Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Looking to learn trad? Guides Rob Coppolillo and Marc Chauvin take you through gear-protected climbing in Climbing’s Intro to Trad Climbing. Visit Intro to Trad to sign up!
More than a decade ago, “guide mode” belay devices appeared on the market. These tools let you belay one or two followers using an assisted-braking function—the device would arrest a follower’s fall practically on its own, worked directly off the anchor, and required less belayer control. However, if the follower needed to downclimb or lower to retrieve stuck gear, work a crux, or take a photo, “releasing” the device to lower became complicated. The load-strand direct (LSD) lower offers a simple, smooth, easy-to-set-up lower.
When belaying a follower in guide mode, the belay device will be clipped to the anchor, with a locking carabiner holding the rope in place. (For a tutorial, see Essential Skills: Auto-Blocking Belay Devices.) The LSD lower uses an additional biner on the anchor to allow for lowering and to defeat the autolocking function of guide mode.
Back up the system
First, build a back-up. This is mandatory for any complex technique or when system failure would be catastrophic. Tie an overhand-on-a-bight in the brake strand 4 to 5 feet behind the device and then clip this “catastrophe knot” to your belay loop with a locking carabiner.
Before lowering, build an autoblock with a Prusik on the brake strand above the catastrophe knot. Clip it to your belay loop with a locker. This functions as your “third hand,” freeing up your mitts for the LSD lower. Cinch the autoblock up the rope so there’s an inch or two of slack. Now, there is no way to drop the second.
Set the LSD
To begin your lower, hang a locking carabiner off the anchor, in front of the device. Ask the climber to unweight the rope. As he does so, clip his rope strand through the locker and lock it, and then he can sit back. At this point you’ve defeated the device and a bit of rope will slip through—your autoblock should engage and you’re now in the LSD lower. (If the autoblock does not engage, the catastrophe knot will save the day.)
Once the autoblock is holding, undo the catastrophe knot and lower your climber using the Prusik. When he’s ready to climb again, he can unweight the rope momentarily, at which point you pop his strand out of the locking carabiner in front of the device. Bam—he’s back in guide mode. (Consider rebuilding your catastrophe knot during the transition back to belayed climbing.) Once he’s climbing again, remove your third-hand backup and belay as before.
The Temporary Ledge
If your climber can’t unweight the rope, you’ll need to build a “temporary ledge” to clip the locking carabiner in front of the device. You’ll need a shoulder-length sling and a locking carabiner. Here’s how:
- Clip a catastrophe knot to your belay loop.
- Build your autoblock backup above the catastrophe knot, on the brake strand.
- Take another sling or cord and tie a friction-hitch onto the loaded, climber’s strand of the rope; clip a locking carabiner to it.
- Take the loose, back-side strand of the anchor knot (the loose side of the rope going into the stack) and tie a Munter-mule-overhand (MMO) on the carabiner and sling from step 3.
- Lever the blocking carabiner in the belay device back and forth. This allows slack to develop so the climber’s weight comes onto the MMO/sling combination .
- With the slack, clip a locking carabiner in front of the belay device and clip the climber’s strand into it; lock the carabiner.
- Release the MMO and gradually load the device, which is now in LSD lower mode. Once the autoblock engages reliably, remove the sling/MMO, undo your catastrophe knot, and continue the LSD lower.
For more trad climbing skills, check out our Intro to Trad course by guides Rob Coppolillo and Marc Chauvin at Climbing’s LEARN online course series.