Ask the Master: Climber Commands

Over the last few years I've noticed a *new* command creeping into the crags. Usually I'm not opposed to change, but when it comes to climbing I tend to think that keeping the climbing commands as standardized as possible is a matter of safety. What are your thoughts on this?

By By Martin Volken (IFMGA Guide) | December 14th, 2016

Hi Martin, thanks for taking our questions. Over the last few years I’ve noticed a “new” command creeping into the crags (climber finishes pitch secures themselves to permanent anchor such as chains or bolts and readies for cleaning and/or rappelling – then yells down):

IN DIRECT!

(belayer in my experience simply says “OK” back)

Instead of the standard:

OFF BELAY ()”

BELAY OFF ()”

Usually I’m not opposed to change (as language slowly does change over time) but when it comes to climbing I tend to think that keeping the climbing commands as standardized as possible is a matter of safety. Especially when climbers are sometimes meeting up at climbing destinations and have not climbed together before. What are your thoughts on this?

—G, via Ask the Master forum

Martin Volken, owner of Pro Guiding Service and Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA, is a certified IFMGA Swiss Mountain Guide and guides in North America and Europe. He has been a member of the AMGA examiner team since 2000.Hi there and thank you for the question:

I am glad you are bringing it up. I will tell you right of the bat that I really do not like the “Off Belay – Belay off” command.

Why? Well, I have taught many rock climbing courses and it has been very confusing for people. I see it all the time. Generally when I pass the responsibility on to them, they say something like: “you are belay on – no – on belay – no – I was supposed to say that – whatever – can I climb?” etc.

This command system does not make any sense from a risk management stand point, since the variations are too close to the same thing. I teach that the belayer is in charge of safety and therefore gives permissions. The climber is not in charge of safety and therefore asks for permissions. So it would then sound like this with simple requests and permissions:

 

Before Climbing

Climber: Am I on Belay?

Belayer: Yes, you are on belay

C: Can I climb?

B: Yes, you can Climb

C: Can you give me tension?

B: Here is tension.

 

At the top

C: I am in direct. Can you take me off belay?

B: You are off belay.

 

Communication needs to be very straight forward and simple.

—Martin Volken

 

Got a question about climbing? Submit your question in the Ask the Master forum and either Jeff Ward (AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide) or Martin Volken (IFMGA Mountain Guide) will supply the answer.

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