rappelling with a Grigri


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Trad climber
san Jose, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 14, 2011 - 07:55pm PT
Lately I have been practicing solo aid climbing with an eye to something big. I have been using a Grigri as a belay device when leading solo, with backup knots to a separate beefy locking carabiner. Although that seems to work well, I am always happy to hear some thoughts on solo belay systems.

My current issue, however, is rappelling the haul rope after leading an aid pitch solo. I have been rapping since the 1960's and feel "comfortable" with it in general (does any experienced climber actually LIKE it?). I have seen that many soloists seem to use the Grigri to rap back to the anchor before cleaning the pitch. I can see many reasons this would be a good way to do it, not the least is being able to let go of the rope to start jugging or swinging in a traversing or overhanging belay situation.

The last pitch I led, I was playing around with this technique, and found some difficulties. When rappelling, I generally like to have some sort of a backup. In the past, a prussic knot did the trick, but lately I have been using a Petzl Shunt. THis works well with a conventional rap setup, using an ATC, for example, as there is one hand for the brake and the other can manage the backup device. However, with a Grigri, this seems not so easy. I was using one hand to manage the rope below me, and the other to control the descent with the Grigri lever. No third hand available for a backup. On very steep, scary rappels, a backup would be nice, even if just for the psychological effect.

So I pose the question: How DO soloists on steep routes descend to the belay after leading the pitch? I assume they do use the Grigris, but if so, are there any tricks or tips that might help? I am sure with more practice it will go faster and smoother, but a rappel is no place to screw up, so some comments would be welcomed.Any thoughts about both technique with a Grigri and ideas on making a solo aid rappel safer would be appreciated. And believe it or not, I do know that "I'm gunna die". I would prefer it not be in a rappelling accident. That would be profoundly humiliating...


Big Wall climber
Las Vegas, Nv
Mar 14, 2011 - 08:36pm PT
I use the gri gri to rap with. I lead the pitch (i use the silent partner and love it) hit the anchor and rap the haul line in the gri gri. I don't do the rap and clean method too often, it takes a lot of time and if the pitch is steep or traversing it is a nightmare. This is my method, works just fine, once you get it down it goes fast. The silent partner took a while to get used to. Now I have it down pretty good, and don't have may hickups with it. It free climbs awesome, and is pretty simple. The soloist sucks wanker man don't get it. Many falls soloing can end in a tumble or upside down (aid climbing exp) and then you are going to your knot. The gri gri unmod works great but sucks for free climbing and mod works but has some issues.


Boulder climber
santa cruz, CA
Mar 14, 2011 - 08:57pm PT
i do the same system as you have described. grigri to lead with backup knots and rap to the anchor with it too.

I back up my grigri with... my grigri.

thats why i use it 'cause it's auto locking.

Jay Wood

Trad climber
Fairfax, CA
Mar 14, 2011 - 09:09pm PT
I've found that the grigri burns the rope pretty bad when rapping- crispy sheath.

Boulder climber
santa cruz, CA
Mar 14, 2011 - 09:15pm PT
oh yeah! go slow.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Mar 14, 2011 - 09:26pm PT
I rap with the Grigri pretty much all the time, the most recent time being down all of El Cap from Thanksgiving Ledge via Lurking Fear, plus about 250 lbs of piggage from both me and my partner.

Grigri only, no separate backup. Yes, there is definite potential to glaze the rope sheath, so take your time, especially when rapping with pigs.

Remember the Grigri is designed for 10-11mm ropes, so if you are rapping a skinnier haul line, you'd best be very careful.

Grigri rappelling takes a steady hand to prevent a herky-jerky rappel. You need to use your wrist as sort of a cam to fine tune the angle of the handle. It is not the best device for this, but it works. I think a Petzl Shunt and a Trango Jaws-like device, which is an ATC with a V-slot on the brake side to better control friction, would be a better choice. But I don't own either of those devices, and the Grigri works fine. For me.


Trad climber
Mar 14, 2011 - 09:37pm PT
A metallurgist could answer this better, but I believe one issue with the Gri Gri for rappelling is that steel in the breaking mechanism does not dissipate heat as well as traditional aluminum rap devices.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
Mar 14, 2011 - 09:38pm PT

Boulder climber
santa cruz, CA
Mar 14, 2011 - 09:48pm PT
their is not much info from petzl about rapping with the grigri but i did find this regarding its use for rappelling:

The GRIGRI 2 has a new design that allows excellent control during the descent. One hand holds the rope and the other uses the handle to unlock the cam. The patented handle design allows a very gradual release of the rope. In combination with the strong braking action of the cam, it gives a great feeling of control when lowering a partner or rappelling.

I've also read that it is not recommended to rappel more then 50 feet at a time because of the greater heat that it generates then a regular belay device. And i know that this is directly related to the use of steel as the fricion surface rather than aluminum

Mar 14, 2011 - 10:06pm PT
Gotta go with Coz on this one, with one small caveat. I rap with an ATC with an autoblock back-up; I do not rap with my Gri.

The original Gri is designed for 10-11mm DYNAMIC ropes only. A lot of us (most?) use smaller STATIC lines (9mm) to haul; that's a recipe for death if using a Gri. It will work, but Petzl advises against it for a reason: it doesn't always work. Failures on DYNAMIC ropes SMALLER than 10mm and STATIC ropes LARGER than 10mm have been seen in their testing (or so I'm told); hence, the warning by Petzl. Put the two together (e.g. 9mm static rope) and you're just asking for the reaper to pay you a visit. Maybe you'll get lucky, maybe you won't.

As for the small caveat: rapping with a gri is really no different than rapping with an ATC; similar to a fixed pulley vs a movable pulley: you've simply moved the force from the top of the rope to the bottom, so-to-speak. The rope moves through the device in the same manner and is stopped in the same manner.

Still, for the reasons previously stated (plus Pete's "herky-jerky" observation), I don't like rapping with it.

Just one man's opinion.

Matt Thomsen

Big Wall climber
Mar 14, 2011 - 10:12pm PT
rap with gri gri.

Mar 14, 2011 - 10:12pm PT
Just see ...

Everyone has their own rappelling device preferences.

Yabo would only use his bare hands and batman down hand over hand from the overhanging anchors on enema crack.

That was a real man task. Modern climbers can't accomplish these feats anymore.

They need pussy rappelling devices .....


Boulder climber
santa cruz, CA
Mar 14, 2011 - 10:13pm PT
Thom, good points!

Trad climber
Mar 14, 2011 - 10:16pm PT
Good one Werner. I knew an outdoor educator that would bring his students out and simply use thick leather gloves to belay his students on a top rope.

Trad climber
Mar 14, 2011 - 10:48pm PT
i prefer to grow a sizeable amount of chest and back hair first, then go out on a nice, hot afternoon and dulfersitz (sp?) face-forward, aussie-style!

ps-don't forget to let the lady know beforehand lest she gets upset when ye return from a day's outing too late!
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Mar 14, 2011 - 11:06pm PT
I don't have any great concern about using a Gri-gri as a rap device, having said that, an old timer like you should have a few ovals laying around for a good ol biner brake. That way you can have a rap system you know and like and also have your back up prussic.

Coz, how is rappelling with a gri-gri different from lowering someone off a sport anchor at the end of a pitch with a gri-gri?

Mar 14, 2011 - 11:28pm PT
Can you use a GriGri for lead belaying?

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
Mar 14, 2011 - 11:38pm PT
For really big fun, try a gri gri on a storm soaked rope.

First comes the "Sizzle", then the dreaded 8 foot drop!


Just got the The mini gri, looks good for the skinny cords.

Trad climber
san Jose, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 15, 2011 - 02:33am PT
Thanks for the replies, folks. I usually use an ATC for normal raps, and have just migrated to a Guide version with better grip/friction on smaller ropes. Has anyone ever used a GriGRI in series with an ATC-like device? The attraction of using a Grigri on a wall is the potential for being able to lock off and use one's hands. The issues with overheating and glazing the rope seem real. I had noticed that the device seemed hotter than I would have expected, but hadn't made the connection. There was a mention of the difference between rapping a dynamic versus a static line and it seems to me that this is likely correct. The energy dissipation in a rappel is in the fibers of the rope as they flex going over the bend at the carabiner, as I understand it. It seems reasonable that a static rope would have different properties.

Basically I am trying to sort out the crap I would take on a wall and simplify as much as possible. Carrying a bunch of descending tools along with a Grigri (and a spare) seemed a bit overkill, but I am now rethinking this. Back in the mid 1970s, my partner and I did the Salathe with a single medium sized haul bag, 5 gallons of water (4.5 days), no ledge, hand made aiders, and some assorted clothes and chow. I doubt the bag was more than 70-80 pounds at the start. I now have a nice ledge, stove, great gear of all sorts, and seem condemned to dragging 20-40 pounds more than BITD. A lot more comfortable and pleasant though.

Anyway, I am still interested in hearing about the management of solo rappelling on steep terrain by those who have already had their "Oh GAWD!!" moments, so I won't have to have them...


Big Wall climber
Stockholm, Sweden
Mar 15, 2011 - 03:24am PT
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"lately I have been using a Petzl Shunt. THis works well with a conventional rap setup, using an ATC, for example, as there is one hand for the brake and the other can manage the backup device. However, with a Grigri, this seems not so easy. I was using one hand to manage the rope below me, and the other to control the descent with the Grigri lever. No third hand available for a backup."

I'm a rope access technician and I use the Petzl Shunt as a backup device all the time. Just tie a 4-5 inch lenght of 3 mm nylon cord to the smallest hole on the lever inside the frame of the shunt. Don't form a loop that can get tangled, just tie one end on with a barrel knot.

This way you can just hold the cord between your fingers (and pull the lever of the descender simultaniously) and gently pull the shunt down with you as you descend. If anything happens - you go to fast or loose control - the shunt will lock up and the cord slips out between your fingers.

And by the way, of course you can rappel with a grigri.
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