Pitons - the classic way to stay safe when climbing
Long before the first friends were invented, even before nuts and bolts, pitons were the only way to secure a climbing route. All classic climbs were secured using mostly self-forged climbing hooks, wooden wedges or cord slings. Even if they’ve gone out of fashion nowadays, there are still plenty of climbs that require the use of pitons and a rock hammer.
When do you need a piton?
To this day, there are climbing areas, for example the Dolomites, where the use of bolts isn’t common practice whilst alpine climbing. The use of pitons is therefore just as necessary as it used to be on many routes. After all, friends and nuts cannot be used everywhere. Pitons are often the only way to secure a path when there are only very small cracks in the rock. The more alpine a route becomes, the more climbing pitons become necessary whilst climbing. Plus, pitons are also perfectly suited for abseiling.
What types of pitons are there?
Basically, pitons fall into two categories: soft steel hooks are, exactly as their name suggests, made of a softer steel. They fit very nicely into grooves and are best suited for softer stones, such as limestone. Hard steel hooks on the other hand, are made of a much harder steel and are best for inserting into harder rock like granite. These pitons originated from Yosemite Valley, which is an area with impressive granite cliffs.
Surprisingly, hooks and cliffs also originated from there. These are more exotic types of pitons that are mainly used for technical climbing. As opposed to normal pitons, they aren’t hammered into the rock, but rather laid into the rock cracks and then weighed down by your body weight.