Roger Nattrass’ Gear Room: Part One

Get a sneak peak into the gear collection of legendary SA climber, Roger Nattrass...

Roger Nattrass is a local legend in the South African climbing community – having started climbing back in 1984, he has nabbed coveted first ascents, established and bolted classic routes around the country, written the quintessential guidebook for KZN climbing, co-founded the Southern Rock climbing gym and shop, and much more.

With his many adventures over the years, he has amassed quite the collection of gear and recently decided to share some highlights with all of us on Facebook & Instagram. We’ve compiled all of them into a series of articles – find part one below and keep your eyes open for the next chapter!

No 1: The peg stash. Very useful for preparing overhanging new routes for bolting. I also use them in areas where bolts are prohibited. They are very expensive items, surprisingly – up to R500 each. The long silver one at the back is a grass peg… yes, you wack it into a grass tuft and then trust your life on it!

No 2: Hooks. While not a prolific aid climber, I am a prolific bolter so aid climbing techniques are often used to get into the best position to place a bolt. The top hook is a “Fifi” or “Sky” hook and is used to hook loosely from your harness into a carabiner simply to adjust your body position. The middle hook is a “Bat” hook – great for hanging off tiny edges or flakes. This one has a tapered tip so it could be used to hook a small 6mm shallowly drilled “dowel hole” The last is a dowel hook. A small 6mm bolt is dropped into a shallow hole drilled at 30 degrees off horizontal. Where possible, unnecessary drilling is always best avoided.

No 3: Hammers. Sizes for all seasons! Nothing is more dangerous than loose rock. If you love your belayers (and possibly your life) get rid of anything vaguely loose on a wall before climbing starts. The middle one is my favourite and has been re-gripped a few times (the latest bespoke handle from my friend Dylan Williams). Hammers can lure you into a frenzy of bashing vs recalcitrant but creaky rock. Vital for peg and bolt placements and for elbow tendinitis rehabilitation exercises…

No 4: Petzl Micro Traxion & ISC Red. Both work as backup devices when ascending a rope. The Red works for descents too and can be used “off label” to top rope a rock climb that has a rope hanging down the route. Neither are recommended as a sole safety device but I have seen them used as such. I use the Red often when jumaring up a fixed line. The Traxion is fantastic for hauling up heavy gear – the locking pulley makes the hauling easier and allows you to rest whenever you need to. Also very useful on a multi-pitch route when someone is following. You belay them with your usual device but add the Traxion to a draw on the belay anchor above you. This enables you to pull down when taking in slack and the locking feature means that you never have to carry your following partner’s weight should they fall or require a rest.

No 5: Rope care. Every now and again it seems appropriate to show the guy who really has your back some love. The working end often needs to be trimmed back (the Hot Knife). The freshened end gets a new label that is heat-shrink-wrapped to the tip. The coiled brush is the bomb on wash days.

No 6: Skin and finger care. – essential on climbing trips. Excess skin growth (stimulated by continual fingertip wear) can form calluses that tear (the dreaded flapper). Sanding these areas (but not the already worn tips) helps prevent this. Fingernails need to be “just right” for optimal crimping – not too long and not too short. Squeeze ring for warm-ups. Finger tape for tendon pulley and pressure area support and then lastly a little Climb On at the end of the day. The scientist in me is not sure if that helps but oooh it feels sooo good…

No 7: Descenders and belay devices. Three ATCs (Air Traffic Controllers, in case you have always wondered ) on the right. The black one has some neat locking features. Two Petzl Grigris on top. – the blue is a version 2 and the pink a “+” (version 3). These win the versatility prize. The ISC AB Descender on the left is designed for heavy loads (rescues and bolting) and the black device next to it is a Black Diamond Pilot – perhaps the best belayer’s device for sport climbing I have ever used. Its almost frictionless rope-feeding mechanism is unsurpassed.

No 8: A couple of weird pieces. The top device is of my own construction, weighing 160g, and is an aid to “snap” or “boink” up a rope when you are left hanging in space after a long fall on a steep route. Made of steel and aluminium with a Tibloc attachment to the rope. The Red Block and swivel are a great combo for repeated top rope-ing (taking a herd of beginners climbing for example). It has a large radius and high specific heat capacity. After repeated lowering a normal carabiner will get surprisingly hot, damaging the mantle. The Red Block solves that problem. Often used in climbing gyms.

By popular demand, Roger created a demonstration video of the “boinking device”, which you can check out here.

No 9: Beal static lines. The ugly sisters of climbing ropes – neglected, underrated, but dependable and hardworking. A must for bolting. Working with dynamic ropes when bolting is frustrating and dangerous. I probably use the 30m length most often. The 80m line is heavy but required for Galaxy Wall projects.

No 10: Dynamic ropes. The sexy sisters for sure. So much thought goes into which rope is best for a specific use. Ropes tend to last about 4 years, with a workhorse lasting as little as one season. I love Beal ropes as they have the lowest impact force (i.e. super stretchy which makes for soft catches). Anti clockwise starting from the pink line we have: 80m 9.1 Joker, 70m 8.5 Opera, 60m Joker, 60m 9.4 Stinger, 60m 9.7 Mammut, 60m Cobra 8.6 and finally another Opera (blue). Thicker ropes are great workhorses and generally give softer falls. The ultra-thin ropes are brought out for sending days on hard long projects.

And that brings us to the end of part one, folks! A huge thank you to Roger for sharing his expansive knowledge – keep your eyes on our Facebook and Instagram pages for part two…