The Nuts Museum: One Man’s Quest to Collect Every Chock Ever Made
Stéphane Pennequin’s collection of climbing gear is probably unrivaled anywhere in the world in terms of its diversity. But one particular inventor’s creations eluded him for the longest time…
At the beginning of the seventies climbing was not yet encouraged or widely practiced among younger people like myself. But I had a revelation when I discovered the book Glace Neige et Roc, by Gaston Rébuffat. The images within showed the alpinist’s equipment; the artificial chockstones in particular fascinated and mesmerized me. I considered these chockstones the very essence of perfection of climbing gear.
[Also Watch VIDEO: Jacopo Larcher’s Rise: The FA of Tribe]
For the past thirty years, I have been collecting, gathering and cataloguing items in a very unusual museum: it is a collection of nuts, cams and other pieces of climbing protection from all over the world. From the well known to the least known, from the most common to the rarest, nearly every style and brand of protection ever created is there. They are all critical tools for the consummate clean climber.
But one particular inventor’s creations eluded me for the longest time…
At the beginning of November 1998, I spent a couple of days with the Ken Wilson, editor of the mythical British magazine Mountain, who gave me access to his incredible collection of climbing books. It was there that I found the review of some amazing protection described as “weird wedges” in an old Crags No.17. But apart from two drawings and a short article, there was more information, and no mention of the person behind this strange nut.
In 2013, while visiting a patent database website I came across a British patent, filed in 1979. I immediately recognized the drawings of this mysterious nut—and I finally had the name of the nut and inventor both: the Sheathed Chock, made by John Walters.
I sent him a letter and crossed my fingers, hoping that he had not moved from the address I had found in the database. A few days later, I received an unexpected envelope full of exciting documents. Not only had John Walters invented the Sheathed Chock, but he had also worked on numerous other designs and filed no less than six patents for various climbing gear.
In fact, John had come came across my name over ten years before I contacted him, via the outstanding British rock climber Tom Proctor, who has since sadly passed away. At that time, he gave Tom sample nuts to send to the Nuts Museum. Unfortunately, due to Tom’s illness, this never happened.
John Walters is an engineering technologist by profession with a love for the great outdoors—the combination of which led to his technical interest in climbing protection development. During his full-time career the interest was little more than an absorbing side hobby, but since retirement in 2003 the development of different nuts has become his main hobby.
In October 2014, on the occasion of a short visit to Ajaccio, Corsica, while enjoying a cruise in the Mediterranean, John Walters came to see the Nuts Museum. I met a soft-spoken, circumspect man, with an intense light in his eyes.
John showed me his magnificent prototypes of perhaps his most intriguing chock: the Shellnut. He had started working on its design some 30 years before. Although John’s love of nature makes him something of a romantic, his approach to nut design is based more on the technical than the poetic. The Shell was conceived during a period of major wedge-nut development, and his object was to contribute to this advancement.
From an anonymous schema found in an old climbing magazine in 1998, to the meeting of its very creative designer, here in Corsica—how absolutely wonderful!
Nothing on the “nut planet” looks like the Shellnut. That it looks so similar to a natural chockstone is probably one of the main reasons that I like this “artificial pebble” so much.
With such an amazing nut, it seems that the Nuts Museum’s story comes full circle.
For over forty years, John has devoted all his free time perfecting and creating innovative passive and camming protection. Find out more about his creations at downbeatclimbgear.com.
See other of his unique nuts below!
The Shield I
One person was 17. Two others were only 22. The people herein span every decade beyond the teens and extend to someone who reached 96.
Each year we compile our annual tribute to Climbers We Lost. Each year it feels bigger, and bigger means sadder. This year has seemed particularly painful in that we have some multiple accidents: two leading alpinists attempting a winter ascent in the Himalaya; three such in the Canadian Rockies; two little-known but extremely accomplished and well-prepared young women in the high Sierra.
We feel this compilation is important—maybe the most important thing we do all year.
We put effort and heart in the project but cannot cover everyone, and are always sad to leave anyone out, often inadvertently. We always encourage you to add photos and remembrances of any others in the comments field.
This year’s is our biggest compilation yet. We wish it were far smaller, while taking comfort in the accounts of those who lived long, fulfilling and often extremely impressive natural lifespans. Please, everyone, be careful out there.
—Alison Osius and Michael Levyread more