Lost Arrows are blade pitons that are not only superb and useful climbing tools but also works of art. Lost Arrow pitons, originally designed by John Salathé in the mid-1940s, are the one piton that every serious aid climber has to have on his rack of big wall equipment.
John Salathé Designs First Lost Arrow Pitons
John Salathé, an immigrant from Switzerland and a blacksmith, began rock climbing in 1945 at age 46 in California. As an older climber, Salathé was unable to free climb as well as younger climbers so he turned his attention to aid climbing. He found that the soft iron pitons in common use deformed when hammered into granite cracks and were difficult to remove without damage, so as a blacksmith he began making his own pitons. At the forge in his San Mateo Peninsula Ornamental Iron Works, Salathé made strong pitons using the chrome-vanadium axles of old Model T automobiles. These new pitons could be bashed into Yosemite cracks without bending and buckling. Using his new pitons he turned his attention to climbing big walls. The first was two attempts on the unclimbed Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite Valley in 1946. Using his new pitons, the prototypes of today's Lost Arrow pitons, he aided to a blank section 30 feet below the pointed summit.
Chouinard Equipment Makes Lost Arrows in 1960s
Based on Salathé's prototype blade pitons, Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, and other climbers employed by Chouinard Equipment, began hand-forging the pitons in the early 1960s, calling them Lost Arrows. The elegant design of the pitons slowly evolved and by 1963 they began using die-forged blanks for the pitons. Tom Frost recalls, "…the die kept wearing out, so each time I would re-think the piton design and improve it." Improvements included a beefier neck that could withstanding the beating that Lost Arrows took on Yosemite's big walls.
Lost Arrows are Taped Blade Pitons
Lost Arrows are tapered blade pitons with the eye for clipping a carabiner set at a 90-degree angle in the head of the piton. The pitons range in length from three inches to seven inches. Thickness varies from thin to thick. The strong, rigid pitons excel in a wide variety of crack sizes and, when pounded to the eye in a crack, form a solid anchor for belays, rappels, and lead protection.
Lost Arrows are Durable and Versatile
Lost Arrow pitons are extremely durable as well as versatile. They fit in thin cracks that are too small for an angle piton, small cam, or nut but are too big for a knifeblade, Pecker, or Tomahawk. Lost Arrows, sometimes referred to as LAs, are durable and last a long time, which is great because they usually take a lot of beating on aid routes.
Lost Arrows are Not Essential Today
Back in the heyday of Yosemite big wall climbing in the 1960s and 1970s, Lost Arrows were essential for success but now, with all the clean aid gear available, Lost Arrows are relegated to an extra on most aid climbing racks. Most modern aid climbers usually carry only the #1 to #3 Lost Arrows, the shorties, which are most useful. The longer Lost Arrows are used less often on aid climbs. The Long Dong is often used as a nut-cleaning tool. Lost Arrows are also good for use in stacked piton placements when the pins are placed back to back or paired up with an angle piton in a shallow placement. They're also good if pounded in a half-inch or so and tied off with a loop of webbing.
Lost Arrows Come in 8 Sizes
Lost Arrow pitons, manufactured by Black Diamond Equipment, come in eight different sizes-Short Thin, Short Medium, Short Thick, Wedge, Long Thin, Long Medium, Long Thick, Long Dong.