What Is a Piton? (Its Place in Rock Climbing History)

Updated on June 17, 2018

A piton is a steel wedge that is hammered into a crack in the rock and used to secure a rope for climbing. The history of the piton is intertwined with the early history of mountaineering and rock climbing and the ethical dilemmas facing the sport as it developed.

They were used as the primary form of protection in rock climbing and in mountaineering until the 1970s when modern forms of climbing protection and the "clean climbing" ethic became more widespread. The use of pitons in rock climbing has become rare in modern times, restricted to the cases where they are the only option. Modern climbers now almost primarily use protection that can be removed. But the piton played a huge part in rock climbing history.

Source

Europe: Early Rock Climbing and the Piton

Victorian mountaineering led to the development of rock climbing as a sport in Europe.
Victorian mountaineering led to the development of rock climbing as a sport in Europe. | Source

Rock climbing at first became popular in Europe during the growth of Victorian mountaineering but only as a means to summit mountains. Mountaineers began developing techniques for ascending difficult rock walls and protecting themselves with ropes and gear. But the rock climbing techniques didn't turn into a sport itself until people began climbing just the sake of climbing in the 1880s.

As people pushed the limits of what rock faces could be scaled, they sought out ways of securing themselves in case they fell. The simplest way to this was to use what is called "natural protection". Natural protection refers to anything along the route that can be used to secure a rope without harming the existing environment.

Pitons were developed to give the climber something to nail into the rock that would support a rope to catch a climber in case of a fall. Climbing with these was safer than inserting rocks with ropes tied around them (called chockstones) into small crevasses and hoping they would be able to hold the load of a fall.

As the use of pitons grew in European countries with a growing number of climbers, people started questioning the ethics of the practice. Pitons are inserted into the rock and then left when the climb is over. This seemed acceptable to some but mountaineers and rock climbers have a deep appreciation of the natural beauty of the mountains so many of them chose to resort to natural or no protection.

Rock Climbing (And Pitons!) Come to America

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park.
El Capitan, Yosemite National Park. | Source

When the crazy love of rock climbing came to North America, Yosemite played an instrumental part in shaping not only the culture of American climbers but the gear they used. Climbing in Yosemite was inherently different than in most places in Europe because the rock is primarily granite. So not only are the rock features different so the climbers had to adapt new techniques but the form and material of the gear needed to change as well. Yosemite granite is much harder than the soft European limestone, so Americans needed pitons made out of steel.

Climbing Protection and Ethics

The once widespread use of the piton has greatly diminished thanks to the idea of "clean climbing". The clean climbing ethic is the ideal held up by a large portion of the climbing community that climbers should not add or take away anything from a route in order to climb it. This means no permanent fixtures in rocks in order to protect climbers from falling, they have to figure out another way to do it.

Modern climbing gear makes this feat much more manageable. Cams, nuts and hexs used by traditional style climbers are removed after a climb is completed. Find more clarification on the traditional style of climbing below.

How to Place a Piton

Pitons in Modern Traditional Climbing

There are two main categories of modern free climbing: traditional climbing and sport climbing. The difference between the two sports is how protection is placed. In traditional climbing the gear is placed by the first climber and then removed by the climber that follows. In sport climbing there are permanent bolts placed along the climb that climbers clip into to protect from falls. Since bolts can be placed almost anywhere and are more secure, there is no need for pitons in modern sport climbing.

Pitons in Modern Aid Climbing

Aid climbers use gear to help them ascend a rock face, as opposed to free climbing where climbers are only allowed to use their own body to make moves up the wall. A few different types of pitons, including knifeblade pitons and angle pitons, are still used in aid climbing. Knifeblade pitons are thin enough that they don't damage the rock so many clean climbers consider them acceptable for use.

The Legacy of The Piton

For most, the piton is a symbol of the history of rock climbing and its origins in early mountaineering. It started as one of the only means of safety for people embarking on long dangerous routes. As rock climbing grew in popularity climbers began worrying about their own impact on the environments they loved to climb in. So the clean climbing movement took hold and pitons became a more obscure piece of gear but still hold an important piece of rock climbing history.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Katy Medium

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, skyaboveus.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://skyaboveus.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)