Wednesday, March 02, 2011

CAMP R&D Visit: Photos and Story

Last month I was very fortunate to make a visit to the R&D department at CAMP/Cassin in Premana Italy. I have long been interested in the development of climbing equipment and so was very lucky to spend time in 120 years of climbing history. My amazing hosts and the food made it even more memorable. Thanks very much for having me!

Arriving at the Lecco train station I was immediately reminded of the history and importance of alpinism in the area. We all know about the Lecco Spiders, but the tradition of very strong climbers lives on today.

Along with playing, tinkering and developing new toys, I was very pleased to get a full factory tour, seeing where and how some of the best and lightest gear is made. Ever wonder exactly how a crampon is made?

The history in the old part of the building is amazing and in the very modern and newly built R&D facility the future is even more amazing. I, for some reason, thought carbon fiber tools were modern and not 25 years old.

There is a wall of history leading to the main R&D facility, which every designer walks past daily. Along with pieces of climbing history that line the walls, photos of the current and recent best athletes that have worked with CAMP are on display. The news of Simone, Denis and Cory's success on Gasherbrum II had just been heard so everyone was happy! Cassin's pitons and crampons reminded me how incredible he was, to have done so much with the available technology.

The contrast between the factory and the R&D Dept is startling. Down stairs a constant pounding of machines, metal being bent, shaped and cut. Upstairs we sat at futuristic looking testing equipment, drop testing dummies - no, not me - and testing the hardness of metals. Computer programs that helped develop crampons confounded me. Everything was frankly so cool. One thing to note, everybody who worked on product was an athlete, some like Ottavio had put up numerous very hard sport routes, to Mateo who "is not a good rock climber at just 8a, won a mixed comp or two and climbed new A4 routes out of hellish caves...." OK. Important I think when gear needs to work well and keep you alive.

The fourth generation of the Codega family is taking CAMP/Cassin to new places, (yes you read that right, from great great grandfather to the current generation, it has stayed in the same family) far from what the founders could have imagined.

The problem with seeing toys that are not available is wanting them. For many reasons, in the past few years I have tried to live the Buddhist philosophy of not wanting, but that was all destroyed in a quick visit to Premana. Now I cannot wait until next winter when product ships.
Still, I am amazed that one building has created axes for the Italian military in 1920 and the curent generation of mixed climbers.