/ Bad belaying at my local wall?

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Chris Sansum 08 Nov 2019

My climbing partner was just about to set off on a route at my local climbing centre yesterday, when I happened to glance across at someone belaying their partner up a route further along the wall, and thought something doesn't look right. After thinking about it I realised the braking end of the rope was in her hand in 'feed' position above the Gri Gri, but holding the rope with the hand oriented thumb upwards. I took a closer look, then went to reception (as there were no 'wall-walkers' in the vicinity), explained what I has seen, and said it would be a good idea for them to check her belaying and have a word with her, as her hand position would prevent her putting the rope into the locked off position.

I didn't see anyone talk to her about this, and she continued to belay the same way for the whole evening. Added to this the way she was feeding the rope meant she quite often didn't have a hand on the braking rope, or sometimes just held it in a couple of fingers.

Later in the evening my partner pointed out she was currently holding her partner on the rope with both hands on the live end of the rope, and the belay device below her hands. I asked one of the staff 'is no-one going to have a word with her about her belaying technique'? She had stopped just holding the live end by then, but was still belaying with the rope feeding out upwards with her hand in what seemed the wrong position to lock off.

He went over and and asked her to belay with her hand the right way up, and the rope oriented correctly. Her response apparently was 'its a Gri Gri'. She did as she was asked for that climb but then soon switched back again, and was not challenged about this.

The member of staff explained to me quietly that it was probably to do with the way some people belay on the continent (I think she was Spanish).

I realise I could have had a word with her myself, but I don't have tons of experience with the Gri Gri, and figured it could be a different type of device, or maybe there was a school of thought where that kind of belaying is seen as ok. They gave the impression of a group who had been climbing for a while - so maybe they knew something about self locking devices that I didn't? Plus I got the impression that one of the males in the group probably thought I was staring at her rather than looking at the way she was belaying!

So my questions are:

* Is it common in Spain (and elsewhere on the continent maybe) to belay in this way with the rope feeding out of the Gri Gri upwards but the braking hand gripping the rope in the unlocked position, above the belay device, with the rope in the hand thumb upwards?

* Is there any way this could be considered a safe way of belaying? Her comment 'its a Gri Gri' suggests she thought the device was failsafe and maybe it is, more or less, in normal circumstances without eg rope drag or other factors preventing a shock-load coming on the device. It seems like holding the rope in a position where you can't rotate your wrist to lock it off (and so relying only on the auto lock of the Gri Gri) does not seem a safe enough way to belay, particularly in a climbing centre.

* Should the wall staff be taking this more seriously and talking to her after I first mentioned it, rather than just letting her carry on for the whole evening doing the same thing until I mentioned it a second time? And even then not paying attention to what she was doing after they had told her, to the extent that she just resumed doing it? It seems like a wall should really be enforcing fail-safe belaying practices, not allowing people to belay badly just because they are continental and 'that's how some of them do it out there'.

* Shouldn't a Climbing Centre be noticing this quickly and having a word themselves rather than a customer having to highlight it to them more than once? I can understand them not noticing if it was an isolated incident (we all make the odd mistake), but she was belaying like this for the whole evening.

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GHawksworth 08 Nov 2019
In reply to Chris Sansum:

It's bad practice to belay in the manner you mentioned and sadly seen more often as more people are starting their climbing journey with a grigri without instruction and not learning proper technique and why they need proper belaying technique. 

It is also too commonly sold or talked about as a safer (or fail-safe) device, therefore misconceptions that it will always save your life with the belayer distracted petting the crag dog.

Petzl have started a campaign on how to 'belay better' with loads of their high profile athletes teaching good technique and etiquette with a grigri. It might be worth sharing those videos about to spread the message that safety is down to the user. Education is the key

Climbing is inherently dangerous and, without fear-mongering, people (all climbers of all disciplines) need to be reminded of this. Otherwise this attitude of "it's a grigri" and things like not wearing a helmet at a sport crag will get more and more people hurt. On that note, clip sticks aren't cheating, they're ankle savers!

rant over.

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cb294 08 Nov 2019
In reply to Chris Sansum:

On the continent (at least Austria, Germany, Switzerland) the "official" method for belaying with a Grigri is the so called "Gaswerk method", named after the Zuerich climbing wall, which makes paying out slack during lead belaying much easier.

In essence, you grab the brake rope with the fingers of your brake hand only, right next and just below the device, while the thumb pushes the brake lever down and the other hand pays out rope.

CB

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jezb1 08 Nov 2019
In reply to cb294:

> In essence, you grab the brake rope with the fingers of your brake hand only, right next and just below the device, while the thumb pushes the brake lever down and the other hand pays out rope.

Petzl state that it's 3 fingers min on the braking strand and that the index fingers doesn't go under the device, but under the lip of the Gri Gri, whilst the thumb depresses the lever.

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wbo2 08 Nov 2019
In reply to Chris Sansum: a shock load will lock the device. You dont need to lock the device off.  The main issue is feeding rope quickly enough 

The 'gaswerk' method is popular, successful for a reason. , but you dont 'hold' a fall in a traditional way

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AlanLittle 08 Nov 2019
In reply to wbo2:

Exactly. The cam on a grigri does the work, and it only needs a little bit of brake hand resistance to ensure that it triggers. The hand position Chris is describing certainly sounds a bit odd but probably isn't dangerous.

It might derive from munter hitch belaying, where hand-up thumb-up is the correct braking position. But having said that, I live in Bavaria where munter hitch was the most common method up to a few years ago, and I've never seen anybody use a grigri that way.

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Climbpsyched 08 Nov 2019
In reply to Chris Sansum:

It is common in Spain yes along with a variety of other funky methods. It won't only exist in Spain though. The Grigri does let people away with awful belaying as it almost always catches them. 

I always think I've seen it all until I come across another example. I was walking past a guy getting his lunch out his bag at a crag in Spain, I had a quick chat and moved past him. A shout came from above us and turns out he was belaying. He was using a Grigri and had so much slack out we didn't realise he was meant to be belaying. Crazy when I think back to it. 

You should get to know the belay device as they are great and then it will also give you more confidence to help others out. It sounds like this belayer wouldn't have appreciated your advice though as she had a Grigri ;) 

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pass and peak 09 Nov 2019
In reply to Chris Sansum:

What scares me most about this post is the amount of dislikes you got for it! For after all, your right in what your saying, perhaps its the way you've come across!

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AlanLittle 09 Nov 2019
In reply to pass and peak:

I'm not one of the dislikers, but if I had been it would have been because of the point I made in my reply to Chris - he made a lot of fuss & noise about something that, while it certainly isn't best practice, probably isn't actually particularly dangerous.

Post edited at 08:39
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Wiley Coyote2 09 Nov 2019
In reply to pass and peak:

> What scares me most about this post is the amount of dislikes you got for it! For after all, your right in what your saying, perhaps its the way you've come across!


I guess one person's 'concerned citizen' is another's 'interfering busybody'. It's a hard line to draw since it varies from person to person

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Chris Sansum 09 Nov 2019
In reply to Wiley Coyote2:

Like I said, I don’t have tons of experience with the GriGri and was genuinely interested in whether her general belay technique could be considered safe. I still have my doubts about someone holding only the live end of the rope with their 2 hands, with no hand on the braking end of the rope; but maybe the device is so reliable that you can just have a sleep while your partner works the route...

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Wiley Coyote2 09 Nov 2019
In reply to Chris Sansum:

I was not having a go at you personally Chris. AIUI letting go of the braking rope is the big no-no with any device, assisted or not. I was commenting on Pass and Peak's disappointment about the number of   dislikes and pointing out that in these situations some people are going to say 'Thanks' and others are going to say 'Mind your own f*cking business. I've not killed anyone yet'. That's life. so we may as well just get used to it.

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Andy Clarke 09 Nov 2019
In reply to Chris Sansum:

>  but maybe the device is so reliable that you can just have a sleep while your partner works the route...

I have to admit that's pretty much what I've done on every aid route I've been on, when you might have a good hour or two to kill per pitch. Alternatively: read a book, eat a good lunch, roll up - all activities requiring two hands at times.

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Chris Sansum 09 Nov 2019
In reply to Wiley Coyote2:

Yeah, and sorry I didn’t mean to reply to you personally, just a general reply to the thread.

Post edited at 17:14
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Snyggapa 09 Nov 2019
In reply to Chris Sansum:

In my opinion holding the live end is probably the only truly unsafe thing to do with a gri gri. The natural reflex would be to grip if the climber fell, which might mean that the rope feeds out slowly just as if you were giving a leader slack, then it would accelerate to the point where you wouldn't be able to stop it by grabbing the dead rope without serious rope burns.

If they let go of the  the live side as the climber fell they would probably get away with it as the gri gri would probably grab unless the climber fell off really slowly.

But all that being said, I wouldn't let my hand off the brake side on any device...

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