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TUESDAY NIGHT BOULDERING bühl—a Swiss mountain guide, geologist and president of the Ratikon Climbing Club—became the first known fatality that resulted from a worn carabiner [see Accident Report, page 22]. While working a route, Luginbühl dropped onto a sharp aluminum carabiner; his rope cut and he fell 80 feet. I’m amazed that it took this long for someone to die. In the past three years, there have been at least six accidents in the Red River Gorge where climbers’ ropes were partially severed by sharp carabiners. It says a lot about the strength of ropes that not more people have died. A couple of factors point to impending disasters. First, sport climbing is exploding in popularity, especially in the last 10 years. Consequently, the rate of wear and tear on fixed gear—bolts, fixed draws, anchors—is growing exponentially too. Climbers from 20 years ago may not understand just how quickly this stuff is wearing out. Second, most climbers, being human beings, are horrible at making decisions. Take me, for example. I know what sharp draws look like. I know what bad bolts look like. I’ve memorized Freedom of the Hills, and taken the unspoken oath to be personally responsible for my own safety. I know how to escape belays, have rigged Z-pulleys, and have gotten myself out of some tough pickles. Yet at Santa Linya, I climbed a number of routes outfitted with sharp(ish), dangerous(ish) pre-hung aluminum quickdraws. Sometimes I’d be onsighting a difficult section, and I clipped without much more

I’m amazed it took this long for someone to die. It says a lot about the strength of ropes. than a cursory glance at the hardware. Other times, I’d be working a route, hangdogging and falling on a quickdraw, and could see my rope abrading. But after feeling the biner, I’d decide that the biner wasn’t sharp enough to sever my rope and that I could “get away” with more falls. Worst case, I’d have to trim my rope end after the burn. Further, because I wasn’t at my home crag, I didn’t feel responsible for replacing the manky biner with one of my own. I would probably never, ever do the route again. At my home crag, I wouldn’t hesitate to strip some bad gear. But like 99 percent of the other climbers at Santa Linya that week, I was a visitor. I’ll bet a new 80-meter bicolor rope that those draws are still there, and that dozens of other climbers have since done the same thing I did. Eventually, the crux biner will get bad enough that someone will have to swap it out—likely with another aluminum carabiner. Hopefully this happens before there’s that one time—when the climber is heavy enough, the fall is big enough, the rope is worn enough and the carabiner is sharp enough—that you don’t “get away” with one more ascent. The perma-draw debate is waging online. It’s something that every community with a popular crag has had to discuss. I’ve noticed people using the term “perma draw” incorrectly: to mean both abandoned aluminum quickdraws as well as fixed steel ones. Let’s define some terms: “Project Draws” mean regular quickdraws—with aluminum carabiners and nylon slings—that sit on a route for so long that, like a hippie squatting on your couch, they become accepted as “permanent” fixtures despite being as easy to remove as unclipping a carabiner. Sometimes, Project Draws seem to belong to no one. They are there for all climbers’ convenience and are maintained in a piecemeal fashion, with climbers swapping out old biners or slings for newer ones as needed. Most Project Draws, however, belong to an individual actively working to redpoint the route. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are in

Rock and Ice #208  

Rock and Ice #208, March 2013