Friday, October 27, 2006

Black Diamond Gear Loop Testing and thoughts.

Kolin, head of quality assurance over at Black Diamond, just did some more belay loop testing in response to Todd's accident, check this link for more info. One of the reasons I really like working with BD is that many of the people there are truly obsessive climbers, with access to stacks of high-tech lab equipment. As a climber and professional "tester," Kolin was obviously directly interested in belay loop failure and so immediately did a stack of tests on belay loops with various "issues." Right on Kolin, thanks. What Kolin's tests showed is that even extensively damaged NEW belay loops are still very strong. As I read through both his belay loop tests and then his previous tests and reports (lots on that page) I noticed that Kolin kept repeating some varation of this quote from his tests: "Regardless—swap out old crappy gear—the heartache avoided could be your own..." Most of his reports were written before Todd's accident.

I recently wrote on this blog about teaching clinics a couple of weeks ago in Maryland where several people were belaying by clipping through their leg loops and swami belt instead of the belay loop. This accident has made me think about that, but I'm still far more worried about a biner breaking through cross-loading or through the carabiner flipping over and having the gate pressed open than I am about belay loops breaking while belaying. Carabiners can break when cross-loaded, or when loaded with the gate opened, I've had it happen several times now and watched the lab tests, it does happen. I've only ever heard of one belay loop ever breaking, I'll go with the belay loop as it reduces the odds of biner failure dramatically.

For rappelling the decision is a little more murky. The forces involved on the average rap are generally pretty low (although they can be surprisingly high when rapping on double ropes, remember that's two strands to share the force, resulting in less rope stretch and therefore higher loads on the carabiner if "bounced"). Most carabiners should be more than adequate to handle this sort of load even if cross-loaded or if the gate gets pressed open, so those arguments are slightly less compelling. Overall I'm still inclined to use the belay loop to rap. For starters, it's simpler, cleaner and easier to see what's going on with the device and belay loop connection. Human error happens, a belay loop is just simpler to see those errors. I also don't like having the ropes sliding through the carabiner so close to my tie-in points. It's pretty easy to have the harness bunch up in such a way that the rope runs on the nylon tie-in point during the rap. Nylon running on nylon is really dangerous as most of us know, it melts and cuts very quickly. One rap with a rubbing rope on the harness isn't likely to cut a tie-in point, but it sure could make it a bit weaker, and I'm not confident in knowing how many raps like this would equal failure. A belay loop keeps the device well away from the tie-in points and prevents "bunched up" rubbing on them, the tie-in points need to be absolutely strong for harsh falls.

I also don't like reducing the distance between the "hot" part of the carabiner and my tie-in points. With a belay loop the distance or "heat sink" is the full size of the carabiner, but may only be a few cm of the carabiner if the carabiner is through the tie-in points. Likely not a big deal but, over years of use, ?

The final thing I don't like about using the tie-in points instead of the belay loop for raps is related to the closeness of the belay device--it's a lot easier to get clothes, gear etc. stuck into the device. While this is not normally fatal, I do remember getting my shirt stuck into my belay device years ago. At the time I felt fortunate to be carrying a knife; in retrospect, any blade near a rope I'm hanging on is a really stupid idea... I've also seen people rapping with the device on a long sling, this isn't good as it's easier to get hair stuck into the device, I've seen that happen a few times too. A belay loop seems about right.

One thing I am considering using more often is a backup prussic knot of some kind. I've always thought these added more complexity than they were worth--I've seen all sorts of cluster fucks on rap with people using backups. Some were pretty funny, some were potentially life-threatening (dark, -20, the prussic freezes to the rope after weighting it and the climber is left hanging there on an ice climb trying to sort it all out). I've seen far more potentially "bad" situations than I have situations where the person was potentially "saved." I do put knots in the ends of my ropes on "mystery raps" in the dark. In my mind knots in the end of the rope on any "suspect" rap are way better than a prussic, most people's reaction to falling is to grab the prussic knot, which then just slides uselessly down the rope. I've seen a few accidents where people rapped off the ends of their ropes, a prussic knot wouldn't have done anything as the rope goes through the device so fast that the person would have to be thinking not to "squeeze" the knot as the ropes went through the device and toward the knot, I just don't see that happening. Prussic knots may be useful for those raps where the ends of the ropes are hanging in space, but in that situation the prussic knot is only useful if you know the ends of the ropes are hanging in space and stop early, before the ends of the ropes. If you know that then why would you take it to the ends of the rope anyhow? And if you're rapping into suspect terrain/rope combinations then you ought to have knots in the ends of the ropes anyhow... As for falling rocks etc. the equation comes down to how many problems I've seen with backups vs. how many times I've been smacked stupid on rap by a rock. Lots, and never are the answers. Wait, I just talked myself out of a backup prussic knot, and yet Todd's accident has still got me thinking it might be a good idea...

One of the things Todd was good at was getting people to think, that's reportedly why his corporate presentations were so good (I've only ever seen his climbing talks, which were awesome). So thinking about all of our systems is a good thing, I just wish it didn't take a guy like Todd dying to get me thinking about it this stuff for hours.



Anonymous said...

Ahh – this is what I love – coffee, reading posts, surfing about DH bikes, and reading the usual trash about climber’s egos and such – or the usual posts about routes, then repeat posters slagging and tanget-ing.

Kolin’s report on gear is what should be posted – helpful information from a source with professional credentials.

It does “tweak” me that Skinner’s partner has expressed to the media that Skinner’s harness was worn … We have and do, climb with old stuff, some gear better than other gear – and even the Professional athletes – they actually may be the worst – good thing I’m a sidekick …

If the two tie-in points were worn and a belay loop failure, then the tie-in points should be broken and “released” the loop. The fact of a belay loop releasing all on its’ own is one of those accidents that leaves climbers baffled, engineers running programs and Lawyers leaping tall building to get to the harness manufacturer and to the “victim”.

Here’s an analogy I have used to explain this event to my family and non-climbing friends (yep I actually have them). Brakes and wheels on your vehicle – worn brakes lead to a few things – poor stopping distance, noise, and if very bad, seizing onto the rotor – this is bad – but does stop your vehicle very well – however, it won’t move after. Do worn braked lead to your wheel falling off your vehicle? NO – this is a separate issue, poor quality nuts or bolts – weak axle – basically failure of equipment/parts that would happen regardless of worn brakes. The fact that reminds me of this – I saw a 2006 Toyota Tundra crew cab on the street – dry roads – driver, who knows, but seemed as he was going at a curb and decided to simply run over it – this is a big-sized 4x4 truck – his front right wheel came off – the tow truck driver stared at it with bug-eyed amazement.

The fact that a belay loop fails and releases from the harness is simply that – it would release regardless of worn tie-in points or brand new ones. KN and such – yeah! Pretty hard to create that much force on a rappel even if you are the size of this pages blogger!!!!

The fact that Skinner’s belay loop failed should be investigated and the results will help the engineers for future modifications – if required. The results of why the loop “released” will not help his family, friends deal with the loss. Accidents totally suck in any form of daily life, but climbing ones often hold the ultimate loss.

As sport climbers, where falling is part of the “process”, we ask a lot of our gear, knots, webbing, bolts, rope, carabineers, devices and partners – these all combine to keep us from hitting the ground. Gravity is gnarly and when you add in a sport that tries to defy it, when accidents occur, they are often nasty with the best results long-stays in hospitals and the normal results are often fatal.

Compare this to DH/Freeriding, where speed, stunts and testosterone combine for stellar wipeouts often leading to hospital visits. But when gear failure happens, the hospital visit is the norm.

As for the gear issue, you are fully sponsored and should not have “crappy” gear – in fact, it should be the best, as you represent the companies whom support you. How would it look if your Fusion’s looked like Buszowski’s? Yeah! The man can use’em like no one else, but he likes the look of them, beat up, understated. On that note, they pretty much give you a glimpse of what his garage looks like!

Let’s get one thing straight – CLIMBING IS DANGEROUS – ACCIDENTS OFTEN RESULT IN DEATH – we read this many times, but often ignore it – many of us have been “lucky” and many of our FRIENDS have not – this part really SUCKS and causes huge damage and turmoil to those who lose their loved ones.

Back-up of back-ups? Yep, making me pissy – this is a good one. I’ve had a few battles with ACMG guides on the usage of a back-up on a back-up – this simply states that the 1st one is NO good and that the original system WILL fail! I am not stating that back-ups are not good – crap, you don’t use just one anchor point – 2 points for anchors minimal. Of course, like life, this is subjective – simply be reasonable – if your choice was 2 lodge-pole pines about 2” in diameter or a 20’ Sequoia?

I considered Skinner a good friend – I spent about 4 years climbing with him and the crew in Lander, Wyoming during the early 1990’s – it was one of the best areas and times for climbing – hard routes, full-on wilderness, and none of them BOULDERITES or SLCers - whining about temps, hikes, pockets … except CG came, got a good kicking and left. Yep, a transgression …

The accident ought to remind all of use climbers that we are fortunate to be climbing and some of us have been lucky with “almost-accidents”.

The following is of no direct relation to Skinners Accidental death and a transgression from the original post – THE INDUSTRY IS FAILING:
The fact that many climbers feel the need to trump others with feats of bigger balls, by using less gear, moving quicker over slow terrain; using or not-using bolts, pitons, jumars, fixed lines, ladders, aid - pulling on gear all in the name of a faster free ascent – simply go to the bar, whip it out and start measuring – this will save a lot of time and trouble.

The frequented reports of X and Y doing a quicker ascent of a route they may have done hundreds of times is LAME, the seldom reports of climbers doing their hardest send for the first time is COOL, no matter the grade. First Free Ascents of big aid routes is full-on WICKED, this is climbing to a free climber. On this, why is this more impressive and acceptable, than someone repeating a sport route the same way?

Climbing used to be about freedom, evolution, movement – now it has become a method to make money (EVEREST) at any cost – to inflate oneself and degrade others. We all used to hope that professionalism would lead to a better climbing industry – one that would propel vision and levels, plus open the industry up to a larger field. Now we have climbers who get known for repeating a route faster on every ascent of the route they have wired. But we do have 15a and V15 – pretty cool. We have athletes who push their discipline to new levels and bring in more climbers. We have Sharma – stupendously good, but I will note that deep water soloing is cool, but very limiting to most of the climbing world and showing them that climbing is not really dangerous – as you can repeatedly fall from 65 feet and not get injured. This is not Sharma’s fault – so I better say what I want: THE CLIMBING MEDIA IN NORTH AMERICA IS DOING CLIMBING A DISSERVICE.

The media reports on events like this and others only show what 1% of the climbers (if that) are capable of doing. To show/report events that are higher caliber grade/effort/skill wise show evolution and dedication and attraction, but if these events are not readily accessible for the general climbing industry, they become a disservice – elitism. We need the industry to show and feel the passion for climbing, while providing access for the general climber. The industry needs respect – snow-sports got it, even though boarding has the drug/sex persona, but the general boarder can try PRO riding style on a smaller scale – smaller drops, speeds … the snow industry PROs have the ability to generally show they are accessible for the general rider – climbing does not have this – the small percentage show access, the majority show elitism. Climbing needs to show more of what climbers are about, not just what they are capable of doing.

The companies need to strive to do this – most have climbers running and working in them – and those that recognize this will not only do well financially, but will grow the industry. This goes to those who think they will make money in this industry – FIRST thing, build on climbing, provide dedication and passion – this will be seen and in turn will provide financial gains – which in turn will help grow the industry more, alongside your company. BDEL has done this the best and are where they are because of commitment like this. PRANA is another who exemplifies this as well.

Many companies, some I’ve been involved in recently, have not succeeded – because they chose money first and foremost in an industry where money is scarce. I had tried to instill the motto/belief - build it and the rewards will follow - show true passion and dedication to the industry itself. This industry is NOT like other industries where money rules. The climbing industry needs money, but like climbers, relies on dedication perseverance and honesty. We need a bigger funnel to survive and grow.

This is why the media currently sucks – they have the ability to be the biggest part of increasing the community, but rely on old, dated and elitist principles. If they read more internet forums, after filtering the BS, they’d realize that the world is keener on grass-roots events than “Dudes – ascent of .16a - 800ft water solo - at 8,000m – wearing nothing at all, then repeating it for the 100th time faster by 1ms”

Climbing is awesome, but I must admit that after 5 months of no-climbing, and DH/Freeriding – I realized that those people have fun, support others, actively help their bros who may be sending the biggest drop that they have not yet done, and when sent they are psyched to get their bro to send it. Think of it this way, the more PROs, the more filtered out the a-hole-pros become and then the general public sees passion, dedication and the “want” to “get-amongst-it” – they see that they can do this – the best thing I have got out of the DH/Freeride scene. I never hear “how-many-tries”? How long you ‘been working this? I am not talking about myself, but the DUDES trying to send the biggest drops and stunts dealing with each other – a refreshing view of sports.

JD LeBlanc

Will Gadd said...

Right on JD, good to see a solid rant!

I agree that climbing is ultimately about getting out and doing it with buds, a lot of the rest is ego and not as much fun. Ultimately we as climbers shape our own experiences, so if something is getting us down then we can either change the structure or change our involvement with it. I like to climb with some of the "best" climbers, and also some of the, well, not-so-best, grin, it's all about what attitude they bring to the climb and what it feels like out at the crag or wherever.

I'd like to think I'm pro-climbing first and a "pro" climber second. The climbing I do for me, the posing I do after a climb is the professional "work" part. That's why I call myself a professional poseur, grin, there are no professional climbers. It's not like we're fixing pipes or building anything while we go climbing, it's about going climbing 'cause it's more fun than working at the desk...

Keep the rant alive.


mark said...

great story about Todd's accident, and how to prevent it happening again! One thing you haven't mentioned is to build in a backup to the harness itself. I learned this trick from a well known climber here in Seattle - Larry Kemp. Larry taught me to use one inch webbing for wearing my chalk bag. Tie it with a water knot around your waist. When you tie in, belay, or rappel, clip or tie the locker or rope though the normal harness points, and the chalk bag sling. It's a back up harness.
When I'm rapping, sometimes it weights the chalk bag sling directly, so I clip a locker from the chalk bag sling to the rappel locker to put some slack in the back up, and weight the harness properly. It works like a charm and would have saved Todd, as well as several other people.
Mark Webster