Thursday, 14 May 2009

Climbing Protection - Placing Hexes

Placing Climbing Protection

Learning to lead climbs and learning to place protection often go together. This section will hopefully offer a few pointers on placing protection correctly, safely and innovatively. Protecting climbs is an art form that is learnt with time, but having a rack of carefully chosen gear and thinking laterally can help you sew up pitches that others may find unreasonably bold. The following post is from an article on climbing protection from my website.

Torque Nuts, Hexcentrics and Rockcentrics.

These are amazingly versatile pieces of kit in the right hands, however not all 'hexes' are the same. Hexes can either work as chocks or if designed correctly can also be used as passive camming devices.

In order for them to be used effectively as camming devices they need to be designed so that when placed in certain orientations and a load is applied to the sling then the chock tries to rotate around a surface rather than pull straight out.

The effectiveness of a hex as a passive cam depends on the units design. The original hexes from Camp make good chocks, but are too symmetrical to cam effectively. The Black Diamond hexes are equally poor at camming and, even worse, are slung on wire. Slinging hexes on wire adds one good advantage - the hex can be paced at full reach, but more than countering this is the fact that the versatility of the nut is vastly reduced - they can't be cammed effectively, they can't be pushed into pockets sideways and they can only be loaded in one direction.

Wild Country Rockcentrics on wire are equally restricted in their use, but Rockcentics on dyneema are good - they give a lot of versatile placements, cam better than the Camp Rockcentrics and are also lighter.

The old HB Quadratics are the real surprise and a testament to Hugh Banners design genius - their elongated shape means that they cam really well and lock into marginal placements. The overall shape is a bit angular and they are heavy and ugly, but the concept is spot-on. The overall winner in the battle of the hexes are the DMM Torque Nuts - I have been allowed to play with the prototype nuts over the last few months and they work very well.

The Torque nuts are essentially a combination of the best features of the Rockcentric and the Quadratic - light units that are really versatile, cam well and with each unit covering an extended range of placement options, They also have a double, skinny dyneema sling that saves on quickdraws and allows one side of the nut to be tied off short to improve camming ability.

Placing Hexes in Pockets and Shot Holes

The image below shows a classic 'outside of the box placement for a hexcentric nut. There are no cracks in the rock face just some gas pocket holes that are too small to take a cam and not elongated enough to take a keyholed wire.

The trick is to just push a hex of the right size into the pocket with the tapes coming out of the top side.

If the nut is loaded it tries to twist around its bottom front edge and the top of the nut cams into the top of the pocket and locks solid - this type of bomber placement can be the difference between succeeding or failing on a route. Tricams can also work well in this type of pocket , but I find they are not as versatile as hexes overall.

There is a sneaky trick that can make this placement even more secure - this is illustrated in the image with the sling tied off short, but works better if the sling is longer - the new DMM Torque nuts are perfect here because their doubled, long skinny 8mm dyneema sling allows them to be tied off easily.

The trick is to tie off the rear tape short - this creates even more of a camming action of the nut and makes it less likely to walk or be pulled out gradually by the movement of the rope.

This can also be avoided by using long quickdraws that don't transmit movement to the protection.

The image below shows an advanced placement that will perhaps show the potential of using hexes inventively - the flared crack would not take a normal nut - not even an HB Offset, but the Rockcentric loaded as seen in the image was bombproof because loading the sling just pulled the hex tighter into the placement.

Once again using a long quickdraw is good practice and will stop the placement from being dislodged by rope movement.

It is worth stating that long quickdraws rule for trad climbing - less rope drag and less risk of gear being dislodged from its original placement position.

There is loads more useful information at