This page is my latest climbing-related web project, and thus is still under construction. In the next week or so, time permitting, I hope to post here more information about Russian Aiders, including details collected from several sources (and my own personal experience) on how to construct them more or less from scratch. Most of this info was taken from threads and articles on rockclimbing.com.
For as long as anyone can remember, aid climbers in the western world have been using simple ladders made of some combination of webbing, rope, and rungs as aiders. These work fine on less-than-vertical terrain, but very poorly on steeper rock. Their major disadvantage is that the bottom of the climber's foot is his only point of “attachment” to the aider. He can push down with his foot, but there is nothing pulling him in to the wall other than his daisy chain and/or fifi hook. Because these are at his waist, they provide little help once the climber's waist is more than a few inches above his gear.
At some point, some ingenious (apparently Russian) climber came up with a solution to this problem, and Russian aiders were born. Instead of using ladders, Russian aiders utilize hooks attached to the climber's knees. These hooks not only hold the climber up, they also pull him in to the wall at his knee. The climber can push against the wall with his feet to lever his upper body into the wall. Thus the system provides much greater stability and balance than traditional aiders. The cost is a slight decrease (not more than a few inches) in the maximum reach the climber can attain, due to the fact that his knee, rather than his foot, cannot get any higher than the piece of gear he is weighting. But with traditional aiders, this maximum reach can only be achieved on rock that is well under vertical. In most situations, the Russian system makes it possible, and in fact easy, to reach much higher than with traditional aiders.
The Trango Russian Aid Package Most modern western renditions of the Russian aider system consist of two components: a pair of knee cuffs with foot stirrups and hooks at the front, and a pair of “aid trees” (single strands of webbing with metal rings attached at various intervals, which are used in place of the traditional aiders). Apparently Russian climbers forego the aid trees altogether, using a chain of quickdraws instead. Unfortunately, the system has been slow to catch on. John Long and John Middendorf, in their book Big Walls, mention Russian aiders briefly, but for some reason slough them off as inferior and not worth anyone's time. For about two years (2000 - 2001?), Trango produced a “Russian Aid Package” consisting of a pair of aid trees with titanium rings and a pair of cuffs/stirrups with titanium hooks, but they stopped making it due to extremely low demand. Shortly thereafter, a few prolific big wall climbers caught on to them, and the word started spreading via the internet, but unfortunately it was too late. For a while, one Russian company sold a set of leg cuffs with titanium knee hooks via a now-defunct ebay store, under the brand name “UralSport”.
The crucial component of Russian aiders is the pair of knee cuffs. Both the Trango and UralSport cuffs left something to be desired, so many climbers who want a good quality set of Russian aiders have had to find other alternatives: make them from scratch, or try to find a set somewhere and improve upon them. The aim of this web page is to provide information for people who want to do this. It is my hope that eventually some company will start selling a good set of Russian aiders, but until then, we'll have to get by on our own ingenuity. While this is unfortunate, it has been the way of the big wall climber for many generations.
Detailed articles on making your own Russian aiders:
(All comments are my opinions only.)
KungFu Aiders -
My local copy of
this rc.com article
by “kungfuclimber” on how to make a set of Russian aiders
completely from scratch. His method covers both the cuffs/stirrups and the
Comments: He makes the trees from 6mm cord, without using metal rings. Since you can (at least the last time I checked) get a very good set of trees with nice titanium rings from Russ Walling at Fish Products, or you could use the Russian system of quickdraws chained together, I don't think these cord trees are a great idea. His cuffs are designed to require a minimal amount of sewing, but this actually ends up making them overly complicated, and the end result seems a bit hacked together, difficult to adjust, and less sturdy than other designs. Still, this is the original “make your own Russian aiders” article, and he does have some very good ideas.
UralSport Redesign -
this rc.com post
by “fenderfour” on how to rebuild the UralSport Russian aider
cuffs. Actually, the only part of the UralSport cuffs that he uses are the
hooks, and he points out that the hooks could be made pretty easily by someone
with the right skills.
Comments: This is a very good design, and remarkably simple. It was when I first saw this that I decided to rebuild my own UralSport cuffs, which is what spawned this whole web project. I have only a few issues with fenderfour's design, based on my own experiences with the UralSport cuffs. In just one evening of sewing, I built myself a set of these, but with some modifications, which I hope to write up when I have time.
Sources for buckles and webbing:
- http://www.onrope1.com/ - This site sells products specifically for climbers and cavers, so they have a lot of full-strength metal buckles. In particular, they have some good steel cinch buckles, in various sizes. This is so far the only web site I've found that sells a variety of these.
- http://seattlefabrics.com/ - This site is referenced in the fenderfour article above. They have lots of stuff, including metal buckles, but their only cinch/ladderlock buckles are plastic.
- http://www.strapworks.com/ - This is a great site that I found via Google, but their products are not really geared toward climbers. They have metal buckles, but I couldn't find any strong double-back style buckles. They do, however, have a 1" metal ladderlock buckle. It is steel, but lightweight and probably not incredibly strong. A great feature of this site is the ability to custom order various types of straps, etc.