I got such a great reaction to the first gear review blog, I figured I'd do another. Only two products this round, but they're each worth a lot of words. Both of these products, while completely badass in their own right, are called out here specifically for their features that make them adaptive climbing friendly. Love it? Volume 3 is already in the works!
Remember, the basic premise is: "I really, really love puppies. I pretty much want all of them, in my lap, right now. That said, I also really love outdoor and climbing equipment that doesn't just work, but works well and exceeds expectations. The kind you pick up on a whim on super sale, and after a few outings say 'Holy snot balls, I can't believe I've lived without this - I'd pay full price for this if I have to!'
Climbing is a funny sport where training for climbing (let's call this TFC) has practically become a sport in its own right. Certain workouts are 'reserved' for the advanced climber, folks who have a high level of base fitness that the only way they can get stronger is through a bizarre series of self inflicted torture that beat your tendons into submission, transforming them from pansy-ass connective tissue to steel cables. This exercise is called hang boarding, and it sucks. For normal suckage, you simply hang from your fingertips on holds of various depths, rest and repeat. For less suckage, you can counter your bodyweight on a pully system. If you really hate yourself, you can suspend weight from your harness like iron cajones between your legs.
When I started TFC a few years ago, I knew I'd have to figure out how to hangboard with one hand. Every time I tried, though, I'd just spin until I popped off. Finally I hung my left arm in a sling to keep from spinning, but that REALLY hurt my left arm and I was so wildly out of balance that after a few sessions I was getting wild neck pain and weird shoulder spasms. Suckage: achieved.
Someone who knows way more about TFC than I do suggested I check out a new device called the Grippul. It simulates the same motion of stretching and working the tendons by 'suspending' weight from the fingertips, except instead of being pulled down by gravity, you're pulling up a weight. Simple, right?!
It's hard to say what effect grippuling has had on my performance, I started using it around the same time that I increased other TFC activities. It is easier to measure progress with this than a hangboard (you just add weight), and I've definitely been able to increase both weight and the difficulty of the holds over the last several months. I am happy with how I've been climbing fingery routes and problems, so this is an easy and simple exercise I can do while watching TV and eating cupcakes.
Negatives? Your toes are at risk of being crushed. Watch out. If you have butter fingers, you can also attach it to most cable machines. Much like a hang board, it's very possible to over do it and injure yourself, so take it easy and talk to someone smarter than you before starting a training routine like this.
I was thinking about saving this review for Vol. 3, but this belay device has so radically changed my life, it couldn't wait. I'll skip the usual review, as with all devices it's been reviewed within an inch of it's life - so for a technical review, check out this great one from Splitter Choss.
What I really want to focus on is why this is the most incredible belay device that I've ever used because of how fluid and efficient it is to belay a leader with my stump. I can't use a gri gri, there's simply no way for me to correctly and safely control the camming mechanism, and the drag on the rope through the device is too great for me to pull out with the nook of my elbow. Instead, I use an ATC so I can have a somewhat free hand that's not busy disengaging a cam. Still, while I'm convinced the method is safe, it is not at all comfortable and it really sucks for my partner to get short roped with every clip - I'm only able to pay out slack in increments of a foot or so, and the rope often falls out of my elbow crook which leaves me scrambling. For years, I've top rope belayed with a gri gri and lead belayed with an ATC.
Until I got my Vergo, this sweet purple hunk of pure freedom. Think bald eagle tears level freedom. This device is designed to be held sideways, and to pay slack you pull towards your hip, not your climber - this greatly increased the range of motion I could make with my stump. If you do have the cam engage, to loosen you simply cut the lead side back towards your hip - you're not actually over-riding the cam at any point. Because I hold the device in the palm of my right hand, I can put the rope back into my elbow crook if I lose contact with the rope (hey, I get excited sometimes). It captures any progress like a beast, not once on my shiny new 9.4 rope was there any back slippage.
Negatives? It does lower with less forgiveness than a gri-gri, but whatever. It does load onto your harness kind of sideways, and I found that my biner wandered and got cross loaded a few times, so I'll be picking up a Gridlock to fix that problem. The lowering lever gets a little in the way when loading the rope into the device, the slot isn't just open and freely exposed like with a Gri Gri. It's also just...different. I've been using a gri-gri for almost 15 years, and I do have to go slow when loading and using this device because it's just NOT a gri gri. That's not necessarily a negative, but a reminder that whenever you have a new life-depends-on-it toy, PAY ATTENTION.
This device is a big deal to me as an adaptive climber, because it changes how I fit in the climbing group and partnership dynamic. If a friend of mine wanted to try hard, they didn't want me to belay them. Some people were sketched out by the idea of someone with one hand not using an assisted lock device (the fear is unfounded, but whatever). I would often end up as a third partner, or my partner would be limited in what they could attempt. I was less than a full partner, always. Now, with the Vergo, I am elevated to a full fledged belay slave status, something I spent most of my life thinking I just couldn't do. Last weekend, when I belayed a friend on something that was at his limit and didn't once short rope him, when I gave him a NORMAL belay and he didn't think 'goddam it, one arm belays are the WORST' - I was almost in tears. It sounds silly, but that's how much more profound this device is to me than just another toy.
Do I need practice? Yes. I truly think my world has just opened up, though, and I can't wait to spend hours on the tail end of the rope as a buddy hangs on her project.
As always, please let me know what you think, and feel free to recommend products to review in future editions!
*Full disclosures: Grippul provided their products free of charge, but I'd go out tomorrow and buy them full retail, they're that good.