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The sticky question of cam care
20 Jan 2017

Climbing School instructor Hugh Ward writes about managing your jammed cams

Have you ever started leading with a trad rack, only to find part way up a climb that your cams are so poorly maintained that you get pumped out just operating the trigger?

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience removing gear when seconding?

Well if this is the case, you’re not alone. I too have felt this pain, and walked to the very brink of despair trying to resolve it! Hopefully this post can save you a similar experience.

It comes as no surprise to most of us that moving parts need to be cleaned and lubricated in order to keep moving. In a dirtbag camper this means changing the oil, on a mountain bike it’s lubricating the chain, on your trusty crag knife it’s the locking mechanism, on a door the hinge, hell even the zipper on your beaten up belay jacket probably gets washed from time to time.

So why don’t we treat our cams to the same sort of maintenance-based love?

Well, the answer is: it’s climbing gear, right? It’s critical safety gear with ratings and breaking strains and complicated bits, and I’m not an engineer, much less a chemical engineer!

What are the petro-chemicals in the lube going to do with to the petro-chemical sling? What if I make it worse or wear out my cams faster? What if the lube gets on the leg loops of my harness when I rack up and causes them to fail too? Dude this is waaaaay too complicated and I’m pretty tough so I’ll just leave ‘em be and run it out if I need to. Reckon we could go back to using pitons at all?

But when my dodgy gear left me so gripped I had to be rescued off a climb by a friend with a handy top rope, it motivated me to hit the internet in search of a solution.

I found little joy.

None of the gear manufacturers had cleaning instructions on their websites, and my usual internet forums had so many loudly conflicting opinions that I ended up more confused than I was before I commenced my research.

Stuff it!

I decided to sell my rack – along with my international big wall dreams – and take up train collecting. I would become the silent morose type brooding into midlife wondering about what could have been…

Wait, stop, this is getting out of hand. I’m not nearly fastidious enough to be a train collector, and anyway how would I exercise my masochistic bent if I stopped climbing? Street fighting, roller derby, ballet? No. I would have to email the manufacturers. They’d know what to do!

Well I was partially correct. After an extended period of deafening silence, Black Diamond got back to me to say: “We don’t publicize a specific way to clean or lubricate our cams.”

Omega Pacific: “Your question has been well-received and we have been discussing it the last couple days. There are as many opinions as options and there are good arguments to use most of them.”

I found these responses strangely liberating.

If I had caused as much conflict in the workplaces of other climbing professionals as this conversation had generated in mine, then surely it is worth pursuing to a resolution?

Omega Pacific promised to get back to me with more info and BD had some suggestions too. Then, somewhere along the way it emerged that Metolius produces a product* for exactly this predicament and wait……it has instructions! They even have an info page on cam care.

I’ve finally cracked it! I’m on the right track, if only I can piece the best excerpts of these together into an article I will achieve global renown and be paid to travel around the globe lecturing grimy trad climbers at crags and bars in an endless summer of sunshine splitter cracks and perfectly maintained cams. Beaut!

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*Hugh Ward and Blue Mountains Climbing School have no affiliation with Metolius Climbing.

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