We Interviewed Founder and Designer Timothy Bottger and Pro Climber Kitty Calhoun About the Karry Krab Ice Clipper

The Karry Krab is a new type of ice clipper that is designed to attach to the existing gear loops on your harness. Traditional clippers utilize pre-sewn ‘ice clipper slots’ or have a wire or string that wraps around the waist belt of a harness. With the Karry Krab system you can attach multiple Krabs along your existing gear loops where you are already used to clipping your gear, rather than being forced to work around what manufacturers have designed for a particular harness.

Karry Krab on a harness
The Karry Krab is an Ice Clipper that is designed to attach to the gear loops on any harness.

We sat down with the designer of the Karry Krab, Timothy Bottger and Pro Climber Kitty Calhoun, who inspired the design, to talk about the invention of this new form of clipper, the design and testing process, and learn how it all started with Kitty somewhere in Canada about 20 years ago.

Kitty began ice climbing in 1979, at the age of 19. A quick reflection on how different the climbing scene was at that time reveals the state-of-the-art in ice climbing equipment as wood handled, straight shafted axes with curved alpine picks. Crampons were lace-up, the carabiners oval, the clothes wool, and the ice screws mostly useless. Vertical ice climbing was in its infancy.

Kitty: The tools we used at the time were one light, short tool and one really long tool and they were wooden. The short tools were wood handled, like a big wall hammer. And definitely alpine curved picks, the tools just sort of bounced off the ice. And the screws were really hard to get in. There were some Warthogs around that you hammered in but those old screws were really thick walled and hard to get in.

Fast-forward 20 years and Kitty was a full-time professional rock and ice guide with dozens of big-mountain international expeditions and first ascents to her name. While in Canada, she came across a curious product that seemed to solve a problem ice climbers had been struggling with. It was a simple elastic band designed to loop around a carabiner such that it could be attached directly to the gear loop for racking ice screws while preventing it from wobbling.

Kitty: When you’re leading ice, it can be scary depending on the quality of the ice. So you have to keep your head together, and then it can be really disconcerting when you go to put a screw in and you end up fumbling with your gear. You’re trying to stay relaxed and not burn up energy while you’re placing a screw. So just reaching down trying to get the screw off a carabiner with one hand can be problematic. Because the carabiner tends to wobble on your harness, I had gotten these little yellow rubber band things that you can fit over the carabiner to keep it from wobbling on your harness. And these things I had gotten for like a dollar a piece in Canada like 20 years ago. And that’s the only place I’ve ever seen them before.

Literally every time I go out at least one person asks me where I got these things. Everybody’s envious, you know and I’m like, well, sorry. Even my friends in Canada don’t know where to get these things. I don’t know who made them because there’s no mark on them.

Kitty Calhoun leading ice with Karry Krab
Pro Climber Kitty Calhoun racked up on 5 Karry Krabs while leading some ice. The Karry Krab is designed to attach to the existing gear loops on any harness, allowing you to rack your screws exactly where you want them. Photo: Kitty Calhoun

In the last 20 years there have been many ice clipper models and improvements from many climbing brands. Yet nothing like Kitty preferred. Kitty had gone so far as to ask her friends and sponsors at Black Diamond and Petzl to make something similar, after experiencing the niche market demand. But those conversations went nowhere.

Kitty: The most popular thing out there, the Black Diamond clipper attaches to your harness through a sleeve. And so usually I just clip my tools in there, but I don’t have enough sleeves to rack screws on my harness. So the way it attaches is limiting. I can’t get enough screws on one clipper on either side of my harness because if you put too many screws in one clipper they’re more likely to fall out.

So for 20 years Kitty stuck with these durable bands and they’ve remained an ice climbing mystique for everybody else.

That was until 2021, when at the Michigan Ice Fest, Kitty ran into Tim Bottger, a new but passionate ice climber with 30 years of product development experience in the medical device industry. When Tim heard that Kitty was looking for help sourcing more of these rubber bands, he thought, “I can help with that.”

Tim: In terms of the Karry Krab and how that came about, I took a backcountry session at the Michigan Ice Fest and Kitty happened to be one of the guides. Another guide was Mark Smiley and we were just talking when he brought up that Kitty was talking to him about this little rubber strap that she had on her harness and she wished she could get more. And Mark said, you should go talk to her about it.

So I just approached Kitty and I asked her, with my background in product development, I was going to see if I could help her out.

With the idea planted in his head, Tim started prototyping. With feedback from fellow ice climbers and Kitty herself, Tim began to identify that the rubber band wasn’t the only thing he could improve upon.

Tim: I’ve been a product development design engineer for 30 years and my role is to think outside the box and come up with solutions to challenges that exist.

So I was working on the strap itself, making sure I had the length, because I didn’t have any measurements of the strap, just a photo I had taken of Kitty. I looked at the photo and came up with a few different iterations on the shape of the [rubberband] – what I’m calling the Krab Keeper.

To come up with the initial shape of the Krab Keeper I had 30-40 different kinds of carabiners and it dawned on me that nobody did what I did in terms of over-molding a stainless steel frame with a high quality nylon-based material [for the ice clipper]. It just dawned on me that even in Kitty’s picture, she had these metal carabiners that seemed quite heavy.

Karry Krab prototype
An early prototype of the Karry Krab system. The rubberband accessory now known as the Karry Keeper gave birth to the idea of a better clipper altogether.

Although there are multiple ice clipper products on the market currently, each has its unique benefits and drawbacks. The all-plastic clippers are typically lightweight, but as Tim learned from his initial interviews, many people have experienced those plastic clippers breaking, leading to screws being dropped. It’s not a common problem but when it does happen it can be a serious issue.

The metal clippers on the market are much stronger and more durable, but they are much heavier. Tim recognized that with his expertise in plastic injection molding and over-molding, he could design a clipper that was both lightweight and much stronger than an all-plastic clipper.

Tim: I mean, if you break a clipper and you lose four of your screws, you’re kind of in a world of hurt. So I thought to myself, what is another way that we can improve upon the current challenges that some of the clippers have?

A lightbulb went on and I thought why don’t we just over mold even a small two millimeter stainless steel frame that goes throughout, from just before where the gate is all the way around to the nose. It just dawned on my that I could reduce some of the weight of the heavy metal ones, maybe slightly increase the weight from the current plastic ones, but increase the strength so they won’t break when you’re hanging 250 feet off of an ice wall.

In product design you’re always balancing multiple competing elements to create a truly great product. You’ve got to identify not only which of those elements are must haves and which are nice to haves, but also the relationship between their significance and impact upon the use of the product.

Sometimes a product can be amazing, seemingly perfect, until it encounters a situation that causes it to fail. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, you can have a product that serves a function adequately, but just isn’t quite right, something about it isn’t perfect, yet it will never fail at doing said function. It’s a balancing act. Tim saw that he could create an ice clipper that ticked all the boxes.

Tim: This is not PPE, it’s not life safety but it definitely is something that is in my opinion superior to what is out there in terms of the plastic clippers. I can’t compete with the strength of the metal ones. You know Grivel makes a really good metal one, DMM makes a really nice metal one. But I can compete against their weight.

As a relatively new ice climber, Tim knew he had to get lots of feedback if he was going to make this product a success. Through the development Tim 3D printed 7 different prototypes and also had one printed in metal to see if it would actually make sense to forge it.

He spoke with friends and acquaintances face to face to direct feedback on the shape of the clipper, as well as mailing Kitty prototypes to get her input.

With any development, there is the fine line between what would be ideal to have, and what is physically possible from a manufacturing perspective. It’s a process of refinement. Starting with the major issues of a design, and once those are addressed, working toward the more granular, nuanced issues until you’ve reached a point where the product meets the desired goal of the user while also being manufacturable. One of the major challenges is balancing user opinions.

Tim: It’s really refreshing [that] the climbing community is pretty willing to be honest with you. I didn’t really have to ask for much. There’s no shortage of opinions, because climbing is a very personal thing, especially with your gear.

Karry Krab prototypes
Some early prototypes of the Karry Krab that Tim 3D printed in his favorite color of green. Tim went through 7 different iterations of the body and gate shapes before the design of the Karry Krab was finalized.

Climbing is a unique industry in that so many of the innovations have been driven by an individual who saw an opportunity to make climbing more enjoyable, then had the gumption to say, I can do that.

It is a storied lineage of developers, even in American climbing history: Yvonne Chouinard (and Tom Frost) with Hexentrics and countless other pieces. Ray Jardine with the first SLCD. Dave Waggoner with the Alien Cam. It is the spirit of the individual climber to identify a need, and then to proceed to overcome the challenges to meet that need, and in the process improve the climbing experience, and potentially advance what is possible in climbing.

It’s not always obvious which products are going to cause a sea change, some seemingly significant innovations just never catch on, like the Wild Country Revo, or some never make it out of R&D after years of trying like the DMM Grip. And some seemingly benign, innocuous pieces become the defining gold standard upon which the industry uses to base future development, like the first keylock carabiner or the first wiregate keylock carabiner.

Kitty: Timothy coming up with the Karry Krab, that was something that you haven’t been able to find anywhere. I was just using normal wire gate carabiners with the [rubberband] to rack the screws and what Timothy has come up with is this carabiner like thing that’s lighter then normal wiregate carabiners and the gate feels neither too stiff nor too flimsy, you know, it’s solid.

So I now prefer these Karry Krabs because they just have a better feel for getting screws in and out.

Tim: Eventually I landed on a shape, and I had a straight wire gate on the initial concept. And when I got it, I thought it felt terrible. I mean, I’m my own worst critic too, that’s my job, to be a critic of myself, but I just didn’t like how the screws went on. I didn’t like how it felt when I was taking them off, so that’s [how i got] the first iteration of the curved gate. So [there were] a number of design iterations as I moved through the process and eventually I landed on the final one.

Instructions for installing the Karry Krab system to the harness
The Karry Krab installs on the harness gear loop by using the included Karry Keeper rubberband. After clipping the Krab and swinging it downward, clip the Keeper and slide it up while holding the wire gate open. Catch the Keeper on the rear horn on the spine and stretch it up and over the horn on the top of the Krab.

After 20 years of fielding questions about her little yellow rubber bands and not being able to offer any solutions for fellow climbers, Kitty now has a product that meets her needs and exceeds the performance of the original product.

Kitty: I was surprised when I talked to Black Diamond because I have friends who work in manufacturing there and the same thing at Petzl. They’re not big money makers compared to other things they make and so they’re like, yeah, I don’t think we’re interested.

So when I heard Timothy was interested, I was like, yeah go for it, you know? But I didn’t have any expectations. And then low and behold, he like kept sending me these detailed emails with detailed questions. And it I was like well this guy’s serious about this. And then I start getting these samples, and they’re like, pretty dang good.

It’s kind of cool when you get a piece of gear or clothing and it’s like really well thought out. You can tell somebody’s put a ot f thought into it, into details. A lot of people might not even notice, whether it be aesthetic or the feel. The mean, the feel of the gate is exceptional and you, it turned out and I think it’s cool.

Definitely if you lead ice it’s annoying when your carabiner wobbles when you’re trying to get the screw off. It’s a subtle thing, but annoying. And this [Karry Krab] is just like, wow, this is so smooth. This is so easy. Where has this been all my life?!

If you’ve ever met Kitty in the wild and wondered how to replicate her gear loop ice clipper method, your problem is solved.

If you’ve ever wanted ice screws slightly wider from the harness and easier to reach, you now have a great option to try.

If you’ve been scared of plastic breaking but didn’t like the metal options (too heavy or two expensive), there is now a hybrid model.

Or if you’re a gear junkie always looking for the newest option and want to try everything on the market, then the Karry Krab is the one.

The Karry Krab is available now, and you can get it in specialty retailers like Midwest Mountaineering, Downwind Sports, Ouray Mountain Sports, Spire Cimbing Gym in Bozeman, as well as on their website at KarryKrab.com

And As A Thank You For Reading

Use the promo code WEIGHMYKRAB20 to get 20% off any Karry Krab product until March 30th, 2023.

This post is a sponsored collaboration with Karry Krab. They paid for the editing and production time for this content. The content itself has not been clouded by these fee’s and comes from the stoke and love WeighMyRack has for talking about new gear.

Special thanks to Kitty Calhoun for taking the time to share her story and perspective.

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff currently lives in the Midwest and spends most of his free time answering questions nobody asked. When not plugging gear on moderate warmups and calling it a day, he can be found whining about whipping on bolts in the gym or at the local pub waxing poetic about climbing saving humanity and the planet.

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