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Spelet Horní

Front View: Closed Rear View: Closed
Front View: Closed Rear View: Closed
Front View: Open for Rigging Rear View: Open for Rigging
Front View: Open for Rigging Rear View: Open for Rigging

Technical Details

I acquired one Spelet Horní ascender on eBay from Philipp Molzers in 2013. Later that year, Ondřej Belica donated a pair to my collection.

The Spelet Horní is 196 mm. tall, 91 mm. wide, 25 mm. thick, and weighs 205 g. The shell is a tall irregular shaped stamping made from 4.0 mm. aluminum alloy sheet metal. A rope channel is formed in the upper portion of one side and a smaller cam channel lies opposite the first. A hole drilled through both sides of the cam channel accepts a 5.5 mm. semi-tubular rivet. The cam and cam spring are mounted on this rivet. The handle below the cam has a soft black plastic hand grip riveted into place. The hand grip has four finger grooves. A 15.3 mm. sling attachment hole is punched below the handle opening. A 22.6 by 15.1 mm. oval hole through both sides of the rope channel provides an attachment point just above the cam. The second hole above the cam is 15.2 mm. in diameter. All these holes are slightly beveled.

The cam is a plated skeletonized steel casting. The cam has number of small conical teeth, all of which have their axes approximately parallel to the lower surface of the cam. The tooth pattern is (F)(3.4)^3(3.2)^2(3). The F stands for a short flat area designed to allow the user to cant the ascender and slide it down the rope without opening the cam. The outside two bottom teeth on the left ascender are barely visible, while they are full size on the right. Like the other ascenders, the inner cam face radius reduces from top to bottom to accommodate various sized ropes. A spring-loaded manual safety bar is mounted on the bottom of the cam with a steel semi-tubular rivet. The normal action of the spring holds the safety against the cam. When the cam is opened, the shell interferes with the safety bar, thus preventing opening the cam. If the safety bar is moved away from the cam (opposing the spring), it will clear the shell and the cam will open. At full open the safety can be released and the spring will hold the safety against the back of the shell. This provides a means of locking the cam open. A knob on the safety bar assists in operating the safety mechanism.

The rear of the shell is stamped with "MAX4000N," the Let logo, and "86 00547" on the left ascender and "86 00322" and "87 01530" on the rights, respectively.


Philipp Molzers did not know the origin of this ascender. He wrote the following:

This is a jumar-like ascender, but I don't think it's made by Jumar. It has max weight stamped on it so it's probably American or English. I got it at a used gear shop in Kathmandu and used it after that for caving.

I knew that it could not be American ot English. I assumed that it was Russian (see, e.g., the Altius), and it was not until preparing this page that I recognized that it was another Spelet Horní.

Ondřej sent me the following information:

Spelet horní (top Spelet or Spelet upper)

It used to be produced by Let Kunovice, the aircraft manufacturer (Kunovice is name of the town where it is located). For some reason they started to produce some rope grabs (I think that a son of some functionary was a caver and daddy wanted to make his son happy, but maybe I am wrong). That is where the name Spelet comes from: SPE stands for SPEleology, LET stands for LET as in the name of the company. Horní (top or upper) means that it was to be used by hand above the chest ascender.

From today's view it is a terrible device, but in communist Czechoslovakia, where no western vertical devices were available, it was the best option. The other options were homemade devices that usually did not survived more than one action.

Very often, if you've closed the cam with no rope inside, the cam got stuck inside the rope channel and you had to use a tool to open it.

Another problem was that there was no the highest row of the teeth (spikes) on the cam. If you lifted the ascender on a slant position, the cam didn't grab on the rope and you could pull it down (it is pretty simple, you can try it just with Spelet and piece of rope and repeat it hundred times). To avoid that problem, you could clip the connector to the double hole above the cam, but let's be honest, not everybody did it.

The Spelet dolní is a close copy of the early Petzl Ascensions, including the cam flat appearing on the Petzl Ascension Version A. The flat area on the Petzl cam has caused some confusion. Some cavers think this was a design defect (Ondřej shares this view), but it was provided as a feature. The flat area allows one to cant the ascender then slide it down the rope without opening the cam, provided there is no carabiner in the rope channel holes.

I feel that this is a reasonably well made ascender, although mine have seen considerable use. All sharp edges have been removed. The cam teeth are very well done. The attachment points are simply holes in the shell, and although well rounded I consider their small radius too sharp for directly attaching sling ropes. They are probably acceptably rounded for webbing, but considering the proximity of the attachment points to the main rope, I would recommend using a small maillon for most attachments in order to reduce the risk of sling abrasion. The lower attachment hole could theoretically have the same safety problems as the one on Clog Version A. The upper rope attachment hole is located very close to the main rope. A carabiner through the upper attachment hole may drag on the main line.

Single-handed operation of this ascender is only moderately challenging with the proper hand (mainly because of the strong spring), but is rather difficult with the opposite hand. Closing an locked open ascender is much easier than opening, since the strong cam spring assists the user. The cam is reasonably well made.

This ascender has the same pit lip disadvantage as the Clog. The shell is crushed at the top edge of the hand grip due to some clamping during the manufacturing process. This crushed point is located at precisely the point that one would expect the shell to bend in the pit lip scenario described previously.

The numbers stamped in the shell indicate that these were made in 1986 and 1987.