Innovations in Climbing: Quickdraws

by Maya Jaffe / 

You made it through the crux section you’ve rehearsed for weeks, and desperately find the rest. You shake out and assess what’s to come. Halfway up the route you’ve reached the second crux, a technical crimp through a roof. You backstep for full extension, grab the rope, clip the draw, and exhale, silently relieved at the ease with which the permadraw was clipped.

The evolution of the sport of rock climbing can very broadly be categorized by its early history in mountaineering and adventure climbing through siege-like expeditions. This eventually lead to traditional climbing by ‘free ascent’, and finally the most modern form of roped climbing – sport climbing. It differs from its predecessors by allowing the athlete to focus on sheer movement and route difficulty rather than danger or conquest. Sport climbing would not be possible, let alone as widely popular, without this month’s innovation in climbing, the quickdraw.

 

Quickdraw Anatomy
Anatomy of the Quickdraw

The name ‘Quickdraw’ was likely coined in multiple origins, but was being used as early as 1970 in reference to a sling doubled up with carabiners on both ends. Prolific Colorado climber Jim Erikson is accredited with creating the first quickdraw, the ‘UrQuickdraw’, to more conveniently clip protection on traditional climbs. This set up of slings doubled up with carabiners on both ends is still used today as ‘alpine draws.’ As for the term ‘Dogbone,’ so called because of its appearance, the name was popular amongst riggers in reference to a 2 foot piece of steel with a swaged eye on each end.

Beyond being the founder and CEO of Momentum, Jeff Pedersen was a key developer at our local, world famous crags, American Fork and Maple Canyon. The visionary sport climber recollects his personal history with quickdraws, and their use in local climbing lore. During sport climbing’s infancy in the mid 1980s, the climbers would clip two carabiners directly together– one to the hanger and the other for the rope. Clipping two carabiners together has its roots in aid climbing, where there is protection every body length thus minimizing the dangers of back-clipping due to the multitude of backups. However, when applied to sport climbing, one had to be extremely careful the rope was clipped in the proper orientation – “There wasn’t even the lingo of back-clipping back then!” says Pedersen.

Jeff Pederson's Early Draws
Jeff Pedersen’s personal dogbone and carabiner timeline: Draws in the 1980s evolved from (1) open webbing to (2) having sewn loops for each carabiner to fit snug. DMM’s Mamba (3) was the first to sew the rope carabiner into the draw. The Mamba’s steep price left most sport climbers to use (4) a hair tie to keep the carabiner in place. Eventually, Petzl’s rubber STRING (5) and other rubber keepers took the place of the hair tie in the late 90s.

Shortly after this, Pedersen remembers knotting together 1 inch (“If you were really slick, 9/16”) webbing to create the dogbone portion of a draw and using two oval carabiners to complete the quickdraw. The obvious disadvantage, aside from the bulk, is that the knot used to tie the sling could loosen up. Every time a knot is introduced, overall strength is reduced, thereby increasing the potential for catastrophic failure. The sewn sling minimized that possibility from occurring.

Sewn slings first emerged in the late 1980s as open slings, which eventually became sewn dogbones with closed loops on either end to facilitate keeping the carabiner in place. In the quickdraw’s earliest phase, Jeff recalls the carabiners and dogbones were sold seperately, “First, you’d pick twenty biners off the wall, then buy 10 slings. You could really customize your rack in a unique way.”

The advantage of the stiff dogbone was the more captive bottom ‘biner aided significantly the climber’s ability to clip the rope. With open slings, Pedersen remembers it was common to use tape and hair ties to keep the bottom carabiner captive. The first dogbones with a sewn portion for the sling did not have a rubber keeper and as such “You just had to hope the carabiner would stay in place.” In Petzl’s 1995 catalog they debuted their patented rubber STRING to ensure the carabiner remained in place.

Petzl STRING
Petzl’s rubber STRING holds the rope end carabiner in place on the quickdraw, and has the added benefit of protecting the sling against wear.

The evolution of the dogbone and sport climbing specific gear also propelled the evolution of sport climbing specific carabiners. As sport climbing gained popularity, so did the need for ergonomic, lightweight, and strong carabiners. As Jeff Pedersen stated, “We’re not standing on a big fat ledge anymore, we’re on tiny holds with our hands opening, and we want to hurry up and clip!”

The first sport climbers were using oval carabiners on both ends of the draw, and this eventually morphed into the more ergonomic D shaped carabiner. In the final Chouinard Equipment catalog, released in 1989, the bent gate carabiner was introduced. Doug Heinrich, VP of Equipment at Black Diamond, recollects Latok’s bentgate as one of the first, created by Jeff Lowe. Having a bent gate, as opposed to straight one was the greatest innovation in sport climbing draws at the time, as it encouraged clipping with its shape.

Pedersen reflects on yet another added benefit of the bent gate, “You no longer were mixing notched out steel biners with the rope end biners,” meaning that a carabiner that was sharpened by a bolt hanger would never be used on the rope side of a draw, which could result in cutting the rope. After the innovation of the bent gate, carabiners were further modified for sport climbing needs. Black Diamond came out with the hotwire carabiner, which used a wire gate in order to prevent gate shutter (the gate partially opening during a fall). This was inspired by the sailing industry, which already employed the use of wire gated carabiners. In the 1990s, the Black Diamond carabiner was further modified by adding a key lock to the carabiner, ensuring that the carabiner remains snag free.

Chouinard Equipment Carabiners
Chouinard Equipment Carabiner Evolution: 1973 catalog image of an oval carabiner, in the 1980 catalog the D shape was introduced, and finally, the 1989 catalog’s debut of the bentgate.
Black Diamond's Carabiner History
Black Diamond Carabiner Timeline: early Chouinard carabiners (the oval and D), the eventual bentgate, the fin, hotwire gates and various basket shapes, to the eventual key lock.

DMM’s Lisa Gnade boasts that in 1990, their Mamba was the first quickdraw to be sold as an entire unit, and the carabiners were the first to be hot forged. DMM’s website explains, “Hot Forging allows far more intricate, ergonomic design and featuring in a product to give maximum strength to weight ratios and dynamic characteristics in use.“ As a dealer, Pedersen’s first purchase of a complete quickdraw was a Bluewater product in 1996 sold “at 10 bucks a pop.” Today, draws can be purchased from a myriad of companies, and they are generally sold in packs of six.

With origins in traditional climbing, sport climbing draws are a microcosm of the evolution of climbing as a sport in general. The draws evolved and so did the shape of the sport– from mountaineering to the pursuit of climbing as an athletic sport. Quickdraws gave climbers the ability to introduce clipping stances as a part of one’s beta, minimizing the need for rest stances and allowing the sport to evolve and push further into the future. Today, on some of the world’s steepest cliffs there are even permadraws, the next step for quickdraws. These fixed steel draws can stand up to the elements and allow the climber the luxury of working moves without needing to clean the route. Quickdraws, permadraws, and today’s hard sport climbing areas are inextricably linked and because of that, quickdraws are one of the main ingredients pushing climbing difficulty and the athletic side of the sport forward.

FURTHER READING:

1957 Summit Magazine recommends knotting webbing for versatile runner use

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a2/Conn_-_The_versatile_runner_-_Summit_Nov_1957.pdf

An extensive guide to carabiner anatomy

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/quickdraws-a-guide-for-climbers

Carabiners of all shapes and sizes explained

http://www.climbing.com/gear/the-carabiner-handbook/

Forum discussing quickdraw history

http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=2825855&msg2825880#msg2825880

Hot and Cold forging explained

https://web.archive.org/web/20130205154432/http://www.rockandice.com/lates-news/hot-versus-cold-forging

A bystander’s perspective of Chouinard carabiner history

http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1327553/Chouinard-carabiner-Timeline-Identification-Guide-1968-89

The History of Black Diamond Equipment

http://blackdiamondequipment.com/en/about-us.html

Learn more about the visionary climber Jeff Lowe and his company

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Lowe

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