Friday, November 2, 2018

How to Belay a Leader with an Assisted Braking Device

Over the last dozen years or so, the assisted braking device has become a major component of a climber's kit. There are several of these devices on the market now. And each of them has their advantages and disadvantages. That said, the two most popular tend to be the Petzl GriGri and the Trango Cinch.

It should be noted that as the technology improves, more and more designs for assisted braking devices are appearing. Many of these new designs don't have a "moving side plate" with a "rope channel" like the GriGri or the Cinch. As those designs are so different from these, this blog will focus specifically on the GriGri and the Cinch.

The primary belaying position for the GriGri is the PBUS position, with a guide hand above the device on the rope and a brake hand below. As the leader moves up the rock, the belayer slowly feeds rope through the device, gently pulling with guide hand, while pushing through with the brake hand. If the rope is fed at an appropriate speed, the cam in the GriGri will not engage.

In this principle belay position, the belayer's brake hand never leaves the rope. If there is a need to bring in slack, the belayer reverts to the PBUS toproping technique.

Because the cam automatically engages with a sudden acceleration of the rope, it can be difficult to pay out slack quickly. The simplest solution to this problem is to never allow the rope to suddenly accelerate. This may be accomplished by the leader placing gear at chest level or lower and extending the protection with runners. Doing so allows the leader to clip into the protection without having to give a quick tug on the rope.

The second way is to shift the brake hand, sliding it up the rope to the device, and brace the index finger against the lip of the moving sideplate. Press the thumb of the brake hand down on the cam where the handle is attached while continuing to hold the brake strand of the rope. Pull slack with the guide hand. Once finished, immediately return to the principle belay position.

Petzl recommends that you:

  1. Always keep the brake strand in the brake hand. There is never a valid reason to let go of the brake strand.
  2. Never grip the device with the entire hand.
  3. Anticipate the climber's movement, including when additional rope is needed to make a clip.

Many of the preceding principles also apply to the Trango Cinch. The biggest difference is that when one pays out slack, they should hold the hole in the device with two fingers, while keeping the rope in the other three. From there, they will pull slack out sideways.

Assisted braking devices are awesome, but only if they are used the right way. Be sure to read all technical notices on any equipment you choose to purchase.

--Jason D. Martin

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