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#66699 - 10/06/12 03:29 AM Fixed pitons
Dana Offline

Registered: 07/13/00
Posts: 619
There were a few mentions made recently about the angle pitons made and placed by John Stannard.


1. The material was 1/8 inch sheet steel – donated, of course. The blanks for each piton were cut out using a band saw.
2. After the blanks were made, each one was placed in a bench vise and hammered over: this formed the angle. A hole was drilled - for the carabiner, obviously - and another hole was drilled for a rivet, if the piton one of the larger sizes.
3. A local garage (guess where) electroplated them with cadmium. That is why they don't rust.
4. A few samples were tested in a tensile machine. (Now, who would have easy access to something like that?) They were, according to the source, "radically strong."
5. Each was painted battleship gray. It was hoped this would make them unobtrusive and (this is my guess) plain enough to discourage pilfering.
6. In 1972 this all became an echo of the past.
7. More importantly: What was the boss doing when all this was going on?

#66700 - 10/06/12 10:47 AM Re: Fixed pitons [Re: Dana]
oenophore Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 09/24/01
Posts: 5963
Loc: 212 land
Wow! How did you learn of all that?

#66701 - 10/06/12 01:32 PM Re: Fixed pitons [Re: Dana]
retroscree Online   content

Registered: 06/29/11
Posts: 397
Originally Posted By: Dana
5. Each was painted battleship gray. It was hoped this would make them unobtrusive and (this is my guess) plain enough to discourage pilfering.

Mostly to be visually unobtrusive. Pilfering was discouraged more because they are relatively soft compared to chrome-molly and tended to conform to the crack and allowed crystals to dig into the metal - basically they were a bitch to remove; much more difficult than the normal harder steel pitons.

#66702 - 10/06/12 04:07 PM Re: Fixed pitons [Re: retroscree]
rg@ofmc Online   content

Registered: 12/25/99
Posts: 2467
Loc: Poughkeepsie, NY
Stannard was aggressively attacked in some circles for promoting clean climbing, people said he was encouraging dangerous practices. They blamed early accidents in which gear pulled on his influence.

Of course, we were all learning about nutcraft from scratch; things everyone knows now had to be either intuited or discovered through harsh practical experience.

The clean ascents book that Stannard promoted, kept at Rock and Snow, had a certain number of climbs done clean at the R-X level by people who could just have well have soloed the routes. Other climbers saw a strain of elitism in this that would prevent them from leading routes at the level they thought they should be able to lead, either because of decreased protection or because they didn't trust the new-fangled gear.

All this was happening when only a basic set of stoppers and hexes were available and cams were not even on the horizon. The majority of those nice fat horizontal 3/4" and 1" angle cracks we were used to slamming pins into were not usable, even with advanced trickery.

The criticism notwithstanding, Stannard was not in the business of promoting risk. He had been to Yosemite, seen the destruction caused by incessantly placing and removing chrome-molly pitons, and wanted to save the Gunks from a similar fate. So he decided to blunt the critics and equip easy and moderate classic routes (up to about 5.8 I think but mostly at lower grades) with strategically placed fixed pitons in spots where protection was needed but the gear of the day would not work or would require a high level of expertise, commitment, and perhaps physical attributes well beyond the grade of the climb.

The alternative at the time was that people would continue to place and remove chrome-molly pitons, creating the ugly scars that had already begun to degrade Yosemite's cracks. Moreover, chrome-molly pitons left as fixed would typically be removed by subsequent parties, since removing pitons was the common practice of the time.

And so Stannard's superb soft-iron angle pitons were born. They've lasted more than thirty years, the thick stock and cadmium plating preserving their integrity long after chrome-molly's have rotted away. Because they were angle pitons, just about every one of them can nowadays be replaced by a cam, and so there is absolutely no reason to put anything fixed back in when Stannard's gear finally expires.


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