Tech Tip- Reduce Effort While Using a Plaquette Style Belay Device

When using a plaquette style belay device (Black Diamond ATC Guide, Petzl Reverso, DMM Pivot) in Assisted-Braking Mode or Auto-Blocking Mode (to belay a follower directly off the anchor) there are some ways to reduce the amount of effort required to pull slack through the device. This can lead to a more efficient belay as well as save your elbows from over-use injuries like tendinitis (not uncommon in life long climbers and guides).

First make sure you are using an appropriate diameter rope for your device. Skinnier ropes will require less effort to pull slack then thicker diameters but make sure you are staying within the range the manufacture recommends! For reference here are the suggested ranges for some common devices:

Black Diamond Alpine ATC Guide (8.5mm – 9mm single ropes)

Black Diamond ATC Guide (8.9mm – 11mm single ropes)

Petzl Reverso (8.5mm – 10.5mm single ropes)

DMM Pivot (8.7mm – 11mm single ropes)

The skinnier rope you use the less effort it will take to pull slack through the device. Currently my favorite single rope for multi-pitch ice and alpine rock climbing is the Sterling Fusion Nano IX DryXP, 70m. This rope pulls very smoothly through any of the above devices!

Next be sure to use a round stock locking carabiner like the Black Diamond RockLock Screwgate Carabiner for the rope to run around as opposed to a forged carabiner with “ribs”. The rope will pull noticeable smoother around a round stock carabiner.

Climbing Tech Tips
A round stock carabiner makes pulling slack through the device easier than a forged carabiner with “ribs”

Finally consider adding a second carabiner for the rope to run around. This will again reduce the effort of pulling slack through the device with out removing the assisted-braking function.

Two carabiners greatly reduces the amount of effort required to pull slack through the device

I hope this tech tech helps your belays run more smoothly! Your elbows will thank you!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above support the content created here. Thank you!

Tech Tip: Buntline Hitch

rock climbing tech tip Buntline Hitch

There are many situations in climbing where it makes sense to construct your anchor from the climbing rope you are already attached to versus reaching for a sling or cordelette; most notably when swinging leads or finishing a climb with a tree anchor followed by a walk-off. In recent years the Connecticut Tree Hitch (CTH) has gained popularity among both professional climbing guides and savvy recreational climbers.

The Buntline Hitch is also a suitable option that has a few distinct advantages over the CTH.

  1. The hitch does not require a locking carabiner
  2. The hitch forms a suitable master point for belaying your second (when using a CTH you must tie another bight knot to create a master point).
  3. If tied incorrectly it forms either two half-hitches or a clove-hitch which have a high enough slip strength. The CTH tied incorrectly will catastrophically fail.
  4. It is fast to tie and untie

Credit: Big thanks to Derek DeBruin for sharing this hitch with in the AMGA Professional Facebook Forum and for his continued work disseminating quality information. EDIT: Derek credits Richard Goldstone for teaching him this method.

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous. Practice new skills on the ground and seek qualified instruction.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip: Rigging to Lower from a Sport Climb

Rigging to Lower from a Sport Climb

Rigging to lower from a sport climb is faster, more efficient, and safer than setting up a rappel. Here’s the why and the how!

Faster and More Efficient

When one rigs to lower one only needs to pull up enough rope to pass a bight through the fixed anchor and tie a bight knot that can be clipped to one’s belay loop. If one chooses to set up a rappel instead one needs to pull up at least half the rope (if the rope has an accurate middle mark) or the entire rope up (if the rope does not have an accurate middle mark). This is not only faster than setting a rappel, but safer!

Safer

As mentioned the fact that you do not need to locate the middle of the rope when being lowered leads to a reduction in risk. There are many examples of accidents that resulted from the two ends of a rope not being even during a rappel. When rigging to lower you also have the benefit of still being on belay. If you have led the route prior to rigging the lower the rope will still be traveling through quick draws below offering some protection against an unexpected slip. Finally this method keeps the climber attached to the rope in some form through out the process eliminating the risk of dropping the rope (it happens!).

How

The process isn’t too complicated but there are a few considerations and options.

  1. The first of which is whether or not to tether into the anchor during the process. The best practice depends on the situation, more specifically, the stance. When you arrive at the anchor if there is a decent stance you can omit tethering into the anchor and doing so reduces clutter and speeds the process. If the unexpected slip occurs at this stage your rope is still through the anchor. If you have passed a bight through the anchor some security can be obtained by keeping tension on the bight as you bring it down to your belay loop and tie the bight knot. However if the stance is small and insecure it would be best to tether into the anchor so you can rig to lower more comfortably. While there are a few appropriate tether systems out there one of the best options is the CAMP USA Swing Dynamic Belay Lanyard.
  2. Pull up some slack and thread a bight through the fixed rings on the anchor. Continue to lengthen this bight until it reaches your belay loop and pull it about 8 inches past (below) your belay loop.
  3. Tie a bight knot here. There are a couple bight knots you could use to attach the rope back to your climbing rope. An overhand on a bight works, but is harder to untie then a figure-eight on a bight. I often tie a figure 8 on a bight with an extra wrap or two around the two strands. This makes a secure bight knot that is very easy to untie after it has been loaded (sometimes called a figure-9).
  4. After the bight knot is tied connect it to your belay loop with a locking carabiner. Some climbers might chose to add a second reversed/opposed carabiner (locking or not). If only using a single locking carabiner make sure it is locked and properly orientated when you call for “take” and weight the new attachment. Best practice here is to get a little closer to the anchor so when your belayer “takes” you can weight the new attachment and verify everything looks correct the next step.
  5. Untie your original tie in knot and pull the long tail through the anchor.
  6. Remove the quick-draws (or whatever your top-rope anchor was), weight the rope, and ask to be lowered. Watch that you don’t get tripped up on the long tail coming from the backside of the bight knot! Once you are on the ground remove the locking carabiner and bight knot and retrieve your rope by pulling from the belayer side (less rope to pull). Move on to the next climb or head to happy hour (depending on time of day).

Close Your System!

One important caveat to this system, and almost all climbing systems, is to be sure to “close your system”. Essentially this means during your partner check (before anyone starts climbing) you ensure that the unused end of the rope either has a stopper knot tied near the end, is secured around a ground anchor, or tied into your partner. In order to explain the avoidable accident we are preventing I’ll share this simple example. You successfully lead a 35 meter tall route without realizing you are climbing on a 60 meter rope. After rigging to lower your belayer lower’s you and when you are about 10 meters from the ground the unsecured end of the climbing rope slips through the belayer’s brake hand and belay device and you fall to the ground. As unavoidable as this sounds it happens every single year! Close your system!

“I heard lowering through anchors is discouraged as it wears out the fixed gear?”

Professional mountain guides and climbing institutions around the country are actively trying to correct this common public misconception. It stems from the very real and modern ethic that active top-roping through fixed gear is discouraged. Over time, depending on the fixed hardware, this can lead to pre-mature wear on the fixed anchor. It’s easy enough if you plan on top-roping for a bit to use your own carabiners to save some wear on the fixed anchor. Only the last climber will lower through the fixed gear, and modern stainless steel rappel rings and “mussey hooks” can handle this type of use for many years to come. The gains in efficiency and reduction in rappelling accidents justify this technique, and the organizations that promote education and conservation are the same organizations promoting this technique, namely groups like the American Mountain Guide Association, The Access Fund, and The American Alpine Club. There may be some areas where locals are still resisting this modern technique. It’s possible their routes have more aluminum fixed anchors or they don’t have an organizing body that works to keep anchors updated like the Rumney Climbers Association. In those areas it’s best to check with local climbers on accepted practices, but hopefully these areas can be updated to better support lowering as an option.

Rappelling Instead

All this said there are times where rappelling will be a better choice. The American Alpine Club created this video which covers the steps to rig a rappel from a sport anchor instead.

Summary

Rigging to lower from a sport climb is definitely faster and arguably safer than setting up a rappel. I hope this post has you thinking critically about your process while climbing and that it was clean and concise. At the end of the day double and triple check what ever system you are using especially during transitions and climb on!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous. Practice new skills at ground level and under the guidance of a qualified guide, instructor, or mentor. Climb at your own risk. Affiliate links above help support this blog.

Tech Tip: Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

I’ve been using the Girth Hitch Master Point (GHMP) Anchor System for a little over a year now having learned it from the great educational social media feeds of Dale Remsberg and Cody Bradford. Recent testing on the method was conducted by Derek DeBruin and John Sohl the Petzl facility in Salt Lake City and they published these results.

TL:DR Version:

“The girth hitch is a viable solution for the master point for anchor rigging, provided that;

1) Approximately 5cm of slip is within the climbing party’s risk tolerance

2) The girth hitch is cinched snugly by hand and body weight prior to use. This applies to a variety of rigging materials, such as HMPE or nylon slings or cord, as well as material conditions, whether new or used, dry or wet.” – Derek DeBruin

Best Uses:

There’s quite a few places this system could be well applied. It is primarily a solution for multi-pitch climbing. This isn’t a great option for constructing anchors that will be used for top-rope climbing. On a multi-pitch route with bolted belay stations I might even consider keeping a sling rigged with this system (much like how I keep a pre-tied mini-quad on my harness). Even if the bolts at the next station are not exactly the same distance apart you only need to loosen the hitch a bit to properly adjust it. On a multi-pitch route with traditional gear anchors a double-length Dyneema sling is a light & fast option for rigging this system. Multi-pitch ice climbing is where I see perhaps the greatest benefit as rigging this with gloves on will often be achievable with just an alpine-draw and good ice.

Here’s a video I created showing the method along with some suggestions, namely utilizing a full strength closed rappel ring as a master point instead of a locking carabiner, which adds security and saves a locking carabiner for other uses.

Summary

Because this is a material efficient and proven redundant glove friendly system I plan on keeping it in my growing “tool kit” of options. I still carry one mini-quad with me when I prefer independent master points (more comfortable for a party of three) and use it often as a glove friendly redundant rappel extension. The advantages over tying a more traditional old school pre-equalized cordelette anchor are great enough that I see less and less reason for ever taking my cordelette off the back of my harness. I still carry it for self-rescue purposes but newer anchor methods like the GHMP and mini-quad seem to solve most anchor problems more effectively. I’m stopping by REI today to pick up one a SMC Rigging Ring which is almost half the weight of the stainless steel one I used in the video. You should consider adding this to your tool kit!

Product Giveaways!

I’m running two giveaways at the moment. You can enter to win a SOL Emergency Bivvy Sack before the end of the month in the raffle at the bottom of this review of SOL survival products! You can also enter to win a camming device of your choice* by competing in an anchor building contest that ends at the end of October… rules for that contest are at this Instagram post.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous, you could die following any advice from this post. Seek qualified instruction and mentorship. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.

*cam will be selected by the winner from any in-stock cam at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH. Free shipping within the US.

Climbing in the Age of Covid-19

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus


I pulled into the parking lot below Whitehorse Ledge minutes before Bob pulled in. This was my first time coming back to climbing since an injury at the beginning of March followed by an on-going pandemic that generated stay at home orders and strong social pressure to not partake in riskier activities while the local medical centers braced for over-whelming traffic and struggled with sourcing enough PPE and ventilators if things got as bad as they might.

It had been a long and sometimes difficult two months. First, recovering from a painful injury that left me unable to do much more than walk slowly on flat ground. Second, once I felt like I might be able to turn a ski, deciding alpine Spring skiing would have to wait for 2021.

So it should go without saying I was excited to be tying in with one of my longest lifetime friends and climbing partners but it wasn’t without a little trepidation. My family had kept our circle very small and tight and a couple hours on a cliff with Bob was definitely a cautious step forward that I hoped would bring us more and more to normalcy as things evolve with the pandemic.



We had talked about how we would protect each other and manage not just our climbing risk but the risk of spreading a virus that has managed to bring the country to its knees with its ease of transmission combined with how many potential asymptomatic carriers could unknowingly start an outbreak.

When Bob got out of his truck we went without the typical firm handshake or bro hug while gearing up. My rope, his rack. We both used our own hand-sanitizer before shouldering our backpacks and hiking up to the cliff. We walked, almost without realizing it, about ten feet apart instead of shoulder to shoulder like we’d done for hundreds of days of climbing together.

I stacked the rope while Bob racked up slightly further away than normal. We decided Bob would lead the 9 pitch mellow slab route for a few reasons. He had been out climbing a few times already and was feeling pretty good. I didn’t know how I was feeling on rock post-injury and having such a long break from climbing. We also wanted to get back home to our families early and this route definitely climbs faster when not swapping leads. Perhaps I also thought this would mean less handling of gear… most of the pitches were run out slab climbing so I was only cleaning 4 or 5 pieces of protection per pitch, mostly just quick-draws.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
Bob starts up pitch 2 of the Cormier-Magness route

We reminded each other that no gear should go into our mouths. This is a natural habit for climbers when cleaning and leading climbs and a habit we wanted to be conscious to avoid. At each anchor I clove-hitched myself in a bit longer than normal, finding it easy to keep about 6 feet between us. Instead of directly handing Bob his gear back I would long-reach over and clip it to his end of the rope. We both reminded each other not to touch our faces.

At the third anchor I donned my disposable face-mask I was carrying. While I might believe both Bob and I are not spreading this virus we can’t be 100% certain at this point, neither of us have been tested for antibodies and even if we had been the jury is still out on exactly what any of those results would truly mean in terms of both immunity and potential to spread. The main reason I wanted to don the mask was to put myself into my potential clients shoes if I end up going back to work this summer.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
At the “smile” belay after linking into Beginner’s Route en-route to Standard Route Finish, a great-link up Bob suggested we do

Current CDC guidelines recommend masks or face coverings if you can’t stay at least 6 feet away from people. I’ve sat through a number of great webinars hosted by the American Alpine Club, The Access Fund, and the American Mountain Guide Association about how climbers and guides should move forward during this pandemic. Both the company I guide for, Northeast Mountaineering, and most guide services I know who are starting to operate again, will be requiring some type of face covering when social distancing is not possible (essentially at belay’s, fitting harnesses, etc).



Two hours after starting up the face we reached the top. I laid what gear I had cleaned from the last pitch on the ground for Bob to collect and stepped back to coil our rope. After stuffing the rope in my backpack and changing out of my climbing shoes we both used our hand-sanitizer again and started our hike back to the parking lot. We then jumped in our separate cars and drove a few minutes to the lower viewing area of Cathedral Ledge for a post climb beer (we brought our own) and to watch two parties getting after it on the cliff, one party on the Beast Flake and one on Camber, two of the cliffs classic hard routes. No one was on any of the easier trade routes.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
The view from the top of Whitehorse Ledge with Echo Lake below, Mount Kearsarge on the left, Cranmore Ski Mountain in the middle, the Green Hills Preserve to the right, and the beautiful Saco River Valley all around

After some great catching up and the cold refreshment we made tentative plans to start climbing together again once a week. We expressed gratitude to each other for an awesome morning of climbing and then parted ways. No high fives, no fist bumps, no bro hugs. Just a smile and a wave. When I got home I left my climbing gear and rope in the trunk of the car, changed my clothes, and showered, before hugging my kids. I waited a couple days before collecting my gear from the trunk and putting it back into my gear room. It felt good to be climbing again, even though I was doing things a bit differently than before.

Resources:

https://americanalpineclub.org/news/2020/5/1/climbing-in-the-covid-era

https://www.accessfund.org/open-gate-blog/climbing-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

https://amga.com/coronavirus-update/webinars-resources-members/

See you in the mountains (when they are local and mellow… for now),

Northeast Alpine Start

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Gear Review: Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15L Backpack (and Carabiner Contest)

Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15L Backpack Review


This summer I received the Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15 backpack to review and I’ve since logged about 25 days of multi-pitch rock climbing and guiding and a half dozen hikes with it. Weighing less than a pound but able to carry my full summer guiding kit I found this to be a great multi-pitch climbing pack and only have a couple small tweaks I’d love to see Black Diamond make.

Contest: I’m giving away two Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner Screwgate Carabiners! Read the photo captions below for how to enter!

UPDATE: Contest over! Congrats to Chris B. and Forrest for identifying the climbs!


Let’s start with the manufacturer description:

A worthy addition to any multi-pitch kit, the Rock Blitz 15 is designed to move with you pitch after pitch, carrying all the essentials to the summit. Featuring our signature Blitz-style main opening and a side zip pocket for quick on-route access to a phone, topo, or camera, this pack also has a stripped-down profile for moving fast on big lines. The top closure strap doubles as a rope carry once you summit, and external H2O hose routing gives you the option of staying hydrated on the send. The pack’s EVA padded shoulder straps and back panel make for all-day comfort, while the sternum strap and waist belt are fully removable to save weight on fast and light pushes.

  • Blitz-style main opening for ease of access while on route
  • External side zip pocket for quick access to guide book / phone / camera
  • Stripped down pack silhouette for moving fast on multi-pitch missions
  • Top strap also doubles as rope carry
  • External H2O hose routing
  • EVA Padded shoulder straps and back panel
  • Height adjustable waist belt for better fit above a climbing harness
  • Fully removable sternum strap and waist belt to shave weight when necessary

Volume :  15 L (915.4 cu in)

Average Stock Weight :  403 g (14.2 oz)

Materials :  840 D Nylon


Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15L Backpack Review
Top of the first pitch of “Story of O”, an awesome three pitch 5.6 at the Precipice climbing area in Acadia National Park, Maine


Sizing/Fit/Comfort

The Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15 only comes in one size. Like most climbing packs designed to be worn while leading multiple-pitch rock it rides high on my 5’9″ build, 16 inch torso. The thin waist belt easily rides above my harness and helps secure the pack from swinging around when moving over terrain. The contoured EVA foam shoulder straps easily distribute the weight of a full kit. My only wish is the sternum strap used a more traditional slide adjust system vs the girth-hitched attachment points it currently uses and that the sternum strap buckle had the built in whistle that most climbing packs use these days.

Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15L Backpack Review
The final anchor on the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle before stepping right and starting the “Fairy Tale Traverse”


Performance/Volume/Durability

For a simple pack there is some definite stand out features that made me really enjoy this pack. First off is the 15 liter volume. With careful packing I could fit a full guiding kit in here. For reference this is what I fit inside the pack:

This much gear was a snug fit and I’d either carry or just wear my Black Diamond Vapor helmet to the wall. The 840 denier ballistic nylon held up great to a full season of guiding. While I never hauled the bag up a pitch I did wear it through multiple squeeze chimney’s and the pack still looks quite new. The external side zip pocket is advertised to carry your phone, guidebook, or topo. I actually fit my first aid kit and my phone in it for easy access!


Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15L Backpack Review
Wearing the Black Diamond Rock Blitz 15 on the authors favorite short hike in the country


Video

Here’s a quick look at the pack after finishing a day of climbing at Cathedral Ledge.

Black Diamond also produced a sweet little video showcasing this pack and a couple other products. I especially liked how they used the “guidebook/phone” pocket… skip to 1:58 to see the 11th “essential”…

Summary

This is a great little rugged multi-pitch backpack! Not a lot of thrills but simple and effective for what it was designed for! While it’s main end-use is multi-pitch trad climbing I found it great for quick trail hikes around the White Mountains and along the Maine seacoast. It was also quite useful on a family vacation when were walking around multiple seacoast towns. If you’re in the market for such a pack take a good look at this one!

Buy on Moosejaw

Buy on Amazon <- only one left

For those who want a little extra room (and the option to carry ice axes) Black Diamond makes a 20 liter and 28 liter version!

IMG_9636
The author guiding on Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire

CONTEST/COMMENT BELOW

Could you figure out what climbs the two “anchor” pics were? The first who answers either one correctly win a Black Diamond Pearbiner Screwgate Locking Carabiner. If the first person gets both right first they win both carabiners! Bonus cool points if you can also name what pitch I was on!

UPDATE: Contest over! Congrats to Chris B. and Forrest for identifying the climbs!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start



Disclaimer: A media sample was provided for purpose of review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links above support the content created here at no additional cost to you. When you shop through these link a small commission is earned. Northeast Alpine Start is an Amazon Associate. Thank you.

GrandyOats Granola Review- And Contest!

Honestly I’ve never been a fan of granola, GORP (Good Ole’ Raisins and Peanuts), or trail mix preferring an eclectic mix of cured meats, hard cheeses, left over Flatbread, and home-made trail sushi. That is to say until I met some folks from GrandyOats during this past April’s Wild Corn event. They handed me a sample as I passed their vendor table and while chatting with other attendees and munching on my sample I discovered what good granola really is.

GrandyOats Review

Since 1979 these real life Granola’s have been making wholesome organic hand mixed food in Western Maine. Their business philosophy is rooted in a sustainable life-style where good business is just not profitable but environmentally and socially responsible.  You can read more on their story here.

Having been convinced that this quality of granola was changing my long held belief that granola is bland and boring I swung back around to their vendor table for a conversation and asked for a larger sample to take with us on our upcoming Iceland trip. They obliged with a 6-pack of Chocolate Chunk Coconola- Coconut Granola.

GrandyOats Review
Photo by Erik Howes

Here’s the official description of this tasty blend of goodness:

Chocolate Chunk Coconola is the delicious evolution of granola. This paleo, gluten-free, organic granola is vegan and loaded with coconut chips, seeds, nuts and dark chocolate. It’s made by hand in small batches at our solar-powered bakery and just like the sun, Coconola provides you with sustained energy to power your adventures.

  • Certified Organic
  • Certified Gluten-Free
  • Grain-Free & Certified Paleo Friendly
  • Non-GMO Verified
  • Kosher
  • Made in Small Batches at a Solar-Powered Baker

Ingredients: Organic Unsweetened Coconut, Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Sunflower Seeds, Organic Coconut Nectar, Organic Dark Chocolate (organic cane sugar, organic cocoa liquor, organic cocoa butter), Organic Sesame Seeds, Organic Pecans, Organic Cashews, Organic Maple Syrup and Organic Vanilla.


What struck me as different from the admittedly low amounts of granola I have eaten over the years is how light this granola feels while munching. This is not only impart due to GrandyOats using the highest quality ingredients they can source but also the perfect level of minimal process baking. With other granola’s I would need to mix them with yogurt, drown in milk, or constantly wash down each bite with some water. This granola goes down easily handful after handful with out feeling heavy or too dry.

While I’ve already admitted I’m not a granola connoisseur quite a few of my friends and fellow mountain guides are. Each time I’ve shared some of my stash with them the feedback is consistent. They love it. I’ve also been able to share this tasty snack with multiple guests while out guiding and I have yet to find someone who didn’t take that first bite and pause before saying something like “That’s good granola!”.

The 9 ounce bags have 8 servings, 170 calories per serving (1,360 total), and cost $8 each when bought in a 6-pack from their website. That’s 1$ a serving for something that was literally hand-crafted, sourced ethically, baked and mixed perfectly! It doesn’t just stop at granola though. GrandyOats has a while line of trail mixes, roasted nuts (Organic Turmeric Ginger Cashews!), and hot cereal.

If you are a granola or trail mix fan you got to try these guys out. I am grateful I got to discover I actually do like granola, especially when it is made like this!


CONTEST

Win a free 9 ounce bag of Chocolate Chunk Granola! Just click the Rafflecopter link below for ways to enter the drawing and you might find yourself munching on some seriously good granola soon! Contest ends 6/30.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

GrandyOats Review

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Product samples were provided for purpose of review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links help support the content created at this blog at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

 

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.

How To: “Belaying in the Gym” by PETZL

Petzl is a well known industry leader in climbing gear and safety. When I first started climbing over 20 years ago I looked forward to each annual Petzl catalog for the wealth of technical information they would include, along with some of the most stunning and inspirational photos! I probably learned as much about climbing from these catalogs back in the day as I learned from that timeless classic Freedom of the Hills!

Petzl Gear Review
The author on the summit of Forbidden Peak, North Cascades, wearing the Petzl Sirocco Helmet and Petzl Sitta Harness

Now Petzl has just launched a new series of downloadable “ACCESS BOOKS”, basically a collection of technical tips centered around one particular aspect of climbing. In their first PDF “booklet” Petzl focuses on indoor climbing.

Petzl Access Books
Petzl Access Books- Download your own copy here.

As always the illustrations are clear and to the point. The techniques described are considered “best practices” throughout the industry. Whether you are a new climber or a salty veteran a little review of the basics never hurts!

Download your own copy here

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

P.S. Speaking of Petzl here are some recent reviews I’ve posted of some of my favorite Petzl gear!

Petzl Sirocco Helmet (2017 model)

Petzl GriGri+

Petzl Sitta Harness

Petzl Hirundos Harness

Petzl Ice Screws (comparison review)

Petzl Bug Backpack

All links are affiliate links and making a purchase through one of them supports Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review: Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack

This past September I was excited to receive the new Cassin Eghen 22 backpack to review. This alpine style pack had won “Editor’s Choice 2017” from Climbing Magazine who called it a “super tech summit pack”. Indeed this relatively small pack has a long list of features designed with both practicality and convenience in mind.

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Huntington Ravine Trail, Mount Washington New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli

Buy on Amazon


How I tested

Over the Fall I took this pack rock climbing in both crag settings and alpine. I was able to get over 30 pitches of climbing in with it before switching gears to ice climbing and have since tested this pack in Huntington Ravine (Pinnacle Gully), Mount Willard, and Cannon (Black Dike). I’ll share the manufacture specs and description then get into my personal test results.


Specifications

  • 22-liter technical pack for rock, ice and mixed mountain ascents
  • Very strong fabric with reinforced Cordura bottom
  • Technical ice axe holders with a head-locker system on the bottom and Velcro straps on top
  • External helmet carrying system can be stowed away when not in use
  • Frameless back is lined with a removable 6 mm rigid pad that can be used as an emergency bivy pad
  • Connection points for the bottoms of the shoulder straps is higher for better weight distribution while climbing
  • External rope carrying system
  • Innovative new fast pull cord closure system has been optimized for use with gloves
  • External waterproof pocket for maps, phones and other essentials
  • Zippered inner pocket for valuables
  • Inner gear loop for organizing
  • Fixed daisy chains with compression straps for securing gear to the outside of the pack
  • Buckles are optimized for use with gloves
  • Removable waist belt with two adjustment points
  • Removable chest strap is height adjustable
  • Burly handle on top for hauling and clipping
  • Hydration compatible
  • WEIGHT

    915 g, 32.3 oz

    SPECS

    ID: 2446
    Volume: 22 L

    Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
    Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine Mount Washington, New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli


Description

Pizzo d’Eghen is the wildest and most remote mountain in the Grigne group in the Central Alps above the town of Lecco, the home of Riccardo Cassin. In 1932, Cassin first climbed one of his great routes on the Pizzo d’Eghen, ascending the huge chimney in the middle of the wall. The Eghen 22 is a tribute to this historic climb, the very kind of adventures it has been designed for. Elite alpinists and multi-pitch climbers have long been asking us for a purpose-built pack with the Cassin touch. It is here with the Eghen 22. The Eghen 22 is designed for fast and light missions on multi-pitch rock and ice routes. The bottom is constructed from super strong Cordura 500D and the side walls are constructed from strong, lightweight PU coated 210D HD Ripstop nylon. Maxed out, the Eghen 22 has 22 liters of capacity. When not full, the pack is designed to be compressed so it maintains a trim profile. The frameless back gets some rigidity from the removable 6mm rigid foam pad that doubles as an emergency bivy pad. Other cold weather features include a new fast pull cord closure system and new buckles all designed for ffective use with gloves, and streamlined technical ice tool holders that can be stowed away when not in use. Essential multi-pitch climbing features include a removable waist belt, external waterproof pockets for the route map, an external rope carrying system that allows the rope to be carried on the top or bottom of the lid and an external helmet carrying system that stows away when not in use.

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Fairy Tale Traverse, Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle , Huntington Ravine Mount Washington New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli


Review

Durability: While difficult to gauge long-term durability when I’ve only put about 20 field days on the pack I can attest that some of those days were quite rugged with tight chimney squeezes and others had plenty of exposure to sharp pointy things (ice axes, screws, crampons). As mentioned in the description the bottom is built from a strong Cordura but not called out is the added durability gained from the innovative external waterproof pocket on the top “lid” of the pack. This favorite feature of mine makes the top of the pack feel as durable as the bottom and gives me a bit of confidence if I need to haul this pack up through a tight chimney. At the end of the test period the pack still looks great with no punctures, abrasions, lose seams, etc.

Comfort: For a 2 pound summit tech pack this one rides really well. That’s due in part to the nicely contoured gel-like shoulder straps and the 6 mm removable foam back pad that doubles as an emergency bivy pad (or a great splinting aid). Since this is a frame-less pack I wouldn’t chose to remove the back pad for any reason other than a first aid/bivy need as you would feel and rigid objects quite acutely. The thin waist belt (also removable) helps keep the pack centered when rock hopping the shifting talus field below Cannon cliff, and the sternum strap fully stabilizes the load.

Features: For a pack this size the list of features is incredibly long. I won’t relist everything already mentioned in the specifications and description but want to draw attention to both my favorite features, and what I feel might be missing or need improvement.

Waterproof Pocket

High on my list of favorites is the waterproof pocket. Interestingly Cassin calls this “external” but it is only accessible through the top draw-cord closure system so I think it should be considered “internal”. Regardless I don’t always carry my iPhone in a waterproof case and having this pocket that easily fits my phone, field book, headlamp, and lighter, has provided a nice bit of assurance that stuff that shouldn’t get wet won’t. If they made it accessible from the outside it would be even better and could actually be called “external”.

Helmet/Ice Tools Lashing

With multiple options for strapping on this equipment it took me a couple trips with my Cassin X Dream ice axes to figure out how to properly use the bottom straps. If you don’t run the straps through the “eye” on the head of the ice axe they can feel a little awkward when attached. However the redundancy of both a Velcro and a shock cord fastener for my ice axes assures even if I don’t use the bottom attachment correctly I am unlikely to lose my axe while glissading down off a climb. The shock cord fasteners also make a quick helmet attachment as the stoppers easily fit through the ventilation holes on my Petzl Sirocco helmet for quick securing.

Pack Closing System/Access

There is only one entry point to this pack and that is through the top via a type of “fold over” lid that covers a draw-cord “tube” style entrance. The draw-cord closure works well with gloves on both while opening and closing. Where I could see improvement would be the fastening strap that secures the “fold over” type lid. It’s upper attachment is at the bottom of this lid so if you strap a rope under this lid it carries pretty far away from you. If this strap was attached closer to the back panel I could carry the rope closer to my body, where I prefer.

UPDATE: Soon after posting a reader clued me in to the fact that the internal strap that I hadn’t found a use for could be threaded through the hydration port hole and provide an excellent way to keep the rope closer to the back, and directly over the waterproof pocket. I can now see this works great and wish there was more instruction either included with the product or available online!

Compression/Bells & Whistles

The pack comes with two compression straps and a helmet strap not installed and the literature with the pack provided no instructions on how to install these straps so they have sat unused in my gear room. None of the manufacture photos show these straps in use and I could not find any direction on their website, so that could be addressed! And while I don’t like “bells” on my backpacks I certainly like having a sternum strap whistle on all my technical backpacks. It’s come in handy to often to not always look for it!

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
The Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon


Summary

The Cassin Eghen 22 is a remarkable backpack. It’s not a true “bullet” pack and is more featured than your typical minimalist “summit” pack making it quite versatile. Designed for “alpinism, rock climbing, multi-pitch climbing, and ice climbing” this pack certainly performed well when tested during all these endeavors. If you are in the market for an advanced technical climbing pack take a close look at this one!

 Buy on Amazon

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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