Innovations that transformed climbing

  • You guys were beyond hard. the folks putting up the big 5s and harder BINTD were stupid hard. that's my whole point. With the modern gear those big 5+ terror shows have become standard busy classics.. My first crampons were SMC 😉

  • @NickG Hmmm... A couple of corrections are in order.

    First, I was certainly not "beyond hard." I was never more than maybe sub-hard. I was a reasonably good (but not great) climber, foolish enough to get out and do a lot of things I probably shouldn't have, and lucky enough to get home again. But compared to some of the folks climbing in the area (Squamish)... no, definitely not on their level. And compared with what was going on elsewhere, we weren't even on the map.

    The other correction is just a technicality. In my post above yours, I referred to one of my ice tools as "a Forrest Thunderbird" ice axe. I even tried to find a picture of one on the internet, but nothing. Which, doh! (slaps forehead), is because there is no such thing. It was a Thunderbird all right, but made by MSR. No photo, but below is the drawing from the patent application from 1973.

    Where Chouinard and Frost had brilliantly re-designed the classic ice axe, their piolet was still, at heart, a classic ice axe. Larry Penberthy, on the other hand, went in a wholly new direction. All metal, crazy new pick design, and coated in some bright orange highway paint. He soon refined it by shortening it a bit and painting it blue instead of orange. Maybe Ray has a photo in his collection?

    Anyway, here's the drawing:

    MSR Thunderbird patent diagram.jpg

  • David: I remember what we referred to as "the Day-Glo metal monster well. I refused to sell them in my retail store. However a Google search for MSR Day Glo Metal monster turned up this link to a photo at the MSR history web site.

    This ice-axe history site also has some good timeline information:

  • @NickG said in Innovations that transformed climbing:

    or a reminder of how bad the old screws sucked have a peek at this gem. link text

    Ha! Didn't see this one til tonight.

    What a trip back to the past. 1978. Same year we did "Never a Bride" on the other side of the country. They had better tools, we had better crampons. But we all had the same Salewa screws.

    Salut Claude et Monique!

  • I think you guys were defintly pretty hard. We were softys and completely in awe of the Clint Cummings, John Imbri, John Bouchard ect . types...

  • This thread has been very 'sobering' for me!!!! When I first read the topic, I thought of all these great innovations that I've witnessed in my climbing career, most listed above, but once I started thinking about each one I kept realizing that almost all were before that "50 year" line----and they still seem so 'new' to me---damn am I OLD!!!! But I'd have to agree with camming devices and 'climbing gyms' as the most transformative innovations--even though both are now getting close to that 50 year line.

  • @FritzRay said in Innovations that transformed climbing:

    This ice-axe history site also has some good timeline information:

    I think they missed it by not listing the Forrest Verglas. The twisted adze was pretty out of the box.

  • To put this thread in a nutshell, it seems that most of us, when asked to list innovations that changed climbing in the last 50 years, start by saying something like "There have been so many I hardly know where to start." And then, after listing one or two, grind to a halt.

    I'll try to summarize our collective thoughts below, but the Coles Notes version is that most of what we think of as cool and modern is really just tweaks to innovations that are a lot more than 50 years old. So, here we go:

    Way, way, way back:
    In the beginning, people ventured into the alps to take care of their sheep or go hunting, or whatever. To deal with the snowy slopes they had wool clothing, alpenstocks taller than they were, and primitive crampons. Yeah, crampons have been around for thousands of years.
    That’s pretty much what Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard used to reach the summit of Mt. Blanc in 1768 – over 250 years ago.
    Here's an illustration (public domain) of Balmat with his monster alpenstock. But check his belt -- there's a short axe lurking there.
    Alpenstock (Jacques Balmat on Mt Blanc 1786).jpg

    So, what has changed since? As we’ve repeatedly found, not much in the last 50 years, but plenty before that. Summarizing what we’ve kicked around above, and adding some google research, here’s what I’ve come up with:

    Early (250 years ago) days:

    • Wool clothing
    • 6-foot alpenstocks
    • Primitive crampons

    This didn’t change much for 150 years or so, but as climbing became a thing, there were some big innovations:

    • Manila rope: maybe around 1850?
    • Pitons – maybe the first ones came into use around 1900?
    • Tricouni nails on boots: 1912 (See public domain photo below)
      Tricouni nailed boots.jpg

    As climbing became more popular (well, relatively more popular) innovation speeded up:

    • 10-point crampons 1910
    • 12-point crampons 1929
    • Short ice axes 1938
    • Bolts 1939
    • Hard steel pitons 1945
    • Kletterschuhe (i.e. shoes designed for climbing) 1950???
    • Kernmantle rope (1953, then dynamic rope in 1964) 1964
    • Artificial chockstones pre-1960
    • Rigid crampons (Frost & Chouinard) 1967
      And even among those, you could say that modern crampons are really just tweaks to the crampons in common use over 2,000 years ago.

    So, what real innovations in climbing equipment have there been in the last 50 years? Relatively few, and many of them pushing the 50-year mark.

    • Real ice tools (Terrordactyl in 1970) 1970

    • Sit harness (Whillans Harness 1970) 1970

    • Sticky rubber (EBs mid-70s) 1973

    • Gore-Tex 1976

    • Spring-loaded camming devices 1977

    • Free-standing tents 1978

    • Climbing gyms 1980

    • Plastic boots 1985???

    • World Wide Web 1990

    • Autolocking belay devices (gri-gri) 1991

  • Thanks for the chronology. The only thing I see to correct you on is "Free-standing tents 1978"

    A quick Goggle search shows free-standing "Pop" tents as early as 1955, but the first geodesic dome tent was the North Face Oval Intention, which came out in 1975. I took one of the first on our Mt. Deborah trip in May 1976. Here's our team with that tent, sans fly, with the NW ridge of Deborah in the background.


  • I absolutely feel that late 90s (Ergo) modern leashless tools and Modern fast one handed placing screws completely revolutionized ice climbing. There simply is no que on Le Promenade without that gear. especially the screws. The Chouinard, Lowe snarg and salewa screws I started with bear absolutely zero resemblance to modern screws in the way that they climb. None! Its like trying to compare a rolling block .45-70 to an AR15. The only thing they have in common is a rifled barrel and a metallic cartridge. Simply no way that ice climbing is main stream today without the advances in screw design and tools. You had to have a few screws loose to enjoy ice climbing with knuckle bashers and shitty gear. now its safe , fun and easy just like sport climbing. The consequence being that is way to crowded out there.

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