If a glance through a climber’s Instagram tells you anything, it’s that the glory all lives in the vertical realm. “Climbing porn” usually means oohing and aahing about big whippers, bulging backs, and try very, very hard faces.
Although I love a good dyno compilation as much as the next person, I’m always going to save my biggest psych for the person on the ground holding the rope—the glorious and indispensable belayer.
The belayer’s the one getting early-onset arthritis from clenching the rope while I hang-dog and flail my way up a climb that’s way over my head; their neck hurts, and they’re half-blind from staring into the sun as they faithfully watch and prepare to catch the fall I will inevitably take.
But besides the toughness it takes to belay, what’s the most beautiful thing about the belayer? Everyone gets to be that person (unless you’re a total poop and never take the belay spot).
Everyone gets to be in the world of slack and tension, of getting twigs and dirt in your mouth that your best friend just kicked onto your upturned face—while you make sure the climb ends with a gentle, cloudlike descent to the ground instead of disaster.
Not everyone can climb a 5.13 route. Not everyone knows what to do when they encounter a stretch of icy, lichen-filled terror on an alpine climb. But even someone totally new to the sport can learn to hold the rope, support their friend through the crux, and keep their hand on that break strand. We all can feel the still moments between watching the foot slip off the crimp and being being yanked up the wall, the adrenaline rush of the rope going taut and knowing you kept your friend safe for another go. It’s a role that matters, one that has real consequences if you screw it up and can go totally under the radar when you don’t.
Without belayers, where would we be, really? Stuck on the ground.
Hug your favorite belayer today, or give them a shout-out in the comments! (All you boulderers can give a big hug to your spotter, too!)