Permadraws: Access Issue or Not?

If you read the climbing magazines, then you’ve likely heard the recent debate. Fixed quickdraws, otherwise known as permadraws, have brought climbers from both sides of the table to determine appropriate use at their local crags.

Shagg_1So where does the Access Fund stand? Our position on matters of style has been consistent since our inception: The local climbing community needs to address issues of ethics and aesthetics. But climbing communities do need to proactively recognize when permadraws can threaten access or lead to a closure. On private land, climbing is a privilege, and landowners may have different preferences regarding permadraws with regard to factors such as safety, aesthetics, and liability.

Permadraws are not a product of the new millennium. Rifle and Jailhouse featured fixed draws starting in the early 90s. But as climbing and climbers both evolve, permadraws are on the rise across the nation. And it’s not just a matter of aesthetics. With this rise comes an increased safety concern. At the Red River Gorge last year, a carabiner worn sharp on the first permadraw of a climb cut through a climber’s rope, sending him tumbling to the ground.

Today’s lightweight aluminum carabiners, while streamlined, wear more than 10 times faster than steel, especially from the sharp rope angle of the first clip or a narrow bolt hanger. The t-profile of our nano-sized biners can turn a smooth lip into a knife edge after only 2 mm of wear. (Remember those old oval biners on your first rack? Those were safe with up to 5 mm of wear.)

Safety-conscious climbers may remember to inspect the biner at each clip as they fight a growing pump, but do they consider checking whether the quicklink on the bolt hanger is gouged? Or whether the nut holding the hanger is loose on the bolt? At some point, one has to wonder if the convenience of a permadraw is worth it when weighed against the time it takes to safely inspect for multiple points of failure.

Some climbers recognize these safety concerns and actively work to replace worn slings and aluminum draws with safer, longer-lasting permadraws such as the steel Climb Tech PermaDraw. This was the case recently at Shagg Crag in Maine and Rifle in Colorado.

Whereas Rifle climbers largely considered the replacement a blessing, there was an initial lack of climber consensus and land manager involvement at Shagg. In the end, a compromise was reached—some routes saw the removal of permadraws entirely, while the fixed draws on steeper lines received a safety upgrade. And still other crags, like Roadside Crag in Kentucky, were closed due in part to the landowners’ growing concern over the presence of permadraws.

Whether a question of safety or aesthetics, the use of permadraws should be approved by both the local climbing community and land managers. Each crag deserves its own analysis. Climbers should engage in rational discourse and come to agreement before pulling land managers into the fray. In the end, a closure affects all climbers, whether the draws are fixed or not.

Let us know what you think.

Blog Comments

The incident in Red River Gorge mentioned in this article is misguiding. The quickdraw in question was a regular aluminum quickdraw that someone had previously left when they bailed off the route. If permadraws had been placed on the route, then that particular accident would have been prevented.

Posted by: Adam White | April 19, 2012 at 09:52 AM

The details mentioned in the Red River Gorge incident are wrong. The quickdraw in question was a regular aluminum quickdraw that someone had previously left when they bailed off the route. If there had been well maintained steel permadraws placed on the route, then this particular incident would not have happened.

Posted by: Adam White | April 19, 2012 at 09:56 AM

I think that if we as climbers want to continue to have access, we also need to consider the rest of the recreating public. If they complain to land managers about reduced aesthetics from permadraws, especially on public lands, it could well contribute to our access.

Posted by: Gen | April 19, 2012 at 03:02 PM

Adam White raises an important distinction. "Fixed Draws" can mean steel permadraws or regular quickdraws that are left up. Usually "Fixed Draws" refers to regular aluminum draws (not to be confused with temporarily-left "Project Draws." We should be careful to distinguish "Permadraws" as steel draws made to endure weather and repeated use.

There are two separate issues here. One is whether to allow Fixed Draws (a difficult question that varies from crag-to-crag).

The other issue is whether to replace Fixed Draws with the much-safer steel Permadraws. This is a NO BRAINER. If fixed draws are a fact of life at your local crag. Replacing them with steel Permadraws will make everyone safer. And it's usually lower-impact, visually.

Posted by: Rajiv | April 20, 2012 at 08:51 AM

Why bother? Go climb in a gym. Or, better yet, buy some fucking cams and a couple of slings and climb it for reals. Maybe if you can’t climb it that way, maybe you shouldn’t be climbing it. Where are the guys from the 80’s with their hammers when we need them?

Posted by: carpHater | April 23, 2012 at 02:28 PM

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