Tinkering with the Guillotine

Posted on: December 3, 2010

Matt Maddaloni on University Wall (IV 5.12 900'), Squamish. Maddaloni used one of Squamish's detached flakes as testing grounds for the Anticam, a new type of climbing hardware of his own invention. [Photo] Paul Cordy

Two-thousand pounds of nearly detached rock—tapering from a meaty 18 inches down to a guillotine-like edge—dangle above Matt Maddaloni. As much as he wants to send the route, his instincts implore him to flee. Perhaps there's a good reason the Guillotine Flake has never been climbed.

Maddaloni is 600 feet off the deck on the most classic pitch of the most classic climb on the most impressive wall at one of the best places to climb in the world. The Split Pillar section of The Grand Wall (III 5.11 A0, 1,000') on Squamish's The Chief. This 5.10b splitter streaks up flawless granite, progressing from wide fingers to rattly fists. Looming above Maddaloni, at the top of the pitch, is the beautiful—and horrifying—Guillotine Flake. He weighs his options. There are only a few. He could try to protect it with natural pro, but the couple of cams he tried placing failed under less than body weight. Big bros or larger cams would do the same or worse—pry the 2,000-pound block off the wall. He could make the traverse without placing pro, risking a 70-foot whipper into the wall. He could protect the traverse with bolts... no way. Or he could take a more outlandish approach: create an entirely new piece of protection that would allow him to safely lead the pitch.


For more than 15 years, Maddaloni has called Squamish home. He's put up numerous long free and aid routes on Zodiac and the Grand Wall, including The Black Dyke (V 5.13b, 12 pitches) and Cro-Magnon Man (V 5.9 A4). From 2000 to 2007, he climbed professionally, establishing routes from Pakistan to Thailand and from Baffin Island to the Waddington Range. His appetite for climbing was insatiable.

After years of whippers, jet lag and cramping feet Maddaloni felt like his climbing potential had peaked. He felt burned out. So he moved on to other things. He entertained an infatuation with kiteboarding and found love on the river with whitewater kayaking. But each time, those passions faded.

In 2001 Maddaloni came across the unclimbed Guillotine Flake while taking a lap on The Grand Wall and was immediately intrigued. But how would he protect the loose and dangerous flake with natural gear? The piece would need to be strong, withstanding a minimum force of 10 kN; highly expandable to fit a wide range of features; light and compact enough to hang on a harness or place with one hand. But that style of pro didn't exist. He would have to make it himself.

The Guillotine Flake, Grand Wall, Squamish. Maddaloni made the first ascent of this single-pitch, expanding flake using a new piece of pro called the Anticam. [Photo] Matt Maddaloni

Maddaloni's imagined solution was a C-shaped clamp. Unlike a friend or tricam that expands during a fall, the clamp would pinch the rock. He began designing the parts on his computer using a mechanical engineering program. He drew each part, connected them together and moved them around with his mouse to get an idea of how the pro would work. He virtually tested each prototype using a digital process that showed Maddaloni where the strongest and weakest points on the device would be.

"The first prototype was pretty crude but in theory it worked," Maddaloni said.

The "Anticam" prototype resembled an open mouth with twin jaws of aluminum and cam lobes for fangs. At the back of the mouth a stabilizer bar held the jaws in place. Pulling on a thin piece of nylon cord caused the jaws to bite. To place the Anticam, Maddaloni had to unscrew a bolt, widen the device to the appropriate width and bolt it back together. It took two hands to set; one hand holding it in place while the other pulled back the cord that engaged the lobes.

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