A review of Black Diamond’s newest passive protection should really take place in the context of the competition. BD’s offset nut is the first not produced by a British company, and Black Diamond (BD) is fighting for a niche market held by the HB Brass Offset for a long, long time. The HB Brassy has proven itself to be an indispensable aiding tool. When HB went out of business years ago, the brassies become a coveted piece of equipment, unavailable on the retail market until recently, when DMM bought the old molds and continued the production of these amazing little nuts.
Now, BD has tweaked the tried and true formula, using bronze instead of brass for better durability, and utilizing a less aggressive taper. The width of the sides correspond almost exactly between the HB and BD offsets, but BD made their stoppers with a slimmer, longer profile giving it a larger surface area.
When I finally got my hands on a set of these I had very specific ambitions to climb the Desert Shield in Zion. With a few hundred feet of sustained thin aid and pin scars, it was the perfect place to put them to the test. With a couple sets of HB brassies, a set of the new BD offsets, and my TCUs, I was only slightly under-equipped for the long pitches of thin C3 aid climbing on the namesake headwall.
Day One consisted of free climbing, fixing ropes at the top of the fifth pitch, and returning for cozy night at the Jungle Bivy. As my partner and I prepared to climb the massive blank red shield on Day Two, I was giddy with anticipation.
In the morning, we ascended our fixed lines, then broke out the aiders for a reachy bolt ladder warm up. Next, it was right to business with a thin seam blown out every six feet by previous nailing ascents. These pin scars made up the majority of the gear placement, with rare places for larger gear and hooking in-between. Initially, I went straight for the old brassies and worked my way up slowly but surely. Infrequent TCU placements gave me some sense of safety, but there were many tenuous moves, and some intense exposure. When a pin scar is blown out, the exposed sandstone tends to be a bit crumbly, and many times it seems as though nothing will catch on the smooth sandy surface. Halfway up the second aid pitch, I came to a placement that didn’t seem to fit any gear. I cursed my brass offsets, I cursed my TCUs and offset cams, but then I grabbed a small BD offset stopper and slotted it in the bottom of the blown out pod. Because of the less dramatic angles, it fit where nothing else worked.
I giggled, I sang, I gave a hoot, and then, holding my breath, I eased onto the stopper, and, IT HELD! This was one of many nerve-racking events that day. Eventually we made it to the top and back to the base without serious injury, trauma, or hammering.
My impression of the BD offset – shall we call them bronzies? gingers? gingerballs? o-nuts? – well, whatever we call them they are amazing. The BD offsets are a great addition to a Zion aid rack, and, especially in the smaller sizes, worked where HB offsets simply couldn’t get purchase. I think they are a perfect compliment to HB nuts, and will facilitate many more ascents up outrageously thin cracks all over Zion and across the world.
Until my next installment, keep an eye out for BD’s nuts, and CLIMB ON.