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Time warp and ice gear


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Hopefully beginner and intermediate ice climbers and aspiring technical climbers in an alpine environment will find the info and opinions to follow helpful. Nothing new here. Twight and Gadd cover it all much better in their respective books. The two books compliment each other. Buy them. Twight’s “Extreme Alpinism” has the best coverage of the details. His book is the “required read”. Gadd takes up the technical discussion from where Twight ended. I’ve reread both in the last month several times and gleaned other's suggestions for the Internet to try out. Gear choices are constantly being out dated. Good gear makes climbing easier...and safer.


I have little time for the guys who have opinions but have yet to have btdt. So a little back ground, and still enough ego to share an opinion. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I was fortunate enough to climb a few routes that are still considered worthy accomplishments. In no special order, the 2nd ascent of Slipstream, mid January, in 7hrs with a car to car time of 14 hr. r/t and a walk down the Athabasca. An early one day ascent of Polar Circus with 3 more ascents of the route by 1982. 2nd solo of the Becky route on Edith Cavell taking a direct line up the climb from the car door, 7hrs from lacing up my boots to the summit cross down climbing the East Ridge and back for lunch. A new route on N face of Temple. The 2nd ascent of Super Couloir on Deltaform, in a storm, via the original finish. Other water fall routes like Upper weeping wall (twice), Pilsner, Carlsberg (a couple of times), Takakkaw, Borgeau LF, among many were done as well.


So nothing horrendous even by the standards 20 years ago and light years behind stuff being done today. But climbs many guys are still looking at when beginning today.


By ’85 I wasn’t really climbing much ice. I was doing a lot of trad climbing up to .12b. Sport routes held little interest for me. I found other hobbies and work too committing. Climbing began to take a back seat after living that life style for 20 years. At some point I realized I wasn’t climbing at all. Not climbing rock, ice or Mts.! That went on for years.


Then in Jan '08, a full 20 years later, I'm was dragged into Canada for ice, cold turkey, off the couch.


Past 50 years old (trust me that sounds older to me than it does to you) I at least have the means to generally buy what ever I wanted for gear. Yes, time will even solve the major problem of most every dirt bag climber :)


I bought into the Schoeller revolution. I had a pair of stretch European sallopets that I last guided and heli skied in so I knew that was the right track. Bought the Arcteryx soft tops and bottoms in several weights. More on that later. Also bought a new set of tools, a buddy gave me a set of newer crampons (more later on the subject) and off I went, fat, dumb and if not happy at least excited to be climbing ice again.


Avalanche conditions in Canada this winter could hardly be worse. We start off on Louise. It is cold, I mean –30C cold. I have fewer clothes on than I have ever climbed in. I have the lightest gloves on I have ever used for winter ice and the most flexible ankles in lwt boots that I could image. I hate that damn pillar no matter how many times I have climbed it (over a dozen). But with this gear Louise’s pillar is the easiest I ever seen it.


The next 14 days of ice and mixed climbing were a real education thanks to my many old and new partners and mentors willing to put up with me.


OK, here are “MY” opinions. Not every one will share them. Remember everyone has one and you too are welcome to yours here.


After a full two weeks of climbing in everything from a pissing down NW rain, a snow storm dropping 6” an hr, and down to –30C with hallowing wind I can say hard shell clothing is obsolete for technical climbing short of some really horrendous conditions I can’t image being out in. And with 7 trips to the Alaska Range I can image some pretty shitting conditions. My suggestion? Buy the lightest weight, most stretchy garments and learn to climb in what Twight calls his “action suit”. If it aint got a hood that will go over a helmet easily don’t buy it.


Only caveat to that is your base layer. You might want to think about putting some wool next to your body and a light synthetic layer/s over it. Add hoods that will go under and over your a helmet. The “R” series Patagonia hoody or the really simple Nike hoody (which I like even better for cold weather) works well. Thumb loops on the sleeves have been around 30 years at least and are really cool features in cold weather BTW.



Always take a few pair in the pack or pocket. At least one pair specifically for when it gets really cold from a change in weather, your exhaustion or a long, cold belay. Depending on the climb I will use a thick glove or a mitten. You'll want to error on the side of caution when choosing the “big” glove. You don’t want to pull out the ‘big ‘uns” and find you still are not warm enough and screwed. Heat packs are a good option to carry as well. Remember hydration and calorie intake are as important or more so than big gloves and a belay jacket. I’m using a really light glove made by Mountain Hardware, the “Epic”. REI has the same glove just a bit less durable. Go light…you’ll be amazed. Carry spares to stay dry as required. I’ve only pulled my “big” gloves once this season. But I have gone through up to three sets of the lighter gloves to keep my hands dry. The light gloves aren’t very durable. Leather rappel gloves are a good idea and work well on some hard mixed depending on temps.


Hats? Headbands under the helmet regulate heat better with helmet and layers of hoods than a hat will. The band will also add to your warmth if pulled down to your neckline and nothing to drop. I no longer carry a hat. But I pull on or off any one the layers of hoods over my helmet at belays or while climbing. Try that with a hat while climbing a hard pitch!


Leashes? This ought to get some comments. You’d have to be an a complete, uneducated knob to climb with a leash on a modern tool. No ifs on that one. The human form and the tools are finally a synergistic extension of the mind while climbing. Ice climbing at any level is simpler, warmer and EASIER leashless. Hard to beleive but that will make even hard grade 5 ice more secure.


Several of my buddies disagree some with my conclusions and they know the differences, tells me I only came to my conclusions because I haven't climbed ice in 10 years so the change was easier for me. Remember I am an old, fat guy, and trust me if leashless wasn't faster, easier and warmer I would NOT be doing it. I don't give a shit about appearences, I just want to get up the climb as fast with the least amount of effort as possible. Leashless is a big part of both.


Umbilicals? For what the mind can’t control? If you are less than 70m from the ground climb leashless and forget the umbilical. If you are higher than 70m put an umbilical on the damn thing. Nothing worse than sending your 2nd tool down or climbing a hard pitch with one tool or being forced to jug or worst of all rap. Trust me, an umbilical is better than wrecking a good relationship or worse yet an expensive trip.


I now flatly refuse to climb with anyone that hasn’t got their tool tied on to something. My time and experience is just too valuable to me to waste it on a tool getting knocked off at a belay or dropped for what ever reason, including me knocking it off by accident. How about leaving a tool at a v thread on the rap. It has happened Umbilicals use to be seen as a sign of incompetence. Now I see there lack as a sign of ignorance on anything past a short sport route. Before you start rolling your eyes...take a look at what the "big boys" are doing these days on alpine routes. Makes me think that passing 4 tools around between 3 guys (after dropping two leashless tools) on one of the bigger/harder alpine routes made a broad impression.


I've already had to rap 2000' after a partner dropped a tool on a hard alpine route in perfect weather. Lost a perfectly good alpine rack as well in that experience. Not excited to repeat that costly adventure.


Boots? Fruit boot technology is catching up to the Mtn. boot technology. You’ll climb different in them but you’ll also climb better. Ice becomes more like rock climbing in the soft ankle boots. Haven’t found one I want to send 1000m of hard 55% alpine ice in but it is entertaining trying to figure out how to rest the calves with French technique at every opportunity. More time in soft boots will encourage me to take them on endurance alpine ice.


Now we have both warm boots and soft ankle boots that have a rigid sole for even my size 12 feet. They can be amazing. Check out the usual suspects to see what fits you. I like the Batura for cold stuff close to the road (they are hard to dry out) and the Spantik for anything over a day out. There are much lighter boots I could be climbing in. We’ve only just seen the beginning to the newest boot technology. In the future look for a dbl. layered fruit boot that is warm enough for Denali which you’ll actually want to use for that M10 at your local crag.


Tools/crampons? Any of the newest tools from Grivel, BD or Petzel works better that anything for even a few years ago. BD seems to have the biggest issue breaking picks. Grivel has the solid reputation of bomb proof and no one can question how well they climb. Petzel stuff is not cheap but climbs very well and is very durable as well. The other brands at the moment are simply "hangers on". If you aspire to climb hard forget anything that doesn’t have good leashless support.


Mono points? If you want to do hard mixed it is the only game in town. Not impossible to climb hard with dual front points but why bother with the extra effort? Same with fruit boots. You don’t intentionally climb hard rock in big boots. Why would you do hard mixed in them? You need to take the time to fit any crampon perfectly. Then take the first few days you climb in them and fine tune the fit. Dropping a tool sucks. Dropping a crampon can easily get you DEAD.


Ice screws? If you aren’t currently climbing with the newest generation of Grivel screws, either the 360 or the Helix you are wasting energy. I’ve tried EVERY new screw design currently on the market, in almost every snow and ice condition you can think of. With all due respect to Will Gadd & BD and with no hype, no bs, there is no other manufacture even close to Grivel's current production. The Grivel screws are as revolutionary to ice climbing as Jardine's Friends were 30 years ago. Big statement I know. But placing good gear, easily, where you want it instead of were you could makes climbing much, much easier and a lot safer.


Add some quick draws, and a few slings made to absorb the load and pretty much set. Wire gate biners hold everything together and don't easily freeze. Plate or “guide” belay devices that will allow you to belay off the anchors with a documented catch on a 400’ fall (yes FOUR hundred feet) will take the rest of the load.


My rack? Helix mostly and only two 22mm screws. With the newest test results I have switched to a lot of 13cm shorties. The Helix stack on a carbiner just fine. Buy the big plastic racking biners from BD or Petzel. They work even better for racking screws and axes.


Headlamps? I spent the last week intentionally climbing many of the 30 or so 60m pitches in the dead of night with a headlamp. I have the high tech rechargeable BD and a cheap 3 AAA Petzel. I prefer to climb with the Petzel as the softer light is easier on my eyes. The BD on the bright halogen setting was good for scoping out the ropes on free hanging 50m raps and complicated route finding. But the Petzel was tiny to carry (unnoticed) and more than enough to get down anything and good eough to get me up anything I can climb.


I am leading at the same level of difficulty on ice now, as I was 25 years ago. You have no idea how unrealistic that really should be. All the while with less effort, while being safer. The main reason, the Grivel Helix. The rest of the stuff mentioned just adds to a more enjoyable and fun experience. Gear will always change over time so stay up on it if you want to keep up.


Spend your money wisely. Thirty year old designs got me up some decent climbs back in the day. The new stuff, if you buy wisely, makes those same climbs much, much easier. That only makes the next level of difficulty much easier to reach. Stay safe and hopefully I’ll see ya out there! I'm the old guy with white hair, and funny tweetie bird boots, stop by and say "hi".


Edited by Dane
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Great post! Awesome to see an experienced climber's perspective on the new gear.


The only points I would add are that the new Black Diamond screws start much faster than the Grivel 360 screws. Both me and my partners have used the Grivel and new BD screws in Colorado, Wyoming, Canada, Alaska, and South America and found the new BD's consistently start faster and place easier.


I am also still climbing with my leashes on hard (5/6) ice because I've found I can lead the pitches faster with my leashes on than without them. Maybe I'll eventually move over, but I consistently lead faster than my partners who climb leashless. For me, speed=safety.


It's awesome that you're getting back out! Enjoy it!

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Thanks Doug, I appreciate your comments.


To support my comments I only have the newest Grivels (360s and Helix) and both models of the newest BD screws on my rack now. I'll stand by my original comments as the Helix being the best of the bunch the majority of time. Although the 360 is good and maybe even a toss up with the BDs..although the BDs rack/stack and deploy much easier. The BDs just don't cut ice as easily. I am not a big fan of the 360 for all the above limitations. Although the 360 does have an advantage over all of them in tight placements.


I also agree, it is all about speed. I suspect anyone quickly leading hard ice on leashes would easily be warmer, a bit quicker and much more secure if they are willing to go through the bit of insecurity to get use to going leashless.


I watched a guy from Colorado run out a couple of pure WI6 pitches last weekend while lacing in screws like rock pro. Ten in a 30m section through a big roof system. The guy was leashless and fast. A screw every 10 feet wouldn't normally be the the same sentence as fast. When he got back to the ground I noticed his rack was all Grivel Helix.

I had already suspected as much and wasn't surprised.


Anyone interested in 5 of the newest generation of BD screws (3 express and 2 turbos all shorties ) take a look in the yard sale.

Edited by Dane
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Hunh. My experience is the exact opposite with screws. The Grivel's (both 360 and Helix) crank pretty fast but just don't start as easily as the new BD's. Whatever works for ya!


I watched a guy last weekend crank a 5+ in Cody on the same tools as me without leashes and he looked super smooth. I can only hope to get that comfortable without my leashes eventually. I've already ditched them for alpine climbing and just take some homemade umbilicals.


I also just changed tools and I'm having a hell of a time cleaning the picks (they've got a date with the file), so that also contributes to my hesitation.

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Ya need any new screws:) A couple of them have yet to be used!


Sitting here at the key board I see that the BD screw has longer initial teeth and a thinner tube profile. Both of which should be an advantage over the Grivel chewing into ice. Grivel threads start a bit shallower at the teeth (by 1/10s of an inch). Which technically means it will start a bit quicker but it isn't much. The thread designs are totally different from Grivel to BD. Grivel's finish is obviously smoother. All issues which will make a difference +/- in performance.


Saw a technique that works really slick to get all of them started. Instead of doing the first palm cranks all clock wise try first cranking back and forth within the limit of your wrist. Seems to get them all started and on to the lever crank quicker. For all I know everyone has been doing that for years already. A new one for me. But what isn't :-)

I'll easily admit both Companies offer good products and everyone develops there own preferences.


Stuck picks? I'd bet it isn't your problem but you'll love this. The first dew days I spent the majority of time seconding everything to get my "feet" back. I began to wonder if my Quarks would ever stick. First time I was on the sharp and in steep rotten ice, of course I over drove damn near every placement. That got really old quickly :) Sacking up and easing off a bit to avoid a stuck tool and go faster was tough.



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What lengths of screws do you have in the turbos?


I hear you about overdriving. I'm moving from Quarks to new Cobras and the swing weight is extremely different. The BD picks also have a backwards facing tooth right behind the tip, which I think is what is causing me so many problems.


I was cursing myself for leaving my Quarks the first day out with the Cobras when I flamed out just from pumping my damn tools to get them out.


It's all good though, as it just motivates me to get out more since I bought new tools!

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New Cobras feel awesome and I like their weight, balance and the triggers. Got to play with them one day during a trip. If I'd seen them earier I suspect they would have been my choice as well.



In the Turbo I have two 13cm. The new Express I have two 13s and a 10cm.

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Thanks guys. Just hope it is useful info.


I have missed a couple of things and will add more after the next couple of trips north.


A big one that really surprised me is the lack of basic technique with many beginners and some old hands as well.


I just got a video in from some guys we were climbing with last month. It shows my long time partner still climbing in the X position on even moderate ice. He is strong and skilled and been at this almost as long as I have. He’ll be pissed I said this but over the years he has never really excelled at hard ice. Part of that is he doesn't spend a lot of time doing it. Part of that is now more obvious...he is using a technique that will limit his abilities and endurance even though he is still a 5.11 trad and a 5.12 sport climber outdoors and brutally strong.


Not like he hasn't heard this shit before. He was telling me to calm down, relax, drop my heels and just climb last month. And I really needed the help!


The problem? Dave was till using the X pattern on ice. I was shocked to see it on video. He makes up for the slower technique by being strong and very experienced. But he could be much better on ice by switching techniques. Gadd has a good description of the X and A pattern in his book. He calls it "tracking" and is on page 74. The X movement goes like this axe/axe then foot/foot. You always end up in an X position for feet and hands. Generally solid and the go to position for me then and now when I am scared/fatigued/or on shitty ice and I start over driving my tools. Problem with the X is it is slower and more tiring than the A (triangle/tracking) position. A's movement pattern is axe/foot/foot, axe/foot/foot. While not always possible it is much faster and requires half the swings of the X pattern. Both work on steep ice. The A is more efficient, less tiring and faster. You'll hear that mantra over and over as the "rules" for a good ice climber.


For those that wonder where all this came from.


These are my recollections not having read anything by Chouinard on the different positions being developed. Things changed very fast between 1970 and 1980 on ice. So who knows for sure where this stuff really came from?


The Alps generally have much softer ice alpine ice than say Canada waterfalls. First I heard of the X/A discussion was from John Lauchlan, an incredibly good Canadian climber who later died on Polar Circus. He and Dwayne Congdon had previously climbed some very hard (even by today's standards) ice routes in Chamonix.


The cutting edge tool of the day ('79) was the Simond Chacal. I It was the first tool with a reverse curve pick. Same curve we are all climbing steep ice with today btw.


The softer alpine ice allowed much easier sticks and traction. So much more traction and ease of placement that two tools seemed redundant when one tool would do on even the really steep stuff. All of a sudden you could easily bypass one placement with little drop in your own security. Not sure when John started using the A but he saw the writing on the wall, started teaching it, as did all the Yamnuska instructors.


If you aren't "tracking" you are going too slow :)

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Thought this might be appropriate to the conversation :) Steve House from the Grivel web site. House has been the poster boy for most of the ideas I have mentioned above and been doing it that way for a long time.




Just picked up the newest issue of "GRIPPED". Short article on House's alpine gear suggestions. Worth the read of course.


More comments here on my wool suggestion which House condemns.




Also good write ups on the Spantik boots and the use of umbilicals. It is a very informative web site.

Edited by Dane
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Couple of PMs asked the same question so I thought I'd better explain.


Leashes? If your tool isn't set up from the manufacture as a leashless tool nothing wrong with using leashes. It may well be the best solution. Guys are doing conversions but my thought is most will be better served to just buy leashless specific tools when they want to step up.


FWIW having climbed on the Quark and Axtar I can say they they aren't "leashless" tools till you add the finger ledge to the Quark. Axtar is a leash tool for me. I think the Quark now comes with it "ledge". I had to buy mine. The bolt on ledge for the Quark made a big difference in performance and ease of use. With out it a leash was madatory for me. YMMV on any tool.

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  • 1 year later...

20 months later? I'm an old guy so easily impressed and still learning.


Belay jackets aren't bivy jackets.

And now we have "belay sweaters"!


Good gloves are never light enough. OR is close.


Real leashless tools ROCK!


As does the newest Black Diamond umbilical.


Single boots really aren't dbl boots even with a attached super gaiter.


Good thing, as there are now lwt dbl boots because of that fact :)


Stainless crampons are hear to stay! And damn...they do look cool as well.

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As another "old-fart" (started 1970) with a few significant notches in my tools, I'd have to say I agree with most of the above, and would add:


for light gloves, I've gone to a mechanic's glove for mild conditions -- very thin (superb "feel"), durable, and with enough wax melted into the leather palm, water-resistant enough - just not warm enough for anything below about +20F. but cheap enough for extras...


screws - for me, it doesn't seem to matter so much the make, as how sharp I keep them. O-P, BD, Pretzel, Grivel, all work superbly when they're sharp, and none of them work particularly well when they're dull. carry files...


I haven't found double boots necessary until below 0-F, or out for more than one night, and I prefer the ankle range of the modern singles.


While I agree that Charlet/Pretzel, BD, and Grivel make great tools, I am absolutely in love with my DMM Rebels. DMM has, hands down, the best leashless grip I've tried. And in three seasons of active use, I've yet to break a pick (on my third set so far -- and I keep (and tune up) the old ones for climbs that have much mixed ground on them...)


Rigid crampons are (to quote Dr. Shipman) "like porta-ledges for your feet". My current favorite is the DMM Terminator set up with monopoints, and I like the Trango Harpoon with a monopoint as well. Didn't really care for Grivel's Rambo series...prefer more significant instep points...


I wear glasses, and used to have to climb blind on vertical ice because I'd get spindrift and ice chips all over them. Sometime in the 90's, I discovered that a billed cap (ball-cap) worn inside my helmet kept snow and ice away from my face--problem solved.


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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm an old fart too. I would agree with most above. I also think that often the focus is too much on gear and not technique. I started pounding snargs in the early 80's and used old chouinard reverse curve pick that wasted a TON of energy trying to remove. I learned quickly to file the teeth down...way down. But what I learned most was because I hated following a snarg climber who over-protected, was that it's still all about your feet. A good climber is looking down just as much as up. I always wanted to lead and some people think I run it our too much sometime, but I always climb with the mantra you just don't fall ice climbing. My pro is often just to keep from decking. Ice climbing is so much about your head, not your gear!


How you swing your tools and feet is important, but also where you put your tools and feet is also. Experience teaches where you can get a good stick first time. Pressure melts ice so you don't always have to swing or kick. This works great for going over buldges. Just place it and pull on it for a couple seconds. It will melt into the ice and stick. I try to move my feet twice as much as my tools if possible. I often pull out my tools close to my waist. This is different on vert to overhang so all this talk depends on what grade you are on.


Sorry if I digressed from "gear" to technique, but some of us still get up shit with old school stuff. For how much I climb recently I'm happy to borrow some leashless tols, but I'll probably climb with my cobras for a long time. And I still like straight shaft tools for alpine. I don't seem to have an issue with my knuckles much either.


I still always carry a pair of dachstein thick wool mittens with leather palms sewed on. Nothing warms me up faster and I love them for rappels.


Great discussion!


Fast is safer.

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Just so we don't get stuck in the time warp a few comments from my perspective.


No reason to ever run out an ice climb these days. New screws go in as fast as a cam on rock and can be just as secure. Risking even a small fall on ice and serious injury doesn't seem like a smart way to climb.


Useing an umbilical on leashless tools will reduce that risk even further.


Using leashless tools not only keep your hands warmer but have killed heavy mitts for anything but really cold moderate routes where a ski pole or straight shafted tool might do just fine. Or on really cold belays as a spare. Heat packs might just solve the issue better though. Leashless done correctly will also reduce the pump not increase it.


The modern tool picks generally don't (brand dependant imo) need to be tuned when new and will out last the last generation several times over.


A modern tools hooks so well, that hooking has replaced the need to swing a tool for most routes.


I won't argue, your legs do the work.....and it really is all in your feet. Modern tools have just emphasized that fact even more so.


Much of what has been done on ice can still be done with 40 year old gear designs with little struggle. Up the ante to the old test pieces or modern mixed and not so much unless you are the 1%.


Gordon Smith and Tobin Sorenson's line on the Grand Jorasse comes to mind as does the McIntyre/Colton. Lowe and Weiss' line in the GCC is another. Still current test pieces for the aspiring alpinists and all done on what we now consider obsolete gear.


Ice used to all about your "head". It isn't now. Alpine always will be. But the right gear selection will make things easier in either venue.




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Agreed. Yeah, I climbed wi6 with Forrest Lifetimes, and I pulled beyond-vertical schrund walls with a 70cm piolet in one hand and an alpine hammer in the other. The difference the modern gear makes is that thirty years later I can do those things without pissing myself during the pitch and enduring a case of dry heaves while recovering. Yet I climb fairly regularly with John Tarver, who still seems perfectly happy on wi5, with boots, tools, and crampons old enough to have been used on his first solo of Polar Circus back in his teen years...

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  • 2 months later...

Thought this worth a bump two years on from the original post.

Not much has changed since the original post. But a few things can be better definded now.


Be fun to readdress each issue of the original post after a few weeks out again up north.

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