There are so many different types of belay devices available to climbers now that it can sometimes seem a little overwhelming. Each device has its own pros and cons that you, as a climber, should take into consideration. We hope that this article will be a good guide to a belay device, the grigri.
The main types of belay devices that you’ll see are placket style belay devices and assisted braking devices. The most commonly used placket devices are Black Diamond’s ATC and Petzle’s pivot. Both use friction to help you break or hold the weight of your climbing partner and keep them safe.
The other option, which we’ll be focusing on in this article, is assisted breaking devices. The most common and popular assisted braking device is Petzle’s grigri. In this article, we’ll discuss how to use a grigri for top rope belaying, lead belaying, and a few other uses. We’ll be talking about the proper grigri technique to use to keep you and your climbing partner safe.
What is a GriGri, and How Does it Work?
The grigri is a belay device that relies on friction and a mechanical advantage that creates the assisted breaking capacity. The device is attached to your belay loop with a locking carabiner, same as a placket device would be.
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This picture shows a grigri from a variety of different angles. The top left photo shows the inside of the grigri. This inside channel is where the rope goes, and the device pinches the rope to create the assisted braking action. You can see the black lever that is used for lowering in multiple pictures.
Can You Top Rope Belay with a Gri Gri?
You can totally top rope belay with a grigri! In fact, a grigri is often considered to be a safe option for climbers who are just starting to learn to belay, especially for when the climber is climbing up. To lower someone on a grigri, you pull back on the black lever on the side of the device to release the locking mechanism inside the device. This is when many accidents happen with grigri use, but this can be mediated with proper training.
Belaying with a grigri is generally the same motions as belaying with a placket device. Here is a breakdown of how to belay with a grigri.
Load the device
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The grigri has some fun little pictures on the side that show you which direction the rope should be loaded into the device. One picture has a climber, and that end goes up towards the anchor and down to the climber. The other picture has a hand, and that end goes towards where your hand will be holding the brake strand.
To load the device, open the faceplate of the grigri and lay the rope in the channel inside, making sure that the ends are going to the direction that the pictures tell them.
Preform your belay partner checks and commands
Whatever partner checks you normally do, this is where you would do those. Most climbers use the “on belay?” “belay on,” “climbing,” and “climb on” set of commands and general checks, but use whatever you know and are used to.
PBUS stands for pull, break, under, slide, and this is the general set of words to describe the movement used to belay. This is the same motion that almost any belay devices utilize, so it might sound familiar.
Take the slack at the top
At the top, when your climber reaches the end of the climb, pull in all the slack going through the same PBUS motion that you use to belay. Have your climber sit back in their harness and fully weight the rope.
Lower using the lever
To lower a climber using a grigri, keep your dominant hand, your brake hand, on the brake strand, and use your non-dominant hand to control the small black lever on the side of the device. The lever will pull back easily to a certain point, but from that point and back towards you, it will take effort to pull it back. Slowly and carefully pull the lever past the stopping point to release the locking mechanism and slowly lower your climber back down to the ground.
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If the written out instructions don’t make sense to you, or you can’t picture it in your head, here is a great video that shows a lot of the basics. If you’ve never belayed before or you’ve never belayed with a grigri before, make sure you take a course and learn from an expert before you put your new skills to the test.
While it may seem like a grigri is an only right-handed device, it can be used by someone who is left-handed. One of the simplest ways to use a grigri if you are left-handed is to simply use your left hand as the brake strand while you are belaying your climber up and find a comfortable position for you to be able to pull the lever while you lower your climber. Lead belaying with a grigri is a little harder if you’re left-handed, but you can totally do it too.
How Do You Lead with a GriGri to Belay?
You can even use a grigri to lead belay in either sport climbing or trad climbing, but there are some key differences to note between top rope belaying and lead belaying. Since the device has its own braking mechanism inside the channel that the rope runs through, you can’t just feed the rope out in the same way you would with a placket style belay device. If you pull slack out slowly, you can prevent the braking mechanism from engaging, but that can lead you to unintentionally short-rope your climber.
The best way to feed out slack is to orient the grigri with the lever on the left and the flange, or smooth, curved edge, on your right. While you can take in slack pretty easily using your left hand as your brake hand on a grigri, it is significantly harder to do so with lead climbing. Given this, hold the brake strand in your right hand, curve your pointer-finger under the flange, and place your thumb across the base of the grigri and over the base of the black lever.
To feed out the slack, use your left hand to pull slack from the top of the device as you hold your right hand, as we described above. This works by using your right thumb to hold the bottom of the lever down onto the device. This prevents the braking mechanism inside the device from engaging as you pull slack out.
If your climber falls or you need to pull the rope tight, simply let go of the base of the lever with your right thumb and allow the device to work to its full potential. Take some time to practice lead belaying with a grigri, since it can be an awkward motion to get used to. If you don’t feel comfortable lead belaying, don’t do it. Lead climbing and lead belaying are riskier than top-rope climbing and can have major consequences if it goes wrong, so just be careful.
How Do You Use a GriGri as an Ascender?
A grigri can be used as a progress-capturing device and thus can be used as an ascender. An ascender is a device that can allow you to ascend, or go up, a rope. This can be used in some mountaineering or aid climbing ways, but the most common way that a general climber is likely to come into contact with an ascending device is in a rescue scenario. We will be focusing on using the grigri as an ascender in a rescue setting, that is to say, a stationary rope that you will be going up.
Generally, for ascending a rope with a grigri, you will need a double length nylon sling, a locking carabiner, and a friction hitch cord with a locking carabiner to go along with your grigri. The easiest way to set up an ascending system is to use the double-length sling to make a movable foot loop that is attached to the rope above your grigri using a friction hitch. This allows you to push the friction hitch up the rope, so you are squatting in your foot loop and then go through one PBUS motion with your grigri as you stand up.
Since a grigri is an assisted braking device, you will want to make sure that you tie backup knots every few feet as you continue to ascend the rope. These backup knots are just overhand knots tied on a bite of rope. By using both the friction hitch and the grigri as progress capturing devices, you are able to slowly but surely work your way up the rock face.
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Here is a griri hidden amongst all sorts of other styles of ascenders. Many devices made just for ascending are much more ergonomic for long climbs, while a grigri really isn’t designed to be comfortable for long ascending sections.
Can You Self Belay?
There are a number of ways that you can use a grigri to self belay yourself both up and down a climb. Going up a climb by self-belaying with a grigri is possible, but tends to be awkward, while self-belaying yourself down a climb with a grigri is a very useful skill to have.
To self-belay up a climb with a grigri, you will have to climb and little bit and find a hands-free rest. At this point, you will go through a PBUS motion to take in your slack. Since a grigri is an assisted braking device, you will need some sort of backup. Your best options for a backup are to either tie backup knots along the way or to put a friction hitch on the rope below your grigri.
To self-belay down a climb, clip yourself into the anchor using a personal anchor system of your choosing. This allows you to feed the end of your rope through the anchor and tie into your harness using the same figure-8-follow-through that you would use to tie in on the ground. On the other side of the anchor from your knot, attach the grigri to the rope and pull the slack in so you are not weighting your personal anchor anymore. When you are ready, remove your personal anchor and lower yourself down using the grigri.
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You can also use a grigri for a few other specialized things, but the most common other use for a grigri is rappelling with a grigri. If you ever find yourself needing to rappel down one fixed line, you can totally use a grigri to rappel down.
Wrapping Things Up: How to Belay with a GriGri
Using a grigri can be great, and it can make a lot of things way easier, but it does have some downfalls. Some climbers think that using a grigri for everything can make you complacent with your belay skills because the device will help you brake. This means that you should always stay attentive when belaying and keep your wits about you.
The biggest thing you can do to minimize any risk from grigri failure or human error is to make sure that you never go hands-free on your grigri unless you have a friction hitch on the rope or backup knots tied below you. Although device failure is very rare, it can happen and if it happens and you aren’t prepared, there can be some serious consequences.
Although it is important to weigh the pros and cons of any belay device, a grigri is an amazing device for so many different things. As with everything in climbing, there is an inherent risk, but there are so many skills that you can learn to minimize those risks. Take some time to learn how to use your grigri and get comfortable with using it before you start using it, and you’ll be great!