Last weekend I had the chance to travel to Tideswell, the headquarters of Wild Country. The village is located in the middle of the Peak District National Park just between Manchester and Sheffield. On friday morning… it rained. So Andy took us to the offices of Wild Country, where Steve Foster, Director at the company since 1989, gave us a warm welcome.
He even took some time to talk about the history of the friend, which turned out as being quite interesting, so I would like to share it here.
In 1971 the climber and mathematician Ray Jardine began to develop the thing that would become the wolds first camming device, later know as the „friend“.
Around 1973 he finally made a first working prototype of a friend which looked like this. The crucial point was to find the ideal angle, at which the friend would cam against the rock. As the basic idea of his friend was to fit in a range of cracks widths, the camming devices had a very unique look, which Ray was able to calculate.
Motivated by his new „Friends“, Ray attempted to climb the Nose in a day in 1974.
Then in 1975 Ray Ray introduces his Friend from the UK and teacher at the same school, Mark Vallance, to his prototype cams. When climbing together they needed a code word for their new tooks in order not to draw too much attention from other climbers. So they just referred to them as their „climbing friends“.
In 1976, when his prototypes already looked quite as the friends would look like for a long time to come, Ray attempts to get Friends „mass“ produced in the USA, but fails to find someone to invest in his idea.
In 1977 Mark Vallance decided to sell his house and all he possessed to found a company called Wild Country together with Ray and start up Friend production in the UK.
In 1978 the production of Friends begins in Tideswell, in the Peak District. The first commercially produced friend by Wild Country came out in this year and that’s what they looked like (left). At the office in Tideswell, I found a collection of times friends. I put them together in the picture on the right.
Ray was not able to patent the camming elements as they described a logarithmic spiral, which is not patentable. Thus in the following years companies like Metolius, Black Diamond, DMM, Trango or Rock Empire picked up his idea and produced their own version of friends.
Wild Country friends today stand out for two reasons: They cam at a constant angle of 13.75 degrees and their camming devices are forged.
The angle of 13.75 is seen as an optimal compromise between pressure on the rock, „friction“ and the range of use. As you can see in the image, a smaller angle (flatter camming) leads to more pressure on the rock, thus more friction and a smaller range of use. But the risk of damaging the rock (or the Friend) is also higher, as the forces are exponentially higher. A larger angle (thus steeper camming) leads to less pressure on the rock, less friction but a bigger range of use.
You can also see in the image the different distances needed from the axis to the rock according to the width of the crack in order to keep a constant angle. Thats the reason for the logarithmic curved camming devices.
Black Diamond Camalots for example have a slightly bigger angle of about 15 degrees (the angle varies between cam sizes). Thus they have less friction and less pressure on the rock but a bigger range.
The fact that Wild Country forges their camming devices (unlike others on the market that cut or laser them out of aluminium plates), they get a better strength along the device and are thus able to leave out bigger parts and thus save weight.
As you know Black Diamond was the market leader with their patented double axis „Camalots“ in the last years. The patent ran out some time ago and Wild Country has to react to the „commercial need“ of double axis cams, as they say. The advantage of those is less the bigger range of use but the better stability of the friend when placed in the rock.
We were able to have a look at the new double axis friend of Wild Country that will be out soon. As you can imagine, this will not just be another „Camalot“ or „Dragon Cam“. It will be 37 years of experience put in a perfect camming device replacing their actual „Helium Friends“. Wild Country did not gave me permission to post an image of the product as there is still some patenting stuff going on. So I blurred the image and hope it is all right.
At about 3 PM the it stopped raining. Thanks to the strong winds the rock dries quickly, they say. So we grabbed a few sets of friends and ropes at the office and rushed out to Stanage Edge with Andy. Grit Stone was all new to us, but god, we got some good climbing in until it got dark!
The next day we went to Millstone with it’s iconic London Wall. Flo, who works for Cactus Sport in Geneva and Andy from Salewa managed to climb the famous London Wall, that was soloed by Tom Randall (Video).
I was happy to be able to lead Embankment Route 2 and go second on Time for Tea and the magnificent Great North Road.
I would like to thank Simon Akermann and Andy Trunz from Salewa for organizing this trip and inviting me. Also shouts to Homeboy James Blay (Sales Director of Wild Country) for making sure we eat at the right places in Tiedeswell and Sheffield, showing up at the crag with some chocolate cake and serious finger strength and for just making sure everything went smooth.