Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why You Should Use a Grigri

A few winters ago a friend of mine was struck in the head by a rock at East Peak in Connecticut. She was belaying another friend on Cat Crack, one of the cleanest routes at that area. 70' up, the climber accidentally dislodged a rock the size of a grapefruit and fell in the process, all while toproping. The dislodged rock struck the belayer in the head. Not wearing a helmet, she was instantly unconscious and unable to maintain solid brake tension on her belay device. Her belay device of choice on that particular day was the Grigri. Her decision to use the Grigri probably saved the climber's life.

My seriously injured friend, near death, was hauled up to the top of the cliff and flown to a nearby hospital. However, had a Grigri not been used they probably would have been bringing a bodybag to the base of the cliff as well.

I teach several AMGA Single Pitch Instructor courses throughout the year. This course focuses on instructor use of the Grigri and this is what I tell my students: “If you have a Grigri you should be using it” and "If you're not using a Grigri there should be a very compelling reason why". I see people belaying with plate style devices (an ATC or similar device) all the time, when they have a Grigri in their pack or clipped to their waist. This is just plain lazy, or dumb and in the worst case scenario could be life threatening to your climbing partner.

Let's go through some excuses why people choose not to use a Grigri.

Excuse #1 – It's hard to feed rope for belaying a leader.
Response – There are many things in life that are hard. However, potentially saving my partner's life is not a hard decision to make. If a tool that's easy to bring along improves my margin of safety I'm going to use it. This is a lazy response. Practice makes perfect. You can feed rope out of a grigri very quickly and easily if you practice. Nowadays I'm faster at feeding with a grigri than with an ATC.

Excuse #2 – The grigri doesn't give a dynamic leader belay the same way that an ATC does. I don't want gear to pull out if I take a leader fall and I don't want a rough catch when I whip.
Response - It's true that an ATC slips more easily under heavy loads. It's also true that you should probably think long and hard about falling on a route that has gear that is marginal. Again, practice makes perfect. Practice catching leader falls with a grigri. Most of the load absorption comes from the belayer jumping up to soften the leader's fall. Additionally, brake tension is pretty hard to maintain when a heavy climber takes a leader fall with very little rope out.

Excuse #3 – The grigri is too heavy to carry on multipitch climbs.
Response – There's a good chance you can lose that weight off your belly by exercising more and potentially save your partner's life in the process.

Excuse #4 – The grigri doesn't work for top belaying.
Response – Bullsh*t. Hang it upside down off the master point and belay your partner up the pitch. It's easily releasable, which is more than I can say for the ATC Guide or Reverso. You can lower with it too, so long as you redirect the brake strand.

Excuse #5 – The grigri doesn't work on skinnier ropes.
Response – The grigri 2 has solved that problem. For what it's worth, I've been using a grigri on ropes down to 8.9mm for a few years now.

Excuse #6 – The grigri isn't good for ice climbing.
Response – The grigri is my belay device of choice for ice cragging. As long as the rope isn't soaked it's super strong and works fine. Plus, if you get hit by ice as a belayer you have an added security measure in place.

If I haven't sold you on the grigri yet, the following links should help my cause. The first is a review of rope grabbing devices for work and rescue loads published in Technical Rescue Magazine. The article is getting old, but many of the devices we use are still the same. The second is a test of climbing belay devices by Marc Beverly and Stephen Attaway. They looked at how commonly used belay devices behave under huge loads. The results are conclusive - the grigri has far more holding power than all other commonly used rope-grabbing devices.

Next time your putting your climbing partner on belay and you have a grigri on hand, make the right decision, you won't regret it. Oh, and don't forget your helmet too.