The Quickdraw: A Climbing Vignette (1980)

Or How the Speed-clip Lost Its Mojo

The original quickdraw was the product of trad route desperation. And had nothing whatever to do with “sport” climbing—which hadn’t yet been introduced  (1983).

The next pitch looks gnarly. You see a pin up there—or a possible nut slot—but, jeez, no place to rest while clipping the piece and wrestling up a bight of rope for the final clip. Maybe there’s a quicker way—a lesson from the Old West—and so the “quickdraw” was born.

Thus, be prepared: In advance, before committing, clip one sling end to your gear loop and the other free end to the rope. Then, at the pin, it’s just one quick draw from your gear loop to the piece. No wrestling with the rope.

To illustrate how well this works I commend you to the following memory of my climbing partner of forty years—Wes Grace:

I’ve known Bill since 1970 at which time he was an icon to me. After a year or so he
deigned actually to climb with me. From that humble start our relationship grew from mentor and novice to camaraderie. It was now possible for me to make suggestions.

Some time around 1980 we walked down the carriage road. Bill was reflective and silent. Eventually he looked up and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about leading High Exposure.  I don’t know if I am up to it, but if I wait any longer I certainly won’t do it.

Bill, I said, “You can do it.” Of course I had no idea whether he could do it or not. It
seemed the right thing to say.

The first two pitches aren’t hard. But then we were under a gigantic roof where you can see what you can’t see, the entire top pitch. You know it goes straight up and you know that once you get started you pretty much have to keep going but you can’t see. You back up to the edge, get your toes right on the edge of a 200 foot drop, reach around for a pin you can’t see, and then duck under the roof and swing out into the void holding on with your fingers jammed in the crack. Bill clipped that first pin, and then there was just Bill from the knees down—then he was gone.

The rope paid out. Then…
The rope started to come back in. It came in bits and jerks and then stopped. For a long time. Then it paid out again.

I had my turn, gasping as I swung out holding on with jammed fingers, later diving into the little depression where it goes from dead vertical to easy for a few feet.
Then the top.

I, breathlessly:
Bill, what happened? In his excitement he had clipped the wrong ‘biner on his quickdraw to the second piton thus connecting his harness to the pin. He had to climb down until he could reach it, clip it to the rope and then unclip from his harness.

It wasn’t too many years later going down the same carriage road that Bill said he knew what we were going to do. We’re going to do High Exposure and YOU are going to lead it.”

Bill was good at knowing what others were going to do. On our annual trip to the west in 1999 he knew what we were going to do. A classic climb every day. Dark Shadows at Red Rocks, Mental Physics, Sail Away and Walk on the Wild Side at Joshua Tree and Cat in the Hat back at Red Rocks. And he knew I was going to lead every one.

Bill, that was a week I won’t forget. Thanks.


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