For 40 Year
he camming device is one of the greatest pieces of climbing gear ever made. Just try to imagine a world without them. Their short history began in 1977 when British climber Mark Vallance founded the company Wild Country, which would go on to produce the Friend. Wild Country was founded in a small shop i n U.K.’s Peak District, but it all started when Ray Jardine met Vallance in 1972 in Colorado. Vallance was on his way home from Antarctica and they were both working for Outward Bound. Between courses they would head out climbing The History of Climbing’s First Cam together. On one of their first days out, Jardine had brought the first-ever prototype Friend with him, it had four cams on a shaft with no trigger or stem. Vallance recalls it required four hands to get it out of the rock.
“The need was apparent, at least to me, but the actual configuration was elusive to me and everyone else,” said Jardine 25 years later. “Seeking a device that would anchor itself i n a crack, and hold with greater power the harder the pull, I began the inventive process in 1971 with a dual sliding wedge design. Taking advantage of my aerospace engineering background I analyzed this configuration and found it mathematically unsound. The internal friction between any kind of wedges reduce their holding power and in many situations such a device could pull out. I was inventing for my own use and was not about to compromise safety.”
In 1974, Jardine and two partners took the prototypes and attempted The Nose in a day, but afternoon showers slowed them down and they were forced to bivy at camp V. They still managed to climb it in 20 hours of climbing and cut the previous three-day record in half.
In 1975, the t wo were climbing and Jardine had brought a blue nylon bag that rattled when carried. They were i n Yosemite and below Washington Column about to make the first ascent of Power Failure, a f ive-pitch 5.11a that Linda McGinnis joined them on. Vallance was told that what was in the bag was top secret and no one could know. Jardine opened it and revealed a number of prototypes, some with polished aluminum and filed features with working triggers and others were bent, busted or slung together.
It was neither Vallance nor Jardine that named the soon-to-be-cams Friends, instead it was Chris Walker. One day, Walker and Jardine were heading out climbing with others who were not i n on the top-secret prototypes. Wondering if Jardine brought the blue nylon bag of goodies, but not wanting to give away the secret, he said, “Have you brought the bag of friends, Ray?”
During the mid- Jardine pushed hard climbs using his prototypes. He made ascents of routes like Crimson Cringe Hangdog Flyer Separate Reality Owl Roof Rostrum and the f irst in Yosemite called Phoenix.
Jardine tried to start production in America but ran into problems. He then asked Vallance to make Friends in England. They worked together on the idea in the