Black Diamond Staff Training

Last week Fran and I had a day down in the Peak District with Neil Gresham and the guys from First Ascent trying out some of Black Diamond‘s climbing range. Now the best way to get a handle on how climbing gear performs is to get out there and use it and that’s just what we did, grabbing some kit and popping straight up to Stanage to jump on some super-classics. We both got hold of a new helmet which is due out later this year, I took a Chaos harness, Fran took a Xenos and we picked up a bunch of Camalots and Stoppers. Sorted.

 

Fran leading Hargreaves Original Route extremely slowly...

Unfortunately when we rocked up at the Hook’s Carr parking it was pretty chilly and trying its best to rain (in amongst all this glorious weather we’ve had we took the one crappy day, go figure…) so we couldn’t spend the day sunbathing and actually had to jump on some routes. Fran, for reasons best known to himself, decided to warm up on a pretty rubbish no-star HS called Beech Tree Wall, the break-to-break nature of this did however provide him with an opportunity to try out Camalots for the first time and he must have slung in about 7 in the 10 metres of climbing on the route. Impressions were definitely favourable so he tried out the Stoppers as well. Unfortunately at this point he decided to dump a couple of them off down the crag providing me with extra entertainment on the second - those stoppers that he did place held nicely and I think they’d even have held Fran’s bulk if he had come off. Unfortunately his dedication to gear testing didn’t extend to lobbing off the top so it was soon time for my lead.

Queersville is a classic 3* HVS which combines just enough technicality with just enough spice to give a really fun route. This was my first trad lead in over a year which added further interest to proceedings, as did having an audience and cameraman on hand. Protection for the crux consists of a bomber Camalot and not a lot else so it was a good test of trust in the gear. After I wobbled over the bulge in the most undignified of fashions (oh go on then, have a video but be warned, it contains a rude word) I was pleased to find that I could lace the remainder of the route to my heart’s content.

Next up, Fran hopped on Hargreaves Original Route, one of the most famous VSs on grit. By now our fingers and toes felt like they were about to drop off and I’d left my belay jacket back where we started so we were keen to get a move on. Unfortunately Fran didn’t feel the urgency of the situation to quite the same degree I did and strolled up the route placing every bit of gear he could find whilst I cursed and shivered at the bottom of the cliff. Still, I suppose my suffering was all in the name of Fran getting a better idea of how the gear performs.

Lunch in Hathersage was followed by a discussion of the history and ethos of Black Diamond, it’s amazing how many innovations which we take for granted now started out in Black Diamond’s workshops. With our brains full of climbing and skiing equipment trivia and our stomachs a little over-full of chocolate brownie we headed to Lawrencefield for a gentle afternoon.

I started out with a quick dash up Three Trees Route, which has to be the softest HS in the country incidentally, and basked in the freshly revealed sunshine whilst Fran followed on. Fran then decided to get on the burly Great Harry, this was perhaps ambitious given the distended state of our abdomens but eventually, and with very little assistance from the rope, his tenacity managed to overcome lunches inertia and he made it to the top – on a side note, it’s not a great idea to lead this route on a halved 50m rope, it’s about 24 metres long.

By now everyone was looking set to leave so I ran up after him and stripped the pitch. Actually “ran” is something of an exaggeration, “tussled up f-ing and blind-ing” would be more accurate: I don’t cope well with crack climbs. We just had time to knock up a few videos with Neil and Fran presenting and then it was time to call it a day. It had been a great way to get acquainted with the gear and Fran and I definitely came away with a renewed respect for BD’s emphasis on design and quality.

Our Impressions

So, the important stuff, what did we think of the gear. Well first things first, we’ve both used Black Diamond kit before and think it’s absolutely top notch. Personally I already have a rack of Camalots and Fran has a black diamond harness so we had high expectations. I think that with the exception of some minor niggles these expectations were definitely met.

The New Half Dome Helmet

The new helmet we tried out, which is a replacement for the popular Half Dome model, was really impressive. Light and comfortable enough that you completely forgot it was on and yet much more durable feeling than a superlight helmet such as the Tracer. Adjustment was quick and easy and definitely a not more robust than on the older helmets. When these are available to buy I’d recommend them wholeheartedly.

The Chaos and Xenos Harnesses

The harnesses were a little frustrating, they were so nearly excellent that we both really wanted to love them. They were light, comfortable and quick and easy to adjust. The wide, low profile belts were supportive without chafing. Unfortunately we felt they were slightly let down by their gear loops which we both agreed were just slightly too narrow for our fairly typical trad rack. this meant that accessing gear was just a touch more fiddly than it needed to be. These are still great harnesses though, if they fit you then they’re definitely worthy of consideration especially if you prefer to carry a slim rack or use a bandolier. The Xenos’s leg loops are well designed and stayed tight through the day and its ice clipper slots seemed well positioned (it’s tough to do a proper test of a winter harness in the Peak in April).

Camalots

As I mentioned above, I’m already a Camalot user and think they’re the mutt’s nuts. They place better than any other cam I’ve handled and are more or less impossible to overcam (though Fran tried his best on Beech Tree Wall). Fran came away converted, his rack tends to be a little on the elderly side and he’s planning to replace a few of the more primitive models with Camalots off the back of this experience. Anything that can convinced Fran (yorkshire through and through) to open his wallet must be pretty good. Check out Neil Gresham’s thoughts below:

Stoppers

I have a couple of my Dad’s original Chouinard Stoppers in my rack but it’s fair to say that things have moved on a bit since they were made. The current crop of Stoppers are a great compliment to the usual DMM and Wild Country options and provide a slightly different shape and feel. They have a more flexible wire which helps prevent pull-out but does make them harder to place above your head, they also seem to be a softer metal and so bite nicely into placements (don’t let your second forget their nut-key). Next time I decide to pick up some passive pro I would definitely consider Stoppers as a partner to my Wild Country Rocks.

Sam Cartwright

Sam Cartwright

Hi, I'm a keen hiker and climber who grew up in the North of Cumbria before moving to Leeds for university. I used to be a very keen skier but a series of accidents led to me dropping the sport in favour of climbing. I've also recently rekindled an interest in mountain biking and am often to be found charging round local trail centres. I started at Facewest in August '08 and currently work in Web Development and Sales. Thanks, Sam

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