to Needle Sports
2001, a Nut Odyssey
A long, long time ago, when God created our good old earth,
He had already thought to throw various stones into the bowels
of the mountains, but we are not sure that God had demonstrated
some interest in rock-climbing. So the idea of deliberately
placing stones in cracks to act as chocks and protect climbers
was credited to Morley Wood during the ascent of Pigott's
Climb on Clogwyn du'r Arddu (North Wales) in
1926. With this fundamental gesture the Nuts' Story began!
in the 1920s and '30s, a certain aversion towards pitons,
not for environmental reasons but in respect for a rigorous,
pure ethic. The use of pitons was perceived as disloyal and
less glorifying. British climbers decided to banish them from
as many of their cliffs as possible. Balance climbing was
then seen as the only climbing style, which meant that a climber
should be able to climb down what he had cautiously climbed
up, a style that Paul Preuss pioneered and carried to extremes
with his "no piton" ethic at the beginning of the
century in the Alps. Many great climbs were established in
this way, the protection being, at that time, mainly rope
slings on natural threads, behind or around flakes and spikes.
During the '40s
and '50s, most if not all the routes followed natural lines.
In England, climbers used to select well-rounded pebbles of
various sizes and shapes lying at the bottom of the crags
and carry them up the climb in their trouser pockets. They
also collected granite stones from Wales and took them to
the Derbyshire gritstone or limestone "edges"; posing
a ticklish enigma for the geologists of the future when they
discover these alien rocks. Closer to us, in 1954, Joe Brown
and Don Whillans used chockstones in the very difficult crack
of the West Face of l'Aiguille de Blaitière.
The French climbers Paragot and Bérardini did not know
this technique and thought, during the second ascent, that
the English were mutants! Climbers at this period used hawser
laid rope which was available in sizes of quarter-weight (roughly
5 mm diam.), half weight (roughly 7 mm diam.) and full-weight
(roughly 10 mm diam.). To make them stiffer and easier to
thread around the chocks, these line nylon slings were sometimes
dipped in sugar water and boiled.
the mid-'50s, the Stone Age melted away and a new era was born:
the Iron Age. The technique of using inserted chockstones was
greatly extented by the introduction of artificial metal chockstones,
particularly normal machined nuts. Hughie Banner thinks that
Jack Soper is responsible for the idea of jamming machined nuts.
John Brailsford believes however, that it is extremely difficult
to credit anybody with the first use of machined nuts because,
as with most of these things, it was the spontaneous practise
of many people with an engineering background that was so commonplace
in UK climbing circles at that time. Very early nuts had not
even the threads filed out but it did not take long to realise
the inherent danger posed by the sharp thread edges. So the
thread of the nuts was bored out and the ends smoothed to prevent
chafing and cutting of the cord. The nut runner worked on the
same principle as the chockstone but it had the added refinement
of having the sling threaded through the hole of the nut - a
great advantage over carrying a pocketful of loose pebbles,
then threading them, often "in extremis". Threaded
pipe fittings and expanding metal wedges were also used with
great effect. Dave Gregory remembers that he and Jack Soper
used to pick up machined nuts beside the Snowdon Railway Line,
a line that links up Llanberis to Snowdon, Wales' highest peak.
This little steam train, now one hundred years old, gets very
close up to the mythical Clogwyn du'r Arddu, Cloggy for regulars.
They had a joking superstition that if they found one nut on
the way up to the crag they would be successful in their project
for the day. The climbers' hardware was then developed
Early drilled-out machined nuts.The big nut (top left) was
found beside the Snowdon Railway line. The nuts drilled
with lightening holes were made by Harry Smith.
climbers' hardware was then developed to use all kind of
nuts belonging to Ray Greenall (of the Rock and Ice)
to use all kind
of " chockable " objects coming from various origins
or made, generally during working hours, by climbing engineers.
Brailsford (by Evelyne Brailsford)
1961, a blacksmith from Sheffield, John Brailsford, then a teacher
of engineering technology, created the ever first purpose designed
nut, the Acorn. Three sizes (1 inch, ¾ inch and
5/8 inch) were turned on a lathe from extruded aluminium alloy.
John Brailsford also tried Tufnol (a resin bonded fibre used
by Rolls Royce or Hoover for making light weight, silent gears)
and brass for their different properties of hardness. Since
the Acorn had a machine nut sitting on its top and threaded
on the same sling, this " nest of nuts " offered two
options, the machine nut or the Acorn. They were probably the
first nuts to be marketed in England, by the Roger Turner Mountain
Shop in Nottingham.
of the difficult cracks which were climbed by hand-jam and layback
techniques needed however a wider nut. After measuring some
of them, John Brailsford (again!) made models in balsa wood
in the form of truncated, oblong pyramids. A Derby company,
Coronet Tools, specialising in aluminium casting made six prototypes
in L.M. 6 in which John Brailsford drilled two holes and created
a radius to join these holes. In the sixties, the testing of
ropes was based upon Maurice Dodéro's works. Dodéro
used components which related to the carabiner then in use -
a 10 mm diameter standard. John Brailsford realized that, if
he could increase the diameter over which the rope passed on
the top of the nut, he would greatly reduce the risks of cutting
the rope sling at this critical point of contact. A star was
born: the MOAC! Joe Brown, Don Roscoe (of the Rock & Ice Club), John Brailsford himself and his regular partner,
Doug Cook, used them
Moac (left), and an Acorn,
and below: Clog made Acorns on wire and tape..
found they worked at a level of safety not enjoyed before. In
1962, the first batch of MOACs was cast in Manchester and the
guide, Peter Gentil, hand-finished them. Mounted on 9 mm rope,
other sizes could be obtained by filing them down to reduce
their thickness. Originally, Alan Kimber, a Scots-based friend
of John Brailsford, thought about calling the new nut Johnny,
which also is a slang term for a condom... Ellis Brigham, owner
of a chain of outdoor shops in UK who sponsored the die cast
first production run, also owned a climbing equipment import
company, Mountain Activities. Therefore the name MOAC was chosen
this nut, that many
British and American climbers still carry them for sentimental
Curtis was probably the first to make wired nuts. He first climbed
on Cloggy in 1959 and collected his first authentic "nuts".
At this time, he was studying Chemistry at Sheffield. He graduated
in 1961 and moved to the Geology Department where he started
making his Little Mesters in his workshop. Charles Curtis
had not seen wire used for artificial chockstones but, at the
Sheffield University Mountaineering Club, many members were
speleologists who explored the caves in Derbyshire, just a few
miles away. They manufactured ladders from wire, and he convinced
them to give him some samples. His first attempt was a dismal
failure. A mould was made and molten aluminium poured on to
a knotted wire, which caused
it to lose its
temper and strength. Attempting the second ascent of Vector,
a Rock & Ice route at Tremadog with Peter Crew,
Jack Soper fell off on to one of these nuts while trying to
layback the top crack which was full of mud. The device exploded,
the wire had been weakened by the heat of the metal. The next
step solved the problem completely. Aluminium blocks were
cast or cut and then drilled from the top (single large hole)
and then the bottom (two small holes). The wire was inserted,
tied and the knot pulled back down into the larger hole. He
then set the knot in place with epoxy resin (araldite). Charles
Curtis made sets of different sizes, the smallest being limited
by the knot size. Large ones were made relatively thin. Altogether,
no more than twenty were made. The name is a local Sheffield
name - a dialect version of the Little Masters- the name given
to the local craftsmen who had built the cutlery and silverware
industry in the 18th and 19th centuries.
spring of 1963, John Earnshaw of the Phoenix Mountaineering
Club was formulating in his own mind the need for, and the possibility
of improving in some ways, the safety protection needed for
some climbs. After numerous sketches and rejections, he decided
on the style and the shape of the Spud, as it has always
been known. The origin of John Earnshaw's choice of name for
the device came about as follows. At the time of the invention,
he had no access to machinery but one of his climbing protégés,
Terrence Murphy, was an apprentice engineer and he volunteered
to make a prototype. Everyone may of course already know that,
in Ireland, potatoes are known as "murphys" and, in
England, they are called "spuds". Because of Terrence's
invaluable help, John Earnshaw named his invention Spud in his
Earnshaw Spuds. The small aluminium wedge in this photo was
donated by John Earnshaw. It is an aluminium version of the
threaded on the bit of rope.
He had no means
of testing the device scientifically but, with help, he did
the testing by jamming the Spud in a crack near the top of
a climb in Ravensdale. He hurled a kit bag full of stones
over the cliff to check if the device held fast. After several
successful proving experiments he decided that the Spud was
indeed safe to use. In 1964,
Trevor Peck, a
wealthy businessman who owned a hosiery factory in Leicester,
also became involved in nut manufacturing. He paid particular
attention to producing an object less costly than the MOAC.
Peter Biven and his brother Barrie introduced Trevor Peck
to climbing in 1951 and the three of them formed a formidable
climbing team for many years. The credit goes to Trevor for
dreaming up the chock. His Crackers were made from
knurled round steel or Duralumin bar cut to the required length.
He used steel wire, stronger than small diameter rope, for
the smallest sizes. The earliest ones, in which the wire ends
were locked and silver soldered into a copper sleeve, were
definitely in use in 1962. It was only in 1967 that the wires
were swaged with the Talurit ferrule system. There was also
a nylon version of the Cracker, the Ny-Chock on tape.
Trevor Peck deposited the first patent for nuts in 1965. This
was later refused since there was already proof that the MOAC
predated the Peck device and left the door open for other
innovators. The Peck Crackers were not very successful in
England but the American climber Royal Robbins, returning
from a trip to England in 1966, took back to the USA not only
a few samples but also his experience of the art of placing
passive protection. In his excellent book, Advanced Rockcraft,
a superb photo by John Cleare shows Peter Biven using a Cracker
on the Coal Face at Bosigran. Unfortunately,
Trevor Peck passed away prematurely in 1969 and was not able
to develop his company, Peck Climbing Equipment.
In 1964 or was
it 63, in a cottage in the Peak District, then home of Tony
Howard, a hobby was born which was later to become a company
of international repute. With his friend Alan Waterhouse,
Tony Howard marketed sets of Wedges under the brand
name of Troll. Not far from there, Paul Seddon, master
of his castle in his own small enterprise Parba, was
asked in 1965 by Ellis Brigham to manufacture new nuts to
be sold in his store in Manchester. Paul Seddon cut his prototypes
in a 25mm by 20mm bar of aluminium alloy that he was going
to use, by a coincidence, for a future piton...
Angled at 14 degrees
and drilled transversely with a simple 8 mm hole, these nuts
were delivered, also under the name of Spud, to Ellis
Brigham in October 1965. Later on, Spuds of different sizes
were manufactured. Paul Seddon did not stop there. In 1968
he produced what were probably the first nuts for wide cracks,
the Big-H, which were cut from an H-section extrusion.
Later in 1967, at Troll, an extruded bar in the shape of a
" T " gave birth to the Tee Chock. In 1970,
Paul Seddon teamed up with Tony Howard and Alan Waterhouse
and became the third "troll".
In 1966, in the
long-abandoned cinema of Deiniolen (Wales), Denny Moorhouse
and Shirley Smith, two original personalities, created the
most mythical factory of climbing hardware, Clogwyn Climbing
Gear, known as Clog for short. At that time, a
day on which they produced 24 nuts was reckoned to be a good
one! At the end of that year, Denny Moorhouse made his first
Hexagons which inspired many later on. The size 6 was
called Jumbo, the size 7 Mammoth! In few years, Clog became
the generic word for nut in the language of climbers around
the world. In the early 70's, Troll and Clog marketed a full
arsenal of passive nuts covering a wide range of crack widths.
Above: Clog Hexagons
Below: Clog Wedges
When writing this story, one cannot hush up the Scottie.
George "Scottie" Dwyer was the first Welsh mountain
guide; he was also the creator of an amazing device in...
1946! George Dwyer never used it on the crag since it would
no doubt have been considered as unethical at that time. But,
from the historical point of view, this complex device, grandfather
of the American space age Slider, predated the main nut development
by 15 years.
(photo by Ken Latham)
the United States, Royal Robbins, armed with a brand new set
of chocks bought in 1966 at the Joe Brown Shop in Llanberis,
was spreading the good word, trying to convert the less enthusiastic
by climbing, over and over, difficult routes using only nuts.
With his wife Liz, he made two first ascents in Yosemite in
1967, in this fashion, Boulderfield Gorge and
Nutcracker. Nutcracker really put nuts on the
map, showed what could be done with nut protection alone, and
put moral pressure on the climbing community to follow suit.
He played also a key role with articles on the subject in Summit,
like the famous Nuts to You in 1967. Preserving the
Cracks, compiled by Tom Frost in 1972 in the American Alpine
Journal, clearly stated the problem. The repeated use of hard
steel pitons was damaging granite cracks in an irreversible
way. The nuts offered climbers from across the Atlantic the
possibility of cleaner and less traumatic ethics for their playground.
Doug Robinson treated this subject most seriously in the Chouinard
Equipment Catalog 1972 in the excellent The Whole Natural
Art of Protection. Yvon Chouinard was maybe the biggest
manufacturer of pegs in the USA at that time but also achieved
the second ascent and direct finish of Nutcracker with... Royal
(drawing by Sheridan Anderson)
Regular Hexentrics (left) and Stoppers
In 1971, Yvon Chouinard
threw on to the market the Regular Hexentric
invented by himself and Tom Frost. A much improved Hexagon,
it was however still symmetrical and did not allow more than
three different settings. The real revolution landed in 1974
with the Polycentric Hexentric which, this time,
allowed four settings. A Norwegian, Tomas Carlström,
had given the idea to the Chouinard / Frost team some time
before. Trying to make copies of Chouinard symmetrical Hexentrics
himself, Tomas Carlström took two old Clog Hexagons and
machined them. But since his tools were not very precise,he
was first disappointed by the asymmetrical chocks he had made.
Then, eureka(!), he discovered that they worked in one more
position than the original Chouinard Hexentrics. In 1972,
Chouinard increased his hardware line with a set of seven
Stoppers which were to be the subject of many improvements
during the following years and become in the USA, the reference
for the pyramidal nut. In 1973 and 1975, he produced the Tube
Chocks which covered the four to six inch offwidth cracks
and the Crack'n-Ups that protected the ultra-thin vertical
cracks. With Chouinard Equipment, the Americans had all the
necessary tools for their new ethic, all nuts or hammerless.
In the USA, other
manufacturers made their way into this new market. Bill Forrest
was building in 1969, what was later to become the ultimate
aid climbing weapon, which actually was at that time a nut,
the Copperhead. A small copper cylinder was swaged
around a single wire. Bill Forrest kept the system of the
simple wire for two of his other creations: the Foxhead
in 1970, a pyramidal nut in aluminium alloy or in plastic,
and the Arrowhead in 1974, a very slim copper nut.
The Forrest nuts also existed in an S version (short wire),
being more convenient as aid climbing devices.
In 1973, Kris Walker
and Bill Forrest developed the Titon, a T-shaped nut,
in steel for the small sizes and in color anodized aluminium
alloy for the big sizes. In response to the article The
Whole Natural Art of Protection from Chouinard, in 1974
Forrest Mountaineering proclaimed all the assets of the Titons
in Chock Talk in its Catalog and Guide to Natural Climbing.
This prolific manufacturer would also go on to develop a line
of P-Nuts (1982), a slice of steel mounted on a length
of wire cable, and the Triton (1985), which may be
used as a nut, a belay plate and a rappel device. His Roll-Your-Own
(1984) will remind US climbers that, somewhere in Germany
(Elbsandstein), people also climb very clean. At C.M.I. (Colorado
Mountain Industries), the Hexachoks resurrected the
Hexagons' design but these were lightened to a maximum degree
and had a 1/8'' web in the centre producing an effective "
I " Beam. With this manufacturer, we found again in 1975,
the H-shaped streamlined aluminium alloy extrusion, to produce
a set of twelve Beamchoks very nicely finished in blue,
of which the biggest was eight inches long.
" ... like
a tight-rope walker, the climber is moving feverishly five
meters above his very last protection, an RP number 3... ".
He who reads such lines immediately feels his palms becoming
sweaty. The man behind these two initials is Roland Pauligk.
Living in Mordialloc, a small town in the South suburbs of
Melbourne, he emigrated from East Germany in 1960, one year
before the construction of the Berlin wall. Since the mid
seventies, in a small workshop in the back of his garden,
the boiler maker Roland Pauligk makes with an extreme meticulousness
the ultimate tools for hair line cracks. Troll and Chouinard
already produced small nuts but a silver soldering process
allowed the RP's to be far narrower and even thinner,
whilst maintaining maximum wire strength. He mainly sold his
micro brass wedges in camp sites during his climbing trips
around the world (Yosemite, Cloggy, Chamonix, Dolomites).
The breakthrough came when Rick White, who was a top climber,
did " Gumtree " at Mt Buffalo hammerless in 1975.
The smallest RP was a size 1. After the ascent he said to
Roland you need a smaller one size 0, as the 1s were only
half in a couple of critical placements. There were virtually
no peg scars on " Gumtree "; it had only two previous
ascents both in December 1972, the first and Rick's repeat
a week or so later. The critical placements were between crystals.
There was no write-up by him, probably just climbing news
reports by others. Rick said RP's were part of every Australian
climbers rack in the early to mid seventies and beyond, which
significantly boosted the orders. He showed them to Yvon Chouinard
in 1977, which led to his range of micro-nuts! Roland Pauligk
is the representative of an Australian quiet way of living
and he has never wanted his business to grow too much, so
the manufacturing of his superb toys goes on when... the weather
is not quite settled.
In the USA, in
1979, after extensive research Gaylord Campbell marketed two
series of nuts superbly crafted and color anodized the Wedgefasts
and the Saddlewedges. A notch on each one of the two
big sides guaranteed the Saddlewedges a better stability.
In 1986, D.M.M. (Wales) would bring back this idea for the
famous Wallnuts but, ten years before, in England,
Tom Proctor had already thought to scoop the widest faces
of his larger Clog Wedges. Awesome work was done by Gaylord
Campbell to increase the radius over which the sling passes
and to improve the perfection of the path of the sling into
the nut. The instruction booklet supplied with each Campbell
Mountaineering nut was, by itself, a little wonder and a masterly
course on chockcraft.
Of all the simple
geometric shapes to choose from, only the cam was not selected
for a nut at that time. This was without counting on Greg
Lowe, called Inventor Extraordinaire by Glenn Randall in the
magazine Rock & Ice in 1986. In 1972, Greg Lowe, assisted
by his brother Mike, refined the concept of the cam by introducing
the constant angle, as a fundamental element for the stability
of future nut placements. In 1973, he created his first prototype
Tri Cams but they only came on the market in 1981.
The only solution in specific situations, the Tri Cams are
the most fun to use, stimulating the climber's ingenuity.
In 1976, C.M.I. brought onto the market the Kirk's Kamms,
a single thick block of cam bound to a single wire by a swaged
stainless steel ball. The ball itself at the end of the wire
was also marketed as the Blue-Bells and could be used
as a small nut. With the Camlock in 1977, S.M.C. (Seattle
Manufacturing Corporation) built a hybrid device from a Hexentric
and a Tri Cam, better adapted for non-flared cracks.
1 Chouinard Tube Chocks.
Crack 'n' Ups.
Copperhead, Foxheads, S- Foxheads,Blue Plastic Foxhead and
Titons and a rare Chimney Chock, the Chimney Chock is the
one on the middle of the top of the photo.
P-Nut, Roll-Your-Own and Triton.
6 CMI, prototype and Beamchoks.
7 RP prototypes and Wedges.
9 Wedgefasts and Saddlewedges.
Kirk's Kamms and RoKJoX.
Let's come back to England where, in a small village in the
Peak District, Mark Vallance, creator of Wild Country, improved
considerably the most classic pyramidal nut. "Rare are
the cracks showing the same profile as the nuts". Starting
from this statement, in 1978, Mark Vallance thought of changing
the two large flat sides to create the maximum possible point
contact with the rock. Using some Forrest Foxheads as prototypes
he tried a large number of combinations to obtain finally
the first curved nut, marketed early in 1979 under the name
of Rock. No matter what the angle formed by both sides
of a crack, the Rocks have always a three-point contact instead
of only two for the pyramidal nut. By coincidence, at about
the same time, Geoff Birtles, the Editor of High Mountain
Sports magazine, worked with Tom Proctor on a closely similar
design. They offered Mark Vallance the name Rocks which was
what their device was called.
Another English maker, Faces, from Matlock, went even further
a few years later, with his Gemstones (or Gems).
Curved from top to bottom but also from back to front, this
complex shape keeps three point contact in flared cracks.
With Hugh Banner
(today HB Climbing Equipment), the problem of the flared crack
is tackled from a different angle. " A real goldsmith
of the bronze nut ", he created the HB Nuts in 1983,
later renamed the HB Offsets. Cracks in rocks, particularly
small cracks encountered on difficult climbs, are often narrower
at the back than where they emerge on the surface. To deal
with this inconvenience, the Offsets have a double-transverse
taper which allows subtle placements in flaring slots and
old piton scars.
Wild Country Rocks (1st, 2nd & 3rd generation, 1979,
1987 & 1988).
Above: Faces Gemstones.
A small selection of the collection
in the Nuts Museum!
Far from wanting
to be exhaustive, this article only offers a wide selection
of nuts, as the keystone of a different approach to climbing.
We have, through lack of space, neglected the French, the German,
the Spanish, the Swiss, the Italian, the Russian manufacturing...
Other nuts remained sleeping upon the drawing table of an inventor
or abandoned in a trunk full of prototypes. Others reached the
Patent Office but never married the crack of their dreams...
At the end of the '70s, with the work of Ray Jardine, inventor
of the Friend, the nut became "active" or, if you
prefer, spring loaded. No one could ignore Greg Lowe's Cam Nut,
marketed in 1972, Lowe who had already built in... 1967 the
Crack Jumar! But that's another story...
The Nuts Museum
is very comprehensive, but it is still short of a few item.
For a full list please go back to the Nuts
Also click for:
Early Equipment Catalogues.
Photo Hall, 18 Cours Napoléon
F-20000 Ajaccio FRANCE
Phone : (00 33) 4 95 21 43 31
E-Mail : email@example.com
Nuts' Story: 2001 a Nut Odyssey was first published High Mountain
Sports, June 2001, No.233.
It was translated by John Brailsford.
to Needle Sports