"Safety Soapbox" Archive - September 2002
On a recent trip to Smith Rock I observed a belaying technique in use
which I would generally discourage. This is the use of a Figure 8 device
in "rappel mode". I have seen this discussed elsewhere
in the past and I believe that most experienced climbers and guides
would agree that this is a poor belay method in most situations, with
There are several ways a Figure 8 device can be rigged for belaying.
Of these methods the "rappel mode" has the lowest friction.
While I cannot point to any particular studies I am doubtful that a leader
fall could be adequately arrested by this configuration in many cases.
The context in which I observed this method being used was by a total
beginner being instructed by her friend. He appeared to be experienced
to some degree, and the climbs they were doing for her enjoyment were
not climbs he was likely to fall on. Which was fortunate because a total
beginner using this belay method and having the leader fall seems pretty
risky to me.
While I discourage this belay method in general every method has its
place. One situation where I would not feel as uncomfortable with this
belay would be on a short top-roping effort where the fall forces are
low and lowering the climber is a frequent event.
Even in this last scenario there are modern devices which are preferable
to a Figure 8. If a Figure 8 is going to be used it will probably be easiest
to lower a climber smoothly in rappel mode. But today it is more common
to use some variation of an "ATC" (which is a Black Diamond
trademarked name, but similar devices are made by other companies and
sold with different names that are more or less the same). Or apparently
a Gri-Gri in some sport climbing circles. (Not being a sport climber
I don't know if the use of a Gri-Gri is still as common as in the past