Would you switch to autolock belay device for your partner?


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Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 7, 2017 - 05:06pm PT
This question is for currently active (as of end of 2017 as we now have a lot more options on the market than many years ago) trad climbers who are still using tube-like belay devices without an autolock/self-arrest capability, such as an ATC.

I learned to belay with an ATC just like many people here did. Over the years, I've gone through many iterations of belay devices. Although I have trained myself to be the best and safest belayer I can be (I don't chat when I lead belay and am constantly evaluating the leader's fall potential and adjust my stance and slack actively), I these days only belay with an autolock device even when I do long multipitch climbs where weight matters. It's not that I don't trust myself. I've just heard too many stories where things can happen that are out of a climber's control. Rocks dropped from above. Belayer passed out due to unexpected health issue. Leader fell on the belayer unexpectedly, etc. etc. All could happen (to me as a belayer). Plus, as much as I strive, I know I'm fully capable of being distracted without knowing it. I wanted to give my partner that added layer of safety no matter what happens to me.

Recently my practice has been: I carry a Grigri 2 for belay (as a leader from above or a follower from below). I carry a Edelrid Mega Jul as a backup autolock belay device as well as a rappel device.

In the near future, with my new purchases, I plan to: carry a Climbing Technology Click Up (link to video) for lead belay (Edit: to handle double rope lead belay, the similar device is called Alpine-up), and a Kong Gigi (link to Steph Davis' post) for belaying a follower and for rappel.

Back to my original question... because of my heightened sense of safety, I also wish all my belayers could provide me that extra assurance of safety. Of course, I never made that demand, yet. It's not safe to shove an unfamiliar belay device into the hands of a belayer with whom you will climb only once. But even with people I climb with on a somewhat regular basis, I find it difficult for me to bring it up. There are a few reasons why climbers resist changing their ATC type device:
1) there is certain pride in still using ATC as they feel that it's a sign of their past experience and one thing that distinguishes them from the new wave climbers;
2) they feel confident that they can provide the best and safest belay and will not let their brake hand go even if they drop dead. They might feel insulted if any doubt is raised.
3) they tried other auto-lock devices and did not like how they handle. Of course, they blame on the device. I personally believe that you can get auto-lock devices that handle just as well once you master the usage skills.
4) they are weight weenies. (Added after seeing some responses. Hope not too offensive as this is a common saying among cyclists. I am one to a certain degree.)

So, if you are still actively climbing and still use ATC, would you ever consider switching to an autolock belay device, even if for no other reason but your partner's safety?

A long way from where I started
Dec 7, 2017 - 05:15pm PT
For whatever it's worth, I wouldn't be making this post if my partner hadn't been using an autolock.

I pulled off a huge block, and went sailing. The block shattered somewhere below me with a piece the size of a brick taking my belayer in the kneecap. Tough as he is, Tom passed out. I stayed off the ground -- and stayed alive and unharmed -- because he was using a gri-gri.

That said, there are situations where a hip belay is just the ticket, so I always bring my hips along.

Oh, and if you need something that can handle double ropes, you need something other than a gri-gri, but there are plenty of choices now, and Mei's Alpine Up is pretty good.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Dec 7, 2017 - 05:22pm PT
I used a hip belay for a number of years and held a 100 ft. leader fall with no harm to myself or my partner. I now use an ATC and like it's lightweight and ease of use. I have a Gri Gri that I have only used a half dozen times. I still use a hip belay when the follower is on easy terrain...although I sometimes get strange looks when they get to the belay station.

I feel fine with my current situation and feel no need to change. In fifty plus years of climbing I have never dropped anyone. I am a firm believer that the person operating the equipment is more important then the equipment.

Today with gyms and the concurrent drop in the overall climbing IQ, I am not comfortable with someone I do not know belaying or, most importantly, lowering me. What to do? Do I put faith in auto lock systems operated by people that I have little faith in?

The answer, I imagine, is to have the right partner.
Jeremy Ross

Gym climber
Dec 7, 2017 - 05:27pm PT
I would if my partner insisted. But I just like the weight of the ATC style devices,. Of course, if I'm just cragging I regularly just use someone's grigri.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 7, 2017 - 05:39pm PT
@Ghost, thanks for sharing your story.

@donini, the right partner also might lose consciousness for whatever reason. If I am climbing with a partner I'm not familiar with, I definitely hope he is using an auto-locking belay device that he's familiar with. But I don't request. (P.s. I don't fall either.)

@Jeremy, that's the thing. I don't want to impose the request on others, but I wonder if others might someday see the possible risk factors and would be willing to make that decision on their own for the sake of maximizing their partners' safety.

Trad climber
Dec 7, 2017 - 05:52pm PT
Use my gri gri regularly on the ground, only take it off the deck if aid climbing, which I try to avoid these days. If one of my old partners demanded it I’d acquiesce and mock them for the duration of the climb. If a new partner, that’d likely be the last straw. Purely weight based for me.

I understand the “incapacitated partner” arguement, but my family and I have discussed acceptable risk at length and I’d put that in the “acts of god” category that I’m allowed to flout(along with massive rockfall, accidents caused by other drivers, freak storms, etc).

Dec 7, 2017 - 06:03pm PT
I have only used grigri since it first came out for belay, nothing else.

I carry it on lead and use it to belay second up.

If second can't make it and stars whining the grigri is locked off and I free solo off.

The second then yells for rescue and I get paid ......

Sport climber
La Quinta and Penticton BC
Dec 7, 2017 - 06:07pm PT
This April I was dropped 20 ft in Red Rocks sport climbing by a friend of a friend who had been climbing for 9 years. Hair line Tib fracture and now arthritic. He insisted that he was a safe atc belayer. After a couple takes backing off a hard sequence, my next call for take , found my instantly dropped to the deck. His explanation “ I was adjusting my stance and felt the rope sliding through my hand”. THAT ONLY HAPPENS IF YOU DON”T HAVE YOUR BRAKE HAND ON THE ROPE!!!
My new attitude, If I haven’t climbed with you before, use my grigri, if you don’t know how to use it , you aren’t going to belay me. I’m too old to break any more bones.
Ive been climbing 45 years and never dropped anyone, hip belay, figure 8, ATC, reverso, grigri, forest hitch, muntner, you name it. Be careful out there, sh#t is just waiting to happen when get complacent.
Jeremy Ross

Gym climber
Dec 7, 2017 - 06:29pm PT
Hey Mei, I wouldn't want a partner to feel like they needed to insist (perhaps I used the wrong word with insist) so I usually ask if they're comfortable with me using an ATC. If they're not I'm more than happy to oblige them with a grigri, I'd rather they felt comfortable.
looks easy from here

Ben Lomond, CA
Dec 7, 2017 - 06:55pm PT
Werner wins the thread!

I bought a Grigri a couple years back. I don't think it's ever seen a rope. I used the fixed ones as PG Belmont when my cousin worked there, and I was never a fan.

The biggest change I'm considering is trying a Petzl Reverso when I retire my ATC Guide.

Dec 7, 2017 - 07:30pm PT

Rather than tell your partner what they will be belaying you with, it's better to evaluate the partner first. If Donini said "today I'll belay you with XY or Z after you had discussed the days objectives and he knew your abilities, you wouldn't have to think twice about it.

Social climber
The internet
Dec 7, 2017 - 07:34pm PT
If you climb EZ and nobody ever falls, like in the old days, an ATC works great.

If there is going to be some falling, as is the modern way, most use a GriGri, ATC is carried for raps.

It's safer and lot easier - but only if you RTFM and follow it. Lots of good videos on youtube from Petzl.

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Dec 7, 2017 - 07:37pm PT
I think I've used most of the methods and devices that have come out over the last sixty years, up to and including some of the latest gizmos. I feel pretty confident that I can belay with anything and have no problem if a partner wants me to use a gadget of their choice---with the following caveat:

I have to feel certain the device will be effective on the rope diameters we're using. That means to me that the ropes have to be in approximately the middle third of the range engraved on the gadget. I'm particularly wary of ropes at the lower end of the gadget's recommended range, because I don't think most devices provide enough friction for even rappelling with such ropes, much less catching big whippers.

For many years now I've climbed mostly with half ropes. For them there is a device that I think is clearly the best both in terms of catching and handling: the CT Alpine Up. You can rap with it and it autolocks when released, so you don't need an autoblock backup, and you can use it for guide mode belays, so you don't have to carry anything else. It is about the size and weight of a gri gri and looks complex even though it isn't.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Dec 7, 2017 - 07:41pm PT
Using a GriGri to belay and an ATC to rap really is at odds with my minimialist approach. If it works for you....fine. I’ll just stick to my luddite ways.

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Dec 7, 2017 - 07:49pm PT
When JeremyRoss and I go Climbing we spend so much time trying to figure out which style of belay device to use, not wanting one another to feel uncomfortable, that we never actually end up climbing. Just burn bowls and listen to metal.
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
Dec 7, 2017 - 07:51pm PT
Sure, if she bought it for me. I think that would be a perfectly reasonable approach, mei. Own two of them and hand one to your partner, show him how to use it if he doesn't know.


Jeremy Ross

Gym climber
Dec 7, 2017 - 07:53pm PT
Jefe, I just want to present you with a safe place. Bro

Social climber
joshua tree
Dec 7, 2017 - 08:22pm PT
Rolfr nails it.

The gri is the safest belay device bar none. It should go without saying that everyone should be using it. It only takes three biners to rappel or belay with as a backup I! But an ATC ain't that heavy! Plus if your leaving the ground on a multipitch you should always carry a backup belay/rappel device. Cause what would you do if you dropped ur gri gri?😬

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
Dec 7, 2017 - 08:40pm PT
BLUEBLOCR, for emergency scenarios, more people should know how to belay or rap with a munter hitch. Only need rope and locking biner. Works fine with two ropes too.

I typically climb with 2 ropes. I'm open to learning new tricks if there are good options for auto-locking with 2 ropes.

Trad climber
Dec 7, 2017 - 08:41pm PT
I am a firm believer that the person operating the equipment is more important then the equipment.

Roger that. I was raised on using a hip belay. The climbs at Quartz in OK require the belayer to yard in a ton of rope if the leader falls. It took a long time to go with a Forrest type stitch plate. Just recently started using an ATC pro. If I can't trust a person using a hip belay or stitch plate, I don't climb with them.
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