From Boulder, CO
Apr 2, 2008
Hot off the presses...
Rock and Ice Review Below...
The TNB eBlast Round 54
Last week, I wrote about how climbing standards are always changing. How it's no longer surprising to read about girls climbing 5.14, or that a prepubescent teen from some Eastern Block training compound can redpoint three hard 5.14's in a day.
But there's more. In addition to my role as weekly eBlaster and editorial shit-talker, I also get to review and test a lot of mostly cool, sometimes lame, and rarely innovative climbing gear. In the last four years I've been here, I've seen climbing gear take leaps and bounds, and sometimes fall flat on its face. Shoes have gotten better--or maybe there's just a lot more of them. Ropes, like entrees in New York City, have gotten smaller and more expensive. Everything has gotten lighter, more breathable and comes in an array of colors! There's now even a helmet that folds up into itself and a carabiner that has 2 (two!) gates (see Field Tested, Issue 169, coming out any day now).
But definitely the craziest gear I've seen so far has to be C.A.M.P.'s new Putty Nutz--passive pro that will reshape your mind (especially if it's easily malleable to begin with). Putty Nutz are basically like bashies that you can mold with your hands to fit into cracks. It's the first pro I've see that doesn't use metal (except for the swage). Apparently, the head of the nut is made from something called d3o, which is soft(ish) to touch, but under impact, the molecules of d3o instantly bond together and become rigid. D3o is already being used in ski-racing body armor and in the knuckles of a couple Black Diamond ice-climbing gloves (out next winter). C.A.M.P., maker of the world's lightest gear, took the concept a step further and laser-attached the d3o material to a metal swage.
The whole idea of taking falls onto what is basically sexed-up silly putty just seems--well, not only silly, but totally crazy. However, it is climbing gear, meaning it's certified, so it has to be safe, right?
Normally, if I have to review climbing gear that I'm wary of (despite whatever CE stamp it has), I just make one of my interns use it and fall on it a few times, just to be sure it's safe for Me--the more important, less replaceable of the two--to climb on.
Unfortunately, all of Rock and Ice's interns are currently having a group bonding adventure in Mexico with Uncle Jefe. There is, however, one other intern lurking around the office all by himself. However, when he saw the Putty Nutz on my desk, he made some limp excuse about having to go to the bathroom and promptly fled the Valley, without my permission, to climb in Moab for the weekend.
So, with the little ones gone, I resorted to the next best option for testing potentially lethal climbing gear: my girlfriend Jen. Jen climbs 5.13d, but doesn't trad climb. This served two purposes: One, she's not going to fall on 5.10d, and Two, she doesn't know that trad gear normally isn't made of orange putty.
"What are these things," Jen asked, at the base of this local 5.10d thin seam in a granite face.
"C.A.M.P.'s new Putty Nutz," I said. "You just squash them into the crack, give them a hard tug, and they set into place."
"That's it?" Jen said. "I thought it was supposed to be hard to place trad gear."
"Naw, that's just what the old bald fatsos say to fool young sport climbers like you, so you don't piss all over their ‘proud' routes. Trust me. Trad climbing is actually really easy."
"That makes sense. This is only 5.10d," Jen said. "OK, you got me?"
"Yep, go ahead," I said. Jen started up the thin seam with the Putty Nutz and a few extra TCUs, just in case. "Hold on," I said. "Better give me a hug before you go." She did, and I secretly clipped a few more cams to the back of her harness, just in case.
And with that, she was off, firing the 5.10d easily, thank god. She lowered off some fixed anchors, looking a bit rattled.
"That was scary," she said. "Trad climbing IS hard!"
"You did great. What did you think of the Putty Nutz?"
"I don't know. The kid's I watch might like them," she said. (Jen's a nanny). "I think I'd rather just clip bolts."
It was then my turn. I launched up the slabby 60-foot face, climbing on Jen's pre-placed gear, inspecting each of the five Putty Nutz she had placed. They were a bit misshapen, mashed into each seam, but when I tugged hard on them, they orange blob noticeably changed, consolidating into something firm and hard. It was really, really cool.
I reached the anchors without an issue, then lowered and cleaned the nuts out of the crack by pulling steadily--they stretched a bit until, pop!, the nut busted, leaving the rock completely intact and ethically safe and sound.
It was fun little gear-testing session, but Jen and I packed up and headed out to Rifle for the rest of the day. We decided we'd rather spend our time actually having fun than playing with overpriced toys for adults (essentially what trad gear really is).
Which, I guess, is the difference between trad and sport climbers. One group likes to play with toys, and the other likes to try hard. One gets high by feeling righteous over ethically boosted Gumbyatrics; the other gets high by hang-dogging. Neither is technically better than the other, and I like both more or less the same.
But it just seems like trad climbing gets ridiculous when you have to rely on contrived runouts, nested RPs and, in this case, silly putty, to make slab climbing exciting.