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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Real Adventure?

So when was the last time you had a real adventure? You know, something out of your comfort zone?

My lovely wife had one today. Her first group ride on an unknown route. Made me think of the first time I did the same ride. Heart rate maxed for 2 hours....every turn new. And me wondering if I would have to get off the bike and walk on the next hill. Funny how experience, repetition and time changes our perspective. I found myself wanting to help her savor her newest adventure. It isn't about what we do, it is that we choose to try. It is about how far we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and how often. That is the real adventure.

Last week I was on a route again that the first time I tried to climb it we failed....40 feet from the top, terrified and it took the rest of the daylight and then some to get off....using a BIC lighter to find pin cracks to set the anchors just to get down. Those same anchors are now replaced by 3/8" bolts and chain stations.

Some of my best adventures have nothing to do with how difficult the climbing is. Some were just amazing learning experiences, the demands of relationships that matter....or injuries.

But I still remember that adventure and failing, so sweetly painful and close, years ago, like it was yesterday. Isn't that what the best adventures are all about?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Old school technology on modern ice?

There is a lot to recommend the really light weight boots with super soft ankles like the La Sportiva Batura and Trango Extremes on steep technical ice but comfort and calf support aren't two that come to mind.

One way I have found to help that style of boot on endurance ice is use some old technology that a few back country skiers are now remembering as well.

Long Thongs and Alberg straps in the past were used to help stiffen the ankle on ski boots, long before I started skiing. A extra wrap or two around the ankle, then snugged up tight, is just what I need for long, full days on continuous ice. Might not be enough for Alaska but should get you up things like Polar Circus, Slipstream or the N. Face of Athabasca with a bit more comfort in those soft ankled, stiff soled, light weight boots we all love. Not required for the typical ice cragging day though. Nice because with the option of stiffening the ankle the biggest advantage to me of these boots is how easily they walk with those same, soft ankles. Hard climbs with long approaches (or long climbs with only a moderate amount of hard climbing) is where i think these boots excel.

Black Diamonds heel levers and their safety straps ($30 a pair for the entire kit straight from BD catalog sales) offer the perfect option and length of strap on my size 12 boots and skinny ankles. You can use BD and Grivel levers on Petzl if you like. Cut the wire straps off the front bail and the Grivel/BD straps will work in a similar manner with at least one full wrap around the ankle for additional support. Heel levers are easy to switch off and on. Another advantage is you are less likely to ever loose a 'pon if the 'pon clips ever pop off your boot. Something else I really appreciate is you can then cut those damn toe retainer pieces off the front bail and forget about them!

Leashless Gloves?

The simply amazing OR Vert.

Two items in winter climbing are a major concern for me on every trip. Those are boots and gloves. Match the wrong set to a climb and things can be miserable. Get the right set of boots and gloves for the effort and temps involved and things can sail sweetly along with you living in comfort and warmth.

Gloves for me are as much a chance choice as a well researched project. Kelly Cordes has a good article on his blog and a bunch of real world users that added their own data points. Nice to see what I came up with over a few seasons as choices for my own use are pretty much what was recommended there.

Dig around in Kelly's site for glove info. There is more besides this link.

I am a big believer in carrying multiple pairs of gloves. Although with the best gloves (I am using now) the extra pairs required is going down. Another caution...these gloves and my glove system WILL NOT work well in cold weather if you are climbing on leashes.

The "go to" BD HeavyWeight

First glove I use a lot and really like is a simple Black Diamond liner glove call the "HeavyWeight". Cheap at $30 a pair and seem to last for ever. I use them on every approach that requires a glove. They are a must have for me.
BD's info and spec.
Style Number: BD801066_cfg
Ideal for gaining vertical without overheating.
•300 g (11 oz) Polartec® Power Stretch® fleece
•Full goat leather palm with Kevlar stitching
•Silicon-imprinted fingertips
•Knit cuff to seal out the weather

The OR ExtraVert

The next two gloves are from Outdoor Research and considered part of their "work glove" line up. Still on the grand scheme of things fairly cheap. $50 for the Vert and $60 for the ExtraVert a pair which seems like a real deal price wise to me. I am most likely to actually climb in the VERT. But the ExtraVert was the glove that first brought me to OR. I've found over time that climbing leashless and with the right amount of clothes (with good wrist seal designs) I can go even lighter on my glove choices. Wrist seals on the shell gear and half glove extensions on my inner layer allow for the lightest gloves while still having warm hands in even some pretty cold conditions.

The third glove and one of my all time favorites, like the OR Vert, a pair I am most likely to be climbing in is the Mountain Hardware Hydra glove. These guys rock for cold weather leashless climbing. Big enough internally to take the HeavyDuty or any lwt liner if required on cold belay duty. But also climb every well and are warm just as they come.

The exceptional MH Hydra

From the MH web site.
Hydra Glove: A flexible soft shell glove designed for alpine climbing, with OutDry® Waterproof Technology. We bond the waterproof, breathable OutDry® membrane to four-way stretch soft shell fabric, sealing out water, wind, and cold. Lined with high-pile fleece for comfort.
MSRP: 100.00
Gender Mens
Usage Alpine Climbing / Mountaineering
Weight 7 oz. / 190 g.
Lining Velboa™ Raschel
Palm Material Water-resistant Goatskin Leather
Body 4-Way Stretch Nylon Soft Shell
Laminate OutDry® Waterproof Technology

I have all sorts of other gloves/mitts but these are what I am actually using and have for a few seasons now. Couple of things worth noting. All have a leather palm. Leather palms and fingers are durable for raps and most importantly easy to place screws with. Decent grip on rubber wrapped shafts as well. All but the ExtraVert are very easy to dry out. The Verts I have soaked through and literally had to wring water out of several times on the same climb and then could wear them dry while rapping down in below zero temps. I was impressed. If only boots were so easy! With a tiny bit of redesgn the Vert from OR could easily lead the field in gloves for my style of climbing.

My list of features for a good glove?
Leather palms, Shoeller material body, nose wipe, medium to long, well tailored, wrist cuff, both finger and cuff hangers and preferably a low profile velcro seal on the cuff and wrist. Or at least a better elastic draw cord arrangement than what is common in most everyone's design. Easy to turn inside out to dry....or at least easy to dry. And most importantly FLAT SEAMS on the bottom of the little finger and hopefully those seams on the side, not the bottom of the finger. Seams there, when climbing leashless, will make your life miserable in the extreme.

Outdoor Research and Mtn Hardware are both very close to my "ultimate" glove.

There are obviously lots of gloves out there. I've tried all sorts of off the wall answers that were not climbing specific. And BD has an entire line of climbing gloves I have never seen. No one seems to carry them all locally. Others must make good gloves as well I suspect. Look around! Some of the better cross country ski glove manufactures make awesome gloves that will work great for leashless climbing. After all the best gloves I have found are "work" gloves from OR. OR doesn't even consider either model than many of us are using climbing gloves! Even REI makes some nice gloves that can do double duty. In fact one of my favorite gloves to solo shorter alpine and ice in is the REI Minimalist. But you can't easily place a screw with the super sticky rubber palm and they are a bitch to dry out. It takes a least a full day and some times more at home to get them dry with that glove turned almost inside out. At $35 a pair or better yet $15. a pair on sale I use them from time to time. A leather palm and a OutDry liner would make the REI Minimalist a real keeper imo even at $60.

Like anyone would take note and actually make a climbing specific glove for today's standards?!

The REI Minimalist

Friday, February 26, 2010

Crampons! These Freak'n 'Pons!

Rant mode on!

The best you could buy in the late 1960's. And good enough to get a few up some damn hard climbs even by today's standards.

OK I know we have to use crampons. In the old days (geeze i have to say that a lot) I owned one set of 'pons and did everything in them. Same 'pons for a slog on Rainier, 5.10 mixed or vertical ice. Same freak'in 'pons and I was happy about it!

Jim Elzinga photo on the 1st ascent of Slipstream

Now I own and use...wait I have to write it down first to actually figure out what I do own! Dartwins, Darts, Grivel Rambo IV, and G12s, BD stainless Sabertooths and Cyborgs and finally Camp aluminum 12 points. 7 pair!

It frankly pisses me off!

What I would be satisfied with is a crampon at the weight of the best aluminum 'pons that climbed as well as the newest BD Sabertooths. Sabertooths will easily do rotten WI6 in dbl boots if you are up to the task. Of course that magic of super light and real performance doesn't exist yet. Anyone that tells you the vertical front point crampons climb ice better than the horizontal crampons is just uneducated or naive enough to repeat some salesman's logic. Either way it is crap...excuse me.. false/bad info. Because vertical front points don't climb better and in most cases they climb worse. On pure water ice the horizontal front points excel in every condition.

Add some difficult rock and you might get me to sway a tiny bit on that opinion. But while a mono point can make rock climbing easier and a dual vertical point might have a tiny advantage at times...but then I have never been on anything out side an artificial environment like Hafner where horizontal front points weren't an advantage on pure ice in every way except weight.

Then there is the issue of a crampon losing downward angled spikes to make them lighter. What kind of nonsense is that? Climb in a pair of Dartwins and then a pair of Sabertooths on moderate ground with hard ice and see what I mean. Damn Dartwins (which I like btw) feel like roller skates in comparison to the Sabertooth.

Or how about spikes so long you can hardly walk in them? Do we really need crampons that are so condition specific, hard ice, soft ice, Neve?

Modified G12s on a pair of La Sportiva Trangos Extremes

Then we get into the binding. Only thing I own is clip on 'pons. Wire bail in front and a lever lock in back. Petzl seems to think the plastic bail biting your Achilles tendon is a good thing....knuckle heads! While BD makes their stuff so burly and hell for stout you could winch a truck up on the wires. A 2nd knucklehead award!

Getting any of the major manufacturers' clip on 'pons to actually fit your boots is another crap shoot all together. I have mixed Petzl front bails with BD and Grivel heel levers to get everything to fit and work to my own satisfaction. Crazy and expensive as all that seems! Hate to think anyone in the climbing hardware industry or boot manufacturing might actually promote a DIN standard for alpine boots and 'pons. No that would be asking way toooooooooo much!

Don't get me started on the anti-botts. Take a look at the newest Grivel Rambo IVs being imported to the USA if you want to see a disaster in the making. Hard plastic botts with a hard plastic bubble to slide around on...saw that happening for a week! Scared me bad and I wasn't even climbing on them. You'd be better off to just strip them while new and enjoy a exceptional design with no bott. Hey almost as good as not putting one on the crampon....Petzl's idea on how to design them...just don't bother.

My idea of a good boot 'pon combination? La Sportiva Baruntse and BD stainless Sabertooth...but at half the current weight!

'Pons Part Two

From another conversation...after this blog was written.

"Like many of us with an entire quiver of 'pons sitting in the gear room what we choose to climb on personally wasn't/isn't what is always recommended in print. Given a choice what I choose to climb on for crampons depends on the conditions and route choosen that day."

"I'm just interested in what you prefer for pure ice and why."

On ice you can easily go from hard blue steel type stuff to vertical slush in a single day of climbing. Road side crags aren't a big deal, longer routes can be. Climb longer routes fast or climb faster than the changing conditions and it may not make a difference. On a order of preferenece and reliability ( for good feet) the first crampon on pure ice to let you down in changing conditions are monopoints. They have the least amount of surface area to support you and will not easily support you if the ice gets bad enough. Right behind them but with twice the surface area will be dual vertical front points. Think about that for a minute. Your entire body weight goes on a mono, then you literally double the surface support on dual verts to even more support on dual horizontals. It will obviously make a difference.

The most surface area will always be horizonal front points and because of that, they will the most reliable in all conditions. The other issue I note is most but not all vertical front points require physical placement, just as a tool does, by a kick or two instead of that good swing with your tool. It also wastes energy. First kick needs to clean off the loose ice and the second or more to actually place them securely. The lack of surface area generally requires it.

Curved horizontal front points will sink into the ice under body weight, no kick required. And because of the additional surface area don't require much in the way of support by the condition of the ice in comparison to the other two styles. Energy saved. The majority of time that is true but not always. If I have to kick a cold fragile feature that might collapse I want a razor sharp, single vertical front point. But cold hard ice that is collapsing as I kick it that will eventually get to solid ice I'll want horizontals.

A fully featured horizontal crampon generally has at least 8 vertical crampon points. (Dartwin for example) While a G12 has 10 and a BD Sabertooth has 12. Doesn't take a lot of imagination to realise which will be more stable on moderate ice while using French technique. Same technique and places I get rests on hard technical ice. The Dartwin (which I climb in a lot) feels like a pair of roller skates compared to the other two imo with the BD a fair step up on the Grivel in the same conditions. Then why do I bother with the other 'pons? Simple. Overall weight mostly and even more important to me than performance at some point, the boot to 'pon fit.

Even with the big advantage of real rigids on pure ice, and it is a BIG advantage..I shy away from them now because of the same basic reason..weight.

For steep, technical climbs like these, all at about the same grade, I used crampons with horizontal front points, BD Sabertooth and Grivel G12s.

And to be fair all my partners for these three climbs choose to use some form of vertical front point or mono point. Black Diamond Sabertooth, Grivel Rambo and Petzl Darts were all represented.

So does it really matter? Only a couple of reasons for which I can justify a preference. First would be if the ice you are on starts to fall down around you when the sun comes out or you miss judge what the conditions were from a distance. These are all one or two pitch climbs close to the road. So I could choose what I wanted to climb on for crampons that day.

Or if you require a secure, easy rest or need to save energy on hard technical terrain. The added security on easy ground of a truly full featured crampon is comforting. All things I find helpful in my own climbing.

What's for Dinner?

Ya, no, not what you are thinking.

Dinner as in "dinner plates", the kind you get on hard, cold ice and can reap some havoc even if you are careful.

Most of us have been cut at one time or another. Some have had stitches or just as likely should have had stitches and didn't. I've been knocked out cold, by a dinner plate while leading...imagine that!?

So we wear helmets. But in addition to the helmet there is something else I used to make fun of now I doubt I'll ever climb ice again without one. It is the visor. Couple of companies offering them in different versions. Easiest one for me to get my hands on was a Petzel.

Last year I popped a small piece of ice directly into my eye on a hard lead. Big enough piece and high enough velocity it bruised my eye ball just off the lens. Scared me a bit honestly, since my eye sight is much of how I make a living. That and the fact it hurt bad enough I couldn't open my eye, let alone see out of it, for several minutes. That while hanging on tools in the midst of a serious lead for me. A sore eye ball for several more days after that trip kept up the reminder. So I found a visor this summer and added it to my Canadian ice gear list. Still not convinced it was worth the effort on local ice. Then on the last trip the visor deflected a fist size piece of ice bound for my chin that I never saw coming. Decided by now that the visor is a good thing on any ice. Bit hard to pack around but easier than expected so far. It is a gimmick...and I hate gimmicks but this one really does work and worth the silly price tag imo.

A new one on me was having a dinner plate smack me in the foot this trip and dang near break a toe. Never would have imagined! The purple toe nail pictured below is a week old now. I will obviously lose the nail in time. Didn't hurt terribly bad at the time although I did notice the smack while leading on a pillar of hard ice. But...WOWIE..was it sore the next few days afterwards.

Not that big a piece of ice either. I would have thought my boots would have protected me more. No mark on the boot but with some inspection of the boot toe it is easy to see a big piece of ice could collapse the boot enough and damage your foot. You have to be careful out there :)

Just helps to be aware of what could happen in lwt boots. If this incident (my first in 30+ years of waterfall ice) is any indication a broken foot is not out of the question with a well planted crampon and a big piece of ice.

Winter Layers?

(or in this case lack of layers)

I was lucky enough to spend the last week ice climbing around Banff and on the Icefield's Parkway in Alberta Canada. Places I have climbed and skied in most winters for years.

Besides the obvious high quality ice climbing I was really looking forward to field testing some new (for me anyway) pieces of clothing and ideas on cold weather use.

But before I get to what I used on this trip and the results, let me back up a bit and tell you what I have used in years previously and have been happy with generally.

The coldest temps we would actually climb in hover around -25/-30C (-22F). Anything colder and I retreat to a shelter, hot springs and good food. Not uncommon to see
+10C (50F) on calm days in the sun on sheltered ice climbs.

Base layers?
Generally Merino wool or Capilene, two piece set ups and one piece union suits depending on the temperatures. Some times even those would get layered.

Mid layer/insulation ?
Pile. Pick your weight and material but generally some sort of pile gear. Pile pants and pile shirts or sweaters.

Outer layer/ protection?
Early on it was nylon shells, then Goretex and then Shoeller style soft shells of wool/spandex (25 years ago) and more recently synthetics (Shoeller and its copies) with real 4 way stretch.

Boots were singles and dbls. Often times with Supergators on the singles and even the dbls when required.


Old stand-bys were boiled wool Dachsteins with/without over mitts. My favorite were Dachsteins and Helly Hansen over mitts and when required a foam pad between the layers to keep your hands from getting too beat up with straight shafted tools. Dachstein gloves had their place as well...but generally considered a luxury. Goretex shelled gauntlet gloves with thick pile liner came next and have remained a standard with leashed tools.

Leashed tools? Leashless tools? Here is where much of the info I am relating splits. True leashless tools like the newest BD Cobra and Fusion or the Petzl Nomic and Quarks have in many ways redefined what we use for clothing on ice/mixed climbs. Gear that easily works leashless will NOT be warm enough, in my experience, for leashed climbing.

OK..back to the clothing systems.

An old saying I heard as a kid was, "Eskimos never sweat." The thought behind that? It was just too cold in an Arctic environment to ever risk getting wet, soaking your insulation and then having that insulation freeze. Makes sense, but how do you ever get anything done and not sweat if you are working hard and trying to climb fast?

(I'm about to repeat info now that can be better understood by reading Mark Twight's and Will Gadd's ice climbing/technique books)

Obviously you'll sweat on the approach unless you really back off the pace. I don't do approaches longer than just a few minutes in my climbing upper layer. I dress really lightly on the top layer for the walk in and then dry off and change to dry clothes at the base of the climbing.

To stay dry I use a belay sweater/jacket (depending on insulation required by the temps) to let my body heat dry me off and keep me warm while drying out at the belay if I have broken a sweat climbing. Better yet climb with a light enough and breathable enough set of clothing that you don't wet your body or gear on anything but the hardest leads. It is a tough balancing act.

Light enough...breathable enough?

Four words that are saying a lot! You need to push the definition of both imo.

I switched a few years ago to all Shoeller style clothing. But unbelieving in just how far I really needed to go I bought all the gear in a insulated form. To be specific Arteryx Gamma MX hoody and pants. I have worn out a set of both over time. And I still love both of them for climbing. But for everything but the very coldest weather (below -20C) I find that material (Polartec Power Shield in the Gamma MX line) to be too much now.

Why too much? Too heavy physically, too warm and not breathable enough.

OK, you ask, "WTF, Dane?" "That is a $400 piece of kit (Gamma MX Hoody) you encouraged me to buy last year and now you are telling me it is rubbish?...too warm?...too heavy?"

Last year I thought the Gamma MX hoody would be the one piece of clothing I would always take on alpine/ice routes. Now I am saying it is too much? Yes....but don't throw it away just yet :)

You need to go back to the idea that "cool muscles work more efficiently".

Mind you it might take you a bit of effort to find out just how "cool" you are willing to work at to make this all work. That might include a trip where you dress too light and freeze your ass off to find out just how "cool" you'll want to be :) I'd suggest you make that trip, a low risk, high energy event. If you blow it bad on the clothing combos at least movement will generally keep you warm. You need to iron out your system in a fairly controlled environment.

The rewards are worth the risk imo. But to be sure, blow these combinations in a big way and cold injury is almost certain or even death will be the end result. I have used the system at a fine edge half a dozen times now and I had significant performance and recovery break through each time. I also look back and thank my lucky stars that there was no "incident" on those climbs that could have easily precipitated a disaster. An unplanned night out in bad weather while cutting it close on gear can be more than just uncomfortable.

The results of 24 unplanned hrs out in 10F temps? A full year of recovery.

Here are my current thoughts on winter clothing systems. Limit the layers. Yes, limit the layers! The first picture in this post is me climbing early in my career in mostly wool, with temps rapidly going to -40 as the sun went down. It was pretty miserable at the time and to be honest a little scary. I had never been in such temps and that exposed before.

But a couple of things made a big difference. I was mobile, light layers made that possible. I was dry internally because the clothing breathed well and so I stayed warm if I kept moving. Funny now because I realised as I typed this morning that the clothing pictured there (circa 1973) would be a perfect set up for leashless climbing now in very cold temps...say -20C but not at
-40C :)

So limit the layers and stay mobile. Easy to do now with modern clothing.

Layer ONE:

I am using a R1 Hoody inner layer. MEC makes R1 tops and bottoms for something like $60 retail. Or you can buy Patagonia's for $150. Same exact material and in several ways the MEC clothing is better designed imo. Now there is a easy decision?!

Yep, just the R1 and nothing between it and my skin. Although my lowers are actually Costco longs...almost expedition weight but some brand name called "Paradox". The R1 seems to be just a bit much on my legs and I lose some mobility compared to the Paradox lowers which seem to slide in the outer shell pants I am using easier.

Layer TWO:

That depends on the outside temps and the level of aerobic action I expect. My current choices going warm to colder temps are:

Eddie Bauer Front Point is a combo hard shell and soft shell . Very water resistant (my top was dry in a soaking waterfall that went straight through my pants and filled my boots to the brim) and very breathable. I am highly impressed with the details of this garment and the combo of materials used. A surprising and almost immediate favorite for cold technical climbing.


Arcteryx Atom Lt Hoody....lightly insulated shell with stretch vented sides and under the arms. Again a surprise, water resistant as well but not tested to any extreme yet. Very warm for its weight and thickness but useful in the right temps (cold) for hard climbing because the stretch side panels and insulated body breath so well.

Worth noting that I have now cut one full layer from the previous suggestions from even last year's system. Insulation is used as required in the base layer and in the outer layer. But there is no seperate insulation layer short of the belay jacket. The real insulation is in layer THREE where the insulation can EASILY be added or just as likely removed to keep you dry and mobile.

For my pants I have been using the Arcteryx Gamma Lt. this winter. I did add a set of grommets to use them as a pant gaiter. And no one more surprised than me that a set of generic long johns and a Gamma Lt. would be good enough to keep me warm and toasty from -20C to well above freezing and still breath enough on the "death marches" while toiling amd dripping in in sweat. Only disadvantages I see are they aren't very durable and the lower left leg could be more tapered if my crampon "wear" is any indication.

Layer THREE:

A Belay jacket chosen for the degree of warmth required and how much drying will be required.

Listed warm temps to cold and how much moisture I expect:

Mountain Hardware Compressor Hoody (Primaloft 1)
*shown here in combo with the Atom Lt @ -20C in the shade*

Narrona Hooded Down

MEC Tango Belay Jacket (Primaloft 1)

Eddie Bauer XV

That is it...THREE... layers total. And one generally will be in the pack.

Gloves and boots?

Maintaining your mobility, cutting down on weight by doing so allows you to move faster. You can then use lighter weight boots and gloves and still stay equally as warm or warmer while moving faster with less effort! Add the advantages of leashless tools and the differences of what you can get away with for a glove system while still being comfortable is simply...amazing.

You have to remember it is a SYSTEM. If required I could carry and use both layer TWO pieces together for extra warmth. I'll do another post and describe the boot and glove systems I am using with this clothing combo. Scarpa and La Sportiva for boots and Outdoor Research and Mtn Hardware for gloves cover the brand names here for me.

Bottom line on the field testing? Climbed harder and faster with less effort and less clothes and in more comfort than ever before in Canada. Huge success for me.

An after note..

A long time climbing buddy who on occasion reads the blog busted on me for listing all the brand names I use. I search out the best gear for my own use and buy it at retail. No one giving this stuff to me. But that doesn't make it the best gear for your use. I list the manufacturers simply so you can make direct comparison for your own benefit.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I like to solo. It is addictive. But hard to get good enough to solo at a high level unless you have good partners. Not impossible mind you but at least for me just not likely to be able to get the "miles" in to be comfortable on something I find interesting. Read "challenging" into interesting if you like. But grades don't matter...what ever level you find interesting.

For me at any rate it really boils down to having a good partner or better yet, a small group of good partners!

But they are so hard to come by. Old climbing friends may not have the drive or goals you have now. Old friends may no longer climb. New climbing partners may not have a personality you can understand let alone deal with for more than a few minutes not to mention a few stressful hours ...or better yet, back to back, stressful DAYS!

Good partners are like any good relationship. Lots of give and take, communication BOTH ways and the maturity to understand the other's weaknesses and strengths. Best to leave the ego at home. Friendly competition can be great or it can be dangerous. You can use that competition spirit to your advantage but my thought now is it is better just left home.

The best partnerships make each 1/2 better than can be on their own. I'd never solo if I had partners that always helped me climb at that level!

I've climbed so many times with partners that between the two of us we were barely as good as we needed to be. Everything was a little extra effort, needlessly so. It is a rare combination that gets up climbs that neither could do alone.

If you have had that kind of partnership you'll already know it and hopefully still be able to tap into that synergy. If you have yet to experience it keep looking! The time and energy is well worth the effort!

The most important thing? You have to be willing to get out... look around and climb with new people. Have a "student's mind". Bemoaning the fact you have no one to climb with and no time to get out....and I have done a lot of both....isn't going to get you up the next hill!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

If you haven't you should?

Obviously I really like winter climbing. If you haven't checked out what is happening in Scotland lately on a couple of my favorite blogs you should.

The history and men behind our sport is inspiring. Repeating the big Marshall /Smith routes in a week of climbing on the Ben and better yet, filming it for all of us to see is great entertainment. Hard not to get stoked.
Take a look!
For the locals? We have stuff every bit as good and may be even better just up I90 on Snoqualmie pass. Go get some!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We are lazy!

It occurs to me that most of us are lazy. I certainly am. I hate breaking trail. Not all that excited about blowing out my arms on a hard lead.

I want short approaches and am willing to drive 18 hrs straight or fly to another continent to keep them short.

I've climbed in most of the major ranges in the northern hemisphere
and a couple in the southern . And it occurs to me that some of the
most fun alpine ice and mixed I've been on is local. 45 minutes to
the parking lot and a hr or so uphill walk for me. Of course when
I lived just 200 miles away from what is now my "local" crags I'd
drive 700 miles one way to avoid the 1 or 2 hr walk and the abysmal
conditions or generally lack of conditions.

I'm not alone. Even when the Ice/mixed is great locally the biggest
weekend turnouts are the local SAR teams when someone gets lost
or is just over due a few hrs. That might make 20 people on the
the local hills and only 1/3 of them actual climbers.

I figure it is Volcano Apathy here in the NW. You know, wait till summer, blue sky and warm weather. Go climb Rainier, Hood, Adams, St. Helens or Baker. Nothing wrong with that mind you.

But then I look around the Cascades, even close to my house! Literally 100s of unclimbed lines, dozens of major climbs. And I'm about to get in the truck and drive 700 miles one way again....yep, sadly I'm lazy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Injury, recovery and death

If you play at this game long enough eventually you'll get hurt. Some will obviously die. But then we all die don't we? I would prefer something besides climbing. But we don't get to make that choice usually. It is the recovery I find interesting.

This is a forum post I made on after a fall in early May of 2008.
What isn't mentioned until now is the many pee bottles my wife emptied, the breakfast and lunches she left at my night stand and the stress she went through watching all this unfold at home or waiting in a hospital room. And now seeing me climb and solo again. You had better pick a tough partner.

"I fell off."
Took me a while to decide to write about this. Still uncomfortable with the format I have chosen but hopefully some will find the comments enlightening. But it is written for me as much as it is for the forum.

I have been climbing awhile and taken many, many falls while leading on trad routes and later on sport routes. The longest a full 70’ onto a 2” swami with no leg loops. Very few falls (actually only a couple) came as a surprise on lead. The 70’ was one of them. But no harm, no foul and no serious injuries. The surprises and really pushing hard I generally saved for top ropes. From the early ‘80s to the mid ‘90s I was fortunate enough to do a number of 1st ascents of trad routes in the .11s to easy .12 range and was able to solo a lot. Solos included multi pitch 5.10 and 5.11 routes.

In all that mileage over the years the few injuries I did sustain in falls have been minor, blistered finger tips on a slab, a tweaked ankle I could walk on after dropping onto a sloping ledge, a grounder that I could at least hobble away from. None of them a surprise. Sore and bruised maybe but never broken. Only one kept me off the rock again that particular day.

So when I have read about rock climbing accidents over the years I have always put them off to bad luck, inexperience or just plain stupidity on the climbers part.

Then I fell off.

How hard was it? 5.6. How high? Maybe 20 feet? Most will know the route, The Fault on Lower Castle Rock. It is a simple chimney pitch, easily climbed inside the chimney until you can get some protection and squirm out of the crack just past the tree. Or you can face climb the chimney wall if you choose till you get to that first piece of pro in.

I have soloed the complete Fault/Catapult line to Logger’s Ledge and finished by climbing one route or another on upper Castle Rock many times.

I can tell you in detail how the fall happened. I remember a good left foot and a great left hand. Right hand was just in casual opposition on the edge of the chimney. It was all I needed to make the right step up. As I stepped up to a small ledge for my right foot I was thinking about how my Carhart pants were just a bit too tight for the high step I was taking. And that I had one more move before my first piece of pro would go in. No worries, casual.

Then my left bicep tore completely off my forearm (old injury my Doc said to rehab, which I did and then ice climbed on all winter) There is more to that story but not really relevant to my point of this post.

As I said I’ve taken enough falls to have a pretty good idea of what is now happening. Wall is just off vertical here. I remember thinking it was bad that I wasn’t falling straight down. In retrospect I suspect that saved me from even more serious injuries. ( like shattered ankles and broken legs) I felt the toe of my right foot hooking on the rock as I went down. Kinda like a crampon would do on ice. That is never a good thing. THANG! goes the right ankle. That ain’t going to be pretty is my last conscious thought. Next thing I am almost horizontal and figure I smacked the shallow scoop on the right wall. I’m out cold and bouncing down the wall now so who knows. Bouncing is another good thing in retrospect.

From the tally of my injuries later I suspect my partner Paul (SOBO here at probably saved my life. Paul actually stood his ground and used his body to break my fall. I suspect I knocked him ass over tea-kettle.

(some of this may or may not have ACTUALLY happened, Paul can add any details I have wrong)

When I came to I can remember being annoyed that someone was yelling and shaking me to wake me up.
I was in a happy place and just wanted to be left alone to enjoy my sleep.

Then I realized I was sucking in dirt through my mouth and nose and was lying horizontal on my side facing the wall. And that I’d fallen off. Didn’t have the wind knocked out of me….although I suspect that all happened while I was unconscious. From just my little “reality check” I figured I was pretty fucked up. I rolled over, sat up and changed my shoes and soxs and took off my harness. At some point I remember saying “Sorry but I am done for today”. Then I tried to stand. That wasn’t going to happen. "Shit, can’t even hobble back to the car…this is embarrassing.”

A couple of other climbers came up the trail and didn’t notice anything special. Paul explained to them what had happened and asked them to use a phone to get an ambulance on the way. One of the guys split to get phone reception farther down the canyon near Leavenworth. I suspect less than 30 minutes later the emergency crews showed up, taped me to a back board and down the hill and off to Wenatchee Valley Hospital I went. I was out of the hospital 6 or 7 hrs later, had my wife and a friend pick up my car and checked us into a hotel in Leavenworth.

It was a rough drive getting home the next day.

For the next 4 weeks I lived with pee bottles, muscle relaxants and pain killers. Surgery on my torn bicep could not be done until the headaches eased from the concussion. (A helmet? Come on it is cragging in Leavenworth for chrimney sake) You have a 14 day window for the surgery before your bicep starts to really atorphy and then shrink into you upper shoulder. 14 days later the surgery would be a mute point. I went 10 days.

My head still felt like someone wanted to get in using a can opener. I wanted a working arm and decided the pain wasn’t that bad…at least not enough to mention again.

4 weeks on serious pain killers will plug up an healthy elephant. At some point I decided taking a shit was more important that being in happy land with no pain. I think it was the night I had to pull a turd out of my own ass and keep from passing out while doing so. Ya it was that grim. The second one wasn’t any better.
Fuck, it hurt.

It was bad and had to change. I decided shitting was more important than lack of pain and advil would have to do from that day forward. Although there were times I broke down and thankfully got another 4 hr fix so I could sleep.

It is now a full 6weeks later. I started spending most of the day out of bed @ 4 weeks. Simply because I couldn’t sleep without the pain killers. I still couldn’t walk. I could move my ankle so started rehab at home. I was actually able to run 2 miles yesterday. The first at 13 minutes and after a couple of minute break the second at 11 min. Up from sub 7s six weeks ago. I have a ways to go but I can walk and run again. There were times in the drug induced haze that I wondered.

Today I did a 10 mile bike ride. Took me 46 minutes on a course I can generally do in mid 30s. But I am mobile again. Things will go faster now. My head still hurts on a daily basis. I have some memory loss. Rehab always hurts but that will diminish in time as well.

When they put me into the ambulance I figured I was pretty messed up. I hurt from my big toe (the nail is totally black now) to my eyebrow (my only cut) on my right side. A torn bicep only hurts when you actually tear it off, them the pain is gone. So the left side was good. I refused any pain meds in the ambulance so I could accurately describe what I though my injuries were to the ER Dr.

After a lifetime of injuries I thought I had a pretty good idea on what I had broken…..again.

Right ankle broken (last shattered in ’93)
Broken hip…new one for me
Internal injuries on my right side… again new
Broken right little finger (’05)
Broken shoulder ( ’75)
Broken back ( ’73)
Broken neck …another new one
Left bicep detached (right bicep ’07)

Thankfully I was way off on my own diagnosis.
But trust me, every one of those areas still hurts 6 weeks later. Enough so that it is distracting.

(the real and misunderstood aftermath was the full year + for all the internal injuries to heal)

The ankle was just a severe sprain. Early rehab and 4 weeks of bed rest made for a quick recovery once I could take body weight on it. Nothing else broken besides the finger which was dislocated in the fall. It finally was realigned correctly this week when I shook hands with a buddy. Brought tears to my eyes but the finger works better now, just one sore nasty bitch at the moment.

Something not quite right with my guts. On the ride today everything between my hips and my armpit felt like they were unglued internally. Pushing hard on the bike just made me puke. I still can’t sleep on my right side. I’m counting on that just “going away”. Gotta make me think again on how lucky I was to have Paul break the fall and not just auger in to the dirt.

My right shoulder feels pretty much like it did after being dislocated. Loss in range of motion and it makes some funny sounds now. Professional rehab, lots of hard work and time for that one.

My neck now makes all sorts of funny noises when I move and gets really sore if I move it wrong or quickly. Head aches come and go. A 2” strip from the back of my neck to the top of my scalp still feels “weird” and itches. Again…if I had hit without Paul breaking the fall…...I suspect I’d now be dead or much more seriously injured.

The bicep surgery went fine. I am well on the way back to full strength on the left arm. Only down side is the top of my left hand and wrist are now numb from nerve damage during surgery…not uncommon.. Won’t be climbing any cracks till I get full feeling back there.

Turns out it was a full year to get the left bicep back to even half the original strength and usable climbing again. Surgery was not a total failure, the surgeon was, in comparison to the same tendon tear on my right arm.

So what did an off day on the rock really cost besides a few extra aches and pains?

To date, 6 weeks out of work and counting. I am just now starting to get a few hours a day in the shop. I work for myself so I can set my own schedule. Down side is if I don’t work there is no cash flow coming in and at the moment lots of it going out. I suspect it will be another 6 weeks before I can physically put in a full 40 hr week. I have a decent insurance plan but will still pay between 2 to $3000 out of pocket by the time I am done.

What really happened was I tried to get to work and working out too early and then spent a another 6 months rehabing when I should have been healing. At 56 it was a big mistake.

Not everything is in yet for billing and the rehab is a conservative estimate from what I have paid on other injuries in the past couple of years. You need to learn to be your own health’s advocate. Remember that our health professionals are still “practicing medicine”. You might as well start now, doing the same. No one knows your body better than you. Ask questions, learn to say no and most importantly listen to your body. And finally, don’t deck out

Considering a trip to the emergency room and only one “real” injury (torn bicep) was treated things add up fast.

The actual bills I have seen so far look something like this:

$1005.00 Ambulance from Castle to Wenatchee
6392.00 Emergency room Wenatchee
456.00 Wenatchee hostpital
2200.00 Orthopedic surgeon
3625.00 Ortho practice/ surgery room
1372.48 Anesthesia
3500.00 Rehab
1600.00 Radiologist CT and MRI

You might want to check out an insurance plan if you don’t already have one. Dropping $20K cash and another six months of wages on one day of climbing in Leavenworth is not my idea of a climbing vacation.

FWIW.. when I fell my right hand was on the white knob across from the horizontal crack in the shadow line of this picture. And yes it is just as easy as it looks. And Paul, "thanks bro" not many guys can hold their mud

Monday, February 8, 2010

Belay jackets..the heavy weights!

This jacket review eventually took on a life of its own. Way too complicated and way too time consuming to post anything even reasonably accurate and informative for public consumption.
Just not enough time to work, climb and write. Time management, we all know the story. So instead of a detailed description of each jacket I have bailed on the "jacket review" writing project. Big reason is not the lack of written content but my own inability to post all the pictures on the blog that I wanted to for each jacket so you could make your own comparisons.

Hopefully I will be able to post the detailed photos and commentary on each individual jacket at some point in the future. I have tried to leave the important points from my own research for a new jacket. May be that will help someone else looking for a similar jacket to be used in a similar manner. The other jackets that deserve even more attention are the many light weight versions of the belay jacket. The Mountain Hardware Compressor Hoody pictured here is a good example of that style of jacket.

All the jackets pictured here are a Men's XL jackets (except for the FF Hooded Helious which is a unisex XXL) with a T shirt under them. On a good day I am 6'1" and 205#. Fit ranged from way too small (FF Helious) to way too big (the Patagonia DAS) and everything inbetween usable and not usable for me.

Top to bottom, red Patagonia DAS, black Arcteryx Dually, 2 tone black Mammut, Feathered Friends green Hooded Helious, Amazon green Narrona Lyngen down, gold Feathered Friends Front Point, red Eddie Bauer XV, black Mtn Hardware Compressor, seal gray MEC Tango.

Like much of the content on the Internet this review is written by an amateur. I am not a paid writer nor was I given these eight jackets for free as promotional material with the manufacturers seeking free advertising. Two of the jackets were loaned to me for this review, the Mammut and the MEC Tango and like the rest they were returned after a detailed comparison was made and the pictures taken. Many thanks go to Marmot in Bellevue WA and MEC in Vancouver Canada for supporting my project. The other seven jackets were paid for on my credit card. Most were returned, two I already owned, one I kept and one I am still thinking about.

I personally picked these jackets out of the dozens available. I had a winter alpine climbing project in mind that I was going to spend at least one night on the climb and two full days of technical climbing plus a long descent in the dark again as the best case scenario and if everything goes perfectly. From past experience and nights out up high in the Canadian Rockies I went looking for the best jacket available for my own needs.

So before you read further, a caveat. I am very specific on my likes and dislikes in gear. I was looking for a specific style of jacket that has an admittedly limited use elsewhere for most. I have been climbing in the Canadian Rockies since the early '70s and this article is the result of my personal search for a new, extremely cold (-20C and below) weather "climbing/belay/bivy jacket" for my own needs. My likes may not be your likes. You may totally disagree with my conclusions and choices. My needs may not be your needs. What will work for me may not work for you. Use the info as you see "fit".

Let me back up a bit because I think it is a significant part of the decision making and the process. The jackets I was looking at start at $190 retail and can cost up to $500+. Even when you are careful alpine climbing can shred gear like a garbage disposal. Anything you buy for soft wear will have to be replaced sooner than later if you use it a lot. It is not uncommon to destroy garments, packs or a sleeping bag on just one long alpine climb. With that in mind I always look for sales and generally go to the Internet first to do so. From this experience I now see why many climbers have gone strictly to the Internet and away from the retail stores for customer service.

The saving grace in my area was Marmot Mountain Works and MEC.
Support your local shops or one day you'll find them gone.

One of the major brands that would have been represented here, but you won't see. I still own one of their cold weather climbing jackets from the '90s and it is awesome. But in this case they didn't have the item I wanted in their downtown Seattle store. And they couldn't be bothered to find it for me or even get me a current catalog. That was a $500+ jacket mind you I was asking for. To add insult to injury they don't allow customers to use the store bathroom. Add that to the DT Seattle parking and a Starbucks or two and you can imagine my unhappiness with a company that has already shown they don't like to give cash/credit card refunds on returns from our past experience. As I was reminded we had already "lost" $300 trying to return a new jacket for my wife. When it came time to do the Internet shopping I was pissed enough not to be bothered ordering on line.

May be South Butt will open up a retail store locally for a little friendly local competition.

Anyway I like to squeeze a nickel and this project was sorta fun. It was also more time consuming that I first thought it might be. Having nine world class climbing jackets in my house all at once made the decision really hard.

Let me give you my working definition of climbing jackets. I had to define them in my own head while shopping so it might help you define them for your own use as well.

"My idea of a "belay" anything is an additional layer with an integral hood to add at the end of a pitch when you are wet from sweat and will cool down rapidly while belaying. So you add the "belay" sweater, jacket or bivy weight outer. What I want that layer to do is keep me warm while stopped and most importantly dry me out when stopped or while climbing.

For the use as a "belay" jacket at any weight/insulation thickness down insulation is obviously limited to very cold temps and limited physical levels.

So to keep them all straight in my mind I have used the three terms, "sweater", "jacket" and "bivy" to define levels of warmth and amount of insulation. Obviously there are some pieces that will overlap in utility and warmth in each category and each person is different. Fatigue and your physical condition will change as well and require different levels of insulation at different times. Belay "sweaters and jackets" I will climb in when cold as a second or when conditions dictate that it is cold enough that I have to wear it while leading.

The "Bivy" level are the thickest belay jackets; generally not all that fun to climb in as a second and worse yet while leading except in really, really cold conditions (Alaska or high up in Canada winter) and on moderate terrain where you aren't working too hard but make a perfect addition to a light bag or even alone on a sparse bivy."

One of the things I just recently became aware of is how effective Primaloft 1 really is. I had wondered why my Compressor Hoody was so warm and dried me out so well even when soaked. The answer is Primaloft. I won't be buying another synthetic jacket that isn't Primaloft. All the Patagonia climbing jackets (DAS and Micro Puff) are NOW, as of this season, as are many of the Eddie Bauer and Mtn Hardware products. But check for Primaloft1 and Primaloft Eco use.

Primaloft Eco is 20 to 30% cheaper as a insulation to the manufacture and not nearly as effective.

You'll want to keep this info handy.
The Primaloft website sez:

"PrimaLoft® One is the ultimate microfiber insulation. Ultra fine fibers are specially treated in a patented process and then combined into an insulating core that is incredibly soft, lightweight and water resistant. PrimaLoft One absorbs 3 times less water, is 14% warmer when dry and is 24% warmer when wet than the competitive insulation.

PrimaLoft® Eco is earth-friendly insulation created for performance and comfort. Eco insulation technology combines 50% recycled material with PrimaLoft virgin fibers to create a high loft, thermally efficient insulation. PrimaLoft Eco is lightweight and water resistant with superior softness to keep you dry and comfortable. It’s global warming the right way!"

From the descriptions of Primaloft by the manufacture I would bet it pays to check just what "primaloft" is in your prospective garment. From what I have found I won't buy one now that is not Primaloft 1.

Down? Yes, there really is a difference between 750 and 850 down, how it is stuffed and the amount used is important.


"DWR, What is it? And how does it work? DWR is a fabric treatment. DWR stands for Durable, Water, Resistant. This durable water resistant treatment coats the fibers of the fabric with a hydrophobic finish, that causes water to bead up and roll off of the fabric. The DWR treatment does not close off the tiny openings between the fibers of the fabric, in turn keeping the fabric breathable. What this does in tents and clothing, is keep the water out, while allowing condensation to escape.

How this all plays out in the real world: The DWR treatment does have its limitations. While under about 90% humidity conditions it will either negate or severely reduce condensation, once you hit dew point (dependant on humidity and temperature conditions) it
won't matter what the fabric is treated/laminated with you will have condensation. When it comes to rain, there is a "breaking point" for what can be held back. The fabric can be overwhelmed with heavy and prolonged rains. This can be exacerbated by heavy winds that can force water through under extreme conditions. This can lead to water dripping on you through the fabric of a DNR tent wall.

So if you want a shelter/clothing to shield you from winds and moderate precipitation, and want something that doesn't have ever present condensation issues, IE dripping on you when its nice outside, then DWR is the choice for you. DWR also excels in winter conditions.

Think of it like light weight breathable rain gear, it works under moderate conditions, without getting you all sweaty."

More on pockets and detailing:

"Twight suggests synthetic because you use a belay jacket to dry stuff out while you climb. You, your "action suit" and gloves as required get dried in a belay parka. Sometimes two or three pair of gloves on just one climb. No can do with down.

People bitched about lack of pockets inside the need for pockets in a down jacket other than to keep a water bottle from freezing. Alpine climbers don't generally carry water bottles in their parkas. Simply because parka goes on and off a gazillion times during the day and shit falls out of pockets.

In a belay jacket you want pockets to dry gloves next to your body ....but only if you have a synthetic jacket to dry them in. Down won't dry anything very effectively past under wear and sox and then only overnight in your sleeping bag. When you realise how many functions a piece of gear is really required to do, that you have to manage its weight and size on your back, you start to realise what is required for materials, insulation and coatings.

It is a system and each environment requires its own system which brings us back to DWR, Gortex, Event and other answers. The better you understand the design process behind each piece of gear the better you can decide what is required for your own use.

I buy a 4x4 for off road and a Porsche for illegal public driving or the track and the BMW for the wife's car. There is some cross over on use sure. But a different tool for each specific job. Climbing gear and clothing are extremely complicated designs these days. The more you know about the design and the more critical you can look at your own use the better choices you can make.

So back to the DWR verses Event comment for the XV shell. For my use with a down jacket of this weight/warmth I want the most breathable shell possible. I would have excused EB for not using a DWR, Event, Goretex shell fabric and have others in years pass to gain maximum breathability in a jacket of this type. "

At this point I am admittedly stepping off onto shaky ground. 3 of the 9 jackets in this review I have not worn outside the house let alone actually climbing in them. After all what I didn't decide to keep needed to be returned for a full cash refund. With some "hands on" in my office and enough time to make good side by side comparisons I am sure enough of my personal experience to choose a jacket with the detailing and proper fit that I require. But it took some time and serious evaluation to come to the decisions. Mind you I couldn't have made these decisions so easily in a retail me.. I tried and was wrong several times over on the first impressions. But as I said previously what works for me may not work for you!

There are synthetic and down jackets represented here.

The beginning of this jacket search/review began with a friend commenting to me how badly made a XV was after he had done exactly as the manufacture suggested and washed the XV in a front loading machine.

Of course the baffles in the XV failed as the manufacture should have known they would...and happily.. Eddie Bauer stood behind the owner and issued a full credit.

So a caution. I have owned more than a couple of extremely high end, fully baffled, down jackets over the years. Although I have hand washed this style of jacket in the past with no damage I would never wash one now myself even though I own a new high tech front end washing machine. I have a hard time just doing normal laundry right. Save yourself the pain and worry and have a specialist like Feathered Friends do it for you. It is money well spent.

The sewn through down jackets and all the synthetic jackets I would have no problem following the manufacturer's/jacket's instructions. The big baffled jackets are all expensive, and delicate internally. The baffled jackets had to be light enough to make it into this review. I would have a professional clean them when it is required. And I wouldn't clean them until it REALLY is required. If you are using it just to climb in, you'll know when.

Ok, the ultimate spoiler here.

Price no object, imo the best heavy weight/bivy coats for my personal use?
The BIG winners!

In down insulation...far and away the best of the bunch, at any price, Eddie Bauer XV.
They are still on sale (2/8/10) and $100s less than anything remotely their equal. But no doubt it is a BIG jacket and the 2nd heaviest but the most insulation of the bunch.

From "offoroadfanatic" 2/8/10

"Had my First Ascent XV Jacket in a four day trip to the Tetons two weeks ago. Freakin' loved it. Such a nice bit to have after my down sleeping bag got so wet it wasn't lofting much anymore, and to wear it while melting snow and cooking.

At 32 oz it was worth the weight. (his number not mine) Didn't absorb ANY water. Seems like everything got wet but the shell on the XV jacket was surprisingly weather and water resistant. Used it as a pillow and even when water from melted snow had puddled up the jacket always lofted up."

Synthetic...again a clear winner...and a big step above the others pictured, MEC Tango. (I'd love one in yellow or red) Patagonia only wishes they understood let alone could build this nice of belay jacket and Arcteryx needs to put a reasonable lid on pricing. I like and use a bunch of Arcteryx products and the Duelly is obviously a good jacket but $500 retail and $300 on a pro deal? But I'm thinking too much BC bud..better cut'em off.

Hi-tech? And stellar design nuances that I believe we will see more of in the future. The Narrona Lyngen Down Belay Jacket is amazing..combo of down, Primaloft and superb tayloring (just wish I could justify buying one :) But retail cost would get you two XVs at the time I posted this and only half the warmth of either. The Narrona is a sewn through in the back and dbl layered in the front, a lwt jacket and the best here for a fully articulated "climbing" fit.

The BIG losers?

To my huge surprise...Feathered Friends and Patagonia. The only jackets out of this bunch I would not care to own. Funny that, because when I started the review research I thought both manufactures would be the best of the bunch. I wasn't even remotely close on that guess.
And prices? This project was a "price no object" teachable moment for me. Price can/might have nothing to do with the quality of the product in the outdoor industry.

Why? Much as I love their bags Feathered Friends has ceased being an innovator in down clothing. Their attempt to incorporate sleeping bag technology into a jacket is a failure imo. They need to buy a MEC Tango and rethink what they are doing. Patagonia? The picture of the DAS should tell a lot. Again they need to make a real effort in design and fit and a Tango would be a good example of where to start.

Most of the jackets pictured are a bit much for the typical belay jacket use. The full down ones certainly are. For a better understanding of the "belay jacket" here is a second reminder to take a look at Mark Twight's excellent book on climbing light and fast, "Extreme Alpinism".

Some numbers worth mentioning.
Real weights...not the manufactures imaginary ones. I found the manufactures numbers to be as much as dbl compared to actual!
And actual measured loft at the shoulder, meangingless for the most part, except for comparison, but simple because the number was easy to measure there.

Eddie Bauer 43.8 oz, loft 5" (F#..factory lists 34.7 oz)
Arcteryx Duelly 28oz , loft 2.5" (F# 24oz)
Narrona 31.8oz, loft 2.25" (F# 24oz)
Patagonia 36.9oz, loft 1.5" (F# 26oz)
Mtn Hardware 26.4 oz, loft 1.25 (F#19oz)
Mammut 47.2 oz, loft 4.25" (F#40oz)
Helious 35.2 oz, loft 3.25 (F#18oz)
Front Point 40.8, loft 3.5" (F#30oz)
MEC Tango, 31.7oz, loft 2" (F#28oz)

What I'd suggest a smart shopper look at? Construction? Finish or shell material, water proof breathable or inbetween, sewn through verses baffled, down verses synthetic, fill material re: weights/quality and the exact material in the jacket, weight for fill in torso, arms, hood. Total weight verses fill weight, amount of loft, and sizing., (which was all over the place in these 9) Guarantee and how the guarantee will be handled. In the end it only matters what works for you. And the final one that should be first on everyone's mind, CUSTOMER SERVICE, during and after the sale.

A last thought. For many one or two of these jackets will be all most will ever purchase in a life time of climbing. They are expensive in any form and in any brand name. By their very nature none are terribly durable. Of those that do buy one, many will form an unnatual attachment to this style of coat. After all, if used in the right place, it may well save your life or at the least make living a lot more bearable.

Because of that attachment and the initial cost most of us will be very prejudiced about their own choice. Sponsored climbers don't always get to see. let alone use the better products available around them. Some of the best of the smaller companies making gear don't sponsor climbers. When I started this search the last jacket and manufacturer I ever thought I'd own again ended up being my favorite. The two jackets I had previously convinced myself I was going to own, I know now I never will. "Open your mind", the rewards might be staggering.

Good luck!

For another look and some very good info on belay jackets check out Kelly Cordes' blog.

It looks like this blog entry my continue to grow as more "required" reading is added.

On the Mammut Rambler when asked why it wasn't rated better?

"The Rambler is an awesome jacket. EB better? For me yes, but may be not for you. They were without question the two top down jackets. It is all in the details and the Mammut doesn't have to bow to any of the jackets reviewed. 1" less loft, heavier than the EB and a longer pattern cut (less technical) on the Ambler were three details that I thought the EB did better.

And the Mammut colors? I really like a solid colored, red :)"

I made this a comment on the forum to justify my nagative remarks on the Feathered Friends gear. Because it was such a negative commentary on the FF jackets I thought a better explanation was due to all.

"The Hooded Helious I had was in EPIC and did in fact weight in at 35.2 oz. on a certified (for weight) US postal scale. Huge surprise to me as FF lists an avaerage weight of 18oz.! But if you look all the jackets are heavier than listed and most right at 10oz heavier than listed by the manufacturer. Most manufactures weigh mediums and some small, I suspect. Or they measure a unisex M which would be a men's small. The Helious I had was size XXL and no way I could wear it. None of the other XLs were a problem being too small but some were too big. The Helious I was barely was able to get on. In fairness Feathered Friends call it a unisex XXL size. Be a surprise though if you ordered via the internet or via phone.

One of the issues I had with FF was the dbl zipper on the Front Point. I took minutes (and I do mean minutes) in the store warm, dry and rested to figure it out. Almost asked Todd to get me another jacket that the zipper wasn't fubared on, just as I figured it out. The front baffle and dbl zipper is way, way too complicated imo for a belay or climbing jacket. Same technology is awesome on a bag...really a dumb idea on a jacket @ the weight and use intended for a Front Point imo.

Trying to switch that jacket back and forth on a climb, while tired, dehydrated, cold and scared would turn the FP into a nightmare for me. Let alone the issue of trying to keep what little heat in as you make the switch from leader to follower. As a dedicated jacket for climbing, no switching, may be for you, but no way I would want to use one.

Feathered Friends obviously has the skills and technology to make cutting edge, spectacular, down gear. My only hope is that they take my comments as constructive and improve their line of jackets. I'd buy one in a heart beat if they did. I love my Feathered Friends bags and find them hard to dupicate let alone beat!

The Hooded Helious was one of the jackets I figured I would own...likely one I would be taking on my next Canadain winter trip. Found out it is one of the few jackets in the review I have no desire now to own.

For a sewn through down jacket the Narrona is $100 more and imo more than twice the jacket for similar use. And the Narrona uses a lesser quality 750 down compared to FF's 850. Which is a bummer for the Narrona buyer imo.

Harsh statements I know and I feel bad about it. I have friends who work @ FF and it is not something I take lightly doing in public. But in comparison to the other jackets I looked at, those are the cold hard facts.

Not to say so would be misleading at best, dishonest at worst."

FF response posted on 2/25/2010
"Thanks for your honest efforts Dane. It's feedback like this that keeps us on our toes

I thought I'd just add a few things to this thread for clarification:

1) Unisex sizing has always been one of our weaknesses, and there is a switch between our sewn-through jackets and baffled ones. We spend a lot of time working with our customers to make sure they get the right fit.

2) We have the single zipper Volant jacket as our belay jacket. The Frontpoint is more accurately an expedition jacket and wasn't designed to be used as an "on/off" piece for the reasons you explained.

3) There's not a lot of "cutting edge" when it comes to stitching or jacket design. The patterns we've developed over the years are a result of much feedback from the field. Advances have, by and large, come in the way of materials. As a small batch manufacturer we stay way ahead of the curve when it comes to what shell materials we choose to hold our down inside the jacket. When shopping for a jacket we educate people to pay particular attention to what those materials are. It's also hard to evaluate the advantages of those materials unless you're using the jacket outside.

Here's a little insider knowledge: magazines won't review a product unless it's "new". Other companies satisfy this by re-shaping panels, changing colors, etc to have a "new" jacket to present to editors. We kind've care about magazine reviews...but really not enough to constantly modify our designs.

We are coming out with a lighter jacket this summer though - stay tuned!

Hope this addresses some of your concerns, and like always if anyone has any questions at all - please give us a call.

- Eddie Espinosa"

My take from Eddie's response it they are missing the very real innovations being made on the "cutting edge".

My public response:

"I own 2 custom built Feathered Friends bags currently and my wife another. I have seen nothing better to date and been using them (although different bags) since the late '70s.

But an observation from a reviewer's point of view on jackets of this style. When I talk belay jackets I don't consider anything with a detachable hood a belay jacket. Detachable hoods are a poor design for that use. From the FF web site on the Volant, "The fit is close to save weight, but articulated elbows and full reach sleeves allow unrestricted movement." Again close fit and belay jackets are generally not used in the same sentence. It might well be a great jacket but the Volant isn't a great belay jacket design imo.

Both the Volant and the Frontpoint are baffled jackets listed in the "medium weight" section of the FF insulated garments. I choose the two jackets (one sewn through and one baffled) that I thought would BEST represent FF in my review and the only two I would likely have kept for my own use. YMMV obviously.

As far as my "cutting edge" comment? Actually there is a immense amount going on in thought, detailing, design, pattern and materials for the best of these types of jackets. Not knowing or recognizing the differenecs is what seperates the so/so jackets from the truely spectacular. My suggestion is do your own research and know what you require for your own needs. "