PICKING YOUR FAVOURITE bit of climbing gear is a bit like picking your favourite child, but whether I’ve been climbing amidst the patchwork of paddocks at Mt Arapiles or stealing my way up the ragged quartzite of Tassie’s Federation Peak, my No 3 RP is always with me.
RPs – the acronym is taken from the initials of their maker, Roland Pauligk [pictured right] – are small metal wedges with brass heads and steel cables that climbers use to wedge into tiny cracks in the rock. If the climber falls, they rely upon these tiny wedges to stop them from plummeting to their death.
Easily the most famous Australian-made climbing gear, RPs are iconic: from the gritstone edges of the Peak District in England to the epic granite walls of Yosemite Valley in the US, RPs made the impossible possible.
Roland started making them in the late ’60s. Early models were smelted down from aluminium drink cans in a cave in the Grampians, but the brass models that went into commercial production were made in his small garden shed in suburban Mordialloc, Melbourne.
These small brass RPs revolutionised climbing. There was nothing else available that could protect small cracks so well, and they opened up previously unprotectable territory for climbers. The trick to RPs was that Roland, a boilermaker by trade, skillfully silver-soldered the steel wire into the brass head, a method that proved to be super strong.
RPs come in six sizes, from zero to five. The No 0 and No 1 RPs – with heads just a millimetre or two deep – are generally only considered body-weight pieces (not strong enough to hold a fall). But from No 2 up, you can start to take small falls to very big falls.
But of all the sizes, the No 3 is my favourite. Why, you ask? For four years in my teens I lived in Natimuk, the small town that sits 8km east of Mt Arapiles, one of the world’s great trad-climbing crags. Every weekend would find me out Arapiles climbing. And the more I climbed, the more I learned that whenever I reached for my set of RPs, it was the No 3 that was the lifesaver.
Roland, who immigrated to Australia after escaping communist East Germany in the ’60s, was also a family friend, someone who climbed with my father; he gave me my first set of RPs when I started climbing at 13.
Commercial production of RPs ceased this year, as Roland passed away in January after a long battle with cancer – so my No 3 RP is now more precious than ever.
The trick to RPs was that Roland, a boilermaker by trade, skillfully silver-soldered the steel wire into the brass head, a method that proved to be super-strong.