Black Diamond: Finding your hold as rock climbing cams go high-tech
Certainty has a definite feel to it in rock climbing. And that can be a tough feeling to find when scaling rock faces full of pin scars and non-uniform placements. Enter a new style of cams from Black Diamond Equipment that bundles high-end climbing features together to secure a climber’s holds.
In the world of rock climbing, the advanced route takers seek paths full of cracks, scars and “placements” full of non-uniformity. Finding a “cam” to nudge into these holds that will secure your rope at high strength and with some funky angles requires a mix of equipment. Black Diamond’s new Camalot X4 Offset for 2014 merges different styles of climbing tech by offering a super-narrow head width to wedge into tight locations, a highly flexible armored stem and offset lobes.
A cam works by having the climber insert the lobe end into the placement. A trigger bar will narrow the lobes to ease them past the rock before they extend and grab the rock. The lobes are attached to an axle that locks the lobes into place when tension from the climber gets applied. Getting those lobes into a secure location can make the difference between a safe fall and a traumatic one.
Bill Belcourt, Black Diamond’s director of research and development, tells Edge that the biggest challenge in creating a new style of cam is improving the range of a cam without losing its angle and then reducing the head width—to fit wherever needed—without scarifying contact area on the rock. Plus, he’s always looking to cut down weight without losing strength.
By moving axles around on the X4, even super-imposing them on top of each other in a stacked setup in the smallest of offerings, Black Diamond increased its cam’s range. Then, introducing offset lobes—differing sized lobes on the same cam for non-uniform locations—and “armored cables with a high level of articulation” really give the X4 the most technologically advanced cam Belcourt could dream up.
For those awkward horizontal placements, the armor-beaded cable stem provides both protection and flexibility. This all comes in some of the lightest cams on the market, but still with units designed to handle 1,124 to 2,023 pounds of force, depending on the cam size, all for as little as 1.9 ounces per cam. Of that, feel certain.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.