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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Dream? The Adventure!

I don't know what climbing, specifically alpine climbing, means to anyone including myself. I can no more tell you why climbing is so important and good for me than I can tell you how the universe was created or what "life" is.

But I know it started as a dream, a wish for adventure and a ability to comprehend what I saw in nature as something more than just special.

No matter what I climb, the type of terrain or how much I enjoy the moment it is all related to being in the mountains eventually and alpine climbing.

I get teased sometimes about my obvious boot fetish. Couple of things happened recently to bring me back to the original "dream", cold feet and why my desire of wanting to climb so badly.

The boot fetish is based on the reality of spending a lot of time out doors as a young kid. My parents hunted, fished and skied. Of course all that slowed down when they had least until we (the kids) could walk. And by walking I don't think we had to be able to walk far before we were off on their adventures. From my childhood I remember three things from those adventures, cold feet, how I liked heights when everyone else got scared and how much fun it was to be in the snow.

So the boot fetish should be easy to understand. I had cold feet from day one!

In the late 1950's the lookout shown above was the first place I remember seeing, and others talking about, climbing. I can remember my Dad walking with me out to the lookout and back hand in hand on that set of stairs. I was in the 2nd grade. Imagine my surprise to find out the Needles had its, "first recorded technical climbing is April 1970, Fred Beckey, Dan McHale, Mike Heath climbed the South Face of the Warlock, an 8 pitch climb rated 5.9." That ascent is of course a a full ten years after me seeing climbers in the Needles.

The view of the Needles from the lookout.

That was 50 years ago and I still get a thrill remembering the journey. It was another 10 years before I was to actually climb. But not because of a lack of desire. As I aged I remembered the thrill of that simple visit to the Lookout and the awe I had for the guys climbing on the rocks.

Learning to ski held my attention as did dirt bikes, basketball, football, bicycles, guns, knives and swimming. In the late '60s and early '70s our high school library carried a French magazine called "Paris Match" and even though I was taking French I couldn't read much of it. But, my Oh my, the pictures! Rene Desmaison made me WANT to be a alpine climber. Add a subscription to National Geographic my Grandmother gave at Chrismas every year since I was born (really, since I was born) and how could I not WANT to climb :)

" Readers of Paris Match read his dramatic reports and a radio audience measured in millions shivered with him during a live broadcast caught in a storm on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses......

In the 1960s when many of the so-called “last great problems” in the Alps were being addressed, Desmaison played a leading part in solving them. One attempt on the unclimbed Central Pillar of Freney, high on the Brenva face of Mont Blanc, became a France v Britain race. A team including Chris Bonington, Ian Clough and Don Whillans had a day's lead and were attempting the difficult overhanging crux of the climb when a group led by Desmaison appeared, attempting the same pillar by a nearby line. Bonington recalled that the corner crack they were trying to climb was too wide for their pitons but too small for the protective wooden wedges they were carrying. A request to the French for suitable gear met a firm and not unreasonable “non”, as the same gear was needed on their own route. Bonington and Whillans persevered, overcame the crux and dropped a rope to the rest of their team which the French then asked to use to ascend the difficult pitches. The rope was left, but seemingly failed to find a mention in French accounts of the climb.

Desmaison's closest brush with death came in the winter of 1971 attempting a new route on the Grandes Jorasses. With Serge Gousseault, a newly qualified Chamonix guide, the two climbers became trapped by violent storms sweeping the mountain face. After six days of slow, difficult climbing the weather had closed in. They reached a summit cornice, an overhanging lip of snow and ice, only a short distance from safety but were unable to move, hanging from pitons in a festoon of ropes. Rescue helicopters twice arrived above them but failed to understand Desmaison's signals for help. On the 12th day Gousseault froze to death and it was two days later that Desmaison, near death himself from cold and dehydration, was air- lifted to safety. Two years later he returned and completed the climb, once more arriving on the summit in a storm. "
René Desmaison, French mountaineer, guide, author and film-maker, was born on April 14, 1930. He died on September 28, 2007, aged 77

So between Desmaison and Gaston Rebuffat, another French Alpinist with a penchant for photography, writing and good climbs I was hooked long before I ever owned an ice axe.

Skiing, when I started, most still used leather boots. And the boots could be used for walking as required as well as skiing. Not cutting edge technology by any means even then but a whole lot of fun. Not a lot of difference between skiers and climbers then from my limited perspective.

Then while in high school our family moved to a little town just east of Mt. Adams. From our new home you could see Mt Hood, Mt Adams, St Helens, and of course Mt Rainier!

Now I just had to learn how to climb mountains! Of course I had no clue just how much mountains and climbing would come to influence the rest of my life.

A duplicate of my first "climbing" boots, age 14. Army surplus, alpine troop, ski and mtn boot. Bought in Lewiston Idaho with paper route money shortly before seeing Mt. Hood up close for the first time.

That was my start. Yours?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Scarpa Phantom Guide vs the La Sportiva Batura

New:  2/15/ is an update on the newest 2011 Batura worth looking at, as the Batura has some significant changes for the better.

As always a caveat. My foot isn't your foot. Some will find the Batura a much better boot for them than the Guide. And some will find the Guide a better fit and boot for them than the Batura. I really like and believe in the potential of a "super gator" style boot for cold weather climbing. I don't think of either of these boots as being perfect. Despite both companies best effort to date either boot is too heavy for their warmth imo.

The La Sportiva Batura in my size 45 weights in at 2lb 7oz per boot. The Scarpa Phantom Guide in a size 45 weighs in at 2lb 7.5oz. Both should be closer to the 2lb they advertise.

As a comparison in size 45 both the La Sportiva Trango Exteme Evo GTX and the Nepal Evo GTX offer similar warmth while admittedly differing levels of protection. The Trango weight in at 2# 3oz, the all leather Nepal Evo at 2# 10oz.

I have intentionally updated the previous La Sportiva Batura review to put it on the same page as this review and the comparison of the Batura along side the newest Scarpa Phantom Guide.

In many ways these two boots are very old school. Basically light weight single boots with a short, Peter Carmen style "super gator" permanently attached as noted in the Batura review. It was a system that allowed us to use a lighter weight boot that climbed better technically and still have enough warmth to use the system in Alaska during the spring if you didn't go too high and winter in Canada if it didn't get too cold.

Lots of "ifs" in that statement but it worked without cold injuries, generally. Still there are places cold enough that a single boot just is not enough and enough cases of frostbite from those using Super Gators and good single boots on cold, difficult routes many quickly realised double boots were a better answer. Lucky for us Koflach came out with the Ultras about that time and then dominated the market for cold weather technical climbing for the next 20 years.

The flip side to that is both the Phantom guide and the Batura are chock full of high tech materials and technology.

But let me address a couple of things first that should be mentioned about fabric boots (both the Scarpa and La Sportive here are "fabric" boots) that are important.

"Mountain Guide and Scarpa consultant, Brian Hall emphasises that the Phantoms won't last as long as traditional leather and plastic mountaineering boots, but the sort of climber who uses them is after maximum performance regardless of cost..."

Nice of Mr. Hall and Scarpa to so easily admit that fact. La Sportiva on the other hand doesn't bother to mention it at all. No matter just how true it REALLY is. The majority of time I have spent in boots over the last 10 years has been in fabric boots. The exceptions have been the newest Nepal Evo and the older, blue Scarpa Frenzy. Both fully rigid soled, leather boots and both build stout for technical climbing and to last.

It would take me multiple years to wear either leather boot out and you would go through several resoles before you did.

Admittedly I have a hard foot to fit and am rough on boots because I have skinny feet in a size 12 US and weight in at 200# on a good day. Add a pack and gear to that and easy to be pushing 225# plus while climbing when all geared up.

There are times I prefer some extra ankle and forward support to ease the calf strain of the leverage on a big foot and my climbing weight. I've not found a technical, all fabric boot that will do that yet, short of the very best dbl boots, like the Phantom 6000, the Baruntse or Spantik.

And the kind of support and warmth a double boot offers isn't always needed let alone desired.

In Chamonix the previous versions of the Scarpa Phantom 6000 and the Phantom Light had the enviable reputation of being extremely durable compared to the Batura (which broke zippers and had wear issues on the fabric) or the Spantik (which broke laces and eyelets.

The La Sportiva all fabric Trango series of boots have lots of complaints on sole wear and fabric durability. All complaints I originally chose to ignore. While I love the original sticky soles of the Trango Evo series, the durability and support of the Trango is dismal even after just a little use. I basically wore a pair of Trango Extreme Evo GTX boots out in 3 months of ice climbing on just the weekends! That is CRAZY and expensive!

So while I am willing to put up with a reputation that matches "the sort of climber who uses them is after maximum performance regardless of cost" I am not willing to buy a new pair of boots every 6 to 9 months no matter how high the performance.

If you want a boot to last from today's choices, buy a leather boot. The Nepal Evo and the Scarpa Mt. Blanc are exceptional, lwt, technical leather boots. If you don't want to buy new boots every year I'd strongly suggest buying leather.

I feel the Super Gator/single boot idea is worthy of support. Most of my hard climbing has been done in one form or another of that combination up to and including the Batura the last couple of winters.

The original Scarpa Phantom Light, Scarpa's previous model to the Phantom Guide.

So let me get into the Batura / Guide comparison so you can see what I think are the real differences are.

The Batura has lots of things going for it and some faults as well to fit me correctly. And I really do wish the Batura did fit me correctly.

Batura's faults for my foot and fit:

Loose ankle cuff that doesn't tighten on my skinny ankles.
Not enough padding or width in the boot tongue for comfort or support
Hard to lace lower
Not enough lacing on the upper cuff and what is there is poorly placed and designed
Poor seal on the gaiter
Not enough support side to side and forward on the cuff
Terrible, super soft ankle flex, with almost zero support
Hard to keep dry inside and hard to dry out

An additional lower boot eyelet at the ankle and a third set of upper cuff lace hooks make the Phantom Guide different from the Batura. With the addition of a more substantial and well padded tongue all combine to offer more support in the ankle with no loss in flexibility.

The excellent sewn on gaiters of both boots are virtually the same height when snugged as they generally would be in use.

The lower lace system on the Phantom Guide also offers a lace "pull" that greatly increases the ability to tighten and just as importantly, untighten, the lower boot in use.

The Phantom Guide allows me to make my crampons one click smaller for size but mandate the use of a asymmetrical center bar for a proper fit.

The advantages of either boot?

Short integral gaiter.
More water resistance and warmth that a typical leather/fabric boot because of the full coverage gaiter
Flexible cuffs that allow for easy walking and good flexibility to rock or mix climb
Rigid soles for full clip-on crampons
Warm enough for all but the coldest temps

In my size 45 the insole is slightly longer on the Phantom Guide while the over all volume is slightly less on the outside than the Batura. The Phantom Guide is a more trim, lower volume boot and closer fitting boot than the Batura on my foot which makes rock and hard mixed easier.
The issues the Phantom guide solves for my foot.

ankle cuff will tighten on my skinny ankles.
Good padding and width in the boot tongue for comfort or support
easily lacing lower
upper and lower boot have enough eyelets for a proper fit
Good seal on the gaiter
Good support and progressive flex on the ankle
Goretex and Primaloft 1 should help keep the boot dry and help dry the boot once wet

One of the down sides to the Batura is the insulation inside the boot gets wet in use from sweat. And more importantly the Batura then becomes extremely hard to dry out in the field. The P-Guide on the other hand has a removable Primaloft 1 inner sole and the boot is also insulated with Primaloft 1. From my other experiences with Primaloft I know it dries faster with body heat than any other insulation I have used. Primaloft 1's insulation value and warmth is way out of proportion to the thickness used. Add to that a Goretex liner in the Scarpa P-Guide. Both Primaloft and Goretex should offer distinct advantages of the Scarpa over the La Sportiva in staying dry both from your body's moisture and the outside elements.

I've yet to had the opportunity to use this boot in very cold weather but I would expect the P-Guide to be a warmer boot than the Batura. Not a lot warmer mind you, but warmer and certainly easier to dry out in the field.

Easier to get in and out of the P-Guide and the laces lock my heels in much better. In general the S-Guide just fits me better over all. There isn't a lot more support in the ankle on the S-Guide than the Batura but what is there is noticeable and more comfortable for me. Certainly a lot less heel lift on the S-Guide no matter how you chose to tie the boot compared to the Batura.

I am still trying to wrap my head around how comfortable it is to walk in both these boots. Much of alpine climbing is spent on the approach. So walking is important. Although I will generally give up that comfort for the support of a heavier boot. This winter I used a La Sportiva Trango Evo Extreme on a number of long approaches and water fall climbs including no approach but some good ice on a quick ascent of Polar Circus.

Because of the ridiculiously easy ease of access I use ascents of Polar Circus a a testing ground for a lot of gear. Never thought I would enjoy a really light weight set of boots on a climb of that length. But there is enough walking to take advantage of a boot like the Trango, Batura or Phantom Guide. The longest stretch of front pointing is easy terrain on the approach pitches. You never climb more than 100m of steep ice in one session before getting a ledge or snow again up higher.

So for climbs like that or road side cragging on things like Curtain Call, Nemesis or even Slipstream I think any of these soft and lwt fabric boots are great. Just pray you don't have to spend a cold, unplanned night out in them. Because without some serious preventive measures most will have wet feet at the end of a long day in these boots. The full gaiter covering these boots keeps them drier and warmer for longer days walking and climbing but I'll repeat myself, they are not a replacement for a dbl boot. If they were only more durable they might well be good as summer alpine ice boots. Hopefully I'll be able to give a follow up on how the Phantom Guide holds up in those conditions.

Thankfully both Scarpa and now La Sportiva are using the T-ZIP for better water resistance on the gaiter and better durability. Scarpa has long used the T-ZIP on their previous generations of Phantom boots and have an enviable reputation.

La Sportiva's Batura

Sportiva's Batura came on the market 3 seasons ago. In some ways it is an old answer to an old question. But now seemingly a new technology for the alpine climber.

In the 1970's Peter Carman in Jackson Hole came up with a new way to make single boots warmer, the "Super Gator". Great Pacific Iron Works (a combo company of what was or would be Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia) eventually sold the Super Gator on a broader scale.

So adding a short "Super Gator" to a single boot is not a new idea. Making it a integral part of the boot is fairly new. Scarpa's Phantom Lite Series of Boots and the Kayland 6000 are other boots using similar technology. One of the biggest advantages to a Super Gator on the old leather boots is you had some serious weather protection but that the protection also allowed your boots to breath. For the most part you could keep your leather boots dry and warm in some pretty nasty weather. The other advantage is that you gained an additional layer of insulation on your lower legs helping to keep your feet warm.

The La Sportive Batura and similar boots like it are generally a fabric layered single boot underneath a bit of insulation and a water resistant or in some cases water proof outer shell. With the Batura I find that the boot does not breath well enough to warrant its use on multi day cold weather trips. It is certainly warm enough for use in the Canadian Rockies in winter but my feet get wet from perspiration and then the boots get damp. They just don't breath well for me. I have taken to adding a good amount of Mitchum's anti-perspirant to keep my sox and feet more dry. A VBL sox would be a better answer. The real problem on over night trips in cold weather is the boots get wet and they are just too hard to get dried out on a multi day trip. Like impossible if you need to keep moving of a couple of days. It becomes a perfect situation to get cold injury.

The Batura was designed to be a cold weather technical boot.

La Sportiva sez:
The ultimate mountain boot for high elevation alpinism, winter mountaineering and ice climbing

This six layer synthetic boot has an integrated highly water resistant gaiter that opens with a Riri Storm® zipper for excellent water resistant warmth. The inner boot uses thermally expanded PE foam and a polyamide layer for warmth. The shock absorbing PU midsole makes these boots comfortable on long approaches and the 8-9mm TPU midsole stiffener accepts automatic crampons.

WEIGHT: 34.67 oz • 983 g LAST: Nepal CONSTRUCTION: Board Lasted GAITER: Elastic Cordura/ Schoeller® -Dynamic™ with water repellant membrane/ Vibram® rubber rand/ Elastic nylon with impermeable insulating layer/ Riri Storm® zipper UPPER: High tenacity nylon/ Insulated anti-dragging felt/ Insulated PE/ Insulating aluminum layer LINING: Polyamide Thermic layer/ Mesh INSOLE: Insulating Ibi-Thermo 9mm MIDSOLE: 8-9mm TPU/ PU Inserts/ SBR Aircushion SOLE: 8-9mm TPU/ PU Inserts/ SBR Aircushion

Here is what I know of the Batura from my own use over 3 seasons and not all of it is good. Let me make some comparisons to the other Sportiva boots I currently climb in. All to be reviewed at some point in the future. (Trango Extreme GTX Evo, Nepal Evo, Ice Evo, Prime, Batura, Spantik, Baruntse)

The Batura is the softest cuffed boot in the line imo. I have a 11.5 size foot and there is virtually no ankle support in the Batura. Even the Trango Evo Extreme offers marginally better ankle support. And that tiny bit of extra support makes a difference in my calves on steep endurance ice or moderate alpine ice. I start looking for any place to get off your calves and French technique with a soft ankle boot. The Batura is warm enough, but not a lot, if any warmer than the superb Nepal Evo. Only the gator adds enough protection to put the Batura in the same category for warmth as the Nepal Evo. Covered laces on the Batura keeps the boot clean of snow and that helps add some warmth a bit as well.

The ankle support is marginal for ice climbing imo. (this is boot size specific I think) The same soft ankle makes modern mixed really fun though. A board stiff sole with a bit of rocker makes walking just OK. I use the boot specifically for both long approaches, and good mixed routes here in the Cascades and on long, one day, Canadian alpine climbs. But even walking I find the rigid mid sole and cheap, lwt insole extremely uncomfortable with my feet cramping by the end of the day walking out from climbs.

The two eyelets that lace the upper cuff are marginal at best for heel hold down and the cuff is cut so big that I am forced to use the Velcro Nepal Evo tongue liner to get the ankle tight enough to offer what little support that is there. Admittedly l have the second skinniest ankles in world. 1st place would likely go to a 6 year old girl. But it would be close. I would have preferred three sets of lace hooks on the upper cuff and a stiffer material to make the cuff more rigid as well. And if we are going there how about just making the upper more supportive?

Better yet how about a Nepal Evo version of the "Batura"?
Then a lot of us could stop wishing.

I have not had any durability issues with the zipper or the gator. But others have. That was recently changed by using a new and better zipper that is water proof and black in color. It is an inline change for the better. I love the Batura's last which is the main reason i ma still using this boot. The last feels like it has a big toe box area. So you have room to spread and wiggle your toes to keep up the circulation on cold belays. Best of the bunch between Trango and Nepal.

I have friends that climb way more every winter than I do and simply loves this boot for everything. They generally have size 9 and under feet. The smaller the feet the more the owners seem to like the boot. Others have found the multi day "wet boot" issue disappointing and the broken zippers and ripped gator unacceptable. But the idea is sound. Scarpa has the enviable reputation of a more durable boot. Many of the original La Sportive Batura users have simple changed brands. I have yet to see any real complaints on the Phantoms. And now Scarpa has a two new Phantoms upping the game one more time.

Bottom line?

Even with the lack of ankle support and comfort on long hikes for a stiff soled technical boot the Batura is my go to boot for the long day trips in the Cascades. I like not having to worry about a gaiter, they climb hard mixed really well, steep ice reasonably so and they are certainly warm enough for the first 36 hrs as long as they are always on your feet. Easiest boot to walk in I own.
Just buy a better insole than what they ship with.

Would I buy another pair? Maybe. But I'll be looking at Scarpa Phantom Guide first.
Too bad as the Batura with a better, more supportive upper and now the better TIZIP water proof and more durable zipper it could be one of the best, single, alpine ice boots available.

65 degree alpine snice on Pinapple Express, Cascades early Jan '09. And me looking for some calf relief!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

BD tests/warning on Umbilicals

Worth a look for all the guys new to the limitations of umbilicals.

More here:

Thursday, February 4, 2010 - posted by BD crew:

QC Lab: How strong is the Spinner Leash?

I don't usually write-up BD product specific tests and results, but I've just been getting so many of a similar type question on the Spinner Leash lately, that I felt I needed to. And to be honest, these questions are kinda freaking me out.

"I just bought the Spinner Leash, How strong is it?"
"Is the Spinner Leash strong enough for it to hold me if I get too
"Will the Spinner Leash hold a fall if I whip onto it?"
"I want to make my own ice climbing tether system, how strong do I need to
make it?"
"Is the BD Spinner Leash stronger than the Grivel Double Spring Leash?"

Why do these sort of questions freak me out? Because it shouldn't matter how strong these things are. Sure they're rated to 2kN—like most tethers—and you can hang on them if you wanted or needed to, but you must remember that the leash is only as good as the placement of the ice tool it's attached to. Think of bounce testing a Pecker with a daisy chain. If the Pecker blows, you have it zinging towards you—same as if you decide to weight your tools via your Spinner Leash, except the tool is further out of your reach and has way more mass, and now it has the potential to slingshot towards your head. Ouch.

Ultimately the real purpose of these leashes is to stop your tool from falling into oblivion should you drop it on a long ice or alpine route. They're not really designed as something that you should sit on if you get too pumped mid-pitch (they are too long, and then you will have to climb back up to the tools), and they're definitely not intended as a "just in case"
if you were to whip, or used as a personal anchor system at a belay. I could compare this potential misunderstanding of usage of a Spinner Leash similar to the common misunderstanding and mis-uses of a daisy chain. I've seen folks using daisy chains incorrectly when aid climbing (e.g., you should never use a daisy chain such that there is even a possibility of taking a fall directly ONTO it). And I've seen tons of folks at the cliffs
using daisy chains as personal anchor systems—do you know the pocket strength on most daisy chains is ~ 500 lbs, a load easily generated with a slip, small fall and jolt onto the anchor? Daisy chains aren't designed for that kind of loading scenario—and neither are Spinner Leashes.

Bottom Line
The Spinner Leash and most new-school leash/tethering systems are intended to stop your tool from falling, NOT intended to stop YOU from falling.

I apologize for the soap-box-type speak, but just wanted to spread the word about the tether systems and the fact that you shouldn't be anchoring into anything with them, whipping onto them, and strongly consider the risks of weighting them at all if you are pumped.

Be safe out there.


Kolin Powick (KP) is a Mechanical Engineer hailing from Calgary, Canada. He has nearly 20 years of experience in the engineering field and has been Black Diamond's Director of Global Quality since 2002. Kolin oversees the testing of all of Black Diamond's gear from the prototype phase through continual final production random sample testing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Scottish Mixed and Black Diamond gear?

Dave McLeod and Andy Turner repeated the Smith- Marshall routes from that famous week in 1960 this year. More of Andy on the first ascent of "The Secret". Same climb Ueli flashes in the Petzl video and one of the most difficult modern Scottish test pieces. A little love for the Black Diamond fans in there as well :) There are 4 of the Smith-Marshall routes on videos by Hot Aches Productions @ you-tube with a full length feature coming in the fall. Observatory Buttress, The Great Chimney, Minus 3 and Pigott's are all on you-tube. Worth a look if you want to see what the "state of the art" on mixed, a full fifty years ago, in 1960.

The Great Chimney (IV,5) 6th February 1960
Minus Three Gully (IV,5) 7th February 1960
Smith's Route (V,5) 8th February 1960
Observatory Buttress (V,4) 9th February 1960
Point Five Gully (V,5) 10th February 1960
Piggot's Route (V,6) 12th February 1960
Orion Direct (V,5) 13th February 1960

"In one legendary week on Ben Nevis in 1960 Jimmy Marshall and Robin Smith advanced Scottish winter climbing a full ten years. On consecutive days they climbed six first winter ascents, including the mini Alpine-route Orion Face Direct (V, 5), while also making the second ascent of Point Five Gully (V, 5) for good measure. The fact they achieved all this by cutting steps up the snow and ice appears, from the remove of the 21st century, to be almost unbelievable. Marshall’s skill was such that he could lead routes almost faster than some of his talented seconds could follow."

Jimmy Marshall the winter of 2010

Andy Turner on "The Secret"

Ueli Steck and Petzl

A a few of Steck's videos by different sponsors on the links below.

The Ginat on le Droites

Ueli Steck Speed Soloing the Ginat on the Droites from Jonathan Griffith on Vimeo.

Well worth a look at the Suunto sponsored video of Steck's three north face solos.

For those interested it is a good look at the Petzl Nomic, Dartwins and the Scarpa Phantoms being used on moderate ground as well as on some hard mixed and steep ice.

This one is good as well..but this time it is mixed climbing Scotland.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why a double boot?

With two reviews of expensive double boots on the Blog and more coming of similar models I think the use of double boots might need some explanation.

The majority of my alpine climbing has been done in the Canadian Rockies in winter or in the Alaska Range in spring.

In both places a good single boot and decent gaiter will get you by, generally, in perfect conditions. The problems arise not in the perfect conditions but in the exceptions both in the weather conditions and temperatures. As important or maybe more import is the physical condition of the climber.

Open bivy high on the North side of Deborah May '76

Frostbite is not generally a cold issue believe it or not but simply a physical exhaustion and dehydration issue of climbers strung out in difficult conditions. Double boots are a reasonable insurance policy to avoid a cold injury when you are dehydrated and exhausted and still having to keep moving. Sounds pretty much like any worthwhile alpine climb doesn't it?

While expensive, quality double boots are nothing compared to the price of what even a short stint in the hospital from frostbite and the resulting down time will cost you long term. Not to mention the resulting cold sensitivity that will follow you well into the future. The result of a serious case of frostbite is you'll either stop climbing in cold weather or you'll buy double boots after the first incident. My suggestion is buy the double boots up-front and save yourself the worry and pain.

With all the new climbers able to get out and crag climb long before they jump on difficult alpine climbs single boots are the norm. The single boots generally climb better and are cheaper. The same single boots are generally over kill for most things, including Rainier in summer. So, of course we all want to use those same single boots...that aren't cheap either....all winter and on every climb.

A good percentage of the time you'll get away with it. In Canada these days most climbers won't go out if the temps drop below -15C. That is up from the old norm of -30C as the temps we generally called it off. One of the reasons is most boots are not comfortable climbing below -15C unless they are double boots.

Galiber Makalu dbl boots, late '70s.

The other important reason to invest in double boots is the amount of time you can comfortably spend out in a cold, harsh environment. No they aren't fun to walk in or climb difficult mixed terrain in. But both can be done adroitly with a little practice. You might find they climb ice better than your single boots in fact. On moderate, long, ice routes, most will appreciate the added support and calf relief of a good double boot. The most important reason to look at a double boot is the ability to keep the liners unthawed and warm over night and if required dry the inner out in your sleeping bag. If things really go to shit and you have an open bivy the fastest way to thrash your feet is to be laced into a tight pair of single boots. Better yet on a open bivy you can loosen a dbl boot a bit, gain some warmth usually by doing so, and still keep your 'pons bolted on the boot and not worry about loosing gear. It is a big advantage.

The advantages of a double boot are significant to keeping your toes and feet in good health. The down side is first the expense, and then the ability to climb difficult ground in them. That can be over come with climbing time in the boots. Lastly the bulk and weight. The newest boots are getting better but it is still an issue to be over come. Worth the effort to climb in doubles unless you feel like the risk of damaged feet is lower than I do.

On frozen feet after an open bivy at 13,800 in Nov.

Some will wonder about the Batura and Phantom guide style boots (single boots with attached "supergators") as a less expensive (if $500+ is less expensive) option to a true double boot. This style of boot has two design features that limit their use in similar conditions. They are both very difficult to dry out and keep unthawed on over night or longer trips. And the ankles are generally a lot softer and more flexible than a true double boot. So you lose the extra ankle and calf support as well. My take having used a Batura for a few years is they are good one day boots on cold days but I would never take them out over night intentionally. Each style of boot has a place. Just don't trust the advertising to help you decide when and what is right for you.

Times haven't changed much. Good (read winter technical boot) double boots would/do cost a lot more than a good (read winter technical boot) pair of single boots. That changed for 20 plus years as plastic double boots dominated the market place. No matter your skill or experience level plastic double boots were common on almost every mountaineer's feet. And for good reason..they would keep your feet warm and dry in just about any condition...some times too warm. For years you could easily assume that anyone who did technical ice climbing or went out in winter would own a pair of plastic double boots.
Not so today. And because of it I am seeing and hearing of frost bite injuries again outside of the greater ranges....which had been, until just very recently, a thing of the past.
One of my litmus tests for winter climbing partners, 30 years ago and again now is, "do they own double boots?" It doesn't mean that you use double boots on every winter climb.
But if they do, I can generally count on the fact they take their own survival and climbing seriously. That is usually because of hard won experience in really cold weather conditions. So I can worry less about them getting a cold injury and both of us staying healthy on our adventures. And just as often the owner of a pair of double boots is likely to value his partner more than some one with less experience would. Surprised? You shouldn't be. It is all in the details.

If you plan to go BIG and go LIGHT....the place not to short yourself on gear is your boots...go BIG there first!

A pair of Herman Buhl's cold weather boots.

Hermann Buhl (September 21, 1924 – June 27, 1957) is considered one of the best post-World War II Austrian climbers and one of the best climbers of all time. He was particularly innovative in applying alpine style to Himalayan climbing. His accomplishments include:

1953 First ascent of Nanga Parbat, 8,126 metres (26,660 ft) (solo and without bottled oxygen).
1957 First ascent of Broad Peak, 8,051 metres (26,414 ft).
Before his successful Nanga Parbat expedition, 31 people had died trying to make the first ascent.

Buhl is the only mountaineer to have made the first ascent of an eight-thousander solo. Just a few weeks after the successful first ascent of Broad Peak (with Fritz Wintersteller and Marcus Schmuck), Buhl and Kurt Diemberger made an attempt on nearby, unclimbed Chogolisa peak (7654 m) in alpine style. Buhl died when he fell through a cornice on the southeast ridge near the summit of Chogolisa. His body was never found.

"Buhl was very lucky on Nanga Parbat, escaping with just a few frostbitten toes. This story reflects Buhl's style of climbing; totally focused and by taking enormous risks he often succeeded where others failed."

Buhl on Nanga Parbat 1953

La Sportiva Baruntse

As you mature there are times you just have to over look the stark beauty and amazing good looks of the crazy party girl that is really a raving mad, succubus just waiting to seduce you and then eat your liver while you watch and are still alive. It is bleak.....

The choice you learn to appreciate is the sweet young thing that knows how to be nice. treat you with respect and make your life better not just more exciting. And most importantly leave you wanting more after every rendezvous.

Weird way to start a boot review, hu? There aren't many things in climbing that can bring about such an emotional response from me....but boots....preferably good boots..will do that. Bad boots on the other hand my make a Succubus look good at the end of a long day out...liver or no liver.

Baruntse, the mountain, is best known as a "easier" 7000m trekking peak close to Everett in Nepal.

The La Sportiva Baruntse how ever, is an exceptional technical climbing, and very warm, double boot. You have to wonder just how many climbers are going to miss out on the Baruntse thinking is is the "little brother" not up to the same tasks as the more expensive Spantik simply because of foolish name branding and marketing?

From La Sportiva Italy:
"A thermal boot with removable bootie, ideal for winter mountaineering or working outdoors in cold conditions."

That sound like a technical climbing boot to you? Of course not!

Here is what La Sportiva USA has to say on the Baruntse:

"A sturdy, durable double boot for high altitude mountaineering

When the conditions are cold and high the Baruntse offers a hospitable climate to keep your feet warm and dry. Ideal for use on 6-7000 meter peaks or in harsh winter conditions where you don’t want to think about your feet. The thermo-formable inner boot sports the patented speed lacing system and couples with the highly insulated multi-layered PE outerboot for dependable warmth and a PU coating to keep moisture and cold outside and heat inside the boot.

WEIGHT: 44.7 oz/ 1267 g LAST: Nuptse CONSTRUCTION: Inner Boot: Slip Lasted Outer Boot: Board Lasted OUTER BOOT: Transparent PU Tech anti-abrasion film with high insulation expandied PE/ High density expanded PE insulating netting/ Synthetic mico-fiber/ High abrasion resistant Cordura®/ Giugiaro lacing hardware INNER BOOT: Anti-abrasion Cordura®/ Thermo-moldable 7mm high density insulating EVA INSOLE: 6 mm isulating Ibi-Thermo + PE insulating barrier and aluminum insulation MIDSOLE: 8-9 mm TPU/SBR Air Cushion SOLE: Vibram® Montagna"

But let me back up a bit. If you don't know of the La Sportiva Nepal Top or the newer Nepal Evo Extreme you should. I'll tell you why in a minute. What I really should be doing is adding all sorts of cool climbing photos to this blog post to make my point on how good the Baruntse really is. But I can't. Why not you ask? If these boots are so cool? Well to be honest I was having way too much fun actually climbing in them to bother with taking pictures this winter. And I used them a shit... that is a true story.

Back to the Nepals for a minute. If you like the Nepals you'll love this warmer version of them...and how they climb. Damn near every Chamonix Guide climbs in the Nepal Evo or Top.....hard to argue with success. The Nepal climbs exceptionally well , fits most feet even better and is durable enough you'll be forced to keep them around for a resole or two.

The Baruntse is just a warmer Nepal with all its advantages......that alone should get you to try this boot on. End of story.

Well not quite 'cuz this is a boot I really love. First time out in them I soled a 600' WI3.
Not all that hard for me back in the day. But hadn't been out in a while and had never been on the climb before and knew nothing about it. I was just along for the "ride". Did I mention i was taking pictures? I was taking pictures. But never noticed the boots....ever.

Which says a lot for the boot. My next outing in the same boot was a 100m WI5+. With a rope this time and a long pillar, Again never noticed the boot. I could pass some of that off as me being preoccupied on both climbs...scared shitless maybe, but I wasn't...preoccupied that is...may be scared a bit. But I would have noticed the boots that didn't perform at least as well as expected. The Baruntse climbed so well in both cases that I was able to take advantage, and notice, the extra support in the rigid sole, the even flex on the ankle cuff both forward, front pointing and side ways in French technique and even the extra warmth. What I didn't notice is the extra bulk or weight of a decent double boot.

It is no wonder, as the Baruntse is only 4oz heavier than a pair of Spantiks in my 45 size.

I can easily lace the outer shell as tight as required to support my narrow ankles/heels. Tight enough that I get ZERO heel left. Which is simply amazing and almost unheard of for me outside a custom boot. I like the really simple inner boot, that it was heat formable with printed directions that actually worked. And that it fits! And it does really fit well. Best of all I like that that the rigid soled and mid soles were very easy to fit every pair of crampons I own to the Baruntse...perfectly. Really...perfectly....every pair I own! They have a more normal width heel and less rocker front and back than the Spantik both of which makes a huge difference on the positive side when fitting crampons.

It is the one boot I own...or have for some time... that I don't want something drastically changed or improved on. Sure I would like them lighter and smaller...but they are warm enough and light enough and not too big in volume. All of which is saying a lot about this boot. I'd take these back to Denali in a second with no over boots and expect to summit even on a cold day in May with warm feet. I know they will make miles of hard Alaskan , 60 degree ice, easier. I know I can climb any grade of technical ice I can get up with the Baruntses on my feet. And enjoy it.

So screw the advertising and the usual questions of "why didn't you buy the Spantik" ....

If you are up to it, the Baruntse will take you BIG before going home. And that will be done with the least amount of effort. Which is all that is required.

The La Sportiva Spantik

On the right, the Golden Pillar on Spantik

Love them or hate them the La Sportiva Spantik is without doubt one of the lightest double boots currently on the market. Although the new Scarpa 6000 should be a good competitor to that claim when it is available this fall. The Spantik was named after an amazingly beautiful mountain.

"This stunning ridge line is located on Spantik (7027m) in the Karakorum Range near the Hunza Valley, Baltistan in northern Pakistan. The route was first climbed in 1987 by an international team of mountaineers which included Victor Saunders and Mick Fowler, among others. Fowler’s photo of the arete highlights the extreme rock and ice climbing involved in their ascent. Spantik is considered one of the finest and hardest mountains in the world."

To purchase the photo look here:

The boot's retail price currently is $700 but with some smart online shopping the going price over the last three years seems to be around $500.

The Spantik is exceptionally high tech. Unlike the typical double boot the Spantik is two distinct layers of insulation by design. In other words both the inner boot and the outer shell offer a certain degree of insulation. Not the first attempt at such technology but so far the most successful. That technology is what allows such a "small" profile boot to be so warm in comparison. "Small" might not be the right descriptor there as no question in any size the Spantik is a BIG boot. The innovative lacing system was designed to offer an easier system to use one handed or with gloves on. How well that was accomplished depends on the opinion of the end user. I find it hard to get the boot really laced tight across the instep when I want to cinch it down for harder climbing and eliminate heel lift. But I can, with some effort, get the lace system to work well enough even on my skinny ankles. But it doesn't eliminate the worry of a broken lace or eyelets. A better system? Not imo.

Here is the La Sportiva spiel :

"The Spantik is perfect for 6-7000 meter peaks or anywhere that you need a toasty warm performance fit. It is step-in crampon compatible and provides excellent technical climbing capabilities.

WEIGHT: 44.48 oz • 1261 g LAST: Nuptse CONSTRUCTION: Outer: Board Lasted Inner: Slip Lasted OUTER BOOT: PU-Tech transparent PU-coated embossed Benecke CeraCom® PUR leatherette/ Water-repellent Lorica® with Antiacqua™ external coating/ Vibram® rubber rand/ Molded TPU ankle backstay reinforcement/ PE micro-cellular thermal insulating closed cell foam lined with a thermo-reflective aluminum facing coated with an anti-abrasion flockingcoated with an anti-abrasion flocking INNER BOOT: Micro-perforated thermo-formable PE/ Water-repellent Lorica® with Antiacqua™ external coating INSOLE: 5mm thermal structure carbon fiber and aluminum insulation MIDSOLE: TPU/ Dual-density Micropore EVA SOLE: Vibram® Montagna"

Weight? Even in my size 45s aka 11.5 US you should be right at 5# for the pair. Which is very good.

"Step-in crampon compatible"? Well, may be not on every crampon. The Spantik has an extremely wide heel and getting some crampons to fit perfectly is a PITA. Trimming the heel on a grinder is one solution. Black Diamond Cyborgs, Grivel G12s and Petzl Dartwins with lever locks seem to fit with no hassles. The rest (and those I have listed as well) I would check first and not assume anything.

Besides the extra wide heel the Spantik has an extreme rocker on both ends of the boot sole which makes a perfect crampon fit a little tedious to accomplish with some/most 'pons. The intention was to add rocker to the boots so we could walk more naturally on easy ground

I am on my 3 season with the Spantik. And hard to believe but also on my fifth pair of boots! The first 3 I broke inner boot eyelets on. When you start playing with the inner and outer lace system you realise they are Spartan at best. Missing an eyelet might work in a pinch high on a winter wall but isn't a good sales point if they are breaking in your office or the parking lot at Lake Louise while just lacing up.

Thankfully breaking eyelets seems to be solved these days. My 4th pair I eventually realised were just too big. My suggestion now (and it has not always been this way) is buy the same size Spantik as you wear in all the Sportiva boot line. I seem to be a 45 across the board with Sportiva.

But the real reason I have a new pair of Spantiks is not that I think they are the end all double boot. Nor do I think they are the best technical double boot Sportiva is simply the lightest.

Palau's Inner boot web site:

It was the French foam inner boot made by Palua for the the other La Sportiva double boot, the Baruntse, that made me think of trying the Spantik again. The Palua inner is truly heat formable by any good ski boot fitter and had given me an exceptional fit in the Baruntse. Which made me think, 1st, maybe I was buying Spantiks in too large of size and 2nd, that that same inner boot was lighter (than the Spantiks inner or a Intuition) and just might fit perfectly in a smaller size Spantik shell. Which in turn might make a wider array of crampons fit better.

I was right on all counts.

As a side note if anyone has had success with heat molding the original Spantik inner boots would you please post your thoughts and the details in the comments? While the Sportiva literature claims the Spantik liner is heat formable I don't know of anyone who has done it and I could not get Sportiva NA to give me any direction let alone written instructions. The expert boot fitters I showed the liners to refused to take on the job because of the worry of wrecking an expensive pair of inner boots....but had zero issues molding the simpler Baruntse liner or the Intuition liners with perfect results.

(update 4/28/10 I actually broke down and bought a high quality, professional heat gun and attempted to heat form my Spantik inner boots with almost ZERO success. I worked as a ski boot fitter at one time so not something I would suggest to everyone. Yes they fit a tiny bit better but there just isn't enough foam there to really get a custom fit. On the other hand my Baruntse inners, which do have enough foam, fit the Spantik shells perfectly with a much better fit on my foot and less weight. )

I only wish La Sportiva USA offered spare Baruntse inner the moment they do not. (They do as of 9/1/2010) I'll get into the details of the Baruntse in an other review. Short version? If you are looking for a cold weather double boot specifically for technical climbing....the Baruntse is an unqualified success imo. I'd give it a 5 star rating no question. Only a small part of that story but take a look at the over all weights of both Spantik and Baruntse in the previous weight blog as a first comparison. You will likely be surprised. Sportiva's sales comment abou tthe Baruntse at one time was, "less technical than the Spantik ". It is not. And in many ways it is the better technical boot on steep ice and hard mixed.

There have been many, many hard, technical and cold climbs done now in the Spantik. Just not on Nanga Parbat as most will assume from House's youtube clip of what he "used" on Nanga Parbat. That was the Nuptse another La Sportiva double boot.

House/Anderson photos

More on Steve House and Vince Anderson

The Spantik has routinely summited Denali on quick trips with no over boots. You can use a very thin sock with the boot. And because the inner boots don't breath also work as VBL liners and keep your feet warmer and the inner and outer boots don't freeze.

The minimal lacing system on the outer shell collects little snow and in turn allows you to have warmer feet in really cold and deep snow conditions. The extra layer of foam in the sole also helps insulate you from the cold coming through the sole of the boot and your steel crampons working as a heat sink.

The down side of that same foam mid sole is you can collapse the mid sole if you over tighten your crampon bindings. Take a close look at the mid sole when you snap the lever in place and be conservative here. Enough of a problem on my size 46 Spantiks that I never really trusted most of the crampons I could fit to the boots. Thankfully the 45 shell is easier to fit.

You'll want to check here just under the heel is obvious when snapping the clip on and when in position if you are collapsing the mid sole. Either change 'pons or loosen the heel lever to an acceptable level of retention for boot integrity and crampon retention. The gap in the crampon heel fit is obvious in the picture as well. The crampons pictured are a perfect fit for what it is worth. Just a 5 to 6mm gap between the back end of the boot and the base of the crampon because of the additional built in sole rocker. Smaller gap up front depending on the crampon and bail style. A little disconcerting on the Spantiks until you get use to it.

Admittedly I have a difficult foot to fit. Long and narrow in the heel. And because of the added leverage of a size 12 foot I don't tolerate heel lift well. The 45 Spantik, using a thin insole and a custom fitted, heat molded Baruntse inner boot fits me as well as almost any double boot I have used. The side flex is almost non existent in the Spantik which i like and the progressive forward flex is tolerable. The Baruntse's flex is better in both areas for my needs and has a solid midsole. But by ditching the factory Spantik liner I can get a lighter and more comfortable Spantik and use a smaller shell, which is saying a lot.

Still not convinced the Spantik is THE best dbl boot available. And not in love with the Spantik as some of its supporters are. But at least I no longer hate it. And I do admit it is ONE of the best dbl boots available from a very short list. Just don't let the high tech lace system and fancy looks fool you if you can't get a an acceptable and hopefully perfect fit.

Spantik with a light weight, Black Diamond Sabertooth/Never crampon set up. Size 45 boot and crampon combo weights in at 3lb 10oz for a single side. Which sounds heavy but is actually pretty good :)

Here is a cautionary tale on the Spantik from a buddy. I mentioned the crampon fit and how the mid sole will collapse if the crampon fit is marginal.

Daniel Harro's comments and photos:

"As far as the spantiks go here is what I had to go through.
Before the resole. Obvious cracks in the toe piece.....10-15 days of use....maybe."

"After Dave Paige did the Resole. Note that I had to pay $100.00 bucks and of course La Sportiva does not import the Spantik sole, hence the Nepal sole on my Spantik boot... Short story don't buy boots direct from the company or they will screw you, like they screwed me. Dave Paige did do a good job for what he had to work with. First pair he has ever had to do."

The bright side of Daniel's resole? He now has some of the advantages and all the EXTRA weight of the of the Baruntse midsole. I think the Baruntse is a better technical boot than the Spantik becasue of the stiffer mid sole. Just a tough way to get that advantage and still have the heavier liner. It is the worst combo you could hand out imo.

My caution.... like Daniel' never, as in, never ever, buy boots directly from a boot manufacturer, or their state side wholesaler. All the best climbing boots are made out side the US and imported...getting any of the US importers to stand behind defective boots is damn near impossible and expensive. Vasque, La Sportiva, Raichle and Kayland have all been problems that I have personally whitnessed with ZERO satisfaction.

The bastards laugh at us all the way to the bank is my thought. But hey if you work for a importer I'd love to here your side of the story. Happy to publish it here. My suggestion is buy your boots from a reputable retailer with a unconditional guaranteee...Like REI, or Zappos.