By George North
Intrinsic cowardice is not conducive to sport climbing. Whilst its certainly not as significant a handicap as it is to trad climbers, it’s still not really a desirable trait. I have recently embraced sport climbing, and coming from a bouldering background it is very much the physical challenge that I enjoy. I like to think that my cowardice is slowly dwindling, but this is due in no small part to the use of a clipstick to help build my confidence. These little devices have a myriad (well, roughly 3 1/2) of uses and are more than a little comforting, not least because their ubiquity proves I’m not the only scaredy cat out there!
In the UK, there is really only one player in this market; Beta Climbing Designs. These ‘Beta sticks' are widely available, fairly cheap and fantastically well designed. They offer a range of different lengths from 9ft to 18ft and also a ‘technical’ version which collapses like a set of tensioned, heavy duty tent poles, rather than the telescopic action employed by its counterparts. This is designed primarily for multi-pitch routes, but is also suited to travel due to its light weight and relatively small pack size. Whilst the Beta stick is the national staple, there are a couple of other ingenious products out there that are well worth consideration. Namely the Trango Squid and the Rock Climbing Tools Superclip. These both come as the ‘head’ only, and leave you to provide the stick, most likely to be a painters pole from your local DIY store, which is conveniently threaded to accommodate the Trango Squid. Neither of these products seem to be widely distributed in the UK, which is likely to account for why they are not more popular. The table below summarises the Betastick clipsticks. For comparison the typical B & Q extension pole, which is the likely companion to a Trango Squid, has been included.
|Model||Extended (cm)||Collapsed (cm)||Weight (g)||Price (£)|
|Trango Squid with B&Q Pole||200||120||80+350 = 430||18+5.65 = 23.65|
So then, the first thing to address is what can a clipstick do for you? The following few paragraphs will focus on the Beta Designs stick for simplicity, after which we will look at the variations offered by its competition. The most obvious and fundamental use of a clipstick is to allow you to pre-clip the first bolt to prevent a ground fall if you balls things up early on. This can obviously be extrapolated to the nth bolt depending on the length of your stick, height of the bolts etc. It’s actually possible to pre-clip the lower off of Harry Tuttle at the G spot! Though this says more about the validity of that line as a route than anything else. Pre-clipped first/second bolts are now pretty much standard, with higher bolts sometimes clipped to the point that even I am sometimes dubious about the ethical acceptance of such practice. Anyway, I digress.
Pre-clipping a bolt is simple; you seat a quickdraw in the curved basket of the Betastick and lock the gate open with the wire prongs. Once you have clipped your rope (making sure it isn’t back-clipped) into the bottom carabiner of the quickdraw, you extend the pole until it is possible to clip the bolt. Pulling down on the stick will disengage the quickdraw, which will snap closed as it is released from the prongs. Easy. Unless you are at full extension of 18ft and under a roof. At this point inertia can become problematic, but it makes it all the more satisfying when you the hear that familiar click. A word of warning at this point; the Betastick will accommodate most, but not all karabiners. Rock + Run conveniently display quickdraw compatibility with a Betastick, and it is most definitely worth checking you have a compliant set up!
By carrying the clipstick up a route and hanging directly on the bolts, the above methodology can be repeated all the way to the top, ensuring that the rope is always above you. This can be useful for a few reasons; to bypass a particular move that is stopping you, to get warm at the start of a session and put the draws in on your project, to get to the top once a rainstorm has set in, or simply because you are a total wuss and can’t handle the thought of leading into the unknown. The Betastick comes with a clip to attach to your harness waist belt, but be warned; this has been known to be less than adequate in practice, with a least one innocent bystander being hospitalised by having had a clipstick dropped on their head! A loop of cord fastened to the stick allows it to be securely clipped to a karabiner on a gear loop. The second most useful application of a clipstick, is to clip the rope into an already deployed quickdraw. This is a commonly encountered dilemma when the rope has been pulled through for another burn. To solve the problem, simply fasten a loop of rope through the velcro strap, raise it over the hanging karabiner, and then pull it tight to snap open the gate. Obviously take care to ensure you don’t back-clip the rope, but if you do just pull it through to lead on the other end. The scenario above can be avoided by pulling the rope down above the first (second, whatever) bolt between goes; seat a quickdraw in the usual fashion, but clip the bottom karabiner onto the pole to anchor it. Then clip the hanging rope above the bolt, tug the clipstick (as if clipping a bolt) to attach it, and then pull the rope down to you. If you forget to clip the quickdraw to the pole, just repeat the process and clip the free-hanging quickdraw.
A final use of the Betastick, and the only one specific to this brand (at least in the UK) is the attachment of a brush to clean holds. The M16 style brushes are particular suited to this role, as the thin end slots into a hole on the head of the stick to give it extra security. It is then fastened with the velcro strap to allow you to scrub until your heart is content. One such brush is supplied with each Betastick. Lapis brushes won’t fit in the hole, but are still held adequately to allow you to give holds a good clean.
With the exception of the brush attachment, the Trango Squid (show to the right right) will perform each of the duties listed above, albeit via a slightly different method. The Squid features a swing arm that locks the carabiner in place (rather than wire prongs) that works superbly and should allow a greater variety of carabiners to be used than a Betastick. It also has two rotating arms that accommodate a loop of rope in order to clip a rope into a quickdraw. A final potential use of the Squid is to enable a quickdraw to be removed from a bolt, something unique to this product... but in practice you are likely to find it frustrating and cumbersome. A useful feature in an emergency but probably not one that will be employed frequently. As mentioned previously, the most likely companion to the Squid is the classic painter’s pole (adorning the arsenal of boulderers across the country), which extends to 2m and collapses to c1.2m. Obviously, this is significantly shorter than even the most compact of the Betasticks, but is probably adequate for clipping the first bolt of most routes. Longer extension poles are available but the collapsed size is going to be pretty substantial as they are not designed with portability in mind. On the other hand, the potential to carry the Squid as luggage on holiday and purchase a compatible stick once you have arrived at your destination makes it an excellent globetrotters option.
In summary, clipsticks have a variety of uses that make them invaluable tools to increase the safety and enjoyment of any sport climbing venture. Their relatively low cost, simplicity and consequently, longevity, make them a highly worthwhile investment. Whilst I find the Trango Squid to be the best designed and most intuitive of the options, the limited extension offered by the most common compatible poles means the Betastick is likely to remain the firm favourite for the foreseeable future.
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