observations on gear, adventure, and the world

My next belay device: BD ATC-Guide

I moved to Utah to climb. Then I didn’t. The details are far more philosophical than I’m ready to burden you with.

But I’m coming back. My wife wants to climb. I want to climb. After five years of half-hearted looking we finally pulled the trigger on a new pair of shoes for her. We’ve been bouldering a bit in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and I spent some time in Moab pulling on the boulders at Big Bend. I can feel the climber from my early 20’s coming back to life. Both of us are as fit as we’ve ever been and finally in a place mentally where we are psyched to commit to the rock and rope and move up.

My rack of belay devices has a perfectly functional ATC-type  piece from liberty mountain, and a strange and worn thingamajig from the late ninties called “The Alien.” The ATC-esque bit is good for a belay/rap tool, but the Alien needs to go. It’s old and poorly designed.

We’re likely going to be hitting bolted sport routes for at least a year, but I’m very interested in trad and multi-pitch routes (so the video above is not apropos of nothing!). My early climbing was in the upper mid-west where bolts are almost as rare as chalk, so the trad ethic is very much a part of my climbing pedigree. For just the opposite reason multi-pitch routes capture my imagination. Climbs in MN are not often two pitches long. End of story.

Also my wife is quite light, inspite of being tough as an ox, she’s quite svelte. I’m more of the old growth forrest type. 6″3′ 190 lbs… in the morning… naked… dehydrated and hungry… so if I’m falling I’m probably 200 minimum.

I’ll probably spring for a gris-gris or something simple and auto-locking so she doesn’t loose too much skin if I take a whipper. I know there are soft catch concerns but given out weights I think she’ll be catching pretty soft as it is!

Kelly Cordes posted about the BD ATC-Guide and it’s virtues for belaying a second and for soloing, and it caught my interest, because the device can do everything the ATC can plus extra. Kelly says it’s important to know how to use the thing well before you start rocking it on the big routes, so I figured I’d get it now and get good at using it!

Here’s Kelly’s take on the device:

Multi-Pitch Efficiency: the auto-blocking belay plate: “Finishing big routes before dark isn’t always about climbing fast, but about climbing efficiently. A lot goes into this, and maybe I’ll babble more in future posts, but one of the simplest ways to speed-up multi-pitch climbs is through efficient belay transitions. And one of the single biggest time-savers comes from using a simple piece of gear: an auto-blocking belay device, like the Black Diamond ATC-Guide or the Petzl Reverso.”

And some guide named Keith has a post about how to use the thing: Skill Series: Using the BD ATC-Guide.

First the tech vid from Black Diamond (check out their vimeo):

How To Video: Black Diamond Equipment’s ATC-Guide from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

To which some guide named Keith adds:

There are, however, two problems with the video.  The first safety issue comes from the section that details how to lower a climber while the device is in autoblocking (“Guide”) mode.  I’ll detail a safer method below:

1.  Clip the brake strand of the rope through a new carabiner attached to the “shelf” of the anchor.
2.  Attach a friction hitch (autoblock, prussik, kleimheist) to the brake strand
3.  Thread a skinny sling through the small hole on the ATC-Guide, as shown in the video.
4.  Hold onto the brake strand.
5.  Pull down on the skinny sling, releasing the device.  This is easiest if the sling is clipped into your harness and you lean back, thus allowing you to have both hands free to control the brake strand.
6.  Lower your partner.

The other issue I have with the video is that it doesn’t address what to do when you have two climbers following the pitch at the same time (i.e. you have two ropes in the device, each going to a different climber). The easiest way to prevent dropping both of the climbers simultaneously is to tie a “catastrophe knot” in the brake strand of the climber you are not going to lower.  Tie the knot as close to the device as you can, then have that climber hang on the rope.  This will prevent them from being dropped when you unlock the ATC-Guide to lower the other person.


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