It takes balls to use nuts...


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Social climber
So Cal
Nov 18, 2006 - 10:39pm PT
Mid / Early 70’s. I hadn’t carried a hammer all winter at Joshua Tree, we’d done a fair number of .8’s with a set of hexes, and perlon slung stoppers. We figured we were ready to step it up to nines that spring at Tahquitz. The Open Book was the first nine established so it should be the easiest, right? John had been following for almost a year now and was competent and fast, but had never shown much interest in getting on the sharp end. I’d managed to convince him this was a good idea and he was enthusiastic about it and offered to drive.

I was able to get a large hex cammed into a pocket to protect the first move, a bouldery move that still gives experienced leaders pause. After a couple of false starts I had the horn above slung and was contemplating the traverse into the main crack. Up to the ear was uneventful with a couple of fixed pins for security. The move around the ear went much easier than expected. I was able to establish a belay with primarily with slung blocks sheepherding the meager supply (one of each) larger hexes for the wide crack above.

It was obvious I would have to be bold or risk running out of gear for the belay. The jams were secure and fit my hands and feet well and soon I was at a flake that the Willits guide book had cautioned the pitons should not be placed there to avoid weakening it. I wedged a sling over it and couldn’t keep from contemplating how many had ignored his advice. It looked marginal even if it hadn’t been weakened. Fifteen or twenty feet up the crack got steeper and the sides more parallel. It was time for another piece.

A number nine hex fit the crack but it was parallel and smooth. I couldn’t find any constrictions to catch it, but a downward tug on the sling seemed to cam it in. It looked and felt ok and I figured a stout yank on the sling would wedge it securely. I leaned back on my jammed right hand and gave it a stout snap.

The next instant there was a deafening boom that originated inside my head as the hex blew my tooth through the top of my tongue. So there I was hanging from a jammed right hand, way to far above a sling draped over a flake of suspect strength with a tooth missing and a newly pierced tongue. A gasp for breath choked me. My mouth was full of sand. That’s what the tooth had been reduced to. I still had the hex in my left hand.

Ok, what next? Down climbing looked dubious. Taking a long fall on that slung flake was out of the question. The adrenaline had kicked in. Another ten feet or so and there was what looked like a good rest and placement. It didn’t take long to get there. Soon I was at the “cave with no bottom.” The normal belay is shortly after that, just around the corner. There was an ancient fixed pin in the cave as well as a block that could be slung. The adrenaline rush was wearing off. I set up a belay and brought John up.

John started laughing when he got close at my gap-toothed grimace that he mistook for a smile. I just drooled some blood and managed to hit him in the forehead. That stopped the laughing. I told John he was going to have to take over the lead. I had always been the rope gun, he’d never led in the year, or so we had been climbing together. We finished with no further excitement. John would never lead after that either.

Nov 18, 2006 - 10:43pm PT
Hard to believe, but I can't quite remember where Baby is. My favourite story from the graduate student days took place near there. I was taking two other grad students from the lab up one of the doable climbs for their first time on the rock. When I was twenty feet up a climber to the right had slung a small tree, chimneyed up against the tree and had pushed it off the cliff. So we heard this blood curdling scream and much jangling. A minute later a climber on the left lunged for a hold and missed, falling to the ground with more extended jangling. As two stokes litters went down the carriage road in single file my friend looked up at me and said, "Stannard. You killing me!" I think I told him, "Relax Paul. They are not that badly hurt." Both litters were moving so I figured it wasn't serious.
Unbelievable, the lengths we went to for excitement.



Social climber
No Ut
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 18, 2006 - 11:45pm PT
Werner. Only if you possess both nuts and balls. Otherwise, you can use nuts without balls.

TG- did you put a stud in your pierced tongue?

jstan- you're killing ME!

Trad climber
Nov 19, 2006 - 12:23am PT
always been impressed by the boldness exhibited in the pre-hightech days. nowadays all the gear was well invented before taking to vert every even occured to me.

i'm a huge fan of the ballnut thingys though!

john hansen

Nov 19, 2006 - 12:26am PT
i climbed in the post piton,, pre cam era, about 78 to 86 in northern Cal ( we couldn't afford cams). We had nuts from the hardware store with kevlar webbing and a set of hexes and stoppers. I was a carpenter and could feel the security of the few pitons I drove, I never set a camming unit.. Climbing was the most fun I ever had.

Social climber
No Ut
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 19, 2006 - 12:39am PT
John Hansen wrote: "Climbing was the most fun I ever had."

Me, too.


Uncategorizable climber
New York
Nov 19, 2006 - 01:23am PT
jstan... you've been away too long if you're forgetting where baby is!!!! That is hilaroius.

ed - bad things happen to people who fall out of Baby

(photo blatantly stolen from CiloGear)(go check out their packs... since I am basically stealing their bandwidth by posting the photo)
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Nov 19, 2006 - 03:14am PT
Aya, first rule of sub 5.10 climbing... the leader must not fall! Even more so as the grades become easier.

Who's foot is that?

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Nov 19, 2006 - 04:27am PT
I've always free climbed with Lowe-Byrne balls on my rack and the long unbarred loop versions before. I've taken plenty of wingers on the #2 and #3 without ever having one pop on me or getting stuck. Can't imagine not having them available. I think they are still the business and by contrast can't even imagine taking a good fall on one of those "micro" cams currently on the market.

Uncategorizable climber
New York
Nov 19, 2006 - 09:45am PT
Ed- the foot belongs to Crackers' wife (the owner of CiloGear). I've seen way too many people get their feet stuck while climbing Baby. I've never seen anyone peel off while their foot was stuck (which is what happened to the foot's owner), but the foot-sticking seems to happen very very frequently. I cringe every time I am sitting there watching someone do the climb...

It's only 5.6, but it's a dangerous 5.6...
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 19, 2006 - 02:15pm PT
Thanks for the info on the Balls. It figures that Steve would be behind those gizmos too. Thanks for the superb gear design and craftsmanship, Maestro Byrne. I am still using several of the old original TCU's that I bought from you in Flag decades ago and have no trouble relying on them.

Great post! Yup folks just kiss the deck all the time around here, no worries.

Social climber
The West
Nov 19, 2006 - 02:44pm PT
When I was about thirteen we experimented with some of those new fangled nuts. My friend's dad drove us up to Devil's lake and watched us climb.

Jerry was on lead (whiteline -similar to goldline- on a bight) and started fiddling with a placement.
"Don't use those toys, wail in something good! use some iron" suggested Jerry's dad.

When it was my turn to lead I placed some nuts when Jerry's dad (his name is Jerry, too) wasn't looking. Then I pounded in an angle.

And got a metal slinter in my eye.

I finished the lead but we had to drive to Baraboo and look up a Doctor (on a Sunday) who was able to remove said mote. $10! Possibly more than the gas for the corvair for the trip cost (400miles) As it was getting on, we headed back to Chicago.

We used nuts more and more after that.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Nov 19, 2006 - 02:51pm PT
Sounds like you escaped serious danger Jaybro.

(I don't mean the climbing. I mean riding in a Corvair...)

Big Wall climber
Quartz Hill, Ca
Nov 19, 2006 - 03:04pm PT
You know, after years of climbing I have finally come to the conclusion that advances in climbing protection are really OK.
If in doubt, I have always adhered to the principle that less is better, using passive protection if possible because I can trust it and it is so much simpler. I remember being in Germany in the 80's where a knot stuffed in a constriction in a crack was the norm, and I didn't hesitate to stuff in a Friend which had the locals buying me beers that evening in hopes of getting one!!
I think the use of nuts, or passive gear, is over-hyped by traditionalists. I will do it when I can but I really don't see a significant still have to make the same moves regardless of protection.


Fun-loving climber
the Gunks end of the country
Nov 19, 2006 - 08:17pm PT
I actually like to climb Baby. Both pitches are nice in their own way. Not to mention it is a nice way to justify the cost of a #4 Camalot.

Actually it is kind of fun to take somebody new up Baby when they have been climbing pretty strong in the gym. Always seems to be a lot of rope weighting going on. They always arrive at the belay with a huge smile.

And most seem to lay back the fun little crack. (little as in short) I have gotten my foot caught once or twice. It is a weird feeling to have to kind of lower back down to get it out.

It is funny too because apparently some time between Ed's picture and my climbing days somebody hauled up a rock to use as a chockstone. But that is long since trundled.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Nov 19, 2006 - 08:56pm PT
BPorter: "I think the use of nuts, or passive gear, is over-hyped by traditionalists. I will do it when I can but I really don't see a significant difference"

I'd have to disagree. Nuts, and particularly, HB Aluminum Offsets, positively rule where I climb and they are typically so bomb that I look at even solid cam placements with a tiny bit of skepticism. The lack of moving parts and the knowledge one absolutely isn't going anywhere make a considerable justification for such claims and isn't "overhyping" at all. I imagine, though, rock type can influence any such opinions but, all things being equal, I'll take a good nut over a good cam any day...

Nov 20, 2006 - 01:49am PT
I think Bporter was referring to the difficulty of routes based on the type of protection that was available.

I too will take a bottleneck nut over a cam any day of the week but I have to say cams make a lot of routes easier and less scary for me. I was climbing an overhanging underclinging type flake today where the climb demanded that your upper body was above the flake. Stuffing #2s was way easier than blindly searching for a bottleneck hex placement.

E: When I first started building my rack 5 years ago, I had nuts and tricams only for a couple of years. When the cracks got wide, i got scared. Tricams rule though!

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Nov 20, 2006 - 03:21am PT
I think there's no question that climbing in general was simply more challenging on passive gear. It is often harder to get solid placements and you sometimes had to suck it up and just climb on to better protection or stances. That's why a while back I proposed the "National Cam-free Day" where everyone climbs on hexs and nuts for a day. It would be an eye-opener. The NCFD would highlight all the hard routes put up back in the day on passive gear alone. Most of them are all still considered great routes, but the use of cams makes many of them appear less challenging and committing than they were back when they were put up.

But I agree with BPorter that advances in protection are OK - even better than OK. I just think that's in addition to nuts, not a substitute or replacement for them. Sometimes I end up behind young climbers on routes more easily and safely led on nuts yet they do all sorts of dubious things with cams instead. You can see they have a real bias for cams, view them as "real pro", and border on not trusting nuts at all. Almost like they grew up on too many "Transformer" cartoons or that the recent technology infusion left them with an affinity for complexity. Go figure...
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Nov 20, 2006 - 10:01am PT
it was precisely BECAUSE cams made what were formerly runout test pieces far more reasonable that Jim Bridwell and Scott Fischer were initially against the use of cams at all.
But they soon realized the futility of their position and learned to embrace the new technology and use it to their advantage.

We are simply doomed to be unable to appreciate the skill and boldness of climbers on who's shoulders we stand, and more's the pity.

Trad climber
Quartz Hill, California
Nov 20, 2006 - 11:50am PT

I totally agree. We have reached consensus !! But I must disagree with Ron's "We are simply doomed to be unable to appreciate the skill and boldness of climbers on who's shoulders we stand, and more's the pity." I fully appreciate the skill and boldness of climbers who put up all the routes I climb with less gear than what I use. In fact, I appreciate it so much that I strive to do these routes as close to the original style as I possibly can. An "all clean" ascent of a trade wall route is something I am very proud of, as is an "all nut" ascent of a free route. And, I can maintain this full appreciation even more when I slam a cam into a crack, where others before me protected with a stopper, knowing full well that I will never rise to their level of skill or boldness! But, at least I got to experience where they have been and that is why I climb.

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