Delicate cleaning ensures better placements for future clean ascents.
Use nuts and cams whenever possible on aid climbs, but if you do need to use a piton, you can place and remove it in a way that leaves the placement better suited to nutting by the next party. Hammering pitons will remove rock from the crack, but with a little care and forethought the results can be constructive rather than destructive. These simple steps can turn your negative impact into a positive one.Learn to top-step properly. Even if top-stepping isn’t absolutely necessary to reach a placement, it allows you to better inspect your options and place a pin most effectively. Spacing out your placements might allow you to reach a hidden nut slot, and minimizes impact if you must drive a pin.Selective nailing. If you need to nail, choose a location that can evolve into a nut placement. Look for a widening in the crack that, if exaggerated, would seat a nut well. If there is an existing scar that can be enhanced, use it. Angle it down. Instead of driving the pin straight in, cant it downward, with the eye higher than the blade. This is critical, so that future placements will benefit from a groove in the crack that slants down and in. Precision nailing. Swing your hammer accurately. Flailing will add unsightly marks in addition to the scar, and can even fracture and weaken the rock.TLC cleaning. Most of the actual scarring occurs during removal, so the second shoulders a lot of the responsibility for constructive scarring. A little extra effort can make a critical difference. As the second, you want to focus on preserving the rock. Here’s how: Before you begin hammering, jug up into the most advantageous position, with the pin about level with your navel. (Not only does this allow you to be more precise with your hammer, it’s easier on your arms.) Now, hammer the eye of the piton up almost as far as it will go, being careful not to go so far that you can’t drive the pin back down without striking the rock. Then, hammer the pin back down only to its original position — no farther. Repeat until the pin wiggles and you can remove it with your fingers. Now inspect your pin scar. It should be more tapered and nut-able than before the pin was driven. For beaks, you want to leave the rock below the scar undamaged, so that subsequent climbers can “hook” their beaks. This requires careful removal of the beak, with minimal up-and-down motion, since the blade of the beak is already canted down, and will break through to the surface if the piece is rotated too far. Never use a funkness to rip out a beak. Tap straight upward on the end of the shaft, and rotate the blade only 20 degrees or so up and down. It is even possible to use a small pair of vice-grips to help lever the beak up and out. Finally, always leave yourself enough time to be careful. Rushing to make the bivy can push even conscientious climbers into sloppy and destructive practices. Ron Olevsky has been climbing for more than 35 years and was the first person to climb desert big walls without a hammer. He became an AMGA-certified rock guide in 1990 and is currently working on an aid-climbing instructional video with Jeff Lowe.