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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Friday, February 26, 2010

Crampons! These Freak'n 'Pons!

Rant mode on!

The best you could buy in the late 1960's. And good enough to get a few up some damn hard climbs even by today's standards.

OK I know we have to use crampons. In the old days (geeze i have to say that a lot) I owned one set of 'pons and did everything in them. Same 'pons for a slog on Rainier, 5.10 mixed or vertical ice. Same freak'in 'pons and I was happy about it!

Jim Elzinga photo on the 1st ascent of Slipstream

Now I own and use...wait I have to write it down first to actually figure out what I do own! Dartwins, Darts, Grivel Rambo IV, and G12s, BD stainless Sabertooths and Cyborgs and finally Camp aluminum 12 points. 7 pair!

It frankly pisses me off!

What I would be satisfied with is a crampon at the weight of the best aluminum 'pons that climbed as well as the newest BD Sabertooths. Sabertooths will easily do rotten WI6 in dbl boots if you are up to the task. Of course that magic of super light and real performance doesn't exist yet. Anyone that tells you the vertical front point crampons climb ice better than the horizontal crampons is just uneducated or naive enough to repeat some salesman's logic. Either way it is crap...excuse me.. false/bad info. Because vertical front points don't climb better and in most cases they climb worse. On pure water ice the horizontal front points excel in every condition.

Add some difficult rock and you might get me to sway a tiny bit on that opinion. But while a mono point can make rock climbing easier and a dual vertical point might have a tiny advantage at times...but then I have never been on anything out side an artificial environment like Hafner where horizontal front points weren't an advantage on pure ice in every way except weight.

Then there is the issue of a crampon losing downward angled spikes to make them lighter. What kind of nonsense is that? Climb in a pair of Dartwins and then a pair of Sabertooths on moderate ground with hard ice and see what I mean. Damn Dartwins (which I like btw) feel like roller skates in comparison to the Sabertooth.

Or how about spikes so long you can hardly walk in them? Do we really need crampons that are so condition specific, hard ice, soft ice, Neve?

Modified G12s on a pair of La Sportiva Trangos Extremes

Then we get into the binding. Only thing I own is clip on 'pons. Wire bail in front and a lever lock in back. Petzl seems to think the plastic bail biting your Achilles tendon is a good thing....knuckle heads! While BD makes their stuff so burly and hell for stout you could winch a truck up on the wires. A 2nd knucklehead award!

Getting any of the major manufacturers' clip on 'pons to actually fit your boots is another crap shoot all together. I have mixed Petzl front bails with BD and Grivel heel levers to get everything to fit and work to my own satisfaction. Crazy and expensive as all that seems! Hate to think anyone in the climbing hardware industry or boot manufacturing might actually promote a DIN standard for alpine boots and 'pons. No that would be asking way toooooooooo much!

Don't get me started on the anti-botts. Take a look at the newest Grivel Rambo IVs being imported to the USA if you want to see a disaster in the making. Hard plastic botts with a hard plastic bubble to slide around on...saw that happening for a week! Scared me bad and I wasn't even climbing on them. You'd be better off to just strip them while new and enjoy a exceptional design with no bott. Hey almost as good as not putting one on the crampon....Petzl's idea on how to design them...just don't bother.

My idea of a good boot 'pon combination? La Sportiva Baruntse and BD stainless Sabertooth...but at half the current weight!

'Pons Part Two

From another conversation...after this blog was written.

"Like many of us with an entire quiver of 'pons sitting in the gear room what we choose to climb on personally wasn't/isn't what is always recommended in print. Given a choice what I choose to climb on for crampons depends on the conditions and route choosen that day."

"I'm just interested in what you prefer for pure ice and why."

On ice you can easily go from hard blue steel type stuff to vertical slush in a single day of climbing. Road side crags aren't a big deal, longer routes can be. Climb longer routes fast or climb faster than the changing conditions and it may not make a difference. On a order of preferenece and reliability ( for good feet) the first crampon on pure ice to let you down in changing conditions are monopoints. They have the least amount of surface area to support you and will not easily support you if the ice gets bad enough. Right behind them but with twice the surface area will be dual vertical front points. Think about that for a minute. Your entire body weight goes on a mono, then you literally double the surface support on dual verts to even more support on dual horizontals. It will obviously make a difference.

The most surface area will always be horizonal front points and because of that, they will the most reliable in all conditions. The other issue I note is most but not all vertical front points require physical placement, just as a tool does, by a kick or two instead of that good swing with your tool. It also wastes energy. First kick needs to clean off the loose ice and the second or more to actually place them securely. The lack of surface area generally requires it.

Curved horizontal front points will sink into the ice under body weight, no kick required. And because of the additional surface area don't require much in the way of support by the condition of the ice in comparison to the other two styles. Energy saved. The majority of time that is true but not always. If I have to kick a cold fragile feature that might collapse I want a razor sharp, single vertical front point. But cold hard ice that is collapsing as I kick it that will eventually get to solid ice I'll want horizontals.

A fully featured horizontal crampon generally has at least 8 vertical crampon points. (Dartwin for example) While a G12 has 10 and a BD Sabertooth has 12. Doesn't take a lot of imagination to realise which will be more stable on moderate ice while using French technique. Same technique and places I get rests on hard technical ice. The Dartwin (which I climb in a lot) feels like a pair of roller skates compared to the other two imo with the BD a fair step up on the Grivel in the same conditions. Then why do I bother with the other 'pons? Simple. Overall weight mostly and even more important to me than performance at some point, the boot to 'pon fit.

Even with the big advantage of real rigids on pure ice, and it is a BIG advantage..I shy away from them now because of the same basic reason..weight.

For steep, technical climbs like these, all at about the same grade, I used crampons with horizontal front points, BD Sabertooth and Grivel G12s.

And to be fair all my partners for these three climbs choose to use some form of vertical front point or mono point. Black Diamond Sabertooth, Grivel Rambo and Petzl Darts were all represented.

So does it really matter? Only a couple of reasons for which I can justify a preference. First would be if the ice you are on starts to fall down around you when the sun comes out or you miss judge what the conditions were from a distance. These are all one or two pitch climbs close to the road. So I could choose what I wanted to climb on for crampons that day.

Or if you require a secure, easy rest or need to save energy on hard technical terrain. The added security on easy ground of a truly full featured crampon is comforting. All things I find helpful in my own climbing.


Dane said...

For some reason I can't get comments to post. My apologies but I'm working on it.

This from Will Gadd today:
"Just use the Sabertooths--I've used them to climb m12, WI as hard as it gets, high altitude, logging, great all-purpose rigs as you note. And yep, if crampons get too light then they stop working... Nice blog!"

Jon Rhoderick said...

What's your opinion on the Grivel-Scarpa Binding (GSB)? Wouldn't this hold the true future for a DIN-like standard? The soles that are used are made by vibram, so all that would be required for most companies is merely to buy into it, and given small scale GSB currently holds, should be not that expensive...

Dane said...

Jon, you are smart man. Seems like a logical idea right?

Guess not if the manufactures are any clue. Scrapa and Grivel bailed on the idea last year or the year before and no longer produce the GSB.

Hopefully we'll see something in the future that is a similar but even a better system. Black Diamond here is your big chance!

Austin said...

Thanks for the good read. Just this morning I picked up a set of the none-stainless Sabretooths form a friend. Feelin' great about my purchase.