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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Two of my all time favorite videos.

I learned much about technique from "Bonfires" as I stared to climb leashless. Truely one of favorite alpine ice/adventure videos even today. And it really reminds me of my short time in Nepal bitd. I love the soundtrack. Make sure you dbl click for the big screen and full value./

And this one? Pretty much the gear and style of climbing I am most familar with...just done 10K miles east of Scotland and no one like Chouinard and Jeff Lowe up there intentionally shoveling snow down on me :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I suspect for the majority of those that will read this, it is preaching to the choir.

If not it is worth rethinking your game plan.

Originally there were some pretty strong opinions as to why leashless climbing was not an advancement in ice climbing. Held some of those same opinions myself in the past.

1975 Terrodactyl and a 2009 Nomic

The advancement in tool design with specifically engineered additional hand support has changed all of that.
The added option of an umbilical makes it even easier to transition to leashless with little risk.
At least two manufactures (Grivel and Black Diamond) are now producing umbilical systems that make loosing a tool *almost* impossible even if you do drop one or just as likely leave them at the last rap station. If you are interested take a look at the umbilical blog posted earlier.

Leashless climbing is easier. You are able to shake more often and it is much easier to do so, prolonging endurance and pushing the pump farther out. Your hands will be warmer because of it and you can use less effort to grip the tool because your glove system can be much, much lighter for the warmth required. All this adds up to climbing faster and reducing the strength required to do so.

The umbilicals, if you decide to use them, offer a mobile self belay. Leashless climbing is here to stay. It is a much better climbing system on hard ice and mixed as long as you are taking advantage of the newer tools specifically designed for leashless climbing. You have many really great tools to chose from today.

Black Diamond Fusion II over layed on top of a Petzl Nomic

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ice tools... part two

I get more questions on ice tools and boots that anything else from the blog. Most of them on private email. Probably better that way as I am very biased on what I like to climb on. But I recognise my opinion is just that, an opinion. Guys like Bjørn-Eivind Årtun, Ueli Steck, Colin Haley, and Raphael Slawinski can climb just about anything that takes a tool and it isn't going to matter what tool. That should tell you a lot about the level of the modern technology that is available today.

That short list has two Petzl sponsored climbers and two Black Diamond sponsored climbers. Besides the benefits of being sponsored I'd bet you'll find they all really like the tools they are climbing on.

Call it the "Excalibur" syndrome. Get up a climb that was hard for you and your chosen tool will become "Excalibur", the magical sword that won't allow defeat. That happens to most everyone :)

There are going to be few who can remember doing Grade 5 ice with a wooden shafted, curved tool ace axe reading this. But it is possible. Now the tools generally mimic each other and the performance is so similar that the differences are simply in the small details.

The tool manufactures that I give any credit to at the moment are Simond, Petzl, Black Diamond and Grivel. Although I have a buddy, Carlos Buhler who is involved with E-tools which also should be included. More on them here: Of those mentioned, lately I have only climbed on Black Diamond's and Petzl's tools enough to comment.

I'm only talking technical tools, so easy enough to break them down into to several categories. And a few of these can easily over lap either category as the designs blend and merge to come up with even more useful technical tools. Ideally each generation builds on the previous design work of the previous tools available. Or at least it should.

General technical tools:
Quark, Viper, Cobra

Ergo shaped dbl grip tools:
Nomic, Fusion, Ergo, Reactor

Between the newest tools, boots, clothing and ice screws there really isn't any great challenge on pure ice today. It is safer and easier in every way to climb thick water ice today than it was even 10 years ago. Go back farther and it simple is not the same game.

The reverse curved picks that Simond (and Gordon Smith first used) introduced to the world in the late '70s with the Chacal have been improved and strengthened. Angles have changed a bit but that pattern is the only technical design in use today.

Jump ahead 30 plus odd years now and looking back from my own perspective. I think three design improvements have really changed how we climb. Those are picks tough enough to dry tool on, the bent shaft with huge clearance and the 2nd ergonomic grip.

My "hint" here is if you have yet to try a tool with all three features, don't put it off. The best are a big improvement on difficult technical and make climbing both mixed and ice much, much easier..

"The newest tools all mimic each other and the performance is so similar that the differences are simply in the small details."

Black Diamond's technical tools change slightly in the angle of the pick to the shaft in every model, with increases starting with the Reactor @ 28.5, then Viper @ 30.5, Cobra @ 31, Fusion II @ 32 and Fusion I @ 33.5. Thickness of the grip also changes with the steeper tools having slightly smaller grips for more precision. How those numbers compare to Petzl is a guess in many ways. Shafts may be exact copies of each other, and are for angle, but at what angle the picks attach to the shaft is an other matter all together. How the pick design changes between Petzl and Black Diamond is another issue. As I said the differences are subtle.

Subtle, and how that matters, is the reason a carpenter's framing hammer can be bought in 2 ounce increments, from 18 oz. to 32 oz. The details really do matter.

I look at actual details on these tools. Some of the details I can feel while climbing, others I can not. Pick design and pick angle I can. Most can. It may not matter to someone else but I can tell the difference between tools and between companies. Take away the bias and again, most can. Common to see a specific tool become the cherished object of desire during a beginner ice climbing class. There may be a reason for that having nothing to do with brand names.

I'm no longer a flat bellied stallion, so I look for the tools that make climbing easier for me.

That said the details don't matter to every one. Classic example. A pet peeve of mine is crampon fit. I know good crampon fit. At one time everyone who wanted to climb steep ice knew what a good crampon fir was because you had to fit the crampons yourself. The crampons could be fit as they were totally adjustable. Then along comes the clip on versions. Great idea that has seen its ups and downs.

I have 5mm of slop on the toe of a Dart and a new Scarpa Phantom Guide. That isn't going to change from a pair of Scarpa Phantom Guides and a pair of Darts between Seattle and London. I find that fit marginal at best. You have to really crank the heel levers and be very careful centering the boot when you click them shut on a lever lock to get them secure and centered.

In public a well respected British Guide living in Chamonix differed with my opinion and found the same fit, "good". While another poster on the UKC forum finds the fit between a 45 size Guide and the Dart "perfect". Obviously not an issue for them. Marginal at best for me, if I can move the crampon on the boot by hand after you flip the lever lock. Which I can. Moving a technical crampon like a Dart by hand and having 5mm of slop to do it I find total crap. But then it is only a "detail".

The "Devil's in the details". So I try to be attentive as to what I pass on here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

More new leashless gloves.

The last two winters some of my favorite climbing gloves have been by Mountain Hardware.

Specifically a $50 "go to" glove for me, the "Torsion" (or it's kissing cousin the OR Vert). The Torsion isn't totally water proof but works great on steep technical ice unless it is really wet. For colder conditions or a lot of water I have been using the OutDry lined "Hydra" which is a stellar technical glove and cheap for what you get I think, at $100. It is warmer than the Torsion but still light enough to climb hard in. It is an exceptional pattern for technical climbing leashless. More details on both of these gloves back a ways in the Blog. Worth the extra click if you are are looking for gloves.

The new gloves to me....

Just picked up two of Mtn Hardware's glove styles that are new to me and I think worth checking out. Although prices have obviously gone up. Both are again lined with OutDry. Which seems to really work better than Gortex in similar styles. And both are leather reinforced in the heavy wear areas. The "Pistolero" as a light weight, mostly leather, highly technical glove that will replace my Torsions I think by the feel of them @ $100. And a slightly warmer version of the "Hydra", with a removable wool/synthetic liner, the "Typhon" @ $130.00

I get to look at a lot of gloves locally with REI, Mtn Hardware, Feathered Friends and Marmot all having good size retail stores local to me . These two models from Mtn Hardware are some of the best I have seen for my own use. Gotta like Mountain Hardware's life time warranty as well when you are dropping C notes for a single pair of gloves likely to get trashed in less than a season.

Fit? I wear a XL in most every glove. And it needs to be a generous XL. Hydra is fine in the XL, maybe a little loose. Pistolero is perfect, same slightly loose fit. The Typhoon is a little tight, maybe the same sizing pattern (I'd bet $ it is) as the XL Hydra but the wool/synthetic liner makes them a little tight. I may be wrong on the sizing because the next two pairs I mail ordered don't fit tight even with the wool liners. The glove build pattern however is not the same. The Hydra still has less seams and less bulk because of it. Looks like enough improvement on the Hydra durability wise though with the dbl thickness leather wear pads and leather finger tips to risk it and pay the extra $30. if you are going to do a lot of raps in them. The wool liners aren't worth the extra $30 to me. But I was thinking a really light polar fleece liner would work better and seems similar to the close fit as my BD liners in the Hydra.

I tried on 3 pairs of each to make sure I got the biggest pairs and all seem the same in size.

If I wore a Large and wanted a warmer glove than the Hydra the XL Typhon would rock :) But a XL Hydra would as well with a light weight liner of your choice and save $30.

There are a few minor improvements and the extra leather reinforcement in the palm and fingers on the Typhon. But the Typhon's build pattern is way more complicated and a bit more bulky. Are the changes worth the extra $30.00 compared to the Hydra for you? It is a toss up for me but it has convinced me to use the Typhon as my cold weather rap glove and save the Hydra for climbing when I can.

I'll write more once I get to use them as intended.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ice tools...part one.

right..Hafner, first day on borrowed Nomics

I have been putting this post off for a long time. There are many great tools out there in the market place and I am simply biased on what I use and how they work for me. I know that. But magic is magic and I hate to ignore it as it can just as easily come back to bite you in the ass. Or so I believe :)

Pure ice at "almost any angle" can be climbed fairly well with just about any old club with a good size nail through it.

The old Choiunard wooden tools and McInnes Terrodactyls come to mind. With the two or something similar having climbed many of the early Grade V and VI Canadian, European and Alaskan ice climbs.

I do admit I have now having climbed stuff steeper than "almost any angle" that I could not have climbed with a club and nail. All with less effort. Bravo to the newest tools!

Let me back up a bit though.

I remember bugging a buddy of mine about taking a curved shafted tools on big technical route on the South Face of Denali. At the time it had yet to have a second ascent. For as much easier terrain low on the route and true slogging up high I thought it a mistake. Although he ended up taking a moderately curved tool, the original BD Cobra, and a straight shafted tool CF BP as his pair I wasn't convinced it was a good idea.

My buddy on the other hand..simply said to me, "open your mind."

I did notice he didn't take two Cobras on that trip though :) We both were going to expand our minds on the new tools and going leashless soon enough.

So as you can see it took some time and effort for me to change from a straight shaft to a curved, high clearance shaft tool.

My first experience with a high clearance tool was with the original Quark. For me it was a radically shaped shaft coming from straight tools or even the moderately bent lower grips that were more common. For the time the huge clearance that the Quark offered seemed like a a futuristic ice tool never destined for general use. I used the Quark with leashes for a couple of winters before the grip rests came out. With a leash it didn't seem any better than many of the tools that came before it, the Quazars or Chacals or early Cobras. It was easier to get out of the ice. Big improvement but that was pick design not shaft design. I wasn't climbing enough or hard enough to really take advantage of any new advantage any new tool offered while leashed.

My first day leashless trying to remember how to climb ice.

Adding the now common grip rest shed some light on the revolution that was to come with tools specifically designed to be leashless.

My experience with leashless came after not climbing for a couple of full seasons. Then jumping back in, I spent a week in our old haunts in the Canadian Rockies. The first day on leashes. The second day leashless and not really happy with the idea. Frightening actually for many reasons. Biggest one was using the wrong glove system. The first half of the third day back on leashes and during that day I pulled my leashes off and have never gone back. I also got a thinner glove. Big help! But it really didn't take much to convince me. Even without totally understanding (and far from it) it was obvious to me leashless has some huge advantages. I could live to learn live without.

It did take some time to sort out how to use a leashless tool and the gloves appropriate for them but that all came with time. The entire time most climbers were still arguing that leashes were still better on difficult terrain. There were a few that realised it was actually the faster and easier method to climb.

It was obvious even on pure ice at a moderate level of difficulty that leashless had some huge advantages, being warmer one of them. The other making climbing easier and less tiring. You could shake out at your leisure any time. No more totally blown forearms. I have used umbilicals since the '70s so dropping a tool was never a fear. Surprising to me I was a instant convert.

So for me leashless was a huge revolution in ice climbing. Not the tools so much as the added freedom, strength and warmth of being leashless. Then I climbed on a pair of Nomics at Hafner.

It was the second winter the Nomic was out. I was coming off a recent distal bicep surgery and was over weight and weak. Add to that being.seriously old school, I seldom intentionally touched an ice tool pick intentionally to rock. Let alone crank on a pick stuck in rock. All the "new" mixed made little sense to me. But encouraged to do just that with a Nomic, it not only opened my eyes to a new style of climbing rock but also just how easy difficult ice could be by just hooking placements and not actually swinging.

The Nomic, as weird as it looked, climbed like nothing I had ever experienced. It was an instant jump in my previous climbing ability, while still weak and fat. The ice grades that I had done with some real effort in the '80s I was repeating now with less strength, with ease. Truly amazing to me that gear (the new screws and clothing were obviously a big help too) had made such a difference.

I was so impressed with the Nomics that I started taking them anywhere there might be ice to climb. And interesting enough my bet payed off. I was now climbing mixed stuff harder than anything I had done previous and again with less effort.

The high clearance shaft allows a high dagger position that is best used to cover moderate alpine terrain quickly. In tight mixed (or vertical ice) being able to match on the shaft of a single tool allows fewer placements. The double grips on the Nomic really began to shine for me. And they hooked so easily. I cut my swings on a pitch in 1/2 no matter what the terrain

And I seldom missed a shaft spike in the alpine.

Last season, the newest 2nd generation Black Diamond Fusion showed up. BD delivered a very similar tool in performance as the Nomic. It came with a hammer and spike already attached. Smart guys at BD. The Fusion pretty much eliminated the weakness of the Nomic design. Each has subtle advantages over the other I think.

Petzl followed up this year with a hammer, adze and new pommel for the Nomic. And 2 complete new tool designs based on the Nomic followed. Again the newest tool, the 2nd gen. Ergo, is a very radical shape. The Ergo's shape has yet to be proven but I think it might be much better than first impression, just as the Fusion, Nomic, Quark and Cobra were before it.
New tools and crampon designs aren't done by a long shot....more to come in near future!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Old school, New school.... 24 years of Alpinism.

The Croz Spur, winter 1987, Christophe Profit and the Simond Chacal/Barracuda.

The Croz Spur, fall 2009, Will, Jon with the Nomic and Cobra.

Croz spur with Slovenian start- Grandes Jorasses from Jonathan Griffith on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Flash 18 review and Mt Goode's Magladon Traverse

OK, I have already taken some shite for suggesting that a $30 REI "kiddies" pack would be a good alpine climbing pack. As good as anything available at any price for what we are using them for.

I've now been using one for just over 6 months and stand by the suggestion. After making this post one of our local "stone killers" sent me an email in part to support my suggestion. Dan was kind enough to write the bulk of this review which is quoted much lower downw the page and high lighted.

For my part I have used the Flash 18 in the alpine on ice and rock. I've taken it on two long ridge traverses and more bush whacking than I care to remember this summer. It has become my "go to" climbing pack. I don't want to carry any more than I can get into this thing. Which has proven to be more gear than you would first think possible.

I have a 21" back. That may be not be normal @ 6"1" but not deformed either. Most of the current "love fest" small alpine sacks don't come any where near fitting me. And a poor fitting pack is just as annoying as a poor fitting pair of shoes imo. No matter who tells you "it" fits.

Seriously, this is a very good, super light, alpine pack for my own needs. Pack body is 140-denier ripstop nylon, remarkably abrasion resistant for such light material, polyurethane coating offers weather resistance. Almost anything is repairable with Seam Grip. And it is 9.2 oz total weight. You choices are a $30 for a pack that fits or $150 for from the Gucci crowd that doesn't and isn't any lighter. Easy decision on my part.

Update- May 2011
6 months later and I am using the Flash 18 ski touring and still loving it.  That is a set of 9# skis and binding and you never feel them on the boot pack.  Not the best pack for the job but not the worst I have used either.

Not just me taking this pack out. Dan Hilden used one on his and Jens Holsten's repeat of the uber classic, "Megladon" on Goode. Dan's words:

"As someone who has spent a lot more time climbing and going to school than working over the years, I have often struggled to get my hands on decent gear. I once spent a week without a sleeping bag in the North Cascades because I couldn’t afford a lightweight one. I borrowed ice tools from friends and used my straight shafted third tool for some pretty tricky stuff for two years after selling mine for travelling money in Peru. My old lightweight climbing boots are held together by epoxy, caulk, and seem grip, and are better for a laugh than they are for keeping my feet warm or dry. Pretty much all the gear I own I get used or find on sale.

After soloing the Northeast Buttress of Goode in just over 24 hours from highway 20 in 2009, I knew right away that it had not been enough to show me what I wanted to find out. I had been mentally preparing myself for the climb for years and by the time I set out to do it there was no doubt in my mind that it would go. I decided to try to climb Megalodon Ridge in a single push because I really wasn’t sure that I could do it.

My partner for the trip, Jens Holsten, is a certified beast and could have finished the job even if I pulled the old Eiger Sanction move of hiding a six pack in his pack, but I knew that I would have to go lighter than I ever had before. I spent over a month fine tuning a list of what I would need to carry and how much it all weighed. Stripped down my trusty old pack (which I’m told smells like a dead animal) weighs about 2.5 lbs. I wanted something lighter and was on the lookout for a used Cilogear or Go Light or something similar when I found the REI Flash 18. I always prefer to support smaller businesses, but since the Flash was only $30 and weighs 10 oz, (9. 2 oz on the scales) I didn’t think twice before ordering one.

When I got the pack I cut off the waist belt since the load would be light, cut a piece of foam sleeping pad to slide in the hydration pocket to make it more comfortable and give me some ground insulation for unplanned bivys, and threaded thin stretch cord between the gear loops so that I could stuff a jacket or climbing shoes where they would be easily accessible. On the climb I found that the design is good and simple. The open/close system is quick and easy even with gloves on. I can’t think of any worthwhile complaints. Obviously this thing is not going to be as durable as a pack made with heavier fabric, but it stood up to quite a bit of bushwhacking without a single tear, and it is light and small enough that you will probably be climbing with it rather than hauling the vast majority of the time. Since it came from REI, I can return it if it does fall apart after a few more uses.

The day of the climb my pack held our small rack, my personal climbing gear, an extra shirt, balaclava, socks, stove, pot and fuel, my headlamp, water bag, an ice tool, rain jacket, and a lot of food. All that I needed and nothing more. In 27 hours we covered about 35 miles, gained and lost over 10,000 feet, and climbed a grade IV+ route on the biggest mountain in the North Cascades National Park."

More here on Dan's and Jen's climb:

REI has a rather unique way to hang the shoulder straps and make this tiny pack fit even my long back. I suspect you'll see the usual suspects copy it any time now if they aren't already. The Flash 18 is tough enough to come out of two bushwhacks unscathed that literally shredded my shins and hands. I too cut a thin piece of foam to set in the hydro pocket but left the waist strap for balance boulder hoping and climbing. Although it pays to note it weights only 10oz and I'd treat it accordingly. I have BIG plans this winter for mine. I think this pack ROCKs!

I own 5 custom made packs and two that are off the shelf. This is one of those two and I would buy another one in a heart beat if this one disappeared. Can't say that for many packs I have owned.

Now what you have all been waiting for, our newly discovered gear guy, "Forrest"!
If you know what to look for between the two revues it soon becomes obvious this is a great pack!

Unknown bloggers photo (thank you!) ...but a great shot of the harness!

Baruntse Dbl boot Liners?

Over the last couple of years I have been looking hard at all the available double boots for fit and performance. In my opinion the best dbl boots don't generally come with the best inner boots. The most well known after market liner, the Intuition leaves a number of things to be desired in a climbing boot. No wonder as they are ski boot liners first and formost. It is however a great inner boot if you want to ski in your Spantiks. Production inner boots that are suppose to be easily heat fit like a good ski boot liner aren't. That can result in your feet suffering no matter what kind of foot you have.

The best of the current inner boots that I have seen is a foam inner that is nylon lined on both the inside and out and made by Palau in France.

Lucky La Sportiva decided to use the Palau liners for the Baruntse. I've used the Palau/Baruntse liner in my Spantiks and now again in the Scarpa Phantom 6000s. I think the Baruntse liner is better/warmer that either boot's original liner. The Palau liner is warm, but not overly thick. It is very easy to dry out, as there isn't much nylon to absorb water. They are easy to heat form by any good ski boot fitter and even easier to lace up. They are the lightest inner boot I have weighted including the Intuition or 6000's liner. The nylon lining on the inside and outside of the Baruntse inner boot makes them easy on and off in the mountains and durable compared to an all foam inner boot. Purchased directly from La Sportiva NA they are $120 a pair plus shipping. A direct comparison to everything else easily available on the winter boot market shows no down side that I can see, including the retail price.

Pictured here with a pair of Spantiks.


Spare Baruntse liners were not available last season. In limited numbers and sizes they are available now. If they don't have your size you can also get a pair put on back order by calling Rebecca.

Oct. 6, 2010
> Dane,
> Thank you for your email! We do have the Baruntse liners in size 45. We
> are in the process of updating our website and currently do have the
> Baruntse liners in stock. The cost is $120 plus shipping. I would be
> happy to place an email/phone order for the Baruntse liners. Let me know
> what you would like to do.
> Cheers!
> Rebecca Carroll
> Customer Service Representative
> La Sportiva N.A., Inc.
> 3850 Frontier Ave - Suite 100
> Boulder CO 80301
> 303.443.8710 ext 13

"You can't run in crampons!"

Or, "Does that guy sleep?"

Dbl click and get it in full screen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It is true...I've made fun of YOU!

If you have worn a helmet rock climbing or a visor/face mask on ice I have likely made fun of you, at least silently, in my past.

I know, poor potty training. But it comes from honest hard labor and not getting killed..... yet.
While I almost never (never?) wear a helmet cragging on decent rock I always wear a helmet on ice or in a winter/alpine environment or on the typical limestone choss.

It is not my suggestion that you skip wearing a helmet or use me as a poster child as to when to or not to wear a helmet. Make up your own mind when you think you need a helmet and "live...or not" with that decision.

Helmets have gotten so light...the newest ones from BD and Petzl are down to ounces...literally half of my last helmet's weight.

But this isn't about helmets. The discussion is actually about face shields while climbing ice. I have to admit having more scars on my face than I care to. All of them from ice cuts. One in particular, a 1980 dinner plate on Carlsberg, knocked me out cold and cut my lip through to the gum line. Unpleasant all that to finally make Banff and getting sew up. I am not sure a face shield would have stopped the injury or brain fade but it might have helped. Either way not an experience I want to repeat.

Old habits die hard so no mask or visor for me. Well not until last season anyway. Two years ago I was finishing up the right hand side of Weeping Wall when for the first time ever, I popped a small piece of ice directly into my eye and it REALLY hurt! And I do mean REALLY hurt. I couldn't see and it hurt bad enough I couldn't climb for a few minutes. My eye was pouring tears. And it was later sore for several days. No fun on lead.

My partner that day was wearing a Petzl helmet and shield which I thought rather goofy at the time.....but not so much now. He wasn't goofy mind you, just his choice in gear was goofy from my inexperienced perspective. My first piece of damning evidence is the zebra striped bike tape he used to wrap his Nomics. '70s California hippy obviously. The fact that he has climbed a whole lot more ice that me..over a longer period time..and was still climbing harder...(the bastard!).... kept me from giving him shit about his obvious "goofiness". But I really wanted too. Right up till I poked myself in the eye!

That was my last trip for the season up north. I started looking for one of those fancy shields to add to my helmet on the drive home. "How about sliding me a pro deal on one of them fancy helmets with a visor, Jack?" "Nada."

Took me a few months and I still have a helmet without a shield but now one with as well. I pick and choose which helmet I want to use as the shield is fragile and a PIA to stuff along with the attached helmet into a pack. But I almost never go on water ice now without a shield/visor. So much for the old school label. Now I am one of the goofy ones. But I get to laugh at myself......every time all that nasty stuff bounces off my visor with every swing as I smile and "style" my way upward!

But if you show up with a wired frame football mask or looking like Freddy Krugger I'm still gonna laugh at you. Call it poor potty training.