The Collection - RPs

This is the third of five short stories based around climbing, and describes buying my first micro-wire - a Brass Offset. These legendary minuscule pieces of gear are synonymous with hard trad climbing. The stories were first written about two years ago, and have never been published.

 

Many years ago…

 

Rain hammers on the window. Heavy drops smack into cold glass and stream down the pane like tears. Gusts of wind howl and whistle as they whip around the house. 

The drumming pulls me from my sleep, and I’m back in a dimly-lit room. For a second, I’m transported back to my childhood, to a small cliff-top cottage in Cornwall. I remember going to bed, listening to the crash of waves on the beach and the constant scream of the wind and rain outside. It was just as loud when I woke.

But I’m in Llanberis. I’m in a room which is not my own, in a house I don’t recognise. It’s been a turbulent summer, and the only familiar element of this situation is the sound of the storm outside. The Welsh summer hasn’t disappointed. I listen to the constant drip, drip, drip…

Duffle bags and piles of climbing kit scatter the bedsit. I wrap the sleeping bag closer, shutting out the morning chill. A bleary eye opens just a fraction and I glance up at the square window of grey light above my head: dark clouds scud across the hills. Snowdon is hidden in grey. Somehow, even the slate looks more grey. No cragging today - only wet rock and strong coffee. 

After a late breakfast, my mates and I bundle out of the house and dash for the shops. Rain rinses the tarmac. Oily streaks wash a rainbow of colour down the High Street. Killing time, we duck into the climbing shop; eyes immediately lighting up at the shiny metal objects which hang messily on the wall. Carabiners, cams, quickdraws, wires, slings, hooks, beaks, pegs, screwgates… new models are snatched from their hangers, turned through fingers, twisted and pulled. We squabble and argue like vultures over a feast.

I begin to shift through the cardboard boxes on the floor until I find the ‘Seconds’ bin: cosmetic seconds up for a bargain price. It’s a dirtbag climbers’ dream. The usual paraphernalia fills the box, but in one corner a splash of silver and brown catches my eye. I reach down and carefully pull out a Brass Offset, size 5. It’s a micro-wire, no bigger than my fingernail, with a shiny metal swage. It's like I've won the Lucky Dip. I stare at it intently and hold it close. 

I can’t believe I’ve actually found one of these rare objects in the Seconds bin! They’re a mark of climbing into the ‘extreme;’ of high E-grades and long run-outs. Legendary stories float through my mind: ‘He fell onto the micro-wire and… it held!’

Until recently, I didn’t even know these micro-wires existed, but I saw some on my friend’s rack. I was instantly fascinated, and jealous. They speak of bold climbers, pushing the limits. Of mountain crags and rough rock. Of big falls… will they hold? 

The history of small wires is interesting - how Roland Pauligk started making these in his garage, and they became a great success. Because of the limited numbers he produced, they were always in high demand. 'RPs' became synonymous with bold climbing, and with small brass wires. ‘No point putting us on until the ‘arps are in…’ Redhead famously said as he stepped off the ground. 

In the shop, I run my fingers over the smooth edges and squeeze the cold brass. I push my finger through the loop and test it… daring it. A ‘proper’ piece of climbing gear. 

In a flash, I put it on the counter with a crumpled ten pound note.

Rare Lichen (E9 6c) with James Taylor. The gear on this route is exclusively micro wires. I wouldn't want to fall on any of them.

 RPs. Photo: Google.

RPs. Photo: Google.