Aid & Big wall
08 December 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
Beaks (is in Birdbeak - the original mini hooking peg) are—along with heads and hooks - on the frontline of hard aid, enabling climbers to progress up what once would have been blank territory, and not only that, they allow you to do this while feeling pretty secure!
The beauty of the beak is not only its super thin blade but also its hooking action. This means that unlike thin blades, which will pivot out under load, the beak hangs in the crack and it generally has to pull through to fail. Beaks are only good for hairline cracks as they can also be used to pass dead heads (hammered into the top) or stacked with other gear in wider or expando cracks with other beaks or other pegs. Beaks are a development of old Chuinard Crack’n Ups, which were filed so they could be hammered into cracks, with the first commercial design being the A5/Hurricane Birdbeak. Since then the range of hooks and their sizes have increased so that the beak aficionado has plenty to choose from.
Pika small Auk, Vermin small beak. These replace modified full-size beaks and are designed for very technical Beaking. Due to their small size, they are easily damaged and worn out, especially if you’re not careful when cleaning.
Non unless you’re trying something really hard, and then maybe only a couple.
Hurricane Birdbeak, Black Diamond Pecker, Pika Auk, Verm Standard Beak. These are the workhorse beaks, designed for abuse and going where nothing else will. All of these beaks apart from the Vermin beak get trashed after repeated use, with the tips cracking up and wearing out. For this reason, it’s worth carrying more than you need on hard nail ups as you may find there isn’t much left of them when you get to the crux! Having a small file on hard routes is useful as you can reshape the tips of your hooks as they wear. Unswaged beaks like the old-style Pecker should be avoided as very often beaks are placed in confined spaces like corners where there is no way to clip a karabiner. Slinging these types of beaks also isn’t great as you need at least 5 mm cord in order to match the holding power of the beak (you don’t want to take a fall because the 3mm cord snaps and leaves the bomber beak behind!), and this diameter of cord is just too thick. If you can’t get your beak wired up don’t bother with it.
No matter what route you’re on you should always carry at least two, with the maximum being dependant on the difficulty of the route - and I’ve heard of climbers carrying 40!)
Black Diamond Pecker #2, Cassin Iron Hawk These sizes fulfil the same role as the standard beaks although because they are bigger they give you more flexibility when choosing which size will work best. These bigger beaks also have greater higher holding power.
Black Diamond #3 Pecker, Pika Toucan. These very large beaks are awesomely useful as they replace blades in most situations, giving you a high strength and more intuitively place peg. The hooking action is also a big advantage over blades. This type of peg is typically useful for expando nailing, as they will slip rather than pivot out. The Pika Toucan, although not technically a beak, gets a mention because it’s very beak like.
Nothing too technical really, but when choosing the right spot imagine it’s a nut and hammer it above constrictions in the crack. Once in give it a few hard taps downwards to seat it. This will give you an idea of whether it’s going to be good or not. 90% of beaks are bomber.
Test it to destruction!
Beaks must be hammered with care or else you’ll snap off the narrow tip - but in many placements, the beak can be simply removed by hand – often helped by yanking the beak upwards via its karabiner. If the beak won’t budge then firstly tap the hook upwards on the base so that you can disengage its hooking ability. If this doesn’t work try leavening it out, either by placing a peg between its base and the rock or by giving it some gentle yanks on a funkness device. Never hit it from side to side as you just break off its tip. In expanding placement try placing the tip of a narrow lost arrow above it so that it gains some slack to move.