The Trad Climber's Rack

by Adam Roy Mar 23, 2011
A “rack” is the collection of artificial chockstones, camming devices, and other tools that trad climbers use to anchor their ropes to the rock and protect against falls. Here, Adam Roy inventories his rack and the memories linked to it.

Wild Country Rockcentric #6
Rating: 24 kn

I learn to hate the red hex: its curved back, how hard it is to tell if a placement is good or not. It walks out on my third-ever lead, a slabby hand-to-fist crack at Hammond Pond in Newton, Massachusetts. The cliff is made of Roxbury puddingstone, petrified river mud studded with smooth cobblestones and sloping pockets where they’ve pulled out.

Twenty-five feet up the route, I pull out slack to clip my next piece, hear a clank, and look down to see the red hex dangling from the rope. There’s now more slack between my gear and me than between my gear and the ground. My hands start shaking, and I almost blow the clip before managing to fumble the rope into the carabiner.

I’m clumsy as hell on lead then. I tense up, grope around for holds, take too long to place gear. On a tower at Devil’s Lake, I drop a set of stoppers and almost hit my girlfriend in the head. I have to downclimb to the ground, cleaning the rest of my gear on the way.

Chouinard Hexentrics #4-11
Circa 1970s

The hexentrics are a gift from Nils’ dad. I trade him a bottle of Maker’s Mark for the set and spend the better part of a night reslinging them in my bedroom. I replace the old cords with lengths of bright orange cordelette that I thread through the chocks and whip together with double fisherman’s knots.

I fuse the ends of the new slings with a lighter. The room fills with the chemical stench of burning nylon. By the end of the night, my comforter is littered with purple and orange fuzz from the cordelette’s frayed ends, and I’m woozy from breathing in fumes.

I love the hexentrics’ straight edges and old-school simplicity. I can place them fast, and I know whether a placement will hold just by looking at it. I love the solid heft of the metal. It makes me feel safe.

When I rack the hexes on a gear sling, they dangle and clank down by my knees. My climbing partner Grant calls them “cowbells.” When I move to Moab, the clerk at Pagan Mountaineering tells me I’ll never use them again. He suggests I make them into wind chimes.

Wild Country Pro-Key Nut Tool
Used to extract stuck rock gear from cracks

The night before my 22nd birthday, Grant uses my nut tool to open a can of Amy’s Fire Roasted Southwestern Vegetable Soup. We’re the first ones at the Tufts Mountain Club‘s wooden-walled lodge in Woodstock, New Hampshire. It’s around eight pm. We have to be up by six. The lodge’s one rusty can-opener isn’t working.

I manage to puncture the can by clamping the opener’s blade on the lid and squeezing the handles like a pair of shears until I hear the sharpened disc pop through. Grant slides the claw end of the tool through the hole and begins to pry off the top of the can. As Grant works his way around, the lid peels away. Finally, with a snap, he levers it off.

The soup inside is dark orange and slick with oil. It tastes like red peppers, potato, salt.

Black Diamond Stopper #5
Rating: 6 kn

How badly hurt would I get if I fell? I look down, glimpse treetops below my feet and immediately snap back to staring at the square inch of rock in front of me. Very, I guess.

I’ve spent the last ten minutes perched in the middle of a cliff band in the Middlesex Fells north of Boston. To my right, the rope rounds a corner and runs straight to the anchor, where my belayer Alyssa is standing on a ledge. I can’t see her, but I can tell she’s getting bored from how conversational she’s become. As I press against the rock and try to calm my nerves, Alyssa chats about music. She’s a fan of Phoenix. Do I listen to them?

Yep, uh-huh, sure I agree. I’m only half-listening. My world has shrunk to the foot of rock in front of me and the thin seam splitting it in half. I find a single, thin bottleneck in the crack and slot in my smallest nut, a trapezoid of purple metal the size of my pinkie fingernail. I yank on the nut to set it and clip it to the rope. It might hold, if I fall just right, I think.

Alyssa is telling me about how she just discovered The David Wax Museum, a folk band that plays around Cambridge and Boston. I’m gingerly shifting my weight onto a hollow-sounding hanging block. I never realized there was so much good music out there she says to me. Please don’t break please don’t break please don’t break I say to the block.

The final problem of the route is a thin, vertical face about twelve feet high. Halfway up, I find a thin seam, punctuated by piton scars. I try to wrestle my pale gold #6, the smallest nut I have left, into one of them, but it’s just a hair too big. I think of the purple nut, swear, and run it out to the top.

Now it’s my turn to belay. As I reel in Alyssa, I talk about local music, pop, answer all the questions I couldn’t respond to before. Have you been to the Somerville Theater? I saw Josh Rouse play there once, it was pretty sweet.

Alyssa’s replies are terse. I hear her voice from around the corner: Um, I think I need to concentrate right now. If I fall, I’m gonna die.

C.A.M.P. Tri-cam #1
Strength: 9 kn (active); 8 kn (passive)

Endgame runs about 40 feet up Black Rock, a hilltop cliff in the Fells. I cruise the route, scurrying to a ledge halfway up, then picking my way past the treetops on thinner and thinner holds. Just below the top-out, I place a red tri-cam blind, cocking it one-handed and wriggling it into a flaring divot. It’s my smoothest lead yet.

When I reach the anchors, I stop to look out over the landscape. I can see half of Middlesex County below me: the thick forests of the Fells, salt-box houses and squat rows of shops, the grey New England coast. In the distance, a small waterfall is churning down a notch in the volcanic rock.

I don’t tense up or start shaking. Everything feels easy. Everything feels right.

Photos by Adam Roy

Community Connection

Read the other entries in our Gear as Memoir series: The Hula Girls; Borrowed Bikes; Life as a Scratched Ski; and My Foolproof, Yak-Proof Boots.

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.