Gear archaeology

For years I have been vaguely on the lookout for a Hiebler ascender, mechanical ascender manufactured by Salewa, which was used in tree care as a mechanical prusik. Below a photo of Jack Kenyon using a Hiebler clip in his work positioning system some time in the seventies…

This device was conceived as an ascender, but as it did not have a toothed cam you could also push it into a descent type position – strictly off-label, of course. The Hiebler had the nasty habit of spilling lines out under tension. A sprung wire gate was integrated into later versions in an effort to prevent this from happening quite as easily.

As I wrote above, I have been keeping a vague look-out for a while not – without success. Chris bought a couple off a guy in Utah and passed one on to me. Yaay, thank you, Chris!

I find this kind of thing interesting for a number of reasons.

First because it is part of the development which led to where we are today, part of our climbers’ culture, with climbers through the decades thinking out of the box, looking for solutions in other areas of work at height, cross-using and improvising. Further, it also illustrates how not every application may prove to be suitable.

Further, looking at these old tools you also see the huge evolution in the way devices are designed and manufactured. No profiling or i-beaming, hand-filed, really quite rudimentary. I couldn’t help but smile at the “Made in West Germany” (which in itself makes this a historical artefact, reminding of the monumental changes in Europe during the past century) stamped onto the thinnest part of the stem linking the cam to the attachment point – really not a point where you would want to introduce any weaknesses, you might thing.

Finally, it is also interesting to note that this device applies friction in the work positioning system in a similar fashion to devices which have been introduced into tree care in recent years. This example illustrates how often the wheel is not reinvented, rather some things are used for a period, are then discarded and forgotten – to be rediscovered or evolved at a later point in time.