The Black Diamond Android Leash

By Will Gadd

NOTE: I am a Black Diamond "Rep at Large", but these are my personal comments, not anything official from Black Diamond. Please email me if something isn’t clear and I’ll attempt to explain it. JPEG below courtesy of Andrew McLean at Black Diamond, he's the man who made it work.

wpe1F.jpg (9259 bytes)The ideal ice leash would meld a wide array of seemingly contradictory features into one leash. It would be a bomb-proof connection to your ice tool, allowing you to hang from the tool with a minimum of effort, but not cut your hand’s circulation off. It would also offer extremely fast entry and exit for placing screws whether you were wearing gloves, mittens or potholders. Finally, it would feature an adjustable attachment point so you could set the attachment point up low for hard climbing and higher on the shaft for alpinism when you need to plunge the tool into the snow for belays and grovelling. I’ve been building my own leashes at the local hardware store for the last two years because there wasn’t one that did all of this. Several manufacturers have come out with leashes that join two or three of these features together, but I think the BD Android is a major step forward. It truly is an extension of your arm as the name implies.

What most people will probably notice first about the Android is the "clip". Like all BD leashes, the Android webbing runs from the head of the tool to your hand, which is generally stronger than having a hole or stud on the shaft as the attachment point. The clip allows you to detach the "cuff" portion of the leash from the webbing in about a second, less with practice. No fiddling with iced buckles, sliders or twists in the webbing. Just unclip, deal with whatever needs dealing with, clip back in. Clips are currently used by several different companies, but most are relatively low in strength and high in uncertainty, at least in my experience. I have yet to have an Android clip come undone unintentionally in probably a hundred days of climbing. After the "clip," climbers will also notice the incredible comfortable and secure cuff. It’s made of soft anatomically shaped rubber fabric, which allows you to swing in a more natural arc than most other leashes. You can also snug it down to the point where you could die and your carcass would hang there until spring. Everyone who has climbed with it literally gets pumped less and stays warmer because the hanging force is spread over a wider area of your hand, and you can snug it down hard enough so that it does the work instead of the muscles in your hand. If your hand is more relaxed then more bloods flows through your fingers, which also keeps them warmer. I occasionally climb in mittens, but getting in and out of standard leashes can be quite difficult. The Android is mitten-friendly.

One of the main hassles with normal leashes comes when it’s time to remove your hand to place gear. Most people set one tool fairly high, the other lower, and then wrestle their hand out of the lower tool’s leash to place screws. I usually start to get pumped about halfway through placing a screw, especially on long vertical stretches of ice or other steep terrain. With the Androids you can place both tools at approximately the same general height (obviously not too close as you can lose both placements to a large dinner plate), start the screw with one (the coordinated) hand, then when the pump builds, clip back into the other tool and finish the placement with the other hand. I also like the security of having both axes well placed and readily available if I suddenly need to deal with a heavy load of spindrift or whatever. For some reason I often end up with my slings over one shoulder and my rack over the other; it used to be a pain in the ass to switch back and forth from my racking hand to the sling hand, or place a pin with one hand and then pound it in with the other. I think most people who climb steep terrain in winter have enjoyed this particular problem.

But you also don’t have sink the a tool as hard in preparation to unclipping it if the terrain doesn’t allow it. Because the clip requires little force to activate, I often feel comfortable leaving it cammed in a crack or other placement where I would be forced to let it dangle with conventional leashes. Of course, you can just let it dangle if that’s your style, I’ve never had it come undone even when thrashing around on mixed climbs where there is no ready tool placement. I’ve also taken to just clipping the tool into my harness ice ‘biners then unclipping from the tool, which is much more secure and easy to do than removing your hand from the tool, shoving it into a holster, then repeating the process. I have dropped tools using holsters with standard leashes, or had them fall out when butt-sliding on the way down.


How to use the Android:

For most waterfall and mixed climbing, I like to set the Velcro shaft attachment point very low on the tool, so the tool snaps back into my hand if I let it dangle. This also reduces outward force on your hand, again saving energy. Because the Android cuff stays fixed on your wrist, you don’t end up with the strap all twisted up on the wrong side of your hand. The Clip also has a swivel, so the cuff doesn’t get twisted up between your hand and the tool. For alpine routes I move the Velcro up the shaft so I can reach the top of the tool for plunging (the Velcro obviously isn’t structural, it just keeps the clip oriented. I often tape the webbing in place if I’ll be doing steep mixed climbing exclusively.)

In general, I unclip, then let the clip rest between my thumb and fingers in the palm of my hand. This keeps it out of the way for placing screws or whatever. You can also obviously just let it flop around, but putting it in your palm keeps things organized. I often put my Androids on at the start of the climb and then don’t take them off until I need to change gloves. I usually belay in a down jacket and just shove the clips into the jacket sleeves, which keeps them out of the way. Anything worthwhile takes a bit of practice, and using the Android is no exception, but most people seem to adapt to the clip fairly easily.

The Android is very strong; while can blow the Velcro out easily if you are hanging on a cammed tool and let go of the shaft, the clip itself will hold as much force as the webbing or tool unlike other clip leashes (tape prevents this, but I don’t think it’s something BD recommends. Radiator clamps also work, but again this is my solution and not BD’s). Despite the Android’s strength, I do generally like to clip into the holes on the head or end of the tools for belaying, plus I usually leave the clips on my hands so they aren’t available for belaying off of anyhow.

As with a carabiner and rope, it’s possible to unclip unintentionally if you do everything in a certain sequence. You can unclip from the Android if you slide your hand up the shaft loosely, depress the lever, move the clip, then throw the tool out of your hand. I haven’t seen it done in the field yet, but this is the one scenario I’ve come up with after a lot of experimentation. I’m sure there will be others, but this is predictable enough that I haven’t been too worried about it. Even if you depress the clip lever while hanging on the tool it won’t come out, as the clip is only a "lock" and not structural. I think using Androids may actually cut down on dropped tools as it’s much easier to get your hand in and out of without jerking the tool around in its placement. I have used the Android in conditions where my gloves and body froze into a suit of icy armor, the Android kept working fine. I did once break one by smashing it hard against the rock, but it stayed clipped in, it just wouldn’t unclip anymore—no problem, as the cuff is quite easy to get in and out of anyhow (see the Robo note below).

I’d recommend the Android to any climber who is primarily interested in ice or mixed climbing (people who use two short tools). I wouldn’t recommend it to mountaineers or those climbing lots of lower-angled terrain (The Robo leash is the Android without the clip, it still works really well and has many of the advantages of a soft but strong cuff, I use it for general mountaineering).

Androids will be available from BD this winter. Again, the above are my opinions and not meant to represent BD in any way. Please email me if you have questions, I’ll do my best to provide answers.

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