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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Climbing Cold?

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, March 22, 2010

Colin Haley, Alpinist

While working on the Norrøna jacket review I really wanted to use two of Colin Haley's photos from his and Bjørn-Eivind Årtun climbs on Hunter. We had never met in person but our face book connection in the climbing community made access easy. So I sent Colin an email asking permission to use his pictures for that blog piece.

Take a look there for links to Colin's blog.

Turns out Colin was in town and doing a presentation for the Mountaineers last night. Colin and the Mountaineers were gracious enough to allow me to invite myself.

Colin did a great presentation on winter climbing. Equally as good was he answered questions through out his presentation and stayed long afterwards taking questions from the audience.

I took written notes, learned a few things (no surprise) and hope that I am relaying what Colin said and not just what I heard...but as always, "caveat emptor!"

Take a look at Colin's climbing resume' if you want more details on how he came up with his opinions.

In no particular order. What is listed below is just how it came out of the conversation last night.
I intentionally duplicated my "short hand" notes here. Adding anything now is just going to be me adding my own commentary which I did not want to do. Call it, an hour of "Colin distilled" :)
Here it is, hope you find something useful!

"The Cascades Can have some of the best "winter" climbing in the world...certainly better than Colorado :)

Always take a good foam pad...
Always take a tent even solo (Bibler, ID or First Light from comments and his pictures)
Always cook inside your tent
Always use a cartridge stove
Warm weather use a Jet Boil
Cold weather use a MSR

No need for a heat exchanger because he cooks inside his tent on a foam pad.

Don't be afraid of taking jumars on winter routes, it might be faster overall.

Lots of rope options to choose from in winter. Use what is best for your project :

single and a tat
a dbl and a tat

Skinny rap rings can be a good thing to carry and use on occasion.

April and May are the best alpine "ice" months in the Cascades.

Alaska climbing in winter is really cold
Climbing in the "real" winter season is tough
Climb at night, it is character building
Learn how to dig through is character building
Carry 2 ice screws for winter routes in the Cascades...might as well take titanium, they are lighter and you'll never use them anyway

Cascade approaches that are complicated (aren't they all) might get snowshoes, a mtn bike and feet
Simple approaches get skis
Alpinists need to know how to downhill ski...well.
Big advocate of approach skis...100cm to 160cm
Water is carried in MSR bladders, up to 3 liters
He doesn't mind intentionally getting dehydrated if it will get him to a brew stop earlier

His hardest mixed line in the Cascades is "Intravenous" (unrepeated to date btw... see the red line drawing in the John Scurlock's photo of the face above and Colin's suggested direct finish in green ;)

If you are plunging curved tools in snow for support always face the tool picks up hill

Climbing clothing on two, back to back, ascents of the north face of Hunter.
long john bottoms
pile lined soft shell zips
wool first layer on top
R1 layer
hard shell
belay jacket...a synthetic
Puff pants with zippers

Boots on Hunter were Spantik, which Colin REALLY likes for various reasons. Laces and how they climb technical ground being the two he mentioned specifically.

(I tried to turn him on the the Baruntse but he wasn't having any of it ;)

He is sponsored by Patagonia, Black Diamond and Sportiva among others so easy enough to figure out what he is wearing.

Crampons...always dual points..the advantage of support and not working all the time to be stable as you would on a mono point.

Vertical front points for "hard" as in physically hard ice, like concrete hard, not technically hard like WI7.

Horizontal front points most every where else.

He likes the Euro death knot, raps a lot on mixed sized ropes and has seen the tests on them all.

Favorite glove at the moment is the BD Punisher, doesn't generally remove his gloves for climbing, doesn't like to carry a spare set of gloves, but will carry one extra pair on occasion, doesn't use hard warmers

Down bags are good for a two bivy climb... past that go synthetic
Belay jackets he suggests being "conservative", his word not mine, and uses synthetic... the DAS of course.

Meals are freeze dried on long climbs for weight and nutrition. Mtn House got the endorsement for easiest on your digestive system. Gu and energy bars on the other climbs up to a 48 hrs push.

Sit up in the tent while cooking with a stove inside...limits the chance of carbon dioxide poisoning by being lower in the tent, like laying down would.

Snow pickets have a limited use in steep snow...and he has climbed a LOT of steep snow.
Pickets probably are best used buried as a deadman. Best belay on steep snow is a deep seated belay, set up directionally"

Well worth the effort if you get a chance to see one of Colin's presentations.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Design triumphs..the Norrøna Lyngen Down Belay jacket

Nice title, huh? Yes, I actually do think the Norrøna Belay jacket is worthy of the hype but read on and you can decide for yourself.

When I went looking for a new belay jacket for myself this winter I had little idea what I was getting into. I had no doubt I could find a great jacket for my own use. What I didn't realise was just how good some of the jackets I would find were and just as surprising just how poorly designed some of the jackets I would find would be in comparison.

To be fair I was looking for an extremely specialized and technical piece of clothing. From conversations with manufacturers after publishing my thoughts on and here, I learned much to my surprise that a few of the manufacturers had no clue on how a "belay jacket" was going to be being used.

Some of the info I heard from manufacturers defending their products and designs would be laughable to anyone that actually climbs and used these jackets in an environment where the details actually do matter.

"Free" jackets given away by sponsors to climbers at the front of modern alpine climbing do not guarantee you a state of the art garment. A "free jacket" might well translate into one more plane ticket to the sponsored climber. Fair enough. "State of the art", as we all know, is not required to get up any mountain. But for us as consumers, it is still, "Caveat emptor!".

We already know most any garment that is warm will work at Hafner Creek or Ouray on a cold day. And as I was told, "that is who we design for, back packers and hikers, not climbers. They aren't a big enough market". OK, fair enough, design and build for the general population, after all that is where the profits are. But how about learning from the comments instead of whining when you obviously get caught with your pants down with bad design work for "climbers"? From the looks of their web site Norrøna is at heart a ski clothing company. Successful cross over designs are nothing new for the outdoor clothing industry.

Rather than detail the short comings of so many manufacturers that I looked at I'd rather take my time to give you the beta on one of the really good ones.

There are a few things that I get really excited about. Truly great design work is one of them. The Colt 1911, the Porsche 911, Jardine's Friends, the Chouinard/Frost original piolet, the Nomic, the Fire', the North Face Oval Intention and Gramicci pants (based on martial arts pants) are a few designs that come to mind and have already stood the test of time. They have all also generated a of host of clones, which is a compliment to the originals.

But clothing design and especially technical clothing design is not something I first think of when it comes to inspiration. The newest fabric mountaineering boots certainly are there but little else imo. But boots aren't clothing are they? Generally it is new materials that I get excited about. Egger and Monclear down and pile from Helly Henson, then GPIW (later Patagonia) in the early '70s. Francital jackets in the '80s. Shoeller material from Switzerland. Which I first used in the mid '80s and the innovation they created in soft shells that continues today. So most of the innovation in clothing I have seen is in materials, not actual design work. But to be fair I might well be naive to those more subtle changes.

The details and design work on Norrøna's down climbing jacket are obvious even to me.

Norrøna's web site sez:

"High power insulation in a compressible belay jacket
A careful creation of down and lightweight protective face/liner fabric built to prioritise insulation, breathability and movement whilst belaying. Its bulk-free properties allow excellent compressibility in stow pocket."

retail price $378.00
available in the USA only from

The facts for a XL size:
31.8oz (factory says 24oz)
Insulation is a combination of 750+ down and 100g Primaloft 1
(Norrøna's 750 down means down fill power is 750 to 800 cu in/oz with the percentage of down cluster from 93-96%.)
Single slider main zipper
One internal mess pocket on left side (it huge at 9.5" x 12.5")
two side pockets, unlined construction is a combination of over laid and sewn through baffling (body front) and simple sewn through (back, shoulders and upper arms) 750+ down, along with 100g Primaloft 1 in the hood and the side panels, full length from jacket hem up and under the arms all the way to the cuffs.

The jacket's one, huge, internal, mesh, "stow" pocket.

If you have climbed for several seasons, you know when you try on the right size and style rock shoe, that it "fits". Same with a good pair of boots, a harness or the right size pack for you. For me the Norrøna was a fit...from the very first time I tried it on. I was trying on 9 different belay jackets and looking at the details of each over several hrs. I put on the Lyngen and immediately said to myself, "damn I could really climb in this one!" Not something I recognised in any of the others so easily. Including the jacket I have used the most while actually winter climbing! To be honest even though it was clearly a stand out in my selected group of jackets I only recognised a little of its detailing and a few of the more obvious features but still intended to return it to none the less. The Eddie Bauer XV ($269 retail) in my review was almost 1/3 the Norrøna's price while on sale ($132.50) and a incredible jacket in it's own right. I have kept and used the XV and am happy with the choice. But in almost every way the XV is not in the same league as the Norrøna Lyngen.

I've come to realise the differences as old school materials and design work done at a very high level (the XV) for a specific kind of climbing and the Lyngen as new school materials and design work done at a very high level for cutting edge, modern climbing. But to be more clear on use, the Lyngen is what I would consider a medium weight belay jacket and not suitable for the coldest temps a XV would be used in. But it is darn close and while still a "big" down jacket in all ways it is more compact and easier to wear while technical climbing than my XV. Norrøna has gone high tech in the pattern and construction with this one and has an excellent amount of insulation for the temps a down climbing/belay jacket might be used in. My own use so far? This jacket is plenty warm even as a bivy jacket in all but the coldest Alaska/Canada temps. Thanks to its DWR coating the down stayed dry inside and out during a full day of climbing in serious spindrift. The Primaloft hood and turtle neck did get damp as expected running the zip up and down taking pictures or venting as required. And the fleece lined zipper closure collected some snow in really bad conditions. But both dried out easily once I was zipped up and on belay again. Conditions will have to be pretty cold before you'll be able to climb comfortably in this jacket. I've done 8 trips to the Alaska range and never used a jacket this warm, this light weight and compact up there. The Norrøna jacket is one of the most specialized, technical and useful pieces of down outdoor clothing I've ever seen. Given the chance I'd take it to Alaska in a heartbeat.

Here is how Norrøna describes their Lyngen line of clothing:

"Lyngen-Randonnee relief
Ascend alpine steeps with lightweight ease, descend the peak with speed: lyngen jointly protects your aerobic climb and ski time. Tailored to alpine tourers, lyngen’s focus on total windproofing, breathability and flexible venting options, enhances your mountain tour commitment. "

Hate to think all that detailing is being wasted on just skiers :) Makes me a little nervous as well when they label their only down jacket as a "belay jacket".

I had originally intended to return the Norrøna and after a long overdue detailed inspection decide not to. Even though the price is pretty steep at $378.00. It wasn't the most expensive jacket in my search. The Arcteryx Duelly was @ $498. And the Duelly is a synthetic filled jacket! With the Feathered Friends down insulated Frontpoint in "Event" right behind it @ $429.

The reason the Norrøna won't be going back is its detailing and features. The complicated construction......double layered and sewn-through baffled down front panels, single sewn through baffles on the back, shoulders and top side of the arms. Primaloft 1 in the hood, turtle neck and full length under the arms and down the sides to eliminate bulk and protect areas likely to get damp in use. Someone who climbs, or as least listened well to some knowledgable climbers, was thinking when they came up with this jacket design. It is an extremely complicated sewing pattern, combinations of materials and worth every penny of the $378, imo.

A true climber's jacket?!
From a company that makes ski clothing?

Even though the jacket I am writing about here is not the jacket he used on Mt. Hunter I have to give the direct credit for me finding the Norwegian made Norrøna line of clothing to Bjørn-Eivind Årtun and his climbing partner in May of '09, Colin Haley. I'd never heard of Norrøna until I saw Colin's pictures and started a Goggle search online.

Colin's blog and his and Bjørn-Eivind's adventure from last year:

And a summit picture on Hunter with the "usual suspects" from Colin's web site.
I saw enough detailing in the photo and knowing where it was being used to want to see more. Dbl click to enlarge the picture and the one below for a better look.

Colin, Bjørn-Eivind and their partners are some at the leading edge of light weight, extreme alpinism. If you want to see what they are doing and how, take a long in depth look at their climbs, writings, blogs and web sites. They all have good projects coming up this spring! I'm inspired every time.

Copy righted Colin Haley photos used above with his permission

Back to the Norrøna Lyngen Down Belay Jacket.

Ok, first lets talk about down being used in a belay jacket. The first requirement of a belay jacket is warmth. Seems obvious. But equal to that demand....which only takes an effective level of insulation, is the requirement for a belay jacket to be capable of drying you out. Down belay jackets, no matter the outer shell material, SUCK generally for most climbing in the lower 48. Yes, I did say, " SUCK!"

Down jackets can easily get wet. Then they lose a majority if not all of their insulation property. And no way in hell you can dry things like gloves out in them as easily as you can with a synthetic jacket.

A Primaloft 1 synthetic jacket will dry your sweat soaked body, your inner layers and outer layers out quickly and efficiently with only body heat in any condition including a lwt rain. (DWR coatings not withstanding) All it takes is for you to continue to produce the body heat required to do so. In comparison to down, synthetics lose only a tiny fraction of their insulation properties when wet or even totally soaked through.

So why would anyone ever willing choose a down belay jacket? To be honest most knowledgeable climbers won't. They are simply too delicate in a world where not being conservative on clothing choices can be a serious mistake you'll have to pay dearly for.

For less money than the Norrøna, good synthetic and down belay jackets can be had from Patagonia, MEC, Outdoor Research, Eddie Bauer and MTN Hardware to name just a few.

But in a couple of places, like Canada in winter or Alaska in the winter or spring, down insulation makes some sense. Both places the Norrøna Lyngen will excel if you limit your diet of off-width cracks and nasty mixed chimneys. Nothing warmer than Down for its weight and its ability to compact/stuff into a small package. Weight and space are and have always been hard won commodities in cold weather alpine climbing.

Both environments (Alaska and Canada) are cold enough to not have to worry so much about getting the insulation wet from external factors. But you still have to watch getting down wet from your own sweat and getting your clothing and gloves dried out as required.

Gloves aren't as big an issue, keeping them dry in those environments, as they are in warmer climates. Hopefully the time your hands spend in the snow on steep routes is limited and because of the temperatures you aren't soaking them every few pitches like you might down south. And thankfully gloves are getting better every year as well.

Speaking of gloves? Many belay jackets have some sort of cuff closure or too tight of cuffs. You often can't get a thick pair of climbing gloves and your hands through the cuff opening without first removing the gloves. On this Norrøna the cuffs are a polyester blend of stretch knitted material that shed water and easily stretch to fit over a gloved hand going in and coming off. All the while the cuff still forms a good seal around the wrist with no maintenance required on your part. Another detail someone paid attention to on the original design.

You always need to manage your heat out-put on long routes and even more so when you are using down. It has to be cold out to force moisture from your body through your layers and out a down jacket without soaking the last down layer. The advantages of down? There have to be some right? There are two...the first is the down jackets are lightweight. Less for the amount of heat preserved than any synthetic and the second is just how small a down jacket will compress to carry. If you are climbing, the belay jacket might not be used at all climbing but will be used for belays, short rests and a bivy if required.

So we get the idea..."down is not the greatest idea for a belay jacket but it can work and has several advantages if you can take care of the insulation, right?" Right :)

Now take high quality down insulation and one of the best of synthetic insulations and add exceptional pattern making/cutting, current technology, modern manufacturing and real climbing details and I think you end up with an exceptional jacket.

The two areas you need really good insulation from a belay jacket when alpine climbing are the front of your torso and the hood. Your gut and head where you lose the most heat unprotected. And the two fastest places to lose heat. Fairly obvious right? Norrøna has used a dbl layer of sewn though insulation for the jacket front body and a Primaloft hood and turtle neck.

Fully quilted down is the warmest, lightest in weight and most easily compacted construction for a down garment. Double layer sewn-though baffleing is more wind proof and can be equally as warm if the insulation thickness is the same. Good move on the designer's part for the front body of the jacket to use a dbl layer of sewn through baffling and 4 layers of nylon here for additional wind protection. Primaloft 1 was developed for the US military as a replacement for down. It is currently the most efficient synthetic insulation available. It is a smart use of the Primaloft 1 in the turtle neck tunnel and hood as they are the likely places to get soaked by perspiration from breathing hard in cold conditions.

Both sides of the zipper opening are generiously covered with a soft nylon pile for comfort and to protect your face in harsh weather.

The hood and turtle neck tunnel will be recognized as true works of art for anyone that climbs in a helmet or can appreciate a good hood design in a cold winter storm. Hood fit, visibility and adjustment in or out of a helmet are exceptional. Easily one of the best hoods of the jackets I looked at in this group by a long margin compared to some.

The hood, visor and neck area.

Detail and adjustments on the back of the attached Primaloft 1 hood

Your climbing pack will cover the majority of your back. You also lose less heat through your spine area in comparison to your abdomen. So less insulation is required there while climbing. Norrøna chose to use sewn-through down baffling on the entire back of this jacket. I might have chosen Primaloft 1 for the same area and lost some of the heat retention value of the thicker and more compressable down when fully lofted. If they had used Primaloft in the back panel you would never have to worry about down compression or the down soaking through with sweat under the pack and losing all its insulation . Primaloft would dry easier and always breath well. The change might make it a good trade off.

The sewn-through down back panel and on the far right 100g Primaloft in a strong back light.

I think arguments could be made for either insulation in the back panel. But I am happy over all with what Norrøna chose, sewn-through down baffles, on the back and the resulting additional warmth without a pack and a jacket that packs smaller for the level of warmth offered.

The side pockets are unlined and while they will work as hand warmer pockets I am surprised that Norrøna resisted the temptation to add a lwt nylon fleece material or Primaloft and make the jacket as easy to dry as possible if ever wetted in the pockets. I think I would have used a layer of Primaloft 1 as the second layer of insulation here under the 1st one of down. It would have made the jacket easier to dry out overall and the pockets more user friendly in all conditions.

This is such a highly technical jacket just by design that it forces you to rethink how material can be used to best effect. I understand Norrøna's commitment to down insulation in this jacket. The design work shown by Norrøna here makes every other jacket I looked at seem like their patterns were draw up in the Stone Age. And a couple of those jackets, in down and synthetic, are truly exceptional belay jackets in their own right! I might want a few minor changes to the Lyngen but only because Norrøna has given us such a high quality and outstandingly designed piece to pick apart. One I would really like to see improved upon. I can't over emphasis just how good this jacket is, AS IS, in every single detail.

I would love to see the same level of commitment to a even warmer Primaloft 1 belay jacket from Norrøna. That is a jacket that would put Arcteryx's $500 "Michelin man"Duelly into prespective as a true belay jacket!

There isn't a manufacturer out there making bivy jackets that couldn't learn something...or more like a lot of somethings...from taking a close look at the Norrøna Lyngen.

OK, let's move on to the pattern. There is a workable articulated hood and articulated arms. Not just a nod and a wink at doing articulation in the pattern mind you but actually making it a major part of the pattern.

Add a radically tapered cut at the hem line and you clear a harness in front and cover your bum when required in back. Keep the bulk down with a smart combination of insulations and it is a hem line you can adjust easily for your own requirements.

A better view of the amount of articulation in the pattern and the separation between down and Primaloft insulation under the arm. That combo of insulation runs from the cuff on the sleeve to the hem on the bottom edge of the waist-line of the jacket.

Remember the idea of a belay jacket is to allow the owners to actually climb difficult lines in these jackets when required. The overall length of the Norrøna is actually easily adjustable and allows the use of a single zipper pull because the front of the jacket can be snugged and secured where required with your harness. So the jacket stays zipped while in use. The zipper chosen is not a weak attempt to make poor design and pattern cutting work better with a more fragile and harder to use dbl. slider zipper. The zipper is also backed with a stiff nylon tape on both sides to eliminate the zipper snagging on the almost silk weight shell material and works well to block any wind at the zipper as well.

The Norrøna is a climbing jacket, and wearing a harness is common, not the exception. Why would a belay jacket interfere with your harness or your harness interfere with your belay jacket? The answer is, it wouldn't, if your jacket was designed from the get-go to actually climb in, by anyone who actually climbed.

From my own testing there appears to be a very effective DWR coating on the external and internal shell material. Not the typical "lifetime" guarantee we are use to seeing in the USA. According to the US importer,, Norrøna offers a 5 year manufacturer's guarantee on materials and workmanship. Worth noting offers their own "iron clad, lifetime" guarantee to every product they sell.

The single pull and easy to use zipper.

The Norrøna on cold and windy winter ice...buried in spindrift...just where it belongs.

Hopefully you have had the time to read through my previous "heavy weight" belay jacket comparison. Now you'll understand why I ran out of time trying to write up every jacket on that list :) cheers!

Will it fit part 2

Will it fit? Well that depends on just what size you are, doesn't it?

Part of the reason I write is so you can cut the learning curve. I look for an edge..always have... so I pass on what I find here. There are a lot of really good climbers that these days write a blog. But seldom do you get a detailed description of what they use and why. You can at times glean a little from pictures and a few posts. But few and far between are published manuals like Gadd's and Twight's on how to climb, better, faster and safer. And techniques and gear change rapidly.

On an Internet forum the other day one climber posted he thought "our" conversation too focused on gear. He went on to say, "it wasn't the gear that got people up climbs but the climber's personality and skill".

No question it is always the climber that gets up a climb. But short of a solo, naked ascent we all use some sort of gear to climb with. There are pieces of gear that can make your life significantly easier in the mtns.

And how does this relate to "how does it fit"?

Well if you are my size, 6'1" and 200# on a good day it needs to be big. If you are 5'7" and a svelt 130# every thing can be smaller. "EVERY" thing smaller!!!.... from your pack, to your belay jacket to the amount of food and water you carry can be smaller than what I'll need to do the same amount of work.

Yeah, seems reasonable, but what exactly are you getting at?

Five pounds of whoop ass still won't fit into a one pound box :)

First thought that comes to mind is check out the physical dimensions of your "climbing hero" before you try to emulate his climbing and gear. You might find your size large DAS Parka, size 12 slippers, some Gu packs and a liter of water won't fit inside the 18L sack he used on his last Grade VI.

But if two of you go to do a climb the group gear is split between packs. Your personal gear's bulk and weight will be defined by your size. That size will define what size pack you'll have to carry because of the bulk involved. Everything else being equal, like body fat, conditioning and hydration/nutrition, a bigger body is harder to keep warm (surface area exposed) and feed (takes more calories) than a smaller body.

So the rope and rack don't change. But assuming you are using similar gear, the bulk and weight of your loads will. The amount of nutrition and hydration required for different body styles will change as well.

So what I am getting at is a smart climber will not only pay a great deal of attention to his own gear but he'll also pay a great deal of attention to his partner's gear, both their body's requirements for nutrition and hydration and what is required to maximise both climbers potential. Your "gear" is also your partner and his gear. Unless you are soloing..what your partner brings to the equation directly affects the outcome. Nothing new...just that most of us need to look at that relationship more clearly.

I don't claim to be a smart climber. I haven't done what I am suggesting very seriously and never to the level I am suggesting here. But I should.

Many times guiding clients on bigger mtns I was using the lightest gear. And suffered less and recovered faster for it. Obvious disparity on nutrition, hydration and gear because I knew what was required by previous experience. I have also climbed with partners much smaller physically and with greatly differing levels of body fat.

Our performances as a team, no matter the differing body sizes is all over the map. The best rock climbs I have done generally were with much smaller partners. The best alpine climbs I have done were with climbers of similar size. The best winter climbs or interestingly enough, long endurance climbs, were with climbers geared up very similar to myself and of similar size.

My friend was right is isn't the is the climber. But to be the best climber you can be it pays to look at all the details. Gear, hydration, nutrition, your partner and how all that relates to both of you on each climb.

The more dramatic the environment the closer it pays to look at those details.
None of this is a big deal out cragging for the day. It can take on a totally new dimension 20hrs into a long day.

A cautionary tell:

Years ago I and my partner did a dozen or so first ascents of some amazing crack lines. I truly thought of my partner at the time as my brother. The lines we climbed together were generally all at the limit of my free climbing ability and for no particular reason than I always wanted to lead, my partner let me.

In a bar over drinks one night, after a good day out, I described in great detail, as only a intoxicated young man at the height of his physical powers could, how I viewed free climbing and the "gear" it required. That included my mental outlook, my climbing gear and my partner.

I made a point of saying my partner was a integral part of my "gear". My belayer was one part of the equation I never had to worry about onsighting hard lines. What was sure to be left out of the conversation was the fact I looked at my belayer with the as much respect as I could muster but I didn't make him feel that way at the time obviously. I couldn't have lead those climbs without him...any more than he could have followed them without a belay from above. Two peas in one pod. In my mind the credit for the climbs go to both of us equally. It was truly an equal partnership in my mind.

So while your partner may be an integral part of your "gear", it pays to make sure they know the partnership goes farther than just climbing and getting up a route. It will make a difference if the person means anything to you outside of climbing.

After all those close calls and grand adventures, we never climbed together again after that conversation in the bar. Which is something I have always regretted. Loosing that trust I had found and the intimate relationship which truly allowed me to excel at hard rock is one of the reasons I almost completely stepped away from technical rock as an end to itself.

There really is more to climbing than just "gear".

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More on leashless gloves

My Outdoor Research, Verts, after 50+ pitches of water ice and dbl rope rappels. Seams, material and leather palms still intact and still good to go after some literally smoking raps on thin, twin ropes.

I keep being reminded how a really lwt, breathable and not water proof glove like the OR Vert performed this winter on Canadian ice. The longer climb I did where the gloves where soaked through and my boots filled with water while rapping down comes to mind. I was able to literally wring the gloves out twice on route and put them back on. As the sun went down I was prepared for the worse and ready to pull a dry pair of gloves out of the pack when I got a chance but half way down the decent I noticed the Vert gloves were warm and dry again. "Amazed", isn't too strong of word.

So may be being water proof isn't such a big deal in radically changing conditions and may be getting the gloves dried out while still in the field is even more important. For those that can remember back that far the wool Dachsteins come to mind as a mitt that never failed, no matter what the conditions were. They did breath and they were not water proof. They are a hard act to follow actually when I think back on it. Every water proof glove to date I've used just gets wet from my perspiration and have been very difficult to dry out. More food for thought for glove choices.

I have also found out recently that both OR and Mtn Hardware offer "lifetime" guarantees on their gloves. A guarantee I tested this week with Mtn Hardware. Money well spent on any of these gloves imo.

Here are two more models that I am now using and easily fit into my glove selection and my criteria from the previous post on leashless gloves.

"My list of features for a good glove?
Leather palms and fingers, Shoeller material in the glove 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. Thin removable liners might even be better if you could minimise the bulk. 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."

Either could easily become a favorite with the other three climbing gloves I am using. Mtn H's Torsion is certainly a best buy money wise if you buy into the non water proof glove idea.

They also fit my personal want list very closely, hitting every point except drying easily. But easy enough.

Mtn Hardware Torsion retails for $60. Little more insulation/bulk than the OR Vert and a much better cuff. More insulation means they are a little harder to dry out. A very nice glove.

Mtn H's spiel:
"Torsion Glove
A snug soft shell glove for alpine climbing. Articulated cut for excellent dexterity, with flatlock seams for a comfortable fit. Durable, water-resistant goatskin palm and fingers stand up to rock or ice.
Alpine Climbing / Mountaineering
Weight 3 oz. / 98 g.
Lining Brushed Tricot
Body Deflection™ Soft Shell
Palm Material Water-resistant Goatskin Leather

These are the OR Storm Tracker glove. $69 retail. Thin glove and maybe better dexterity than the Vert. Nice cuff length even with the added hassle of the zipper. A little steep price wise compared to the other lwts but these guys rock as a technical climbing glove. Durability my be a question so we'll see if that O.R. "INFINITE..guaranteed FOREVER works" :)

OR's spiel:
•Intended Usage: Versatile backcountry work glove for ultimate dexterity
Breathable/water-resistant WindStopper Soft Shell fabric; tricot lined
•Full leather palm
MotionWrap AT construction for added dexterity
•Elasticized wrist chili
•Gusseted entry with locking zipper

Feet to the fire?

I buy at retail and try a lot of new gear as it becomes available. More than once I have made some terrible decisions on what I thought would work for me. I don't like throwing away money on a bad decision if I can help it.

Worse case is boots that don't fit. Best case is a pack that I don't like for every detail but is an awesome pack none the less.

The better on-line or local retailers give you zero grief on returning unused items. The very best of the on-line retailers even pay to have the item shipped back to them. Many of the best clothing manufactures and some of the best retail out-lets offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee and/or a lifetime guarantee.

For years North Face stood behind their Goretex products and replaced one of my jackets twice before discontinuing that specific model. That garment was eventually replaced with a jacket I didn't work well for my use. But North Face Warranty always went the extra mile to make it right. I bought a lot of North Face gear because of that first transaction and the ones that followed it. A few years later I bought my wife a jacket on sale, as a gift, that ended up not fitting. The local North Face retail store where we bought her jacket from refused to take the jacket back for credit or exchange and the staff got more than a little nasty with my wife in the process. After all the good customer service over the years with the North Face Warranty Department standing behind their products that one face to face transaction at a North Face retail store stopped us from buying North Face again. You still can't mention North Face around my wife because of that experience! It really was that bad.

In my industry/business the parts I buy are expensive and have to be 100% right or they don't work. My first "learning" experience with a warranty started with a major part that costs about $600 and is the platform for a $4000 machine. When I found that part with a manufacturing defect I called up the manufacture directly, stated the problem and asked that the part be replaced. To my shock...yes shock...the manufacture refused replacement and waffled his way around the real issues ultimately blaming the problem on me.

I was truly dumbfounded at the response or lack of it in this case.

Thank goodness I had bought the part from a major wholesaler in the industry. They offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee with anything they sale. No questions asked after I called and explained the situation. They sent me out a new part the next day even before I had returned the broken one! They are a class act and a business I will go out of my way to deal with even if at times I pay a little more for their products. The difference for me in that transaction was literally making money that month or loosing $4000.

If you want a truly outstanding customer service experience all it generally takes is a trip to NORDSTROM's.

So I have gotten to the point where I check to see what the return policy is where I buy gear. Eddie Bauer, REI, OR and Mountain Hardware all have a "Life Time" guarantee. And I have used that guarantee in the last 12 months at REI, Eddie Bauer, Outdoor Research and Mountain Hardware to my complete satisfaction. I have also used the return policy at and with zero hassles. Generally it was gear I bought and decided I didn't need or would not use, wrong size, bad fit or sometimes it was a minor fault that was replaced with a duplicate and a couple of times it has been gear that just didn't live up to the advertised expectations. No matter the reason I walked away happy in the end at all the businesses mentioned.

What I didn't include is all the online retailers, store front retailers or the wholesaler themselves I have dealt with in the last 12 months that have offered less than stellar service. Over charging on shipping, return hassles or no returns, wrong gear sent, slow refunds etc. All that and more in the last 12 months.

The guys mentioned in a positive light are the best of the best that I have purchased gear from. When making your own purchases check out the retailer (online and local) and see what their return policy and guarantees are. You might be surprised. The one policy that bugs me is "no returns on climbing equipment". Many of the smaller retailers use that as a catch all. If it even remotely represents climbing gear, generally all sales are final. Most likely (but not always) it means the same store will send you to the manufacture with any warranty issues instead of dealing with it themselves. Decide for yourself if that is a good or bad thing. I like dealing with and solving the problem with, the guy who took my money.

Be cautious! The outdoor industry is huge. The buying power of "us" as a customer base is huge as well. The profit margins on soft goods is almost unbelievable. Hard goods, a far bit less so. But don't just assume when your gear breaks or you blow a seam in you favorite piece of clothing that you just go buy a new one. Take a look at it...think about it. Read the manufacturer's own fine print! Should it have done better? Maybe it was long past warranty and it's useful life expectancy! But if not, call the manufacture. The warranty info is generally easy to find on line. Call them up and let them know the problem and ask how they are going to fix it? The good ones will jump at the chance to fix the problem.

If need be, hold their feet to the fire a bit :) And, oh my gosh, be careful with foot ware. Good alpine/ice climbing boots can easily hit $500 or more these days. From my experience I can easily say, never, ever, buy directly from a boot manufacture. Always buy boots from a respected and honest retailer...REI, ZAPPOS (Zappos has better than average boot sales and easy returns) and come to mind. And make sure they fit before going out side even though sometimes it is almost impossible to tell, or you'll own them. (REI is the one exception to the rule that I know of) Again. from personal experience I don't know of a boot distrubutor (almost everything is a Italian made) in the USA that won't weasle walk on you if you have a boot problem including obvious manufacturer's defects. "Repair instead of replace" is the common answer....or it is a "cosmetic defect, no problem". Sound familiar?

The bad ones??...even a blow torch won't help. "Caveat emptor!".

You might be surprised at the end result.