Is a clip stick a useful addition to your climbing equipment for ambitious rock climbers? Or is it more for indoor climbers, who find that the sometimes sparse protection on the rock makes them nervous?
Firstly, what is a clip stick anyway? Shrewd sport climbers will recognise it immediately – it’s a stick with which you can clip. Ideal for quickdraws with an inserted wire rope in a bolt. You can also choose to place only the rope in the hanging quickdraw. Sounds logical, but theoretically you can also do it by using your arms. A view on the sense and nonsense of a clip stick:
A question of ethics and morals
For some climbers, the matter of using a clip stick is an ethical question. Even far into the future, clever alpinists are not going to climb big walls with a clip stick in their backpack and try to “clip stick a friend” into the next best crack.
However, on easier routes like the sport climbing walls of this world, you will see more and more climbers using this stick. Of course, you can argue that there are simply different dangers out on the rock when climbing in the great outdoors than indoors. That’s totally true. However, bolts in climbing gyms are nothing like natural dangers and are usually placed in the rock by very experienced climbers to minimise the potential for injury in the event of a fall.
However, these bolts are not equally easy to reach for every body size and arm length, nor are all climbers as mentally strong on every wall and every rock as the route setter themselves – so one bolt may be perceived as having a different degree of difficulty depending on the climber. Whether this is a kind of natural selection among climbers or whether it makes sense to use a clip stick or not is something you have to decide for yourself.
In principle, however, sport climbing is primarily about climbing routes that are as difficult as possible, so at or above your personal limit, while still ensuring a high level of safety. If the limiting factor is the first bolt being at 5 m, this is really disappointing, particularly when it’s not possible to build a mobile safety device on the rock. This is where the clip stick helps. It provides additional safety and brings the focus back to where it should be in sport climbing – enjoying moving and not a potential fracture from a fall after the first belay.
Of course, you can also reach the clip stick upwards and start the whole game all over again to unblock key points, projects, etc. But you should remember that the route will be later climbed without assistance. And if things aren’t going well even with the clip stick, you should consider whether you would enjoy a tour more suited to your current level. Climbing a good 6 is much more fun than ‘clip sticking’ an 8!
What kinds of stick are there?
These sticks are now available from different manufacturers in various designs. BetaSticks, for example, are available in short, medium or long versions in the shop. While the short is, of course, lighter than medium and medium is lighter than long, you should consider whether the lightest, most compact version will be useful if you still can’t reach the first bolt at full stretch.
Build your own clip stick
In principle, with a little creativity and a few accessories, you can build your own clip stick from all kinds of long objects. Broom handles, for example, are suitable but telescopic rods from the DIY store which can be adjusted in length are even more useful. Let’s say you leave your house without your arm extension and notice that it could be quite tricky to get to the first belay, but you still want to have a go at this beautiful route. With a little skill, a knife and a long branch you could even craft a makeshift clip stick.
First of all, you need a stick of a suitable length. Cut a 5-7 cm notch with a knife, so that you can fix a quickdraw to it. Now look for another small branch, around 1-2 cm long depending on the carabiner, and stretch it between the gate and the nose. Now insert the rope, fix the quickdraw into the notch and the clip stick is ready. Have fun! (Check out the photos!)
Once your first quickdraw is hanging, you need to get the rope in somehow. This works as follows: make two loops in the rope. Tie a simple knot and push the stick through the eye of the knot. This will create a kind of slipknot that can easily be loosened when the rope is placed inside the quickdraw.
Whether you use a professional clip stick with a toothbrush feature or an improvised homemade version, when it comes to safety on the rock, clip sticks definitely have their place. However, your extended arm should not become a free pass for climbing experiments far beyond your ability – sports climbing walls are not suitable for this. Whether and to what extent you find a clip stick morally justifiable in sport climbing is ultimately up to you.