“Is that piece fixed?” I called down to my partner, who hadn’t moved in ages, over the roaring wind in Vedauwoo, Wyoming.
“No [pause]. I’m just playing with it,” he replied with subtle but noticeable sarcasm.
Using the Petzl GriGri+, I brought him up the remaining 20 feet of offwidth while I belayed in lead mode directly from the anchor, and then I rigged the line for a short rappel and headed down on the same device to retrieve the stuck unit.
Rapping on my old and fuzzy 9.4mm rope was laboriously slow. After using the GriGri 2 for years (and the first generation GriGri before that–so 25 years in total) for everything from big walls, to sport, to long trad routes, I’m used to jackrabbit speed, not inching down at turtle pace. It felt as if a governor was added to my go-to belay device. Granted, I hadn’t switched the knob, which adjusts the cam spring to be tighter or looser (for lead or toprope mode, respectively), which would have made for a smoother descent, but that was one of a few things I had to adapt to.
There’s a learning curve with this device.
I reached the stubborn piece, retrieved it, and self-belayed out with the GriGri+ (which Petzl advises against doing). Over the testing period I used a variety of ropes, ranging in diameter from around 9.2mm to the old, fuzzed-out 9.4mm I mentioned earlier, and some of the ropes I tested with the device were slicker than others. The lowering speed was much faster when using a skinnier or slicker rope.
Using the GriGri+ over several months of single- to multipitch sport and trad climbing, from Vedauwoo to Boulder Canyon, to South Platte, and dry tooling in Vail, I struggled to figure out the ins and outs of the device. It paid out slack as smoothly as its predecessor, caught plenty of toprope and lead falls–even a hard one that I took close to the ground–but making a smooth lower/rappel took getting used to, especially on fatter ropes. I wanted to be sold on why it’s better, for me, than its predecessor, the GriGri 2.
“It’s not meant to replace the GriGri 2, that’s why there are still two options,” Petzl athlete David Roetzel told me. “Both can be used for the beginner and the advanced climber. The GriGri+ just has more safety features and is much more durable.”
One of these safety features is a pin that locks the device in either toprope or lead mode. For experienced climbers, the pin never needs to be locked–sort of like safety windows in the back seat of a car that can be enabled or disabled with a switch–but unlocking it in order to switch modes requires a tool, like a poker. Petzl doesn’t provide this tool, so I improvised and picked up a rigid stick to pop the pin.
I only needed to pop the pin once to turn off the lockout feature, like turning off the safety of a gun. I can see why this hard-to-unlock switch is good for group or guided settings, and it’s one of the reasons Petzl calls this assisted-locking, single-rope belay device “particularly suitable for learning.”
“You can do it with a fingernail or a Petzl Ange L carabiner gate. We could have provided a piece of plastic but…keys are [also] a great way to do it,” said Keese Lane, from Petzl.
Another frustration is how the GriGri+, during my initial outing, made clicking noises when lowering with it. I also found that if I quickly jammed the handle open, I would hear a loud click and the device would lock shut (thus locking the climber in place), but since I never did that in the field and kept pulling back the bar until it reached the end, I never triggered the anti-panic function. The clicking likely came from riding on the edge of the anti-panic feature, which is designed to stop the rope from sliding through the device if the lever is held down too aggressively, as a panicked beginner has occasionally been known to do. As I got used to the device, and neared the “sweet spot” for lowering, the clicking stopped.
“When you hear the [hard] click, reset [the handle] and start again,” Lane said, explaining how to reactivate the anti-panic feature.
“You figured out that if you go past the panic function, then you’re just lowering,” Roetzel continues. “When you feel the click you’ve [partially] activated the anti-panic feature. You over-rode it. Like when rappelling, if you don’t have a lot of weight on the rope, you’ll keep activating that panic feature so you have to override it.” Because of this addition, there’s a sweet lowering spot that descends the climber at a controlled rate.
“Pulling in the middle or the first third are the sweet spots. If you’re an experienced Gri Gri 2 user, the sweet spot is in a slightly different spot in the handle,” Lane said.
The GriGri+ also has stainless steel plates in high-friction areas, where the softer aluminum of earlier GriGris have been known to become grooved from the rope sliding over these surfaces. These steel reinforcements are why Petzl recommends this device “for intensive use.” They also make the new device a total of 30 grams heavier than the GriGri 2. For comparison, a single AA battery weighs 23 grams. It’s not a lot, but the extra weight was the first thing I noticed when picking up the device.
The GriGri+ also accommodates a wider range of rope diameters: from 8.5mm to 11mm, where the GriGri 2 works best on ropes 9.4 to 10.3mm. Other features include a 3-to-1 “progressive control” mechanism when lowering the climber. A GriGri 2 uses a 2-to-1 progressive control. The original (discontinued) GriGri uses a 1-to-1 (no progressive control).
“When you’re in override [the panic feature], you’re back in the 1-to-1,” Lane added.
With all these improvements, I was surprised that the lowering handle wasn’t more durable. Belaying a hangdogger (I mean my amazing partner) off the anchor over Vedauwoo’s sharp granite roughed up the outer edge of the nylon-protected handle.
A summer day of dry tooling with David Roetzel and Beth Goralski in Vail’s Rigid Designator Amphitheater provided another outing to work out my kinks with the GriGri+. I observed how often they switched the device between lead and toprope mode, which was several times a day, and listened when Roetzel explained the lowering sweet spot I’d been looking for. They were sold on the device as a superior one to the GriGri 2, but I still struggled to understand why, exactly. They said I needed to keep using it to find out.
That day, when pulling back on the handle I felt the climber accelerate, I slowed down and tried to find the spot. “Feather it,” he said. I tried but couldn’t get it right. The next weekend, I visited Turkey Rocks at South Platte and tried again to find that soft lowering spot but eventually gave up and switched back to the GriGri 2.
“It’s not better than the ‘2’ necessarily, this one is ‘+’ a series of features,” Lane said. “The challenge with it is that it’s a little bit of everything for everyone.”
I’ll put the learning curve on me–I’m used to the GriGri 2, and since the GriGri+ is different than its predecessor, I struggled to get comfortable with it. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it just isn’t as comfortable for me to use.
To save a lot more weight on my rack than just switching to the GriGri 2 (which I’m more used to using anyway), I use the brake-assist Edelrid Mega Jul, which is merely 65 grams, works with two ropes, and it “works best with ropes that are between 8.9 to 10mm,” as Andrew Councell wrote in a 2015 Alpinist review.
Chris Van Leuven is the former digital editor for Alpinist and has been climbing for 25 years.
Accommodates a variety of rope diameters (8.5 to 11mm)
High-wear areas are constructed with durable stainless steel.
Offers two belay modes for toproping and leading.
Anti-panic feature helps prevent accidents by locking the device if lever is held down too aggressively.
Heavier than the GriGri 2
Takes practice getting used to the anti-panic feature, especially for climbers used to using the GriGri 2.
Can be slow/jerky to rappel and lower with, especially with thicker-diameter ropes.