4:00 am alarm. November 1.
“Wow, It’s November…Shit, it’s so early”
Pile into a small van with 6 other people and luggage bound for the Guilin airport.
“God damn, I’m tired. What I’d give for a little coffee.”
The van ride was only an hour, but it seemed like eternity. We arrived and all checked in. 6 of us were bound for Zhuhai and Black Diamond Asia headquarters. The other, Emily, was destined for Mexico. Despite my sad state, I thought she had the poorest bargain of us all, and did not envy her travel itinerary. We parted ways knowing that we would see each other in Canada in a few days time. The flight was an hour, and after a 2 hour taxi we were at the doorstep of BD Asia within the Zhuhai Free Trade Zone.
The facility is impressive; new, clean, state of the art. Contained within the grounds are the BD Asia offices, the BD global distribution center, and the Asian manufacturing and assembly factory. This is an extremely important element of Black Diamond, and and it was established from the ground up starting just 5 years ago. Everything here is entirely owned by BD, and everyone is a 100% BD employee. The energy of the place and the people felt positive and optimistic. There are ping-pong tables on the assembly floor, and a slack line and proper climbing wall outside. We took lunch with all of the employees in the cafeteria, which is provided by BD every day, as is the Chinese custom. After, we had a formal tour of the place.
With some staff in front of the climbing wall
Fresh new ultra light locking Nitron biners
Two notable aspects of the factory are the closed loop anodization line and the CTM, carabiner testing machine. Both are modern marvels of technology and engineering. Anodization is a notoriously nasty and environmentally unfriendly process due to the chemicals and dyes involved. The process yields increased corrosion and wear resistance, and better adhesion of paint to common metal, such as aluminum or titanium. Thus think, carabiners, ice tools, trekking and ski poles, bike frames, on and on…There are so many products in the outdoor industry that are anodized. This line is one of just a few in the entire world that emits virtually ZERO harmful waste into the environment. It is a closed loop system. It was conceived and created by and for Black Diamond. It is SUPER progressive. The CTM is another remarkable machine that is the only one of it’s kind. It is the 2nd generation of the machine and was designed and built at BD HQ in Salt Lake City, UT and then shipped straight to Zhuhai. EVERY single carabiner that BD makes goes through this thing. It tests the gate through 3 cycles, then pull tests up to ½ strength, then does a visual verification to ensure gate rivets are properly formed, then finally and only if the biner passes the first 3 tests, it pin etches a date code on it.
Being there and experiencing it first hand definitely changed my perception of ‘Made in China’. Although, it was explained to me that this is certainly not the norm, because BD upholds some of the very highest standards with respect to working conditions, wages, employee treatment, and product quality. It was my distinct pleasure to give a presentation to the managing staff the day following our arrival and tour. I tried to convey how important their work is to Black Diamond, and also to me personally, and how much I appreciated them. Everyone was engaged and attentive the entire time, and I was pleased by the faint notion that perhaps they could see their work and efforts in the skiing and climbing images I showed.
Lowering at Moon Hill. Nick Rueff photo.
Shortly after, I was on a 70-minute ferry from the port of Zhuhai to Hong Kong. I spent the evening navigating the subway and wandering the city. It is incredible and vast and busy, and I walked as the day became night until I was tired. The sun went away, and the sky was left illuminated by the lights of the myriad skyscrapers. It didn’t take long for fatigue to come. I had a long trip, and the last few days of the festival and travel had caught me. I was ready and happy to go home. After a single nights’ sleep, I was on my way back to Colorado where a refreshing transition awaited; snow and ice.
Ferry to Hong Kong