The stakes are high, if you don't check what you're belaying to. Just how solid is that old piece of angle iron at the top of your favourite quarry?
Sometimes there are no natural belays at the top of a crag; this is particularly true for sea cliffs and quarried crags. For many years climbers have solved this problem by hammering in ground stakes to provide belays. Over time these corrode, sometimes to leave what looks like a solid belay when in fact the part beneath the ground has rotted away. Here's some simple advice to help you use stakes more safely:
- Even if the stake looks solid, give it a hefty boot in the direction of loading. The stake in the photo broke when given the "boot" test by a climber.
- Always use 2 stakes or one stake and some other belays. Never rely on one piece of in situ gear, no matter how good it looks. Equalise your belay to evenly spread the load.
- To minimise leverage, always attach your rope or sling to the stake as close to the ground as possible.
- Stakes are only as good as the ground they are placed in. Soft, loose or waterlogged soil may allow the stake to cut through. Check the stake but also check the ground around it.
- Check before you commit to a route, especially on sea cliffs.
- Using ground features as a "belay seat" can help dramatically reduce loads on any stakes or other dubious belays at a pinch.
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