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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.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Climbing "cold"?

Here is a retread from last March I find worth repeating.

I spent 12 hrs out yesterday. Not a big deal but recognised a few things I think worth mentioning.

To climb in the most efficient clothing system I think you have to climb what I consider, "cold". You want to run your clothing system at a level of heat that is well short of sweating the majority of time. So you want to be almost a tiny bit chilled a majority of time if you stop moving. And everyone starting off should feel a tiny bit chilled.

Almost the perfect storm for me yesterday. Dehydrated from the day before and little sleep the night before. Too much to get done in real life so I could get away for the day. Sound familiar? Been nursing a bad knee for several a weeks and finally had another MRI done to make sure I wasn't risking bigger injuries and more down time. So I was tired from the chronic knee pain of the last couple of weeks and had been trying to ignore the massive doses of Ibuprofen which is what I needed to get healed up.

At the trail head there was a huge temperature inversion that we didn't recognize in the predawn start. We had gained 5000' and it was cold. Seemed reasonable.

So I bundled up. With all the wrong things happening in the last 48 hrs I didn't want to be cold and uncomfortable. Being tired, dehydrated and edgy from the knee pain I just didn't tolerate the cold well that morning. It should have been an alarm bell.

Couple of hrs later we were well out of the temperature inversion. It was above freezing now and we were in the sun. I was over heated, sweating and stripping clothes as we climbed higher in the glacier basin. 1/2 way into the walk I noticed 3/4 of my day's water bottle was already gone. That was a little shocking as I generally pay careful attention to how I go through my water. That was my first alarm bell to just how out of it I really was.

What I had brought for water would have just barely been enough if everything went perfectly and we summited in 4 maybe 5 hours. I'd be dehydrated but could easily suck it up till we got back to the car.

Then the final straw was it took a full 6 hrs of trail breaking just to get to our 1500' climb. We knew the game was over 3 hrs into the walk but pressed on anyway to at least see what we in such a hurry to get up. Time to make this one a "teachable moment".

Quick bottom line? I over dressed because I wanted to me more comfortable. Unnoticed, I drank my water quickly because I was dehydrated from the previous 24 hrs. I then over heated because I over dressed, carried more than I should have in gear and clothing and not enough water.

So now as I get even more dehydrated, I get cold feet from wet boots I sweated out from being too warm. Then I am getting cold again because I am dehydrated and physically tired and having to add layers I can't easily technical climb in. Things have gone down hill fast in 6hrs. But it all started 56 or 72 hours beforehand I just didn't recognise it.

Truth is I should have stayed home and gotten some rest and re-hydrated and waited a day or so before going out again.. I would have climbed faster and better if I had done so.

My thought is if you are physically incapable of "climbing cold" do yourself a favor and stay home. I let the weather and my desire to spend time with a buddy sway me. We all do it.

The better we can identify what goes wrong and why the easier it is to have a better trip next time.

Monday, December 27, 2010

I seldom dbl post things..

This is on my blog list but worth a look if you missed it.

The Climbing Sweater?

The German-Austrian expedition in the best kit of the day on Nanga Parbat, 1934.

One of the things I have recently realised is there is a big difference between a belay jacket and a bivy jacket designed specifically for climbing. It has only been with in the last couple of seasons that I have actually seen jackets that I consider real belay jackets. The difference to me is a belay jacket is something light enough that you can really climb hard technical ground in after freezing your ass off on a cold belay and NOT get way over heated and "fried" by the end of the pitch.

I still own a bivy jacket. The kind of jacket you would use with a half bag to bivy in ( or bivy in just the jacket) or on Denali for extra warmth with a light bag. But something you'd only climb in on the type of days you really shouldn't be out at all. Windy and cold summit days on Denali or Rainier in winter type of days. I have never used a jacket of that weight any where else.

A belay jacket you'll put on earlier and take off later and then realise you can use it to dry things out as you climb and still not over heat. Your own heat management will be more efficient because of it, if the design and materials are up to the task.

Using my terms, once you start climbing in a true belay jacket, the "bivy" jacket won't see much use. I wouldn't take a jacket that heavy to Denali now. And for many things you might start thinking 1/2 pound of well designed stretchy synthetic insulation might well be be really useful to climb in during some really cold weather...say alpine stuff in Canada's winter.

Kinda a heavy weight hoody (using the benchmark Patagonia R1 Hoody as a reference) with wind protection....more like a belay sweater? To coin a new label.

But really just a climbing specific, sweater.  By definition a very breathable and windproof garment with enough warmth to avoid adding a belay jacket for climbing generally.

I've not seen a garment to match that description till just recently. Although Ueli Steck mentioned a similar garment that he used when soloing the McIntyre/Colton last winter. While a great piece for climbing, Mountain Hardwear's original answer was the "Compressor Hoody". But the commercial version wasn't as light weight as what I was looking for. The Compressor Hoody makes a good outer layer and a great belay jacket, just a little too warm to climb in all the time.

The more I climb the more I go back to clothing ideas that have been used for the last 75 years or more.  The "climbing sweater" is one of them.  If you are trying to get to the bare essentials for weight and warmth hard to beat a thin base layer, a insulated layer, wind shell and finally your last bit of insulation, the belay jacket,  when it is required.

I generally us a R1 hoody or a lwt Merino wool sweater as a base layer but if it is cold enough I'll had a light weight layer of wool or synthetic under that.

The insulated layer for warmth  can be the original soft shell, a simple wool sweater.  Or it might be a boiled wool Dachstein sweater as pictured in the 1934 picture above.

More likely today it will be some sort of pile in the thickness, wind resistance and breath ability you require,  a wind shell combo with pile or a  lightly insulated soft shell.   I've use a similar systems myself until recently.

In the last few years I have almost totally stopped using pile insulation and soft shells in the mtns as an insulation layer.

I am back to using light weight wools sweaters or instead of a heavy wool sweater or pile I have switched to either a down or a synthetic layer that I would consider "sweater" weight.  By the looks of what is available today it seems I am not the only one.

Arcteryx Atom Lt used in cold (-20/-25C) climbing conditions.
As a comparison here is what the weights are of several pieces of clothing I use all the time for winter climbing.  Could be a day ice cragging in Bozeman or a full on winter day in the Icefields's at 10K feet or higher.

Belay sweater, insulated shell or just a sweater, your call and your label.

Arcteryx Squamish pullover XL 5.6oz  (pure wind shell)

Modern technical sweaters:

Patagonia Nano Puff  sweater 1/2 zip  large 11.5oz •60 gm/m² prima loft 1 insulation

Patagonia Nano Puff  Hooded sweater large 13.5oz •60 gm/m² prima loft 1 insulation

Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody large 14.3 oz •60 gm/m² Coreloft™ insulation

Arcteryx Atom Hoody LT XL  15.6 oz •60 gm/m² Coreloft™ insulation

Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody XL 15.6 800 fill

Patagonia Down Sweater XL 14.6 800 fill

EB 1st Ascent  Downlight Sweater XL 14.4 800 down fill

EB 1st Ascent Downlight Hoodie 1/2 zip XL 15.4 800 down fill

light weight insulated jackets as a comparison
Mtn Hardware Compressor Hoody 19.8oz (Primaloft)
Arcteryx Atom hoody SV 19.0oz
Patagonia  micro puff  Hoody 22 oz  (Primaloft)
Arcteryx Gamma MX Hoody XL 24oz (Polartec Power Shield soft shell)

I've been using an Arcteryx Atom LT Sweater now for a couple of seasons.  It is  10oz lighter than a soft shell MX Hoody and more water resistant from my experience.  Big plus is it also breathes better.  This winter simply because of the comfort and warmth of down clothing I have started using the Eddie Bauer Downlight series of sweaters and the Patagonia Hooded Down Sweater.   The use of down insulated clothing while ice and alpine climbing as base layers is clearly questionable.  And generally they are not very durable.

Some quick photos to see the sweaters used in combos.  Below: Here in -20C temps, no wind, with a Atom LT and a Compressor Hoody used at a belay stance.

Below: Colin Haley using the Patagonia Nano high on Denali while soloing the Cassin.
Below:Atom LT again in -20 temps and windy conditions.  Atom Lt over a R1 Hoody and a  Arcteryx Squamish pullover.  Just enough insulation if I kept moving.
Below: Same set up again but climbing slowly and cold shaded belays.  Perfect combo with the hood down for the temps which were around -10C.

Below: R1 Hoody here with a Polartec Power Shield Arcteryx Gamma MX Hoody, temps again a balmy -10/-15C with the hoods going up and down as I climbed.  No question the Gamma MX is the most durable of the "sweaters" under discussion.   It also weights in at 10oz more.

Below: This a combo for really cold weather (-15/-20C) I used for climbing a couple of years ago. On top of a R1 hoody again is  a med weight hooded  pile pull over jacket, and a Patagonia "Puff" pullover over that.  What I am using now is as warm but again half the weight.  By the time I retired my Puff  it was mostly held together by duct tape.  Warm, but not all that durable.

I would never recommend any of these sweaters in a down version for serious climbing.  Although I have to say I am using mine there on more and more occasions knowing full well just how worthless they are when wet from the environment or just as likely from perspiration while working hard.  Poking holes in a synthetic  sweater is bad enough.  Even worse with down gear.  It will happen if you are using them for ice or alpine.  Plan ahead. 

A synthetic belay jacket can dry a down sweater out pretty quickly with body heat alone but it still a huge hassle.   Best to know what will work or won't for your own use/project before getting into these too deep..

Besides Patagonia and Eddie Bauer, Mtn Hardware, Rab and Arcteryx are making similar products made with down or synthetic insulation.
If nothing else the "sweater" in any insulation material is another option you'll want to be fully aware of in your winter clothing system.

The following are comparison pictures and comments of the current sweaters I am using.  Most of it relates to the down versions with a few comments and pictures for the Arcteryz Atom LT.


Above: Blue jacket in this picture is the Patagonia Down Hoody,  the gold Jacket a Eddie Bauer Downlight Sweater.  Cuffs are virtually the same.

Above:  Again Pata and EB..pocket comparisons.  Same/same.

Above:  First major difference.  Both down versions are simple sewn through baffles. The Patagonia version (red) has a full front lining that adds some warmth and wind proofness.  The EB front lining (tan) only covers the lower torso behind the pockets.
 Above: Another small difference is the Patagonia version has a draw string at the waist.  EB version elastic only.

Above: Sewing quality is same/same form what I can see.
 Above: Patagonia's hooded version in blue.
 Above: Eddie Bauer's sweater collar in gold.
Above:  Eddie Bauer's Hooded version in a dark blue.

Above:  Arcteryx's Atom LT hood in lt blue with a red zipper pull.
 Above: Atom LT's (in blue) •Polartec® Power Stretch® with Hardface® Technology in the
stretch side panel vents in the side of the jacket.  High tech climbing gear here imo.  I really like it for my own use.  It is a bit of technology that can be down right nippy in a cold wind though.   The Atom SV is a very similar jacket but warmer and heavier with 100g fill (instead of 60g)  without the very breathable stretch side panels.  But it is very breathable in the under arm area with less insulation there.  More of a full blown jacket than  sweater though.   It is a bit warmer than the Atom LT but doesn't breath as well because of it.    Look for a update and comparison on the Atom SV and Atom LT in the near future.
Above:  Cuffs, L to R, from the EB, Pata, Arcteryx.  Again the Atom LT does it a bit better imo.
Above:  For those that wonder...between Patagonia and Eddie Bauer..800 fill down.  It is the good stuff.  Virtually the same weight jackets but the Eddie Bauer jackets show a lot more loft when measured side by side...almost twice the loft.  Which at best is still only 2 inches!   Patagonia Nano much less.  EB has 25% more down fill in any size sweater.  3oz for Patagonia to 4oz in the Eddie Bauer in a medium size men's.

Above:  The baffles size on the Patagonia garment are also smaller, so more sewn through seams and over all less insulation because of it.  Patagonia really needs that full front lining to be in the same category for warmth as the Eddie Bauer versions.
Finally, while I like the pull overs and they are very warm for their weight it limits their use a bit.  For example I use any insulation over my light weight sleeping bags when required.  I generally try not to sleep in every piece of clothing I own because it gets to confining.  A full zip sweater can add some insulation over the top of my bag.   While a pull over sweater can be used in the same manner it is much less likely to stay in place.
All of these patterns are very simple and easy to reconfigure.  If anyone at Eddie Bauer is listening...I'd like a full zip hoodie asap !

Retail on the Patagonia Down Hoodie is $250
Retail on the Patagonia Down Sweater is $200.

Retail on the Eddie Bauer Downlight Hoody is $189
Retail on the Eddie Bauer Downlight Sweater is $169

Sale prices?  Patagonia is difficult to find on sale.
Eddie Bauer is almost easy to buy at a factory story discount. 

-30 and snowing.. less than 16oz.....Jan 2011

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ed Cooper on Deltaform!

Many of the current generation of climbers may not know the name.  But you should!  Ed Cooper was climbing things years ago that many of us still aspire to today.  He was likely there first either taking pictures or climbing some thing that most have not seen in North America yet unless you have gotten off the beaten track.   From Denali and El Cap in the 50s to the "black hole" on the other side of the Canadian Icefields in the '60s.    I am honored to present Ed's comments and photos of Deltaform here on the blog.  What a treasure, enjoy!

Interview with Ed here:

His website is here:

Make sure you dbl click on the wonderful photos!

Ed's comments,
"I wouldn't describe Deltaform Mountain as an especially beautiful or aesthetic peak, but it is certainly an awesome mountain with a raw savage feel to it. It makes a great photographic study. Attached are several views of it, some with nearby peaks.They were all taken with a 4x5 view camera except for the view from the top of Mt. Lefroy, which was taken with a 2 ¼ x2 ¼ square folding camera. Low-res images are
included here, but the original scans are close to 300 megabytes each, enough to blow the images up to 30x40 inches and still maintain 300 dpi. Considerable restorative work was required on all the images, as over time the colors had faded, and fungal spots had appeared on the film emulsion."

"The north face has made my anti-bucket list; that is, I've added it to places I would rather not be. I have recalled two interesting anecdotes about this area."

"About the time the images taken in 1971, there was a fatal accident in the couloirs between Peaks 2 & 3 of the Valley of Ten Peaks. A climber was killed by a falling rock careening down the couloirs while he was ascending toward the Neil Cogan Hut located between Peaks 2 & 3. Sometime later, I happened to run across a climber that I knew, and he was very surprised to see me. He said, "I thought you were killed in the Valley of Ten Peaks area". It turns out that the climber that was killed had the last name of Cooper."

"The photo taken from the top of Mt. Lefroy has an interesting history behind it. It was the only time in my life that I have had a powerful premonition about a climb. This was a period in my life where I was exploring my inner self, with periods of intense meditation.    In August of 1971, I met up with and joined a group of 5 other climbers to climb Mt. Lefroy.

We approached the Abbot Pass Hut via the "Death Trap". The next morning we headed out and traversed out below Mt. Lefroy, The unofficial leader of the group pointed up a snow slope that led directly to the summit with no interruption by rocks. He indicated that that was the route.

One look at it and I had an immediate foreboding and knew that I couldn't go that way. I expressed my feeling to the group, and one of them agreed to go with me up another route, close to rocks, to the right of the other climbers.

As we proceeded upward, we noticed snow conditions deteriorating rapidly due to the warm sun. Snow was starting to slough off and slide. We stayed as close to the rocks as possible and actually climbed on them where feasible. It was during this time that we heard some commotion and shouts off to our left, where the other climbers were. Once we had reached a perch where we could look to the left, we saw the other
four climbers near the base of the climb. It was obvious they had been caught in an avalanche.

There was nothing we could do at this point, as it was too dangerous to descend even the route we were ascending. At least two of the climbers were moving around, so we knew that they, at least, would be able to get back to the hut at Abbot Pass and call for help.

To make a long story short, we reached the summit (where I took the picture) and then proceeded eastward over unknown terrain to find our way down. We weren't prepared to follow a new route, and we wound up traversing many ledges below cliff faces in an attempt to get back to the hut. We had to rappel a few times. At some point we were aware of helicopter noise, which came in to rescue the most severely injured of the climbers.

We arrived back at the hut just as darkness was closing in, thankful that we had chosen a different route!"