Aid climbing - bring a “beak” piton


My partner and I were on the classic big wall route The Prow, on Yosemite‘s Washington Column. He was leading around the fifth pitch, which the route topo said had a few fixed heads. He was making pretty good progress, when the rope came to a halt and I heard a few mumbled curse words floating down. 

“This friggin head has the cable broken off”, he yelled down. “Send up the pecker!”

I clipped it to the haul line, he pulled it up, and in a minute the rope started to thankfully move again.

When I was cleaning the pitch, I saw the spot that had stopped him cold. There was about a 8 foot section of blankness, with only a very thin crack and an aluminum mashie with the cable broken off, where some bonehead had apparently tried to clean it. The pecker saved the day - my partner had carefully looped it over the mashie and stepped on through.


A copperhead in place. Yes, it’s as sketchy as it looks. It may or may not have a cable.



Even if you’re climbing an aid route cleanly, meaning without a hammer, having a “beak” style piton can come in very handy.

A beak piton (a shortening of the broader term bird beak) is a very thin piton with a V-shaped downward hook at the end. It looks a lot like a bird head, hence some of the clever names: Toucan, Pecker etc.

Black Diamond Pecker piton

Black Diamond Pecker piton

They’re designed to be hammered into extremely thin cracks, and have been a key piece of gear that have opened up many of the most cutting edge difficult aid climbs.

But, if hardcore A4 isn't your thing, having a beak piton with you even on a hammerless “clean”rated route (e.g. C1, C2) can be helpful.

Rather than hammering it into a very thin crack in traditional piton style, a beak can be gently placed over an obstruction without a hammer. This can be very handy even on easy C1 and C2 routes on which you otherwise would not need a piton.

For example, if someone has placed a copperhead, but the cable has broken off, you can often hook a pecker over the top of the smashed in copperhead, and use that to move past the piece. If you come across this scenario even once on a route, it can't stop you cold unless you have a way to get past it. 

You can even place them in a shallow horizontal crack and use the tie off point near the head to minimize leverage. Granted, this is a creative and fairly uncommon placement, but it just might get you past that tricky part.

The Black Diamond Pecker is the one I have and it's great. It comes in three sizes, 1, 2, and 3. I suggest number 2.