How to Rappel with a GriGri Belay Device (GUIDE)
For most rock climbers, or at least the ones that I know, the GriGri is the holy grail of belay devices. It makes life just that much better! I know for me, I’ll always choose the Gri for belaying over, say, an ATC like device. While the GriGri is primarily a belay device, it can also be used to rappel, in certain situations.
The GriGri is designed and manufactured as a belay device for experienced belayers. This article will serve as a guide, as to what a GriGri is, how it works and how to use it correctly for rappelling purposes. This guide is not intended as an instructional replacement for real, hands-on training with a professional mountain guide.
How to Rappel with a Petzl GriGri
- 1Ensure you have your helmet and harness on correctly, and your personal safety is girth hitched through both hard points of your harness.
- 2Connect your personal safety to your anchor and ensure all carabiners are locked.
- 3Ensure the rappel rope is connected safely to your anchor. Make sure the end of the rappel rope is touching the ground and a stopper knot is tied at the end.
- 4Connect the GriGri to your harness belay loop with a locking carabiner.
- 5Remove the GriGri from the locking carabiner and slide the plate open.
- 6Fit the rope into the GriGri as per the instructions on the device itself. There is a picture of a climber, which is where the section of rope that goes up to the anchor will go. And there is a picture of a hand holding a rope - this is the section that goes to the ground and that you will hold with your right hand.
- 7Close the plate, then clip and lock the GriGri back through your belay loop.
- 8Start performing safety checks: first, make sure you have your helmet on, and the hair is out of the way (as to not get stuck in your GriGri).
- 9Ensure the locking carabiner is clipped and locked correctly through your GriGri and through the belay loop of your harness.
- 10Ensure the rope is fed through your device correctly. The strand of rope going to the ground should be on the bottom, the strand going to the anchor should be on top.
- 11Ensure all carabiners are locked.
- 12Fully weight the rappel line BEFORE removing your personal safety.
- 13Once you have performed your safety checks, fully weight the rappel rope again and gently pull down on the GriGri’s lever to ensure everything is loaded correctly.
- 14Remove your personal safety.
- 15Use your left hand to hold the GriGri’s lever, and your right hand to hold the strand of rope going to the ground. This strand, as with other devices, is your brake strand of rope. It should be held somewhere around your right butt cheek, and if the GriGri’s assisted braking fails, holding this section of rope will still act as the brake.
- 16Slowly pull back on the lever of the GriGri. This will disengage the cam and will allow the rope to feed through the GriGri.
- 17Continue lowering to complete the rappel.
While the GriGri is designed to be used as a belay device, it too can be used for descending applications, such as rappelling. It’s not quite the jack of all trades as is the ATC, and the options for descending with the GriGri are fairly limited.
Having said that, when it comes time to use the GriGri, it does shine.
What is a GriGri
The Petzl GriGri is a single-rope assisted braking belay device, designed and manufactured by Petzl. The assisted braking works in the way of a built-in cam that pinches the rope when it goes tight, which will, in turn, stop the rope from sliding through the device.
The device has a handle, which when pulled back on, will progressively disengage the cam, allowing rope to be fed through the GriGri. If the assisted braking on the device fails, and the cam doesn’t pinch, it operates the same as an ATC-like device.
When Can You Use a GriGri For Rappelling
The GriGri, being a single rope device, can be used for any rappel situation where one single strand of rope is being used to descend. This is as opposed to an ATC-like device, which can fit either one or two strands of rope. Rappelling on two strands of rope is common when going back to the anchor to retrieve the rope isn’t possible.
Rappelling on a single strand of rope is common in the caving world, for example. A caver will rappel into a cave, and then ascend back up the same rope to exit. This is commonly done with the use of a GriGri and an ascender, something like the Petzl Ascension, which we’ll discuss further in a moment.
A single strand of rope method of rappelling may also be used for:
The real positive of using a GriGri to rappel, though, is its assisted braking. This, when learned to be used correctly, can provide a very smooth and safe descent.
If you think about rappelling with an ATC as riding a manual motorbike - where you do everything, with no assistance from the device itself, then we can think about rappelling with a GriGri as riding a moped. You still control your speed, hold onto the brake and control when you go and when you stop.
Limitations of the GriGri
As we’ve covered already, the GriGri can only be used with a single strand of rope. This can be somewhat limiting when rappelling, as many rappels are done by feeding the rope through or around an anchor, with both ends of the rope going over the edge of the cliff and down to the ground. In this situation, both ends of the rope will be fed into the ATC, and rappelled on. This obviously can’t happen with the GriGri.
This limitation makes it not quite the ideal device for rappelling in all situations, but then again, it’s not designed to be.
What Size Rope to Use With a GriGri
Petzl has designed the GriGri to be compatible with a single rope between 8.5 and 11 mm. I’ve used all rope diameters in the device, and while ropes on the thicker end (around 11 mm) do work, they run through a little rough, especially if the rope isn’t brand new. I’ve used old 10 mm ropes, and on humid days, it really can drag through and isn’t smooth at all.
The opposite happens on the lower end, with ropes around 8.5 mm, especially when brand new - they run through a little fast and the cam for the assisted braking has trouble engaging and really biting down on the rope. I find the sweet spot in rope diameter for the GriGri is 9 mm, possibly 9.5.
The GriGri for Belaying and Ascending
Though you absolutely can go in the downward direction with the Gri, it really comes into its own when used for going the opposite direction—up! Both belaying a climber and ascending.
Ascending, often called jugging, refers to ascending up a rope, often with the help of a GriGri and its assisted braking. If the rope goes tight, the cam will engage and lock the device off— the Gri is commonly used for this purpose. There are also many ways to ascend a rope, but it’s usually done with the use of an ascender or two and a GriGri.
An ascender, like the Petzl Ascension, is essentially a handle with a toothed cam. When the ascender is fixed to the rope, it can be slid up the rope. When the ascender is pulled down on, the cam will engage, it’ll bite down on the rope and prevent the ascender from moving downward.
Do I need to use a prusik with a GriGri
You do not need to use a prusik when using a GriGri. A prusik is used with an ATC to provide a level of redundancy. The GriGri, however, already has redundancy— it has the assisted braking cam and the curves in the rope like the ATC. If the cam fails and the assisted braking doesn’t engage, simply holding the brake strand of rope prevents any rope from moving through the device.
How to use a GriGri left-handed
Unfortunately, the GriGri is designed to only be used in one way— and that is with your right hand on the brake strand of the rope. Most left-handed people just learn to use the device the right-handed way and don’t have any problems. There are similar devices, like the Mammut Smart Alpine, which will be more lefty friendly but don’t work in quite the same way.