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The Cuddington Three-phase is an exceptionally versatile climbing system, and Phase 1, the Mitchell System, is a fast way to climb free-hanging rope. The modern Mitchell uses a chest box, Keith Wilson’s invention. When he first used it in Golondrinas, Keith ascended the 333 m. pit in 33 minutes. Try that with a Frog System; and you’ll appreciate how fast that pace is.
Some of the original chest boxes from BlueWater and others were awkward, others like the clever British Neill Box from Goldlock were not available on this side of the pond, and it wasn't until Jim Gossett and Darell Tomer introduced the Gossett Block in 1978 that we had a good (albeit heavy) box readily available. It was a brick. Darrel made a custom milled-out Block for me to use, reducing its weight from 370 to 166 g. When Ron Simmons came out with the Simmons Roller he killed the heavy Gossett Block, but I continued using my lightweight modified version until 1992.
Mike Fritzke introduced his Alpine Box at the 1992 NSS Convention. Immediately recognized it as a major improvement, and started using it as my main box. The side plates are held closed by a flat spring that can be depressed with a single finger, allowing the same finger to swing the plates open in a single motion. This was much faster than unscrewing the rollers in the Gossett block. In addition, the wide plate helps the harness keep the box closer to the chest, improving climbing efficiency. This compensates for the increased weight of the box (293 g.). By comparison, my similar size Simmons Racing Double weighs 428 g.
My primary complaint with the Alpine box is the location of the slots for the chest harness. The diagonal slot is not the best arrangement for my chest harness, although I can see how a harness could be designed where this would be a good feature. I once tried climbing Carpenter’s Pit (21 m.) with the box upside down, but that was a disaster: the box kept rotating and jamming. Turning the box right-side-up (which I did on rope, 15 m. up) completely cured the problem. I'm amazed that this minor inversion made such a big difference.
Paul Stovall made two or three boxes patterned after the Alpine Box, but provided metal rollers and a more traditional harness slot pattern. His version weighed 334 g. The Russians also copied the Alpine Box, and I bought one from Vladimir Kisseljov and Ilia Alexandrov at the 1994 Old Timers’ Reunion. That box also featured metal rollers and a traditional harness slot arrangement. It weighed 287 g and was inscribed with the Russian proverb, “Whoever burns will not drown.”
I acquired my Alpine Box from Mike Fritzke at the 1992 NSS Convention. I acquired another in 2017 as part of Bob Thrun’s collection.
My Alpine Box is 51 mm. long, 203 mm. wide, 42 mm. high, and weighs 293 g. It is a double channel chest box consisting of a solid aluminum plate, two plastic rollers, and swinging aluminum gates with spring steel latches. The rollers and gates are attached to a subtriangular aluminum rib with a stainless steel bolt. The rib is bolted to the back plate. The back plate has a 33 mm. diagonal slot on each side for attaching a harness, and a subtriangular lightening hole on each side as well. All of the aluminum parts are anodized.
The plate is engraved with the serial number "A033."
Normally I cave using a Cuddington 3-phase climbing system, and the Fritzke Alpine Box was my normal caving chest box for many of my most active years. The box was manufactured using a CNC mill, so the workmanship is excellent. The long bar helps keep the rope close to the chest. The rope and long foot sling are held in by swinging gates that open by pressing in on the brass-colored buttons attached to the spring steel catches. Each side opens independently. I consider this to be an essential convenience feature for any double-sided box.
The size and weight of the Alpine Box are quite acceptable.
My only complaint with the Alpine box is the location of the slots for the chest harness. The diagonal slot is not the best arrangement for my chest harness, although I can see how a harness could be designed where this would be a good feature. Personally, I prefer the vertical slot arrangement seen on the Paul Stovall and Russian copies.
I tried climbing with the box upside down, but on the harness I used, it was a disaster: the box kept rotating and jamming. Turning the box right-side-up completely cured the problem. I'm amazed that this minor inversion made such a big difference.
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