VER­TI­CAL AS­SUR­ANCE

Australian Geographic Outdoor - - Fave Gear - WORDS AND PHO­TOS ROSS TAYLOR

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.

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