Steve Kelly tests out Black Diamond’s Mondo crash pad
I got married 13 years ago. Now you are probably thinking – judging by the title of this article – that I’ve got it wrong. This is meant to be a review of a bouldering pad, not a relationship, but bear with me. It is relevant.
Back on that dark day, having signed the papers that effectively eliminated the role of ‘top-rated spotter’ and establishing instead ‘top-rated wife’, my dearest friends (aka road trippers) were in the nearest pub. I had presumed they would be toasting the loss of yet another car-pooler. However, this wasn’t the case, for they had already met somebody else.
A certain gentleman was sitting at one of the tables nearby. His appearance suggested African descent although this excluded his arms, as these were plainly born on another planet. One by the name of Gold’s Gym.
Local legend had it that a man of the exact same proportions had the undisputed ‘biggest biceps in the world’, and he was recognisable for the tattoo of his nickname – ‘The Motherload’ – emblazoned across one of them. Taking this into account, one of the more outspoken lads goaded another to enquire of this gentleman if indeed he was ‘The Motherload’ of legend. Thus, armed with only a pint glass full of Old Admiral Stout (though he was by then several pints down), our man Dave approached him and asked, “Are you ‘The Motherload?”
The events that followed are outside the scope of this review, but all you need to know is this: if you could convert a bouldering mat into a pair of biceps, Black Diamond’s Mondo crash pad would indeed be The Motherload.
The evolution of the crash pad makes for some interesting reading. If you delve deeply enough you will find that modern-day crash pad genetics have been altered in much the same way as the genetics of a Third World community once a couple of fast food outlets are introduced into the main street. Yep, they have gotten fatter.
Certainly compared to what John Gill, the forefather of American bouldering, used during his 1961 ascent of The Thimble, pads have become positively obese. Back then you had a mere two centimetres of carpet between you and the ground. Equally so when the likes of Michel Libert opened Fontainebleau’s first 7a (V6) in 1960, the closest bit of closed-cell foam padding was likely to be found in the bedrooms of the nearby Palace of Fontainebleau, not beneath his feet.
The ongoing love affair with falling off boulder problems and hitting the bare ground (or in some cases, a small square of woven carpet) went on well into the 1990s. Then one day circa 1993 someone woke up and went off for a spot of bouldering, only this time they took their bed with them. Visionary.
Today we have a vast array of bouldering pads on the market, which isn’t surprising given how this peculiar pastime has become accepted amongst the climbing community. They have even been categorised, namely mini pads, standard pads or highball pads. The major difference between these comes down to size and weight – coincidentally two particulars that you should always consider when walking up to a complete stranger and asking them stupid questions.
In the highball category alone there is a wealth of pads to choose from, all with their own pet names that either tells it like it is, or leave you pondering upon the influences of the related marketing department.
Metolius obviously didn’t beat about the bush and early on in the piece offered us ‘The Fat Bastard’. The Fat Bastard gradually put on more weight and was substituted a number of times, most recently with The Magnum (one can only guess that the designer took the original naming convention personally). Also in the fray are the likes of Moon’s Saturn pad (8kg) and Organic’s Big Pad (9kg). Then there’s the Mondo, weighing in at 9.5kg.
This sort of weight category is strictly for BIG pads only (most other pads are below the 6kg mark). However, there is a reason for this. With the Mondo you are dealing with 12.5cm (five inches) of glorious padded thickness spread over a staggering 12 square feet of landing zone. Unlike the man who provided our friend Dave with the answer to his query, this pad is quite clearly The Motherload.
Now foam depth is one thing, foam make-up is another, kind of like comparing muscle size to muscle strength. Just because it looks tough doesn’t mean to say it’s going to go the distance (presumably Dave knew this when he approached Mr 20+ inch bicep man that fine afternoon in Sydney). Most pads have a layer of closed-cell (high-density) foam and a lot more open-cell (softer) foam beneath it. The Black Diamond Mondo retains one inch of closed cell on top, one inch at the base and three inches of high-density open-cell stacked into the middle. It’s as tough as you can get. This means that if you are expecting a landing not unlike the feeling experienced when stage diving onto your beloved bed at the end of a long night, think again. This thing will fight back. It ‘aint no sofa.
This begs the question, is it too hard? Well, not exactly. It is a highball pad after all, not one customised for sliding beneath four-foot arse-dragging lowballs. If you’re the sort of climber that never leaves the depths of Hollow Mountain Cave, Loopey’s traverses or the Campground’s butt-draggers you may as well take a note out of Mr Gill’s book and stick with a piece of carpet. If, on the other hand, you visit Andersens quite a lot, enjoy New Zealand’s Castle Hill, or are a lover of ‘the summit experience’ the world over, this pad might well be what you need.
Handling something this big obviously requires smart design. If this was a taco-styled pad (one where the foam folds rather than having a centreline hinged break) you would have problems. Getting through your front door would be one of them. Black Diamond has solved this with a flat-hinged system that neatly divides the pad in two. What this means for you is that you can fit it onto the back seat of most cars (even a two-door Ford Festiva), drape it over annoyingly immobile boulders, or double it over to create a staggering 25 centimetre-deep trampoline (perfect for brushing hard to reach crux holds, although maybe not in Legoland). It also turns into a handy back rest for lazing about after sending your latest eight-metre monolith.
As with anything of considerable size there are a few problems. Pad Frisbee (a universally accepted form of boulderer navigation in highly vegetated wilderness areas) may prove troublesome. It may be better though than leaving the product in question on your back and simulating a rampaging buffalo through the thick undergrowth. Still, you won’t need to, as there are two in-built handles and a ‘luggage strap’ that easily turn what your dearly beloved thinks is a new form of kite surfing mechanism into something that looks more like an overgrown briefcase.
If the briefcase-style carry-on luggage look isn’t your thing then fret ye not. The harness and waist-belt attached to this rig (with stainless steel buckles) ensure that your back muscles and overall core remain unharmed, that is until you spend 15 shots on your chosen V11 horizontal roof problem. By that stage your Mondo will have most likely turned into a bed anyway, which by the way it’s perfect for, although you might want a pillow.
Some people have commented that the size of this pad is too much to bear on walk-ins. I’ve had a Franklin Drop Zone for nearly ten years now and on paper it’s half the weight (4.5kg), however, it feels heavier because of its taco-style design. Somehow the extra bulk involved with the flat hinged Mondo doesn’t translate, meaning the 9.5kg’s doesn’t feel like 9.5kg at all. If you’re used to hiking with a pack into remote areas then it will feel even less. I know 5’1” people who love it, although taking photos of them from behind whilst they are wearing one is a funny sight indeed.
Backing the exterior amenities up are four sewn-in external corner handles which allow for instant mobility beneath a problem. This is great for spotters who know how to spot, but may leave others somewhat perplexed. If in doubt, ensure that you explain such intricacies to the person offering to keep you off the ground prior to you leaving it. On the other hand, if you want the pad to stay in one place then the Mondo has an anti-slide base that’s also waterproof. This is perfect for those annoying inclined rock slabs under many problems whereupon most pads slide down and end up immersed in puddles.
So there you have it, Black Diamond’s Mondo Crash Pad. You can call it The Motherload if you like, for in the world of highball bouldering pads this thing is made out of pure muscle. Just don’t call it a ‘fat bastard’.