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Reviews by vegastradguy (21)

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S240 Sport Climbing Harness Average Rating = 4.67/5 Average Rating : 4.67/5

In: Gear: Essential Equipment: Harnesses: Fixed

Editorial Review 4 out of 5 stars

Review by: vegastradguy, 2009-12-21

Joshua Tree National Park (Manufacturer link) Average Rating = 5.00/5 Average Rating : 5.00/5

In: Gear: Archive

Review 0 out of 5 stars

Review by: vegastradguy, 2006-10-09

Full Disclosure: The company that manufactured this dvd provided it free of charge to and then provided it as compensation to the reviewer for his or her review. This company does not currently advertise on -- 11/07/06.
My first trip to JTree ended up with me climbing three routes in two days and feeling completely lost and confused the entire time. The scope of the park and the layout of it makes getting your bearings in the park difficult at first- especially if you’re also a fairly new climber with limited options on what you can climb.

Not too long ago, your only option for visiting JTree was the Vogel guide, which even folks familiar with the park can struggle with- especially when it comes to descents and exactly where some lines start. Many will tell you that this is part of the adventure of Jtree and I don’t disagree- I think that it is, but at the same time, a little help getting started your first few times in would be nice.

Enter CragCam and their new dvd guide to hiking, climbing, and camping in Joshua Tree National Park.

When I first got the dvd, I was optimistic that this may be an excellent guide for folks who had never been to Josh before but at the same time concerned that it was strictly for beginners.

The dvd has a nice little intro that is worth watching once but can be skipped on future viewings. It explains the goals of the dvd and walks you through how to navigate each of the three sections- camping, hiking, and of course climbing.

Once you get to the main menu, you have your choice of where to go first. Most climbers will head to the ‘On Rock’ section. Here you’ll find a menu with two choices- a video or a guide. The video is pretty cool and features an interview with Don Reid. The guide is pretty slick- it’s an interactive map of the park featuring 10 different areas, including the backcountry area called the Coxcombs. The bulk of the climbing areas, though, are the major areas in the park- Hidden Valley, Real Hidden Valley, Indian Cove, Echo Cove, etc, etc.

Once you pick a section, you get a short intro video to climbing in that area as well as a detailed guide on how to get there and which amenities the area has. It then goes through a run-down of the most classic moderates (up to .10d-ish) in each area along with a video still of the formation with nice topo lines across the still.

The really nice part about this section is that it gives you a full color digital video of both the area and the routes and gives you a good idea where these routes are. In keeping with the spirit of Joshua Tree adventure, though, the dvd does not give you rack advice nor does it give you descent beta on the routes.

The thing I liked most about this dvd was that it covered routes and areas I am not yet familiar with and gave me some great ideas for my upcoming trips to the park. It features info on some off the beaten path areas, how to get there and classics. I also liked how it covers sun exposure- I still have trouble figuring out which routes are going to be sunny at what time of the day!

Although the dvd is not a climbing dvd, it would have been cool to see more climbing done during the dvd guides. The only other downside is that when navigating the map, you have to wait for the dvd to cycle through the numbers on its own if you want to know what area the highlighted number is- although you can jump straight to any number at any time. Folks unfamiliar with the park would do well to click the ‘Play All’ feature and take some notes….

The other sections in the dvd are of a similar format- a short intro video which covers some history and nice footage of the hiking and/or park, and then an interactive map that allows the user to flip through the different areas and explore them at their leisure. This part of the dvd is well worth exploring as well, if nothing else for information on camping and things to do on your rest days!

Other than that, this is a great little dvd and is an excellent option for both beginning leaders who are completely unfamiliar with the park up to folks who have been a few times but still have quite a bit of exploring to do.

As an added bonus, 10% of the profits from the dvd go to the Access Fund and Friends of Joshua Tree.

Superlight Rocks Nuts (Manufacturer link) Average Rating = 4.33/5 Average Rating : 4.33/5

In: Gear: Essential Equipment: Protection: Passive: Nuts and Stoppers

Review 0 out of 5 stars

Review by: vegastradguy, 2006-08-05

[size=12]Full Disclosure: This reviewer paid full price for these products. This manufacturer does not currently advertise with – 8/6/06With the disappearance of the fabled HB offset from the market, many folks are looking to other stoppers to fill the rather large gap that appeared. Among the most popular responses you’ll see to the “What are my offset options?” question is Wild Country’s Superlight Rocks- a half-sized version of their regular rocks that also include a slight offset.


I picked up a set on a whim, as I am like as not to do on my regular trip to my local shop. I had seen them in the magazines and was intrigued by the mono-cable and had been pondering them as a ‘micro’ stopper set. Although the thought of using them for micros went out the window upon initial inspection at the gear store (they’re definitely ‘full size’ stoppers…mostly), I bought ‘em anyway because that’s the kind of guy I am.

My first trip out to the crags with them was to do a route called Arm Forces, located on the southern end of the Red Rock escarpment. A single pitch 5.9, the route protects nicely with regular cams once you get about 20’ off the deck. Before that, it’s shaky stoppers and courage that usually does this job. I started up the route and about 10’ up, in what would normally be a questionable stopper placement, I slotted the second biggest of the set into a bombproof placement. Awesome! The constriction would have been problematic for my regular HB’s with their dual cables, and a regular BD stopper would have rattled out of it if only slighty jostled by the rope movement, but the WC Superlight was bomber! I immediately fell in love and the stoppers remained on my rack for months afterward as a supplement to my BD's. They were perfect for the occasional flared placement that often appears in Red Rock sandstone.

However, when packing for my trip to Yosemite, I left these behind in favor of two full sets of the HB's- as great as they were for the occasional flared placement, nothing could top my confidence in the HB's in Valley pin scars.

Size- the Superlights are small, but sturdy in size. Like Wild Country says- it’s a full size stopper sliced in half.

Weight- almost nothing. Put these baby’s on a WC Helium and its like carrying air.

Functionality- Like the HB’s, these stoppers will work like a regular stopper in a pinch, but where they shine is in the slightly flared arena.

Mono Cable- I like this feature. It gives you more options, especially in funky desert sandstone like we have out here in Red Rock. However, this feature also contributes to the stoppers biggest liability.

Strength- even the strongest of them is only rated to 6kn. While this is strong enough to hold a fall, these are not strong enough to climb with abandon on. Most of the low rated strength comes from the mono cable, which by its nature prevents the stopper from obtaining the high strength of a dual cable stopper.

Price- They’re expensive for little stoppers! At a whopping $13 a piece, you got to want ‘em bad to buy a set. Fortunately, there’s only 6 to a set rather than 13 or so. Unfortunately, those 6 stoppers cost the same as a full set of BD’s.

If you are looking for a primary stopper set for your trad rack, I’d pass on these. With only 6 stoppers, all of which have a low strength rating, they wouldn’t be the best choice.

If you’re a stopper lover, though, and are looking for that ‘half set’ of stoppers to add to your full set you’re already carrying, I'd recommend taking a second look at these little babies. Also, if you’re into shaving the ounces, these are a good option- the two largest together still weigh less than a single Petzl Spirit!

Although, I’d recommend them as a good, but expensive option for a supplemental stopper, I would also hesitate to say that these stoppers fill the gap that the HB's left behind. Luckily for you, you can now buy HB's at the Yosemite Mountain Shop, who carries them exclusively![/size]

MaxCams™ (Manufacturer link) Average Rating = 4.07/5 Average Rating : 4.07/5

In: Gear: Essential Equipment: Protection: Active

Review 2 out of 5 stars

Review by: vegastradguy, 2006-07-30

I wandered into Desert Rock sports about a week before my Yosemite trip intent on coughing up the dough for a set of C4's, but they were out! So, instead, I talked myself into a full set of the Maxcams to serve as my secondary set of cams.
After using them for a week in the Valley and once or twice in Red Rock and reading reviews of them regarding my concerns, I'm shelving them for the time being. These cams are a great idea- the extended range is fabulous. One of the perks is their ability to fit in the tiny gap between camalot sizes, not to mention their expansion range. They have some serious drawbacks, though. First, these are NOT a beginners cam. Let a new trad leader use these, and you'll lose them quickly. These cams HAVE to be placed, not slid in as the editorial review and sixleggedinsect noted. The biggest problem when they get pushed in is their tendency to pop open on the small lobe size, rendering them completely useless and somewhat locked into their placement (i almost lost the green one twice in Yosemite- only perserverance and luck saved it from the granite cracks!). They also require careful slinging and manuevering around, because the slightest touch and they can pop open. The best placements are bottlenecks for sure. Overall, while I like the cams and feel comfortable using them, most of my partners hate them and are uncomfortable using them given the reasons above (these include both novices and experienced leaders). This means, of course, that I really cannot use them because if my partners dont feel comfortable with 'em, there's no point in bringing them along. So, as a result, i ended up wasting the dough for these because I just bought the set of C4's I wanted in the first place (at least I got them on sale!).....

One note, though. As a fast and light cam, these may shine brighter than most. The set of these plus half a set of stoppers on a speed ascent affords more options than you'd get with a similar brand of cam, and for competent climbers this could mean more confidence when simul-climbing and/or moving quickly over easy terrain. I'll bring them out this fall again to test this theory and get back to you on it.

ATC Guide Autobloc Belay Device (Manufacturer link) popular Average Rating = 4.60/5 Average Rating : 4.60/5

In: Gear: Essential Equipment: Belay Devices & Descenders

Review 5 out of 5 stars

Review by: vegastradguy, 2006-01-03

[b]Full Disclosure: The company that manufactured this equipment provided it free of charge to and then provided it as compensation to the reviewer for his or her review. This company does not currently advertise on -- 1/24/06.[/b]

When I heard from Jay that I was getting a chance to review this little trinket, I have to say I was a little more than excited about getting to use a new belay device first hand – especially one that, from initial rumors, would potentially replace the Petzl Reverso as the guides’ choice of belay device.

Although not a professional guide, I often find myself taking newer climbers out, and the autoblock feature is a nice option to have in that scenario. Of course, other devices also have the autoblock – Trango’s B-52 and the Mammut Matrix, for example. However, all of them have a less than easy release mechanism that can be a hassle to deal with. Black Diamond has addressed that with this device.

The other problem with the Reverso is the dreaded ‘sharpening’ effect that the device suffers from – even more so than any other belay device out there. Of course Black Diamond dealt with this problem by starting from the mold of the ATC-XP, the beefiest tube device out there. Sharpening of this device is a low concern. In fact, in the 6 weeks I’ve been using the device (in far more abusive ways than I generally do), there are hardly any signs of wear on it.

Now, all of that said, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of the unit and then talk about how it performs in the real world.

The Black Diamond ATC Guide is hot forged 7075 aluminum and weighs 102 grams (3.5oz). It is rated for ropes from 7.7mm to 10.5mm and, similar to the Reverso, has a clip-in point to allow for autoblock belaying. It also has a unique autoblock release tab on the opposite side of the device, which I’ll discuss in more detail later.

Being the diligent Booty Crew member that I am, I went to all of those folks who would dare climb with me and used all of their ropes (and mine) to give you a comprehensive idea of what this device can and cannot do. Every time we went out, I tried to fully test the device on each rope used. The ropes used ranged from 7.6mm twin lines all the way up to semi-old 10.2mm single lines, and everything in between.

Of course, when going out to the crag, I could not well keep the device all to myself – my partners had to be allowed to at least use it now and then, lest I suffer drool-covered arms as I tried in vain to keep them at bay. So, the device ran through the gauntlet of partners as well. Weight ranges of the users ran from a scant 110lbs. to a respectable 190lbs., and a few weights in between. This usually meant that I was taking lots of falls while all of my ‘friends’ belayed me on different lines. However, I did manage to keep a hold of the device long enough to test out all of its functions thoroughly as well…

[b]Lead/top rope belaying: [/b]Overall, this device performs like most tube devices. It has a smooth feed on just about any diameter of rope you stuff in it, and although 10.5s can be a little troublesome loading, once clipped in, feeding is never an issue. The really neat thing about it is that it locks off like a dream, even on skinny 7.6mm twins. The first time Larry fell on these (incidentally it was the first time I was using the device); I hardly noticed that he had weighted the line.

[b]Autoblock Belaying: [/b]Once again, the device performs about as you would expect any tube style device that is capable of it. It does, however, perform better than its competition with the twins and doubles, allowing less of the spooky looking drift of the rope that you can get with the Petzl Reverso. Interestingly, the device’s design stems largely from the need for it to accomplish this function; the traditional XP grooves provided too much friction for this method to work. So, Black Diamond went to work with 10 different prototypes to find the ideal sized groove that would both allow the autoblock to function and provide a comfortable amount of friction during belaying and rappelling.


[i]Notice the girth-hitched Mammut sling through the release point.[/i]

[b]Autoblock Release:[/b] Now here is where the device gets sort of interesting. After chatting with the folks with Black Diamond, reading the PDF instructions online, and testing this in the gym, I’ve come back with mixed feelings about the release tab. The idea behind it is brilliant – anyone who has had to release the autoblock on the Reverso will attest to what a pain it is. The tab also does indeed work as noted; the leverage you get from it is significant enough that you can release the autoblock much easier than the Reverso. The theory behind the tab is such that you are meant to control the release with both your body and your brake hand in such a way as to lower the climber in a controlled descent. However, I discovered in my experiments that, unless the belay setup is such that you can be on your feet and in control of your weight, you risk losing control of the release tab and forcing the device into a wide-open position, making the rope all but impossible to hold onto.


[i]The device during release -- this is approximately the orientation the device needs to be in to begin releasing the autolock function. Though BD's online instructions don't mention it, redirect the brake (not pictured) from a point up high to better control the rope during release.[/i]


[i]The device at full release -- this is where the device ends up if all of the belayers weight comes onto it. Friction at this point is minimal, especially on skinny lines. In this orientation, having the brake redirected (as mentioned in the above photo caption) may be crucial. [/i]


[i]A long shot of the release system -- also notice also how many runners it requires. In this case, three plus a quickdraw were needed to engage the system. The overall length of your anchor will affect this directly.[/i]

So, the verdict? It’s a good idea in principle, but I suspect its real-world applications will be limited to belay stances on good ledges where the power point is slightly above waist level.

[b]Rappelling (two strands): [/b]Probably my biggest source of concern with this device was the rappelling on it. I’ve heard mixed reviews about the ATC-XP, saying that if you’re a lightweight and rappelling on anything thicker than 9.7, you’ll have significant difficulties. This device, however, has been retooled for the autoblock function and thus has a third less friction than the regular XP. It makes rappelling a dream for just about any weight class on any line that the device is tested for, even our resident 110lb lightweight.

[b]Rappelling in high-friction mode: [/b]None of the testing crew ever found it necessary to use the low-friction mode, even on 10.5mm ropes and lightweight climbers.

[b]Rappelling (single strand):[/b] For those of you who enjoy simul-rappelling on single strands, but find the friction a bit low, this device again exceeds expectations. Rapping on a single 8.6mm line for 200’ presented no problems at all. However, I did notice that if I were going to do this on a 7.6mm line, I may want a backup or a second locker on the device, as the friction wasn’t as much as I had expected. Rapping a single 9.6, though, is no problem.

[b]Verdict:[/b] Functionally, the device does the job and does it well. I noticed no feeding issues for fast clips, no friction issues on rappel, etc. It handles better than any other tube device I have laid my hands on in my scant years of climbing. I would never consider going back to the Reverso after using this it. It’s a solid device, and nothing less than we would expect from Black Diamond.

Of course, no piece of gear is perfect, and this one is no exception. BD makes a valiant effort to make releasing an autoblocking device under load easy. And while it is [i]easier[/i] than other similar devices, it still isn't [i]easy[/i]. While in theory and in some situations, BD's tab approach will work wonderfully, in some others it will not. I consider this a ‘use with care’ option – experts only! Also, although I would hesitate to call it a true issue for anyone but those really concerned about weight, the device is heavy for a tube. In fact it is the heaviest on the market by quite a bit. Weighing in at a full 21g heavier than the Reverso and 42g heavier than the B-52, it’s a clunker. That said, I never noticed the weight once I had it clipped to me, and it still weighs less than half a Gri-Gri.

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