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Few materials for sports activities are constructed with such a specific use in mind as those designed for climbing and mountaineering. And few materials have undergone such a huge amount of research and development over the years.
The materials and equipment have evolved hand in hand with the actual activity or âsportâ of mountaineering â a term which has led to rejection by many mountaineers, as can be observed in the words of Anatoli BukrÃ©yev âMountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religionâ.
On occasions, the search for even harder routes by climbers and mountaineers has required the invention of new materials, on others, the discovery and construction of new materials has led to the creation of new activities or previously inconceivable climbs.
And in some cases, new discoveries have been inspired by the pure, ethical issues which prevail in the world of alpine climbing & mountaineering; an example of this is the camming device, which appeared at a time when placing aggressive anchors on rock was considered unethical as climbers valued the purest form of the activity in order to cause the least damage possible to the rock and the environment.
Over 100 years of evolution, inspired by thousands of mountaineers, climbers and companies, brings us to the present, where âhardâ mountain equipment is able to provide unprecedented safety, comfort and performance.
Climbing helmets are now ultra-light and tough enough to offer much greater protection than the earlier helmets which were cumbersome and hindered activity. Harnesses are so comfortable and lightweight, you hardly notice you're wearing them, yet they provide outstanding confidence on walls, mountaineering routes and on glaciers. Carabiners and quickdraws are not only lighter, highly efficient & easy to use but offer greater open and closed strength. Even the oldest systems, such as nuts and pitons have come a long way from those used in the past.
Ropes have a narrower diameter without reducing safety, with lower weight and bulk and at the same time facilitate belaying, while the special dry and edge treatments enhance confidence during a climb.
And what about belay systems? Without a doubt, the grigri marked a turning point for belay systems and descenders, but everything else has also improved since. The Reverso, ATC, Alpine Up, Mascott, Cinch, Click-Up, Jul...the list is endless, and all these devices, used correctly, have managed to reduce the number of climbing accidents by a large degree.
Of course, all this equipment doesn't substitute the need of experience and knowledge. Just because your material is safer and easier to use, or your belay device stops a fall automatically, it should not lead people to believe they are any less responsible for their safety and the safety of others.
Thanks to the breakthroughs in climbing & mountaineering equipment, never before has it been this easy to fulfil our greatest desires and to feel closer to that religious experience expressed by Anatoli BukrÃ©yev: the freedom of the summits.