Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Super-light CAMP Nanotech - Is it worth it's weight?

Saying that CAMP Technical Adventure Equipment has been manufacturing  climbing gear for while is about as big as an understatement as saying that Ueli Steck is just a pretty good alpine climber.  For over 120 years this family-owned company has called the northern Italian mountain village of Premana 'home.'  Suffice to say, they've had more than a few good ideas that they brought to the table in the past century.  After all they 'are a company comprised of climbers making gear for climbers. '  In fact they make the lightest piece of gear in nearly every category they sell.  This is pretty impressive, but does lighter always mean better? 

I recently purchased the CAMP Corsa Nanotech to use for those occasional couloir and steep'ish snowfield crossings where you may only need an ax for a brief time.  More specifically,  I had trip to the Grand coming up and hadn't splurged on a new piece of gear for a while.  I was due.  It was supposedly a banner snow year in Wyoming, so it was expected to encounter an additional 1500 feet of snow before reaching any rock.  It was our intention to go car to car in a day.  Every ounce that could be saved would be a huge help if I were to keep up with my younger/fitter climbing partners on this single day push. 

To answer your question, yes I do count ounces.  As a mountain sport photographer, I always have a minimum of ten extra pounds of (camera) gear in my pack at all times.  I'm not complaining, after all that's just the ball park I decided to play in.  But if I can save an ounce here or there, I am all about it.  When I realized that I can trade out my 1 pound Black Diamond Raven ax for a 8.8 oz Nanotech, I was all in! 

According to CAMP, the Nanotech is the second lightest ice ax in the world.  The title of lightest ax goes to the Corsa, also from CAMP.  There are three main differences between the two that steered me towards the Nanotech over the Corsa:

  • Unlike the straight-shafted Corsa, the Nanotech has an aggressive single-curve shaft that provides better clearance without interfering with walking or plunging performance.  And in my experience this bend in the shaft also allows you to get your full weight over the ax while arresting.   
  • The pick and the spike of the Nanotech are reinforced with sharpened stainless steel.  Aluminum is a soft metal and easily dulled.   If you can extend the life while enhancing the pick placement of your ax for a mere 1.6 oz, why not?  I think that's a fair compromise.
  • I already touched upon the third main difference between the two: weight.  The Corsa comes in at 7.2 oz.  The Nanotech: 8.8 oz. 

CAMP Corsa Nanotech
CAMP Corsa

 So, you may be thinking, 'Wow, this sounds like the best ax ever.'  But before you rush out to the climbing shop to get one, read on little ice monkey.  I still have to tell you how this wonder ax performs.

After lashing the ax to my pack, I was obviously delighted by it's lack of weight.  There's no arguing that cutting the weight of your equipment in half is a huge victory.  Especially when coupled with a pair of uber-light Grivel Air Tech Light Crampons.  Which I will review in depth at a later date.  (oh yeah, they're awesome!!)

When I finally came to the point where I was ready to trade my trekking poles in for an ice ax, the Nanotech felt almost a little too light.  I thought that there was no way that this thing would stop a fall. (that's called foreshadowing, people) So, after about 800 feet or so up the relatively soft snow slope, I made the mistake of catching a crampon on my gaiter.  I know, a total Gumby move.  I have no excuse other than I was still suffering the effects of too little sleep and too much bourbon the night before.  Whatever the cause, I was suddenly on my ass and speeding towards a rather unpleasant landing of bulging granite and pain.  Nanotech at the ready, I rolled onto my chest and dug in hard.   Nothing.  I hunched deeper into my arrest, plunging the pick deeper still until I was sliding no more.  What felt like 300 feet of uncontrolled free fall was in actuality only about 20 feet of fast sliding.  Still, I know that I would have stopped that slide in five feet or less with my Raven.

I've taken the Nanotech out on many experimental trips since the Grand and have pretty much run into the same results.  I've tested it on hard pack, powder, sun cupped and even soft/sloppy snow.  All in all, it just takes a bit longer before the ax really grabs.  This is just a personal theory, so to all of you engineers out there, please holster your hate mail.  It is my humble opinion that the narrow pick just doesn't provide enough surface area to arrest with in a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, there's not a replacement for the full-on, tried and true beefy ice ax just yet. 

You may be asking yourself, 'Who should use this ax?'  This $159 tool definitely has its place in the field.  I feel that it is just the thing for through-hikers, backpackers, those who will encounter an occasional steep section of snow and most likely folks that need to fend off ill-tempered badgers.  Even though CAMP marketed it as a 'high altitude mountaineering ax' it's probably not fair to the rest of your rope team to use this as a primary arresting tool on a full-on climb.  For that you may want to take a look at Black Diamond's 13 oz Raven Pro, your climbing buddies will thank you.

If you have a Nanotech, please feel free to post your experience (either positive or negative) in the comment section.  I would love to hear from you!

Matt, Dan & Kieren after topping out the Owen-Spalding route on the Grand Teton.

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