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By Aubrey K. Additon
Jul 13, 2006
Climber caught after 100-foot fall
By Camera staff
July 13, 2006


A climber took a 100-foot fall this morning on the Red Garden wall in Eldorado Springs before his partner managed to control their rope, stopping his descent about 10 feet above a rock ledge.

The climber, a 37-year-old Golden man whose name was not released, suffered minor head injuries and cuts, Boulder County sheriff's deputies said. He was taken to Boulder Community Hospital.

His climbing partner, Nick Saylor, 19, said the man was an experienced climber who slipped after getting off route around 9:30 a.m. Saylor, whose hands were bandaged by rescuers on scene, said he was climbing above his partner and it took him several seconds to stop the rope.

"The rope just went right through my hands," Saylor said. "I guess you can see the bones."

Saylor was able to lower his friend to the ledge and yell for help until someone called 911. It took rescuers an hour and 10 minutes to get the climber safely to the ground.

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By Mike McKinnon
From Golden, CO
Jul 13, 2006
Bunny pancake
This does not make sense to me. Nick was climbing above his partner (leading?) and his belayer fell? Therfore, Nick had to use his hands to grab the rope and stop it. Talk about a heroic effort.

Is anyone else reading this differently? Not often you see an accident where the belayer fell adn the leader had to arrest the rope.

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By Buff Johnson
Jul 13, 2006
smiley face
At first, I read it as a leader fall; not a seconding fall. The verbiage didn't seem correct?? (because of the indication that the fallen climber had gotten "off route" indicated a leader fall to me)

But re-reading the report, seems that the report indicates a seconding fall.

So what happened??

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By K Trout
From Golden, Colorado
Jul 13, 2006
While walking down from Sunset Boulevard to Hair City we saw the ropes and draws left on the wall above the Whale's Tail. It looked to us like a leader fall had been taken from the last bolt on Pilgrim. But if a 100 foot fall was the result, that would indicate some pretty serious belay failure. Ouch! The hot sun probably made the crux moves feel like 5.12.

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By Dane Casterson
From Boulder
Jul 14, 2006
More fun inside the Crackhouse.  Attempting to turn the corner.  Doesnt get much better!
I talked to the first responder who gathered that it was a lead belay failure probably due to inexperience. He didn't know for sure.

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By tom stocker
From Lakewood, Colorado
Jul 14, 2006
Regarding the fall and rescue in Eldorado Canyon on the morning of July 13, I was leading P1 of Werk Supp at the time, so my view was from above and after the fact. However, one of my two partners (not the one belaying me!) was one of the first people to reach the fallen climber. She later related to me that it apparently was a leader fall of about 100 feet, that the belayer had lost control of the rope, and that the fall was finally arrested with the leader about six feet from grounding because the belayer was tied into the opposite end of the rope.

The leader apparently suffered head, arm, leg and foot injuries, but was alert and talking. His helmet probably saved him from much more serious head injuries, and, the rope being tied to the belayer saved him from grounding. The belayer suffered serious hand injuries.

None of us actually saw what happened, so this is the best information and conclusions we have based on what we saw and what my partner heard from the climbers themselves.

Several conclusions can be drawn: (1) The belayer must never never lose control of the rope; (2) All climbers and belayers should know how to catch a leader fall, and respect the tremendous shock forces that can be generated, especially from a long fall (practice in a controlled environment such as a climbing gym); and, (3) Wear a helmet.

I'd be interested to know whether anyone else actually saw what happened or has any better information. Frankly, looking down from the first crux of Werk Supp to nearly a dozen rescue vehicles and 30 or 40 rescue personnel kind of freaked me out.

Best regards,
Tom Stocker
July 14, 2006

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By Rob "Roberto" Dowse
From Albuquerque, NM
Jul 14, 2006
In The Bugaboos
Pure speculation on my part, but If the leader was belaying up the second and the second fell (while the leader had his hand off the rope), the second could fall almost back to the ground while the leader was trying to get control of the rope...

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By Chris Tolin
From Eldorado Springs
Jul 14, 2006
some more info that i observed about 30 minutes after the accident:

there were 2 ropes tied together going thru the last bolt high on the route. the knot tying the 2 ropes together was about 20 feet from this last bolt.

wasn't sure what to make of this considering the details i've read so far

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By Tim Silvers
Jul 15, 2006
From the information I have heard and read here, this did appear to be a leader fall and the cause of the accident seems to be belayer error. I hate to see any accident but I'm glad this climber did not suffer more severe injuries. This accident is a good time to remember some safety lessons that we would do well to pay attention to:

1) The helmet most likely saved this guy from serious head trauma and possible death. Helmets don't always look cool, but you'll never catch me at a crag (even toproping) without one. It's just not worth the risk.

2) Many people have not been trained properly on how to belay or they have climbed so long they forgot the basics. A leader fall can generate a lot of force and usually results in some rope slippage with conventional (ATC or belay plate) style belay devices. However, the following simple rules for belaying should prevent "the rope getting away from you" while belaying.
a) Never take your belay hand off the rope, even for a split second.
b) Always maintain a firm grip with all four fingers and thumb of the belay hand wrapped around the rope.
c) Always keep your belay hand in the locked off position with your hand at least 1 foot from the belay device, unless you are moving the rope in or out of the belay device. When feeding rope through the belay device, practice a technique that minimizes the time the rope is not locked off.

I've seen so many scary belaying "techniques", if you call them that, at area crags, that an accident caused by belayer failure was bound to occur sooner or later. I learned climbing techniques and safety from the Colorado Mountain Club and the instructors were dead serious about always practicing safe belaying. You could get expelled from the class if you made any belaying error.
Some may think that the CMC's teaching methods are too "anal retentive", but when you are belaying, you're holding someone's life in your hands, whether on a burly multi-pitch route or in the climbing gym. Please make sure that you are always belaying correctly and make sure your partner knows what they're doing before you start up the climb. The life you save could be yours.

Climb Safe...

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By Steve Levin
From Boulder, CO
Jul 15, 2006
Guiding in RMNP
Another thing to think about: with sleek new skinny ropes gaining popularity, many of the "standard" belay devices tend to slip, or are harder to control (or are even ineffective in stopping a fall). Make sure your belay device is matched to the diameter rope you are using!

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By Charlie Perry
Jul 15, 2006
Although it takes a little getting used too, the gri-gri is one of the greatest devices ever made. It is almost idiot proof. In this case I would almost bet that the guy who fell would have been willing to purchase a box full of them instead of taking that fall.

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By Dan Mottinger
Jul 15, 2006
Me on the Summit of Castleton
"Although it takes a little getting used too, the gri-gri is one of the greatest devices ever made"
Ha, take that Mr. Muenter!
Certainly mechanical belay devices have their place but also remember that they do not give a dynamic belay that is desireable in some lead fall situations (less than ideal pro for one). Plus, you'll end-up carrying another device anyways to do rappells and they are kind of heavy for alpine climbs, etc. As Steve L. notes, not all devices are designed for the skinier (<10 mm) lead ropes, including the recommended diameter range for the Gri-Gri.

Not meant to start a gri-gri vs. belay plate discussion, just saying I don't think there is any blanket solution to belay devices.

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By Chris Tolin
From Eldorado Springs
Jul 15, 2006
any theories on why there were 2 ropes tied together with the knot about 20 or 30 feet from the last piece of pro? seems improbable the second passed a knot with 3rd degree burns. were they top roping with 2 ropes off the last piece?

and.. I'll take the bait. the Cinch rules the Gri Gri :P
trango.com/prod.php?id=102

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By Tim Silvers
Jul 15, 2006
My best guess is that the rescuers had the belayer climb up a little so they could lower the fallen climber down 10 feet to the ledge and untie him. Then they would have tied a second rope to the one they untied the injured climber from. Then they would have lowered the belayer down from the upper ledge belaying from the second rope. When the belayer reached the ground, the knot joining the two ropes would have ended up 20 to 30 feet below the highest clipped pro. In order to lower the belayer safely, the rope would have to pass through at least two pieces of pro above the upper belay ledge, preferably through at least one locking biner clipped into the belayer's former anchor.

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By Buff Johnson
Jul 15, 2006
smiley face
Two things I have seen within the comments:

1) Gri-gris don't offer a dynamic belay property -- Yes, in itself, the gri-gri will not let rope slip through. I see these as problems: when a leader wants immediate slack to protect above their head they can't get slack, the lack of a dynamic property will impact the top protection piece, and/or the lack of a dynamic property will not allow the belayer to target a lead fall so the climber won't hit something like an overhang or flake.

So, what I have seen to compensate for this involves the belayer interfering with the cam, giving a dynamic property so that the rope can move through the device rapidly. The problem is interfering with the cam & an inexperienced belayer using the gri-gri could cause an incident. Also, when lead belaying the brake grip does come off the rope to provide slack to the leader, it has to; even looking at the device's recommendations, you can clearly see they are showing the brake hand coming off to interfere with the cam and move slack through with the guide hand.

My opinion is that the gri-gri does work, it's just that I see the gri-gri being used with dangerous technique and that the device does not get used properly. Is my point in line with what others see the way/method that the gri-gri is being used? Couldn't proper lead belay be worked on in a controlled gym environment by having another friend back-up the belay, and/or also have the climber take short boulder falls to work on how the device is to be used for a dynamic belay?

Regarding the accident in Eldo earlier this year, I saw two technical safety steps not taken. A stopper knot wasn't used and either climber didn't verify the amount of rope available to perform a take & lower off of an upper anchor position. In either step, I don't see the use of the gri-gri being a determining technical factor in the incident that occurred.

I also agree that there is no blanket method as to belay devices, but we do have the manufacturers' recommendation(s) & professional field guides available to learn about what works and what is a hazard we create in our technical method.

In going along with what Tim has posted, there are reasons why the belay method, position, & aptitude needs to be engrained into the mind; this should never ever be something that someone should be told to "just get over it" and move on to other aspects in climbing. This past year, we just had a friend's life saved by an attentive belayer after a 35 footer on a zero cam. If a climber really wants to move forward in their technique grade & ability; start by working with partners that take belaying & anchors as the most serious part of their climbing -- those people that will never "just get over it" are the best people to climb with.


2) With respect to rope diameter & a non-caming belay device; say a conventional plate, tube, ATC, etc. I gathered this is determined from the manufacturer of the belay device as to what rope diameter size is acceptable to belay. For example the ATC Guide is indicating a range lower than 8 to 11 (this is another post topic, I can't recall the range off the top of my head). So if the team is using a single 9.7mm (for example), they should be within this manufacturer's recommendation.

Then, the potential trouble I also see is that with using these smaller strands (say I'm refering to 10.5mm as a common strand), any whipper will be difficult to control due to the reduction of friction inherent in this rigging. Say a lead climber comes off 20' above his last protection point, the fall arrest will start coming after a 40'; the rope is going to move through the conventional belay device because of the impact force alone no matter what kind of brake grip a belayer has; then we also have a increase in rope movement due to the decrease in friction by using the smaller strand size. I think we've hashed out about 5-6 post topics on these issues including: force applied, gear used, belay methods, & anchors; anything else?? All of these dynamic properties could be good just as they could be bad; it should just be understood between climbers that there is more involved than just reducing weight on the approach hike.


Since I wasn't the person holding the rope in this incident, I have no idea what the belayer was going through. Maybe his technique was sound and too much force hit him from the lead climber and the rope couldn't be controlled; or the team didn't want to anchor the belayer and the belayer got slammed into the wall causing a loss of control; or then again maybe the belayer wasn't holding the rope with a strong brake grip position, or his device wasn't rigged properly. I don't know.

The one thing they did do that prevented a climbing death was to initially tie-in both climbers -- Did they get lucky with the distance from the last protection point to the ground and the amount of rope remaining, or what??

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By Tony B
From Around Boulder, CO
Jul 15, 2006
Got Milk? How about forearm pump? Tony leads "Alan Nelson's Bulging Belly" (5.10, X) on the Lost and Found Flatiron. Belayer is Mark Ruocco. Photo by Bill Wright, 10/06.
Charlie Perry wrote:
Although it takes a little getting used too, the gri-gri is one of the greatest devices ever made. It is almost idiot proof. In this case I would almost bet that the guy who fell would have been willing to purchase a box full of them instead of taking that fall.


I've been dropped twice in my two-decade climbing career Once when someone took me off belay, once with a grigri. Seems my partner freaked out and squeezed it.

I think the most dangerous belayers around are those gri-gri trained and using something else at the time. Gri-gri habits are fatal with other devices.

Lastly, it's been a long running joke between me and my partners. I was roping up at the base of Notchtop for a long route and looked down, only to find 1/2 of a gri-gri, which had obviously been dropped. "I thought these things were idiot proof!?!?!" I exclaimed. You get the idea.

There's no substitute for climbing as if you are soloing with a new partner until you are sure you aren't. I typically climb within my solo range or follow my first few climbs with anybody.

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By Dale Remsberg
Jul 16, 2006
I do think a Gri Gri has a place in multipitch climbing- Especially in a place like Eldo with loose rock- Think about how often the leader is climbing above the belayer with rock fall potential. The Gri Gri will lock up if the belayer were injured and the leader pitched. As stated already the problem is almost always human not gear related.

Dale

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By Brenda Leach
Jul 16, 2006
I'm not sure if belay gloves would have stopped the fall in this situation, but they would have minimized the injuries to the belayer's hands.

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By A.P.T.
From Truckee,Ca
Jul 16, 2006
So nice.
Several years ago a climbing partner that doesn't use anything but the Gri-Gri for safety purposes almost dropped me 40Ft. I say almost, because with the rope stretch I almost did hit the ground and when I looked over at him his comment was "I thought you were leading." The big mistake was he always holds the cam open when he is belaying a leader. The other problem was communication because of the noise of the water in the creek and not paying attention. The only problem with this person is that he still belays partners the same way by holding the cam open with one hand. It was a good lesson for everyone that was witnessed it and I take some responsibility for what happed, because I should have never sat back in my harness until I knew for sure my partner was aware that I had threaded the anchors and was ready for lowering...The Gri-Gri is a great device, but it is only good as the person using it!

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By Buff Johnson
Jul 17, 2006
smiley face
Tony Bubb wrote:
I think the most dangerous belayers around are those gri-gri trained and using something else at the time. Gri-gri habits are fatal with other devices. ... There's no substitute for climbing as if you are soloing with a new partner until you are sure you aren't. I typically climb within my solo range or follow my first few climbs with anybody.


Tony, I somewhat understand your comments.

But, if someone has been trained to use a gri-gri; then, they should be safely competent in it's operation. Whereas, I think you are meaning that a person isn't using a sound belay technique and just relying on a gri-gri without any understanding of what a belay is because someone else set them up with it on-the-fly??

By a "gri-gri habit", are you talking about patterned belay behaviors that a person would carry over from a belay using a gri-gri to a situation where they would then be belaying a lead climber with a conventional device, like an ATC, tube, etc; thereby, putting the lead climber in danger? If so, what are you seeing as habits that could be putting a climber in danger?


(Second part of your comment I quoted) Instead of going out soloing with a questionable partner, why not get them dialed-in on what you want performed when on a lead-belay, or just basic seconding skills for that matter before committing to a route? It reads to me like you are willing to put a climbing partner at risk without their understanding of what kind of a situation they are being put into.

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By Tony B
From Around Boulder, CO
Jul 17, 2006
Got Milk? How about forearm pump? Tony leads "Alan Nelson's Bulging Belly" (5.10, X) on the Lost and Found Flatiron. Belayer is Mark Ruocco. Photo by Bill Wright, 10/06.
As for gri-gri habits? I mean that the subconscious mind is trainable and people develop 'initial reactions' that are almost reflexive. If someone's initial reaction is trained in such that they let go of the brake to pull rope out of the other end of the device when someone pulls for rope, or if they habitually let go with the brake hand, then regardless of their level of awareness or focus, they can 'react' in a way that is habitual and not conscious at all.

Mark Nelson wrote:
It reads to me like you are willing to put a climbing partner at risk without their understanding of what kind of a situation they are being put into.


I don't understand that at all, so perhaps it is in reference to a misunderstanding of what I said. I don't literally solo with new partners unless I know that they are experienced soloists. I climb as if I am soloing when I climb with them- meaning as if they will not catch a fall. I act that way until I know that I am safe across time and circumstances.
There is no added danger to them in this. I climb as if I am soling and belay as if they've never climbed before. But then again, what could possibly safer? It does not endanger my partners. Anyone who has ever climbed with me can attest that at first I climb as if I am guiding until I feel 'safe.' If anything, I've probably been overly safe on both of our behalf's. Luckily, most people are very cool about it - only one person has ever expressed insult at my conservatism. I guess what I am doing could be misinterpreted even though it is not personal.

Even climbing with professional climbers and guides the first time, I check all the anchors and offered each that I set for his inspection when they come up to a station I've built. I watch them belay and also call for attention to ask if I am keeping them slack or tight enough on lead.
Frankly, I am usually shocked at the nearly implicit trust people seem to give me on the 'first date.' Most first time partners have not checked my anchors or watched me belay at all. Maybe people are just afraid to give the appearance that they don't trust others and risk insult? Regardless, they largely didn't check me or were so subtle about it that I couldn't tell that they were even though I was watching to see if they would (in order to gauge how conservative they were). A few did check my knots and harness, but none really inspected my anchors or watched me belay. And I tie in and belay funny, with the rope fully wrapped on my brake-hand like an ice-climbing belay with a mitten. So you'd think people notice, but they don't seem to.

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By Buff Johnson
Jul 17, 2006
smiley face
The first part of your response, I get what you are saying -- a patterned behavior that trends toward having the belayer take the brake hand off of the rope.

I also see this as a problem if the person doesn't realize what they are doing and how a gri-gri is different in operation and how the cam works when lead-belaying, catching a lead fall, &/or offering a dynamic belay, and then translating the belay method to a conventional belay device. All of which, the person probably just only knows how to top-rope belay with a gri-gri.

The second part of your response, I understand what you are getting at with double checking equipment. But, I don't understand why you can't get a person on the same page as what you want for lead-belaying skills before you leave the deck? Why must you climb as if you are in a solo-ing situation? It still reads to me as if you say: yes, I probably know that you can't belay me, but we'll go ahead and climb anyway.

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By Tony B
From Around Boulder, CO
Jul 17, 2006
Got Milk? How about forearm pump? Tony leads "Alan Nelson's Bulging Belly" (5.10, X) on the Lost and Found Flatiron. Belayer is Mark Ruocco. Photo by Bill Wright, 10/06.
You're close, but either still not quite understanding. Or perhaps just not agreeing with what I am saying, which is fine, that the CONSCIOUS mind has little to do with it. Reflexive responses have little to do with what a partner does or does not consciously know, they have to do with what a partner has done 10,000 times before and has become automatic. Same reason exclusive gri-gri folks have trouble belaying with an ATC is why I can't seem to pay slack out of a gri-gri fast enough. I'm not practiced at it.
I've been dropped twice. Both belayers had 20+ years experience and were 5.11 leaders in their own right. They both *KNEW* how to belay properly, they just didn't *DO* it. Both were gri-gri users. One squeezed the cam by putting the rope over it and then trying to hold the brake- essentially holding down the cam with the brake-end. It was a pretty freak accident because the rope was twisted the wrong way at the wrong time, but I got an express ride to the ground form about 30' up. She knows she should have let go or cleared the device, but in a fraction of a second, you just act reflexively- so then there I was eye-to-eye. This directly applies to my first point.

As for the second point, in my experience you can agree on anything on the ground and then on the climb the situation can change. That has happened to me and others. The worst of all people know what to do and when working things out demonstrate that they can do it, but then don't do it later. To that end, The second time I was dropped is applicable. The belayer never offered me a decent explanation, but I am pretty sure he took me completely off belay. The only things I remember clearly are before the impact- the fact that I let go with gear at my knees, that I physically bounced because I hit the ledge so hard, and that you hear a really weird sound (deep base) when your head hits the rock at that speed (8 meter free-fall to a ledge). It was 10 years ago and I'd hit my head so hard that the details were a little fuzzy then too. I ended up with a cracked heal, cracked ribs, concussion, bleeding out of my ears, etc.
I've since learned that that individual is a stoner and has been caught smoking pot while belaying. He also asked one of my friends if 'would be OK if he "baked" while belaying' the the leader on an R-rated 5.11. At least he asked, and the answer from my friend was NO, of course.

But overall, I've had many more good partners and belayers than bad, so I don't presume that my partners are unsafe. I presume that they ARE, but I climb like they are not until I watch for a while. "Trust, but verify." It is not the odds that motivate me, it's the consequences.

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By Chris Tolin
From Eldorado Springs
Jul 17, 2006
slight offshoot; by design, the Cinch is much harder to hold the cam in the open position than the groggy

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By Buff Johnson
Jul 18, 2006
smiley face
Tony, I get your point in dealing with the apprehension with belayers using the gri-gri. But, your latest post takes me back to my original inquiry about "gri-gri habits".

Both examples you gave I have not seen as a habit of a person using a gri-gri and then belaying a lead climber with a conventional device. The first example you gave deals with a bad brake hand position; but, was the brake hand was still on the rope, or was she trying to manipulate the cam to feed you slack? This example is an important one, if you could offer more insight into what the situation was that led to the brake hand actually locking the rope off over the cam, this would make more sense to me.

It seems to me, if the belayer was feeding rope between the guide hand and brake hand in the manner in which is described by the product recommendations this should not have happened. What I see in the recommendations is that a belayer basically takes the brake hand off and manipulates the cam using the ring & pinkie fingers and the thumb & index fingers become a secondary guide keeping the rope from twisting as you pull rope through with the main guide hand. To then lock off, the brake hand is to slide back off the cam and holds the rope in a lateral position away from the cam. So how was your belayer able to lock off over the cam?

The second example deals with someone that either just didn't give a f*ck, or didn't fully comprehend or understand the situation of taking you off belay. This could have happened if the person was using any device.

What I have seen as a habit of gri-gri use from someone that then goes into using a conventional device is the inability to understand brake position and how to be dynamic. They become too complacent about having a cam take over, or respond to a fall by going to manipulate a cam that is not present with the conventional device; thereby, taking the brake grip off. In a lead fall, these are the habits I see that could cause the belayer to lose control of the rope.

A good question to ask at this point is how then does a person offer a dynamic property during a lead fall if they go to lock off? With a gri-gri, what I have done is to slide my brake hand back on the rope and bring my guide to work the cam when the leader pitches off. This takes practice & I think should be done in a gym with the floor padding using short falls not very far off the deck. The object of this is to work on softening the catch but not prevent the cam from eventually locking and keeping a brake hand on. By working my hands in this fashion, they remain independent as they would with a conventional device. (Tony, I'm still having trouble with this method going over it in my head, I think I need to work with a couple of friends to repost exactly how I do this using two hands; but I think I'm explaining the method correctly. Using just the brake hand to manipulate the cam for a dynamic belay, might be effective, but I'm not envisioning how this is a safe method, because the brake hand comes off the rope and the rope moves freely through the device.)

In working with a conventional device, the hands should already in an independent position if working with the Slip, Slap, & Slide method. This method, usually taught in the top rope application, carries over to a lead belay application almost seamlessly. Though the rope moves in an opposite direction as to a top rope belay, the belayer is already working their hands and rope strands independently so as to be dynamic with the rope & catch a fall.

The trouble I think we are discussing is having a person belay that doesn't understand how each hand is supposed to react in a lead fall and, in working with a gri-gri during lead climbing & then to a fall catch is a more complicated application than a conventional device; and since it's more complicated, the gri-gri setup lends itself to a climber being dropped. That is what I think is meant by a "gri-gri habit". Even though the device works well, it's the aptitude of the belayer taking these mechanical properties for granted without realizing what is necessary for a good brake position.


The other issue we have been talking about, in hearing you explain the relationship with a new partner, it seems that you do go through some insight on the deck. But, you are right; once you start climbing, things change, and a climber just won't feel comfortable until partners get some experience between them. The partners could be totally proficient with safe belay technique, but the apprehension of putting yourself in a position to take a fall with someone you don't really know too well is unsettling.

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By adam francis
Jul 18, 2006
Sorry to detract from the gri-gris suck/nuh-uh debate, but does anybody know what actually happened? I saw SAR guys wrapping up late in the day up and left from the upper pitches of the bulge and wondered what route the climber was actually evac'd from.

FLAG


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