Climbing Wedges

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What is a belay device?

A belay device is a metal device used to anchor in cracks, holes or crevices in rock, to create a safe anchorage point for belaying, progression or belaying when climbing.

Today, lightness and ease of use are important criteria. Thanks to constant advances in materials, belay devices are now perfectly adapted to the demands of modern climbing.

Climbing with belays is considered a clean practice, because unlike pitons, today's belays can be easily removed without damaging the rock. This means they leave no trace of their passage after use.

The different types of stoppers

Mechanical (active) belay devices

There are two main types of mechanical anchors: cam-type anchors, which are widely used, and camless anchors.

Both types share a common principle: a spring that moves a moving part at the end of the clamp more or less out of the way. This invention revolutionized climbing, enabling parallel-edged cracks to be used as protection points.

Cam climbers

Cam clamps, also known as "friends", consist of two, three or four cams mounted on a common axis or on two adjacent axes. When a force is exerted on the main axis (such as during a fall or suspension), the cams move apart along the walls of the crack.

Mechanical cam clamps are available in a range of sizes to suit different crack widths, from 1 to 15 centimetres.
The central stem of friends can be rigid or flexible.

Rigid friends have a non-deformable stem, which efficiently transmits force to the cams and ensures good wedging. These friends are recommended for vertical cracks, but care should be taken when using them in horizontal cracks, as their rigidity can create dangerous leverage in the event of a fall.

Flexible friends have a deformable stem, usually a single or double steel cable. Their flexibility makes them more versatile, suitable for a wider variety of cracks, especially horizontal ones. Despite this, they retain sufficient rigidity to be easily removed from the rock.
Cam clamps are based on the arc-boutement principle. Here's how to use them:
  1. Select a cam of the appropriate size.
  2. Pull a small handle to bring the cams together.
  3. Insert the cam into the targeted crack.
  4. Release the handle to allow the cams to spread and lock against the walls of the crack or hole.
  5. Snap the climbing rope onto the strap at the other end of the wedge.
Expansion tubes

Camless jammers, such as expansion tubes, are less common and more specific than friends. Expansion tubes are tubes whose length can be adjusted and which wedge themselves between the walls of a crack. They are mainly used in wide cracks where friends reach their limits.

The two ends of the tube are parallel, but not perpendicular to the tube. A cord is attached to the upper end of the tube to create a lever arm and hold the assembly in place.

Expansion tubes are available in a range of sizes to suit different crack widths, from 8 to almost 50 centimetres wide.
They work on the principle of decompression locking. Here's how to place them:
  1. Position the appropriate size tube in the crack.
  2. Press a trigger to open the tube.
  3. Adjust opening length as required.
  4. Lock the system in place with the ferrule.
The manufacturers of these clamps promise to make their products lighter and less bulky. The best-known model is the Big Bro from the American brand Trango, very popular with off-width climbers.

Non-mechanical (passive) anchors

The basic concept of a rope clamp includes any metal part that can be fitted with a cord or rope to snap the rope into place at the other end. Whatever their form, they work by locking into a crack through tightening.

Historically, they were made from materials such as wood, stone or plastic, which did not offer optimal strength. Today, however, they are made from much stronger alloys such as aluminum, brass, copper or bronze. What's more, they have become smaller and smaller, use increasingly technical alloys and are available in a wide variety of shapes to meet many different needs.

Cable clamps

Rope clamps, also known as nuts, stoppers or bicoins, consist of a small pyramid-shaped metal mass through which a cord or rope passes.

Although pyramid faces were originally flat and smooth, most pyramid stoppers now have a convex and a concave face to optimize their stability. In fact, locking ability can be affected by small reliefs in the rock pressing on one of the wedge's faces. Some models even feature notches for improved grip.

The majority of rope clamps can now be used in both the thickness and the width of the crack, thus multiplying the possibilities of use.

Given their small size, cable wedges are primarily intended for narrow cracks, generally 0.3 to 3 cm wide. It is therefore necessary to have a varied set of wedges, as each wedge corresponds to a specific crack width.

A rope ring is present at the lower end to enable snap hooking, but it's important to use a complete quickdraw that absorbs the rope's movements in the event of a fall. A simple carabiner could cause the clamp to move and eventually dislodge it from the crack.

Hexagonal rope clamps

Hexagonal belay devices, also known as "hexcentric" belay devices, are similar in use to cable belay devices. Their hexagonal shape enables them to be locked by force, acting like a lever. As a result, the same wedge can be used on several crack widths.

They are suitable for wider cracks, generally from 3 to 9 centimetres.

Like rope clamps, hexagonal clamps work on the principle of blocking by embedding. To fit them, follow these steps:
  1. Find a spot where the crack narrows.
  2. Select the appropriate size wedge by grasping the rope.
  3. Insert the wedge into the crack.
  4. Apply quick, dry force by pulling once or twice to lock it in place.

And then it's off!

After an impressive fall, it can sometimes be difficult to remove your well-engaged rope clamps. Fortunately, there's a solution to this problem: unjammers!

They are generally elongated tools with a small hook at the end. They can be used to push, pull and dig out jammers, whether passive or active.

There are a number of different models, some more sophisticated than others. Some even incorporate extra features such as a knife, carabiner - and yes, even a bottle opener! Because you've got to think of everything, even the opening of a nice beer at 132 meters altitude during a Big Wall ascent!

What about maintenance?

It's essential to take good care of your belay devices, for obvious safety reasons!

If one of your belay devices has suffered a serious fall, take the time to inspect it carefully. Make sure it's not clogged with dust, dirt or sand, especially if it's a friend, which is a mechanical stopper. A thorough cleaning or washing may be necessary to ensure proper operation.

If you use expansion clamps, be sure to grease them well to ensure their effectiveness.

As with most personal protective equipment (PPE), we recommend that you store your wedges away from direct sunlight and heat. This will help preserve their integrity and durability.
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