[Photo] Kel Rossiter
Mentor to many aspiring mountain guides, Marc Chauvin once told me, “When you’re out of options, you’re dead.” Now that statement might seem obvious, but he meant it with some wordplay: perspective often has an influence on the options you see. The only time you truly are out of options occurs when you are headed down the lighted tunnel. On multipitch ice climbs, your options are severely curtailed without an effective V-thread tool for rigging Abalakov anchors. In fact, climbing a multipitch ice route without some kind of V-thread tool can be at best dumb, and at worst deadly. A V-threader should be considered as much a part of your multipitch kit as your knife or first-aid supplies.
When I first started ice climbing, I experimented with homemade versions as so many others have: a file, a coat hanger, and the “cutting-edge” advancement of capping the hook using a used-up tube of lip balm, so it wouldn’t shred everything it came into contact with. Times moved on, I got rich mountain guiding, and I decided to blow my wad on champagne, limousines, new socks and various other V-threaders. Black Diamond’s One Shot–did it. Petzl Multihook–yep. Near rock bottom, I even sought solace in the Glacier Plastics Abalakov Hooker. Crazy times.
[Photo] Kel Rossiter
But–after playing the field–I decided to settle down. And monogamy has treated me well. Today, my V-threading life partner is the Grivel Candela. The Candela is a 27g V-threading multi-tool that, like seemingly everything Grivel makes, is brilliant yellow. When I moved away from coat hangers, my first motivation was to find a tool that stored on the harness neatly, so let’s start with that. With a 14mm diameter, the Candela is designed such that it slots neatly away inside a standard 21-22 cm screw, and is held in place by plastic clasps molded onto the neck of the Candela. Slip the Candela into your screw and you’ve got a compact and complete V-threading setup. Admittedly, these plastic clasps loosen with time, but a quick strip of duct tape around the Candela gives it the needed girth to hang tight. As an added benefit, this “screw diameter” design allows it to serve as a ramrod for clearing soft ice from troublesome screws–but don’t overdo it, as you risk snapping off the hooked end of the tool. A final advantage to this design is that the Candela works well for cleaning slush out of holes drilled into wet ice, and the bright-yellow color serves as an effective alignment indicator when you slot it into the first screw hole while you’re trying to line up the second.
The Candela also has a molded plastic clip at the head for attaching it to your harness, in the event you don’t carry a 21-22 cm screw. But, I wouldn’t think of this as a way to store it permanently on your harness, as the clip can easily get torqued off your gear loop. An actual spring-loaded wire gate would be far superior and easy enough to incorporate into the design. Nonetheless, the plastic clip does serve as a useful and reliable-enough temporary attachment as you juggle screws, cord and other assorted faffery in the process of putting in a V-thread.
Now to the hooking performance: I appreciated the genius of the hook design, which is cleverly engineered so that it folds down to store within the body of the tool but then rotates out and into place like a jackknife. With the hook tucked away, and lodged within the safety of the screw, your butt is not in danger of any spontaneous V-threading attempts, as many other threading tools are prone to do. However, as genius as this design is, straight out of the box the Candela unfortunately isn’t as effective as it could be.
[Photo] Kel Rossiter
First, the factory bend is too acute–more of a “?” than the “J” shape that effective hooking demands. Second, the designers at Grivel must think that a lot of young ones are bailing off ice climbs, as the hook is about as sharp as child-safe scissors. Fortunately, any thinking adult can apply a pair of needle-nosed pliers to unbend the hook to address the first problem, and find a file to address the second. Thus retooled, it works like a charm. There is one final problem that the folding hook design presents that no amount of retooling will solve: In the space the hook folds into, the Candela’s diameter is cut in half, creating a natural weak point–right where the most stress is applied during folding. While I’ve yet to actually snap the tip off, that’s mainly due to diligence, which gets all the tougher in cold temps and with thick gloves.
One final feature is a short serrated blade down toward the tip of the tool, nestled next to the hook. Notice I didn’t call it a knife: beccause it’s made of cheap stamped metal riveted to the plastic, such that I seldom use it to cut cord, and I wouldn’t consider it an acceptable primary knife, though it is nice to know that you’ve got a backup.
In reviewing the pros and cons, it’s clear that the Candela comes with blemishes. But, while you may not be buying a perfect V-threader, you are buying the best. Simpler, straight-up V-threaders don’t store nearly as sleekly, and though the threading hooks are covered, they still occasionally seem to find unplanned purchase in your rear end.
[Photo] Kel Rossiter
In the end, the vital thing for any multipitch ice climber is that they have some kind of threading tool. When you’ve got the cash together for something beyond a coat hanger, the Candela is your best option.
Pros: Stores neatly inside 21-22 cm screws. Serves as a multi-tool: knife, ramrod and alignment indicator included. Threading hook folds neatly into the unit, making for safe, easy carry. Plastic hook at the head allows it to be temporarily clipped while you’re doing other threading tasks.
Cons: Cheap, stamped metal blade should only be considered as a backup to your knife. Clips holding the unit into the ice screw weaken with age–but a wrap of duct tape solves this problem. Threading hook needs to be unbent and sharpened before becoming field-functional. There is a natural point of weakness where the hook folds into the unit; care must be taken when folding the hook out–which can be tough with gloves on.
Kel Rossiter is the owner/lead guide for Adventure Spirit Rock+Ice+Alpine, and guides in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Alaska and beyond. He is a certified AMGA Alpine and Rock Guide and holds a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of Vermont.