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The deadly ATC
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Jan 7, 2017
King Tut wrote:
@rgold and Jim Titt: Gentlemen, could you corroborate that a Gri-Gri will hold a factor 2 fall regardless of the effect of a brake hand? Or does one slip? Every accident report I have ever seen on one was the belayer somehow defeating the camming action, either during a panic when lowering or by the hand on the climber's side of the device gripping in panic and providing enough friction to prevent the cam from acting. Has one failed to auto lock to your knowledge? best


The maximum slippage through a GriGri I´ve ever seen recorded is about 8", far from the danger level which is considered to be around 4 to 5 feet after which rope burns will mean the belayer will probably lose control of the rope. The maximum permitted slippage in the drop test for locking assisted braking devices (GriGri) is 1.5m to be certified for EN15151.
Any rope burns mean by definition that the belayer is injured which is counted as a failure with safety equipment, it isn´t just the faller that is considered.

There are a few reports of foreign objects jamming GriGri´s and preventing them locking, at least one was a piece of rock and another the belayers clothing. You can also defeat the locking by holding the climber-side rope too hard, they require a positive tug to engage.
Jim Titt
From Germany
Joined Nov 10, 2009
0 points
Jan 7, 2017
King Tut wrote:
@rgold and Jim Titt: Gentlemen, could you corroborate that a Gri-Gri will hold a factor 2 fall regardless of the effect of a brake hand? Or does one slip? Every accident report I have ever seen on one was the belayer somehow defeating the camming action, either during a panic when lowering or by the hand on the climber's side of the device gripping in panic and providing enough friction to prevent the cam from acting. Has one failed to auto lock to your knowledge? best


In my playing with my grigri 2, it rarely auto locks with a mammut serenity 8.9 mm rope with the dry treatment. The device is brand new and not worn out. The spec for the device is 8.9-11mm and petzl indicates an ideal range of 9.4-10.3mm. I believe their speced range is too optimistic for the 'auto lock' to work. It works fine with a hand on the belay strand.

As a side note my 4 year old climbing technologies alpine up often auto locks on the same rope. The alpine up's spec is for 8.6-10.5 mm ropes.
climber pat
From Las Cruces, NM
Joined Feb 5, 2006
185 points
Jan 7, 2017
rgold wrote:
Folks should be aware of Jim's testing of these devices, which indicates that their performance is considerably worse than an ATC XP when it comes to handling very high loads. This is because the assisted-locking devices do not act as hand-force multipliers, and once the locking function is overwhelmed, they don't scale up the belayer's grip the way the ATC-XP does.


I guess this is the part I'm struggling with.

It's not like at higher forces the assist to the brake simply stops functioning; it still reduces the force needed by the belay hand to hold the fall, no?
Dylan B.
Joined Mar 31, 2006
613 points
Jan 7, 2017
Dylan B. wrote:
I guess this is the part I'm struggling with. It's not like at higher forces the assist to the brake simply stops functioning; it still reduces the force needed by the belay hand to hold the fall, no?


With devices like the Smart the braking force is made up of two components, the force provided by the rope jamming in the device and the force multiplication of the hand force through the device as with a conventional plate.
The jamming force can be considered a fixed amount (in fact it reduces with increasing load as the rope becomes thinner)and it´s added to the normal hand-induced force which increases with greater hand grip.
At lower loads the jamming force provides much of the braking force but as the loads increase more and more is required from the hand-induced braking effect. As the majority (if not all) of this kind of device are actually extremely poor conventional devices there comes a point at which a given hand-force in a conventional device applies more braking force than the pseudo-assisted ones.
In the graph above the MegaJul becomes a worse performer than a Reverso at a hand-force of 0.115kN (roughly 11kg) and at 0.25kN hand force (which is reasonably strong) it only produces 70% of the braking effect.
Jim Titt
From Germany
Joined Nov 10, 2009
0 points
Jan 7, 2017
King Tut wrote:
The late Dean Potter once said, "No single climb is worth dying for, but climbing as a whole is worth dying for". Dean was wrong. There is so much more, vastly more, to life than climbing. Countless millions cling to life and they can't imagine throwing it away just to get your name in the guide or claim some other nebulous "first" that advances the human condition very little. Fundamentally climbing is a solo, selfish and narcissistic pursuit. It reminds us of the remarkable things humans are capable of, but working a soup kitchen does more for humanity. (I paraphrase) "All that there is and ever will be, in all the villages and huts and castles is to see the great day dawning over the Earth. There is nothing else." If you have that (life) you are rich. After that, you have nothing.


Without derailing this thread too much (as appears to be my habit): I respectfully disagree. I don't think Dean meant that as a general statement (he wasn't saying EVERYONE should climb), but more for him personally. What makes life meaningful is inherently personal, and all that we can do is seek to find what is fulfilling for us and pursue that. Yes, Dean's life was cut short (ironically, not from climbing), but you can't argue that he didn't live life to the fullest. Whether you die at 40 or 80, what matters is how you spend it.
Ted Pinson
From Chicago, IL
Joined Jul 11, 2014
40 points
Jan 7, 2017
Ted Pinson wrote:
Without derailing this thread too much (as appears to be my habit): I respectfully disagree. I don't think Dean meant that as a general statement (he wasn't saying EVERYONE should climb), but more for him personally. What makes life meaningful is inherently personal, and all that we can do is seek to find what is fulfilling for us and pursue that. Yes, Dean's life was cut short (ironically, not from climbing), but you can't argue that he didn't live life to the fullest. Whether you die at 40 or 80, what matters is how you spend it.


I've never heard a dead man make that argument, but I have heard adrenaline junkies do so, defending their habit. Not that it applies directly to you of course.

I can easily argue that Dean did not live to the fullest, he even had another 40 years climbing left in him. Daring-do on rock is a pale substitute for dozens of other pursuits, some of which like science/medicine can be used to better the human condition.

I also simply will never, ever accept that even Dean Potter would trade death for a classic 5.10a at 80 and the intervening 40 years of life, which he is sadly missing out on.

But, yes, lets stay on topic. :)
King Tut
Joined Aug 19, 2012
105 points
Jan 7, 2017
Jim Titt wrote:
The maximum slippage through a GriGri I´ve ever seen recorded is about 8", far from the danger level which is considered to be around 4 to 5 feet after which rope burns will mean the belayer will probably lose control of the rope. The maximum permitted slippage in the drop test for locking assisted braking devices (GriGri) is 1.5m to be certified for EN15151. Any rope burns mean by definition that the belayer is injured which is counted as a failure with safety equipment, it isn´t just the faller that is considered. There are a few reports of foreign objects jamming GriGri´s and preventing them locking, at least one was a piece of rock and another the belayers clothing. You can also defeat the locking by holding the climber-side rope too hard, they require a positive tug to engage.


Thanks for that Jim. :)
King Tut
Joined Aug 19, 2012
105 points
Jan 7, 2017
Question for RGold, who has been climbing a longer time than even me. In say your first thirty years of climbing, to recall ANYONE being dropped? I remember Eddie Stawski telling me his bowline around a tree fell apart while belaying Bill Shaniman on something in the Gunks, but even that did not result in a deck.

I can't think of a single instance personally.
Tom Stryker
Joined Aug 24, 2014
245 points
Jan 7, 2017
climber pat wrote:
In my playing with my grigri 2, it rarely auto locks with a mammut serenity 8.9 mm rope with the dry treatment. The device is brand new and not worn out. The spec for the device is 8.9-11mm and petzl indicates an ideal range of 9.4-10.3mm. I believe their speced range is too optimistic for the 'auto lock' to work. It works fine with a hand on the belay strand. As a side note my 4 year old climbing technologies alpine up often auto locks on the same rope. The alpine up's spec is for 8.6-10.5 mm ropes.


Which brings up a good point (probably addressed elsewhere by Jim Titt or Rich) that dry treatments probably make many of these devices considerably less safe.

Given your own experience I might suggest a thicker rope with no dry treatment for "regular" climbing and a different way of belaying for that rope with the dry treatment?
King Tut
Joined Aug 19, 2012
105 points
Jan 7, 2017
"Dry" treatments make belay device performance so poor and erratic that the first thing I do is destroy them as well as possible before testing. Various testers have noted 20 to 40% less braking force first time out which is a problem if testing is done with new ropes since the values aren´t consistent with what most climbers are actually using which are ropes of varying age. The treatments vary cosiderably as well which makes device comparison difficult.
All one can say is to add to the warnings the rope manufacturers give and say the braking performance will be reduced, often more than would think since ones gripping ability on a rope covered in slimy gunk is nearly nil.
Currently it´s a continous battle between belay device manufacturers and the slimy gunk sellers with wild claims about rope life and lower impact forces on one side and solid, safe stops on the other.
If I have to use a new rope for testing it gets an hour in a cement mixer with a load of sand and then washed three times in the washing machine to remove as much slippery shit as possible.
Jim Titt
From Germany
Joined Nov 10, 2009
0 points
Jan 7, 2017
Jim Titt wrote:
"Dry" treatments make belay device performance so poor and erratic that the first thing I do is destroy them as well as possible before testing. Various testers have noted 20 to 40% less braking force first time out which is a problem if testing is done with new ropes since the values aren´t consistent with what most climbers are actually using which are ropes of varying age. The treatments vary cosiderably as well which makes device comparison difficult. All one can say is to add to the warnings the rope manufacturers give and say the braking performance will be reduced, often more than would think since ones gripping ability on a rope covered in slimy gunk is nearly nil. Currently it´s a continous battle between belay device manufacturers and the slimy gunk sellers with wild claims about rope life and lower impact forces on one side and solid, safe stops on the other. If I have to use a new rope for testing it gets an hour in a cement mixer with a load of sand and then washed three times in the washing machine to remove as much slippery shit as possible.


Which brings up something I have felt for years: Dry treatments may be worth it for that Alpine snow slog or 45 degree couloir where a frozen rope can be a real hazard, but it quickly wears and is useless for general climbing. Taking a new dry rope on a regular rock climb is just plain dangerous, in my experience.
King Tut
Joined Aug 19, 2012
105 points
Jan 7, 2017
Tom Stryker wrote:
Question for RGold, who has been climbing a longer time than even me. In say your first thirty years of climbing, to recall ANYONE being dropped? I remember Eddie Stawski telling me his bowline around a tree fell apart while belaying Bill Shaniman on something in the Gunks, but even that did not result in a deck. I can't think of a single instance personally.


Tom, for the first twenty years I never heard of anyone being dropped, although I do know of several heroic stops, including other factor 2 falls being held.

Ironically, if you do a hip belay with the leader's rope directed through a carabiner on the harness, there is really nothing that can go wrong, and my sense is that the amount of available friction (remembering however that ropes were fatter BITD) was equal to and in some cases probably greater than one you get from modern devices.

Add to this another point. As I've said several times, it was conventional BITD to practice catching hard falls. Even if this didn't increase belayer skill (which in my experience it absolutely did), it gave people some memorable samples of what big impacts are like, something the majority of modern climbers, including those with a lot of "experience," have no clue about. The sense of how bad things can be almost certainly made people take the entire belaying process more seriously than is commonplace now, since a downside of automation is to make everything about belaying seem less consequential.

On the other hand, the absolute number of climbers a half-century ago was smaller, which would have resulted in fewer dropping occurrences even if the failure rate was not less, and the reporting of incidents, especially non-fatal ones, was almost non-existent beyond word of mouth and whatever made it into the AAC accident reports.

Moreover, the typical at-the-base belay that is now the top-roping norm did not exist. The belayer was positioned at the top of the pitch, not at the bottom, and it was exceptionally rare that a climber would be lowered. Furthermore, there was usually no one else up there with the belayer, making for far fewer opportunities for distraction. So far less lowering, a guaranteed amount of rope to lower with, and a more focused belayer together eliminated one of the now-common source of dropping incidents.

So it could be that the perceived lack of dropping incidents is just an artifact of different practices, lower climbing population density, and highly restricted incident reporting. I have no idea how to tell for sure.

Sometime in the seventies, the Sticht plate showed up and climbers began the transition to belay devices, giving up on the belay practice sessions that were typical in the hip belay era. The stringent concepts of trad-climbing that eschewed pre-inspection kept top-roping down for a while, so the possibilities for that type of dropping probably only increased gradually.
rgold
From Poughkeepsie, NY
Joined Feb 15, 2008
35 points
Jan 7, 2017
^^^The voice of experience and well said. A lot got done on fat ropes. I still use them in sharp rock areas as well as on rock fall possibility sites. Roy Suggett
Joined Jul 20, 2009
5,975 points
Jan 7, 2017
rgold wrote:
A second problem with ATC-style devices is that in a factor-two fall, if the brake hand is in the now-standard palm-down position, there will be little or no engagement of the device, and I'd guess in this case that a total loss of control is inevitable. All the semiautomatic devices have the same problem, by the way. One needs a palm-up position with the braking hand at chest level.


I'm not following this. Can you elaborate?
Noah Yetter
From Lakewood, CO
Joined Jul 13, 2015
5 points
Jan 7, 2017
Yeah, Rich... clarification would be nice, especially since this is such an important topic. I'm picturing the problem being when a belayer has to switch from an upward pull (normal lead fall) to a hard downward pull similar to a top belay as the climber falls past the belay. Having top-belayed someone off my harness, I can only imagine how hard this would be to catch a violent dynamic fall... Ted Pinson
From Chicago, IL
Joined Jul 11, 2014
40 points
Jan 7, 2017
Noah Yetter wrote:
I'm not following this. Can you elaborate?


I think he's pointing out that on a FF2 fall, your belay device would invert because the climber fell below you. Then, the palm down brake hand would be in a poor position to hold the fall. (obviously Rgold can speak for himself, but I gave it a shot!)
FrankPS
From Atascadero, CA
Joined Nov 19, 2009
15 points
Jan 7, 2017
Noah - As I understand the problem, in normal lead or top rope belaying when the climber falls, the belayer pulls the brake strand down and back toward his thigh/butt. Doing this with a palm down is anatomically stronger/more efficient than doing it palm up.

For a fall factor 2 belay scenario where the climber fall past the belayer, the belayer needs to pull the brake strand up (towards his chest) rather than down to thigh area. Pulling up toward your chest is anatomically stronger with a palm up hand position.
Marty C
Joined Aug 27, 2008
0 points
Jan 7, 2017
Yeah...your hand would end up upside down with your palm pointing in. So in a situation where a FF2 is anticipated (climber moving off the deck, holding your brake strand upside down would be advisable until the leader gets a piece in. Ted Pinson
From Chicago, IL
Joined Jul 11, 2014
40 points
Jan 7, 2017
FrankPS wrote:
I think he's pointing out that on a FF2 fall, your belay device would invert because the climber fell below you. Then, the palm down brake hand would be in a poor position to hold the fall. (obviously Rgold can speak for himself, but I gave it a shot!)


Interesting link to another frequently asked mountain project question. Namely do you attach your belay device to your belay loop or through your harness tie in points. If you use the harness tie in points the device will be a couple of inches closer to your body. What difference does this make? Well if your belay hand is off to the side then when clipped directly to the tie in points the belay side of the rope runs across your pants leg at a more acute angle than when clipped to the belay loop. This helps add some additional friction to the system. When lowering a climber on a new skinny rope the difference is quite noticeable.
Emil Briggs
Joined Sep 30, 2013
95 points
Jan 7, 2017
^^^Good point! Roy Suggett
Joined Jul 20, 2009
5,975 points
Jan 7, 2017
Emil Briggs wrote:
Interesting link to another frequently asked mountain project question. Namely do you attach your belay device to your belay loop or through your harness tie in points. If you use the harness tie in points the device will be a couple of inches closer to your body. What difference does this make? Well if your belay hand is off to the side then when clipped directly to the tie in points the belay side of the rope runs across your pants leg at a more acute angle than when clipped to the belay loop. This helps add some additional friction to the system. When lowering a climber on a new skinny rope the difference is quite noticeable.


Belay device goes on the belay loop. Where it's supposed to.
FrankPS
From Atascadero, CA
Joined Nov 19, 2009
15 points
Jan 7, 2017
Redundancy is an important concept. Just the "loop" is not that. Back it up. Roy Suggett
Joined Jul 20, 2009
5,975 points
Jan 7, 2017
FrankPS wrote:
Belay device goes on the belay loop. Where it's supposed to.


I'm not surprised my post drew that quite predictable response. But you might consider that some harness's don't have belay loops.
Emil Briggs
Joined Sep 30, 2013
95 points
Jan 7, 2017
Atc are not that bad. As long as you have a steady partner who knows what he's doing their fine in my book. Tyler Metheney
From O'fallon ILLINOIS
Joined Sep 15, 2016
0 points
Jan 7, 2017
Old lady H wrote:
No disrespect at all to you or your friend, but were they really, really inexperienced belaying with an ATC? Belaying palm up, or something like that? Using their hand, and not the ATC to control the speed? Yes, what you offer might have helped, but it seems even to my noob self to be an inexperienced belay, and all of it, except the "save", easy to deal with if you understand an ATC. Best, Helen I love the climbing shot you have for your pic, by the way!


The brevity of my post made it easy to come to the conclusions you did. So here are the answers to your post.

The belayer has climbed for nearly 30 years. He climbs sport, traditional and gym and is experienced with a variety of belay devices. He has never dropped anyone. In my post, it showed that he valued the climber’s safety over his own well-being and was experienced and quick-witted enough to save the climber in a most unusual situation that had a high potential for serious injury.

I wasn’t there so that I can’t say exactly what happened, but the belayer has belayed me dozens of times and has always caught my falls without incident. When using an ATC, I have never seen him do anything remotely resembling “not [using] the ATC to control the speed.”

There have been several posts in the last few months about belayers dropping climbers. My post was different. It was about a belayer facing a rare situation (I don’t know of anyone else who has had a tangled ball of rope knock their brake hand off the rope) and who reacted with alacrity and courage to save the climber.

Cheers,
Rob.calm
rob.calm
From Loveland, Colorado
Joined May 2, 2002
515 points


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