Monday, 16 March 2015

Review: Cassin X-dream


The roots of this technical equipment date back to 1935 when Riccardo Cassin made the first ascent of the north face of the Cima Ovest di Lavaredo (now rated 5.11d). He established his innovative climbing company down valley from C.A.M.P. in 1952. C.A.M.P. purchased the CASSIN brand in 1997 and honors Riccardo’s memory by stamping his name on some of the most technical products in the line including Technical Ice Axes & Crampons, Big Wall/Aid Climbing gear, a selection of Harnesses, and Bouldering gear. Other select products with an established history under the CASSIN brand also carry his name.


The X-Dream combines two tools in one – a fully optimized tool for technical ice and an aggressive
dry tooling machine. This amazing ice axe not only features three different T rated picks for various terrain, but it also incorporates a patented adjustment system in the ergonomic handle to fine tune the swing and torque even further. A quick turn of the Allen bolt above the grip allows the tool to be switched between Dry and Ice positions by changing the angle of the handle in relation to the angle of the pick. In the Dry position, the handle kicks upward for a more down and out pull. The Ice position drops the handle for a more natural swing. Climbers can further refine the X-Dream with micro-adjustable trigger finger ledges (choose from two inserts – the X-Finger Small or the X-Finger Large – that can be flipped over to adjust the position) and the X-Rest insert which adjusts the overall height of the handle. All three picks feature the refined beak and tooth configuration CASSIN tools are known for. They are designed to provide solid sticks with minimal penetration making them the perfect choice for brittle ice and technical mixed terrain. The Ice pick brings the tip 6 mm closer to the handle for performance similar to the popular X-All Mountain tool. It also features a small hammer that adds the perfect amount of head weight for thin and brittle ice. The Race pick features a sharp beak for grappling with rock along with more aggressive teeth both on the underside and topside of the pick. The Mixed pick is a blend between the two with similar angles to the Ice pick but only a small hammer plate and teeth reaching further down the shaft like the Race pick.


Hyper light, perfectly balanced, fully featured tool for technical dry, mixed and ice climbing
Ergonomic handle with patented adjustment system to change between Dry and Ice angles
The handle is constructed from extreme cold resistant polymer laid over the hot-forged aluminum alloy spine
3 different picks (Mixte supplied as standard, Ice and Race can be purchased separately) provide further refinement for different styles of climbing
Micro-adjustable trigger finger ledges and X-Rest insert adjust the overall height and size of the handle
X-Trigger pommel attaches to the shaft for a third ledge
X-Grip 2 included



Srce: CAMP

My opinion

(Note: the Cassin X-dreams were provided to me by the K2 profshop for testing purposes. This didn’t influence my opinion in any way!)


All the picks available for the X-dream are T-rated. This is very confidence inspiring, because they look pretty narrow and there are some holes cut out for weight reduction. It is also mandatory for mixed climbing, dry tooling and competitions to reduce the chance of bending or even breaking a pick while torqueing the tools.

I also noticed that the picks seemed to hold there edge very well.

Ice pick

I really liked the way the picks stick from the first hit, without shattering too much ice. They really
cut the ice like a knife through butter. This is probably because of the tapering of the picks. The downside of this is that they can sink down deep into soft ice, what makes them very hard to remove. Especially when the big spike on the underside of the pick gets into the ice or when the serrations on the head contact an ice curtain.
I’m not sure why they are in place on an ice pick anyway. I suppose, the big spike secures the blade while hooking between icicles and behind pillars and the serrations on the head are for torqueing the axe. But then again, I’ve never experienced the need for anything like that while ice climbing. In my opinion, those extra teeth are more useful for dry tooling or mixed climbing.

I also used this pick for some dry tooling and I was very pleased with the first tooth, who is a little downturned and far enough from the second tooth. It felt very secure, even while matching hands and pivoting the tools. I found the serrations on the head of the tool very useful, while torqueing the tools. The big spike on the underside came in handy while hooking over big holds. It felt more secure.

Although I’ve never used them for hammering a piton I found the hammer very useful, because it places some more weight into the head of the axe, what makes for a better swing. But I think there is still room for improvement… I’d suggest Cassin to take off the hammer and to put the same weight in front of the head for less vibration of the pick and an even better swing with less moment force when the pick hits the ice. This will reduce the chance of the pick bouncing off while hitting a bulge of hard ice.

In addition to the extra weight the hammer brings to the head, it also makes it possible to use the tool into the alpine.

Mixte pick

Note: I have not used this pick in the field, but I’ll compare it with the ice pick by its few differences.

The mixed pick is similar to the ice pick, but there are a few adaptations for dry tooling and mixed

climbing. First, the serrations on the head reach further down the head. This makes the axe even better for torqueing, but worse for ice climbing.

Second, they have more cut-outs and no real hammer for weight reduction. Since the pick is going to be used more on rock, there is less need for extra weight in the head. The hammer is removed, but there is still some metal protruding at the back of the head. I recon it is (almost) impossible to hammer a piton with it, without smashing the head. Maybe it is more useful to pommel one axe into an ice- or frozen turf-filled crack with the other one.

Third, the pick comes down lower towards the shaft for better hooking around or over holds.

Comparison between the ice pick (bloted on the tool) and the mixed pick

Comp pick

Note: I have not used this pick in the field.

This pick is the most radical in the X-dream arsenal. The serrations underneath are bigger and more aggressively angled towards the back for even more secure pick placements, the tip is even more downturned, the hammer is totally removed, the head is even more cut-out and the teeth on top are almost running to the tip of the pick! Great blade for extreme dry-tooling, but not very useful on pure ice.


Although I haven’t noticed it while ice climbing the shaft flexes a lot even compared to the Nomic, which already has some flex in its shaft. It actually felt pretty weird while dry tooling and it might affect the performance of the tool slightly, especially on very tiny edges.


The handle in the ice-setting
In the ice-setting, the swing of the tool felt very natural. It solves the problem of the Ergo tools, whose handle is almost parallel to its pick what makes it awkward to swing in ice. The swing felt more like a Nomic, but with a lower center of gravity. For dry-tooling on some vertical to slight overhanging walls, I’d suggest you use the handle in the ice setting, because there is almost no pick shift, while matching with the second grip.

In the dry-setting the handle became almost parallel to the pick, more like the Ergo’s. This makes the X-dream a great tool for overhanging dry-tooling. It makes it easier to hold onto the tool longer, because it straightens the wrist. The trade-off for this is a greater pick-shift while matching hands, because of the greater difference in
Notice the full-strength hole in the handle and
the serrations underneath the handle.
angle between the first and the second grip.

Overall the handle is very comfy and it is possible to customize it with a variety of different accessories. It provokes a comfortable, relaxed hand position.

The handle is also equipped with a serrated pommel and second hand rest. This protects the handle from getting smashed-up against the ice or rock. If you like to use the tool into the alpine, the serrations are too small to give you any grip on snow, but CAMP announced a replacement handle for fall 2015 with a big spike to satisfy the alpine climbers. If you are an alpine climber or if you like some multi-pitch ice climbing, you may want a place to clip your tethers to… It is possible to clip a BD spinner leash through the hole in the handle, but it will be more comfy to put some cord trough to clip them to. There will be a hole into the spike of the new handles, so you can use them for clipping your leashes as well, I guess.

So, all in all it’s a great handle, but I noticed something disturbing! On one of the axes, the bolt that connects the handle to the shaft loosened very easily even after I retightened the bolt. This created some movement between the handle and the rest of the axe. Although it was not a safety issue by any means, it felt not very reassuring while climbing.
The second handle felt comfortable. The pinky-rest is the upper part of the first handle and Cassin added some skateboard-style grip-tape and it did the job.

The third grip consists of a removable pinky-rest and it is clamped around the shaft. I found it particularly useful in ice and snow. In ice because it makes it easier to reach higher or to match hands in a traverse. In snow, I noticed that this grip kept my hands out of the snow, while Ueli Stecking some firn snow. However the downside of the third hand rest is that you can easily hit it if you take a swing over a bulge. It happened to me a few times and it turned sideways once.  I also found the hand rest less useful while dry-tooling, because it creates a lot of pick shift, so use it on good holds only!

Handle customisation accessories

Removable hand-rest. Just below, you can see a part from the grip-tape.


The X-dream is a great all-round tool for steep ice, mixed climbing and dry-tooling. It bridges the gap between pure dry-tooling axes like the Ergo and the more ice-oriented tools like the Nomic. It is in a lot of aspects a better ice tool as the Nomic, one of its biggest competitors, but it has its flaws. I’d like a stiffer shaft, a clean ice pick without serrations on the head, without the big tooth and a more secure way to attach the handle.


Great swing and sticks
Modular handle


Flexible shaft
Pick can get stuck into the ice
Handle-shaft connection can loosen

Ice climbing in Rjukan, Norway ©Steven De Decker

First time alpine climbing with Daan

This is a little write-up from Daan Nijs. Last summer I took him alpine climbing for the first time. I might have taken him outside of his comfort zone, I guess...

Hi everyone,

Let me first introduce myself. My name is Daan, I met Bart last year at Don Bosco Wilrijk at the rope-access course. Me and Bart got along very well right from the start of the course. Bart and I share the same love for the mountains and climbing, though he is much better at it than I am.  
Last summer Bart and I went to Chamonix together. It was my first time in Chamonix and my first real experience as a mountaineer. Bart was planning on staying for two months, but because I had to work, I only had one week to climb.

The first week of July we drove from Belgium to Chamonix. Once in Chamonix we went to this cosy camping full of climbers. We arrived at the camping in the late afternoon. The same day we went to town to get the last supplies we needed to go climbing. The next morning we took the Flégère cable car to the Aiguilles Rouges. Here we wanted to climb 'La Chapelle de la Glière'. An alpine style rock climb with a beautiful ‘Razor’ pitch. After my first lead on this route, little experience with nuts and friends, multi-pitch routes and a first experience of terrible rope drag I suffered from a weird feeling where it was very hard for me to go on, better known as fear. So for the upcoming pitches Bart took the lead. We continued on the route with a break after the sixth pitch. After another demotivating confrontation with a chamois who apparently could make it to his point with ease, we continued to the top of the route. After a few minutes of enjoyment on the summit, I just realised we were only halfway and still had a small journey ahead of us. It was already late but we still wanted to make it to the last cable cart to Chamonix. We didn’t make it though. On the way down, which should have been an easy walk we stumbled upon a wall of snow that was blocking the path. But no worries, on the right of the path we found a belay point where we could rappel down to a ledge from where we could go down to the cable cart. At least that was the plan. Once on the ledge, we discovered that is was impossible to go down through a field of snow without crampons. When we discovered it was impossible to go down through the snow, we already pulled down the rope, so returning wasn’t an option either. We started to look around for an alternative route to go down. At first we couldn’t find a way down, but then it happened. I saw a small piece of paper. I picked it up, and saw it was a page from the guidebook of the wall we were on. Was this luck or was there something up above guarding us? Who knows. Anyway, we found a rappel route and got down just before it went all dark. Luckily for us, we brought our tent, so we camped near the lift. The next morning we took the first bin and went down. This first climb was already a great adventure, although the real adventure still had to come.

When we arrived back in Chamonix, we went to the tourist-office to check the weather forecast. We decided to take the cable car of the Aiguille du Midi. We went to buy the food we would need to stay up for 2 days and we left with the last cart. Once up at the station, we prepared to get on the glacier and pitch our tent between two or three other tents. There we ate something and went to bed. We had to get up very early to leave on our climb. We wanted to climb the Aiguille d’Entrèves. A route which is AD- according to Camptocamp but back then I thought it was PD. This was going to be my first alpine climb.  I was very excited. The next morning was painfully early. We left as the sun touched the horizon for the first part of the climb, a seven kilometre walk to the start of the route. It didn’t took long before I realised that I hadn’t eaten enough. When we arrived at the start of the route, I felt pretty empty inside. I ate some candy bars which gave me energy to go on. We started the climb, it was easy terrain to climb and I really enjoyed it. The view was amazing but when we were half way, the weather changed. It became very clouded and it started to snow. The wind started to pick up, A snowstorm was coming. And yes, a few minutes later the weather was terrible, but because we passed the point of no return, we pushed forward. After this climb we still had to walk back. The trail was snowed in and we couldn’t see the crevasses. At that point we realised why a good preparation is mandatory, which we hadn’t at that point. We pushed on and when we descended more, the visibility became better and we could see the trails again. On the way back I was completely out of energy. I tried to go on and pushed as hard as I could. I fell a few times, but Bart helped me to push on. After a serious struggle to get my empty body back to the location where we left our tent, I fell down in the hole where we put our tent last night. There we decided to put up the tent again because of my empty body and upcoming bad weather.

Daan on the Col du Midi

On our way to the Aigulle d' Entrèves, the third mountain from the left.

On the ridge

Beautiful climbing on the ridge, just before the weather turned foul.

Daan climbing the ridge in less than ideal conditions.

When we got in our tent, a snowstorm blew over. We had to stay in the tent for the next sixteen hours. These where some scary hours. The wind was blowing down on our tent which was only anchored with our two piolets and two ski poles. After these hours, we decided to go to the lift. The last push to the finish line. It was still much further than anticipated. Then we arrived at the last ridge to the Midi lift. On this last ridge, I almost fell down because my crampons where stuck in my pants (classic). Luckily I could plant my piolet in the snow, which saved me. When we arrived at the lift station, I was very relieved. Here there were the usual Asian tourists who were taking pictures of every mountaineer they could get an eye on. After some waiting, we finally could go down. The first thing we did, was going to the ‘Midnight’. A place with delicious hamburgers. After that we went for a drink and then to the camping where we relaxed after our adventure. That day we also met an Australian guy who was also named Daan, who was completely amazed by the fact that he met another person with the same name.

The next day we wanted to climb a multi-pitch route somewhere further down the valley, but on our way up, we realised we forgot our water. So we returned to get some water but by the time we got back, we were to tired (read lazy) to go back up, Also the weather was changing and it was already getting to late. So we went bouldering for a while, which we grew tired of pretty fast, although it was fun in the beginning.

The next day was my last day in Chamonix, but we couldn’t do a lot because of bad weather, so it became a last lazy day. The next morning I left Bart in Chamonix and drove home on a boring ten hour drive. It was a great week where  I learned a lot and did awesome things, I hope I can repeat this, next summer but then with better weather.