Yesterday I climbed Sea of Holes on Whitehorse Ledge with my good friend Benny. As he made the moves past the bolt on the fourth pitch he quickly realized that we would not be doing the original 5.7 finish. The large pine tree that served as the anchor for the end of Sea of Holes and the D’arcy-Crowther Route (pg. 144 North Conway Rock Climbs, Handren) had uprooted.
I did not inspect it very closely but it did look a bit hung up on some smaller trees. Hopefully a heavy rain storm will send it the rest of the way down when no one is around. Until then if you plan on climbing Sea of Holes plan to do the 5.8 finish or rap from the 3rd pitch anchor.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
While I’m not super excited about how commercialized our holidays have become I do get stoked on seeing big discounts on gear that I own and love. I subscribe to quite a few gear companies emails and I’m combing them all for the best upcoming sales on specific items I have either reviewed or would love to own. I will also be specific on what the actual discount offered is! None of the “up to x percent off”… I hope you find this list more personal than your average marketing email, and if you have any questions about any of my suggested products please let me know in the comments!
Have a great Holiday tomorrow and be sure to #optoutside on Black Friday! I will be standing by REI’s great initiative on Friday and am pledging to myself and family that I will be 100% “radio” silent (and outdoors). I will continue this with Part 2 and be sharing deals I find around Cyber Monday and Tech Tuesday so stay tuned and…
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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I spent the last two days with Katie and Chris, a couple from Mass who are quickly becoming more and more proficient in their climbing. Earlier this summer we spent a day together working on building quality top-rope anchors so that they could hit their local MA crags in style and this weekend they returned to be introduced to some multi-pitch climbing in addition to building upon their self-rescue skills.
The forecast was for some potential early afternoon rain but we got an early start and were first on The Cormier-Magness Route around 9 AM. This relatively new addition to such a historic cliff really is the best 5.6 option on the Whitehorse slabs in my opinion… it really does live up to some of the Mountain Project hype… just be cool with typical Whitehorse run-outs and you will love this climb!
We topped out at about 12:30 PM and relaxed with some lunch before heading down. It was great to see so many families and new hikers out enjoying the foliage… though it would have been nice to see them carrying a few basic essentials! Lots of “no-pack” hikers out there this weekend! Getting off my soap box and on to a different one our second day together was slated for self-rescue practice. This boded well because the weather forecast was pretty dismal with 70% chance of heavy rain by 10 AM.
The thing about practicing self-rescue skills is weather is irrelevant… we can practice rain or shine, often in the comfort of the indoors! While I have taught dozens of these courses I took a few minutes before Katie and Chris arrived to write down a rough outline of the skills I wanted us to cover. They arrived just after 8 AM and started with some discussions on what gear we should be carrying and looking at various examples of when these skills could be needed.
We spent about 2 hours covering various knots, systems, and techniques involved in being able to problem solve your way out of a jam. By 11 AM we saw a break in the weather system and decided to grab a quick bite for lunch and head to the cliff for some more “real life” practice.
After running through this rescue scenario three times we still had some time and when I realized Katie hadn’t yet completed a full rappel I knew that was how we would wrap up our day. We went over to the Barber Wall and conducted a lower/belayed rappel followed by some short roping to cross the soaking wet slabs back to the climber trail but what I want to focus on right now is the fore-sight Katie and Chris have in their climbing career…
They are approaching climbing with the right mindset; enthusiastic, optimistic, and with due caution. Katie is a recently appointed AMC trip leader who has gained the skills needed to lead others on hikes in sometimes perilous places. Chris is confident and openly optimistic but willing to acknowledge quality practice and study is imperative to a solid grasp of mountain climbing skills. The two of them combined make a very powerful pair in my book, and I am really glad I was able to spend a couple more days with them on the journey to safer mountain-craft.
Katie, Chris… keep doing what you are doing. Read, climb, practice, climb, read some more, climb, ask questions, climb, and never stop improving! Thank you for keeping me involved in your climbing education and I look forward to our next day out!
Interested in some private instruction to improve your self-rescue skills? You can book a private course by using “DavidNEM” in the promo field when booking here. Please email me first at my contact link or at email@example.com to make sure I have the date available and discuss personal goals and…
Yesterday was one of the most fun guiding days as I got to introduce 3 amazing kiddos to their first outdoor rock climbing experience. David, their father, had considerable previous climbing experience but was coming off a long hiatus and thought a guided trip might be the best way to get the kiddos climbing on real rock after quite a few months of indoor gym climbing.
We met at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse promptly at 8 AM and made our way over to Whitehorse Ledge. My original plan was to take the family to the Echo Roof area because of the great kid friendly slab climbs that exist there. As we walked up the road towards the cliff I felt a couple drops of rain. I had checked the radar an hour earlier and things looked clear but something had since developed and an updated check indicated a passing cold front had about an hour of rain in-store for us starting… now.
We were heading into the hotel for a last minute potty break and when David came out I showed him the radar and let him know we would need to stall an hour and let this rain pass. He was game to sit it out in the lobby of the hotel with the most well behaved kiddos I could imagine. A huge thank you to the White Mountain Hotel staff who were so accommodating to us “non-guests” who sought shelter from the quick rain. They brought the kids juice and mini-muffins and offered free coffee to David and I. We ended up sitting down in their scenic dining room and ordering up some of the best blueberry pancakes with maple syrup butter I have ever had… If you are looking to stay in North Conway and fancy staying at the base of one of the best rock climbing cliffs in the east you should check this place out! The staff is amazing! Ok, back to our climbing day!
My original plan of Echo Roof was out, I didn’t fancy lead climbing 5.7 wet slab, so we walked (or skipped depending on age) back down to the climber parking and drove over to Cathedral Ledge.
Around 10 AM we were hiking up to the Thin Air Face. The excitement and natural curiosity of these kids was a sight to behold and my Instagram story was getting pretty epic. I ended up saving the story and will upload it here so you can see what I’m talking about:
Crazy inspiring right? I know. Multiple climbing parties that came through during the day were super jealous of our insane helmet game. Here’s some of the best pics from the day:
We climbed for 4 straight hours and these kiddos wanted to keep going! David… your kids are awesome! I was so happy to get to spend the day with you guys and I look forward to swaying you into some ice climbing this winter!
For those wondering about how old your kiddos should be before taking them rock climbing I’d say for many the 5+ age group is ideal! Their legs are strong enough to get them to the cliff and you would be absolutely amazed at what your kiddos are capable of!
David, thank you for choosing Northeast Mountaineering, and me, to be part of this epic day! I really had a great time with you guys!
For more information on getting your family out rock climbing start here and let me know in the comments if you have any questions!
I hope everyone is out there enjoying the best rock climbing weather of the year! Yesterday I finished three solid days of guiding for Northeast Mountaineering starting with a fun Friday at Rumney Rocks with Jennifer.
Jennifer used to rock and ice climb all over the west before moving East and focusing on her career in Boston for the last decade but as the saying goes, once a climber, always a climber! The mountains were calling and after booking an upcoming 4 day climbing trip to Red Rocks she wanted to come up north and refresh her climbing skills and I was lucky enough to get to re-introduce her to the sport!
Week with Pete
Crowd Pleaser Pitch 1
Crowd Pleaser Pitch 2
Clip-A-Dee-Dah Pitch 1
Taking it all in towards the top of Jimmy Cliff
I can’t wait to hear about your Red Rocks adventure Jennifer and I look forward to climbing some ice with you this winter!
Whitney-Gilman Ridge, Cannon Cliff
Saturday I got to meet up with my good buddy and regular client Larry for his first taste of NH alpine climbing. Larry started his mountain adventures about 20 months ago when I led him and a group on a winter ascent of Mount Washington. We hit it off and he returned multiple times to ice climb with me before going out and sampling other climbing areas all around the country. We planned to tick off both of New Hampshire’s classic alpine ridge climbs starting with the Whitney-Gilman Ridge.
There were a few parties in the climber lot when I pulled in at 8:10 AM. A couple from Canada was heading off for Whitney Gilman and a party of three was heading for Lakeview. I filled out a climber sheet then hopped back in the car and drove down to Lafayette Campground, in my opinion the preferred approach for a Whitney-Gilman day. Larry arrived on time at 8:30 and we were heading up the trail by 8:40 AM.
As we got closer to the ridge I could see the Canadian couple finishing the 1st pitch and confirmed when we reached the alternate starting ledge there was no one else on route. Our timing was perfect as while we climbed the first two pitches right behind the Canadian couple no less than 3 or 4 parties arrived below. Some headed towards Duet/Reppy’s and two parties of two got on route behind us.
Despite it lightly raining a few times on the approach the rock stayed relative dry and the climbing went well.
We topped out a little before 2 PM and were back down to the car by 3 PM. While Larry has only been rock climbing a short time he has climbed in quite a few areas and he was certainly impressed with “New England 5.7″… to think of this route being first climbed in 1929 with hemp ropes and no pitons is quite awe inspiring! We parted ways for the evening but would meet up at 8 AM the following day for a trip into Huntington Ravine!
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
For our second day we headed high up Mount Washington for a super fun day on the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle. Since I have a season pass to the Auto Road we skipped the long approach from Pinkham and were hiking down the Huntington Ravine trail a little before 9 AM. Luckily we had Northeast Mountaineering intern and super talented photographer Peter Brandon join us for the day and all images below are his!
I took advantage of this 4th class descent trail to practice some short-rope technique.
There was no one route yet when we arrived and one couple also using the “Euro” approach still making their way down the Huntington trail but with it being a beautiful weekend day I knew more folks would be arriving soon so we got racked up and moving.
I’ve been practicing transitions from The Mountain Guide Manual and decided to lead the first two pitches in “parallel” so I could belay both Larry and Peter at the same time. We cruised up the first two pitches in no time and I then switched us to “caterpillar” for the 5.8 crux pitch.
While Larry was working the the crux moves a fast moving party of two, Micky and Ben, caught up to us. We let them play through and leap-frogged them once when we headed for the “Fairy Tale Traverse”. We held up here and let them pass again so we could get Peter in position to shoot this awesome last pitch.
Great meeting you Micky and Ben, your positive vibe was contagious and the wine & cheese spread you had waiting for your better halves at the top was most impressive!
After Peter led the last pitch we freed his rope and he pulled it up to get into a good position to shoot this last pitch. I then started out across this easy but exhilarating traverse.
We soaked in some sun and coiled our ropes to hike back up to the car but first we had to look down in the abysmal Pinnacle Gully, a route Larry had ice climbed with me just last winter!
And so Larry ticked off two NH greats in two days, but he isn’t done yet. As I type this he is en-route to climb in Acadia National Park where I am sure he will continue to gain knowledge and technique that will serve him well on all his climbing adventures. It is always awesome climbing with you Larry and I’m really looking forward to hitting the ice with you this winter!