When using a plaquette style belay device (Black Diamond ATC Guide, Petzl Reverso, DMM Pivot) in Assisted-Braking Mode or Auto-Blocking Mode (to belay a follower directly off the anchor) there are some ways to reduce the amount of effort required to pull slack through the device. This can lead to a more efficient belay as well as save your elbows from over-use injuries like tendinitis (not uncommon in life long climbers and guides).
First make sure you are using an appropriate diameter rope for your device. Skinnier ropes will require less effort to pull slack then thicker diameters but make sure you are staying within the range the manufacture recommends! For reference here are the suggested ranges for some common devices:
The skinnier rope you use the less effort it will take to pull slack through the device. Currently my favorite single rope for multi-pitch ice and alpine rock climbing is the Sterling Fusion Nano IX DryXP, 70m. This rope pulls very smoothly through any of the above devices!
I originally posted this tech tip back in 2017 but with any climbing skill a bit of repetition can’t hurt. Here’s the original YouTube video and a new one I posted this morning.
CONTEST- $200 Gift Card to IME, North Conway NH
I’m giving away a $200 gift certificate to International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH to a randomly selected YouTube subscriber on November 30th, 2021! This gift certificate can be used on anything in their retail shop like a new climbing rope, ice axes, crampons, clothing, etc, or on a climbing lesson or avalanche course with the International Mountain Climbing School! No purchase necessary, just hit that subscribe button on my YouTube channel to be sure you will be entered in the drawing!
This is my second year on the Ortovox Athlete Team and it has been so awesome representing such a top tier outdoor clothing and gear company. As an avalanche educator I’ve relied on Ortovox beacons and shovels for almost a decade and over the last two years I’ve discovered the difference between run-of-the-mill outdoor clothing and Ortovox clothing. I won’t go into great detail here but suffice to say blending Merino wool in hard and soft shell outerwear was ingenious!
What I want to share today is another example of Ortovox’s continued commitment to safety and education. Some of your probably already know that Ortovox supports avalanche education with partnerships with AIARE and beyond. This past Spring Ortovox launched a free online training platform focused on alpine climbing. With over 30 video tutorials (in stunning climbing locations), educational modules that save your progress, quizzes, and four chapters this is an amazing resource to up your climbing game. Support was also provided by Petzl, another industry leader in climbing education!
It took me about 2 hours to go through the whole program. I definitely picked up some new tricks to add to my bag!
Here’s a breakdown from Ortovox of the four chapters:
From climbing park to large alpine rock faces: ORTOVOX provides an insight into the world of alpine climbing – starting from the subjective and objective dangers, to rock knowledge, through to the necessary materials.
Carefully considered and realistic tour planning is an essential part of alpine climbing. As part of this, various factors have to be taken into consideration: selecting the appropriate climbing tour, the area and weather conditions, correctly reading a topographical map and carefully packing a backpack.
ON THE ROCK FACE
From the ascent to the summit and back again safely. In the third chapter, ORTOVOX will familiarize you with fundamental knowledge about alpine climbing. Topics such as knot techniques, belaying and the use of anchors play a central role
If there is an accident in alpine terrain, climbers need to act quickly, correctly and in a considered manner. The final chapter explains how climbers handle emergency situations.
I’ve never seen such a broad amount of modern accurate information on climbing presented in such a cool online manner before and know a lot of my climbing friends will be going through this the next time rain cancels a climbing day! You can check it out here. I’m sure you’ll learn something new and be stoked to share it within your climbing circles!
I recently conducted an informal survey on a climbing focused Facebook page to determine if what gear I perceive out on our frozen cliffs is an accurate representation of what people are actually carrying.
I wasn’t too surprised to see the overwhelming majority was using alpine draws (two carabiners and a thin style Dyneema sling clipped in a fashion that allows it to be used short or extended to full length).
In this short opinion post, I aim to convince the majority to re-think their winter “draw” set-up and hopefully gain a bit of efficiency in the process.
Most of us year-round climbers have converted over to these sleek “alpine draws” featured on the left side of the photo above for our traditional and alpine style rock climbing kit. Carrying “shoulder-length” nylon runners over our head with or without a carabiner pre-attached has largely fallen out of style in the last ten or more years (and for good reason IMO). So if you are an “alpine draw” user anyways why should you do anything different for ice climbing? I’d suggest you consider the following;
Rope drag is not as much of an issue when ice climbing for two reasons. First, rope running over ice/snow creates almost no friction unlike rock. Second, it is easy to arrange protection on a pure ice climb so that it runs almost straight from belay to belay. On most ice routes you almost never need to extend an alpine draw to mitigate friction. The average quick draw offers almost a foot of extension, giving you a 2 foot wide “corridor” of protection with zero increase in friction.
Clipping the rope to the draw after clipping the screw is a place where I often see new ice leaders struggle. An alpine draw flops around and does not stay put making clips with gloves on more difficult. Clipping while ice climbing is much more similar to sport climbing where you want a quick fluid clip vs. moderate trad climbing where you could probably just use both hands if you needed to. Having a rigid rope-end carabiner on your ice quick-draws is ideal, and I prefer the larger gate ones like the Petzl Ange L on all my “ice draws”. Efficiency is also gained when the second cleans the screw, as like sport draws rack quicker and easier than alpine draws, especially if they have been “extended” due to perceived friction.
Just because your system is dialed for traditional rock climbing and alpine doesn’t mean the same system is optimized for waterfall ice climbing. There are definitely outliers when a few alpine draws would be a good idea (not straightforward ice climbing, mixed routes, traverses, etc). I typically carry 1 or 2 alpine draws on these routes and know where I will use them. The rest of my “draw” rack is 8 ultralight quick-draws set up like this:
Screw hanger end carabiner- Petzl Ange S Carabiner– the smaller Ange here is about the lightest most compact choice you can make for the screw hanger side of the quick-draw. Since it is the hanger side it does not need a large gate opening and the MonoFil Keylock wiregate system adds security and clears ice easily.
“Dogbone”- Petzl 17 cm Finesse Sewn Sling– Super lightweight but the real advantage of this over other nylon sport quick-draws is the Dyneema won’t absorb water like nylon so you will experience less “frozen draws” when using these.
Rope end carabiner- Petzl Ange L Carabiner– The larger carabiner on the rope end facilitates both clipping with gloves on and those who climb on double ropes occasionally.
The above set up isn’t the cheapest quick-draw solution out there but I think it is the nicest. At retail this set up runs about $30.85 per quick-draw. You can definitely save some money but getting the pre-built Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraws.
These pre-built draws will save you about $5 per quick-draw, you just give up the larger rope end carabiner. If you climb with two ropes often it may be worth going for the larger rope end carabiners.
I also carry one cordelette and two “Mini-Quads” that can be used for slinging trees, building anchors, etc.
I hope this short post gets you thinking about your “ice kit” a little. You really don’t need all those extendable alpine draws in a pure ice climbing setting. And you’ll definitely save some energy clipping ropes with a stiff sport-style quick-draw!
Climb long enough and eventually you will rappel past the next anchor and need to climb back up to it. Or you will rappel past a tangle in your ropes assuming it will untangle itself from those bushes when you are below (it didn’t). You might also end up needing to ascend the belay side of a top-rope to assist a nervous (or stuck) climber or rescue an injured lead climber. For these occasions you’ll be glad you know how to “flip a plaquette” from belay/rappel mode into “guide” mode. In this configuration your belay device functions as a reliable improvised ascender.
The first thing you’ll obviously need is a plaquette style belay device. There are many out there to chose from but these are my current favorites:
These and quite a few other suitable models can be found on Backcountry.com HERE.
The above short demonstration video shows the steps of flipping a plaquette while rappelling on an extension which happens to be the simplest situation. Let’s go over the more complex method first.
Flipping a plaquette when it is directly off your belay loop
There are a few scenarios where this might be a good solution. First, you are rappelling directly off your belay loop and realize you’ve passed your anchor. Second, you are belaying a climber on a top-rope system and they need assistance. Third, you’ve caught a leader fall but the leader is injured and needs assistance. So let’s break down the steps.
While maintaining a brake-hand tie an over-hand bight a couple of feet below the device and clip this to your belay loop. This step is important because step 3 carries with it some risk if one is not careful.
Clip a locking carabiner to the “ear” or “anchor point” of your plaquette and attach that to your belay loop.
Carefully open the belay carabiner in a manner that traps the rope in the narrow side of the belay carabiner while removing the belay carabiner from the belay loop. This is best accomplished by rotating the belay carabiner so the narrower side is pointing away from you.
On moderate low angle terrain you may be able to start walking/climbing back up while pulling the slack through your device which is essentially in “guide” mode now directly off your belay loop. If the terrain is steep you can add a friction hitch above your device and extend it to a foot loop.
Flipping a plaquette when it is extended off your belay loop
Since extending your rappel device away from you has lots of advantages more and more climbers are defaulting to this option. Yet one more advantage to extended rappel systems is the fact there is literally just one step to flipping the plaquette and you do not need to open the rappel carabiner at all!
Clip a locking carabiner to the “ear” or “anchor point” of your plaquette and attach that to your belay loop.
Ascend as in step 3 above.
So that’s it! You now know how to flip a plaquette and get yourself out of quite a few possible situations that undoubtedly will pop up over your long adventurous climbing career! Thanks for reading!
I’d like to start sharing some tech tips on a weekly basis so I’m going to start with this Tuesdays Tech Tip with a super quick video showing how to tie a clove-hitch on the carabiner. With any new skill there needs to be a “why bother” clause… so here is why you should learn to tie a clove-hitch on the carabiner:
Leader security. You’ve arrived at a small belay and established your anchor (or even part of an anchor)… if you can tie a clove-hitch on to a carabiner you can give yourself some added security while still holding a part of the anchor or your ice axe with your other hand.
Efficiency. Many climbers will tie an “air-clove-hitch” then adjust it until they are at the right distance from the anchor carabiner for belay duties. Often times tying the clove-hitch on the carabiner can let you get it “right” the first try and save you time adjusting at transitions.
If this quick and short video was helpful please let me know in the comments below or on the YouTube video! I’d like to share a lot more info like this but I’d like to gauge interest so please speak up if you found this helpful!