We all know how cool it is to go “fast and light” these days—it’s the Moonboard of alpine climbing right now. SO HOT! By just paying attention to and/or eliminating extraneous gear, you can be on your way to sending faster and lighter. No, I’m not talking about diets, or eliminating any use of your larger muscle groups to help shed a few pounds. I’m thinking: belay devices. Sharing them. On long routes where it’s important to hydrate, refuel and stay warm at belays, it’s critical to be using an assisted braking belay device like the Gri-Gri, Jul or similar. Here, I’ll detail a few key points for belay device sharing. It’s kind of like Zipcar, only for belay devices.
If you and your partner are planning on the traditional multi-pitch system of swapping leads and you are using modern belay devices that can be used in “guide mode” for belaying the follower, you are most likely familiar with the cluster f#@% that occurs when your partner arrives at the belay and has to clip in while you rearrange your device into lead mode. Plus, it’s nice to have a little peace of mind that an assisted locking belay device offers when you’re digging through your pack looking for food, or trying to get your arms in the sleeves of your billowing puffy.
By sharing a single assisted braking belay device like the ones mentioned above for belaying the leader and using a more traditional belay device like a Guide-ATC or Reverso, or the even more efficient Kong Gi-Gi for belaying the follower, we can eliminate that awkward transition at the belay, and have a margin of safety for the tasks performed while lead belaying. It goes like this:
1. Lead climber leaves the ground with the Gi-Gi racked on their harness while being belayed by their partner who uses a Jul.
2. Lead climber builds a bomber belay and proceeds to belay second in guide mode.
3 When the follower reaches the anchor, the belayer grabs the Jul off their partners harness and immediately puts them on a lead belay. While this happens, the climber pulls their own strand of the belay rope until comfortably able to weight the anchor, thereby able to sort gear and prepare to lead the next pitch.
4. Once ready, the new leader, who is already on belay, communicates that they are ready to climb and removes themselves from the Gi-Gi and takes it with them to use for the following top belay.
This system, while it may sound complicated in words, is very simple in practice. Being familiar with alternative ways to rappel and belay are critical when employing this system, due to the possibility of dropping a belay device. Remember, while carrying backups may be recommended, it’s not “fast and light.” The more you know, the less you need.
What if you have to rappel and one of the devices only accommodates a single strand of rope, ie. Gri-Gri or Jul? Stay tuned for Part II showing how to pre-rig your rappel…