Wild Country Rocks review
Reviewed by Jon Griffith
NB: This review is for the newer anodised Rocks not the older ‘Classic’ un-anodised ones
A Brief history- from Acorns to Wallnuts
The humble nut is the workhorse behind the UK trad climbing movement. Unlike their American counterparts, the pioneers of UK rock climbing objected heavily to the use of pitons because they irreparably damaged the rock. Thus chockstones were used in the UK meaning that climbers would be found searching for pebbles and small rocks to bring up with them in their pockets, place them in a crack, and then thread them. This obviously took a lot of time and if you’ve ever been panicking trying to select a nut for a placement spare a thought for these guys who were still busy trying to thread the damn thing as you sat back in your harness for a rest! The brits also took their practices elsewhere, most notably the Alps, and in 1954 Don Whillans and Joe Brown put up the British Route on the west face of the Blatiere (UIAA VII) using this paractice. Even today this route is rarely climbed entirely free.
In the 1950s climbers, who were often engineers, resorted to simple machine nuts as ‘artificial’ chockstones. Eventually in 1961 the very first purpose built nut was produced in the form of the Acorn and in 1966 Clog produced its very first version of the hexagons. The real break thorugh for this form of passive pro was when Royal Robbins, armed with a new set of chocks bought at the Joe Brown shop in Llanberis, climbed the Nutcracker in Yosemite without any pitons whatsoever. This worked as a great advertiment to US climbers and with that the focus shifts over to the US where Yvon Chouinard started getting involved. As the largest piton manufacturer in the US he certinaly had the tools and engineering mind and in 1971 he released an improved version of the hexagon- the hexentric. A year later he released the ‘stoppers’ later to become Black Dimaond’s staple passive pro.
In the years that follwed RPs, copperheads, tri-cams and a huge variety of other designs came and went both in the UK and the US. By 1978 Wild County had taken a keen interest and started their own design. The Rock was born which boasted a 3 points of contact instead of the usual 2 on other designs. In 1983 HB offsets were introduced to the market and by 1986 the other mainstay of a british rack, the DMM Wallnut, was released.
As you can see there are a lot of types of nuts available not only in the UK but around the world. All of them have a slightly different design meant for different types of placements. Its impossible to say that one type is better then the other as it largely comes down to personal preferences. In the UK we are heavily biased towards Wild Country Rocks and DMM Wallnuts- infact it must be one of the most asked questions when it comes to passive pro on UKC- ‘which should I get?’. Of course the answer is not very black and white as they are very similar…
How does a nut work?
As you probably know, or will have guessed, a nut acts as a very effective wedge in the rock. Imagine trying to pull a door wedge through the gap under the door and you will notice that, apart from getting very odd looks form your flat-mate, you wont be going anywhere. As opposed to cams that expand into a crack, nuts just simply sit there and when a downward force is applied to it, it will hopefully just wedge into the crack thus arresting the climbers fall.
The holding power (NB I’m not talking about the actual strength of the nut here) depends on two factors: the taper and the amount of surface contact it has with the rock. The taper is, in a nutshell, the angle that you can see between one end of a nut and the other. Ie instead of a nut being a rectangle shape it has a thinner bottom and and wider top. The taper is important as it forms the wedging characteristics of the nut. However it is important to get just the right amount/angle as this affects both the surface area/ contact with the rock as well as its seating and retractablitly. This is where nuts differ so much.
What’s so special about the Rock?
|A well seated Rock|
The Wild Country Rock was a big breakthrough in nut design and it hasn’t changed all that much since then. Not that that is a bad thing. The tried and tested shape and design of the Rock make it a very easy nut for a beginner to get used to. Their seemingly simple design belies the fact that they, in fact, are a pretty complex 3D nut but one that is not hard to get your head around; and therefore anyone can place them without having to think too much about it (which is always nice when your brain’s started to melt after a long day climbing). Many other types of nuts have a more complex design allowing you to place them better in certain types of rock and cracks but they require the climber to think about the placement a bit more- something that isnt a problem for an experienced climber but obviously will be for the beginner who just wants to get something in straight away!
I’ve used Rocks ever since I started climbing but never really took to them that well. Actually I say ‘started climbing’ but in reality I was a travesty of a climber and my gear kept falling out below me mainly because I had no idea what I was doing. The reason I didnt get on too well with Rocks is because they tended to fall out more than Wallnuts- a simple and effective, but not recommended, way of learning that the limestone cliffs of the Avon Gorge work better with Wallnut type nuts!
Many years later however, and I hope a little wiser, I find myself surrounded by the infamous Chamonix granite which offers great placemnts for the Wild Country Rocks and the Wallnuts now tend to stay at home. When it comes to passive pro I have a mix of Rocks and a set of Superlights on me at all times. I guess what i am trying to get at is that some rock types suit different nuts, and this is worth remembering (NB WC Rocks shouldnt just fall out, it was just because I didnt know how to seat or place them properly- something that is definitely worth knowing before heading up on your first lead)
Rocks work really well in slots with ‘smooth’ walls such as you find on grit and on granite. Here they will fit and extract perfectly and when you find yourself with a bomber placement on granite you know that you can hang a donkey of it! I think one of the great things really is how easy, as a second, it is to extract the nut afterwards. This might seem like a small point but on Alpine routes the faster the better and the amount of time you can spend trying to get out stuck placements can really add up- maybe not a concern for cragging at home but worth thinking about on longer multi-pitch routes.
As for the construction, the anodised Rocks are now made by DMM meaning that you can expect a very high quality output. Wild Country Rocks and Wallnuts may seem more expensive than other brands such as Zero G but the devil is in the detail. DMM take alot of time and care over producing the Rocks providing extra manufacturing services such as rumbling the rocks so they have smooth corners (avoids the corners ‘snagging’ in a placement) and radiused wire holes. It may not sound like much but coupled with the 3D CNC’ed curves and tapers it adds up to alot of machine hours. All Wild Country products are distinguished with 3 Sigma ratings and ISO Quality Systems. It should be noted that these differences in construction give the Rock a higher fall strength than other types of nuts for the same size.
My Rocks have seen alot of heavy abuse this season and whilst they are covered in dents from over-anxious ice-axe driven placements they are still fine and the strands have yet to show any signs of wear and tear. The anodized colour has also lasted very well. Rocks are rated from 7kn for a No1 with the rest rating at 12kn.
In 2005 and the rocks underwent change and ontop of adding 4 new larger sizes, they managed to shve of 14% weight on sizes 7-10. In addition the Rocks are now anodised as is the norm now with pretty much all nuts on the market. Perhaps the most interesting part of the redesign was the re-think of the side taper which in a nutshell has allowed the Rocks to retain a high fall rating when placed ‘sideways’.
Gavin Pike high above a Rock No.2, Carrington-Rousse
Rocks or Wallnuts?
This is meant to be a Wild Country rocks review so I’m not going to go into detail about the Wallnuts. However no review would be complete without at least trying to address this very asked question. Now there are some die hard Wallnut fans and some die hard Rock fans and to be honest I dont see what all the fuss is about. Let me just quickly point out the similairties between the two:
- Both Rocks and Wallnuts are made by DMM at their Llanberis factory so you can be sure that they are both made to the same specifications *(see end of article)
- Both Rocks and Wallnuts are colour coded the same way (ie a Rock no1 is the same colour as a wallnut no.1)
- Both Rocks and Wallnuts have a very similar head size per sizing (the wallnut being only marginally smaller)
- Both Rocks and Wallnuts are very similar in weight
- Both Rocks and Wallnuts are some of the least complicated designs out there
- Both Rocks and Wallnuts are very similarly prices (Wallnuts are just slightly cheaper)
- Both Rocks and Wallnuts are similar in their strengths (7kn-12kn)
So what are the differences. Well on the surface its pretty easy to notice that the wallnut has a grove running down the middle of it allowing it to often ‘catch’ placements better. As I mentioned earlier it is quite dependant on the type of rock you are climbing, and in rock with flared cracks and ‘knobbly bits’ such as Limestone these are better. However the flip side of this is that they can be a pain to extract, especially if they have been weighted or taken a fall. Whilst from a leader’s point of view this isnt a problem, whilst seconding it can be. In addition due to their slightly more complex design they do require a little more thought when placing or else they have a tendency of not sitting particularly well (ie small surface area contact with the rock).
However this is about as much of a difference as you have to worry about. All in all I’d recommend getting a set of both Rocks and Wallnuts. They shouldnt be viewed as competitors but as complementary bits of pro. If you are a beginner and only want to get one set then I think start with the Rocks (unless you are on limestone) and learn on those. Then when you are more proficient at seeing as well as placing gear you should get yourself a set of Wallnuts. As a final note on the Rocks, they are a great piece of kit and have fueled many an adventure. You cant really go wrong with Rocks and that’s the great thing about them, they cover such a broad spectrum of placements that you wont find them sitting uselessly in the boot of your car. Not just confined for the beginner, its a piece of kit that you will end up using all your life on the lead both in the UK and further afield.
*For those interested in the details of the metallurgy involved, Simon Marsh from DMM kindly explains:
"We make the nice anodised Rocks for WC and use the same metals/treatments for both the anodised Rocks and Wallnuts.
Sizes 1 – 5 are forged/CNC’ed from 7075-T6 aluminium alloy because this resists shearing forces better than softer alloys whilst still retaining good bite.
The larger contact surface areas on the big nuts means that resistance to shearing is of much less importance and thus we use 6082 aluminium alloy which is softer than 7075-T6 and bites better – the size 6’s are forged/CNC’ed and all the larger sizes are CNC’ed from extruded bar.
As far as I know these alloys have always been used and the heat treatment/hardness has not been altered either."