Releasing from Loaded Guide Mode: Reliable Techniques?


Original Post
Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,497

Edit to add that  I think it  is worth putting at the top of this thread a quote from rgold (words in brackets are mine):  

"... one set of anecdotal experiences doesn't necessarily translate to the situation you might find yourself in.  [ For example: ] ... top anchors are rarely on the face of the cliff, they are usually back from the edge; this means the rope bends over the lip, and friction is exponential with the bending angle, meaning that there is likely to be a significant load reduction because of that friction.  [ On the other hand, ] if a belayer on a cliff face has to lower, then depending on what is below them, there could be far less total friction and lessons learned from the top-lowering situation might be invalid."

This thread regards a following partner(s) who hangs on the rope and then needs to be lowered before unweighting the rope.  The belay device is attached to the anchor and configured in "guide mode" (i.e., now locked off by the weight of the partner).  Practiced this yesterday with a handful of partners.

What rigging techniques have folks actually used to reliably release and lower in a controlled manner?

The device could be an ATC Guide but no need to restrict responses to that device, especially if someone knows of a similar device that is relatively easy to release from this mode.

Sure, something like a gri-gri or eddy makes it easy.  I'd prefer to limit this to lighter-weight devices without any moving parts.

Edited to generalize methods as well as list specific techniques that accomplish those general methods ...

For lowers, almost all release techniques can be broken down into three generalized methods; in this, the letters correspond to the specific techniques listed afterwards.

a) "open" the device only enough to defeat the braking action of the guide mode [B, C & E ... w/ B & C being difficult to maintain for long lowers]; many feel this general method warrants a backup on the belay loop (e.g., tied off munter a.k.a. MMO);

b) convert from guide mode (a.k.a., plaquette config) to regular friction mode (a.k.a., plate config), the latter being the mode we have when we belay off our harnesses  [D.0 & D.1]; a partially completed D.0 can have the effect of 'a'; it can also fail if the strands pop past each other within the slot; I feel D.0 should be dropped from a list of reliable techniques.

c) completely remove the device from the picture [G, H]; this involves a load transfer(s) and may involve rigging a mechanical advantage ... or altogether avoid needing to lower.

Listed below are specific techniques and alternatives largely from posts to this thread; attributions to folks are quite loose; list is in no particular order with little of any appropriate cautionary wording.

A) cycle the locker that is in the bight of rope:  simple; but slow; not efficient for long lowers. (Mark Ra, blakeherrington)

Note: The following specific techniques defeat the brake action of guide mode:  B & C open the device just enough to compromise the braking action of guide mode.  E fully does so.  And a partially accomplished D.0 (i.e., stopping just short of flipping) has the same risk.  In these, there is risk of completely defeating the braking action, and so the conservative (many would say mandatory) approach to them is to backup the compromised guide mode with an MMO off the belay loop.

B) lever device open with nut tool in free slot: simple; dependent on one tool; can be difficult to maintain for longer distances; won't work if belay with two ropes; some concern about defeating the device without a full backup. (only mentioned in AMGA guide video so far)  And see note above.

C) lever device open with biner through eyelet:  see 'B'; also, may have limited biners available that fit (if any); one person in our group tried this on the ground without success with multiple biners that fit the eyelet; impossible (?) with the weight of two climbers. (SethG w/ Reverso 3) [sketches showing similar technique using DMM Pivot, Alpine Up] And see note above

D.0) flip device into normal friction mode while loaded via eyelet with redirected body weight, and with redirect to backup hitch on brake strand: suitable for long distances:   complex which adds more steps that could be done incorrectly; we could not always successfully release in doing this across several people that practiced first on the ground; also, once, we had the rope strands in one slot invert due to incorrect routing of the brake strand; some feel (Jimmy Downhillinthesnow, Gunkiemike) an MMO off the harness is a better backup. (Benjamin Mitchell);  impossible (?) with the weight of two climbers or need mechanical advantage.  And see note above.

D.1) temporarily transfer load to anchor to redirect "load" strand to a higher up biner; a little like 'D.0' except no flipping and in this case the strand between device and hitch is redirected; use 'A' and friction hitch on load strand to transfer load to anchor; hitch attachment to anchor needs to be releasable under load. (Andy Hansen, N Nelsen, kablauch); with two climbers on ropes, may need or want to have two hitches to transfer the load? 

E) lift the locker that is clipped into bight of rope with body weight via sling redirected through anchor to transfer to MMO on harness (full backup needed for lower): similar complexity to 'D.0' with multiple steps needed; we could not always successfully release across all attempts by five people; but all agreed this seemed more likely to work than 'D.0' for one follower. (Bill Lawry, Adam Fleming); impossible (?) with the weight of two climbers or need mechanical advantage. [Mountaineering Methodology's sketch]

F) use a different belay method or device; for example:  DMM Pivot, Gri-Gri, Alpine Up, drop a loop of rope for them to pull on (assumes able bodied; some assume one follower), don't use guide mode.  (FrankPS, ViperScale, RangerJ, Aleks Zebastian, rgold, Ted Pinson, BryanE, David Kerkeslager, slim, John Wilder, climber pat, Daniel Joder, anotherclimber

G) just find a way to get up the thing (e.g., ascend the rope); consider all other options - perhaps one is better than lowering; and before the climb, if not confident about lowering, let your partner(s) know; I have voiced this to partners in the past - to not count on being lowered if on the rope, although am reconsidering;  anyway, a party could jointly agree to something like this; potentially limiting in an unexpected situation; last, this option does not account for incapacitated  follower (Old lady H) [one rig for ascending]

H) replace device with munter using temporary load transfer to release; proposed in Connally's Mountaineering handbook; if lifting with legs, a good ledge may be needed; (Marty C) [Connally's Sketch]; othewise, one might be able to redirect the 2:1 and use body weight?  Pavel Burov suggests MMO to tie off  device. Set up hitch from load strand to MMO on anchor (technical ledge).  Untie MMO on device (keeping hand on brake strand since hitch could slip). Feed enough slack for MMO of load strand to anchor; but first retie the devices MMO.  Then, once the load-strand MMO is in place, completely remove the device and transfer the load to the load-strand MMO.  Release and lower.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

What have you done in the past?  I tell my newer partners that before they use a device in guide mode, they need to know how to perform a weighted lower.  

Michael Schneiter · · Glenwood Springs, CO · Joined Apr 2002 · Points: 8,745


Benjamin Mitchell · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 0

The method I have been taught by AMGA guides is the following:

1) Tie a knot in the brake strand so you can go hands free

2) Take a dyneema sling, girth hitch it through the little hole on the atc, then redirect it through a carabiner on the top shelf of the anchor, then clip it to your belay loop. 

3) Tie a autoblock on the brake strand and clip it to your belay loop.

4) Hold the brake strand, untie the backup knot, and sit back on the sling to release the device. Lower your climber and then lean forward to let the device lock again. You may need to adjust your clove hitch so you can lean on the sling without pulling on your personal tether. 

Someone correct me if I missed something. The AMGA's Vimeo channel has a bunch of helpful info including this technique:

Jimmy Downhillinthesnow · · Bozeman, Montana · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 10

Threading the sling through the release hole and redirecting to your belay loop is good. Rather than an auto block, I think it's best to fully unlock the device and use a Munter off your belay loop to control the lower. But that's just me.

Bill Lawry · · New Mexico · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,497

That's great advice, Frank!  And I see others are chiming in - will respond later (off to work!).

Note: I'm after what folks have tried and perhaps prefer.  And, for a given technique, what are the pitfalls and tips to avoid them.  (i.e., subtle and not-so-subtle things that defeated the technique).  Demanding, aren't I?  ;-)

The first time I practiced was years ago; and I came away pretty discouraged. The second time was yesterday and was better.  Still, it seems we fell into some pitfalls a time or two that left us scratching our heads.

If it helps, we tried these two techniques:

A) Flip the device using the eyelet while brake strand is redirected to hitch on harness.  Example video (the second technique):

B) Lift the carabiner that is clipped through the rope's bight while brake strand is tied off to the harness via a munter-mule.  Example picture: 

Belay device ATC Guide  (scroll down to image with caption "Releasing of ATC Guide by lifting of carabiner clipped in the rope’s bight.")

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

I'll add that the DMM Pivot is much easier to release than an ATC Guide or Reverso.

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 235

This is the reason I use a gri-gri (or some other device like it) when top belaying someone. It is just so much simpler  to deal with. I mean it doesn't help to know how to do all this but I don't know why people prefer using a device that is such a bitch to deal with for top belaying. I don't really use it for any other type of belay outside top belaying so I guess the minimalist would be completely against using one but to each their own.

Mark Ra · · Frange, CO · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65

If it's a short lower you can sometimes get away with just wiggling the carabiner.


Ben's method sounds great though.

RangerJ · · Denver, CO · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 65
FrankPS wrote:

I'll add that the DMM Pivot is much easier to release than an ATC Guide or Reverso.

Very true. The pivot has a simple design innovation that makes this process much smoother. 

Adam Fleming · · Moab, Utah · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 303

My go to for long lowers goes like this :

1. MMO on the brake stand, connected to your harness 

2. Girth hitch a sling to the biner on the plate that has the rope going through it 

3. Redirect that sling through the anchor. Use your foot or clip it to yourself to unweight the plate 

4. Lower your climber on the munter that is now a redirected belay (with the biner on the plate as the masterpoint)

There's a great video out there that I learned this from, but I'm on mobile now.
Edit:

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,740
Jimmy Sledd wrote:

Threading the sling through the release hole and redirecting to your belay loop is good. Rather than an auto block, I think it's best to fully unlock the device and use a Munter off your belay loop to control the lower. But that's just me.

+1 on the Munter to control the rope rather than an autoblock.  I know that AMGA likes the autoblock as a backup on a lower, but it's too much of an on-off thing for me in this situation.  It's great to backup a rappel but when you unlock a guide-mode belay device, you can be left with a minimal amount of friction, and the Munter is much better for providing this.  This is ESPECIALLY true if you unlock the belay by pulling on the blocking biner (rather than the small "release eyelet") which I hope all users realize effectively turns the belay into a simple redirect, pulley-type thing with negligible friction.  Not a good option IMO.

As to the common "girth hitch a sling through the release hole", that's fine unless you don't have a free sling.  And if you're using a BD ATC-Guide, it needs to be a skinny sling.  To get around this, I have pre-tied a small loop of accessory cord through the release eyelet.  That way I can clip a biner in there and use whatever sling/rope is available.  

Finally, a heavy load can be a chore to unlock (worst case - two fallen followers).  So using a simple 2:1 setup on the release can make the task easier. If you're using your own body weight to do this, the less drastic gyrations nedded, the better IMO.

Ancent · · Reno, NV · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 42
ViperScale wrote:

This is the reason I use a gri-gri (or some other device like it) when top belaying someone. It is just so much simpler  to deal with. I mean it doesn't help to know how to do all this but I don't know why people prefer using a device that is such a bitch to deal with for top belaying. I don't really use it for any other type of belay outside top belaying so I guess the minimalist would be completely against using one but to each their own.

Because you can go completely hands free, and at least for me, it's rare/never that I need to lower when in guide mode. If we're multi-pitch climbing, most partners can make the moves past something I've led (speaks to how hard, or not, I lead). In 10+ years I've never had to lower someone a full pitch length in guide mode--so the pros of it totally outweigh this potentially awkward/involved scenario--but it is important to know how to to be a safe partner.

Adam Fleming · · Moab, Utah · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 303
Ancent wrote:

Because you can go completely hands free, and at least for me, it's rare/never that I need to lower when in guide mode. If we're multi-pitch climbing, most partners can make the moves past something I've led (speaks to how hard, or not, I lead). In 10+ years I've never had to lower someone a full pitch length in guide mode--so the pros of it totally outweigh this potentially awkward/involved scenario--but it is important to know how to to be a safe partner.

I'm with you on this one.  I will say it's easier to do a 3:1 raise on someone with a gri-gri than a guide plate.  That, along with the easier lower, are just about the only advantages I see with using a gri-gri from above.

Aleks Zebastian · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 175

climbing friend,

you are hoping you never have to do this. you are yell at them to try harder and climb up. or you may perhaps drop them a loop of slack to pull on. with atc lowering you would be jimmy-jacking around cluster at the anchor for considerable time while your partner they dangle like stuck pig in space.

Andy Hansen · · Longmont, Colorado · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 2,303

Here's something slightly different:

Put a catastrophe knot in the brake strand. An overhand works fine. 

Put a friction hitch on the load strand and clip a locking, HMS carabiner to it. 

Using the backside strand of your clove hitch (assuming you've secured yourself to the master point with a clove hitch) put a Munter-Mule-Overhand on the locking carabiner attached to the friction hitch on the load strand. 

Manually load the friction hitch and MMO combo on the load strand. 

Redirect the load strand using a locking or non-locking carabiner from the masterpoint. 

Friction hitch the original brake strand from the plaquette device. Release the friction hitch and MMO combo slowly until climber's weight is on the original plaquette device. 

Remove catastrophe knot and lower. 

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

Anyone who uses a guide plate has to learn the hilarious gyrations needed to lower a second back to the previous belay, if circumstances call for it (eg the second gets sick---it happens).  If you have reason to believe ahead of time that such a lowering might be required, (perhaps climbing with a less capable partner), then by far the best procedure is to not use the guide plate belay to begin with.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

1. Stick a carabiner in the release hole.

2.  Pull up while keeping a firm hand on the rope.

That is, if you're using a DMM Pivot.  If not:

1) Throw away your ATC Guide/Reverso.

2) Buy a DMM Pivot.

3) Do steps 1-2 above.

Seriously, I don't know why people keep using these devices when such a better alternative exists.

BryanE · · Minneapolis, MN · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 335

Buy a Pivot. Best 30 bucks you will spend in climbing if you belay in guide mode a lot (or if you ever do top access cliff lower-ins or belayed rappels).

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 290
Ted Pinson wrote:

Seriously, I don't know why people keep using these devices when such a better alternative exists.

Because I don't routinely climb multi-pitch with people who constantly need to be lowered back to the previous belay. And if I do run into a situation when I need to do it, I can do it just fine with my current device. No need to go out and buy a new device, just get a better partner.

apoet · · AZ · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 193
Ted Pinson wrote:

1. Stick a carabiner in the release hole.

2.  Pull up while keeping a firm hand on the rope.

That is, if you're using a DMM Pivot.  If not:

1) Throw away your ATC Guide/Reverso.

2) Buy a DMM Pivot.

3) Do steps 1-2 above.

Seriously, I don't know why people keep using these devices when such a better alternative exists.

Is it still required to add a munter/autoblock backup?

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply

Log In to Reply