How to Choose the Best Locking Carabiners (and Giveaway)

 

How to Choose the Best Locking Carabiner

Locking carabiners are an integral part of the climbers kit. In this post we are going to take a close look at the notable differences in styles, shapes, and mechanisms along with making suggestions as to where in the climbing system certain models are best suited for both convenience and greater security.


Screwgate Locking Carabiners

Petzl Attache Locking Carabiners

The most common style of locking carabiner is the traditional screwgate. This style has a “sleeve” on the gate that can be twisted until the sleeve is over a potion of the carabiner reducing the chance of the gate opening in any situation. A common error for beginning climbers is to screw this sleeve to tightly when locking the carabiner and finding it difficult to unscrew after the carabiner has seen load. Best practice is to simply screw the sleeve to where it stops easily turning then stop. Do not give it that “extra” turn. Then perform a quick “squeeze” test to verify the carabiner is locked. These carabiners are suitable for any use in the climbing system from belaying and anchoring to creating a top-rope master point. I prefer a screwgate as my personal anchor carabiner while multi-pitch climbing since auto-locking styles do not facilitate tying a clove-hitch on to the carabiner as smoothly as a screwgate that you can leave unlocked until you want to lock it. You can see that process in this quick video:

I also think a pair of the Petzl Attaches is the best choice for a top-rope master point and I carry two dedicated to this use. The reason these excel at this use is Petzl designed some grooves in the sleeve that interlock with the forged ribs of a reverse and opposed Petzl Attache. When used in this configuration the slightest of load basically eliminates the ability for these carabiners to unlock by vibration or even intentional hands. If you’ve ever arrived at a top-rope anchor to discover a locking carabiner has become unlocked during your session you’ll appreciate this added security feature in addition to the more well known “unlocked” red indicator, a nice visual clue that the carabiner is not locked.

Petzl OK Locking Carabiner and Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley
Petzl OK Locking Carabiner and Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley

Another screw gate carabiner I carry is the Petzl OK Locking Carabiner.  This carabiner is in a symmetrical oval shape which makes it ideal for use in both aid climbing and big wall climbing with the Petzl Ascension Handled Ascender. For improvised rescue (both multi-pitch trad and glacier travel) it pairs perfectly with the Petzl Tibloc. For use in a self-belay top-rope system (or a more robust rescue system) it pairs perfectly with the Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley pictured above.

Petzl William Locking Carabiner
The Petzl William Locking Carabiner easily organizes 6 quick-draws, 4 alpine draws, and my two “mini-quads“.

I do carry one larger Petzl William Locking Carabiner shown above which has a few advantages over the smaller locking carabiners I have already mentioned. If I need to lower someone with a Munter-Hitch the wider “rope end” shape of the carabiner offers smoother lowering even when using thicker ropes. There are also some situations where a large locking carabiner can make a convenient easy-to-use “master-point” at the anchor when climbing in parties of 3 or more. I also find this carabiner to be a convenient way of keeping my quick-draws and alpine draws organized before or after the climb.

One final thought on screwgate carabiners… it has been noted that these mechanisms can be less prone to “gunking up” in dirty environments. For ice climbing I have not found them to be less prone to getting iced up then any other style of carabiner. See the maintenance section near the end of this post for tips on prevention.


Twist Lock Carabiners

The next style we are going to look at is a locking mechanism that requires some care to be safely used. Twist Lock carabiners have a spring loaded sleeve that self-rotates into the locked position when the gate is closed. The advantage is the carabiner locks itself quickly. Popular models in this category are the Black Diamond Twistlock Carabiner, the Petzl Am’D Locking Carabiner and the Petzl Sm’D Locking Carabiner (both available in other locking styles). There is potentially less security in this style in the event of moving rope or a wrongly clipped belay loop that could press across the locked gate unlocking and opening it in an alarming fashion. This is best shown in a quick video clip:

 

While there are not many documented cases of this style failing there are a few incidents where this style might have contributed to a climber becoming disconnected from their rope system. Details are sparse enough that it could be fairly considered rumor. Regardless these carabiners are best used within the climbing system where there will not be moving rope going through them and their position can be monitored to ensure no unintended “unlocks”.

Some examples of where I would discourage their use:

  • Rappelling with a tube style (Black Diamond ATC/Petzl Verso) device. It is conceivable that the carabiner could rotate into a position where either the climbing rope or the belay loop of the harness could press against the spring loaded sleeve in a manner that could cause it to open like demonstrated in the video above.
  • Anchoring in on multi-pitch climbs, especially if in a larger climbing party. For starters it is a little less smooth tying a clove-hitch on to the carabiner when the carabiner looks itself when ever the gate closes. Also any moving rope, cordage, or slings above your anchor carabiner run a risk, however small, of passing over the gate in a potential fashion to open the gate.

Some examples of where they would be appropriate:

  • Rappelling with a figure-8 style device. While not very common in rock climbing circles these devices are still preferred for caving, spelunking, canyoneering, and rescue. The difference between this and a plate style device is the moving rope does not pass through the carabiner greatly reducing the chance of it coming into any contact with the gate. Care should still be used when loading the system that the belay loop is not twisted and the carabiner is in position to be loaded properly along its main axis.
  • Belaying with a brake assisting device like the Petzl GriGri2 or GriGri+. Since the climbing rope does not go through the carabiner with these devices the risk of unintended opening is almost nil. Care should still be used when loading the system that the belay loop is not twisted and the carabiner is in position to be loaded properly along its main axis.
  • Added security at static points in a climbing system. For example to secure one leg of a multi-leg static top-rope anchor. Once the system is set up and loaded there is virtually no risk of anything coming in contact with the sleeve. Essentially Twist Lock carabiners are best used in places where they will not be exposed to much moving material.

Triple Action Locking Carabiners

Petzl OK Triact with Petzl GriGri2
Petzl OK Triact with Petzl GriGri2

This category offers a fair amount of extra security over Twist Lock carabiners. While there are some variations within this category essentially a Triple Action carabiner requires three “actions” to unlock and open. In comparison it could be argued a Twist Lock under the right (or wrong) circumstances only requires one action to unlock and open (see video above). Popular styles include:

Petzl William Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock

Petzl Am’D Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock

Petzl Sm’D Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock

Petzl OK Locking Carabiner: Available in Ball-Lock and Tri-Act Lock


Let’s look at the main difference between Petzl’s two Triple Action options. The following is from Petzl.com:

BALL-LOCK

Petzl Ball-Lock Carabiners
Petzl Ball-Lock Carabiners

ERGONOMICS

Advantages:

• Rapid auto-locking

• Visual locking indicator

Disadvantages:

• Sleeve must be unlocked each time the carabiner is opened

• Tricky sleeve operation, especially with gloves, requires practice. System is less “ambidextrous” than the others

• Two hands needed to insert a device into the carabiner

SAFETY

Advantages: 

• Security of triple action locking (excluding rubbing and external pressure)

• Rapid auto-locking

Risks:

• Chance of improper locking when the carabiner closes (e.g. sling caught between the nose and the gate). The user must verify that the carabiner is properly closed and locked, even when using an auto-locking system

TRIACT-LOCK

Petzl Triact Locking Carabiners
Petzl Triact Locking Carabiners

ERGONOMICS

Advantages:

• Rapid auto-locking.

Disadvantages:

• Sleeve must be unlocked each time the carabiner is opened

• Tricky sleeve operation, requires practice

• Two hands needed to insert a device into the carabiner

SAFETY

Advantages:

• Security of triple action locking (excluding rubbing and external pressure)

• Rapid auto-locking

Risks:

• Chance of improper locking when the carabiner closes (e.g. sling caught between the nose and the gate). The user must verify that the carabiner is properly closed and locked, even when using an auto-locking system

• Sensitivity to mud or other foreign objects that can impede auto-locking

This style of carabiner is an excellent choice for dedicated belay/rappel carabiners, plate style belay devices, and brake assisting devices like the Petzl GriGri2 and GriGri+ (review here).


Some other Triple Action options

DMM Big Boa HMS Carabiner: Available in “Locksafe” option

DMM Aero HMS Carabiner: Available in “Locksafe” option

DMM Rhino Carabiner: Available in “Locksafe” option

Mad Rock Hulk HMS Carabiner: Available in “Triple Lock”

CAMP USA Guide XL Carabiner: Available in “3Lock”


Magnetic Auto-Locking Carabiners

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner

While a small category in the industry this is my most favored style of auto-locking carabiner. Namely the Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner. This innovative style uses a magnetic system to lock the carabiner the moment the gate shuts. To unlock the carabiner one must pinch both sides of the gate. This motion is quickly mastered with either hand making this a very easy style to operate (yet next to impossible to create a scenario where the rope or a belay loop could mimic this pinch). After three winters of use I’ve had no issues with the mechanism getting iced up. Essentially I find these to be the fastest and most secure option in two places in my climbing system. First I use one for my main belay/rappel carabiner. Zero chance of forgetting to lock this important attachment and while it seems trivial the few seconds saved at every transition can add up. Second I use two on my plaquette style belay device.

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner
Black Diamond VaporLock and RockLock Magnetron Carabiners with the Kong GiGi

Pictured here is my KONG GiGi but the popular Petzl Reverso 4 and Black Diamond ATC Guide would be a common substitute. Since some may ask about the GiGi I’ll add here that I typically am guiding with two clients so often I belay two ropes simultaneously. This can trash a guide’s elbows and shoulders over decades of yarding up rope and the Kong GiGi helps by having less resistance when pulling slack. I do also carry a Petzl Reverso 4 for rappels and as a “back-up” should anyone drop their belay device on a multi-pitch climb.


Maintenance

Depending on the environment you climb in you may need to do some light maintenance to keep your locking carabiners functioning properly. In the Northeast I don’t find my locking carabiners needing much attention and probably give them a tune up every 3-5 years if they haven’t incurred enough wear to be retired. Climbing in soft dusty deserts might require a more regular maintenance cycle. Luckily it isn’t that hard. If a gate or sleeve is sticking or feels “gritty” wash the carabiner in a warm soapy wash. An old toothbrush can help if they are really gunked up. Rinse well. Apply a quality lube like Metolius Cam Lube. I’ve also had great results with Teflon based bike lubricants. DO NOT use WD-40 as this spray really attracts dust and dirt and you’ll find yourself back in the kitchen sink pretty quickly.


My Kit

After reading all this you might be wondering how many locking carabiners I carry. I see quite a few newer climber carrying an excess of locking carabiners on their harnesses. If you think carefully about your climbing system you can streamline it which will help make you a more efficient all-around climber. Here’s exactly what I carry for multi-pitch traditional or alpine climbing:

Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron Carabiner paired with my Petzl Reverso 4

Black Diamond VaporLock and RockLock paired with my Kong GiGi

Petzl Attache dedicated to being my anchor carabiner, doubles as my third-hand back-up during rappels

Petzl William Locking Carabiner for racking my draws, munter-hitches, master-points

If we will be top-roping I add two Petzl Attaches per top-rope system I’m setting up.

So that’s only 5 locking carabiners with specific jobs for multi-pitch climbing and another 2 for top-roping. As always if you find yourself short a locking carabiner somewhere you feel you need one you can use two non-locking carabiners with gates reversed and opposed.


Related

Tying a Clove-Hitch on the Carabiner

Tying a Munter-Hitch on the Carabiner

Gear for Top-Roping

Improved Belay Checks


Summary/Giveaway

Hopefully this post has been informative and will help you optimize the amount and style of locking carabiners you spend your money on. There are so many options out there these days and it is helpful to recognize where one style may more more convenient, or even more secure, than another style. Drop a comment below on anything related to this post and your name will be entered into a drawing for a brand new Petzl Am’D BallLock Carabiner! Drawing will be held on October 31st at 12 PM EST and winner announce here and contacted via email.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



Links above are affiliate links. By making a purchase you support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Do you need to back-up your tie-in knot?

Back up tie-in knot?
Image by @coreyoutdoors

The short answer is no. I recall reading an article in a popular climbing magazine about a decade ago where an IMFGA guide was encouraging climbers to stop “backing up” their tie-in knot. While the logic in the article was quite sound tying “back-up” knots above your standard Figure Eight Follow Through is still somewhat popular even ten years later.

Backing up your tie-in knot
A commonly used back-up knot is the barrel knot tied over the lead line

We crave redundancy. Change is hard. “Safety” is elusive. “Experts” are everywhere. While researching this topic and polling various climbing forums opinions were all over the place. There was a mix of old school “this is how I learned 25 years ago” and new age “our climbing gym requires us to or we fail our belay test”.

Why not tie a back-up knot? Why not tie 3 back-up knots just in case the original and first two back-ups fail? To answer these questions with some amount of detail we need to break it down piece by piece, and that’s what we will do, but first let’s set the baseline.

By “tie-in” knot I am referring to the popular Figure Eight Follow Through. This is what the majority of climbers learn is the best knot for attaching the rope to the harness. Some climbers praise how the Double Bowline is somewhat easier to untie than a Figure 8 Follow Through. This is true, but the Double Bowline comes with enough caveats that I think it should not be used as your primary tie-in.

Tying the Figure Eight Follow Through Knot
An easy way to measure if you have enough tail is to “hang ten”

So for the purposes of this article we will be referring to the Figure Eight Follow Through whenever using “tie-in knot”. So why not back-up? Let’s start with the most important and work towards the minutia…

Strong Enough

Simply put a properly tied Figure Eight Follow Through is more than strong enough. How strong is it? In pull tests it breaks at about 75-80% of the ropes full strength. Do you know how much force it takes to break a climbing rope? Enough to not worry about a 15-20% reduction that is for sure! It is slightly stronger than the aforementioned Double Bowline.

Tying into climbing rope

Secure Enough

By “secure” we refer to the ability for the knot to loosen and untie itself through normal use. By design, once tightened, the Figure 8 Follow Through does not loosen. In fact it can be so tough to loosen it that some climbers who work steep overhanging sport projects and take multiple whippers while projecting might choose the easier to loosen Double Bowline in its place. Unless you are taking multiple whippers on overhanging climbs I’d encourage you to stick with the more well known and recognized Figure 8 Follow Through. Note the Double Bowline does require a back-up for security!

Tying into climbing rope
A bad example of tying in… loop formed is way to big and “back-up” knot is likely to jam on gear while following and easily work loose

Properly Tied

That means six inches of tail after the knot is dressed and stressed. To dress the knot try to keep the strands on the same side while tightening the knot. Sometimes I’ll end up with a strand crossing over a strand leaving me with a knot that isn’t “pretty”. This twist does not significantly weaken or reduce its security in anyway. The sometimes heard phrase “a pretty knot is a safe knot” alludes to a pretty knot being easier for a partner to quickly inspect. You do not need to re-tie your knot if you only have a twist in it (but make sure the proper strands run parallel).

Simplicity Rules

Climbing systems are complex enough. We do not need to add complexity for the illusion of being “safer”. Our focus when tying in should always be on tying the correct knot properly, not tying extra knots “in case we mess up the important knot”. That should never happen. Especially if you take your partner check seriously and have a second set of eyes look at your knot before you leave the ground.

Extraneous knots above the tie-in knot make it more difficult for a partner to visually inspect the important knot during the partner check. Not tying “back-up” knots saves time, even if just a little. While following a climb “back-up knots” can catch and jam on protection or quick-draws before you are in a good stance to un-clip them. While lead climbing having a cleaner profile at your tie-in can lead to smoother clips.

The Yosemite Finish

The ideal Figure 8 Follow Through Knot should have a “loop” about the size of your belay loop and 6 inches of tail. No more, no less. If you would like to “secure” your left over tail to keep it from “flapping around” consider the Yosemite Finish. While this is an excellent way to finish your knot it is often tied incorrectly, with climbers partially “un-finishing” their properly tied Figure 8 Follow Through when tucking the tail back into the knot. To maintain full strength and security the tail must wrap around the rope before being tucked back into the lower part of the knot. This maintains original knot strength and security and creates a really low profile knot to facilitate clipping, cleaning, and even rope management at crowded belays. Here’s a short video I created to show the process.

Summary

The majority of climbers these days learn the basics at climbing gyms and the majority of these gyms likely encourage or require this un-necessary redundancy. I offer that we should focus more on better partner checks and proper belaying techniques rather than wasting time backing up things that don’t need to be backed up. What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments below and share within your climbing circles if any of this was helpful!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

UPDATES:

I reached out to UIAA for this article and while they didn’t get back to me in time for press-time I would like to now add their response to my inquiry on this subject:

From my point of view the only “UIAA approval” that could conceivably be construed from our materials currently online and in publication would be from materials in the UIAA Alpine Handbook, which has at least been circulated among enough commission members to be regarded as “UIAA approved” – which is NOT the same as “UIAA recommended”, after all there are “many ways to skin a cat”, and it would be an endless task to try to list them all!

Pages 143 and 189 of the UIAA Alpine Handbook show the use of the rethreaded Figure of 8, which is indeed shown without a stopper knot. However this does not mean that adding a stopper knot is therefore “not UIAA approved”. Adding a stopper knot adds a level of redundancy – and redundancy is a key component of the anchor system (eg the US favoured “ERNEST” and “SERENE” acronyms). If a bowline is used for tying in, the stopper knot is an essential component of the attachment. For a figure of 8 it is an optional extra. 

 Pros and cons of adding a stopper knot:

 Pro: 

    • We need to bear in mind that guidance about tying in has to work for novices as well as for people who have enough experience to make subtle judgements.
    • The stopper knot should be butted up tight against the main knot. This stops the tail creeping out of the knot during extended use.
    • If the stopper knot comes undone, it provides a visual early warning that the knots may not be fully tensioned
    • If the knot isn’t properly “dressed and stressed” the stopper knot will prevent catastrophic failure unless it also comes undone (BUT all knots should always be checked….)
    • Different diameter ropes have different recommendations for the length of the tail. At least if you can tie a double stopper the tail is DEFINITELY long enough.
  • Con:
    • Takes extra time to tie and untie
    • Regularly works loose while climbing, even though the main knot remains perfectly secure
    • A serious disadvantage is that inexperienced/tired people might clip in between the knot and the stopper if the stopper isn’t butted tight against the main knot (BUT it should be).

 We can see from this list that the pros and cons are fairly equally balanced. I would be wary of telling people NOT to use a stopper. By all means recommend that they don’t need one, but you are making a rod for your own back if they make a catastrophic mistake that a stopper knot could have prevented from escalating into an accident. 

 

Thanks to Jeremy Ray for helping capture the images and video used in this post.

Tech Tip- How Not to Fall while Skiing Tuckerman Ravine

With the arrival of April the Spring skiing (and falling) season has started in Tuckerman Ravine. After watching a couple tumble almost 500 feet down “The Lip” yesterday I thought some advice on fall prevention might be prudent.

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
Approximate fall

First tip…

Timing

The snow conditions in Tuckerman Ravine vary greatly this time of year from day to day and often hour to hour. The best type of snow for descending this time of year is referred to as “corn snow”. This is snow that has undergone multiple freeze thaw cycles and looks like little kernels of corn. Backcountry skiers jest that we are “harvesting corn” when the conditions are good. But corn snow is all about timing.

Try to ski too early in the season or the day and the corn hasn’t formed yet. Conditions that promote the formation of good corn snow are close or above freezing temperatures, strong solar radiation, and low winds. Try too ski to late in the day when the sun has dipped below the ridge will often find that the soft buttery edge-able forgiving corn has quickly transformed back into a frozen mess. Literally minutes can make a difference in how a run will ski.

So how do you hit it at the right time? First, you check the Higher Summits Forecast before you even leave Pinkham Notch. You’re hoping that the forecasted temps are at least in the mid to upper 20’s and that summit winds are under 50 mph. You also want to see “Mostly Sunny” or “In The Clear”. Overcast days are not for harvesting corn.

Next you should check the Current Summit Conditions. Specifically what you want from this page is the temperature “profile” that shows what the temperatures are at various elevations on the mountain, wind speeds, and sky condition. This page, along with the Higher Summits Forecast, are both bookmarked on my iPhone for quick daily reference.

Spring Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
MWOBS Current Conditions Page- The ski terrain in the ravine is roughly between 4,200 and 5,200 feet in elevation

Ideally temps in the Ravine will be at or above freezing, winds will be low, and the sky will be mostly clear. The lower charts help identify trends. In the above example the winds have died to almost nothing, temperatures are increasing, and barometric pressure has risen and is holding steady (indicating not a big change for the rest of the day). Visibility however is only 1/8 of a mile with some snow and freezing fog (shown under “weather”)… this means no corn today.

Finally, to determine when the slope you want to descend will lose the sun you have a few tools at your disposal. During trip planning you can use CalTopo’s “Sun Exposure” layer to see when certain aspects and runs will lose the sun. In this example you can see what areas still have sun at 2 PM today.

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine

While actually out skiing you could also use an app like PeakFinder AR. An example of how I might use this app would be climbing up Right Gully and deciding to go ski in the East Snowfields for a bit before returning to descend Right Gully. Halfway up the gully, near the steepest pitch, I open up the PeakFinder app and find the path of the sun. Where it intersects the ridge the app will mark the exact time the sun will go below the ridge line (often an hour or more before true sunset). I know now what time I need to be through this spot if I still want soft snow!

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
This screenshot is not from Right Gully, but demonstrates the capability

Next up let’s look at…

Gear

Later in the season there will likely be established “boot ladders” where dozens, or hundreds, of other visitors will have kicked deep steps into the 40 to 50 degree slopes allowing people to ascend these slopes with little extra gear.

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
A well established boot ladder- photo from OutdoorTripReports.com

However, some of these items could really make a difference early in the season, or later in the day, and also could allow you to travel outside of the established boot ladder, which would make you less of a sitting duck if someone higher up looses their footing. First, the most important…

Helmet!

Skida Headwear Review
The author preparing to descend from 4900 feet in Tuckerman Ravine during mid-winter conditions

Most skiers these days wear helmets at ski resorts while ripping fast groomers and shredding pow in the glades but then many choose not to wear a helmet while skiing in Tuckerman Ravine (which has much more objective hazards than a controlled ski resort). Head injuries can occur from falls, collisions with other skiers, and occasionally falling ice and/or rocks. Most ski helmets though are too hot for a 50 degree sunny day in the ravine, so consider buying or borrowing a well ventilated climbing helmet. The new Petzl Boreo Helmet is an excellent choice at a great price and offers more side impact and lower back protection than most climbing helmets. You can pick one up locally at both International Mountain Equipment and Eastern Mountain Sports.

Mountaineering Axe

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
Crampons and a mountaineering axe provide security on steep firm slopes- photo by Brent Doscher

When the professional rangers of the Mount Washington Avalanche Center say that “long sliding falls” are a specific hazard today one would be wise to carry, and know how to use, a mountaineering axe to arrest or prevent a fall. This would be in hand during the ascent with your ski poles strapped to your pack (baskets up). While there are many models that will suit this purpose I am currently carrying the Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe which is incredibility light-weight (12 ounces) yet still has a steel head and pick. Lots of experienced skiers like the added flexibility of carrying a Black Diamond Whippet Pole instead of a full fledged mountaineering axe, and if snow conditions are soft enough this can be a great option.

Crampons

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
Petzl LLF Crampons- photo from Petzl.com

While an established boot pack might feel secure leaving the boot back or taking the path less traveled may require some traction. Micro-spikes might be helpful on the lower angled hiking trail below Hermit Lake (Hojo’s) but won’t cut it in 40 degree terrain. For snowboard boots check out the Black Diamond Neve Strap Crampons. For those who count ounces and wear technical touring boots my current favorite is the feather-weight Petzl Leopard LLF Crampons.

Education

skiing Tuckerman Ravine
The author heads into steeper terrain in the Gulf of Slides, Mount Washington- photo by Erik Howes

If you would like to take a course in basic crampon and mountaineering axe technique I teach a one-day skills course at Northeast Mountaineering. I also offer Backcountry Skiing Skills Courses along with Ski Mountaineering and this is the perfect time of year to attend one of these courses! Contact me at nealpinestart@gmail.com for availability.

Resources

Higher Summits Forecast

Current Summit Conditions

Mount Washington Avalanche Center

Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol

Time for Tuckerman

Friends of Tuckerman Ravine

Granite Backcountry Alliance

Ski the Whites

Summary

Skiing (and falling) in Tuckerman Ravine is a time-honored tradition and rite-of-passage for many East Coast and beyond skiers. YouTube is full of videos of these falls. Some result in no injury, others result in “snow rash”, bruises, cuts, broken bones, a least one LifeFlight, and occasional fatalities, one of which was exactly 8 years ago. Hopefully the above advice can help prevent a few of these from happening this season. There is a lot of fun and sun to be had in the next few weeks in Tuckerman Ravine but let’s be sure we respect the hazards that exist in our wild places.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

How To: “Belaying in the Gym” by PETZL

Petzl is a well known industry leader in climbing gear and safety. When I first started climbing over 20 years ago I looked forward to each annual Petzl catalog for the wealth of technical information they would include, along with some of the most stunning and inspirational photos! I probably learned as much about climbing from these catalogs back in the day as I learned from that timeless classic Freedom of the Hills!

Petzl Gear Review
The author on the summit of Forbidden Peak, North Cascades, wearing the Petzl Sirocco Helmet and Petzl Sitta Harness

Now Petzl has just launched a new series of downloadable “ACCESS BOOKS”, basically a collection of technical tips centered around one particular aspect of climbing. In their first PDF “booklet” Petzl focuses on indoor climbing.

Petzl Access Books
Petzl Access Books- Download your own copy here.

As always the illustrations are clear and to the point. The techniques described are considered “best practices” throughout the industry. Whether you are a new climber or a salty veteran a little review of the basics never hurts!

Download your own copy here

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

P.S. Speaking of Petzl here are some recent reviews I’ve posted of some of my favorite Petzl gear!

Petzl Sirocco Helmet (2017 model)

Petzl GriGri+

Petzl Sitta Harness

Petzl Hirundos Harness

Petzl Ice Screws (comparison review)

Petzl Bug Backpack

All links are affiliate links and making a purchase through one of them supports Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Tech Tip- Alpine Draws vs Sport Draws for Ice Climbing

I recently conducted an informal survey on a climbing focused Facebook page to determine if what gear I perceive out on our frozen cliffs is an accurate representation of what people are actually carrying.


Ice Climbing Quickdraws
Ice Climbing Quickdraws Survey

I wasn’t too surprised to see the overwhelming majority was using alpine draws (two carabiners and a thin style Dyneema sling clipped in a fashion that allows it to be used short or extended to full length).

ice climbing quickdraws
Alpine Draws vs Sport Draws

In this short opinion post, I aim to convince the majority to re-think their winter “draw” set-up and hopefully gain a bit of efficiency in the process.

Most of us year-round climbers have converted over to these sleek “alpine draws” featured on the left side of the photo above for our traditional and alpine style rock climbing kit. Carrying “shoulder-length” nylon runners over our head with or without a carabiner pre-attached has largely fallen out of style in the last ten or more years (and for good reason IMO). So if you are an “alpine draw” user anyways why should you do anything different for ice climbing? I’d suggest you consider the following;

Drag

Rope drag is not as much of an issue when ice climbing for two reasons. First, rope running over ice/snow creates almost no friction unlike rock. Second, it is easy to arrange protection on a pure ice climb so that it runs almost straight from belay to belay. On most ice routes you almost never need to extend an alpine draw to mitigate friction. The average quick draw offers almost a foot of extension, giving you a 2 foot wide “corridor” of protection with zero increase in friction.

Convenience/Efficiency

Clipping the rope to the draw after clipping the screw is a place where I often see new ice leaders struggle. An alpine draw flops around and does not stay put making clips with gloves on more difficult. Clipping while ice climbing is much more similar to sport climbing where you want a quick fluid clip vs. moderate trad climbing where you could probably just use both hands if you needed to. Having a rigid rope-end carabiner on your ice quick-draws is ideal, and I prefer the larger gate ones like the Petzl Ange L on all my “ice draws”. Efficiency is also gained when the second cleans the screw, as like sport draws rack quicker and easier than alpine draws, especially if they have been “extended” due to perceived friction.

Summary

Just because your system is dialed for traditional rock climbing and alpine doesn’t mean the same system is optimized for waterfall ice climbing. There are definitely outliers when a few alpine draws would be a good idea (not straightforward ice climbing, mixed routes, traverses, etc). I typically carry 1 or 2 alpine draws on these routes and know where I will use them. The rest of my “draw” rack is 8 ultralight quick-draws set up like this:

Screw hanger end carabiner- Petzl Ange S Carabiner– the smaller Ange here is about the lightest most compact choice you can make for the screw hanger side of the quick-draw. Since it is the hanger side it does not need a large gate opening and the MonoFil Keylock wiregate system adds security and clears ice easily.

Petzl ice climbing quickdraws
Petzl Ange S Carabiner- manufacturer photo

“Dogbone”- Petzl 17 cm Finesse Sewn Sling– Super lightweight but the real advantage of this over other nylon sport quick-draws is the Dyneema won’t absorb water like nylon so you will experience less “frozen draws” when using these.

Petzl Finesse Sling
Petzl Finesse Sling- manufacturer photo

Rope end carabiner- Petzl Ange L Carabiner– The larger carabiner on the rope end facilitates both clipping with gloves on and those who climb on double ropes occasionally.

Petzl Ange L Carabiner
Petzl Ange L Carabiner- manufacturer photo

The above set up isn’t the cheapest quick-draw solution out there but I think it is the nicest. At retail this set up runs about $30.85 per quick-draw. You can definitely save some money but getting the pre-built Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraws.

ice climbing quickdraws
Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraw

These pre-built draws will save you about $5 per quick-draw, you just give up the larger rope end carabiner. If you climb with two ropes often it may be worth going for the larger rope end carabiners.


My current optimized draw-rack

Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraws with Petzl Ange L Carabiners on rope end

2 “Alpine Draws” made with Petzl Ange S Carabiners and Mammut Dyneema Contact 8mm Slings

I also carry one cordelette and two “Mini-Quads” that can be used for slinging trees, building anchors, etc.

Ice Climbing Quickdraws
The author on Black Pudding Gully last season before he upgraded his rope end carabiners to all Petzl Ange L’s- photo by @cfphotography

I hope this short post gets you thinking about your “ice kit” a little. You really don’t need all those extendable alpine draws in a pure ice climbing setting. And you’ll definitely save some energy clipping ropes with a stiff sport-style quick-draw!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


Recent Featured Content:

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In other news!

I’m honored to have made this list of the “Top 30 Ice Climbing Blogs“!!!

Pretty blown away to be listed alongside bloggers/climbers like Will Gadd and Ong Strong!

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And if you read this whole thing here’s a TBT cheese video I made 5 years ago when apparently I was still climbing with screamers…

Getting Ready for the Ice Climbing Season

Ice season is coming and while it is taking a little longer to get here than last year that gives you a little more time to get your kit together! Here’s some content I’ve previously posted to help you do just that!

early season ice climbing
Left of Left Gully on November 7th, 2017… that’s in right? photo courtesy of @mjsak

A little stoke video from my season last winter!

 

Gear

Need to upgrade or round out your ice rack? Check out my Ice Screw Comparison article.

Petzl Laser Light Speed Ice Screws
Petzl Laser Light Speed Ice Screws

Thinking about a new set of ice axes for steep ice? I’m excited for my second season on the Cassin X-Dreams that I reviewed here!

ice climbing screw review
The author places a screw on the classic grade 5 backcountry ice climb, Drool of The Beast- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

Time for a new harness? Check out my review of the Petzl Sitta and the Petzl Hirundous!

Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants Review
The Petzl Sitta harness reviewed here. Photo by @cfphotography

Need to update your “Ten Essentials”? You can see exactly what I carry here.

IMG_9187

Need a new ice climbing pack? Check out the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack here!

New ice climbing boots? Have a look at the Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots here.

Knowledge

Bookmark the Avalanche Bulletin and the Higher Summits Forecast so you know what the conditions might be like before you leave the car.

Brush up your avalanche skills. Get your beacon out and practice with your partner! Haven’t taken an avalanche course yet? NOW is the time to sign up for one!

Last chance to sign up for the annual Eastern Snow Avalanche Workshop (ESAW) happening this Saturday in Fryeburg, ME!

You need to get fresh lithium batteries for your headlamp! I always have Energizer AA’s and AAA’s on hand. The best deal I can find on these batteries is on Amazon which is linked here.

Maybe start using a Mini-Quad for your ice anchors?

Master tying the One-Handed Clove-Hitch and a Munter-Hitch on the carabiner (great when dealing with iced up ropes that don’t work well in plaquettes)

Watch an educational and motivational sick video!

I’m predicting we hear about something being climbing this weekend… it will be barely climbable, but will signal the start of the ice season. For us mortals the ice will be reasonable in 2-3 weeks, plenty of time to have your kit together!

See you out there,

Northeast Alpine Start



 

Tech Tip- The Mini-Quad

Originally introduced in the 2006 version of John Long’s Climbing Anchors book the “Quad” took a few years to start being adapted by both guides and recreational climbers alike. Now, ten years later, it has really started to gain widespread popularity for the simplified way it can create ERNEST* anchors, especially when building anchors on two solid pieces of protection (modern bolts, ice screws in solid ice). This past year I’ve been using a super light and rack-able version that I’ve been referring to as a “Mini-Quad”.

*ERNEST- Equalized, Redundant, No (limited) Extension, Timely

Building a Mini-Quad

To build a Mini-Quad start with a 120 cm Black Diamond Dynex Sewn Runner. These are often called “double length” slings as they are twice as long as your standard “shoulder length” sling. Double the runner and get the stitching positioned towards the end before tying the first of two over-hand knots.

Mini-Quad for climbing

The second overhand can be positioned about two inches from the other end of the doubled runner. When optimized the resulting Mini-Quad is about 16 inches long. Once you add two carabiners to it (I use Petzl S Ange Wire Gate Carabiners) your Mini-Quad is ready to be racked or deployed for multiple uses.

Mini-Quad for climbing

Benefits of Dynex for building a Quad

A 120 cm 10mm ultralight Dynex runner weighs 30% less than an nylon runner but more importantly it does not absorb water like nylon making it great for ice climbing and getting caught in the rain on a long alpine route. A nylon double length is also too bulky to get the required over-hand knots to form a use-able size of Mini- Quad. This Dynex runner is also 1/4 of the weight of an 18 foot 6mm cordelette and racks like a quick-draw.

Mini-Quad for climbing
Weighs less than a nylon quickdraw with non-wire gates
Mini-Quad for climbing
Racks like an ultralight quickdraw

Limitation of using Dynex for building a Quad

It should be noted that due to the slippery nature of Dynex the overhand knots used in the construction of the Mini-Quad will tighten significantly over a few days of use. They can become difficult to impossible to untie. I’ve decided to leave these “built” for the entirely of the material life span. For those concerned over the potential reduction in material strength due to the overhand knot I offer the following justification. Conservative testing indicates an overhand can reduce the material strength up to 40%. These runners are tested to 22 Kn, or about 5000 pounds. The most conservative estimates leave 3000 pounds of strength in the material. Given the redundancy of the Quad construction I find this a non-issue. As with all knots and material used in climbing one should inspect them at every use for damage, excessive abrasion, etc.

Uses of the Mini-Quad

This is one versatile tool and I carry two on my harness. The obvious use is in anchor construction. When arriving at a belay station with two modern bolts it takes less than 10 seconds to construct an ERNEST anchor with the Mini-Quad. For sport climbing this speed and simplicity should encourage climbers to choose this method over the popular practice of just using two quickdraws, especially if your group will be top-roping the route for awhile.

In building traditional anchors I still regularly deploy the Mini-Quad. Most of us build gear anchors from 3-4 pieces of protection. The most common method we see people deploy is the classic cordelette-method. While this creates an solid ERNEST anchor it’s downside is when considering the “T” in ERNEST… Timely. The cordelette takes quite a bit of time to deploy and more time to break down and rack when the second is on belay from above. It also requires a lot of material when we can often achieve an ERNEST anchor with little more than a Mini-Quad and perhaps one 2 foot runner. The key here is trying to arrange 2 or more of the pieces of our anchor so they can “be treated” as one. Here are some examples to illustrate this concept.

Mini-Quad for climbing
In this three piece trad anchor we have a solid nut that I extended with a quick draw so that “leg” would be close to what I did next… the Black Diamond C4 Ultralight Camalots were able to be adjusted in the crack so that I could clip them as “one”. This creates an ERNEST anchor with a minimum amount of material and is very fast to construct and break-down and rack.  A critical eye might point out the .5 cam is not sharing the load but there is less than a cm of slack should the bomber .75 cam fail.
IMG_1586.jpg
This anchor has two solid pitons and I added a Black Diamond .3 X4 Camalot. This placement could be moved higher in the crack until I could clip it to the right “leg” of the Mini-Quad with its own carabiner. This creates a solid 3-piece ERNEST anchor with very little material and is super fast to build and de-construct.
IMG_1587.jpg
In this example I’ve placed a bomber 1.5 (brown) CAMP USA Tricam in a passive placement. Just below it is a Black Diamond .4 C4 Camalot Ultralight. The proximity of these two pieces allowed me to connect the Tricam into the Dynex sewn runner on the .4 cam therefore reducing these two pieces of gear “to one” and the other leg of the Mini-Quad goes to the .5 Black Diamond C4 Camalot.
Mini-Quad for climbing
In this example we have two solid pitons at the end of a multi-pitch climb. After deploying the Mini-Quad it takes seconds to add the Black Diamond 1 C4 Camalot Ultralight and clip it to a leg of the Mini-Quad making this a 3 point ERNEST anchor.

Before I move on to other uses of the Mini-Quad I feel the need for a disclaimer here. It’s well known that when someone posts pictures of what they feel are solid anchors they open themselves up to scrutiny. I’ll be happy to discuss these more in the comments below as long as the discussion is civil.

Other uses of the Mini-Quad

The Mini-Quad is an excellent extension for your rappel device should you choose to extend (common practice these days). Because I have two dedicated carabiners for my Mini-Quads the easiest way to use it in this configuration is to attach it to your belay loop with these two carabiners, gates reversed and opposed, then install your rappel device on the far end. This is a very strong redundant connection that does not require you to fish webbing through the tie in point of your harness (not always easy while ice climbing with cold hands). Not looping or girth-hitching a sling through your harness will also reduce wear over time. For the rappel device connection I highly prefer the Black Diamond Magnetron Gridlock, which uses one of the best designs for an “auto-locking” carabiner.

I also occasionally use a Mini-Quad as a regular runner while leading a wandering pitch. It doesn’t weigh much more than an alpine draw and functions as a very redundant 15 inch runner.

Video

 

Summary

With proper application the Mini-Quad has the potential to streamline your anchor building in all facets of climbing. Sport climbers should embrace the added redundancy and better equalization than the dual quickdraw method so embraced today. Traditional climbers will notice an increase in speed for both construction and de-construction of traditional anchors especially on longer routes. Ice climbers will continue to embrace the benefits of the Quad but perhaps now with a lighter more rack-able solution. Guides and trip leaders who often have 3 people in a team will continue to utilize this option and perhaps carry less heavy/bulky cordelette material. If you’ve been using the Quad already check out this “Mini-Quad” version… I think you’ll like it!

Comment and Share!

If you liked this content please let me know by leaving a comment below and/or sharing this post within your climbing circles! Thanks for reading!

References

Various climbing books all listed here.

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous. You can be seriously injured or die. There is no substitute for personal instruction. Seek qualified instruction before attempting anything expressed above. There are no warranties expressed or implied that this post contains accurate information. You are solely responsible for your safety in the mountains.