On the 1st ascent of "Chucky"
RAB NeoShell Pant
reviewed by Craig Pope
The noise is deafening. It sounds as though I've crawled up under a train trestle and have my head inches from the speeding machine above. Jess just screamed something incomprehensible barely audible from only 30 ft away - or did I just imagine his voice? The only dependable communication between us is a 7.7 mm rope periodically reminding me to hurry upward. I can't see my tools, my gloves or the rock and ice less than three feet in front of me.
I am 2,200 ft up the North Buttress of Mt Hunter in the worst 'spindrift' I have ever experienced. It may as well be called an avalanche. We've been perpetually hammered for about three and a half hours now, and avalanches are more considered to be a single violent event rather than a continuous pummeling. After only three pitches in four hours, Jess realizes that the shaft of his carbon shafted tool is broken, and we are dehydrated and cold, so it is time to retreat. After eight hours of rappelling and 26 hours overall, we are back at our camp where it is cold, but partly sunny, and the radiant warmth feels great. I throw my pack down, and despite the 2 mile ski and warmer temperatures, I'm not too sweaty. I don't even even put on my down right away.
My body is dry, HAS been dry, and relatively warm for the last 26 hours of climbing and rappelling. In ALL different types of conditions! From a cold, (10°F), ski to the base of the route, to a more aerobic intro on 75-85° ice as we cruised through the lower 8 pitches in calm overcast skies, to getting hammered by spindrift for the remaining 5 hours of climbing and 8 hours rappelling in the snow... to the the ski back to camp I stayed dry protected by RAB NeoStretch pant and jacket. During the ski in, I was able to moderate more aerobic moisture control by the almost full side zip on the pant, and the jacket, (despite the inevitable damp back from my pack), dissipates vapor moisture like a soft shell. Both the NeoStretch Pant and Jacket breath and stretch like a soft shell. For the majority of the ice season and on 90% of all my ice/alpine climbs, I wear softshell pants and jacket. Even if the ice is wet and dripping, I know that if I'm physically exerting myself, my own body heat will dry my outer layer. If my partner and I are 'swinging pitches', by the time they have reached the belay, my jacket is dry, and I can put on my insulation layer for the duration of their lead. In the past, especially when climbing in the alpine and not just cragging on ice, I would sacrifice comfort for the breathability of softshell. Despite being slightly damp, if there was precipitation, I figured I would always be moving, and if not, either in my insulation layer or sleeping bag. Inevitably, however, my insulation layer would get 'wetted out', heavy, and eventually gain weight or lose warmth, (depending on synthetic or down insulation).
On the Moon Flower
However, if there is precip in the forecast, I can wear my RAB NeoStretch all day. I can move quickly over vertical terrain and approaches, knowing my sweat will move through my outer layer, and stay completely dry from outside weather. Unlike a softshell pant, I can kneel, sit, and stand in deep snow with out getting my mid layers wet. When, in the past I would take an ultralight softshell, AND an ultralight hardshell, both of which don't hold up to much alpine abuse, I can take my NeoStretch pants, save weight, and know it will hold up to pitch after pitch of squeeze chimneys, hanging belays, post holing on the approach, all the while keeping me dry from the outside elements and moving sweat away from my body!
Unless I'm hiking through the Olympic National Rainforest in April, I will never have to excessively sweat in a pair of hardshell pants.