Friends

For 40 Year

Gripped - - FEATURE -

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

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