Protection using pitons

Like slings, rock pitons are one of the oldest types of protection devices. They were used by ancient pioneers of Alpine mountaineering, even though unlike slings there were certain objections to their use in the beginning. Unlike slings they were often left in the terrain, and if they were sometimes overused, the rock would degrade accordingly. Gradually, however, with the growth of complexity of navigated ascents they were used more and more, and in the era of aid climbing they became the most important protection device. Hammering in pitons became a typical mountaineering activity. Of course, with the development of free climbing and the use of chocks and Friends, or drilled pitons, the classic rock pitons began to disappear from the scene. Nowadays the use of pitons is somewhat outdated and you will not encounter it altogether often. If at all, then predominantly in mountain climbing, where the breadth of the terrain and the logistical difficulty often prevents the placement of drilled pitons everywhere, and you cannot always get a chock into thin gaps. Therefore in the mountains it sometimes pays off to have a few classic rock pitons in stock.

Rock piton

Rock piton

Rock pitons are metal blades with a ring for clipping a carabiner. They are hammered into thin rock cracks using a hammer. According to custom in certain regions they are either left permanently placed in the rock, or the second can pry them out again with a hammer and hand them over to the leader at the belay station for further use. In the Europe the rough majority of regions have already been fully studded with pitons and therefore they are almost never used anymore.

Pitons can be divided according to numerous criteria. On one hand by the material from which they are manufactured. Two different types are recognised:

  • hard pitons
  • soft pitons

Hard pitons are manufactured from hard tempered steel. They have the advantage that they last longer and do not suffer as much wear. However, their disadvantage is the fact that a rock crack must fit them exactly. On the other hand, soft pitons adapt to the shape of a rock crack; the blade of the piton is partially damaged and its repeated hammering can then be problematic. At the same time soft pitons are less reliable as they can be more easily pulled out when loaded. It can be said about soft pitons that they are fading from the scene and are not used as much anymore. Soft pitons are often left in rocks as they end up being bent into the shape of the given rock crack. Nowadays for permanent placement of protection drilled pitons such as bolts are given precedence.

Another classification of pitons is according to their shape. We distinguish between pitons that are:

  • horizontal
  • vertical
  • special types – rurp, bong, beak (figure one), profiled, etc.
Horizontal piton – Vertical piton -- Horizontal piton in vertical gap

Horizontal piton – Vertical piton — Horizontal piton in vertical gap

Vertical pitons nowadays are also fading from the scene, as hard horizontal pitons are used in vertical cracks. Ever since better quality has been achieved in the strength of hard pitons through manufacturing, it has begun to be advantageous to place horizontal pitons into vertical cracks, as loading them on their ear, which is eccentrically positioned toward the longitudinal axis of the blade, levers the blade of the piton to the side and holds more firmly in the rock crack.

Certain special types of pitons - 1.beak (figure one piton) - 2.bong - 3.rurp - 4.profiled "U" piton - 5.diagonal piton.

Certain special types of pitons – 1.beak (figure one piton) – 2.bong – 3.rurp – 4.profiled “U” piton – 5.diagonal piton.

Hammering in pitons

The larger the area of contact of the blade of the piton in the rock after hammering it in, the better the piton will hold. The problem is that a person simply cannot see the blade of a piton that has been hammered into rock. How then can you determine how well the piton is holding in the rock?

More in e-book.

Title Part 3Mountaineering Methodology – Part 3 – Belaying and Rappelling

ISBN 978-80-87715-09-3

MMPublishing, 2013

Available for download from Apple iTunes (in the Books section).

For example U.S. store – link

Another countries – look on the page Download

See layout.

Another possibility is Google Play. This version is a simplified (as PDF).

Title Part 3 GPMountaineering Methodology – Part 3 – Belaying and Rappelling

ISBN 978-80-87715-14-7

MMPublishing, 2014

Available for download from Google Play.