Dynamic Belaying: How To Give A Soft Catch

At 172 pounds, I often outweigh many of my sport climbing partners. The weight difference makes hard catches, falls where the leader swings violently into the wall, more likely. While losing weight is one of my many New Year’s resolutions, I can also give softer catches by following the proper technique.

A hard catch results from the lack of proper rope out. The climber falls and then swings back towards the wall. When the leader swings their ankles, hands, hips, or if they invert, the back of their heads may hit the wall. While broken ankles are the most common injury, a hard catch can result in death if the leader hits their head. 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.

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Dynamic belaying refers to a method of belaying where you slightly lengthen the fall to soften the impact on the rope. This method prevents the leader from swinging back into the wall. When the belayer moves as the climber hits the end of the rope, the leader will gently lower.

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. The climbers then used hemp ropes and padded themselves to prevent rope burn. Modern gear helps make things easier.

Having a new rope helps immensely. Old ropes tend have significantly more stiffness and act like static lines while a new rope will stretch and absorb more of the fall. Auto-locking belay device can also cause harder catches.


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Notice in this picture that the climber has just the right amount of rope out and is standing below the first bolt but can still see Ethan Pringle climb.

Make sure to stand close to the first bolt clipped. When the climber reaches the third bolt and is safe from decking, then step back to watch the climber from a distance where they are more visible.

The best way to give a soft catch is to wait until the rope comes taut onto the last clipped quick draw and then jump. 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. Jumping will make the fall as gentle as possible.

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.

In this video, the belayer comes off the ground and softens the leader's fall.

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. Also, Touchstone offers belay classes. Make sure you use proper technique and climb safely.

Making and Keeping New Year's Resolutions

In 2011, I vowed to work out 5 days a week.  In 2012, I vowed to work out 3 days a week.  In 2013, my New Year's Resolution was to drive past the gym at least once a week.  

For 2014, I'm sticking to my resolutions.  Like millions of Americans, I vow to change my life every year.  One of the biggest New Year's resolutions is to exercise more and lose weight.  I'm far from alone.  In January, the number of new members at the Touchstone gyms sky rockets as people fight off the holiday weight. Exercising more and losing weight are two of the most common New Year’s resolutions. Achieving these resolutions can be easier by remembering a few steps.


Read more: Making and Keeping New Year's Resolutions

Climbing the Zodiac

For many climbers, scaling the granite monolith of El Capitan is a bucket list experience. For an elite few, free climbing El Capitan is the ultimate experience. However, free climbing El Capitan takes a colossal amount of work. Recently, two California climbers went to examine a steep free route on the right side of El Cap.

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Read more: Climbing the Zodiac

Cold Weather Climbing

For those obsessed with climbing outside all the time, winter rock climbing can be amazing. Cold crisp conditions and lots of solitude are easy to find in the shorter months. While long routes may be out for the season, now is a perfect time for sport climbing or bouldering. The best way to climb during the cold season is to be prepared. Below are a few tips to help you get ready for winter climbing.

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Michael Pang photo- the author keeps a puffy jacket and lots of hand warmers nearby

Follow the sun- This seems like a no brainer but if it’s really cold out then it’s best to not only climb in the sun but climb where the sun has been. Rock that’s seen some sun will be more pleasant than the rock that has just gotten the rays.

Keep the right temperature- When hiking, avoid sweating. The moisture on your body will freeze when you stop hiking. While approaching the crag or boulders, strip down to the thinnest layer possible to avoid overheating. If you sweat excessively, bring a dry shirt to change into at the crag. The same goes for climbing. Hats are really good for providing warmth when getting off the belay and easy to toss off.

Wear Warm Clothes- Shorts and t-shirts are for summer. Bring your warmest puffy jacket to the crag during the winter. A hood helps cover the cold area around your face while belaying on your partner’s mega project. Gloves and a hat offer significant warmth for little space in the pack. Skimp on the warm clothes and your climbing session will shorten drastically. Some climbers wear long johns while others prefer leg warmers as they are easier to take on and off. A scarf will warm your neck and make you fashionable.

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Eric Ruderman photo on a cold descent into Owen's River Gorge

 Use Hand Warmers- Open a chemical hand warmer and drop it in your chalk bag as soon as you reach the crag. The warmth takes a few minutes to activate. By the time you tie in you’re fingers will reach into a toasty chalk bag. A hand warmer will help with the initial climbing and may make the difference between numb fingers and a comfortable send.

Drink warm liquids- Hot chocolate, tea, soup or even hot water will help significantly. Some climbers like to bring a Jetboil to the crag. Others bring a large thermos. Either way, the warm liquid will help keep you warm. Just remember that caffeine can hinder blood flow to your extremities so drink coffee after you lead if you want to feel your fingers.

Keep Eating- When the weather turns arctic, your body burns calories just to stay warm. Eat plenty of food- Bars, leftovers from last night, a good burrito. Bring the type of food that inspires you to consume it even in cold weather. Remember to ear often.

Wear Belay Pants- An extra pair of pants over your climbing trousers will help keep the chill down while belaying. Windproof pants work well but any kind of large pants that slip on over your harness and climbing pants will help significantly.

Climb in Blocks- On really cold days, smart climbers break up the day instead of the pitches. One climber warms up and continues climbing for half the day, never belaying just climbing. The other climber belays for a few hours and then switches into lead mode. This block style climbing helps the climber stay warm by minimizing resting between climbs.

Go to the gym¬- If it’s so cold out that you’re damaging the rock by blow torching holds or having to put tarps over boulders to keep them dry from the snow, it might be time to climb inside. Get strong for when the weather is good.

First Light: A Climber's Epic

The short cold days of winter are here. For many climbers that means indoor training sessions. For an elite few, it means extraordinary epics.

This winter, Colorado alpine climber Jesse Huey and his team of elite alpine climbers will journey to the roof of the world. "It's visionary. It's truly on the edge of what we could call climbing," said Huey. "You can train for the Karakoram, for Alaska, but nothing can prepare you for this. "

Check out their classic journey into a dangerous world.

LAB Construction Update

Excitement in Southern California is building as the grand opening Touchstone’s newest gym, the LA.B approaches. The Los Angeles gym features 13,000 square feet of climbing terrain and is modeled after Dogpatch Boulders in San Francisco. 

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The gym will offer two designated areas for fitness. The cardio area will house treadmills and exercise equipment while the weight area will contain freeweights, a campus board, hangboard, and other training equipment. “While we won't be offering studio classes at the time of the grand opening, we are looking into the possibility of adding a space for group fitness in the future,” said Remi Moehring, LA.B manager.

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Located in the Arts District of downtown LA, LA.B resides next to a host of small businesses and great food. “Urth Cafe, Umami Burger, Angel City Brewing Co., Little Tokyo, and Egg Slut food truck are all local favorites within three blocks of the gym. It's a unique, up-and-coming neighborhood, and we're excited to be a part of its growth,” said Moehring. Beyond the location, the LA.B will be a great place for the climbing community to gather.

“People are insanely psyched about the presence of a new, large, state-of-the-art bouldering gym, and are chomping at the bit to get on the walls,” said Moehring. Touchstone's Head Route setter, Jeremy Ho, agreed. “There’s a really strong community and they haven’t had a central place to band together.” Ho expressed his amazement at how excited everyone was for the new gym.

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Perhaps a large part of the excitement stems from the amazing terrain. The gym includes bouldering top outs with the walls being as high as 18 feet. Stone Age holds produced over 7,000 holds. So Ill, Tecniks, EGrips, Pusher and other companies have supplied another 1200 holds. Starting in December, ten route setters from the bay area Touchstone gyms will fly to Los Angeles to help the five current LA.B setters establish hundreds of new problems. With the walls done and Flashed climbing finishing the flooring this week, the LA.B will soon be the biggest bouldering gym in Southern California.

“We keep getting emails with subject lines like, "SO EXCITED! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHEN WILL YOU BE OPEN?" said Moehring. “So based on that, we can safely conclude that people are looking forward to it, and so are we.”

Fitness Webinar for Touchstone Members

Touchstone Climbing is partnering with Dr. Felicia Gomez to host a live webinar on November 18th at 7pm. The webinar will focus on 'Getting Through the Holidays Fit and Trim.' Dr. Gomez earned a Ph.D. in Exercise Metabolism and Nutrition from the University of Guelph, Canada in 2000 and formed Pinnacle Training Systems in 2009 to help individuals and companies reach their health, fitness, and athletic goals. With over 20 years of experience in the fitness and wellness field, Dr. Gomez has helped individuals as well as professional teams reach their fitness goals. We're happy to be working with her to help our members with their goals over the holidays. 

Thurigen mtns stage 6As athletes, we want, at the very least to maintain our fitness during this time of year, but face increased obligations that eat away at our already limited training time. There is also the temptation of sweets and goodies that are everywhere! So how do we survive and come out of it at the other end with our sanity and our fitness without needing to buy a new wardrobe? The focus of the webinar will be discussing practical ways of making it through the holiday season with minimal weight gain and maximum fitness, while still enjoying the festivities.

Dr. Gomez's passion for fitness developed from her successful career in elite sports as a professional cyclist and duathlete. She is currently an Associate Professor at Fresno State in the Department of Kinesiology and has over 20 years teaching at the undergraduate and graduate level. She has published several articles in peer-reviewed journals and presented at National and International Conferences on topics related to nutrition, supplements and exercise performance. She balances her work with community service, putting on events to benefit charity such as the Pinnacle Pup Run, which raises money for local animal shelters.

The webinar will last 1 hour and is $20. It's interactive, so come with questions and be ready to learn helpful information. Be sure to sign up now to take advantage of this unique opportunity! 

Manager's Favorite: Buttermilk Stem with Diane Ortega

Every climber has a Project; a route or boulder problem that exposes your weaknesses and shuts you down. For Diane Ortega, the manager of The Studio in San Jose, that project is the Buttermilk Stem in Bishop, California. The problem is graced with slopey holds, requires tons of flexibility, and has sharp rock that bites back. It's a classic, and to some the Buttermilk Stem is a fun outing. But to most, it is a series of frustrating moves.

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When Orgeta is asked about her the project, she affectionately refers to the Buttermilk Stem as her nemesis. The problem has thwarted her since she first tried the problem in October of 2009 while on a trip with Ryan Moon and Jake Nelson.

Located in the middle of the Buttermilks, the stem features hard palming up a wide groove to a pinch and a few large huecos. The area is gorgeous but the rock can shred your palms. "I think the Buttermilks are the most beautiful area of Bishop, but I hate climbing there. It hurts my feelings. But I keep coming back for more!"

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Other climbers have had a similar experience. It took Touchstone Blogger and big wall free climber James Lucas years to eventually send the vexing problem. "I think they forgot to add a 1 to before the 0," Lucas said of the modest V0/V10 grade. "After a few years of work and serious Kodak courage, I finally sent."



"I have tried this problem every time I have been to Bishop for 4 years," said Ortega, who plans on heading back to Bishop for Thanksgiving and New Years. "Its become a big joke to most of my friends. I even had a session where everyone who go to the top (even random strangers who happened to be there) yelled out my name at the top."

Ortega's climbing at The Studio will doubtlessly pay off. Best of luck to her as she tackles the nearly impossible problem! 

Belaying Techniques

Nothing in climbing is more important than belaying. Belayer's hold their partner's life. While many people are cavalier about belaying, it's an essential to pay attention and belay properly. They are significant differences in belaying a sport route, a long traditional climb, or an aid climb. The single most important tenet of belaying is to never let go with the brake hand.

Belaying well involves more than just holding the rope for your partner. Using an ATC or GriGri requires a significant amount of attention to the activity of the climber. It's important to pull in and feed out rope at the correct times. In this instructional video, Adam Barczack demonstrates the proper way to belay.

Even with an autolocking device like a GriGri, it is essential to hold on to the rope. Keep your brake hand close to your body to avoid letting go of the rope. Make sure to establish a set of commands before leaving the ground. The climber's knot should be tied perfectly and the belay device needs to be locked and properly loaded. Also, keep your eyes on the climber at all times.  

The Touchstone Gyms offer solid instruction on how to belay. Ask the front desk staff for more information.

Taping for Success

The Salathe Headwall on El Capitan, the North Six Shorter in Indian Creek, and Dog Leg in Joshua Tree are all beautiful routes. These obvious cracks are some of the most enticing lines in climbing.  

Crack climbing is beautiful but it also hurts. Anyone who has stuffed their hand into a parallel splitter has probably gobied their hand a few times. The small abrasions on the back of your hands or fingers stem from the sharpness of the rock and systematic wear from jamming.

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Read more: Taping for Success

TIps For More Efficient Climbing

The short days of fall are here and many climbers are still chomping at the bit to climb big Yosemite routes  Whether maximizing the number of pitches at the crag or moving quickly over a long trad route, the key to fast climbing is efficency. Diablo Rock Gym manager and author of Climb On! Skills For More Efficient Climbing, Hans Florine offered great advice about how to move faster.

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Communicate clearly with your partner before and during the climb. This will save more time and make you more efficient, then any other tip. Ie: say: yes and no, not Yeah and Nay. Follow commands with your partners name if there are other climber near by to avoid confusing situations. Know before you leave the belay what the plan is for following the next pitch, hauling sequence etc..

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Place Gear Well When free climbing or mostly free climbing, place gear at your chest or below. It makes clipping in much faster and less effort.  Make sure to minimize rope drag.  The second to extend a piece will save minutes pulling up extra rope to fight the drag.

Paul Hara Photo

 Be Organized The time taken to organize rope at each station is almost always shorter then the time taken to feed an un-organized rope.  Organize the rack big to small or reverse, or in the order you will need the pieces on the upcoming pitch. Don't bring gear on lead that you cannot use.

Florine's last bit of advice is to "Chuck safety to the wind...just kidding."  Being safe on a route will help you climb more confidently

Getting Through the Slot: Pro Tips

Touchstone Blogger James Lucas shares the ins and outs of his recent project in Yosemite. 

My body slide down 3 inches.  I pushed it back up 3 inches.  Then I slid again.  I ate too many pies that summer and the infamous squeezing of the Harding Slot on Yosemite's Astroman made it difficult to make upward progress.  

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Read more: Getting Through the Slot: Pro Tips

Past blog entries can be found at  http://touchstoneclimbing.blogspot.com/



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