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1979: Eric Perlman discusses Ray Jardine's Friends

Mountain magazineSeptember/October 1979

A Friend In Need

Eric Perlman discusses the history, construction and use of Ray Jardine's Friends


Climbing hardware is clumsy, heavy, awkward to carry, and exhausting to place and remove. Every climber knows the frustration of standing in a tentative toe jam, one hand slotted to the knuckles in a greasy crack... pumped... fading... while the other hand desperately pulls out hexes and stoppers in a doomed effort to protect a parallel sided or slightly fared crack; strength, measured in seconds, slips away. Except for the replacement of hemp rope with nylon, modern mountaineering equipment has had more in common with the stone age than the space age. For all their swagger and vaunted intelligence, climbers have been stuck in the past, having invested their precious nuts and pitons with a sacrosanct autonomy.

Then in 1973 Ray Jardine, a 5.12 climber from Colorado and former space-flight-mechanics systems analyst for Martin Marietta (a major aerospace and weapons system company), looked for new solutions to the problems of climbing protection. He wanted a device With: I) a high strength-to-weight ratio, 2) quick, one-hand placement and removal capability, and 3) coverage for maximum variations in crack width and shape. To meet these criteria Jardine undertook extensive scientific analyses and testing of: I) The mechanics and principles of camming, 2) the physics of the frictional interface between metal and rock, and 3) the strengths and stresses of aerospace alloys.

Prototype Friends. Note the original version without release trigger.

Longtime friend, Bill Forrest of Forrest Mountaineering, gave Jardine full use of a well-equipped metal shop. Jardine went to work, fashioning his ideas in metal at night then testing them on hard rock during the day. Several boxes of unsuccessful prototypes later, Jardine quit his haphazard tinkering and took a hard look at the physics and mathematics involved in placing protection. He went to the central computer facility at the University of Colorado in Boulder and, With the help of a math professor and two graduate students, he worked out the angle and curve of cams that would allow them to grab and hold, even in flares of up to thirty degrees in smooth granite. The cams are designed to contact the rock with the same intercept angle and gripping force at any point along the camming surface. Because the four cams are suspended independently, they can adjust to wide variations in the surfaces they touch.

The metal for the cams was chosen for its properties of frictional adherence and light weight. It's an exotic, aerospace aluminum alloy known as 7075-T6. The teeth in the cams are cosmetic, only. The teeth don't need to grab the rock The holding action is designed to work on pure friction. Regardless of how smooth the granite, limestone, blue ice, or concrete, the cams will hold.

The stem is also made of 7075-T6 because the alloy resists bending, yet is resilient enough to bend substantially without breaking or shearing. It won't shatter even under shock loading conditions. The only way the stem can bend under the impact of a fall is if it is constrained by the placement and cannot rotate.

The actual breaking strength of Friends is still unknown. Pit Schubert, chairman of the UIAA Safety Committee, extensively tested the No 2 Friend. It failed to break at 1700 kg (3749 pounds) the upper limit of that testing series. Friends tested stronger than Chouinard hexcentrics.

Placement and removal of Friends is a technique in itself. Like hexes and stoppers, Friends tend to get stuck in cracks when gripped-up climbers jam them too tightly, too deeply. If the cams are closed all the way, the trigger can't release them. Then you have an expensive, new climbing feature - a fixed Friend, eg as of this writing there are two fixed Friends in the Stoveleg Cracks on El Capitan and two in Suicide Wall, Cratcliffe, Derbyshire. Another pitfall to avoid is placing Friends in spots with wide size variations within a small area like piton scars. When the Friend is rotated by rope drag, some of the cams can pop free and invert. Inverted cams may hold a fall, or they may not. In their first year of production more than 5000 Friends went into active circulation in the USA. There was only one reported failure - a Number 2 Friend was placed in a Number 3 sized crack; the cams were fully extended. Since they weren't spring loaded, they weren't camming; no frictional gripping occurred. The leader's twenty-five foot fall simply inverted all the cams like a blown out umbrella.

Early production model Friends had a problem with the spring-loaded circlips that fixed the cams to the axle shaft. Circlips were known to pop off the shaft at the wrong time, leaving the climber with a handful of spare parts, and mixed feelings of bewilderment and despair. The circlips were replaced in subsequent models by a permanently bonded jam nut (Circlip models may be returned to the manufacturer for free replacement. In USA send to: Jardine Enterprises, Colorado Springs, CO, Elsewhere send to: W id Country, Town Head Works Eyam, Sheffield, England, S30 1RD.)

Generally climbers don't realise the great variations that exist in the frictional properties of rock. Friends were designed to hold even in Limestone, the slickest climbing rock there is. But Friend placements in Limestone have no margin for flare. Cracks must be almost perfectly parallel sided or the Friend will slip out. By contrast, granite has a high frictional quality and Friends will hold in flares and pinches up to thirty degrees.

Probably the biggest problem with Friends is that their versatility and effectiveness create over-confidence. Climbers begin to believe that Friends are some kind of magic, mechanical glue, instant sure-fire protection that will hold anything. They're not. They demand intelligent, observant placement and removal techniques. Friends aren't magic, they're science - faster, safer and more versatile than nuts and pins.

Here follows a collection of examples that illustrate some of the extreme possibilities for using Friends.

Dale Bard of Yosemite is credited with the first two-cams-in-two-cams-out aid placement of a Friend. The No 2 Friend was placed in a pin scar in a shallow pocket on the Horse Chute route on El Capitan. Though this kind of marginal placement had never been tried, Bard claims he had no qualms. "Friend placements are always Al, whether there are two, three or all the cams in the crack," said Bard.

Bard called Friends, "a true life saver," on the Sea of Dreams route on El Capitan. Jim Bridwell lead the Laura Scudder's Traverse, a down-sloping crack on an expanding Fake described as, "potato chip thin." Bard said the flake was so fragile "if you nailed it you'd break it, but with Friends it was Al."

Jim Bridwell's most memorable Friend placement occurred during his day and a half ascent of the Southeast ridge of Cerro Torre in Patagonia. Throughout the climb Bndwell had placed more Friends than either nuts or pitons. At the top of the final headway where the granite finally gave way to the summit's ice mushroom, Bridwell found a flared granite crack filled with water ice. With his ice hammer he chopped out just enough ice for a No 2 Friend placement, sprung the protection into place, and free-climbed past it. "I had no worries about the Friend holding in ice," commented Bridwell. "It seemed secure, and was certainly as good or better than anything else I could have placed, and a lot faster."

The author has placed and fallen on more Friends than he cares to recount. However, one experience stands out: three friends [including R.J.] and I went out for a morning of "sport jumping" - leading past protection and taking intentional leader falls. The purpose of sport jumping is three-fold, I) To develop self-protective falling technique, 2) To diminish the fear of taking leader falls, 3) Just for the crazy fun of it. Four of us took an approximate total of 25 leader falls ranging up to twenty feet on a No I Friend. One of the sport jumpers inverted one of the Friend's cams as he climbed past it. He jumped four times and the placement held perfectly.

Ray Jardine claims that his first ascent of Elephant's Eliminate, a 5.12 flared roof on Elephant Rock in Yosemite, would have been totally unprotectable without Friends. The crack is flared on average 25 degrees; neither pitons nor nuts have a chance of holding. Though it took five days to work out the moves and sequences, Elephant's Eliminate went free on an all-Friends ascent.

Jardine received a letter this Spring from a Dr. Joshua Tofield a plastic surgeon in Tucson, Arizona. It read:

"Dear Mr Jardine, Your invention saved my like this weekend and I wanted to thank you. On somewhat brittle rock I reached a crack with a flake inside. I slotted an 8 or 9 hex in, but didn't feel good about it, so I placed a No 3 Friend in below it. Four feet higher a hand hold came off... with me in hot pursuit! The Friend held. What is notable, however, is that the flake expanded to the outer wall to the crack - and the Friend expanded with it!! The hex rattled out when the flake expanded. Without the Friend I would have gone more than 25 feet to the ground."

The story has 26 pages. This is page 6.
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