Logo Jim Frankenfield
jim@mountain-guiding.com; 1-877-604-0166

Mountain Guiding; Mountain Safety
An Experienced Professional

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Guiding Newsletter

"Safety Soapbox" Archive - September 2002


Belay Devices

On a recent trip to Smith Rock I observed a belaying technique in use which I would generally discourage. This is the use of a Figure 8 device in "rappel mode". I have seen this discussed elsewhere in the past and I believe that most experienced climbers and guides would agree that this is a poor belay method in most situations, with some exceptions.

There are several ways a Figure 8 device can be rigged for belaying. Of these methods the "rappel mode" has the lowest friction. While I cannot point to any particular studies I am doubtful that a leader fall could be adequately arrested by this configuration in many cases.

The context in which I observed this method being used was by a total beginner being instructed by her friend. He appeared to be experienced to some degree, and the climbs they were doing for her enjoyment were not climbs he was likely to fall on. Which was fortunate because a total beginner using this belay method and having the leader fall seems pretty risky to me.

While I discourage this belay method in general every method has its place. One situation where I would not feel as uncomfortable with this belay would be on a short top-roping effort where the fall forces are low and lowering the climber is a frequent event.

Even in this last scenario there are modern devices which are preferable to a Figure 8. If a Figure 8 is going to be used it will probably be easiest to lower a climber smoothly in rappel mode. But today it is more common to use some variation of an "ATC" (which is a Black Diamond trademarked name, but similar devices are made by other companies and sold with different names that are more or less the same). Or apparently a Gri-Gri in some sport climbing circles. (Not being a sport climber I don't know if the use of a Gri-Gri is still as common as in the past or not.)


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