Roger Nattrass’ Gear Room Tour: Part Three

Check out the third chapter of our peek into Roger Nattrass' gear stash...

Roger Nattrass is a local legend in the South African climbing community – having started climbing back in 1984, he has nabbed coveted first ascents (including being the first South African to climb grade 31), 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. He has graciously allowed us to re-share these in the article series you are reading.

Check it all out below, keep an eye out for part four, and enjoy ogling!

No 21: Quickdraws. The glamour gear for sport climbers. The concept is simple but there can be a world of difference between well or poorly designed draws. I like a wide-mouthed gate into a carabiner with a deep valley (the section below the gate where the rope lays) as I tend to clip the rope with my thumbs. A shallow valley can allow the gate to trap your thumb and the rope in the biner. Nice fat slings (aka dog bones) make for easy grabbing and if you are sport climbing you grab a lot! I have a large collection of draws as more often than not two or three routes are equipped while I project them – sometimes for up to a year ? It is amazing how much better the more expensive biners weather this 24/7 exposure to the elements.

No 22: Other draws. These guys are more at home on traditional routes that require gear (i.e. are not bolted). The orange ones in the centre are lightweight and small (yes they are thumb grabbers) so are appropriate when weight is an issue – typically when trad climbing with up to 3kgs of gear slung from your harness. The long slings (top and bottom) are to reduce rope drag. The bottom ones increase up to three times in length. The two draws on the top right have Maillons on them to make removing them difficult. Children often scamper up and steal the first draw or two on a project. This puts a stop to that. Lastly the single carabiner on the top left is a very worthwhile piece of kit – a DMM roller. It has a small roller on a bearing so produces almost no drag. I use it on every route when the rope’s direction changes significantly. Every climber should have one. Just be warned that should you fall onto it the lack of friction in the system could lift your belayer off the ground! Not good if there is a big weight difference between climber and belayer.

No 23: Bolting hardware. I will do a couple of posts on this. If opening new sport climbs floats your boat then you will need lots of ironmongery. Quite a substantial investment. As you can see I buy in bulk. A single, properly established new sport route can cost in the region of R2000 to equip. Expensive, but the end result may give climbers 50 years of fun. Plus you get to name the climb – priceless.

No 24: Bolts. Two classes, glue-in (left plus the bolt bottom right) and mechanical (right). The glue-ins are stronger and way more durable but are expensive and finicky to place – the glue is messy and you can’t hang on them immediately. Mechanical anchors work from the get-go so once placed they can help pull you to the next placement if you are prepping a new line. You can expect about 30 yrs lifespan from them and more than double that from a glue-in. Mechanical anchors are best used in low humidity, non-corrosive environments where the rock type is hard. Glue-in bolts are better in wet and or humid areas. Most re-bolting is done with a glue-in. Stainless steel is a must. Titanium is used for sea cliff climbing – the most corrosive environment. The brass-coloured bolts are mild steel and are used only temporarily as aid bolts and are not rated to catch falls (in 2022) – in the 80’s we fell on them! They corrode very quickly.

No 25: All things glued. Glue-in bolts are more of a mission but are better in so many ways. They are stronger, last longer and are less prone to stress corrosion cracking as they are not under tension. As there is only one type of metal there is no possibility for galvanic corrosion (different metals touching). They are kinder to carabiners and in a pinch you can thread a rope through them. They are a mission to remove… (see grinders later). The glue guns: its worth spending extra on a double tube system for sure! Be very wary of only dispensing one of the two glue components at the beginning and end of the tubes’ life – the glue won’t set! I only ever had this problem with the single-canister versions. Be wary of expired canisters as the activator (the skinny tube) drys out and then won’t dispense and mix properly, resulting in another scenario where the glue won’t set. You have to use the special mixing nozzles (not caulking nozzles) as the mixing takes place in the nozzle. Take lots of extra nozzles as on a hot day the glue can set in 6 mins! I always love the challenge of attempting to glue up an entire new route using only one nozzle. If you are organised, with a good ascender system it is very doable. Lastly, always glue from the bottom up so your weighted rope won’t disturb a still-setting anchor. The holes must be meticulously clean. Creaking flakes can be reinforced but be warned the glue can leave a thin oily film on the hold. I usually give re-inforced holds a scrubbing with soapy water the next day.

No 26: Mechanical anchors. These are the most commonly placed anchors – less expensive and simpler to place. You can still make a hash of it though. The biggest mistake is to not drill the hole at right angles (in both planes) to the rock surface. A skew placement will load the thread – which can bend or fracture, fouling the thread with the thread splinter. This makes the nut stick and causes the bolt to spin, preventing any further tightening.

No 27: Top/Belay anchors. The most important bolts on any climb, so they are always placed in pairs. Glue-in bolts with a maillon (the links with a threaded nut) plus some form of rappel ring are the best as the wear items can be exchanged every 20yrs or so, depending on usage. The easiest and cheapest anchors to place are a mechanical anchor with 4 links of chain. The best sized chain for this configuration is “9mm long-link”. An M10 nut won’t slip through and the longer links allow space for carabiners to clip into. It is thick with a high specific heat capacity so won’t get too hot when a rope runs through it during lowering. Thinner links can get hot enough to sear a rope’s mantle, plus they wear out and look just plain scary! Rap rings are the best option. They rotate so don’t wear in one spot, have a nice thick radius and stay cool. Ideally, all metals should be stainless steel – which is available in chain but is crazy expensive. Differing metals will cause galvanic corrosion which will usually cause the maillon or top chain links to rust so may in time require changing. I often place one mechanical and one glue-in side by side – the mechanical for the ease of a quick initial setup when bolting and the glue-in for the longevity.

No 28: Drill bits. – probably the most important ingredient for hassle-free bolting. Cost is always a dilemma. The cheapest I ever bought were R13 each. Expensive bits can cost up to R160 per bit. I have come to the conclusion that cheaper is better provided 1) you carry at least three when bolting as the smaller tungsten tips in cheaper variants are prone to breaking and 2) you re-sharpen them after only a few holes. Early re-sharpening is the key (see the rightmost re-sharpened bit in the second pic). I use a greenstone bench grinder. You will get the hang of the necessary angles quite quickly. This will extend the life of the bit but needs to be done before the lateral (side) edge of the tip has significantly worn – resulting in a tip diameter of less than 10mm. I also prefer the single tip bits vs the double tipped as the latter is impossible to effectively re sharpen and is always more expensive. I am no metallurgist, but the heat generated from the grinder may somehow seem to weaken the tips – so try grind in short periods and don’t quench the hot bit in water.

No 29: Miscellaneous metalware. 10mm “U-bolts” are awesome for placing on dodgy scrambles and approaches. They make great foot or handholds when added safety is required on a steep approach to a crag. I have placed quite a few in KZN. We should use them more often. Too many climbers have been injured or even died scrambling up exposed approaches. The thread bars are to pin potentially loose rock to the main wall. I sometimes use them next to bolt placements if I am in anyway unsure about the rock integrity. In the modern age rock fall is probably the biggest risk to climbers. I get super irritated by a block on an established route that is marked with a chalk “X”. I feel everyone has an obligation to either remove or reinforce suspect rock immediately as it is a significant danger to your belayer. Don’t mark it and leave it for someone else to have a disaster. The pry/crow bar will get rid of any dangers in this regard.

No 30: Climbing shoes. Climbers have more rubber/tyre/tech options than Formula One has for their race cars. Just like F1 matches the tires to the conditions, so will an expert climber attempt to find the perfect shoe for the particular challenge at hand. On rare occasions a climber may even choose a different model on each foot – such is the variability in performance between shoes and how one best matches this to the individualised challenges of a climb. It’s pretty bewildering as to which shoe to get. All round performance initially is the best starting point – but be warned you will eventually end up with a sizeable armamentarium. I plan to do a couple of posts looking at shoe design and how they best apply to your current project.

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