Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Gear Review: BD Guide Belay Device/Commentary

OK, it's out now so I can write about a cool toy I've been playing with for the last year or so, the Black Diamond ATC Guide belay device. First, a disclaimer: I'm sponsored by Black Diamond and basically paid to say nice things about them. That said, if you ever read any of my product reports to BD I call it like I see it (ask the designers, they @ucking hate me some days, but ultimately they make the gear work right.).

I used to have a box of belay devices, and chose which one to take depending on the day. If it's a multi-pitch route my belay device needs to belay the leader well, function as an auto-block for the second, and rap well on widely varying rope diameters. The "auto block" idea for the second is very common here in Canada and in Europe, but less so in the United States. Years ago my partner and I would share a Placquette (sp?), which was a flat piece of steel with slots in it. You hook it to the belay and it allows the second to fall off and still get caught even if the leader is eating Twinkies and sucking back an energy drink that tastes like liquid Gummi bears. If you're not using some sort of autolock device for the second on multi-pitch routes you're missing out, it's great and a lot safer. It took me a couple of years to come around to the idea of belaying the second with a placquete-style device, but once you start you'll never go back, it's just safer and lower stress (if you have a decent belay anchor--if you don't you're an idiot anyhow).

With a placquette you had to also carry another belay device for the leader, in my case an ATC and later an ATC XP, the grooves on the ATC XP made rapping on the super skinny ropes I often use on alpine climbs much safer. Then the Petzl Reverso came out, and desite being a BD-sponsored athlete I used it a lot, it was lighter than carrying two belay devices and worked well enough for all three rope-handling tasks. The problem with it was that rapping on two 8mm or smaller ropes was sometimes terrifying. The mini-Reverso came out, and that worked well enough but often I climb on one 10.5mm lead rope on ice and use one 7mm as the rap cord, which didn't work well with the mini-Reverso. I found myself taking the ATC XP, it dealt with two different diameter ropes very well, and I liked the security for belaying the leader and rapping.

Finally BD came out with the Guide, which is basically an ATC XP with another 'biner hole to clip it into the belay for bringing the second up in "Reverso" mode. It works very well on any diameter of rope for belaying the second and leader, and also raps very well. There's a cunning little hole to put some cord through that allows the belayer to lower a second while the second is hanging on the rope, pretty cool.

I've rapped on it with ropes as small as 7mm, no problems thanks to the additional friction grooves. It works great for belaying a leader, even if the leader brings an Anaconda 11mm fuzz monster rope, or two "hot" super skinny ropes. It also works well for bringing up the second.

I've used the ATC guide on frozen ropes of all diameters, all kinds of half/twin ropes, and a wide variety of single ropes. It's the best tool for a multi-pitch environment currently on the market.

-Will Gadd

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