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Disclaimer first: The brake-hand principle (always hold the braking strand of the rope) always applies to assisted braking belay devices, including the Grigri. This question is in no way targeted at putting that in question, follow it at all times!

In a recent question about quickly belaying on top rope, some discussion happened in comments about how the braking mechanism of a Grigri can fail. In general, the Grigri is known as a very reliable, while bulky tool for belaying with a brake-assistance.

Now excluding user failure (e.g. fully holding the Grigri in one's hand and thus disabling the braking mechanism), what scenarios are there in which the Grigri will not by itself start braking and finally arresting a fall?

In addition: What is/are the countermeasure(s) to let the braking mechanism engage in the respective scenarios?

I am only looking for scenarios which can be/have been demonstrated (in practice or in a test setup), not in hypothetical problems.

  • When will I ever take a break writing "break" instead of "brake"... Thanks to the editors :) – imsodin Jul 20 at 9:50
  • I was super curious about this as well! Not sure it deserves its own question, but do you think that if for some reason the part of the mechanism that is supposed to move doesn't engage (maybe your free hand is holding it down for some reason), you can still brake a-la ATC? – John Hughes Jul 22 at 15:36
  • @JohnHughes That could be a question ;) Circumstancial evidence says it doesn't work like that. A common case is while lowering if the belayer panics and pulls the lever all the way through, the climber falls more or less unbraked to the ground (accidents did happen). You can try it on the ground: With one hand pull the lever hard, with the other hold the rope and let a friend pull on the other side of the rope. – imsodin Jul 22 at 18:25
  • @JohnHughes I did a very brief test once (when I first met the GriGri), and concluded (sort of) that you could do it. The downside is that you don't have a lot of friction, so you might want to aid youself with your body (a-la hip-belay). But please do ask the question, I'd love to see what others have to say. – Roflo Jul 23 at 13:42
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There are several scenarios but they all boil down to not using the brake hand but instead hoping the device will catch or improperly sized ropes.

1) with super-skinny ropes;

2) an extremely light climber;

3) routes with bulges or significant rope drag that reduce the forces of a fall; and

4) hanging on the rope (versus falling) mid-route.

Learn Proper Techniques for Grigri Use

In all of those situations, the solution is to keep a hold on the braking strand and not let go. Once the rope goes tight between the climber and your hand the cam will engage.

It's worth pointing out that these are assisted and not auto belay devices, you can't just not pay attention and expect them to work.

  • 2
    Good answer, thanks. I'd upvote again just for "these are assisted and not auto belay devices" – imsodin Jul 20 at 9:48
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To add to Charlie's answer, a big mistake would be to hold it improperly. Specifically, if you hold the bottom of the Gri Gri you can actually prevent the auto-braking to engage. And especially when a climber falls and the belayer panics!

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