[Photo] Kel Rossiter
I love watching my own mind make back flips, and it has put on quite an acrobatic show since the release of the Omega Pacific Link Cam in 2006. Early on, I remember looking at these crazy one-size-fits-all cams and thinking, “Yeah great…or how about just learning how to correctly place gear?” Later, I came to understand that recognizing the Link Cam’s crazy genius is only a matter of the appropriate application. So as to spare you the dangerous acrobatics and almost a decade of indecisiveness, I’ve chronicled my mind gymnastics here.
Omega’s Link Cam takes camming devices to the next level by separating the cam lobe into interlocking pieces that collapse onto one another along the stem, allowing for a camming ratio far beyond that of the ordinary. Four sizes are available, spanning the range from 0.5-2.5 inches. (It’s not too incredible for four pieces to span that range–for example, Black Diamond’s Camalots provide that range and a bit more with only five pieces.) Omega Pacific’s early marketing efforts pitched the Link Cam as a tool for the spatially challenged climber who just couldn’t quite gauge the difference between a finger crack and a fist jam, but was apparently so strong that he didn’t mind carrying a cam that weighed about 20 percent more per equivalent cam. Their current website pitch bills it as a ‘crux piece’ you need right now.” Fortunately, that advertisement lists some other applications, and it is those applications that have caused my mind to flip on the Link Cam.
[Photo] Kel Rossiter
I’ve found the #1 and #2 useful as a “double” when heading up routes where I think it’ll be advantageous to have a second or third piece in the Camalot green-to-yellow range (Camalots #0.75, #1, and #2 span 0.94-2.55 inches; the #1 and #2 Link Cams span 0.83-2.51 inches). In these situations, the Link Cams represent a minor weight savings–hauling up only 13.5 oz of gravity versus the 14.5 oz required of the Camalots–but not a cost savings: the #1 and #2 Link Cam together cost $222.90 versus getting the three Camalots (0.75/#1/#2) for $209.95. Considering cost, I can find no compelling reason for buying the 0.5 and 0.75 Link Cams, as your rack of stoppers can accomplish most of what these sizes offer, at much less the cost ($208.90 for the two Link Cams, $127.95 for a rack of Black Diamond stoppers). And while these two cams are considerably lighter than the rack of stoppers (7.35 oz versus 1 pound), a rack of stoppers offers a world more placements for that pound.
All that said, if you’re an alpine guide and/or you’re frequently leading up moderate alpine climbs and bringing up a second in need of a body belay, then the Link Cam could be a great tool. I appreciate them on a route like the North Ridge of Mt. Torment in the North Cascades. This fourth-to-fifth-class route is challenging and exposed enough that a belay is in order for less-experienced seconds. For much of the climbing, terrain belays are suitable, but conditions vary and at times it’s helpful to have a proper piece to either back up a body belay or build an anchor. It’d be a shame to haul in a whole rack of cams when you could just bring a Link Cam or two.
One frequent and justified complaint about Link Cams is that they tend to get stuck. With so many moving parts, they do tend to walk their way into cracks, so be sure to use ample runners. And you’d have better luck asking a monkey to guard your bananas than asking an inexperienced second to clean Link Cams–and Link Cams cost a lot of bananas–so be careful about leaving your greenhorn second with a Link Cam anchor to remove. Similarly, with many more moving parts than your average cam, they’re not suitable for use in freezing temps: a bit of moisture and sub-zero air and they start looking like C-3PO short circuiting. Another consideration is long-term durability: I only use my Link Cams in specialized situations, so I haven’t put the kind of wear and tear on the wires that would necessitate replacement, but a quick look at the set-up tells me it’s going to require a Lilliputian wrench, some kind of nail-punch, and ingenuity and patience in equal measure.
[Photo] Kel Rossiter
A final, important point involves placement. With any cam, it’s a good idea to place the stem in the direction of anticipated pull. With the Link Cam, it’s vital. Because the connections between each piece of the cam are weak points, if you subject the entirety of the lobe to a strong perpendicular pull, all of that elegant engineering is reduced to nothing more than metal confetti.
More and more over time, I’ve come to value a flexibility of mind over consistency of mind. And in the case of the Link Cam, the words of John Stuart Mill come quickly to my mind: “Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion, adoption.” Early on in the life of the Link Cam, I mocked it as a gimmick for fudge-fingered amateurs with more money than spatial reasoning. Over time, I have come to appreciate it as a valuable tool in the appropriate situation, but I recognize it as a tool with some significant drawbacks. Having provided the ridicule and the discussion, I leave it to you to make your own decision about adoption.
* The #1 and #2 Link Cams span the size range of three Camalots (#0.75-#2), saving you weight when actual needs aren’t clearly defined.
* Racking the #1 and #2 is an effective way to bone up a single rack when you might need a double piece at some point.
* Very useful for backing up a body belay on routes where you are climbing within your comfort zone and bringing up a less secure second climber.
* With so many moving parts, they easily get stuck.
* In freezing temps they become inoperable–not a good choice for mixed climbing.
* Long-term durability is questionable, and repair appears complicated.
* If the stem is placed perpendicular to the pull, the whole cam can explode.
Kel Rossiter is the owner/lead guide for Adventure Spirit Rock+Ice+Alpine, and guides in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, Alaska and beyond. He is a certified AMGA Alpine and Rock Guide and holds a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of Vermont.