Climbing Pitons Early Evolution--part 1c

Mechanical Advantage #8c

  • Pitons, part 1a

  • Pitons, part 1b

    Note: These chapters in my history of the evolution of gear are works in progress, and will be updated as additional information arrives from various sources. If you have any information about these early years of climbing innovation, or know of any additions, please get in touch or comment below.

From industry tools to piton

To understand how the design of pitons evolved, we need to look at two realms outside of climbing: other industries utilising metal hardware, and the advancements in mass-produced steel technology. First, a bit about Mauerhaken:

Mauerhaken—wall hooks

In German, the general word for piton is “haken”, or hook. “Mauerhaken” (wall hook) is most common, but “Stahlhaken” (steel hook), “Felshaken” (rock hook), and “Ringhaken” (ring hook) and other forms are also used, sometimes interchangeably. Interestingly, carabiners for climbing were originally called “Karabinerhaken” (‘carabiner hooks’—more on carabiner development later). We also see “Eisenstift” (iron pin) used in the context of a hammered piton, such as the report on the ascent of the Dachstein (1876 Mittielungen), which also involved installing a ladder on route. But Eisenstift as a bolt (Bohrhaken) for a hole drilled with a drill or stone chisel soon became differentiated from Mauerhaken for cracks—more on bolts later.

Mauerhaken is not a term unique to climbing—any sort of masonry hook, such as those hammered between stones on stone and adobe dwellings used for attaching lanterns, cooking gear, horse reins, signs, gates, etc., going back centuries, if not millennia, were called Mauerhaken. The double Mauerhaken was a common symbol on coats of arms, to represent security built into castle walls. The early electrical engineers adopted the term for insulators on telegraph poles (1886). Fire brigades included Mauerhaken as part of their climbing equipment for brick and stone structures well before it was ever used to refer to a piece of gear used for mountaineering (1877).

The lost art of steeplejacking also used a wrought iron wall hook, called “iron dogs” (sometimes also called “staples”) for laddering up chimneys. The technique of connecting multiple ladders with hammered-in wall hooks to service tall industrial chimneys dates back to the mid-1700’s and was a burgeoning professional the early climbing era; indeed, tall chimneys designed to draw pollutants high into the atmosphere rather than settling in local communities remains one of the prime symbols of the industrial revolution of the 1800’s.

The known climbing Mauerhaken in museums are of various wrought-iron designs:

Note: the Schmitt piton might be an early steel piton—like many of these early pitons, metallurgical study would assist in their history. I have been in touch with Reinhold Messner and his office will be posting better photos of these early Mauerhaken.

Early Mauerhaken were crafted by blacksmiths using hammer and forge. In the days before climbing hammers and carabiners, these rock hooks were hammered into cracks with a suitable stone, used as a hand- or foothold, and as a belayed point of protection for the next few moves past the anchor. Climbers also tied the Mauerhaken into the rope system using a knotted slings of cord called a Seilring (footnote).

(footnote: Seilring (“rope ring”) is often an ambiguous term in the early journals, as it applies to both metal rings primarily used for abseil anchors (primarily called Abseilring), and also to a short sling of rope (also known as rebschnur/repshuur and later as Seilschlinge) used to connect the running rope to the pitons—more on techniques later.

Commercial Mauerhaken of this type were sold by Mizzi Langer in Vienna in 1907, and into the 1930’s by Sporthaus Peterlon.

Mizzi Langer Catalog pages: In the 1907 to 1920 catalogs, Mizzi Langer sold three sizes of pitons. At least one of these pitons was the wall hook design, based on the illustration in the 1922 “Das Klettern im Fels” by Franz Nieberl. Considering the price differentials of the three lengths of pitons sold by Mizzi Langer during this period, the three pitons sold might have been different designs). Note the varied types of pitons available in 1937, including a specific Karabinerhaken: “flat, only with a hole for the carabiner”.

Next: eyebolts and ring bolts: Part 1d

(Substack tells me this post getting too long for email, so will post this, then continue with:)

  • Ring Pitons and other early piton designs.

  • Developments in steel and other manufacturing technology at turn of 19th/20th century that broadened availability and affordability of climbing tools.

  • The development of strong thin pitons and significant pre-WWI ascents and climbers aided by the technology, including carabiners.

  • perhaps the Alpino and Standschützen via ferratas of WWI.

  • Amazing big wall ascents of the 1920’s.

  • and probably a few more sidetracks….

  • …eventually to the lightweight remote big wall expeditionary climbs.