Pageviews past week

The cold world of alpine climbing.

The cold world of alpine climbing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Proof of Life?


The man in the mirror, Jan 2012


A year ago to date I had my chest port removed after chemo.  I had taken all my nutrition and hydration though that port for months as well as the poison that cured my cancer, the medicine to keep me alive and the pain killers to stay that way when I wondered if I would.

Mark's 02 comments mean something to me personally.  More than the obvious stir of the pot in mountaineering.   And thankfully not  what they mean to you in all likelihood.  I made the journey to attempt an 8000m peak, once.  From that experience I decided not to support that economy or life style...over 30 years ago now.  I was appalled that simply clean water and soap could have gone a long ways in easing the suffering I saw.

My thought then was. "things will change here once these people get  a hand on a AK47".....and rightfully so.

Rarely have I regretted the decision to stay away.  But I have regretted it at times.

Last year I rushed to the outdoors, a place of refuge for me, literally hours after being untethered from, literally,  life support.   I appreciate a lot of things differently now.

A year later, to the day I realise now, I  was on what to me could have easily of been a "make a wish"  day trip.  Almost surreal.

I was back country skiing with two guys that many, myself included, would have been happy to pay for their time just to be a fly on the wall.  Dream trip from "Make a Wish" if you are into that sort of thing.  I just wanted to go skiing, but the moment and situation didn't escape me.  I was just too busy with MY life to really appreciate it.

I had dinner the night before with an old friend who by any measure has nothing to be insecure about. But he shared with me that his entire career was/is based on insecurity.  He simply wanted to be liked by and impress his peers.  He just never realized that, he had, and no one cared.

Climbing at any level means nothing.  It isn't the climb or the difficulty or what you learned while you were there.  It is who you are now, today, and what you offer the greater human community, your family or your friends.

It costs you nothing to show that you appreciate your family and friends, offer a word of support to a co-worker or the homeless guy on the street.  Or that your buddy's last climb did in fact impress you.  I might be jaded and hard to impress but I do find the words come easier and with more meaning if I practice being a more supportive person.  "Fake it, till ya make it",  may not be a bad motto for us A type personalities.

MITM's partner, Jan 2013 

Only guy you need to impress is the man in the mirror.  He is the only one that came in with you and he is the only one that will leave with you.  Doesn't hurt to kick his ass once in a while and remind him of the fact.
 
   

Monday, January 28, 2013

Olov Isaksson's trip report


I have a few blogs I follow.  Everyone of them from guys climbing much harder than I ever have.  Some I've met,  some I will yet, hopefully.   Either way I stole the picture and wanted to add the link to some great climbing in my own haunts.   Nice trip guys and some great sends!  Nice Nomic hammers as
well ;-)

photo courtesy of olov isaksson's web site




Day 1 - The Replicant
"We wanted to warm up by climbing the Professor falls but before we knew it we were breaking trail up to the Trophy wall. With no rock gear the only feasible route seemed to be the Replicant" 



http://olovisaksson.blogspot.com/2013/01/canada-ice-trip-part-1.html

http://olovisaksson.blogspot.com/2013/01/canada-ice-trip-part-2.html

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pants? A quick drive by......



Jens in the stellar mixed chimney of Blue Moon, Mtn. Snoqualmie


It was pointed out to me this morning that I don't do much on pants here on the blog but a lot of writing on the top layers.  Fair enough.



More importantly I don't put a lot of thought into pant these days.  And I should.  I really should.

Everyone seems to worry about the heat loss from your neck and head.  Few worry about the heat loss from your legs.  Myself included.  Much warmth to be had by a thoughtful pant choice.  Obviously this subject needs some details filled in and the thought process behind them laid out.  For now it is just a drive by of the pants I do like and use.  More later.

I own one pair of Gortex hard shell bibs these days.  Haven't used them in years.  Still own them mind you, just haven't used them. And they are really nice Arcteryx Goretex bibs.

The basic rack climbing and skiing?  It is all soft shell but one.

Arcteryx Gamma LT, AR, SV, MX
Gamma LT is my most used pant, by a fair margin, winter and summer, climbing and skiing.  The LT is the only one of the bunch I have actually worn out and then replaced.

NWAlpine Salopettes
My idea to get Bill making these.  Used something similar back to the '70s.
I have them in the standard fabric NWA offers which is somewhere between the LT and the AR material but not as good as either.  Two more pair in different weights of insulated Neoshell.
Great bib pattern, stock fabrics and workmanship could be better.  Price point helps you ignore the flaws.
Worn out one pair of the original bibs.
Don't own the pant


Patagonia
Great fabrics.  Weird and over complicated design work.
North Wall pants......Polartec Power Stretch Pro?  Best material made for cold weather pants to date imo.  Still not thrilled with the design work.
Mixed Guide Pant.  Love the fit.  Close as I come to a hard shell that I actually use.  Wish they were more soft shell and less hard shell.  Others who know a lot more than me really like the combo of hard shell soft shell.  Vents that work.
Alpine Guide Pant...nice pant, nice fabric.
Weird as it might sound I bought  all the Patagonia pants because they fit me in the waist extremely well.  Cuffs on all of them are FUBAR though. in comparison to the other pants I use more.  Annoying that.



Dynafit
Easy to poke fun at lycra.  I really like the lycra based Dynafit Movement pant.  Even the white ones.   Lycra has its place in the mtns.   I own two pair of these and would use them everywhere they were warm enough or I could more fast enough.  If only they were easier to replace.  Thoughtful combination of pockets and lycra with wind blocks and a built in gaiter that really works.  Now I generally save them for fast ski days or sunshine.  Wish I didn't have to save them.  For the right weather and given the right fitness level by far my most favorite pant in the mountains.

Take a look through the photos here on the blog.  Most of these pants are well represented.
Base layers to go under them?  That is another story waiting to be told.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Scarpa Phantom Ultra vs La Sportiva Batura, Jan 2013 2012




The April 26, 2010 previous review of the same boots is by far the most well read post on Cold Thistle.  More than twice the number of reads there than any other blog post I have made to date.  You can review it here:

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2010/04/scarpa-phantom-guide-vs-la-sportiva.html



There are a number of updates on the Batura 2.0 here at the blog.  One is listed here:

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2012/04/la-sportiva-batura-20.html


In this review I want to update that info for what is currently available for these boots, although not easily in the case of the Ultra.

The boots for this side by side review were a long time coming for me.  And important enough for my own knowledge that I paid for both at retail...although both were on sale at a decent discount.

Here is a list of weights for one boot, size 45 on my digital postal scale

La Sportiva Batura  TWO -0-  GTX                2# 2oz / 970g

Scarpa Phantom Ultra new 2010 model          2# 4oz / 1020g

La Sportiva Batura 1st gen.                             2# 7oz / 1106g

Mammut Nordwand TL                                  2 # 7 oz / 1105g

*Scarpa Omega, with factory Intuition liner   2# 7.5 oz / 1120g

Scarpa Phantom Guide new 2010 model       2# 7.5oz / 1120g

*Scarpa Phantom 6000 with Baruntse liner   2# 8oz / 1134g

La Sportiva Batura 2nd gen.                          2# 9oz / 1170g

I was excited about the 2.0  and wanted so desperately to make the first comparisons in my actual 45 size.

...One boot in a size 45...and a smaller more appropriate comparison

La Sportiva Batura 2.0 GTX              2# 2oz / 970g

Scarpa Phantom Ultra                        2# 4oz / 1020g

Scarpa Phantom Guide                      2# 7.5oz / 1120g

*Phantom 6000  w/ Baruntse liner    2# 8oz / 1134g

Before I go farther into the boots and a comparison I'd like to offer some observations.   In the last 10 years I have climbed in just about every pair of technical ice boots made and easily available in North America and some that aren't.  Generally of that selection, some times a couple of pairs and in differing sizes (1/2 and full size differences) of each boot.  What I have gained from that experience  and my on going efforts is that most boots don't fit me very well.  Not that I have a strange foot.   I don't think I do by the feed back I get on the bog.  If I do so do a lot of others.   US 11.5 or a 12, or  Euro 45 generally fits me almost perfectly for length.   I like a lot of heel hold down and have a fairly narrow heel.  That use to be a problem but seems everyone has solved heel hold down for the most part.  Cutting off the circulation in your foot when laced securely may be not yet though!

So I don't generally get the best fitting boots.  And I'd bet most others don't either!  I made a similar statement here a few years ago about crampons.  "Most crampons don't fit very well."  And at first people scoffed at the idea.  Now poorly fitting crampons and taking the extra effort to fit them correctly is generally common knowledge  and a  given in our community.

So what is a correctly fitted mtn boot?  This one is easy.  A boot that fits will be comfortable out of the box.  Not a few weeks in when your feet and ankles have adjusted to the boot with minor complaints.

Here is an example of what I mean.  For several season I climbed in the 1st gen Batura.  Good boots that allowed me to do some hard climbing more easily.  But they had always been hell on my feet.  The longer the walk the worse it was.  But they climbed well because of the rigid sole.  And they walked easily with the soft ankles.  The first year the Phantom Guide came out I bought one of the first pair available.  I did two back to back week long trips straight away with them.  Great boots.  But I was  surprised at the soft shank and mid sole they offered for ice climbing.  I like a rigid sole (or did then)
on my technical ice boots.  The new Batura was almost rigid.  The Guide was almost flexible.  But the Guide was a good bit more comfortable for me.  I'll get into why in a minute..bare with me.  Guide was just as warm and climbed steep ice every bit as well... and imo just a tiny bit better than the early Baturas.

At least my feet were more comfortable and warm in the Guide.

On another Canadian climbing trip I picked up a pair of Phantom Ultras from a buddy that brought them in from the UK for me.  As I handed over the cash I was having terrible buyer's remorse.  The Phantom was "good enough".  I doubted the Ultra would be worth the effort let alone the extra cash.

The Ultra and the Guide are a very similar boot in the places that is counts.  But also very different.  More than the 3.5oz  difference in weight per boot would ever indicate.

But I lost all reservation on that purchase when after a day of climbing I was siting on the stairs of the guest house, I slipped my foot into the Ultra.  There was no question the Ultra fit my foot much, much better.   Didn't even need to lace it up to know that.  Once laced the initial impression was only highlighted.  A comfortable fit!  If someone had told me there would have been that big of difference between two so similar Phantom Series boots I would have said, " BS".

But trust me...there really was a noticeable difference in fit between the two like Scarpa boot models.

My point here is there are may boots available in the market place the will meet your personal climbing requirements.  It is worth making the extra effort to find one that really does fit you.  Not just a boot you can use and eventually get used to as they eat your feet and ankles alive.

OK then,  with that done lets take a look at the Batura and Ultra again.

The now "old" Ultra and the "NEW" Batura.

The Batura is now the lightest ice boot on the market until the Scarpa Rebel Ultra shows up here in NA.  No question the Batura 2.0 is going to be warmer than the Rebel.  But it isn't going to be a lot warmer than the Guide or Ultra.   If the two layers of Goretex they used on the Batura 2.0 will keep the boots drier, then they may yet be warmer in comparison.  But the real issue is how are is either boot to dry once wet.  Answer to that is it is really tough.  Like take them home and wait till next week tough.

Of the three, Guide, Batura and Ultra,  the Ultra has been the one to stay dry the longest and dry the quickest once wet.

Bonus on the stiffer mid sole and less flex of the new honeycomb carbon fiber mid sole on the Batura.
Harder to walk in but easier to climb ice with I think.  But I really like a rigid sole for ice.   My shoe size makes that even more a preference.  The smaller/shorter the boot sole the more rigid a sole will be.  The longer the sole the softer the boot will be everything else being equal.  The one thing I want in an ice boot............is a rigid sole.

The Ultra is just stiff enough to climb hard ice in, imo.  Adding a rigid crampon helps its climbing performance.  But the softer mid sole also makes them much easier to walk in.

Fit?  Fit is so personal.  I get a great  fit in the Phantom Ultra.  And because it is only lightly insulated it breathes better on my feet than the Guide or the previous Batura.  I haven't used the new Batura 2.0 enough yet to tell you how well the 2 layers of Goretex will work.   But it is Goretex and once dirty it obviously isn't going to work as well.

The new Batura 2.0 has a sewn in and gusseted tongue.  It is an improvement imo and more comfortable with less bulk.  I am less thrilled with the lacing system.  It is neither simple or pretty.
Although eventually I got a decent fit by skipping the lock lace feature.


Scarpa?  Simple, succinct design work.  And a perfect fit on my skinny ankles.


I like how the Phantom Series of boots laces better than any generation of the Batura.  I finally figured out the only way I could use the new Batura 2.0 was to skip the ankle lock lace all together.  Now they work pretty well for me.  YMMV.  As I said fit is such a personal issue.  You have some good options on fit between La Sportiva which seem to run narrow for most  and Scarpa which seem to run a little wider for most.  Although I don't always agree with that "public knowledge".

Phantom Ultra on the left and the Batura 2.0 on the right.

Gaiter?  Back in the '70s we were cutting up Super gaiters and adding zippers and Velcro closures.  That system never failed in years of hard use.  La Sportiva got a clue and ditched the exposed zipper idea after  lots of failures.  Scarpa's zipper has a better reputation but I have no doubt, from experience,  that the Velcro and zipper combo is a much better way to solve that problem.



Weight?  I am now well under 1000g per boot and a rigid sole for my own ice climbing with the Batura 2.0 .

No more needs to be said does it?

Still, fit really is everything.  Find the boot that fits you!  I want the Ultras fit and added ankle support sewn on to the Batura's rigid carbon honey comb sole and new spiffy gaiter attached then sealed up with Velcro.  Or may be the 2.0 will mold a bit to my feet yet:)



Patagonia Piton Hoody?

A Euro like conversion in the Cascades for winter use?  TLT Ski boots with crampons,  Dynafit ski-mo lycra tights and a bright '80s retro colored Patagonia  Piton Hoody.  The perfect combo for that day!


I've likely had more info requests about this sweater than any one piece of clothing recently.  As a reference this one will likely become just as popular at the Atom Lt imo.  It is that good.  Mind you I originally thought the Patagonia video was purely hype by paid actors.  It is not.  May be I shouldn't always be so cynical.  These guys are not kidding you in the video.  The Piton is everything they are saying it is..



I really like and almost always use the R1 Hoody.  Have since the first versions.  Part of me really accepting a garment is finding a place in my system of winter clothing where the garment easily fits in.  The Piton is so versatile it immediately fit in.  The Piton sat on my gear table in a bag for a few weeks before me actually trying it out.  Once I did it has now gone every where with me much to my surprise.  I wasn't expecting much to be honest.   The Piton will work well as a base layer.  It will work well as a moderate weather "shell" or a piece of insulation under a shell in colder conditions.  I have used it as all three at different times already.  And I really like this garment.   No problem taking this one out 12 months of the year. 

Only down side I see is I wish it had two chest pockets and while they are there a hidden zippered fanny pocket would have been a great idea as well.  Just the 2nd chest pocket would add a lot to this one used as your outer garment.  A fanny pocket, done right, wouldn't be felt with a harness and would add some extra cross over advantages off route.  Done right you could easily use that fanny pocket with a harness for gels and bare essentials.  Even a lwt wind shell easy enough.

Easy to find right now around $120. delivered on the Internet.  Trust me on this one.  If you own a R1, use it and  like it,  this one you'll love.

Back story?

Remember that I only write about things I think are stand outs.  Which is the reason you see a post about the Piton and not the OR Radiant Hybrid Hoody.  My first impression of the Patagonia Piton was it was a expensive version of a sweater I already owned, the Radiant Hybrid Hoody.  In the black color my Piton sat unopened on my table for a few weeks.  Then since I didn't think I would ever use it I exchanged the black one for the blue and green color which would make better photos on the blog.  Glad I did.  I have used the OR Radiant Hybrid Hoody a lot over the last year.  First purchased along with 3 other hoodies to find a replacement for my now stinky R1s.  Out of that bunch of hoodies only the Radiant Hybrid still survives in my gear closet.  I use it for cold and wet weather running mostly with nothing under it.  So while good for running I found it pretty limited in my own use, compared to say the R1.

They could almost be made from the same pattern.  Pocket is reversed on the chest.   Neck zipper is off set on the OR and it has thumb cuffs.  But the material is slightly different. And the "vents",  wrist to waist on the OR don't seem as comfortable or as stretchy to me as the Patagonia does over all.  I like it but nothing I would have ever written about either.  I have been wearing the Radiant Hybrid Hoody all day just to see if my original impressions were still true.  They are.


Among other things I prefer on the Piton is the fabric mix and the center zip which makes a usable collar on the Piton with the hood down.  A left and right chest pocket would have been better imo than just the one.  At least it is on the left side.  OR's Radiant version has it on the right hand pec......which is backwards for anyone right handed.


The hood is good over a helmet.  And you can get an idea from the picture of just how high the collar will come if the hood is left down.  One of the "big" features that really turned my head past the Radiant's off set zipper.




I was originally going to make a ripping comparison of the OR Radiant Hybrid Hoody to the Patagonia Piton.  Where the OR piece was to be the landslide winner and @ a better price point.  Imagine how surprised I was to NOT have "just another runner" in the Piton!  I have plenty of gear to run in but few bits of gear I really like to climb in.   Once I realized just how good this piece of clothing was for me and more importantly how easily I could incorporate it into my clothing system, I ordered a black one as well on line at a discounted $116. price.  I'll wear them both out eventually I suspect.













Monday, January 21, 2013

REI Fall Glove..a best buy.





In the climbing  pictures on the last two blog posts I am using REIs "Fall" glove.  It is an well insulated,  light weight soft shell, with a combo synthetic and leather palm and fingers.  Easy to place screws and rap with.  Even though I generally prefer a full leather palm on my climbing gloves.   And a bit less bulk.  These are a bit bulky in my Nomic grip until used some and the insulation in the palm is compacted...which took a couple of days.  And hopefully they will compact just a tiny bit more.  My guess is they will and end up being a "perfect fit". And one of my first choices when I need a little extra warmth.

So far they have stayed dry and exceptionally warm which I really appreciate in a high dagger on alpine snice with cold dry snow over it.  The cuff isn't very long or very tight but worked well over both a hard shell and alone with a soft shell while on everything from wet grade 3 to 4+ water and then cold snow over alpine ice.  I was impressed as I had my gloves on and off at least a hundred times taking photos and sorting gear over the weekend.  Perfect way generally to soak your gloves quite quickly.



I shook the Fall out every time before putting them back on.  That helped protect them from adding unwanted moisture internally by getting the snow and ice out early.  So did the gloves ability to dry with just my hand's body heat while I was wearing them.

They cost me $40 on sale.  $60 retail, which I would likely pay if  I really had to.  No refund on the coop dividend with that $40 price.  But I feel like they have already paid for themselves with warm and dry hands every minute I used them so far.  That is never an easy job no matter the glove's price point.   I have other gloves that are more (some a lot more) than twice the price of the  REI "FALL", that I know wouldn't have kept me as warm or as dry in the same circumstances.

REI sez:

Soft-shell REI Fall gloves
  • Waterproof, windproof and breathable REI Elements® inserts help keep hands dry and warm on snowy days
  • Polyfill synthetic insulation provides extra warmth
  • Soft-shell exteriors offer good dexterity; polyurethane palms with leather patches grip well
  • REI Fall gloves have a slim wrist design that fits under jacket cuffs to seal out cold air (and it is much better than it sounds)


Cold Cold World and Dynafit?



Have I ever mentioned how much I really appreciate the quality of my CCW packs and Dynafit gear?

If not...since I had such a great weekend with both I'd like to share some of the stoke!
"Gear I never notice!"  How cool is that?
Their packs, skis, bindings, pants, boots, shells, sweaters, skins, gloves, it all makes my happy hit parade list.  You'll see more of it all when I and my co-authors get more time to write. 


http://www.coldcoldworldpacks.com/

http://www.dynafit.com/en

A third shell material? Westcomb's Focus LT Hoody


Climbing on wet ice in the newest Westcomb Focus Lt
photo courtesy of Craig Pope


You'll likely what to read this review first:

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2013/01/alpha-fl-and-shift-lt-shells.html

I have been climbing in three very similar light weight shell jackets.  So similar in fact that only the high tech fabrics and minor detailing set them apart in use IMO.   The first two jackets, the Arcteryx Alpha FL in Gortex and the Westcomb Shift LT Hoody in Neoshell are both great climbing shells.    Some small differences in the jacket patterns but a significant difference I think in the fabric performance. And there might be some trade offs between the three fabrics than you aren't willing to tolerate.

Before I toss in my 2 cents on the differences in materials let give you my impression's on the third jacket of this series, the Westcomb Focus Hoody sewn the newest eVent DVL.

The fit on the Focus is called a "full cut".  It fit me almost perfectly with room to layer under it and a tight enough fit that it is not in the way climbing and easy to layer over when required for warmth.  (I'm 6'1" and 190# at the moment) The Event fabric does not stretch.  Something I didn't notice up front because the patterns fit was simply so good.  The Shift LT hoody in Neoshell does stretch and gains some ground for me on the other two because of it.  No matter how good the pattern, and all of these are exceptional patterns, a stretchy hard shell will always have an advantage for my own use climbing.  For the best climbing clothing these days it is the rule not the exception that the garments stretch with you.

My first definition of good climbing gear is, "gear I never notice".  If you notice gear on a climb it is more than likely some small (or large) failure in materials, design or quality.  Cold feet as an example or getting wet from sweat or moisture in the environment.  You might well be able to trace those issues directly back to your gear.  Not always mind you but often enough to know a gear failure when you have one.   And not a food, hydration or just a poor choice in gear selection.

This weekend as I watched my partners annoyance turn to concern and then start to become a real problem it reminded me of that truism.  A failure was noticed....here it was less than water proof clothing.  Tied off to a hanging belay everyone was getting progressively more soaked at the base of a wet and running corner system laced with ice we were climbing.

The lads in the shower room...not that kind of shower but cricky just don't drop anything :)


I was the only one in a water proof shell.  Which was the new Focus LT .   It was warm out and  none of us started this climb in a lot of clothing.   The temperature was dropping and we thought it possible with the temp. drop to have a drier climb.  Of course that was a miscalculation on our part.  Only reason I had on the Focus Hoody was I wanted to see how well the latest miracle fabric (eVent DVL) breathed by comparison to the others I had used last week.  The answer to that was, "it breathes pretty dang good :)"   With only a base layer under the Focus even in the shade and temps just under freezing I was warm enough until my pants started soaking through and water ran down my legs.

Those conditions always get unpleasant rather quickly.

Have to admit to feeling a little smug with myself though as my core stayed dry and warm with water running off the Focus LT.   My buddies were happy to leave the ice cold shower at the belay and get started on the over hanging corner to warm up some as quickly as possible.  I intentionally stayed behind long enough to more fully enjoy the lovely alpine ambiance.



All three of these jackets I have been using are water proof and wind resistant for the most part.  All offer an exception fit and are very close in patterns.   Just make sure the specific pattern fits you.  It is worth trying them all on to see which fits you best.  All are what I would call an athletic fit , even the "full cut" Westcombs.  None of them are for a dough boy.   The Neoshell offers a little less wind resistance from my experience.  But adds stretch to the equation.  The Arcteryx and Goretex is a time proven piece of gear.  The Westcomb Focus LT Hoody retails for $279 and not the $400 the other two retail at.   A $120 and 30% savings off the top.  That alone has to get your attention.

Mind you I am not getting even more picky on the details here.  Even with the exceptional fit of the Focus I did notice the lack of stretch.  For me the extra cost of the Shift is "almost" worth it.  I felt like (but never found a reason)  I needed just a tiny bit bigger jacket (this was a Large) but I never noticed the Focus past the part where I was staying dry while I was climbing in it.  It seemed the eVent DVL breaths as well as anything I have tested in pretty tough conditions.  And the Focus blocked what little wind we had.  Noticeably more than the Neoshell  I had been using previous.

The eVent fabric is a little noisy but I like the material hand.  No question it was water proof.

Gotta say I was pretty impressed with the Focus LT and the newest eVent DVL.  Even more so because I have not generally been impressed with previous eVent shell garments.  My size large weights in at 9.5 oz/272g and will easily compact to the size of a decent coffee mug.   By far the lightest jacket I tested and certainly one the top two for wind resistant and able to hold its own on water resistant.  Breath ability?  No test besides my own use to back it up but every bit the equal of the other two imo and may be even a bit better than either.    The Focus LT is a hard garment not to like at the $279 price point by comparison.   If only it were stretchy.

I am always amazed when I start a comparison review like this with an obvious personal favorite and by the end get my mind changed by the process of the review and the side by side comparisons.  Classic example of that happening this time.  Even though getting off the dime on stretch fabrics is almost impossible for me now.

Two things stood out to me when I was done.  First was price point difference between the three. Which seldom snags me when performance is my priority.  Second was the difference in these garment's performance when even a small amount of stretch was added.

But then again $279.......

In an age of the next super model...few things are a stand out.  And it may not be what you expected that makes the biggest impression.

More on the Focus LT Hoody here:

http://www.westcomb.com/product/jackets/103/focus-lt-hoody.html



Friday, January 18, 2013

Three good short films...all great stories.

Three well done short stories........each with its own unique challenge and the though behind them.


Stormriders S1 E2: Gravity's a Bitch from KGB Productions on Vimeo.


Strong from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.


"THIS WAY" Episode1 - Squamish - Genius Loci from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sweet Cham Ski with Miles Smart

Nice terrain for mere mortals straight off of the Midi in Chamonix.  Enjoy!


True Love!.... Scarpa 6000 mods


Two of the best names in the business make a great pair of boots ;)


I written about so many boots here that I have lost count. 

I had so many different pairs of boots over the last 10 years I've lost count.

I've always known I had feet that were difficult to fit.  Have since middle school and earlier.  Literally as long as I can remember.  Long and narrow feet with a really narrow heel.  I've seen skinnier feet just not many.  Poor bastards, even skinnier feet have REAL problems fitting rock shoes and mountain boots. 

I've also know a couple of guys that might as well have a pair of duck's feet.  Super wide forefeet  so they have to buy shoes a couple of sizes too long just to accommodate the width of their feet.  Now there is a problem I really, really wouldn't want.  Nothing helpful for the end user there.

As my feet have aged they have needed a wider last.  Bunions from years in too tight of rock shoes and too tight of ski boots.  The small bunions on my little toe and even worse on my big toe have slowly developed and grown larger almost every year.  So no more super tight rock shoes or ski boots but nothing a bit of boot stretching or a wider boot hasn't helped so far.

In the past I have really liked/enjoyed a very few pairs of boots.  The first a pair of leather and wood, hand pegged Haderer single boots.  Those I picked up 2nd hand.  Loved those boots and climbed hard in the mountains with them.  They required a Super Gaiter to keep my feet warm enough though.   The Haderers were pretty much an over built Galibier Super Guide as a reference.  But oh my, did those boots ever fit my feet well.  A rigid sole and plenty of support.  Perfect!

Next up was my first and only pair of plastics.  the Kolflach Ultras.  Size 12.  Those are still sitting in my gear room, literally rotting away.  But I'll likely never get rid of them.  First climbing boot I had to use moleskin with on a regular basis.  That was only just OK for fit, but they were always warm and climbed exceptionally well.   After that it has been a blur going down hill.  The first Batura stands out.  The Phantom Guide did not.  May be I should have given the Phantom Guide a better opportunity to impress me.  The Spantik is a great boot.  Once I found a pair that wouldn't break.  The Baruntse is good.  But both have obvious flaws.

So what do I really like?  The Phantom Ultra is still in my life.  Hard to replace though here in North America.  Huge bummer.  Sadly the newest Batura...an amazing boot BTW....just doesn't fit my feet well.  No one more depressed about that than me.  Because it could have been "THE" boot for me.   The newest  Rebel Ultra is certainly enticing.  I'll be writing about it shortly.  Really stoked about that!  I am hoping the R.U. will ease some of the use on my Phantom Ultras and give them an extended life.  Hope so as the Phantom Ultra  seems to be discontinued.  That was a mistake IMO if that is true.  Either way I have high hopes from using the Rebel Ultra this spring on ice and this summer in the alpine.

Boots are like a few other important things in life.  "You can never be too rich, too strong or too light."

I think boots should have a similar label.  A winter boot can never be too warm, too light or too comfortable as long as it climbs ice well.

Common complaint I hear on the 6000?  ......this time by "Mike":
"Does anyone have any idea how significant the ankle support gain would be with using a Baruntse inner boot in a Scarpa Phantom 6000? I bought the Phantom 6000 in spring and used in in Alaska this year on a lot of endurance ice ( Mt. Huntington West ). They where super warm, light and perfect in steep ice and mixed. They turned out to be complete calf killers in the 50 – 70 degrees blue hard ice part."

That stand out comment from end users on the Phantom 6000, again is, " lack of support on endurance ice".   That was something I could still work with though.  Unpleasant at times but workable.  My biggest complaint was the factory inner boot.  The factory 6000 inner boot offered me a poor fit.  More imprtantly it is really hard to get in and out of with any socks I was using because of the friction between the sock and the lack of inner linner on the foam boot. (Really?  What is Scarpa thinking there? Rookie design error imo )

That problem was not easy to solve but easy enough to have a place to start.  I tried stuffing my La Sportiva Baruntse inner boots in the 6000 shell. (the liners are made by Palau in France)  The first pair were just a hair too big to fit the 6000 shell well.  It took Mike's most recent comment and a full year of waiting to finally buy a second pair of inner boots and molding them to fit the 6000.  If only I had done it earlier!  The Denali Intuition liner stiffened up the Spantik in a similar manner.  So I thought it worth looking at a better inner boot again in the 6000.  Mind you I have climbed a lot in the Baruntse and the Spantik and I really like both boots.  But was always disappointed that La Sportiva wouldn't take advantage of the technology they had on the table, when they could so easily improve either boot.  Again, someone is dropping the ball here imo.

Their loss, my gain.  Eventually.  Eventually, because I kept playing with my Spantiks, Baruntses and the 6000 trying to get the lightest and best fitting double I could come up with...that still climbed as well as I wanted.  Did I mention the 6000 is the easiest boot mentioned here to lace?  It is.  By a big margin if you have to strap them down as tight as I do.  Extremely easy in and out with the ability to adjust the lacing as required.   The best of the bunch here for ease of lacing with the Baruntse liner installed.

Fit was even easier.   The Baruntse liner is heat formable and lots of foam there to work with.  Hard not to get a perfect fit if you know what you are doing.  Light weight?  Nothing as light, as warm or as comfortable that I know of when using the Baruntse liner and the 6000 shell.  Nothing comes even remotely close to how well that combo actually climbs.  May be the factory Baruntse.  But again so many other things are lacking on the Baruntse when you make that comparison.

Size 45 with a proper insole @ 2# 9oz or 1160g



What was left was "endurance ice".  Funny, my 2nd, smaller and better fitting inner boot added enough support to the 6000 shell that those worries are gone.  Totally gone!  Makes the 6000 a front pointing machine,  with a loss of some ankle flexibility side to side.  That loss I can easily live with after gaining the extra support front to back.  Some one besides myself ought to be paying attention here!!!

Seriously this is the first boot I have fallen hard for since my 2nd hand Haderers in the '70s.  But the 6000 with a Baruntse inner boot properly fit is much lighter, much warmer and much more comfortable.  And *CRIKEY* the Phantom 6000 climbs ice well!  Any ice!

Half the equation on ice is the crampon.  I noticed the Cyborg/Spantik combo Dave was using last trip had some flex in the crampon while he was climbing.  Not uncommon with that set up from what I have seen.  Part of the reason is the Spantik's heel/midsole is too soft imo and collapses when the crampon lever is tightened.  At least the Baruntse  midsole avoided that issue.  Part of it is the design flaw in the Cyborg's connecting bar set up.   None of that nonsense (bulllllllshiit) on the 6000 midsole or the Petzl crampons.

The obvious crampon flex is not good!  Boot is a 46.

Worth noting the dismal crampon sole coverage on that boot/crampon combo as well.
It is a sick joke but needs to be pointed out, again.  


I have been using the Dartwin and Dart on my 6000 and the Phantom Ultra.  Both boots use the same heel/toe inserts and midsole.  That combo of boot and crampon fits extremely well and tightens easily with the addition of a BD heel levers.  Same crampons are good on the Ultra (or Phantom Guide) but the Ultra is a fairly soft flexing boot.  On the 6000 the combo climbs more like a rigid plastic boot and a heavy rigid crampon.   The "rigid" combo for ice is really had to beat even 30 years after it was first introduced. Tough part is getting back to the 30+ year old bench mark of  3.5# per boot/crampon combo in my size 45/12.  The 6000/Palau/Dartwin combo is 3.55#.  The bonus?  Gaiter included for that extra 1/2oz.   We are finally ahead of the game, if only barely.

Dbl click the photo an note how flat the crampon is against the boot sole while fully weighted.  The less the crampon flexes on the boot sole the better the combo will climb any kind of ice.  Not every boot or crampon combo will offer this kind of performance.  Add a soft flexing connecting bar to the combo and imagine the performance results.  Have your partner check out your set up and take some pictures of the results next time you are out. 

The nuances I have noted here in crampon and boot fit are important.   I guarantee you more than you might first think.  Just like the previous post on front point length.  Get it all wrong and it is like trying to climb ice in roller skates.  Get it right and you'll think you are a super hero.   "ICE MAN" (or WOman :)

Call this one a PSA.

Palau web site
http://www.palau-boutique.com/ski-boot-liners-palau-performance-upgrading-replacement-bootfitting,us,2,11.cfm

La Sportiva web site
http://www.sportiva.com/

Scarpa web site
http://www.scarpa.com/scarpa/products/MOUNTAIN

Monday, January 14, 2013

Alpha FL and Shift LT shells?

Here is a quick comparison on two of the best in light weight hard shell technology available today.

I added a third shortly after:
http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-third-shell-material-westcombs-focus.html

Any of the three can be easily used for most any sport where you need some protection from nasty weather, including climbing.  In the case of my buddy Dave and I, ice climbing for sure but lift/side-hill on a snow board or skis as well or a quick run on the bikes.

It was no accident that we both showed up for a reunion at our once home town ski area kitted in similar gear.  Even though I was skiing on lwt Dynafit gear and Dave was on a snow board we would be on the same terrain.  Do this stuff long enough and there ends up being a  well thought out and comfortable "uniform" for a good day out.  Matching colors with your Bro?  That is just a little weird!

David and I have been playing on this particular ski hill together almost longer than I can remember.   I do seem to recall us teaching basic search and rescue techniques to the volunteer ski patrol bitd and ripping it up around them on 3 pin tele gear though.   Gear I am happy to see long gone from my storage closet!



Below: Dave in his Arcteryx Alpha FL leading

Arcteryx Alpha FL shown above
10.7 oz. for a Men's Large,  $400
Two different Goretex fabrics:
2.4 oz Gore Active Shell,  2.9 oz Gore-Tex Active Shell reinforcements   
a very light Goretex shell



Below:  Dane leading in his Westcomb, Shift LT.



The Westcomb, Shift, shown above
11.9 ounces for a Men's Large, $400    
Two different Neoshell Fabrics:
340 NRS Polartec® NeoShell® - Fly weight nylon ripstop and 360 NP Polartec® NeoShell® 
Lightest Neoshell to date


Although I have likely climbed more ice in a hard shell than any other piece of clothing, today a hard shell is one of my least favorite garments to use.  More likely one I would use skiing these days, so I can dress down for a good work out and still cut the wind chill.

But if you are going to climb in a hard shell the newest Gore and Polartec "hard shell" technologies are actually pretty spectacular.  There is a light weight Epic shell that will be here soon that will make a good comparison to these two.  That should be interesting.

Before I offer some comparisons on these two how about some back ground?  BITD (as in back in the day)  belay jackets were rather unheard of. We had big jackets but few of the guys I climbed with ever bother to bring one.  We dressed in the morning with what we thought we might need for warmth that day.  May be a extra layer to go under our shell (likely a pile jacket or down vest) but not likely one to go over it.   Basically you assumed you would suffer, too hot when you were working hard and too cold when stuck while belaying a slow lead.  You learned to climb fast for all the obvious reasons.

No one climbing ice seriously back then would ever tolerate a gumbie getting on and then lacing up an ice climb like it was a rock climb in the sun.  That same thing is so common now.  Couple of reasons for the lack of empathy back then.  Few ever carried more than a 10 or so ice screws.  Screws were just too hard to place even in the best of conditions.  The other was you simply didn't get on climbs you weren't technically capable of.  Experience taught you and your partner that.  Falling on ice was simply unacceptable.  You ran out ice climbs, just to keep everything moving and everyone warm.  I've had several painful reminders of how not to ice climb, when Dave can't come out to play.

When you are climbing within your skill level you can move quickly and carry little gear all while staying warmer.

The first one day ascents of GCC on Kitchener, the Super Coulior on Deltaform, Slipstream, Teardrop and Polar Circus were all done in a similar manner.  Hard shells, no extra clothing. tiny packs and climbers performing well within their skill levels.

No surprise the skill levels have changed.  The technical difficulty at which the current generation of climbers are capable of is simply amazing within that perspective.  Their ability to get above their own pro...not so much.

It should be no surprise then if you want to climb light and fast a hard shell built to exacting standards and lacking many of the modern accouterments some require is still a good choice for most conditions where ice is involved.

When Dave and I kitted up on the Parkway last week, we were both in soft shell pants, a moderate amount of base layers, little insulation and hard shell jackets.  I used the Shift LT, Westcomb's new light weight (the LT), sewn from two types of Polartec's Neoshell.   Dave showed up in the Arcteryx, Alpha FL (fast and light) , using two weights of Goretex Active shell.   The jackets are very, very similar in design and function.  Which made for some easy comparisons.

What does all that mean to you?   Either is a nice "action suit" jacket but not much really in actual differences.  More differences in the pattern cut imo than performance.  But no question, there are differences in performance.  Lets talk pattern first.  The "FL" designation from Arcteryx stands for "fast and light".  Fair enough, the jacket deserves that kind of label.  Not sure or care who got there first but the Westcomb Shift LT is equally "fast and light".  Jackets might as well be clones of one another.  Same single chest pocket and helmet capable hood.  Great fit on both hoods with a helmet.  I find the Westcomb pattern fits me in a large better than the Arcteryx stuff generally does in a Large.  The Westcomb stuff is cut a little bigger in the shoulders and arms.  I am thankful for the better Westcomb patterns (for my body shape anyway) as most every new shell my size I try on these days seems to have arms the size of a #2 pencil.   I'm 190# and 6'1".  That forces me to get the next size up in a lot of clothing.    But Dave (who is almost skinny) at 185# and 6'3" loves the fit of a size large Alpha FL.   Both have long tails that stay tucked into a harness.  The sleeves are long even when you are full stretched out and seal well under or over gloves.  Perfect!  We can easily move along from all that now.  Find the one jacket that fits you the best, would be my suggestion.

Performance of the shell fabrics?

Goretex has an enviable reputation of cutting the wind and keeping you dry.  The Alpha FL does both.  The Shift is currently the lightest Neoshell garment yet made.  And IMO it shows.  Awesome jacket for sure and I love climbing in mine.   You will stay dry from the inside or the outside.   The newest Neoshell material, like the newest Goretex stretches a bit.  But while I think the Neoshell breaths better under a heavy work load I also think the Goretex is more wind proof.

We were climbing in the minus mid teens Celsius.  I've recently learned that jackets that are less than 100% wind proof are chilly.  My Shift was perfect for leading.  But I wanted to quickly get on my belay jacket (which is wind proof ) when I wasn't leading.  With the same base layers and very similar insulation under our shells,  Dave wore  a belay jacket once in several days of climbing.  I wore mine at every belay, every day we were out, if there was any sort of wind.  Some of that can be tossed to my "new" body reacting poorly to the cold these days.  But not all of it. 

So what did I really think?  I like the bright yellows and green color combos on both jackets.  When I was cold in the wind, rightfully or not,  I liked (envied) the Goretex version.  When I was pumped stupid and sweating bullets I preferred the Neoshell.   I sure dried out fast!  Truth is it all boils down to fit for me.  The Westcomb fit me very well in a large.  The Arcteryx didn't in a large (too small or a XL. too big).    That is a pretty common issue for me..similar thing happens with some of the Patagonia clothing.

Both fabrics are really really good for what we were using them for, which was ice climbing.  May be even better for skiing and snow boarding is my thought.

Figure out what you need for clothing and what will fit into your own system.  Then find the garment that has a pattern that fits you the best with those same qualities and features.  Honestly?  It is pretty hard to go wrong with so many really good choices.   If you screw it up first time around you'll are just as likely to learn how to climb faster or suffer more.  How bad can it really get :)






Soloing?

Nice voice and a nice piece of writing:

http://farnorthclimbing.blogspot.com/2013/01/refections-of-recovering-soloist.html?spref=fb

Good to see the East Coast is still producing  the same mentally twisted and very focused ice climbers they have always been known for :)

What's the Point?




Obviously the point of a crampon is to make life easier (and safer) on any surface that boot rubber won't.

From the inception of the blog I have harped on crampon fit and crampon durability.  Broken crampons frames, broken bails and loosing a crampon mid pitch was a fairly common experience for many climbers.  It is less common now with a little conversation in the community and some education as to the cause.

Thankfully this will be a short blog post and not about crampon failures.

It really is a pretty short topic.  About 7.5mm give or take a mm or two.
And thankfully the cause good or bad is simple...it is your choice.

Not uncommon for some one to ask me how long I run my front points (think dual front points for the moment).  For the uninitiated that might seem strange.

On smooth, plastic, late season Canadian ice I like to have a fairly short set of front points.  I know the ice will easily supports my body weight and the sticks (boot swing and tools) are easy.   Typically the front point I like on winter alpine ice as well.   Alpine ice is not water fall ice.  It isn't generally as steep or technical.  But it is generally hard as old concrete.  I don't need any more leverage on my size 45 boots than absolutely required.

A rookie mistake on water fall ice is getting your heels too high and popping a crampon.  It is also a rookie mistake to run your front points too short on bad ice and ...you guessed it....pop your crampons every other foot placement.

What you are looking for in a foot placement besides full penetration of your front points is the additional support of the secondary points.  Monos offer some additional options here if you know how to use them to best effect.  But from what I have seen most don't know how to take advantage of a Mono on ice.


Same crampons and front points shown above on the Scarpa 6000s.  Just a different point of view.  I am using the back toe bail hole here.  But your boot to crampon fit will be defined by your boot sole and which hole in your crampon is required to get the appropriate front point length.   Other experienced climbers run even longer front points that what is hsown here in similar conditions.   Monos especially so.

 
Rookie mistake?   Been there, done that.  To the point I was wondering if I still knew how to climb vertical ice.  Humbling experience.  And that was just on a top rope!  If I had done that on lead it would be a long time before I would be back for more. It was scary, insecure and really, really pumpy just trying to get and stay on my feet.  

It is a subtle call and not one I made a conscious decision on, although I should know better by now.  One of the longest nights of my then very short climbing career was a 4000' alpine ice face done of crampons that had been sharpened a few too many times.  The overly short front points were making my life miserable with insure feet.  I vowed then not to let that ever happen again.  But it seems my memory failed me.  I did do it again recently on much harder technical terrain...even if it was only a top rope problem.

In typical crappy snow/neve/ice alpine conditions with snow covering anything from rotten air filled snice, to bullet hard, black ice always better to error on the side of caution and have more front point than you need rather than less.  But less important on alpine terrain than on steeper technical terrain...like the conditions you'll find on most water ice.




In the wrong conditions the only penalty is a little more strain on the calf by using longer front points.  In the right conditions you gain additional security and solid feet.  Always a bonus to have good feet!


The .75mm is the distance between the front an back toe bail placement on a Petzl or Black Diamond crampon.  Pretty much a .25".  Unless you are always climb on smooth dry and plastic ice or hard mixed  (rock climbing)  you'll generally want  more crampon front point than less.  Bottom line super short version?  When in doubt, go LOOOOONNNG!  You just might be better at this sport than you first thought :)

Mono points?  Same deal.   Short on rock.  Long or longer on bad ice.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gear Geek?


BCP "Arena"

There aren't many things on the planet that can't be improved.  Generally (but not always) they can be improved by simply making them less complicated or making them easier for the human form to adapt to the technology.  The Colt 1911 pictured above has 49 parts.  The handgun was initially designed in the year, 1911.  It is still state of the art today for its intended use.  Parts have been made to better fit the human hand and for easier use but still the same 49 parts.

I geek out of all sorts of toys.  Vintage 911 Porsches, carbon fiber road bikes, ice tools, packs,  mtn boots and cold weather technical clothing are just a few of my interests.

Six winter seasons ago I was introduced to the Nomic.  Only 2 seasons previous to the that, the original Quark.  And I thought the Quark without a pinky rest was "radical" tool at the time. 

It took me 90' of top rope climbing to realise just some of the huge potential in the Nomic.  I knew I didn't what a razor sharp adze staring me in the face on a pull up.   But even then I couldn't wrap my head around not having a hammer easily available.  Back to the previous topic of  "make it at home".
A decent hammer for the Nomic would seem to be a a simple process to design.   After all it is only ONE part :)

A 911 has several complete "systems*  (brakes/unibody/suspension/engine as examples)  to deal with.  That accumulation of  systems (made of specific parts) defines the end performance of a 911, a 1911 or a Cervelo for that matter.

My hunt for the perfect Nomic hammer started that first season.  My first Nomic hammer was a chopped up Petzl hammer TIG welded to the Nomic mixed pick.  Next step was to fit the Nomic with a bolt on hammer like the older style Quark.  Then I saw Ralph Burns' (no relation) May of  '07 adaptation of Petzl's own design work from the original Quark.  Great idea.   And Ralph was generous enough to share his effort with the entire climbing community.   But less room to work with on a Nomic head than the older and much larger Quark head.  Less weight was needed imo, not more.  The answer wasn't  a simple adaptation of Petzl's  previous technology.  The project needed a bigger picture view and more thought put into the ergonomic detailing.


Ralph Burns' early hammers cut from Petzl parts.
Photos above are courtesy of:
  http://www.ascent-design.com/projects/other_ice_hammers.html


I continued my quest for a better hammer to be used on a really funky hammer handle...the Nomic.   I was lucky enough to get some help from other interested and technically astute climbers.

Colin Haley's photo of  Bjorn-Elvind Aartun soloing on the Cassin


The late  Bjorn-Elvind Aartun  was one of the first to use the early CT production hammers and offer constructive criticism.  It was his idea to cut the hammer face literally in half for a swing weight and a better over all balance of the climbing tool.  Balance is just one of the reasons the Nomic excels for its intended purpose.    Mind you only the first few prototype hammers were cut from Petzl parts.  The production CT hammers were being cut from bar stock and then heat treated.  I had the option of doing anything I wanted for profile and finished weight.  Nomics did not have a hammer so the pick and hammer inner face was open to new design efforts as well.   You have no idea how happy I was to see Petzl finally commit to a hammer/pick design interface of their own 2 winters ago and not have to cut another pick for my hammers over lapping interface.




Half of the current CT hammer cut from bar stock

There is always room for improvement.  Even on a 100 year old design like the 1911 pictured above. Pictured below are 6 seasons worth of slightly differing Nomic hammer designs.  The idea was to have each version  a little better than the previous.  Not as easy as it might seem to go from A to Z.   Not trying design H, L, or R might well be a mistake.   So if you really want the best you might use more than one fabric, more than one design or more than one steel in the process.




The current design was always intended to use with either the old or the newest style Nomic.  I wanted it to be the best hammer available for the awkward Nomic shaft, offer as much protection of the Nomic's soft aluminum head and just as importantly not effect the balance of the Nomic any more than absolutely required.



A hammer is rarely needed on a Nomic.  And the CT design is only one of three available for Nomic owners.  It is how ever the easiest to fit to the original Nomic head design that Petzl has never offered a hammer for. 


And yes, I have some spare hammers left from the last production run.
You can purchase them on Pay Pal from the link listed below.
 



Make it at home!

When you pride yourself on the products you make and your name stands behind them, not just your paltry pay check, or investor's profits,  you make the extra effort instead of making excuses.  They do it in France and Italy.  They do it in Wales.  We use to do it more often in the USA.

Great video about climbing gear production.

http://dmmprofessional.com/articles/2013/01/04/dmm-factory-tour-vid/

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Credit Check?




And I bet you thought I got all this gear for FREE, didn't you? 

Ya, that is a good laugh!    As you might imagine the Blog/just me generally/ goes through or at least sees a lot of gear.  I have some interesting stories as a consumer.    These are comments from  transactions just from the month of December 2012 to date in early Jan. 2013.  It was a big month for me.  A lot of money going onto and getting credited back to my CCs.   And enough cash transactions I'd rather not add them up right now.  I thought I'd share the good will I received.  The comments here are based on real incidents on a few retail purchases, refunds, exchanges, warranty  from 12/4/12 till today.  Some of which are still  being processed when this blog post was published,  on 1/13/13, much to my dismay.  No one knows who I am or cares who I am when I am buying gear.   Although one of the sales staff in all of this did recognise me from Cold Thistle.  It was fun to chat about some of the great products their store did offer.

Steep and Cheap *A+, in stock goods, almost the speed of light shipping and easy returns to the CC.  aka Backcountry.com *A... in disguise.  Only an *A for Backcountry because they dicked around on a price match and lost a sale for the effort.

Mtn Gear  *B+ (reason: initial delivery was a little slow across state)
Bought on mail order.  5 business day delivery.  I get 2 or 3 day delivery from the Portland stores as a comparison.  Called the retail store a day before I was to be in Spokane and wanted to know if I could try on a couple pairs of boots.   Walked in with a pair bought via mail order.  Walked out with a new pair after paying the difference in retail price and sales tax.  Easy transaction.  Mtn Gear has a habit of selling items they don't have in stock and making you wait.  Likely happened with the mail order pair in this case..if the shipping time from Colorado is a clue.  Hard to make a living if you have to inventory and warehouse every item in your mail order catalog.  But some actually do just that.

Eddie Bauer *A+ (reason: everything was amazingly easy and seemed fair to the consumer)
Bought at retail in the local store.  Returned a couple of items, one 9 months old with out receipt.  The other items 6 months old.  All new with tags.  No receipt refunded for the lowest sale price.  Fair enough.  But more than 1/2 of what I had paid originally.  The rest were refunded to my card and credited to my account the next working day.  And because almost everything I was interested in buying or might have been interested in buying was at 50% off I dropped another $500 while I was there.  But the the biggest reason I spent an additional $500?  Was because I knew Eddie Bauer would stand behind the products no matter what I decided.  Now or a year from now.    I may not love everything they make but I know I won't get stung buying or returning it.  EB is fast becoming one of my favorite gear supplier and that of my partners.  Begrudgingly may be but none the less it is happening.

Patagonia  *was a D-* now a solid F  (reason: terrible return/refund time frames and communication)
By far the worst retail experience I have ever had with one company to date and involving the most amount of money on one transaction.   Returned a used item ($400) and a new item ($250) no receipts.  (my bad)  The used pant was refunded at the full $400 the new jacket @ $100!  Not happy about that and shouldn't have returned/accepted that price with that kind of a loss.  Down  $150!  That is less than half of retail.  1/2 is the kind of price I like to pay not what I want to lose.   I was a bit shell shocked on that one so I took a gift cert, and wanted to think about what I wanted next at Patagonia. 

Mail ordered a new $450 jacket.  Paid via a CC.  Free 2 day air.  4 working days to deliver.   Returned jacket.  They received in on the 28th. Acknowledged via email on 28th.   Refund was not been processed and not back on my card until Jan 4th.  Quoted anywhere from 7 to 10 working days.

Bought more at the local retail store, 3 current, new items.  $950 @ retail.  Paid cash.  Retail store didn't have a very good color selection but I needed to know sizes.  After some thought I asked both retail and mail order if it was "easy" to exchange items for color through Patagonia Mail Order.  "No problem" I was told.  Patagonia mail order received items for exchange, ( I paid for tracking)  no acknowledgement of that receipt.  They got them on the 12/ 28.  I received the replacements on Jan 12.  Time frame to date? 16 days.  I was told today it will be at least 10 WORKING days.  They hit their estimate.  What others seem to be able to do in 36 hrs.   I really like some of the newest Patagonia gear.  Just way too much to deal with trying to get exactly what you want if the retail store doesn't have it.  And a little weird on returns.  They ended up replacing the items for color and credited my CC on one item instead of doing an exchange and returning it.  They did apologise how ever when I called looking for my jacket.

Zappos *A+ (in stock items, sale prices, fast deliver, easy returns)
I ended up buying a new Patagonia jacket and the matching pants from Zappos that Patagonia took "forever " to replace or simply kept.  These guys always rock.   I should give them more of my business.  

Mountain Hardware *C- (reason: slow delivery and not such a great warranty)
Ordered a new jacket. Paid with a debit card.  Did it the same day at the RAB order below.  5 days on delivery from RAB.  18 days for delivery from Mtn Hardware.  Dismal.  Returned a pair of gloves on warranty.  Gloves were obviously damaged on a rappel.  But leaking previous.  I was offered a 50% discount on a new pair of gloves.  I bought the gloves offered on "warranty".  Same price you could find on line any time BTW.   Not like the old days when they actually honored the "lifetime" warranty. 

Dynafit *A+ (quick delivery)
5 small orders in 45 days.  No fuss, no muss, credit card and ground UPS from Colorado.  4 days.  Easy on one return (miss ship) as well.

La Sportiva *A (quick delivery, two really odd and separate addresses)
No fuss, no muss, credit card and ground UPS from Colorado. 4 days.
They rocked getting out two pair of skis to wildly differing mtn town addresses very quickly.

Moose Jaw *A (but could be an A++ if they would ditch the slow boat deliveries)
Ordered a $600 jacket on CC.  Took for ever and a day to arrive on FED EX/USPS
8 days, 6 working days.  But once returned, the return was processed next day.  Refund on my CC the next.  Almost the best ever.

US Outdoors *A, Items in stock, quick delivery (from Portland)  and easy returns.  Some what slow getting it back on the card.  They took a week.

Outland USA via Amazon.com *A+
Free shipping and 3 day delivery including the weekend, Tenn. to Seattle WA!

Cold Cold World *A+ (worth the wait)
Impeccable custom or by design packs, made by hand to your order, delivered in a timely manner.  It doesn't get any better than that.  Seriously, it doesn't get any better on custom gear.

RAB *A (again quick delivery)
No fuss, no muss, credit card and ground UPS from Colorado. 4 days.
Ordered a new jacket. Paid with a debit card. Did it the same day at the Mtn H order below. 4 days on delivery from RAB. 18 days for delivery from Mtn Hardware.  There stuff is good enough that I stopped fretting about the odd sizing for me and simply have the garments professionally tailored if I can't live with the factory fit.

Native glasses *F
Warranty replacement for faulty items cost me $35. on my credit card and my shipping.  And two returns to get it right.   I won't buy another pair of Native's because of the really bad customer service after the sale.

REI *A+
Love them or hate them.  Never a hassle on returns for any reason and a quick refund back to your card.  Almost immediate credit card refunds but always within 24 hrs since I started paying attention a few years ago.  If they have what you want still an amazing place to do business with.

Everyone has a holiday shopping story I suspect....some good, some GREAT and some just as bad.  That is mine for Dec 2012.  What is your's?