The humble nut was the workhorse behind the UK trad climbing movement, which in the 60s spread worldwide.
The Brits also took their artificial chock stones elsewhere, most notably the Alps, and in 1954 Don Whillans and Joe Brown put up the British Route on the west face of the Blatiere (UIAA VII) using this practice. Even today this route is rarely climbed entirely free. In the 1950s climbers, who were often engineers, resorted to hexagonal machine nuts as 'artificial' chock stones and climbers like Joe Brown used to pick up old machine nuts from along the side of railway tracks to use on their first ascents on Cloggy in North Wales. Later climbers drilled the threads out of machine nuts to prevent abrasion on the rope they were threaded on. Eventually in 1961 the very first purpose built nut was produced in the form of the Acorn and in 1966 Clog produced its very first version of the hexagons. The next real break through for this form of passive pro was when Royal Robbins, armed with a new set of chocks bought at the Joe Brown shop in Llanberis, climbed the Nutcracker in Yosemite without any pitons whatsoever. The Americans caught up! This ascent, along with an essay by Doug Robinson called 'The Whole Natural Art of Protection' in the 1972 Chouinard Equipment Company catalog kicked started the clean climbing revolution in the USA that spread the word that hand-placed protection was good and hammering in pegs was bad. Yvon Chouinard the largest piton manufacturer in the US changed his emphasis from making pegs to nuts and in 1971 he released an improved version of the hexagon - the hexentric. A year later he released the 'stoppers' later to become Black Diamond's staple passive pro.
In the years that followed a huge variety of other designs were tried: cogs, t-shaped nuts, z-shaped nuts, variations on the wedge, the much-loved MOAC; some have stood the test of time but the next big breakthrough occurred in the UK. In 1977 Mark Vallance started Wild County to manufacture and market Ray Jardine's revolutionary 'Friends', two years later Mark designed another revolutionary piece of gear, the Wild Country Rock, which boasted three points of contact instead of the usual two of other nut designs. In 1983 HB offsets were introduced to the market and by 1986 the other mainstay of a British rack, the DMM Wallnut, was released. There are a lot of types of nuts now available not only in the UK but around the world. All of them have a slightly different design meant for different types of placements. It's impossible to say that one type is better then the other as it largely comes down to personal preferences, what rock type you are climbing on, the shape of a cliff's cracks and price. In the UK we are heavily biased towards Wild Country Rocks and DMM Wallnuts; in fact it must be one of the most asked questions when it comes to passive pro on UKClimbing.com; Which should I get, Rocks or Wallnuts? Of course the answer is not very black and white as they are very similar...
The holding power (NB I'm not talking about the actual strength of the nut here) depends on two factors: the taper and the amount of surface contact it has with the rock. The taper is, in a nutshell, the angle that you can see between one end of a nut and the other. Instead of a nut being a rectangle shape it has a thinner bottom and wider top. The taper is important as it forms the wedging characteristics of the nut. However it is important to get just the right amount/angle as this affects both the surface area/ contact with the rock as well as its seating and retractablitily. This is where nuts differ so much.
I've used Rocks ever since I started climbing but never really took to them that well. Actually I say 'started climbing' but in reality I was a travesty of a climber and my gear kept falling out below me mainly because I had no idea what I was doing. The reason I didn't get on too well with Rocks is because they tended to fall out more than Wallnuts; a simple and effective, but not recommended, way of learning that the limestone cracks of the Avon Gorge work better with Wallnut type nuts! (N.B., Wild Country Rocks shouldn't just fall out, it was just because I didn't know how to seat or place them properly; something that is definitely worth practicing before heading up on your first lead)
Many years later however, and I hope a little wiser, I find myself surrounded by the infamous Chamonix granite which offers great placements for the Wild Country Rocks and the Wallnuts now tend to stay at home. When it comes to passive pro I have a mix of Rocks and a set of Superlights on me at all times. I guess what I am trying to get at is that some rock types suit different nuts, and this is worth remembering. Indeed many climbers have a range of different wires on their racks be they DMM Wallnuts, BD Stoppers, Offsets, RP's etc..
Rocks work really well in slots with 'smooth' walls such as you find on grit and on granite. Here they will fit and extract perfectly and when you find yourself with a bomber placement on granite you know that you can hang a donkey of it! I think one of the great things really is how easy, as a second, it is to extract the nut afterwards. This might seem like a small point but on alpine routes the faster the better and the amount of time you can spend trying to get out stuck placements can really add up which maybe not a concern for cragging at home.
As for the construction, the anodised Rocks are now made by DMM meaning that you can expect a very high quality output. The older 'Classic' un-anodised Wild Country Rocks are manufactured in Czech. Wild Country Anodised Rocks and DMM Wallnuts may seem more expensive than other brands such as Zero G but the devil is in the detail. DMM take a lot of time and care over producing the Wild Country Anodised Rocks providing extra manufacturing services such as rumbling the rocks so they have smooth corners (avoids the corners 'snagging' in a placement) and radiused wire holes. It may not sound like much but coupled with the 3D CNC'ed curves and tapers it adds up to a lot of machine hours. All Wild Country protection and safety products are distinguished, like DMM and Black Diamond's, with 3 Sigma ratings and ISO Quality Systems. It should be noted that these differences in construction give Rocks (and Wallnuts) a higher fall strength than other types of nuts for the same size.
My anodised Rocks have seen a lot of heavy abuse this season and whilst they are covered in dents from over-anxious ice axe driven placements they are still fine and the strands have yet to show any signs of wear and tear. The anodized colour has also lasted very well. Rocks are rated from 7kn for a No1 with the rest rating at 12kn.
In 2005 Rocks underwent change and on top of adding 4 new larger sizes, they managed to shave of 14% weight on sizes 7-10. In addition the Rocks are now anodised as is the norm now with pretty much all nuts on the market. Perhaps the most interesting part of the redesign was the re-think of the side taper, which in a nutshell has allowed the Rocks to retain a high fall rating when placed 'sideways'.
This is meant to be a Wild Country Anodised Rocks review so I'm not going to go into detail about the Wallnuts. However no review would be complete without at least trying to address this very asked question. Now there are some die-hard Wallnut fans and some die hard Rock fans and to be honest I don't see what all the fuss is about. Let me just quickly point out the similarities between the two:
So what are the differences? Well on the surface its pretty easy to notice that the Wallnut has a groove running down the middle of it allowing it to often 'catch' placements better, stops the nut pivoting and lifting out, and aids placement in shallow cracks. As I mentioned earlier it is quite dependant on the type of rock you are climbing, and in rock with flared cracks and 'knobbly bits' such as Limestone these are better. However the flip side of this is that they can be a pain to extract, especially if they have been weighted or taken a fall. Whilst from a leader's point of view this isn't a problem, whilst seconding it can be. In addition due to their slightly more complex design they do require a little more thought when placing.
However this is about as much of a difference as you have to worry about. All in all I'd recommend getting a set of both Anodised Rocks and Wallnuts. They shouldn't be viewed as competitors but as complementary bits of pro. If you are a beginner and only want to get one set then I think start with the Rocks (unless you are on limestone) and learn on those. Then when you are more proficient at seeing as well as placing gear you should get yourself a set of Wallnuts.
As a final note on the Rocks, they are a great piece of kit and have fueled many an adventure. You can't really go wrong with Rocks and that's the great thing about them, they cover such a broad spectrum of placements that you wont find them sitting uselessly in the boot of your car. Not just confined for the beginner, it's a piece of kit that you will end up using all your life on the lead both in the UK and further a field.
*For those interested in the details of the metallurgy involved, Simon Marsh from DMM kindly explains:
“We make the nice anodised Rocks for WC and use similar metals/treatments for both the anodised Rocks and Wallnuts.
However we use 7075-T6 aluminium on our smaller Wallnuts because this resists shearing forces better than softer alloys whilst still retaining good bite.
While the entire range of Rocks is made from 6082 aluminium alloy which is softer.
We currently forge the smaller sizes and we use extruded bar on the larger sizes.
As far as I know these alloys have always been used and the heat treatment/hardness has not been altered either.”
From then on I took advantage of the huge university holidays and tried to spend a maximum amount of time out in the Alps. I spent my first few years out in Zermatt (thanks to my climbing partner at the time Brian Birtle who put me up countless times) getting more into the mixed and alpine element rather than just rock climbing Chamonix style stuff. I finished my 'time' out in Zermatt on a high point with theLyskamm North Face and decided I was ready to move on and try Chamonix style rock routes. I finished university last summer and moved out to Chamonix where I am currently working in photography and film work.
It's hard to pick one specific type of climbing that I prefer over the
others but I think my heart still lies with big mixed alpine routes
that potentially involve a couple of nights bivying. I am still
getting used to the whole Chamonix 'get back in time for the last
lift' style- I still include bivying as a part of any decent
mountaineering experience. I am also still getting used to crack
climbing- it hurts.... a lot.
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