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Pierre Allain

Version A Version B
Version A Version B

Overview


Version A
(#1084)

Front Rear
Front Rear

Technical Details

I acquired this descender from Stéphane Pennequin in 2007.

The Pierre Allain, Version A is a single piece forged aluminum descender. This Pierre Allain is 188 mm. high, 11 mm. wide, and 17 mm. thick. My Version A is somewhat worn, and weighs 149.

Unlike the far more common Version B, Version A has a flat (milled) shaft. The two sides of the shaft are marked "PIERRE ALLAIN" and "BREVETE SGDG," respectively. The letters are shallow and indistinct, in marked contrast to those on Version B. Aside from the differences in the shaft, the two versions are remarkably similar.

Comments

Earlier Pierre Allain descenderPierre Allain filed for a French patent on September 15, 1949, and received Patent #995,304 in 1951. I can trace Version B back to 1961, allowing us to bound the age of Version A. It is, therefore, a very old design that is too valuable for me to test, let alone relegate to general use.

Despite its age, it is not the oldest Pierre Allain descender design. Stéphane Pennequin sent me a photo of a 1947 prototype that is actually, in some sense, a figure eight. Pierre Allain made only one prototype.


Version B
(#366, 578, 1279)

Front Rear
Front Rear

Technical Details

I acquired this descender from Pathfinder Sports in 1982. I acquired a second one from John E. Weinel, Inc. in 2000, a third from Kevin Raymer in 2011, a fourth from Paul Calton in 2012, and a well-used fifth from Gary LeMacs in 2022.

The Pierre Allain, Version B is a single piece forged aluminum descender that works on the same principal as a horizontal spool. The rope is wrapped around a slightly tapered arm that is inclined about 28° to the horizontal. The arm has a hook and two horns on the upper side that keep the rope in position. A shaft extends 100 mm. below the arm to an attachment eye with a 16.3 mm. hole. The shaft is inclined about 8° from the vertical. This Pierre Allain is 188 mm. high, 103 mm. wide, and 17.5 mm. thick. My descender is somewhat worn, and weighs 144.5 grams, so I estimate that the original weight was 145 to 150 grams.

The two sides of the shaft are marked "PIERRE ALLAIN" and "BREVETE SGDG," respectively. The previous owner of the first descender engraved the initials "RCB" in the device. I believe that this was Roland C. Brown’s personal descender. Roland was a salesman at Pathfinder Sports that helped me acquire several devices for my collection. The one in the photo is the one that I acquired from John E. Weinel, Inc.

Comments

This descender appears in Pierre Allain’s 1956 book L’art de l’alpinisme, but the drawings do not allow me to determine which version he illustrated. The earliest American reference to this descender I've found is in the 1961 REI catalog, and it looks more like Version B than A. I have not been able to check a 1960 catalog, but it did not appear in the 1959 catalog. In the caving literature, it appeared in the Humor section of the October 1964 Windy City Speleonews. That article suggests a number of appropriate uses for the Pierre Allain descender, none of which involve rappelling.

The Pierre Allain seems to be more secure than it appears, but I cannot recommend it as a safe device for general caving. First, the thin shaft does not have a large enough cross section to for me to fully trust it. Second, the rope can come off the arm if the rappeller is not careful. This is particularly true with some of the modern caving ropes, such as PMI, which tend to be stiffer than climbing ropes. One can, of course, increase security by rigging differently, but I've never seen this method published. The alternate rigging is the similar to the way one should rig a Rappel Hammer: bring the rope down under the hook and around the other side of the horizontal arm, pass it under the arm, 180° around the vertical shaft, and then back up and over the top of the arm, between the two spikes. The Pierre Allain is a classic device that appears in many of the older climbing books, so it makes a good addition to any equipment collection - which is where it should stay.