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Gibbs Ascenders - A Short History by Peter Gibbs

Vertical spelunking can be cold, wet, and extremely exhausting. Often the cave explorer is forced to rappel down a waterfall to get into a pit and then to ascend the rope, getting soaked and risking hypothermia. Early cavers used prusik knots, inefficient, muscularly taxing knots that don’t hold well on wet rope.

In 1965 my brother, Charles, showed me a mechanical ascender he had built. I set out to manufacture it. I built 65 ascenders and sold a few of them to friends for places like Neff’s Cave.

That fall, at the National Speleological Society convention in Lovell, Wyoming, Charles entered a rope climbing contest. Using the newly minted Gibbs Ascenders, he cut the record time in half. I sold out that afternoon. Word spread rapidly and orders began coming in, but it was a very small market.

George Lowe, well known mountain climber and fellow physics student at the University of Utah, started using Gibbs Ascenders on his expeditions and writing them up in climbing magazine articles because they held well on ice cover ropes and were easy on the rope. That spread word around the world and opened up a second, larger market.

The cam in the first model Gibbs Ascender swung freely. Rock climbers wanted it spring loaded. Thus the second model was born.

Soon mountain rescue crews were using them for raising litters and ski resorts were using them to extract customers from stalled lifts. For their use, I added a stainless steel model and thicker aluminum model. And to give them more holding power, I put indents in the shell of the ascender.

Fire departments and rescue crews often use ropes more than half an inch thick so I added three quarter inch models next.

Over time Gibbs Ascenders found many niches to fill besides ascending ropes, including setting up rigging for rock concerts and protecting tree trimmers. There have been many modifications for specific markets but the basic design remains unchanged.



Ray Erkkila



<Ray's Bio Coming Soon>

Peter Gibbs



Peter Gibbs was born in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 16, 1943.

During high school he held an amateur radio (ham) license, entered into Science Fairs, and lived a summer in Mexico City as an exchange student. He joined the Ute Alpine Club and the Salt Grotto and discovered Hatari Cave in 1962 and started rock climbing with George Lowe in 1966.

He graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in physics in 1965 and with a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 1970.

He started manufacturing Gibbs Ascenders in 1965 and turned Gibbs Products into a success by developing different models for different users: cavers, climbers, rescue workers, firefighters, and tree trimmers. He ran the business until he retired in 2000.

He started Baja Expeditions in 1972, taking tourists down the Gulf of California from San Felipe to La Paz, Mexico. He ran that business for two years.

During the summers, he worked as a whitewater guide on rivers throughout the West. In the off season, he made the first kayak descent through the narrows of the Virgin River in Zion National Park, made the first ascent of Grapevine Wall in Grand Canyon, he made the first ascent of the Wall of the Afternoon Dark on Steamboat rock in Dinosaur National Park, and he made many first ascents in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains.

He kayaked the Okefenokee Swamp; sea kayaked the Palau archipelago, skin diving around downed World War II Japanese planes; sea kayaked the Exuma Islands, fishing for tarpon and skin diving around Pablo Escobar’s downed drug planes; and sea kayaked the hundred mile wilderness trail in the Everglades.

In 2000 he sold Gibbs Products to Ray Erkkila, and a year later retired from professional guiding.

In 2002 he wrote the final chapter of Matt Leidecker’s book, Impassible Canyon, detailing an extreme high water run down the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

In 2007 he published Off Track in Colombia, a book based on a climbing trip he made with Eric Eliason. Threatened by drug runners who thought they were federal agents, they left for Ecuador and climbed Chimboraso, a twenty thousand plus foot peak.

He has written three more books, a series of mystery stories, centered on the Henrys Fork of the Snake, a blue ribbon trout steam he fishes as often as he can.