Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2020).
Climbing upwards is a physical act that doesn’t necessarily require any specific tools, with the rope and protection pieces only used as a safeguard. The opposite is true descent, because although you can climb down without any equipment, doing so is extremely hazardous and limited. The importance of understanding the tools you’re to employ is crucial in descent, as safely descending as often all about having the right gear; descender; ropes; tat, and knowing how to use them correctly.
The Belay device
The gradual refinement of the belay plate into the belay tube and all its variations has given climbers the perfect lightweight descender. The beauty of these device’s is their versatility, giving a one stop tool for safely going up and down a climb, and as such becomes the most popular descent tool for all climbers. Most importantly because you use it on every pitch when you belay you know how it works inside and out, reducing the chance of pilot error while in descent. Unlike the figure of eight descender which has a very large heat absorbing area, the belay tube can get very hot. In order to avoid this becoming a problem always descent slowly and under control. Remember you are not a commando! Moving slowly and under control not only reduces heat build up but also gives you time to think about what lays ahead.
By far the best current belay device and descender is the versatile magic tube design, a cross between a magic plate and belay tube, best demonstrated by the Petzl Reverso and Reversino. The beauty of this design is its flexibility with three different frictional variations available to the user, allowing you to fine tune your rope control. Another important feature is the device’s ability to double as an ascender – a major advantage once it comes to problem solving. Although ascending the rope may seem a strange function for a descender, being able to get back up a rope is often the only way to get down!
Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram