Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Gear Review: The Alpine Up

Now and then people give me bits of gear to test. I climb quite a lot, so it gets a good bit of abuse. The chaps at CT climbing gave me their new belay plate at ISPO 2013 back in winter and since then I've messed about with it. My verdict in short: a great plate that does everything and is going to revolutionise certain styles of climbing, but is a bit on the pricey side.
In long:

What it does: Imagine a black diamond guide mixed with a gri-gri, and that's effectively the alpine up! It's an 'assisted'-locking plate with no moving parts. It works on double as well as single ropes, although it can't really be used on fat singles (more than 10.5mm), as feeding rope out becomes really hard. As an auto-locking double rope device, it's a pretty rare thing, similar to the Mammut Smart alpine, but with a few subtle differences.

It works in guide-plate mode, for bringing up seconds hands-free. It auto-locks on abseil, eliminating the need for prussics. It works like a gri-gri, with automatically locking on a single rope. Although they don't recommend this use, it locks up on double rope lead belaying, meaning you can run back hands free if the climber is going to deck out otherwise. It also has a setting for traditional non-locking belaying, which is far smoother than a normal plate, as the plate stays in one place, rather than bobbing up and down on the carabiner. This is best used when someone's leading something on shite gear when dynamic belaying is a must. In my eyes, this is the best plate in the world for this.

So, as you can see, it's pretty damn complicated. This is draw-back number one. You really need to get used to this plate, it's not the sort of thing you'd give your kid and let them go off climbing with it. There's no way that you could set it up dangerously I don't think, but even so, you want to know what you're doing with it.

Draw-back number two is the cost. You'll be lucky to get it for under £70, which is a stack of cash for a belay plate. With this you do get a free carabiner, which is essential for the plate (other crabs don't work so well with it. Even so, it's £30 more than it's competitor the Mammut smart alpine.  So, the real question is, is it better? The short answer is yes. It's a better shape and does more stuff better, crucially taking a broader-range of ropes, thus being usable for sport redpointing as well as alpine climbing. This could easily be your only belay plate, which would save you money.

There's a question whether either of these modern plates are really necessary however, considering the weight. Yes, they remove prussics and the associated faff when alpine climbing, but they're also a lot heavier and bulkier than a normal plate. You can now eat your cake whilst you lead belay, but you have to decide for yourself whether these plates are worth taking for that privilege.

Is it better than a gri-gri? Definitely. The Gri-Gri is heavier, requires a thumb on it to stop the locking mechanism from deploying  and only works on single ropes. The Alpine Up works just like a normal belay device, meaning the traditional and potentially dangerous practices associated with a Gri-Gri are not required.

The reason I really love this plate we'll come to now: trad headpoints. Some may have seen how belay devices effected the perceived grade of 'the Groove' at Cratcliffe. An auto-locking plate meant that the fall was safe. That was with a Gri-Gri on a single rope - imagine the same situation but on halves. With that you're going to get the same quick take-in rate, but with added equalisation. This is almost an accidental design from the guys at CT, but it's going to really change a few routes.

So, there we go: The Alpine Up. A great piece of kit, ingeniously designed and very useful when used properly.

Here's a more lengthy video if you want to see it in action:

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