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Dealing with stuck cams

Back in 2011 I spent most of the summer living out of my car, on a UK climbing road trip. I spent a week living near Stanage Edge in the Peak District, one of the most popular climbing crags in the country. Although I didn’t see many climbers out during the week, I found plenty of evidence of their presence on the routes I climbed. I must have come across more than 20 cams left in the rock that week…

Usually if you find a cam, there’s little chance of getting it out – everybody before you will have tried! Hopefully this article should help you to avoid leaving your expensive toys behind…

1) Don’t over cam them when you place them!


A well placed cam

In the picture above the cam lobes have good contact with the rock and are not overlapping.


Bad times…


This time the cam has been massively over-cammed, as the cam lobes are overlapping each other. This can be avoided by choosing the right size of cam for the crack, rather than trying to force in one that’s too big. The correct cam should fit at about 50% of it’s expansion range.

2) Extend your cam placements if need be.

Cams tend to walk in to the crack when the rope drags on the karabiner that they’re attached to. You can go some way to avoiding this by extending them outwards. Many modern cams have extendable slings on them – if not just clip a quickdraw to them to extend them. It may even be worth using a trad-draw.

3. Place cams so that the stem points in the direction of the fall.

For example, in vertical cracks, the stem should point downwards, not outwards. This should go some way towards stopping the cam walking in by rope drag as well.

Even after all of the above, you can be unlucky and get a cam stuck sometimes. Or lucky and find one!

If I find a cam, can I still use it?

There’s no right answer to this one. It may have been placed the day before, or it could have been there for years. Even if the wires and other metal work are still intact, the nylon/dyneema sling may be past it’s best. Err on the side of caution – if in doubt, leave it.

Can I clip in to a stuck cam that I find?

Again, there’s no solid answer for this one. Treat it like in-situ gear – have a good look to assess how reliable it is. If in doubt,  leave it, or place your own runner fairly soon afterwards! I’ve clipped plenty of stuck cams on the basis that if I can’t get it out, it’s probably not going to rip out in a fall. But as before, you dont know how long it’s been there for.

What if I get one of my cams stuck?

Uh oh. The key is to be gentle and try and move each cam lobe a little bit at a time to wiggle it free. You won’t achieve much with brute force. If the trigger is out of reach, try using your nut key to pull on it. Two nut keys or even nuts on wire can be looped around the trigger bar to gently move it out of the crack. Attaching these to your harness will allow you to pull back on the cam, leaving your hands free to work the device out.

Patience is key if you don’t want to shell out for more gear!

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