Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Belay Devices and Beginners

“Why do helmet heads always belay with an ATC……always”
 That was the quote I read on facebook from a friend of a friend. Hating to get in online debates, I resisted the urge to comment, but this did bring flashbacks of the previous weekend at Walla Walla Wash on Mt. Charleston where I watched a guy (not wearing a helmet) get dropped from 20 feet while being lowered by a new belayer using a GriGri. He was lucky, despite the rocky terrain, no damage to his melon, just a dislocated left shoulder which we were able to reduce.

The Petzl GriGri is one example of an Assisted Breaking Device.

I think the GriGri is a great device and prefer using it to belay when sport climbing. Once you get the technique down, I feel you can feed rope even smoother than with a tube (ATC) style device.


Many people think that when they teach a new climber how to belay that they are safer having them use a GriGri. In my opinion it is just the opposite, I think the Grigri is a more advanced device and that people should first learn to belay with a tube style device using the PBUS method, then learn to use a GriGri.

When someone learns to use a GriGri, they typically learn steps:  this is how to load it, this is how to feed rope and you pull this lever to lower your partner. When learning to belay with a tube device, you learn principles of how to create friction to control the load which can then be applied to any type of belay device.

The Black Diamond ATC is a Tube Style Device.
ATC stands for (tongue in cheek), Air Traffic Controller.

Additionally, as a climber, you are most vulnerable when you are being lowered from a route. Lowering with a GriGri is quite finicky and can even be a bit tricky for experienced belayers especially if the climber significantly outweighs the belayer. Having solid understanding of using friction can help you find good balance with the brake lever and friction for a more smooth descent with a GriGri.

So if you are teaching a new climber how to belay, I would recommend teaching them on a tube device until they have solid PBUS technique, then moving on to the GriGri.

Be safe and have a good Rocktober!

Doug Foust, Instructor and Guide

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, and teach beginners to use the ATC. When I hear of someone getting dropped with any device by a novice belayer, I suspect the problem is not mainly the device, but the usually the instruction (or lack) they received.