State of the Ice, Crawford Notch

Got my first swings in of the season today up in Crawford Notch and by all accounts it was damn good swinging for mid-November! Things are coming along great and we got more cold temps and up to 11 inches of snow coming to the higher summits in the next 24 hours! All pics courtesy of Alexandra Roberts.

IMG_1770

Quick re-cap:

Elephant Head Gully is forming fast but what about that new fence huh? Hoping Mother Nature overcomes that obstacle as it will be a shame to lose such a great roadside quickie. The little gully to the right though might see more traffic now that it is not concealed by trees though!

The Flume & Silver Cascade have lots of mushroom ice and flowing water… might be tricky trying to stay dry in there… and the new snow coming will likely conceal less than solid parts of those brooks. Use caution!

Cinema Gully and the numbered gullies are forming fast for this early… and evidence of avalanches on Cinema was easily seen from the road. We had quite a few climbers triggered avalanches in Hitchcock Gully early season last year… heads up!

Cleft looked do-able.

Willey’s Slide looked thin but forming.

Over at Frankenstein things are looking pretty good. The south face routes are coming along great (but they never last do they).

Smear was the best looking thing in the Amphitheater… but everything in there will need some more time. My partner noticed Angel Cakes was looking like it was almost touching down! Might have to walk up there in a few weeks!

Assuming climbable ice in the Lost in the Woods area…

Standard Route was our objective and it served up some great plastic wet early season swinging! Consider a hard shell! We took the center line, stopped in the cave and chopped out the pin anchor under a few inches of ice, the two more pitches to the top. 13 cm screws didn’t bottom out the whole way. It’s wet though… still lots of running water (that’s a good thing).

IMG_1771

 

IMG_1772
First climb of the season in the bag!

Dracula looked a bit chandelier down low and the top out looked a bit sketch to me as we walked above… expect un-bonded ice and non-frozen turf shots on that puppy for another week or so. No thanks, I’ll wait. Welcome to the Machine forming nice for this time of year!

Hanging Gardens is off to a nice start but nothing touching down yet, and the practice slab next to it is looking do-able but thin.

Well that’s it! My ice season has started a couple weeks after my ski season this year… I don’t remember the last time I had more ski days in then ice days in November! Fingers crossed but I think this winter will be banger!

Here’s a quick video hash I threw together to share some stoke!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Creating Recreational Maps With Modern Tools

I finally finished the curriculum for a 4 hour course designed to teach outdoor enthusiasts and professionals how to create, print, and use custom maps that are better than any map currently available from an outdoor retailer or publisher. Monday night I held the first course in partnership with the Kennett High School’s Adult Education Program. In attendance were some members of Granite Backcountry Alliance and the Conway Police Department.

map example
This map show some of the features available when making maps on CalTopo like DEM Shading (red is possible wind slab issues based off avalanche bulletin data), range rings (no camping .25 miles from AMC hut, creating routes, decision points, and run lists, in addition to using polygons to mark “open” and “closed” terrain based on snow-pack conditions. This is purely a fictional example meant to illustrate what is possible with the tool.

Feedback from participants was quite positive and I’m ready to offer this course to the general public. Unlike my 8-hour Wilderness Navigation Course this course is 100% indoors. Participants need a laptop, IOS or Android smartphone, and the Avenza and GuidePace apps to take full advantage of the content.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target half a mile through dense forest

Yesterday I offered an abbreviated version of this course in conjunction with some of my Wilderness Navigation content for a couple members of the Durham and North Conway, NH Fire Departments. With some adaptation this content is quite suitable for professionals who participate in search & rescue efforts.

After positive feedback from today’s participants I will be reaching out to Fire Departments around the state to see if they would be interested in this training. If you belong to an outdoor group or organization that might like to include this in your training regime please reach out to me for more details at nealpinestart@gmail.com.

My Compass

Every course has participants asking me what compass they should get. I’ve been a fan of the Suunto MC-2 for almost two decades! I wrote a long review on this compass here!

See you in the mountains (hopefully not lost),

Northeast Alpine Start

Gear Review- Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support/Lite Boots

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Light and comfy enough for a steep volcano scree field in blue jeans- photo by Matt Baldelli

This will be my third winter skiing and climbing in my Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots and I should have shared this review much sooner! The good news is since they are not new-this-season you can score a pair at amazing savings (like 45% off!). That’s basically pro-deal price available for everyone! But you still probably want to know if it’s a good boot for you right? So let me share my experience with them to help you decide!

I got these at the start of the 2016/17 winter as part of a back-country setup optimized for uphill efficiency but that could still slay on the downhill.

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Boots Review
Finding the line in flat light- photo by Brent Doscher

How I tested

I’ve since skied over 50 days in them including two week long ski trips to Iceland. This includes skinning at least twice a week while teaching avalanche courses every weekend from mid-December until April. I ice climbed in them a half dozen times up to leading grade 4 waterfall ice. I’ve skied them on powder days and more typical east coast crud days. I’ve worn them all over Mount Washington and on groomers at local ski mountains. Suffice it to say I’ve put enough time, miles, and elevation on them to form some opinions!

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Leading Within Reason, WI4 photo by Benjamin Lieberman

Let’s start with…

Fit/Sizing

I went with a Mondo size 27.5 for my US Men’s size 9 feet (slight Morton’s toe, medium arch/width). I wear my favorite Darn Tough ski socks with them. They fit like comfy cozy slippers for walking and skinning. They are comfortable “enough” for vertical ice climbing… but I’ll get into that more under climbing performance. When cranked tight for downhill performance they are as comfy as any ski boot I’ve ever worn, but I’ll go into a little more detail on that under ski performance.

Climbing Performance

When I say they are the most comfortable ski boots I have ever ice climbed in you must take it with a grain of salt. Why would someone climb vertical ice in ski boots? Well if it involves a ski approach/descent having a one boot system is a pretty sweet option. With out a doubt I’d say these climb better than any dedicated climbing boot skis. Simply put climbing boots do not ski well as they have virtually no “forward lean”. I learned this lesson the hard way skiing out of Chimney Pond in Koflach Vertical mountaineering boots many years ago. Long story short dedicated mountaineering boots might be great at hiking & climbing, but they will always come up short for real downhill skiing.

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Boots Review
Lowering off after leading an ice climb at the Hanging Gardens, Frankenstein Cliffs, New Hampshire. Photo by Benjamin Lieberman

Enter the Arcteryx Procline. In touring mode this boot is definitely comfortable enough for a 12 mile approach even if it includes quite a bit of walking. However it is to stiff laterally for classic “French Technique”. You will find yourself switching to front pointing as soon as the angle is too steep for simple heel to toe walking. While leading waterfall ice up to grade 3 it performs quite well and I even led Grade 4 in them.

I climbed in these with both my Petzl Vasak’s and Petzl Leopard FFL crampons.

A modern dedicated ice climbing boots like my Arcteryx Acrux AR are noticeably more comfortable (and warmer) for real technical rock and ice climbing… they also are terrible for downhill skiing. Perhaps the best way to explain it is route and condition dependent. While everyone reading this might not be familiar with my local terrain I think these examples should work.

  1. Early season or low snow years ascent of Pinnacle Gully on Mount Washington (Grade 3) which involves a 2000 foot 2.5 mile approach. I’d stick with a comfy mountaineering boot and leave the skis at home.
  2. Mid-late season or great skiing conditions ascent of Pinnacle Gully, this would be a perfect boot!
  3. My next Katahdin trip.

Finally you should know these are not the warmest boot out there. I have some freakishly warm feet so I tend to get by with less insulation than some of my climbing partners but there was one sub-zero day in Tuckerman Ravine where I got pretty cold toes while teaching an avalanche course. Standing around in them in arctic conditions is not the best idea. I still think they are plenty warm for fast & light adventures or summer trips to the Cascades.

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
I’m wearing my blue jeans here since we were on our way to the airport when I saw this line an hour from Reykavik that needed to be skiied- photo by Matt Baldelli

Skiing Performance

The Arc’teryx Procline boots are only compatible with tech bindings like the Dynafit Speed Radical Bindings (my setup) or the G3 Ion 12 Bindings. I’ve been using them to drive the DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1 Skis (168cm). I assembled this set up to focus on uphill efficiency. Total weight for skis, boots, bindings is only 6.5 pounds per ski! Thanks to the 360 degree rotating cuff these are incredibly comfortable to walk and skin in. The carbon plate to switch from walk to ski mode has an easy to operate lever. In practice if you are not leaning forward enough while switching to ski mode the plate might not align perfectly with some raised nubs that really lock the plate in place. It’s quite easy to lean forward during this process and after a little practice you’ll get the plate to lock completely with little fuss.

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Boot Review
Walking back to the car after another great day in Iceland

Once switched into ski mode you can crank the two buckles down and the “power-strap” adds even more control. The boots definitely feel laterally stiff enough to ski fairly aggressively. Edge to edge control is sufficient enough for any black diamond in-bounds runs and I find the boots supportive enough to drive the skis in spring corn and mid-winter powder. When conditions are icy New England crud you’ll find me skiing these in a fairly conservative manner.

Summary

The Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots are the most comfortable boot I have ever skinned uphill in. They also are the only ski boot I’ve climbed technical ice in. They perform so well on the downhill that I ski them on in-bound groomers but really appreciate the all day comfort during long back-country days. They are not the warmest boots out there, but I have others for days when it’s really really cold out there. If you are in the market for a boot that is as efficient for uphill travel as it is for downhill travel you should take a close look at these! I’m really excited for my third winter season in these!

Buy on Backcountry (currently 45% off!)

So what’s changed with the new model this season? Check out this video from ISPO 2018 to learn about the upgrades the new version of this boot has! (Thanks to Ron B. for sharing this with me through Facebook!

 

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above help support Northeast Alpine Start to bring in-depth reviews and how-to articles to you! Purchasing through these links sends a small commission to Northeast Alpine Start to keep this content coming. Thank you!

Gear Review: Petzl Leopard LLF Crampons

I picked up a pair of Petzl Leopard Crampons towards the end of last winter for a back-country ski trip to Iceland. While I had been happy with my Petzl Vasak’s I wanted to shed some weight from my back-country touring kit and the Leopards do just that! I pair them with the Arcteryx Procline Boots which happen to be 45% off right now (just sayin’) Let’s take a closer look at these crampons to see if they are right for you! First the manufacturer’s deets!


Manufacturer Description

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

Ultra light crampon with LEVERLOCK FIL binding, for ski touring and snow travel

Extremely light due to their aluminum construction, LEOPARD LLF crampons are perfect for ski touring and snow travel. The CORD-TEC flexible linking system minimizes bulk for ease of carrying.

Description

  • Very lightweight:
    – crampons made entirely of aluminum, optimized for snow travel
    – very lightweight (only 330 grams per pair)
  • Very compact:
    – CORD-TEC flexible linking system optimizes volume of crampons when packed in their bag (included)
    – tool-free length adjustment
  • Binding system especially adapted to the usage of these crampons:
    – self-adjusting elastic strap around the ankle
    – strap for good handling and easy removal
    – compact heel lever facilitates crampon installation/removal

Specifications

  • Number of points: 10
  • Boot sizes: 36-46
  • Certification(s): CE EN 893, UIAA
  • Material(s): aluminum, stainless steel, nylon, Dyneema®
  • Crampons come with protective carry bag

Alright, that’s out of the way so let’s breakdown the good & bad starting with…

Weight/Pack-ability

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

This was the biggest reason I chose these for my ski mountaineering kit. When your crampons only weigh 11 ounces it is hard to justify not packing them “just in case”. The CORD-TEC adjustment system lets them pack up into the smallest stuff sack I’ve ever used for crampons measuring about 7 by 4 inches.

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review


Sizing/Fit

First make sure you select the right model! For ski boots you want the “LeverLock Universal” (LLF). The regular “FlexLock” (FL) model is suitable for hiking boots with or with out front and toe welts.

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

I’ll admit I was skeptical about sizing a crampon that joins the heel piece to the front piece with string! Ok, maybe “string” is not the right word. The “CORD-TEC” is actually a woven 100% Dyneema cord. I measure it just shy of 5 mm (3/16 inches). That would give it a breaking strength around 6000 pounds… so not “string”. Dyneema is also highly resistant to abrasion.

http://phillystran.com/product-catalog/12-Strand-Braids-Spectra-Dyneema
3/16 Woven Dyneema CORD-TEC
Petzl Leopard Crampon Review
Joined with bar-tacking, this cord is replaceable but unlikely to need replacing

Petzl does sell a replacement for it if you ever wear it out somehow. I have a hard time imagining how much use it would take to requirement, but the option is there.


Adjust-ability

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Toe piece fits my Dynafit boots perfectly
Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Slight gap between the heel level and boot but they haven’t come off yet!
Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Perfect balance of security and comfortable walking!

I found the CORD-TEC system to be very easy to adjust for both of my ski boots. No tools required an quite intuitive. Do not be intimidated by the instructions, once in hand you could pretty much size them without looking at the instructions, but if you are having any issues give them a look!

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Solid fit on my Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots

DEAL ALERT!

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Light and comfy enough for a steep volcano scree field in blue jeans- photo by Matt Baldelli

Backcountry has almost a full size run of the Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots at 45% off right now!

Buy on Backcountry

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Syncs really well with my Arcteryx Procline Boots!

Ok, sorry about that, back to the crampons!

Performance

These have been tested over a few thousand feet of snow climbing in on neve, spring corn, and classic NH “windboard”. For an ultra-light aluminum crampon they perform great! They have not, and will not, be tested on waterfall ice or mixed rock routes. They are not designed for that and I’m sure such uses will shorten their life-span. So far they have only been in contact with snow but I’m not too worried about walking over short sections of granite to get to the next patch of snow this Spring. It’s gear. It should get beat on from time to time! These will be my choice model for my next trip to climb in the Cascades.

Summary

These are for ski mountaineers, back-country skiers, and riders who have found themselves on a steep slope wishing they hadn’t left their crampons in the car. These could also be a nice step up for many winter hikers who sometimes rely on Kahtoola MICROspikes in terrain where more aggressive traction would be more appropriate. Just make sure you get the Flexlock model.  Skiers should get the LevelLock model. Finally these are for anyone who is looking to shave ounces off their total kit while still having the tools they need to reach the places they want to play. If that’s you then you should consider checking these out!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

These crampons were purchased with my own money. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start. 

Review- 50 Non-Textbook Anchors I Trusted My Life To, by Mark Smiley (IFMGA Guide)

Mark Smiley 50 Anchors Online Course Review

Last week Mark Smiley released an online learning course focused on building anchors for traditional and alpine rock climbing. If you are following this blog Mark probably doesn’t need an introduction as his name is quite well known in the industry, but if by some chance you haven’t heard of Mark here’s a quick recap of him from his Smiley’s Project website.


Buy the Discounted Course HERE 25% off ends September 8th!


Experience

FILM MAKING:

-Created 45+ webisodes during a 4 year climbing project: Plays: 400K Loads: 3.8M Embeds: 3.1M

– Contract film work for: Gore-Tex, La Sportiva, American Mountain Guide Association, and others.

PHOTOGRAPHY:

– Published in Alpinist, Rock n’ Ice, Climbing, Extraordinary Health, Outside Magazine, 50+ webpages.

MOUNTAIN GUIDING:

– Organized and led 7 international expeditions, 5 Alaska Expeditions, and many domestic trips in the US.

– IFMGA Certified Mountain Guide by the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA)

I’ve been following Mark through Facebook and Instagram for years and linked his “Creating Safe Bail Anchors” post to my Tech Tip page a couple years ago. When I saw he was offering a hour and half online course focused on upping my anchor building game I decided to invest in it and give it a review. I’m pretty sure a lot of my readers have heard of this new program and might be on the fence as to if it is worth it or not. To help with that decision here’s a recap of what the program offers. After reading this you’ll be able to decide if it’s something that could help your climbing (and score a bit of a discount on the purchase along the way!)


What is an online course?

This might seem rudimentary to some but it deserves a little clarification. Especially as it pertains to this course. Basically when you purchase this online course you get lifetime access to the “chapters” that the curriculum has been divided into. These chapters are more than just video though… they include text below to supplement the material covered on screen. Occasionally relevant links are made to appropriate research papers that support claims made during instruction.

Mark Smiley 50 Anchor Online Course Review

In addition each chapter has space to publicly comment and question anything suggested during the chapter. While not replacing “live” learning this is far more interactive than simply trying to learn a skill via say… YouTube!

Buy the Discounted Course HERE 25% off ends September 8th!


How much does it cost?

Before I get into the course content I’ll go over the course costs and offer a bit of a comparison. This course costs $199 (before a 25% off exclusive discount I list at the end). This is about equal to a day of semi-private 2:1 or 3:1 guiding with a highly trained guide. Comparing the two though is a bit apples to oranges. This is concentrated info around a diverse and complicated subject. After sitting through the 26 chapters and reading a lot of the accompanying text and external links I can say that the value is most definitely here, and that comes from a climber of 25 years of trad experience. What truly adds value to this course though is once you are enrolled Mark will send you an invite to a private Facebook group that is strictly for posting anchor pics, asking questions, and getting constructive feedback by an IMFGA trained guide.

Mark Smiley 50 Anchors Online Course Review

This simple addition to the service is what makes this a great value for both new climbers entering the field to seasoned vets ready to up their game. Oh, and Mark offers a 30-Day Money Back Guarantee… so if you don’t feel you get your money’s worth reach out!


What will I learn?

This question must be broken down by two user groups. First, aspiring traditional climbers, then experienced climbers with a few seasons under their harnesses. The first group might seem a bit overwhelmed. While Mark is an engaging and well paced presenter there is simply a ton of info thrown at you in an hour and a half. Don’t expect to understand or retain it all after one sit-though. The good news is this isn’t a single private guided day where you try to remember everything the guide said. You can watch these chapters over and over until you feel you gain an understanding of the concepts. As Mark points out a few times through-out though you can still benefit from a qualified professional or mentor in order to build more real-life context.

For the experienced climbers out there (and a lot of my friends and partners) what will you learn from this that you haven’t learned already? Well that will vary from person to person but for me I gained a better understanding of bolt anatomy, type, inspection, and strengths. I learned more about pitons, from inspection to best clipping methods. I was reminded about the use and benefits of “the swamp knot”. I learned some better analogies to help with teaching quality nut placements (loved the flashlight analogy Mark). I learned a slick way to incorporate a cam into a slung horn anchor that I can think of at least 3 places I wish I knew that trick over the last few years.

Mark Smiley 50 Anchor Online Course Review
How to properly clean up that rat’s nest!

While the overall focus of the course is on anchors you will pick up other tips that will help your climbing. Most noticeably how to occasionally “terrain belay” and move faster in 3rd and 4th class terrain with greater security than just soloing the terrain. You’ll learn how to build better bail anchors. On that note huge props for Mark’s “Just say no to stupid anchors” campaign that essentially encourages you to add that second piece if you need to bail without worrying about the financial loss… Mark will replace that piece for you (details in course). Finally I learned how to better clean up “rat nests” and upgrade rap anchors with quick-links as a service to my fellow climbers. I’ve got a few anchors locally in mind that will get some TLC very soon!


Summary

Online learning isn’t anything new. Applying it to climbing education in such a fashion kind of is. Mark is spearheading this here and I have hopes of following him with some less technical type courses (namely using CalTopo and Avenza for creating BA trip plans and maps) but when I see the quality of a course like Mark’s I realize I need to up my game to create a quality of product worth selling. Mark’s done it here, and I’m glad I bought in.


Exclusive Discount!

I am super excited to be able to offer an exclusive discount on this course for Northeast Alpine Start readers! From now until 11:59EST on September 8th you can get 25% off the course tuition by entering promo code “alpinestart25” during checkout here (or just use this link). That brings the $199 course down to $149.25 and gets you lifetime access to Mark’s private Facebook group to help solidify your learning.

Buy the Discounted Course HERE 25% off ends September 8th!

After two decades of climbing it has become obvious to me that the learning never stops. This online course is an excellent addition to a multi-faceted approach of gaining new skills and I doubt few would ever regret the investment.


Continuing Ed.

As an Ortovox Athlete I’d be embarrassed if I didn’t also mention the recently released Safety Academy Lab Rock. This is a fantastic online learning tool you should check out! It’s totally free! It does not however cover the types of anchors Mark covers in his course but I think the two courses combined compliment each other quite well! Also if you are looking to pick up some old-fashioned good ole’ reading on these subjects heres my list of the best instructional climbing books out there!

Thanks for reading.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links support the content created here at no cost to you, thank you! The author purchased this course with his own money, but if you purchase the course through the discounted link above the author will receive a small commission. All opinions are those of the author. 

Safety Academy Lab Rock- A free digital training platform for alpine climbing

Ortovox Safety Academy Lab RockThis is my second year on the Ortovox Athlete Team and it has been so awesome representing such a top tier outdoor clothing and gear company. As an avalanche educator I’ve relied on Ortovox beacons and shovels for almost a decade and over the last two years I’ve discovered the difference between run-of-the-mill outdoor clothing and Ortovox clothing. I won’t go into great detail here but suffice to say blending Merino wool in hard and soft shell outerwear was ingenious!

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Ortovox 3L Guardian Shell Jacket and Pants keeping me warm in dry while backcountry skiing in Northern Iceland- photo by Cait Bourgault

What I want to share today is another example of Ortovox’s continued commitment to safety and education. Some of your probably already know that Ortovox supports avalanche education with partnerships with AIARE and beyond. This past Spring Ortovox launched a free online training platform focused on alpine climbing. With over 30 video tutorials (in stunning climbing locations), educational modules that save your progress, quizzes, and four chapters this is an amazing resource to up your climbing game. Support was also provided by Petzl, another industry leader in climbing education!

 

It took me about 2 hours to go through the whole program. I definitely picked up some new tricks to add to my bag!

Here’s a breakdown from Ortovox of the four chapters:

ALPINE BASICS
From climbing park to large alpine rock faces: ORTOVOX provides an insight into the world of alpine climbing – starting from the subjective and objective dangers, to rock knowledge, through to the necessary materials.

TOUR PLANNING
Carefully considered and realistic tour planning is an essential part of alpine climbing. As part of this, various factors have to be taken into consideration: selecting the appropriate climbing tour, the area and weather conditions, correctly reading a topographical map and carefully packing a backpack.

ON THE ROCK FACE
From the ascent to the summit and back again safely. In the third chapter, ORTOVOX will familiarize you with fundamental knowledge about alpine climbing. Topics such as knot techniques, belaying and the use of anchors play a central role

RESCUE METHODS
If there is an accident in alpine terrain, climbers need to act quickly, correctly and in a considered manner. The final chapter explains how climbers handle emergency situations.

Summary

I’ve never seen such a broad amount of modern accurate information on climbing presented in such a cool online manner before and know a lot of my climbing friends will be going through this the next time rain cancels a climbing day! You can check it out here. I’m sure you’ll learn something new and be stoked to share it within your climbing circles!

Climbing Cams Comparison Review (and Giveaway!)

This post originally published in Fall 2016. In Spring of 2017 I added a set of Black Diamond Ultralights to my kit and now with a year of testing it was time to update my findings. New contest for a free cam as well!

For the last two decades Black Diamond Camalots have been a mainstay of my rack. When the new C4’s came out in 2005 I upgraded my whole rack and saved over a pound in the process. While I’d been aware of the DMM Dragon Cams for a few years it wasn’t until I needed to replace a few well loved cams on my rack that I decided to give them a try. Note that this original review compares the previous version of the Dragons. The DMM Dragon 2’s are now available and have slightly wider cam lobes (more contact) and a textured thumb press for better grip.


C4’s vs DMM Dragon Cams

DMM Dragon Cams Review
DMM Dragon Cams Review

I picked up the 2, 3, 4, and 5, which is equivalent to the Black Diamond C4 .75, 1, 2, and 3.

Since the numbers the manufacturers assigned for the sizes do not correlate well we will be happier if we refer to them by color (which thankfully correlates). So I picked up the green, red, yellow, and blue size.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
A welcome addition to the rack

While they felt light in hand manufacturer specs and my home scale confirmed they are almost identical in weight to the Black Diamond C4’s. A full set of each weighs within one ounce of the other, with the Dragons coming in a hair lighter. When you consider the amount of quick-draws you could reduce from your kit while using the DMM Dragons (because of the built in extendable sling) the DMM Dragons are definitely a lighter option than a set of the Black Diamond C4’s.

However investing in the Black Diamond Ultralights one would save about 8 ounces, half a pound, over either the DMM Dragons or the Black Diamond C4’s for a full rack.  That weight savings comes at considerable cost, about $200 more for a full rack. The weight savings are noticeable throughout the size range but the largest gains are made in the biggest sizes.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
Breaking down the numbers

When comparing weight savings we have to take a look at probably the most noticeable feature of the DMM Dragons, the inclusion of an extendable dyneema sling.

DMM Dragon Cam Review
Expandable sling not extended
DMM Dragon Cam Review
Expandable sling extended

The advantages & disadvantages to this unique feature are a bit specific to the route & type of climbing you predominantly do, but lets take a look. First, you can gain 12-14cm of “free” extension on your placement without having to carry an extra quickdraw. How much weight can that save? Well 7-8 average quick-draws like the Petzl Djinns weigh close to 2 pounds, so that’s significant. On a straight up route where the gear is in-line this advantage is less pronounced as you’ll be clipping the sling un-extended, just like the sling on a C4. On a wandering line or alpine route this feature could probably save you a few draws and slings further reducing total pack weight.

DMM Dragon Cams Review
Hot forged thumb press

There are a few considerations with this design. First, the “thumb loop” found on the Black Diamond C4’s is considered to be one of the easiest to manipulate when pumped or trying to surgically get the best possible placement in a weird situation. Personally I feel the thump press on the DMM Dragons is plenty sufficient to keep control of the cam while making difficult placements (and has since be improved with the DMM Dragon 2’s). The thumb loop does provide a higher clip point on the protection, which should only be used for aid climbing applications, so this point is quite obscure for non-aid climbing applications. The last concern is the more complex cleaning process for the second. If the sling is extended it can be tricky to re-rack the cam one handed without it hanging low off the harness. With a little practice it can be done, but it is definitely not as easy as re-racking an un-extended sling.

As for holding power there has been anecdotal comments since they were released in 2010 that the slightly thinner surface area might be a concern in softer rock (sandstone). I have not seen any evidence of DMM Dragons failing in softer sandstone conditions when a thicker cam head may have held, so I think that theory can be debunked at this point. (Update the newer DMM Dragon 2’s have increased their cam head by 1.5 – 2 mm in size).

DMM Dragon Cams Review
DMM Dragon Cams Review

Black Diamond Ultralights

As mentioned above I picked up a set of Black Diamond Ultralights during Spring of 2017 and now have one full year climbing on them. I guided over 40 days of rock in the East with them and took them on a two week trip to the Cascades. They are holding up extremely well for the amount of use they see and have become my most reached for set whether I’m heading to the local crag to guide or off on a Cascades climbing trip.

Black Diamond Ultralight Cam Review
Still looking great after a full year of guiding and trips!

I’m hoping the above spreadsheet is helpful for some when deciding if the additional weight savings is worth the additional moo-lah. For some it will be a resounding yes, and others will be happier with the flexibility of the DMM Dragons (especially with the improvement made to the DMM Dragon 2’s), or the time-tested standby of the C4’s (especially if also aid climbing).


Where to Buy

First shop local! You can find most of these items at the following retailers in Mount Washington Valley!

International Mountain Equipment

Ragged Mountain Equipment

Eastern Mountain Sports, North Conway

You can also find them online at the following merchants:

Backcountry has all Black Diamond Cams 10% OFF!

You can also find them at Bentgate, EMS, Moosejaw, Mountain Gear, and REI!


Contest/Giveaway

I’m giving away one DMM Dragon Size 5 (equivalent to a Black Diamond #3), a $70 value!

To enter click the link HERE!

DMM Dragon Cam Size 5 Giveaway
DMM Dragon Cam Size 5 Giveaway

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: David Lottmann bought all the items referred to in this review with his own money. This post contains affiliate links.