Blue Steel: A Permadraw Solution

Rifle Mountain Park is the Roman navel of the permadraw craze that has spread to sport crags around the country. But up until this summer, the Rifle Climbers’ Coalition (of which I am a board member) had no official policy regarding the installation of new, or maintenance of old permadraws. Fortunately, we now have some guidelines for permadraws in the park.

I’ve been living in western Colorado for about 10 years, and therefore climbing in Rifle for that long. I recall a time in Rifle when there were no steel permadraws—just a bunch of in-situ aluminum “project” draws. In those days, we all enjoyed the convenience of having draws in place to run laps on routes for training or warming up. Or we found ourselves working on a project with quickdraws that we assumed belonged to someone … Or no one.

Martin Present Tense

However, because the aluminum draws became worn and sharp so quickly, I ended up wearing out many ropes and carabiners each season. Back then I probably went through between three and five ropes each year—and probably two dozen carabiners that I’d “donate” to whatever route I was working on, replacing the most worn carabiners as needed.

Ever since Rifle climbers made efforts to replace the manky aluminum/nylon quick draws with steel permadraws—which is a quickdraw made of a steel-swaged cable, a durable steel quicklink on the bolt end and, most important, a steel clipping carabiner—the situation got much better and safer. Whereas before I was going through typically four ropes each year, now I could make it a whole year (if not longer) with just one rope! It was also much nicer to not be constantly worrying about getting core shots every time you fall at a crux.

Though steel wears at a significantly lower rate than aluminum, it still wears. And this year it seemed that a few of the early permadraws installed in Rifle had reached their shelf life and needed to be replaced (really just the clipping carabiner; the cable and quicklink were often fine).

Wendy EuroTrash

I originally addressed the permadraw issue in my column “Tuesday Night Bouldering” in Rock and Ice (which you can read here), calling it sport climbing’s “greatest predicament.”

At many sport crags around the world, there are really crappy and really dangerous aluminum/steel quickdraws still hanging on both warm-ups and projects alike. (This, by the way, is the “predicament” I’m referring to; not whether you think permadraws are an “eye-sore” or create “gym-climber mentality” outdoors which are hyper-theoretical issues that are fun to debate all day but ultimately don’t lead anywhere effective.)

To this day, people still are unsure what to do when they encounter a route with suspiciously sharp/worn aluminum quickdraws. And the answer is that you are responsible for yourself, and if you’re not comfortable climbing on this gear, then replace it with your own. Take down the old mank, ask around and try to find its owner, and if you think it belongs to no one (i.e., it was just left/abandoned on a route) then throw it out.

Climb Tech PermaDraw
Climb Tech PermaDraw

In my old column, I made an argument for the considered, prudent installation of permadraws on routes that are perennially popular warm-ups, lap routes and/or projects in order to prevent the inevitable and unacceptable appearance of manky “abandoned”/untended aluminum quickdraws.

But now that I’ve seen so many steel carabiners grow sharp, and now that I see more people wanting more permadraws installed which creates more community items that need to be tended to in the future, some of my ideas about permadraws have evolved.

First let’s get it out of the way that if you believe that there is absolutely no good reason to have permadraws at all, I would completely agree with you—but I would also argue that your opinion is not constructive (at best) and mostly just ignorant about the realities of sport-climbing today. Yes, there is no good reason we “need” permadraws. I’ve always acknowledged that permadraws are completely a matter of convenience and that they aren’t necessary at all. But history and behavior patterns have consistently shown that the alternative to not using permadraws in high-use crags results in a much worse situation.

Yet I wonder: is the use of permadraws just a slightly longer term band-aid that doesn’t really fix the core problem that in-situ gear, regardless of what it is made out of, needs to be maintained by someone?

The main problem I see with permadraws is that they are fixed gear that still “belongs to no one”—they belong to the cragging community that climbs there and individuals consistently prove that they don’t ever feel the responsibility to tend to gear that is not their own.

Permadraws give the community a much, much longer time to fix potentially unsafe situations—and in that sense, there’s no question that they are in a different class than aluminum. However, they still need to be maintained, which presents the same problem as before—just on a much slower, longer scale.

Fortunately, at Rifle, we have a coalition whose sole purpose, really, is to attempt to manage that responsibility by being a forum for climbers to voice these problems and then make actionable tasks and assignments to fix the problem. Rifle is small enough and manageable enough that this seems to more or less work. But other areas are not Rifle.

I started working on a project this year without permadraws. It had aluminum draws that belonged to my friend, who had left them there since last season. He stopped working on the route for one reason or another, yet I (and probably a half dozen other climbers) were all working on this project in various capacities.

A sharp carabiner via  Mountain Project
A sharp carabiner via Mountain Project

Of course, it wasn’t long before the aluminum carabiners began to get sharp. And it wasn’t long before I was trimming the ends off my new rope due to core shots and abuse sustained from falling and hang-dogging. Soon, I found myself doing what I’d done many years earlier: replacing individual carabiners with my own.

I didn’t want to install actual permadraws on this route. And I didn’t particularly want to use my own equipment, either, because I knew it’d just get completely trashed by the time I sent this project.

So I came up with a solution—a solution that I think offers a interesting option to sport climbers who project routes over multiple days.

I got a set of steel carabiners from C.A.M.P. and simply added them to the rope-clipping end of my normal quickdraws.

2014-09-13 10.15.15

This set-up—of pimping out a normal quickdraw with a steel carabiner on the rope-clipping end—is something I’ve seen at least one other climber do, so I can’t take credit for it. But I am using this forum to get the word out to the sport-climbing community to consider making your own “hybrid permadraws”—or as I call them, Blue Steel.

“I can’t clip with my left hand”

You don’t need a steel carabiner for the bolt-end. A normal aluminum one should be fine, though occasionally you’ll have to replace these biners if the bolt hanger gouges out a serious nick into the steel (this happens, but infrequently). Nylon dog bones are cheap.

If everyone in the (serious) sport-climbing world—and by “serious,” I mean that you are a “sport-climber” who projects for multiple days; i.e., you’re not a “bolt-clipper”—installed Blue Steel on their projects, then we would seriously reduce the need to have community-owned permadraws—if not entirely eliminate them. Traditional permadraws may still have a place on lap-routes or maybe some warm-ups (though, if you are truly warming up, you should be able to just place your own regular quickdraws). But otherwise, all projects could be equipped with your true Blue Steel.

This idea, however, would only work if the following guidelines are followed:

1. If you are actively projecting a route, you use your own Blue Steel quickdraws.

2. At the end of the season, or after you send (whatever comes first) you take your Blue Steel down.

The benefits to this idea are numerous. First, it places the responsibility of maintaining gear on the individual, which is the most important thing. Second, it’s much more economical for both yourself and everyone else. You will have a personal rack of quickdraws that you can use on your longterm sport-climbing projects that won’t get trashed after two months. And you and everyone else that you share your project with will benefit from less wear on your ropes due to the fact that you are climbing on good steel carabiners and not on sharp, worn aluminum ones. Third, it takes the “perma” out of the “permadraw,” and means that by the end of the season, the wall would ideally go back to being draw-free.

Aluminum draws are great for onsighting, warming-up, and casual bolt-clipping missions. But aluminum is not built for multi-day projecting—and project-sharing. For this, you need steel. And there is no reason why it can’t be your own.

Currently, there are no companies selling these hybrid Blue Steel quickdraws. You have to make your own. If you want to buy a steel carabiner that is appropriate for this situation, you have to go directly to the company itself. The companies that I know of that sell steel carabiners are these:

 C.A.M.P. Gym Safe $12.95
C.A.M.P. Gym Safe $12.95
 Omega Pacific Gym Pro Bent Wiregate $12.50
Omega Pacific Gym Pro Bent Wiregate $12.50
 Fixe PS Clip Wiregate Carabiner $7.50
Fixe PS Clip Wiregate Carabiner $7.50


 Climb Tech Steel Carabiner $8.95
Climb Tech Steel Carabiner $8.95
Cypher wiregate
Cypher Wiregate $7.95



What do you think of this idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts and observations about permadraws and manky hardware at your own sport-climbing areas.

  • DMM also sells steel biners. They’re easiest to get with the draw, but they do sell them naked.

  • JasonH

    I like the idea but think a third guideline must be stated (unfortunately because it’s still a problem at times). If you encounter a route that’s been “Blue Steeled”, leave the draws in place. For most of us, leaving some older, aluminum draws on a route is an acceptable risk because they’re older, aluminum (cheap) draws and the risk of the draws potentially getting stolen is easier to stomach. But a set of 10 Blue Steel draws getting ripped off would be hard to stomach.
    I think the climbing community is getting better about not being douches and removing project draws from routes but it still happens, sadly.

    • Byron

      definitely my concern. I just had to inform a group of novice climbers not to take the “bailed 8 draws off the wall” and had to let them know they were project draws.

  • Justin Maurice Brown

    I have been doing this for about three years now. I found that having aluminum on project routs really distracted me from climbing. If my project was popular i would find myself doing the sharp biner check all the time instead of clipping. I purchased the Camp Steel biner and mated it with a Fixe Nylon dog bone and Petzel Spirit bolt end. They clip well, look nice and give me that one up on gear confidence. When I send the project if feels soooo good to take em down and hang em on another one.
    Thanks for getting this out to the masses. I have been trying to convince all my friends

  • Frederic

    Really like the idea, makes a lot of sense

  • Ben Sachs

    A good idea! I hadn’t thought of this until I saw someone at Rifle with them this season. Makes total sense. I hate wondering if in-situ draws have gotten sharp since my last burn on a route.

  • Ben Eaton

    Cypher also has two styles of steel biners that are great for this application. They are super bomber:

  • Matt M

    While very much a Bolt Clipper these days, I learned this “Blue Steel” style from a buddy of mine a few years back. His setup had QLs for the bolts to reduce thievery. In my limited projecting I found the QLs an absolute PITA to either install or remove and tried to find a “better way”. The first solution (that’s probably the most likely to be done by others) was simply to “Convert” the bolt biner into a “Mexican Locker” – Lead the route and install BlueSteel as needed. On the rap, tape those bolt gates closed. Send your project and then cut/remove the tape to retrieve. Not too bad. My current setup (gathering dust as I’m not projecting) is a bit different – I found a clearance on Kong SS D Biners with VERY, VERY stiff gates. They’re not really for climbing BUT that’s the point. They can be installed without too much trouble and all but the most nefarious climber will leave them there wondering WTF? regarding their burliness and stiff gate. Kong D-Shape #580.10