Advanced techniques in traditional climbing - advanced protection

Advanced techniques in traditional climbing - advanced protection

There's a whole host of advanced protection pieces including conventional pegs such as lost arrows and knife blades, right through to copperheads, skyhooks and birdbeaks. Andy explains the uses of some of the more common pegs and gadgets.

Advanced protection holds a position between traditional gear (such as wires and camming devices, that rely on weakness in the rock) and fixed protection (such as bolts, that must be used in situations where nothing else can be found). Advanced protection is the traditionalist's last stand against either drilling a hole and placing a bolt, or climbing with no protection at all. Below is a round-up of a few of these marginal pieces of advanced protection which are often designed to take no more than just the climber's body weight.


Although some free climbers have utilised these wacky pegs for protection (and fallen onto them!) they are mainly used for either direct aid, or more commonly, as key rings

Conventional pegs

Pegs are generally hammered into the rock and used in situations where wires and cams cannot be used effectively. In some situations, where the local ethic frowns on hammered protection, they may also be hand placed. A new, well-placed peg is extremely reliable, but old fixed pegs should always be treated with caution. The placement and removal of pegs can do great damage to the rock, often resulting in 'pin' scars that will accept passive protection such as small conventional, or offset, wires.

There are four main peg types:

Angles - These are manufactured from sprung steel and designed to fit into cracks that can range from the size of a fist (bong) to down to that of a finger (baby angle). Due to their sprung nature, angles have great holding power, but now that modern passive protection covers a similar size range they have become largely redundant, save for winter and aid climbs.

Lost arrows - Originally manufactured from the axles of old Ford cars, lost arrows are solid steel pegs designed to fit in cracks that range from fingertip size down to a few millimetres. They are extremely robust, if heavy, but are still popular since they can be used in situations were no conventional passive protection can be found.

Knifeblade peg
KnifebladeKnifeblades - The ultra thin knifeblade is designed to fit into cracks only a few millimetres wide, and depending on the pegs orientation, can provide sound protection in cracks too small for even the smallest micro wire.

Leeper - The Leeper or Z-peg, is a Z-shaped sprung steel peg that has the greatest holding power. Its Z-profile makes it a popular stacking tool (a technique where two or more pegs are stacked together in placements too wide for a single peg).

Non Conventional Pegs & Gadgets

In the bleakest of climbing situations you may find that neither conventional pegs nor passive hardware will afford you any protection. In these situations you must call on the most extreme gadgets known to climbers, protection so scary to use even the very mention of their names is enough to strike fear into a climber's heart.

RURPs - The 'Realised Ultimate Reality Piton' is one of the most unconvincing pieces of protection ever invented. No bigger than a large postage stamp, a RURP can be hammered into the type of hairline cracks you might find in a broken mirror. Although some free climbers have utilised these wacky pegs for protection (and fallen onto them!) they are mainly used for either direct aid, or more commonly, as key rings.

Birdbeaks - Named after Jim 'The Bird' Bridwell, one of the world's greatest big wall climbers, birdbeaks (or 'beaks) are the modern peg for hard aid climbs. Like the RURP, a 'beak is no larger than a stamp, but its ability to hook into cracks like a minute ice axe, gives it vastly increased holding power.

Copper heads - Manufactured from either copper or aluminium, these are basically soft malleable nuts that range from the size of your thumb to as small as a 'tic tac' sweet. They are placed by hammering them into whatever the rock has to offer, with the malleable metal 'sticking' to the texture of the placement. It goes without saying that using these babies requires a great deal skill - and an even larger dollop of faith!

Sky hook
Sky hookSky hooks - Hooks are primarily used for progression when you can neither free climb nor aid climb via protection pieces. Occasionally, it is possible to arrange sky hooks as protection pieces, placed and taped down over flakes, or hammered in strange pods or pockets. The strength of the hook is dependant on both the hook's resistance to opening up and the strength of the rock.

Getting the most out of your protection

You must learn to recognise the difference between a good peg and a bad one. When hammered home a good peg will give out an increasingly high pitch until you can hammer it no longer. A dull or flat sound means that it's either the wrong size or has bottomed out (in which case you must either place a shorter peg there or try stacking instead). Often a peg may seem solid enough even though it's only in place half way. In these situations you must tie-off the peg using a short sling in order to limit leverage. A conventional clove hitch is generally the favoured knot.

Test pegs by lightly tapping them in the direction of pull. If the hammer bounces off then the peg should be sold enough. Try to imagine how the peg will react to any force being applied to it when calculating its strength. If in doubt, don't use it!

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