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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Friday, December 31, 2010

Climbing packs?

Ken Glover's photo from the Canadian classic, Deltaform.

Colin Haley said it well, "it's 2000 year old technology...amazing how pack manufactures can still screw it up".

That was just before him showing his audience for the evening  two really basic alpine climbing packs that were prototypes he was using and happy with from one of his sponsors, Patagonia.

Those same packs that could just as easily be copies of the original Wild Things or later CCW packs. Or the Karrimore Brown, Whillians or Haston sacs bitd. See a theme there?

"Colin Haley photo of Bjørn-Eivind Årtun unroped  on the Cassin, June 2010."

It doesn't take a large pack to alpine climb in.  Most have figured it out that somewhere between 18L and 35L is about all they want to climb seriously in anyway.

Nothing has really changed.  Some are going bigger today and most are climbing faster and lighter because of the new technology.

John Bouchard..who had more imagination and an idea of where we would be going that almost anyone else in NA at the time.

In 1981 John Bouchard and Marie Meunier started Wild Things. New to most Americans, the "light is right" idea was already well entrenched by those climbing hard things in the Alpine. Guys like Bouchard pretty much had the idea written in stone for themselves. Generally back then everyone sewed their own stuff (swamis, packs and clothing) to some extent. Wild Things was one of the first to sew up stuff guys were trying to make on their own.

It was a big deal in 1981.

Not that well known but Wild Things supported and influenced and entire generation of serious alpine climbers, Bill Belcourt (now at Black Dianmond), Randy Radcliff (now at Cold Cold World) and Mark Twight (where is he these days?) all got started in the retail/whole sale business to some extent and stayed a while at Wild Things. It was the "tin shed" of alpine climbing on the East Coast (most of NA actually) with Bouchard instead of Chouinard at the helm and a good step higher in technical alpine climbing.  Bouchard  maybe with even more impact on what we do and see today in gear than Chouinard has. Micheal Kennedy, Mark Richey, Mugs Stump were all big Wild Things gear fans. Most were.

Mugs Stump had that same imagination pushed the idea even further by his own climbs.

Wild Things gear was a natural progression of what Lowe Alpine Systems, Don Jensen and Sacs Millet started before them.

You either got it or you didn't, then and now. The gear was exceptional for a certain use. If you weren't using it for that, it likely sucked for your use. Many of those original designs were the first look at very specialised climbing and packs.

Pays to remember that Mugs and Paul went over the 'shrund on Moon Flower with one Wild Things Andinista. It was in part their climbing sac, haul bag, bivy sac and hammock. Today guys do it in day packs. But they wouldn't be able to do that today if a few weren't always pushing the limits on gear and technique before them.

And several generations later.  And here is a Cold Cold World pack..still sewn one at a time by Randy Rackliff. You are looking at 40+ years of experience and technology here.

Few designers have so much experience in the use and application of their own designs.  Chouinard, Todd Bibler, John Bouchard, Don Jensen come to mind.  My point is there aren't many in the same category.  None making climbing packs.  When cutting edge practioniers are directly involved in design and manufacture it makes a difference.

Rackliff's alpine climbing resume is worth a look.   Finding out what he has done is a little harder.  Among his climbs are early solo ascents of Slipstream and Polar Circus, a complete ascent of Moonflower Buttress, and the obvious and unrepeated Reality Bath.

A video and more here:

When I wanted to replace my small (30L) climbing pack I looked around, bought a few production packs and one "custom".   One of the production packs I have kept but the others I returned in short order including the spiffy "custom".  Obvious the makers had no idea what the intended use was to be for a "climbing sac".

A little heavy and too expensive, but one I kept and really like, but now use only as a ski pack, the Arcteryx Khazi 35.

Back to Colin Haley's original comment, ""it's 2000 year old technology...amazing how pack manufactures can still screw it up".

For most every climb I have done that didn't require a sleeping bag I've used a pretty basic but actually very complicated pack.


So when I went to replace that pack it quickly became obvious I'd want someone building them that was of a like mind set.  The pack I was looking for wasn't full of flash, hype or excuses just the basics done extremely well.

Custom red Ozones in *2009*

I like the option of a removable lid as I seldom use one climbing.

Custom Ozone made from White Widow Spectra Ripstop.

Turns out Randy Rackliff at CCW was already making what I wanted and was willing to make it even better for my own needs with little extra cost.  Although I suspect it was more labor than I imagined, he has been more than happy to oblige when I ask.   No excuses, no argument, just helpful suggestions and a quick delivery time.   With one more even smaller climbing pack in the works now at CCW, my long term climbing pack requirements are covered.

Specs off the Spectra Ripstop Ozone:
Cost $130.
Pack weighs in at less than 1.5 #. Material is Spectra ripstop. Shoulder harness is off a full size CCW pack for the extra padding required on heavier loads. Some where above a 35L in my 21" back size.

custom sizing
custom pattern originally based on the Ozone size
2 liter+ top pocket
2nd zippered pocket in lid with key holder
Zippers reversed for use on hanging belays
pull down shoulder straps
main bag guide book zippered pocket
covered lid buckle
removable foam pad
oversize shoulder straps
Perlon haul loop
dbl strap patches on lid
dbl rope straps
dbl bottom
10" extension
lid is extendable or removable
bar tacked daisy chain on the bottom of the lid strap

Another project from CCW that I am pleased with is a big sack.  Something I don't use often these days but when required a big sack needs every bit of the attention to details as a smaller more sophisticated climbing sac does.

No surprise I suspect that I base my needs on the  Wild Things' original Andinista.  I used one a lot over the years both guiding and my own trips to the greater ranges.

Wild Things took the large pack idea way beyond anyone before them.  The Andinista was a pack you could lug huge loads of gear to base camp with, then zip it down and strip the lid and use it as a summit pack.  Wild Things and CCW were also the some of first to use Dyneema® in pack production.  More than one pack sewn at CCW that went out with a big name manufactures label sewn on for the brand name, sponsored climber.  Saying it, doesn't make it a reality.

From the Wild Things web page:

I went looking for a new larger volume climbing sack. Of course anything I wanted would have to be sewed up to my size and a special order. I have lots of packs but the only company I own several of and continue to use every where, is the CCW stuff.

Built mainly from a black "spider web" Spectra rip stop, Choas in size, leashless tool attach and crampon bag included.

Worth noting CCW retails (and still amazing to me) are less for a totally custom pack than others are for a production pack.

Totally custom pack to my specs, with select materials, harness and accessories with the Chaos' volume. $245 and $10 shipping from the East coast to Issaqauh WA. And amazingly, a week after the order was placed it was shipped out to me. Freak'in stellar customer service!

Not the best know fact...but certainly no surprise if you know their back grounds, Twight, Belcourt, House and dozens of others have used "COLD COLD WORLD" packs off and on for years.

The one shown is a size Large with a 19.5 back.

Postal scale says 2# 4oz stripped (lid and foam off)
Tri folded 9mm Foam 3 or 4 oz (3/4 size and 22"x37")
mongo size lid another 8 oz

Just under 3# all added up and 4000+ cu in. for a size large. Extension is at least another 1500ci. 4000 in³ = 65.5482 L

Big enough to be used as a half bag if required and strong enough to stand in while hanging on the haul loops. Material is 500 denier nylon with a Spectra carbon fiber ripstop reinforcement woven into the fabric. The pack could be made lighter using lighter weight materials and triple the cost. I was looking for something lwt weight, would look good in photos and tough enough to last a decade or so, all without dropping a gazzillion $.

CCW's even sewn up a few "white" ones you've seen in the Patagonia catalog that another company just loves to take credit for :-)  Imagine their customer service with that as a base line.

If you are looking for something really special for your own climbing you should make the effort to discuss your project with Randy @ CCW 603 383 9021

FWIW I have happily paid full retail (which is generally way less than anyone's normal  retail )  for every CCW I own.  This blog post is about as good as a personal endorsement as I'll ever give a piece of kit or a manufacture.  No one even in the same ball game as CCW for design and customer service building climbing packs these days.  When you are that good no incentive to brag about it.


Anonymous said...

I gotta agree with you. I ordered one for myself last spring after seeing the article on your blog (didn't know such a manufacturer exists, beforehand). Rock solid, both on the manufacturing side as well as service. Next time I need a new climbing bag, I see no reason to look anywhere else.

Now, I just wish there were someone making clothing with the same quality and attention to detail.

Dane said...

I have been am working with a local company making climbing specific clothing for a couple of months now. I am hoping for big things in the near future. Once satisfied I'll write them up here.


Djupnes said...

You haven't ever mentioned Westcomb, just curious as to why? I haven't tried the clothing myself but ordered some jackets, should have them in a week or so.
I mean small company, made in canada, simple and functional quality.
Seems to fit the bill for alot of climbers needs.
Plus you can actually call them and discuss fit and function with their designers before buying.
Just wondering what you think about them as they're virtually operating in your backyard.

Jim Couch said...

"Mark Twight (where is he these days?)"


And here:

Nice article BTW. Still climbing with my Andinista and Ice Sac. (Second one of each!)

Jim Couch

Anonymous said...

I have the Chaos, love them for cragging but haven't used it for alpine stuff that requires big loads yet. I'm wondering how it'll carry weight with the soft suspension system. Have you put your Chaos pack into something more substantial. To be honest, most modern packs will do the job on one or two day dash. For the rest of us mortals, we do have to carry a little more stuff.

Dane said...

Trust me, I am mortal! Chaos size pack is all I can (care to ) carry, even on my best days. And no way I could actually climb anything in one that was full.

I have a long post on "light is right" that I am about to publish.

Take a look there on ideas on how to lighten up and get everything into a smaller pack.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dane! I am curious about leashless tool on picture with CCW pack(black one with white "webbing")
It looks like BD Viper(first gen.)but its grip rest looks like custom one. I am wondering if You know something about that and if so- will You share your info?I have a pair of these tools and I'm thinking how to make them ready for leashless climbing.So far drilling and mounting small steel line loop seems like only option.

Best Regards.

Dane said...

Tools are Randy Radcliff's @ CCW. I have never seen a conversion for the older Cobras/Vipers that I would recommend or suggest. IMO better to just buy new tools designed specifically for leashless.

Phili pWerner said...

I've owned a CCW Choas for the past 4 or 5 years and have yet to find any other backpack that even comes close to it's utility, durability, and functional benefits. It amazes me that it doesn't have a frame. Friggin awesome. And I review backpacks for a living. It's my specialty.

FOM said...

I have two - a chaos that is mostly stock with a few changes and a very custom valdez. That was a tough choice (Ozone vs Valdez) ... Randy is the best and I send people to him when I can.