Craig Smith reviews Wild Country's new 'Big Friends': Sizes 5 and 6.
|Friend No.||Colour||Size Range (mm)||Head Width (mm)||Strength (kN)||Weight (g)|
I looked up in horror as the tube chock Johnny had placed slipped out and spiraled down the rope, coming to rest on a Friend 4. Johnny continued to struggle with the off-width, oscillating between sobbing and cursing. He was high enough on the route so as to make his last piece, the Friend 4, redundant. A fall from his current position would without doubt be to the ground and the best-case scenario was serious injury. I stood there cringing, scared to watch what I thought were the final moments of probably our finest climber.
This was 1983, the Johnny in question was Johnny Woodward, who without doubt is one of the most talented climbers I have shared a rope with. The largest Friend in production at the time was size 4. Death Crack, the crack Johnny was leading, needed bigger pro to make it safe, but all we had back then were tube chocks. Thankfully, Johnny made it to the top without falling, a lead of such prowess that it is still fresh in my aging memory.
"...An enduring problem with large devices has been their propensity to 'walk' into cracks or in some cases twist sideways and fall out..."
Over the last three decades, climbing protection has continued to improve. Undoubtedly, this factor has enabled the sport to advance. Large camming devices have tamed climbing wide cracks. Here I will review Wild Country Technical Friends sizes 5 and 6, cams that were essential for the successful ascent of probably the World's hardest off-width crack, Century Crack.
On first acquaintance these large Friends look a little otherworldly, like obese relatives of the already extensive Wild Country range. But don't let their size put you off, in use they perform amazingly well. They are easy to place, thanks to the ergonomic trigger and they sit solidly once placed. An enduring problem with large devices such as these has been their propensity to 'walk' into cracks or in some cases twist sideways and fall out of the placement.
Friends 5 and 6 have been designed to minimize these problems by incorporating strong springs and by having an optimum head width – basically this equates to the length of the axel that separates the pairs of cams. The head width of these large Friends is the widest of any cam on the market, meaning that they are very stable once placed. In use I experienced no walking or twisting out of the cams, an attribute that instilled confidence and lessened the frequency of trouser filling reflexes.
There is an on going battle of words between the major cam makers regarding weight versus the range of any given cam. In my opinion, the differences between the players are fairly minor. On a size for size basis, Friends are slightly lighter than comparable Black Diamond Camalots, but all we are talking about here is the weight of a bag of Bacon Fries (24g) between WC 6 and Camalot 6 or a bag of Minstrels (42g) between WC 5 and BD Camalot 5. As far as range is concerned BD Camalots just pip Friends, but again the differences are really negligible in my opinion.
"...On first acquaintance these large Friends look a little otherworldly, like obese relatives of the already extensive Wild Country range..."
In these times of hardship, unless you're a banker, price is a big factor. Well, if you shop around you should be able to score Friends 5 or 6 for less than £90 each. This may sound like a lot for a single device, but it's the going rate for cams of this size irrespective of brand and you certainly get a lot of cam for your money! Furthermore, unless you are thinking of 'treating' yourself to an off width frenzy, you probably only need one of each size in your gear arsenal. Certainly, for most situations in the UK one of each should be enough.
However, if you plan visiting the States to sample some of their fine cracks then you may want to purchase more than one of each or simply go old school and stock up on toilet paper.
Craig has climbed on and off for more than 30 years. He has established many new routes at home and abroad that have become recognised as major classics including The Great Flake at Caley, Gin Palace at Vivian and Conan the Librarian at Gogarth to name but a few. He was one of the UK's first sponsored climbers and a frequent magazine cover boy, renowned for his extensive wardrobe of Lycra. These days he earns his money lecturing physiology at the University of Manchester and dabbles in fell running, mountain biking and climbing.
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