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 forties and fifties, 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 »; a ticklish enigma for the geologists of the future when they will 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.

In the mid fifties, 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 machine nuts.

Hughie Banner thinks that Jack Soper is responsible of the idea of jamming machine nuts. John Brailsford believes however, that it is extremely difficult to credit anybody with the first use of machine nuts because, as with most of these things, it was the spontaneous practise of many people with the 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 realize 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. 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 have were also used with great effect. Dave Gregory remembers that he and Jack Soper used to pick up machine 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 to use all kind of « chockable » objects coming from various origins or made, generally during working hours, by climbing engineers.

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