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Learn This: Nuts 102

If you’re well-versed in nut usage and passed Nuts 101 with flying colors, then these intermediate skills are perfect for you. First, a quick review. Nuts are passive protection devices, meaning their holding power comes from their wedge shapes, cleverly placed in natural slots and constrictions (as opposed to cams, which actively expand under load to grip the rock). In 101, you learned the five principles of placing nuts: Ensure good rock quality; pay attention to direction of pull; seek out good constrictions; make sure the nut has adequate surface contact; and, once you make the placement, set it with a gentle tug.

Got it? Of course you do. The principles are simple, but mastering them is a never-ending process. Recognizing subtle constrictions in natural rock takes a trained eye, and maximizing surface contact is an art learned through experience. Nevertheless, here are a few more tricks and tips that will help you up your nut game.

Figure 2
Fig. 2
Figure 1
Fig. 1

Mix BrandsEvery company’s nuts are slightly different in size, taper, curve, and the relationship between the wide and narrow sides. Getting a secure wedge—especially in small and near-parallel placements—is often a game of millimeters. Carrying nuts in a mix of brands will give you a nice range of the in-between sizes.

Double UpNuts are inherently less secure than cams, meaning they can and do fall out. Nothing feels worse than cruising past a well-protected crux, only to notice with alarm that your bomber nut came out and you’re 15 feet above your last piece. Hedge your bets by placing two (or more) nuts to protect a crux. This type of pro is lightweight, so you can carry more with little burden. Put them to use! Likewise, if you can’t find a single solid placement in a flare, consider placing two nuts in the same slot. Place a small one nestled in the back and a larger one wedged closer to the surface. The wire of the larger nut will help keep the smaller, deeper nut securely in place (fig. 1).

When placed in horizontal cracks, nuts will usually resist a sideways pull from one direction, but they can be vulnerable from the other side. You can use long slings to create elaborate “opposition” setups like you see in textbooks, but it’s often possible to simply place complementary nuts side by side in the same crack, close enough to be clipped with the same biner (fig. 2). This system is quick, simple, and avoids adding an element, like a sling, to the chain.

Shape MattersA curved nut fits differently with the curve facing right versus facing left, so try both. If a slot is plagued by obstructions or a partial flare, a nut placed sideways (that is, broad side facing out) may wedge in the sweet spot. Tapered or “offset” nuts are great for pin scars and flares, but don’t overlook opportunities to place them “backward,” with the wide side deeper in the crack.

AnticipateMore often than not, the protection challenge is not about tinkering or trick gear. It’s about getting the right nut off your rack, in the rock, and clipped before you pump out. That’s the kind of nutting skill that’s most likely to improve your climbing. Here are a few tips to get pro in the rock fast. Eye the protection possibilities ahead and adjust your rack accordingly. If it’s a finger crack or wider, cams will usually go in faster. Get the right sizes up front. For thinner cracks, optimize your nuts. Sometimes a crack will have slots so obvious that you can guess the exact nut you’ll need next. Don’t wait until you’re hanging on for dear life to use this information!

If you usually carry your nuts on two biners, spread them out onto three or four—five nuts max to a biner—so you can get to the right size quickly. Always use biners with notchless noses for snag-free nut dispensing. Take the whole biner off your gear loop, slot the nut you need, return the nuts biner to your loop, and clip the placed nut with a quickdraw. For very strenuous sections, you can single-rack a pre-selected assortment of nuts on their own individual biners or quickdraws. Grab the right size, slam it in, and clip. This tactic has saved many an onsight.

Trick gear

• For “headpointing” projects on England’s gritstone and elsewhere, climbers sometimes file down aluminum or brass nuts to get just the right shape for a finicky placement. Rap down with a selection of nuts, a medium-toothed file, and a small plywood “workbench” fitted with slings for hanging.

• For a horizontal crack across the top of a thin flake, don’t use nuts. Try hand-placing a medium or long knifeblade piton. Seek a placement that sets to the hilt but doesn’t wobble, preferably in a wider spot to keep the pin from rotating.

• Hooks can provide pro on crackless faces where nothing else will work. They work on incut pockets and edges; the main problem with hooks is keeping them from falling off before you do. Duct tape or tensioned sling systems can be used to “secure” delicate placements.