It was 1994 and I was headed to the Valley. I’d saved up for an extended climbing trip and I would return to Salt Lake City with a donut in my bank account. A couple big-ticket items put a dent in my savings right from the start. One was a portaledge. The other was a GriGri. Both tools proved themselves invaluable. The combination of these two tools allowed me to comfortably ascend the granite monoliths of Yosemite and walls in various corners of the world. That GriGri, with thousands of feet under its belt, is now in the hands of a young climber who mirrors my situation seventeen years ago. A staple climbing tool, you see GriGris fixed to climbing gym ropes, on every sport rack and on nearly every big wall ascent. Everyone’s got to have one, so I felt a duty to pass mine on to this youngster.
One thing about GriGris is that they are nearly indestructible. Rarely in our lifetime do we witness such perfectly designed technology as the GriGri or iPod. I am not sure why they are not designed for obsolescence, but I want to thank those designers for stepping up to the plate. I have seen a few GriGris worn out by the sport freaks who sling miles of cord, or desert climbers who ground pounds of red sand through them, but for general users, GriGris last a lifetime of climbing and iPods are not that far behind. The only reason to purchase a new one is for a better color or more gigabytes. How many GriGris does a person need, and who listens to 64 gigs of bluegrass anyway?
Even with a trusty GriGri, I did not balk at the chance to try out the new GriGri2, just as I didn’t turn my nose up when my brother passed down his iTouch. These days I am relaxed belaying nearly hands free and watching evening movies at 11,000 feet on the Grand Teton. I guess times change. A bit of gray hair mellows the soul and allows you to appreciate the finer luxuries in life, instead of obsessing over that sequence you keep blowing, or drawing you into the next suffer-fest.
The GriGri2 handles new-tech-skinny cords better, though the older GriGris do just fine. Any 8.9 – 11 millimeter rope is accepted by the GriGri2, though the sweet spot is from 9.4mm – 10.3mm. This is a step toward a better “grab” on thinner ropes. You will meet a few people who are adamant that the old GriGris are dangerous with thinner cords. This point is well taken and the new design is superior for gripping low diameter ropes. But, if you own an older GriGri I would recommend staying with it and saving your hard earned money. All GriGris are good GriGris. I have always thought that the smoother the feed the better. Older GriGris still grab, you just have to pay more attention. If you are a beginner this advice may not be for you. And if you don’t already own a GriGri, go get the GriGri2.
I was reminded of the usefulness of the GriGri by one friend’s experience. A 100 lb. falling block nearly crushed my friend’s belayer. The GriGri auto-locked. The climbers were bruised and beaten, but alive, and thanking their lucky charms for mechanical auto-locking assistance!
Hands-free is taboo, for good reason, if you are up on the literature, but for the advanced user rules get broken. When I finally did make it to the Valley in the early 1990s we were fifteen hundred feet off the ground, my partner nailing his way up the Shield. I was napping in my portaledge and I dozed down into a dream. Fifteen minutes of fresh breezy sleep and I was sinking deeper. I jerked awake. Quickly I fed the leader more line. I was refreshed from my napping and ready to jug into the next lead. The GriGri was worth every penny. Of course I was dreaming with my brake hand attached…not.
In most climbing situations it is not that difficult to keep your brake?hand on the rope, and a simple adjustment of technique adds another layer of protection and a greater level of safety. While most climbers do not intentionally defy the principal, there are a number of situations where this super safe technique fails to do the job. So don’t freak-out when the belayer next to you pays out some much-needed slack the old fashioned way, fast!
Other mechanical assisted belay devices exist, but none are as smooth or as slick in overall operation as the GriGris. The Trango Cinch, or as I call it “the Pinch” is better in one specialized category. If you want to dish out rope fast, the Cinch is quicker once you are trained on it. Lowering a climber on this unit takes more care and can be a little squirrelly. The Cinch (recommended for 9.4mm-11mm ropes) just loves to pinch the rope so I stick with Petzl.
All manufacturers of auto-locking belay devices emphasize that they should not be used as a substitute for poor belaying technique. I want to mention that an insurance agent may have been holding a gun to the manufacturer’s head as this was written in the user’s manual. As a guide, who in their right mind is going to trust a new belayer on icy/slippery/wet/steep/rotten stone? It is you and the mountain, or perhaps a little insurance of your own. Engineers design tools, but experienced users redesign the application and train their cronies to comply as best as possible.
The new GriGri2 is twenty-five percent smaller and twenty percent lighter than the old GriGri. I appreciate that Petzl does not usually push out new designs just to pump out new product. This design change is well warranted and the weight and size savings are appreciated. The gripping power on skinny ropes will become the industry standard in mechanically assisted belay devices. These improvements are good, however they are not deal breakers. And they don’t justify retiring an older model. The original design is just fine for almost all applications. In fact it is almost identical to the newer generation, that said, I am always happy to pack a smaller and lighter unit.
Another upgrade is the “progressive descent control”, which is supposed to increase the “sweet spot” for improved descending. If you ask Sharma, he says this is an improvement in the GriGri2, but I don’t feel the difference. If you climb with single-use-throw-away-super-thin-ropes and get lowered on your proj a hundred times a day, perhaps you will appreciate the “progressive descent control”. But most of us mortals probably won’t detect such subtlety.
One issue that plagued me for a while was a large opening that appears in the side of the unit when the cam begins to engage. It is large enough to accept a rope making it appear that the rope could exit the device. It appears to be a major flaw in design but Petzl has informed me that my fears are baseless. Even if the rope enters this opening the GriGri2 will arrest the fall. In fact it actually increases the cams’ bite.
A complaint I, and others, have with the GriGris is their inability to function in a double rope rappel scenario. This means I still have to carry more metal on those alpine multi-pitch climbs or on a big wall. I am hoping that the French Elves at Petzl are working up a solution to this problem, whether it is an extended metal stitch plate, or an additional cam slot, I am waiting for that day to arrive. Then, I might actually buy a new one before my older version wears out.
Once in a while a product makes its way out of manufacturing and has a flaw. This is the case with some early GriGri2s. Make sure that your GriGri2 is not a recalled unit. If it is do not use it any further. Send it back to Petzl, now! Issues with the recall were alarming. A stuck release handle resulted in damage within the unit and a permanently open cam. This meant that if you did not have your brake hand on the rope there was nothing to stop a fall. As of June 20, 2011 no accidents due to this problem have been reported. This did not instigate a change in my belay device of choice. What it does do is constantly remind me to maintain a solid brake hand.
If you have not already seen the Petzl video on how to properly operate a GriGri, I think it is well worth a few minutes to review it here. With the advice in this video you may adjust your technique, but for reality’s sake I think one must be honest and acknowledge that the GriGri’s most beneficial attribute is its ability as a reliable auto-locking brake.
While there are some folks who prefer to avoid GriGris and see them as an insult to proper climbing technique, I commend Petzl on a revolutionary design that spans the climbing world from the greenest beginner to the most experienced athlete. The GriGri2 is just another step in the right direction, building upon a legend of design. While the specific changes from the GriGri do not warrant a mandatory upgrade now, the GriGri2 will probably replace it’s predecessor over time and continue to meet the tallest of climbing demands.
Pros: Best belay device ever; lighter, smaller than the first GriGri; PDC; wider range of rope diameters = 8.9mm – 11mm (instead of the older prescribed rope sizes of 10mm-11mm).
Cons: Bites more on fatter ropes; not improved enough to buy the GriGri2 before your old GriGri wears out; where’s the headphone jack?