Nuts To You- Royal Robbins Clean Climbing Intro Summit 1967

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Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 17, 2010 - 03:32pm PT
Royal Robbins grounbreaking introduction to the use of nuts from Summit May 1967. This was the first convincing push for their use in the climbing media along with Save South Crack. What you see is what there was circa 1967!

Thanks to Jim Phillips for this one. He is graciously helping fill in my Summit collection.















SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Jul 17, 2010 - 09:09pm PT

Hey Steve, I heard you were on WOS!!!!

Whot gives????

hee hee hee.
Thanks for the history, perfesser!
Thorgon

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Jul 18, 2010 - 01:21pm PT
Troll spud, that is an interesting name for a stopper, named after Spud Murphy!


Cool,
Thor
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jul 18, 2010 - 02:27pm PT
Very influential article on me. Right away I filed the threads out of a size-run of brass machine nuts and strung them several to a runner. Soon the commercial British nuts began to trickle in here.

I started guiding with them for pro in the Palisades and working the tougher flared and parallel-sided cracks in the Valley. The Clean challenge was fun!

Hard to believe from looking at this that in six years Grade VIs would go clean, and that another five years would see Ray Jardine slinking around the Valley with prototype Friends hidden under his jacket.

Thanks for digging this up, Steve. A pretty rare magazine. Last time I saw one was at the Climber's Ranch in the Tetons, where I sat right down and read it through. A great addition to the Forum.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jul 18, 2010 - 02:34pm PT
That article is where it all started.

In my case, I got my complete set of 17 nuts from Joe Brown, just as Royal described. And off I went one day in 1968 with Dave Craft to try Double Crack in the Gunks (then 5.9, now 5.8---but of course still really 5.9).

I was pretty sure I could wedge those little thingies in the vertical fractures of Double Crack, which made it more suitable for an all-nut ascent than many Gunks routes, dominated as they are by horizontal cracks. Still, casting out on a vertical pitch with neither a hammer nor any pitons felt like going naked into battle. Imagine, young 'uns, putting aside everything you know and understand about protection and launching out equipped with something completely new, based on totally different principles, ones you don't fully understand and aren't at all practiced in implementing.

Afterwards, the thing that really struck me about our little ascent was how quiet it had been. No jangling of iron on a sling, no hammer blows and sounds of ringing pitons, just a few murmurs of rope signals and the sound of the wind in the trees. Why, people could easily walk by and not even know you were up there! Surely this was the way to climb---too bad it would never be really practical for all routes...
Thorgon

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Jul 18, 2010 - 05:41pm PT
Thanks, DR you led a generation of clean climbers! I picked up the rope about 1974 and haven't looked back since, O.K. not totally true... I am constently studying the Spirit of the Age every chance I get. I was fortunate to hear Don Lauria's account of Wall of Early Moring Light first hand, but the rest is like a pleasent dream!


Thor

rgold, good for you, man clean is the way it was meant to be, but if the going is really thin, bust out the RURPs and hammer!
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jul 18, 2010 - 07:52pm PT
Hey Rich (rgold), glad you're here.

I like your recalling how silent it felt, once the jangling of iron went away. The nearly bell-like BONG! of Bong-Bongs wasn't the only sound we took for granted back in the Iron Age. There was also that constant clank!-clank! of the rest of our ironmongery -- especially the steel angles -- every time we so much as shifted on a stance. A lot more grating than today's racks. Kind of like being in a Denny's when the caffeine clicks into high gear at every table at once, and the busboys are slinging crockery.

I've heard enough about how the 'Gunks sported lotsa horizontal cracks to appreciate your choice for a clean route. And I'm curious: did you and Stannard (jstan) talk about this stuff? Inspire one another? My experience was lots of campfire talk in the Palisades, but not much in the Valley.

Tell us a story...
Fritz

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Jul 18, 2010 - 08:07pm PT
Steve: Thanks for the post. This moves my nut timeline back a few years!

Royal was into nuts earlier that I remember.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Jul 18, 2010 - 08:09pm PT
Not only were nuts important ecologically, they also made free climbing easier. Carrying a hammer and pins on free climbs wasn't much fun.
The user formerly known as stzzo

Social climber
Jul 18, 2010 - 09:20pm PT
Cool stuff. I bootied a nut at Phantom Spires yesterday, and today looked into replacing one of mine that got lost somewhere.
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 18, 2010 - 09:41pm PT
I always liked that cute Sheridan Anderson cartoon, of a nut standing victorious over a prostrate piton.
Fritz

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Jul 18, 2010 - 10:25pm PT
Mighty Hiker: Here you go!

Credit: Sheridan Anderson
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 18, 2010 - 10:33pm PT
Interesting - a six year gap. Although 1972 was when the first really good nuts, the Chouinard hexcentrics and stoppers, appeared.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jul 18, 2010 - 10:50pm PT
Doug, here's some of what I remember about the situation.

1. The nuts from the UK were an idiosyncratic hodge-podge of shapes with not all that much variation in size. The same thing used to be true of pitons, until Chouinard revolutionized them, not only by using chrome-molly, but also by creating a graduated sequence of standardized shapes. Chouinard did the same thing for nuts---a graduated series of standardized shapes, that made it conceivable to apply them across the board to a broad spectrum of rock types.

2. In the Gunks, Chouinard's small wire stoppers eventually completely changed the outlook. They went into wiggly fractures that were never any good for piton placements. Climbers discovered there were protection opportunities they had never noticed.

The use of wired stoppers was pioneered by Stannard. As far as I recall, no one thought they would be good for much but aid. But Stannard went out to the cliffs with some sandbags and a rough field dynamometer, measured fall forces, and arrived at conclusions about how much of a fall you could take on these nuts. Then he started using them for really hard cutting-edge climbs, climbs that even today, forty years later, are viewed with respect and not lead onsight all that often. Stannard trained other climbers in the use of small stoppers, and new perspectives opened up.

One of the things Stannard understood is that some placements could only hold a short fall, so a climb might have to have a lot of placements. This is so obvious nowadays, that it is almost impossible to convey how surprising this seemed at the time. People used to speak of "overprotecting" climbs, which meant driving too many pitons. You would never place two pitons in, say, four feet. But small gear demanded this style of protection, and, unlike driven steel, exacted no penalty in terms of rock destruction.

3. It is true that the horizontal cracks were a problem---in more than one way.

a. One issue was that we hadn't learned to look at those cracks. Well, I hadn't anyway---I had better keep this in the first person rather than pretend to know what anyone else was thinking.

Eyes used to looking for piton placements don't attend to the fine local details of cracks. In particular, I didn't initially notice the kind of keyhole placements in horizontal cracks that are not at all uncommon in the Gunks and are actually the most solid gear placements available on the planet. (Perhaps part of the reason for overlooking such placements is that they were precisely where you did not want to place a piton. The narrow mouth often produced the textbook ascending-pitch ringing sound of a solid piton, while the empty space behind the lip made for a pin that could easily spin out.)

b. After keyhole placements in horizontals came the famous but now almost forgotten opposed pair. (If not totally forgotten, then relegated to the realm of arcane theory rather than ordinary practice.) These placements took a discerning eye and prodigious endurance to rig on vertical and overhanging rock. Such niceties, and the energy penalties their construction imposed, have now completely vanished in favor of plugging in a cam.

c. Even with all these developments, there were still quite a few horizontal cracks that wouldn't take any gear. So many, perhaps most climbers found it necessary to climb with a combination of nuts and pitons.

Stannard did develop two partial solutions. One was to thread two stoppers, usually of different sizes, on the same piece of cord, and fold the top over the bottom to place opposed wedges that worked, some of the time, in parallel-sided horizontals. The other was a camming nut of his own design that, I think, predated all the other inventions. The nut was an elliptical cross-section cylinder, and had a channel for the webbing, analogous to the valley between the rails of a Tricam. The webbing was wrapped around the cylinder in the channel. Pulling on the webbing rotated the cylinder and torqued the wider elliptical cross-section into position. Stannard was able to protect climbs with this nut that no one else could manage to get reliable gear in, but he never made any for anyone but himself, for good reasons, and the rest of us could only sigh and smash in an angle piton.

4. Here again it was Stannard who intervened. After a trip to Yosemite in either the late sixties or very early seventies, he saw what had happened to Serenity Crack and came back determined to save the Gunks (and perhaps the rest of the U.S.) from a similar fate. So it was that he started publishing and giving away the Eastern Trade, a newsletter that promoted clean climbing. This has an enormous and far-ranging influence, and he was walking his talk, doing routes at the highest level of difficulty (up to 5.12) in the style he was promoting.

Stannard also designed some pitons that were meant to be fixed, and placed them, mostly on easy to moderate climbs, where it seemed most likely that continued driving of steel would occur because of the high traffic and lower skill level of the participants. These pitons lasted 30 - 40 years and are just now reaching the end of their useful lives.

It was really only a few years until Stannard had pretty much convinced everyone in the East to climb with nuts only, and his local message was, of course, reinforced by your justly famed essay in the Chouinard catalog. There followed, for a brief period of time before cams were generally accepted and sport climbing came into its own, a unique moment in American climbing, almost as distant and foreign now as the days when everyone carried pitons and hammers.
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 18, 2010 - 11:00pm PT
http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/851721/Preserving-The-Cracks-Tom-Frost-Makes-His-Case-AAJ-1972
The user formerly known as stzzo

Social climber
Jul 18, 2010 - 11:04pm PT
RGold: very cool history post.

One of the things Stannard understood is that some placements could only hold a short fall, so a climb might have to have a lot of placements. This is so obvious nowadays, that it is almost impossible to convey how surprising this seemed at the time. People used to speak of "overprotecting" climbs, which meant driving too many pitons

So, there's something to the "at least it will slow me down" idea for marginal pro?
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jul 18, 2010 - 11:05pm PT
Yeah MH---check out the photo credits on the shots Frost used, and then note that Stannard also had nine footnoted quotes!

Stzzo (formerly). Because of the tests he did, I suspect that no one since Stannard has understood as clearly just how much of a fall you can take on a wired nut, nor has the ability to judge placements that he developed by making them, judging them, and then seeing what happened in the tests. This is what allowed him to venture into standard-raising territory, armed with a very simple rack of stoppers and hexes.

As for the role of marginal pro that pulls, the debate that raged for years on rec.climbing seems to have been settled in the affirmative: the climbing rope indeed does recover during the instant of slack between the pulling of a piece and the loading of the next, and this means that the peak load on the next piece will be lower than if the fall had occurred without the pulled piece above. (This does assume that you fall from above the bad piece and not while still below it...)

Wayno

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 18, 2010 - 11:37pm PT
Nice historical piece. I remember several climber friends from around that era that had access to machine shops or metal shops and made all kinds of cool gear.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 19, 2010 - 09:32am PT
A little more background for the dawn of American clean climbing. Robbins took a very enlightening climbing trip to Britain in 1966 and wrote this account in the December issue of Summit.











ydpl8s

Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
Jul 19, 2010 - 09:52am PT
Rgold said "Stannard did develop two partial solutions. One was to thread two stoppers, usually of different sizes, on the same piece of cord, and fold the top over the bottom to place opposed wedges that worked, some of the time, in parallel-sided horizontals"

As you can see in this picture, this was a pretty common practice for us in 1972, and not just for horizontals - This picture taken on Comeback Crack, Castle Rock, Boulder Canyon 5.10b , notice RD's and homemade harness.

Castle Rock 1972
Castle Rock 1972
Credit: ydpl8s
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