Without a trace: Climbing with mobile safety devices

Securing a route yourself without leaving any traces: That is the high art of "clean climbing", as the British call it. We explain which mobile security devices are needed and show online how to place them.

A contribution by Alexandra Schweikart - presented by Bächli Bergsport

Yosemite Valley. The hand is deep in the crack, a quick glance is enough: yellow cam! With a movement of my hand I take the little miracle of metal from the belt, pull the trigger and push the cam into place. "Holds up really well," I exclaim happily and clamp myself higher bit by bit.

However, hedging was not always so sophisticated. First "mobile" clamping devices were inspired by nature: stones fell into cracks and got stuck. Entwined with slings, they served as intermediate security.

Machine nuts were also threaded and jammed into smaller cracks. Even in the kitchen, some climbers were inspired: In North Wales you can still admire an old iron pot that was hammered into a wide crack, the handle is clipped as an intermediate security.

After that, wooden wedges and knot slings were used, and a little later metal hooks were hammered into fine cracks. After the free climbing movement drove the levels of difficulty to new heights, there was a call for reliable cams that could be attached without heavy equipment and from the climbing position.

tommy lisbin unsplash
A milestone in clean climbing: In the summer of 1987, Wild Country presented their revolutionary cam device called "Friend". Image: Tommy Lisbin/Unsplash

The metal revolution

In the 60s, the first four-edged chocks presented in full metal. Larger, polygonal «Hexentrics» from Chouinard Equipment (today Black Diamond) and «Cogs» from Clogwyn Climbing (today DMM), which were hollow inside. With the "Rocks" Wild Country landed a success in the 80s. The curved shape of these wedges holds itself at three points in the crack. To this day, it is the standard form of most nuts on the market. 

stuck thing

Nuts clamp «passively» in cracks. This means that they have no moving elements and "only" hold because of their shape. As a rule, wedges are narrower towards the bottom - so they clamp ideally in cracks that taper towards the bottom. They have convex shapes and intricate indentations, giving them better grip in uneven cracks.

Hardened aluminum is the material of choice here: it makes the wedges light and strong. A steel cable is threaded through the head of the wedge, which is then squeezed into a loop into which a quickdraw can then be clipped. The quality of this wire is extremely important: the thickness determines the holding power of the wedge. The thinner, the less stress wedges can withstand. The smaller the head of the wedge, the thinner the wire that is threaded must be. This makes it clear why small wedges generally hold less than large ones.

Nuts passively clamp in cracks. This means that they have no moving elements and only hold because of their shape – as a rule, wedges are narrower towards the bottom.

A balancing act for the manufacturer: the cable must be stiff enough to get the wedge fiddled deep into the crack with one hand, yet flexible enough so that it doesn't pull out of position as you continue climbing.

You can try out the handling of the different wedge ranges when you visit the Bächli branches. Good to know: «Hexentrics» (Black Diamond) or «Torque nuts» (DMM) also belong to the product group, but are larger than wedges and can passively jam in parallel cracks, even if they are iced.  

Cams: The Invention of the Active 

Securing parallel cracks was a major topic at the end of the 70s, especially in the USA and Great Britain. Space engineer Ray Jardine saw the potential, left NASA and went to Yosemite Valley to try out his prototypes. Eventually he sold his invention to the British company Wild Country.

This is how Wild Country presented Jardine's revolutionary cam called «Friend» in the summer of 1987. It clamped perfectly in parallel cracks, where all the conventional wedges and the thin hooks could no longer find a hold. The so-called active protection was invented! 

With Friends, a cable pull mechanism opens and closes two movable pairs of segments. Torsion springs ensure that under load – something like a fall – the segments in the crack expand and are pressed against the rock.

Two movable pairs of segments can be opened and closed with one hand via a cable pull mechanism. Torsion springs ensure that under load - for example in the event of a fall - the segments in the crack expand and are pressed against the rock (toggle lever principle). With this operating mechanism, cracks of different widths can be secured with one and the same device.

Structure: one or two axles

The original Friend has an axle to which all segments are attached and a rigid metal shaft. In the meantime, all devices have a flexible shaft made of wire, which is usually covered with plastic (e.g. Totem cams, Skirt Empire Comet/Flexor, DMM Dragonfly).

In other models, the springs and the segments are distributed on two axes: the left segments are attached to the right axis and the right segments to the left (e.g. Black Diamond Camalot, DMM Dragon Cam). This design increases the stability of the devices in the crack and the clamping range (cam range) - and thus also the area of ​​application - increases. However, the devices are somewhat heavier due to the two-axle design and the head is wider in the corresponding sizes.   

Clamping area (red) of a two-axle vehicle on the left and a single-axle vehicle on the right (orange).
Clamping area (red) of a two-axle vehicle on the left and a single-axle vehicle on the right (orange).

order on the belt

Ideally, each cam is attached to the harness by a lightweight carabiner of the same color, e.g. B. green cam on green carabiner. This is how you keep track of the sizes. The cams are sorted from small to large so that the large ones don't cover the small ones on the belt.

Additional quickdraws go all the way to the back, wedges, on the other hand, all the way to the front - ideally on a short, oval carabiner (O-shape) on which the wires of the wedges hang side by side. With a D-shape carabiner, the wedges hang over one another in the pointed corner of the carabiner and can snag. The harness, in turn, must have at least four gear loops, two on each side. A dimensionally stable hip belt is also practical, so that the additional weight does not pull the belt down. 

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A dimensionally stable hip belt with at least four gear loops is recommended for clean climbing. Credit: Patrick Hendry/Unsplash

And if so, how many?

In many routes in the Alps like am Sanetsch, Eldorado, The plug or in the Dolomites and Chamonix one sentence is usually enough cam from about the size of a finger to the size of a fist and one set chocks with the associated chock remover, which hangs on the harness of the person following. In our Alps, routes are often secured with pitons or drilled in and you can add something extra.

However, climbing in the UK requires a double set of wedges and cams, plus extra small wedges to secure the often long, clean lines. In pure crack areas, like Yosesigo in Italy, Indian Creek or Yosemite in the USA, you need many cams of the same size, since the parallel cracks have the same width over long distances.

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Compared to the UK, one set of cams and one set of chocks is sufficient in many areas in the Alps. Image: Adam Mills/Unsplash

clamp customer

Camalot, Cam or Friend?

Since the first form of the cam called “Friend” spread from Great Britain across Europe, all active cams are often called “Friend” in European-speaking countries. In the USA, the term “Camalot” has become established for this product group. Everyone agrees on the abbreviation "Cam", which stands for "camming device". 

Thumb loop or extendable sling?

Some clamping devices have thumb loops - i.e. a small eyelet made of plastic-coated metal, into which you can hang yourself directly. They are useful, for example, if you want to climb technically: You clip your self-belay into the thumb loop of the placed cam, set the next cam as high as possible above you and repeat the whole thing.

When free climbing, on the other hand, it is particularly important that the cam stays in place. Clamping devices with an integrated, extendable sling (e.g. Wild Country Friend, DMM Dragon Cam). The design saves material and weight. With devices without an extendable sling, an additional express sling is often attached, which of course has to be carried on the harness.

About Bächli mountain sports

Bächli mountain sports is the leading Swiss specialist shop for climbing, mountaineering, expeditions, hiking, ski touring and snowshoeing. Currently offering 11 locations in Switzerland Bächli mountain sports its customers expert advice and high quality service. LACRUX publishes in collaboration with Bächli mountain sports Articles on the topics of climbing and bouldering.

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Credits: Cover Photo Patrick Hend/Unsplash

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