9/14/09 - Notice: Since this article was published in Climbing No. 243, both Trango and Petzl have modified their instructions to address some of the issues presented in the article below. Current instructions for the Trango Cinch can be found here. Current instructions for the Petzl Grigri can be found here. Please visit both manufacturer’s website Trango.com and Petzl.com for more.
Mechanical-assist belay devices — the Petzl Grigri and Trango Cinch — are popular both at the cliff and in the gym. Many people favor these units for single-pitch climbing and hangdog sessions, but using them properly is key to using them safely. The common conception that mechanical-assist belay devices are auto-locking devices is wrong, and this misconception often results in accidents and unsafe belays. Neither device is “hands-free”; both require an active brake hand on the brake line to function properly. The trickiest element of operating a mechanical-assisted belay device is feeding rope to the leader. These tips are designed to make sure that your next belay session is safer, and that your leader never again gets short-roped. For more information on the Grigri and the Cinch, please visit the manufacturer’s website.The gradual-feed Grigri. As the climber moves, the belayer can use a Grigri just like any tube-style device. Gradually pulling (and pushing) rope through the device with both hands is key to making this work — if you pull/push too fast, the device will lock up.The Speedy Grigri. While the gradual feed method works great for small adjustments, it isn’t fast enough for speedy climbers or quick clips. The most common way to speed-feed rope to your leader is to temporarily grip the device’s locking cam with your brake hand, and pump rope out with your guide hand. The problem with this method — not recommended or approved by Petzl — is that many belayers make the mistake of keeping their brake hand on the Grigri throughout the course of a leader’s pitch, thus inhibiting the unit’s locking cam and exposing their partner to accident or injury in the event of a fall. Your Grigri will only stop a fall when the cam is free to engage the rope, so the safest belay is one where the cam is restricted the least amount of time. Once you’ve dumped out slack, immediately return your brake hand to the brake line, and adjust the amount of slack in the system. A good Grigri belay is an active one — use the gradual feed method to make micro-adjustments.
Rotate the Cinch downwards for fast rope delivery.
The cup method. If you’re teaching a novice to belay, or delegating belay duties to someone who’s never before used a Grigri, one method — also not Petzl approved — to consider is the “cup” technique. For quick feeding, temporarily “cup” the top of the Grigri with your brake hand (keeping your thumb closest to your chest and parallel with your other digits), and use your guide hand to quickly pump out one or two arm-fulls of slack. The Grigri will only be pulled tight against your cupping hand when you’re actively pulling out slack; as soon as you stop feeding cord, the Grigri will drop down a few inches and is ready to accept a fall. As with the “speedy Grigri” method, immediately return your brake hand to the brake line after you’re done dumping slack, and fine-tune any slack in the system with the gradual-feed method.It’s a Cinch. The Cinch also tends to lock easily in normal gradual-feed mode. Trango’s recommended method for fast-feeding is to hold both the device and the rope with the brake hand (see illustration), and simply rotate the device downward, pumping out rope with your other hand. Positioning the Cinch downward in this way straightens the rope’s path from the leader, through the device, to the brake hand, reducing the tendency for the device to lock. As long as you maintain a grip on the belay rope, any jerk on the lead rope will tend to rotate the device back upward, and engage the locking mechanism. Another quick-feed method — not recommended by Trango — is to briefly deactivate the device with the silver thumb tab designed to allow you to unlock the device if a leader pulls rope too quickly. Hold the tab, quickly pump out slack, and immediately return to normal belay mode. The key with both the Cinch and Grigri methods is to maintain an constant, firm hand on the brake end of the rope. If you deactivate the cam, do it very quickly and consciously, then move your brake hand fully onto the rope and maintain an active, attentive belay.