a ATC or other, rappelling yes. But if you get rope burns, its because you were not tending the rope correctly.
I got jumped on on another climbing website for saying rope burns on the belayers hands are a smoking gun. They had a couple pieces of gear pull as well, but that should make no difference to the belayer who should just lock off. Just curious if there is something I am go ahead, rip me a new one.....

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
May 21, 2010 - 10:14am PT
I've been belaying for 45 years and have never burned my hands. I once held a 90 foot fall in Yosemite with the old rope around the waist system. Have always wondered why people use belay gloves.

Deep South
May 21, 2010 - 10:29am PT
Biggest fall I've caught is a 40 to 50 foot factor 1 fall with an ATC... zero burns or rope slipping.

That does sound a bit suspect.
Josh Higgins

Trad climber
San Diego
May 21, 2010 - 10:37am PT
I wear belay gloves because my hands dry and crack if I don't. If I don't wear gloves I end up with bloody gaping holes in the pads of my fingers. Also, belay gloves are great at keeping my hands warm when I'm climbing somewhere cold, like J-Tree in the dead of winter. I like em.

My belayer once thought he was going to get rope burns when I did The Edge. I thought I was supposed to climb the crack, not the arete for the final pitch, and it turns out it's about 11c and I didn't have anything that fit the crack. We've never caught a pure factor 2 fall though. Maybe he would have held it with no rope slippage? I'm glad we didn't find out! :)

I'd say that ropeburn = error for the most part.


Trad climber
Dodge Sprinter Dreaming
May 21, 2010 - 10:41am PT
I'd link the guy who jumped you to this page. If I hit the deck and he had rope burns on his hands his best bet would be to get untied and down hill before I come to.

Hard Rock

Trad climber
May 21, 2010 - 10:53am PT
No ropeburns on my hands.

Once had ropeburns on my lower back. Goldline rope. Hip belay. I was on top. Sitting down legs over the edge. Big guys - 6 feet 4 inches tall.
Painful but I held the fall.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 21, 2010 - 10:56am PT
yes. Burnt hands = f*#kedup®

Trad climber
Can't get here from there
May 21, 2010 - 10:58am PT
I've never had rope burns either.

With the newer skinnier ropes that climbers are using nowadays, you might wish you had gloves if you ever have to catch a high FF fall.

Trad climber
Josh, CA
May 21, 2010 - 11:18am PT
"If someone decks, and the belayer has ropeburns on their hands, does not that somehow indicate that something went wrong with the belay?
I've never gotten rope burns on my hands belaying with a ATC or other, rappelling yes. But if you get rope burns, its because you were not tending the rope correctly.
I got jumped on on another climbing website for saying rope burns on the belayers hands are a smoking gun. They had a couple pieces of gear pull as well, but that should make no difference to the belayer who should just lock off. Just curious if there is something I am go ahead, rip me a new one....."

Uhhh... errr.... uhhhh...

Trad climber
Boulder, CO
May 21, 2010 - 11:27am PT
39 years of belaying and I haven't had the pleasure of rope burns.


If you place any of the crop of manual belay devices in the UIAA/CE rope test system used to generate and evaluate factor 2 falls, it is virtually impossible to stop the fall, or even slow it down. Read the report on the UIAA website: The report is titled "Analysis of Belaying Techniques". Gloves won't help you stop the fall but may help prevent burns. Lesson? Don't ever put yourself in a position to catch a factor 2 fall.

- AND -

Whenever I hear about a locking assist belay device "failing" the belayer's guide hand, not her brake hand, is what got burned. If you squeeze the rope between the climber and the locking-assist device hard enough, you'll take so much energy out of the system that the device won't activate. Good video here: Lesson? When catching a fall with a locking assist device, ignore all your instincts and let go with everything but your brake hand. Let it do it's thing.

Climb safe,

Trad climber
May 21, 2010 - 11:30am PT
I've only had rope burns once, and they were pretty nasty. My partner was leading the face to the right of Double Cross (now called a TR), and his #1 (?) Chouinard stopper got pulled out by rope drag--leaving him up about 40 or 45 feet, or so, unprotected. Seeing no other alternative, I flew up Double Cross till I was even with him, threw in a hex, ran the rope through the 'biner, and had him jump toward me while I reeled in as much slack as possible (no belay device--hip belay days). Kept him from decking, but DANG were my hands melty looking!

Otherwise, I've held lots of long falls, and never been burned once. Smoking hands = smoking gun.

Edit: interesting post, Maldaly. Thanks.

Trad climber
Upper Leftish
May 21, 2010 - 11:37am PT
eh? can't catch a factor 2 maldaly?

Caught my partner on a 2nd pitch fall onto the anchor (factor 1.9ish I guess - I had a directional a foot above the ATC) after his first piece pulled 15 feet out. Fall was 40ish feet. No rope burn except on the back of my hand where I got pulled into the lead line.

Significant differences in the force dynamics between a redirected belay and a true factor 2 I suppose. Maybe that's your point.

But to the OP...I'd say you're on target.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
May 21, 2010 - 11:51am PT
I'd say SOMETHING went wrong. My guess would be the belayer was not paying attention when the leader fell. The rope started to slip through the system before the the belayer could grab it and got burned before he could lock it off.

You know, like if the belayer was also filming the climb. ;-)

Trad climber
Tacoma, WA
May 21, 2010 - 12:03pm PT
No one is going to argue that rope burns shouldn't happen. The objection to your earlier post is the implication that a small rope burn on the belayer's hand was the "smoking gun"in an accident that occurred because an inexperienced leader fell high, on easily protected terrain, pulling two pieces of gear. The climber was finally caught by a cam only 10' off the belay which put the climber well below the anchor on a two pitch climb after bouncing off a ledge and hitting a slab below. Even a perfect belay couldn't have prevented hitting the ledge or the slab given the amount of rope out. The belayer caught the fall and the climber suffered broken bones in one arm. Do we really need to pollute a second forum with endless speculation because someone disagreed with your armchair assessment. It's the internet people will disagree with you and often times it's for sport.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
May 21, 2010 - 12:14pm PT
Only thing smokin' 'round here ...

tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
May 21, 2010 - 12:36pm PT
Never been burned in 20 years, but I can't say that someone screwed up in the accident you are talking about cuz I don't know all the details.

As for belay gloves, while I don't own any, they do have a purpose. The Owens Gorge is all mussy hooks these days, which means black ropes covered in metallic grime.

Gloves help keep your hands from turning black. This seems reasonable. That grime is tough to clean off.


May 21, 2010 - 12:41pm PT
38 years of climbing and no rope burns yet. Caught plenty of falls, not many with a hip belay fortunately but enough to know I can stop you with one.

Last lead fall was Ivan at 250 lbs or so just last month 3 or 4 pitches up on Beacon, he's friggan 6'6" or 6'7" tall. He was aiding, had stepped up and was fully relaxed and standing on a pin for a few min. which suddenly pulled @ 20 feet above me. Shocked the hell out of us both as he'd tested it first by heavily weighting it (the rock broke and flew). I got yoinked up from a hanging belay 2 feet or so. Despite being fat, and old, I still weight under 170# - no burns. ATC -thank the lord that wasn't a hip belay, but I would have caught him with one anyway.

I think Malcom nailed it above.

The last burn story I was involved in goes like this. My buddy showed up with his new girlfriend, a gym climber of several months, to a local practice area for some TR laps. She seemed insecure setting up the belay, so I wandered over and offered to do a backup belay (loosely holding the brake rope so as to not interfere, but in a position to yank it if needed). When she lowered him, she had a hard time doing it, but used her hands properly the whole time. So I showed them how to do 2 carabiners for more friction, and how to hold onto the rope with both hands when lowering, suggested she use his gloves, etc etc. The doubled/matched biners worked great the next time, and the back up belay wasn't even close to needed - but then I had to leave and missed the show that was about to happen. Buddy wanted one more lap, and the story is that they both forgot the 2 biner suggestion, and she forgot the 2 hands on the brake rope and the gloves thing. As she lowered him, when the rope started running faster and faster and burning her brake hand, she yelled Owwww - then totally let go of the rope and dropped him over 10 feet. Lucky for him he was almost down, that could have gone real real bad. According to him, she didn't seemed too bothered by it, but his mindset and trust was gone at that point.

I've told him my position of not climbing with folks who haven't been climbing for at least 2 seasons, and I think he might have adopted it. I was out just last Sat with him, and at one point was going to lower him a full pitch down, not to the ground as we were too high up off the deck, just to belay him back up so he could scope out a possible route. Despite having jugs to climb back up the rope if it was too hard, and me with a gri gri and redirect bolt above (and a jug to lock off the rope if needed), he had trouble trusting me and brought up this incident.

That's how broken ankle Chris got his nickname too. Trying to teach his girlfriend how to belay in the gym. Wham. (gri gri drop)

Trad climber
May 21, 2010 - 02:36pm PT
A friend of mine was climbing El Matador on Devil's Tower many years ago. His gear selection was rather meager and inappropriate for the climb. He was about 100 feet above his belay when he pitched off the wild stemming section of the climb. His belay partner watched in horror as numerous cams popped out as he fell. She quickly realized he would hit the ledge she was sitting on and frantically started reeling in rope. When the leader hit the end of the rope, held by a wired stopper, she locked off but she was facing into the wall on her right side. Her position against the wall made it impossible to fully lock off with her right hand and arm. She stopped the leader in an upside down fall one foot from the ledge. This resulted in second and third degree burns on her hands. The leader had a minor scalp laceration.


1) She saved his life because she reeled in rope during his fall.

2) Watch your belay position to make sure you have room to fully lock off the rope.


Trad climber
Berkeley, CA
May 21, 2010 - 02:52pm PT
If folks don't pay attention to where the ropes are running on trad anchors, various rope-cluster issues can make it hard to fully lock off. I catch myself in this from time to time (e.g. the rope tied in at waist going taut to an anchor off right, and using my right hand to break; if it's a cramped hanging alcove belay, maybe not enough room to drop the arm and lock the ATC if the other rope is in the path of the drop motion. It's always manageable as long as the belayer pays attention, but I expect it would be the source of a fair number of accidents or longer belay falls than necessary.

p.s. I've never burned my hands and I think it would only happen while trying to recover from a screw-up.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
May 21, 2010 - 02:57pm PT
Got some rope burns from yer Mom...


It's Friday bitches!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BWA HA Hhahaaaaaa!!!

Trad climber
Yacolt, WA
May 21, 2010 - 03:09pm PT
Another type of what? Female? Yes, they come in different ages and experience levels. If you talk to them less rudely, they may consider belaying properly. Otherwise, penalty slack.

Anacortes, wa
May 21, 2010 - 03:38pm PT
Definitely a sign of a bad belay.
For what its worth the only time I have ever been dropped was when my then girlfriend was belaying.
Just sayin.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
May 21, 2010 - 03:50pm PT
Wheatus has provided an example that breaks this as a hard and fast rule.


Anacortes, wa
May 21, 2010 - 04:12pm PT
True, but what percentage of catches do you think are hindered in such a way. And why? Shouldn't any aware belayer make sure they have room to lock off a fall?

Trad climber
Monterey, CA
May 21, 2010 - 04:30pm PT
<If someone decks, and the belayer has ropeburns on their hands, does not that somehow indicate that something went wrong with the belay?>
If someone decks, something went wrong with the entire climbing scenario - regardless of what the belayer's hands look like.

May 21, 2010 - 06:24pm PT
Pate...I would have paid good money to see what happened when he got down.

...and people ask me if I wished my GF no.

Trad climber
Boulder, CO
May 21, 2010 - 06:56pm PT
BJ and others, I didn't mean to imply anything by using "her" in my above post. I try to mix it up in all my writing and "her" was where it fell this time. Sorry girls. I meant no harm.

Trad climber
Yacolt, WA
May 21, 2010 - 07:34pm PT
Nice belay for Malcom.

Penalty slack for Pate.


Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
May 21, 2010 - 10:51pm PT
When I was a youngun I asked a wise wall man if he wore gloves.

"Don't use 'em in case I lose 'em." -Dean Caldwell

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
May 21, 2010 - 11:41pm PT
I'm gonna put it another way: if you haven't gotten burns, it is because you haven't had to catch a really severe fall, which in fact extremely few people have to do. Yeah, I know all about climbing N years and never getting burned. I'll see most people their N and raise them a few. But all it means that none of the falls caught transmitted much more than about 600 lbs to the belay, because most climbers grip strength does not exceed 120 lbs and most belay devices don't multiply this by more than about five.

If and when (and I hope it never happens) you get an impact above 1000 lbf, there will be rope slippage through the belay. This has been tested and demonstrated by the Italian Alpine Club Materials Section and they have high-speed video to prove it.

In addition to friction in the system that prevents high loads from reaching the belayer, there are other variables, such as rope diameter and belay device type. In tests done by Mal a few years ago, a Metolius BRD (probably the highest-friction device out there) required a touch under ten lbf to hold a 160 pound load on 9.8mm rope, while an old-style Reverso (one of the least adequate devices ever made) needed about 45 lbf to hold the same load. Obviously, the Reverso guy, whose device multiplies his grip strength by about 3, is going to have rope burns long before the BRD gal, whose device multiplies her grip strength by about sixteen.

And grip strength itself is a variable. It is quite variable in the general population; presumably climbers are, at least after years of climbing, at the upper end. But that doesn't mean there aren't substantial differences. Light people can perform on climbs at the same level as much heavier people even though the lightweights have much lower grip strength. But the lower grip strength will show up in the belay context, which is absolute rather than relative.

I have caught a factor-2 fall, but it was with a hip belay and an 11mm rope, a combination that might have provided more friction than we currently get with most belay devices, which are designed and purchased more because of their rope-handling characteristics than their force-multiplying factors. (For example, how many of you own a Metolius BRD...I rest my case.)

Because I learned to climb in the Pleistocene era, I have caught scores of falls in the UIAA test range with the rope running through a single biner and no other sources of friction. Of course, a weight was used for these belay tests, making them more severe than a corresponding human-body event for the same weight. Still, anyone who has had this experience would never assert that all falls can be stopped without rope slippage, or promote the fallacy that rope slippage represents, de facto, some kind of failure on the belayer's part.

One of the jokes about attitudes towards belay-device friction is that people seem to grasp the fact that if they do a single-strand rappel on a 9.8 mm rope, they had better double the biners to create more friction. That would be more friction for holding body weight. What reasoning process admits this fact and then pretends that the same device with only a single biner is going to hold ten times body weight with no slippage?

My experience from back in the day and my understanding of modern-day equipment, which simply cannot stop severe falls without slippage and indeed includes that fact as part of its advantages, pursuades me to use belay gloves. (Feel free to call me all the inappropriate names you wish.) I know the probability of needing their protection is extremely low, and that many climbers have full careers without ever getting burned. But I dislike the idea of being unprepared for perfectly possible scenarios that occur on virtually every climb, scenarios that would result in in rope running. Burns are bad enough and may be far more than a minor first-aid event, but the potential for losing control of the belay is even worse.

I've climbed for the same N years (N=52 in my case) without ever getting hit by a rock. But now that hard hats don't weight a ton, I wear one, as do many others. Belay gloves are in exactly the same category: you may never need them, but if you do and don't have them and the fit hits the shan, the consequences may severe indeed (e.g. 1 month for new skin to form and one year for hand to fully heal).

May 22, 2010 - 11:34am PT
I can see a time when I catch a FF2, but I'm not looking forward to it and haven't had to do it yet. I occasionally use gloves and don't rank on anyone who does, it's situational for me.

I've only had a single partner quit climbing with me and it was when I suggested, 3 times, that he drop in just a piece as he went from @15 feet to 20" directly above me. It wouldn't have been a FF2 as he would have hit me and I would have slowed him down with some broken bones involved I suspect. I was on a hanging belay on a 2nd pitch. Dude later raged that it was only 5.9 and he'd been climbing much more than I had that year and had his sh#t together and wasn't going to fall, didn't need a piece... blah blah.

He got over it later.

Gym climber
A dingy corner in your refrigerator
May 22, 2010 - 11:56am PT
I've kind of noticed over the years...the better the climber one is might be in inverse proportion to the attention/ gravity you give to the job of belaying. Give me a belayer with some fear in his,her, or it's eyes.

Relic Hominid
May 24, 2010 - 05:38pm PT
gf sez: oh jeam?
tell us the tale of the lesbian!
Tami-do you have the original cartoon you can post up?

That was Peder and I whom can take credit for that rescue of Jeam and Craig T. from the Negro Lesbian on the Squamish Chief.

We heard their cries for help from the base of Grandwall and figured we would be faster on the scene if we climbed Grandwall to Bellygood ledge rather than walk around the backside trail. It was more fun too, climbing with a sense of urgency, a heroic rescue effort I must say ....

Jumarring accident apparently. Jeam did you write up that accident report yet ? Worst case of burned hands I have even seen, Jeam was in a lot of pain.

Pat pat on the back boys

Relic Hominid
May 24, 2010 - 06:10pm PT
GF what about your buildering accident in downtown Victoria ? Best it came straight from the horses mouth ... here is your opportunity

Edit: Jeam your Telus mailbox is full

Trad climber
In the mountains... somewhere...
May 24, 2010 - 07:32pm PT
I have had BAD rope burn on the guide hand while pulling sheetfulls of rope in on a looooong fall. I got 3 1/2 pulls in but the last half went back out the guide hand and burned it good. I have torn knuckles and fingers to shreds getting pulled up walls or into biners but I have never had rope burns on the catching hand. If this belayer was holding the rope in the palm up position that might explain it as there is not nearly as much power that way.

Trad climber
Berkeley, CA
May 24, 2010 - 08:01pm PT
Thanks rgold for the perspective.

It won't make me use gloves, but it's an extra voice of caution when I'm belaying.

It's a risk-factor to consider with double-rope leading (which is my normal setup) because of the smaller diameter ropes and typically only 1 rope actually catching the fall. I had to upgrade my ATC to one with a V-shaped wedge to be able to rap properly with the smaller ropes, and can see it's a concern for catching big falls too.
Messages 1 - 36 of total 36 in this topic
Return to Forum List
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo Videos

Recent Route Beta