I wrote a product review titled “New Adjustable Protection for Thin Cracks” that was published in the July-August 1986 edition of Rock & Ice magazine. As I noted in the article, even as of the spring of 1986, there was hardly a single piece of commercially available spring-loaded thin crack protection on the market. There were Friends (sizes 1-4) and the Metolius Slider nut, and that was it. You could buy bootleg mini-Friends and funky prototype TCUs from sketchy dudes selling homemade gear out of the trunks of their cars, but could you trust it?
But by mid-year, a gold rush was on and the market was flooded with all kinds of devices—Wild Country’s official half-size Friend, Wired Bliss’s original Three-Cam Unit, Metolius’s version of the TCU, and Colorado Custom Hardware’s Trigger Cam, not to mention several opposed-wedge devices including Sliders, Quickies, and the remarkable Rock ‘n Roller. Several gear manufacturers eagerly sent me a set of their new devices, hoping for a positive review.
You might be thinking, “You got a bunch of free gear. What a scam!” But no, I destroyed every piece of on-the-market gear they sent me. I was no scientist, mind you, but my friend, Matt Arksey, was an engineering undergrad, who was eager to help. He built a device he called it the “Pro-Tester” that used two granite blocks that could be adjusted to form a crack as narrow or wide as needed. Using the “Pro-Tester” and a Linius-Olsen Procap testing machine set for a 6000-pound range at a pull speed of one inch per minute, we tore apart a full set of every cam we received, charting their load-bearing and failure capacity. The testing machine graphed stress loads and failure points, giving us important data about the strength and weakness of each piece. The anticipation was kind of fun as piece-after-piece bent, contorted, and finally snapped under loads exceeding 2,000 and sometimes 3,000 pounds.
We also received some prototypes that were still in development, including one sent by Dave Waggoner that he thought would revolutionize big-wall climbing. Dave was the founder of Colorado Custom Hardware (CCH) and he sent us what he referred to at the time, the “Cable Cam” (later called the "Cable Pro.") It was a funky 10-inch long, four-cam metal-and-plastic device on the end of a floppy cable. We tried it out in a thin crack placement and it seemed okay, but it was so unique and, well, weird we didn’t know what to think of it. While we were field testing it, Matt cracked a joke that made me laugh, so I worked it into my review. “The version I saw looked like an alien sex toy,” I wrote. “It worked well in tight placements.”
I wasn’t sure how Dave and the folks at CCH would react to my “review" of the Cable Cam, but I found out quickly. In the next issue of Rock & Ice, Mark Rolofson, in a follow up to my gear review titled “More on Trigger Cams and Alien Sex,” defended the honor of CCH’s products including the Cable Cam. “Waggoner’s latest and most versatile design for thin cracks is the … Cable Pro (Alien)…,” Rolofson wrote. “They are not designed as sex toys, but it is up to the owner to decide how to use them.”
And with that, the “Alien” was hatched. Not right away, though. CCH persisted in calling it “Cable Pro” for a while, but eventually ads for “The Alien” started to appear in the climbing magazines. Why the name change? Maybe because Cable Pro sounded boring, whereas the Alien sounded, well, sexy. Whatever the reason, the name stuck and, as Dave Waggoner had predicted, the Alien soon became a fixture on the racks of wall climbers around the world.