Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gear Review: Black Diamond Equipment Camalot C3

Occasionally, I have been known to set off on trad climbs with moves near my limit and protection somewhere between dubious and dicey, leaving my climbing partners sweating and my belayers with sinking feelings in their guts.  (Just ask my wife!). On these climbs, it is essential that when I do have the opportunity to place protection, I have absolute faith in it.  For these endeavors, I never leave the ground without a healthy number of Black Diamond Camalot C3s.


Throughout my climbing career, I have used Metolius Mastercams, Metolius TCUs, CCH Aliens,  and other small gear, but I'm still a fan of the Camalot C3 over the rest of the competition.  Assuming that the cam is strong enough to hold a lead fall, there are really only two criteria I consider when selecting micro-cams:  1) they should fit just about anywhere and 2) they should fit there now.  Without a doubt, Black Diamond's brilliantly designed micro-cam is my go-to piece for small gear.

Pros:
Upon first trigger pull, the cams seem a bit stiff, but after trying it about two more times, you quickly get over this fact. The stiffness of the stem makes them easier to place, manipulate, stay in, and clean from tight spots. I have climbed on them for over 3 years and have only had 2 "almost stuck" scenarios where I was initially unable to retrieve the cam. In other words, while I have had them walk infrequently, it was almost always due to pilot error and improper application of slings.

I am huge fan of the ridiculously small head size of the unit and the narrow head width. I can find a placement for these in cracks, seams, and pods that would otherwise be unprotectable by a cam with a wider head. I'm no aid climber, so I can't speak to that, but for free climbing, I have some serious respect for the ability of a C3 to repeatedly save my ass. This micro-cam can easily turn an R/X climb into something reasonable, and I've used them in this application repeatedly. I've whipped on everything down to size 00 (purple). I've found them equally useful on the Deep South sandstone and North Carolina granite I climb most often as well as at the Gunks, the Red River Gorge, the New River Gorge, Red Rocks, the Black Canyon, and all along the Front Range of Colorado.

Just after whipping onto a green and purple C3
While the C3 is occasionally criticized for its internal springs which are supposedly difficult or impossible to repair (but allow for the narrow head width), I have not had a problem.  I field-repaired a yellow (size 2) C3 over breakfast using a multi-tool in about 15 minutes. They are not very difficult to fix; they simply require a little patience when manipulating the trigger wires.

Cons:
My only complaint with the Camalot C3 is the size range between the red and yellow (sizes 1 and 2) cams.  As micro-cams are most secure when the lobes are almost fully retracted, it seems there is quite a significant gap between what the red and yellow sizes will optimally protect.  I feel like there could be one more size just in between these two, or perhaps the red C3 could protect slightly larger cracks and the green C3 (the next size down) could be enlarged slightly to create a smoother gradation between sizes.

Summary:
While the trigger action on the Black Diamond Camalot C3 is a little stiff, they are absolutely my favorite small cam.  They fit seemingly anywhere with ease and make otherwise dangerous climbs much more reasonable.  Having taken leader falls on size 00 to 2, I have complete confidence in the C3 to keep me off the deck when I need it most.

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