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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Double boot, Inner Boots, molding, fitting, styles and options

Spantik with the factory inner (yellow and black) and a Baruntse inner boot (all black)

This commentary will cover some ideas on La Sportiva's Spantik, Baruntse double boots and the newest Scarpa 6000 double boot and tips on the inner boot care and feeding.

Let me start with the Spantik. La Sportiva's literature that comes in the hang tag attached to the boot reads: "INNER BOOT: Micro-perforated thermo-formable PE/ Water-repellent Lorica® with Antiacqua™ external coating INSOLE".

I have been trying to get the information and directions from La Sportiva Italy and La Sportiva NA since the fall of '07 on how exactly you are supposed to "thermo-form" a pair of Spantik inners.

I still haven't gotten an answer from either source.

Luckily I found another source. Thank you James! This was left in one of the blog comments:

From James:
" After months of struggling with the fit on my Spantiks, I just heat formed the inner boots in my home oven. It has greatly improved the fit! The liners are no longer sloppy on my low-volume foot, and the heel lift that I couldn't get rid of is now reduced to negligible levels even when "front pointing" (in my kitchen).

I basically treated them like Intuition liners. I heated my oven to 250F (use convection setting if you have it). I put the liners in the oven (sans insoles) and kept a close eye on them. After about 7 minutes they became very soft--almost a toasted marshmallow consistency to the foam areas. I suspect this is key--if you don't get them hot/soft enough, they won't mold.

Once they attained the slightly alarming marshmallow consistency described above, I pulled them out, stuck my custom insoles in them, put them on my feet, laced them up, put the shells on, and laced those to a moderate tension (i.e., less than would be applied in actual use).

Note that, before putting on the liners, I put spacers between some of my toes (folded-up paper towels), put on toe caps made of old, thick wool socks, and covered it all with a thin liner sock.

After standing in the boots for about 15 minutes, I took them off. The liners are now firmer/stiffer and fit my foot much better. Overall, the boots feel snug and secure but not tight, exactly as they should. Since I have not yet climbed in them, I can't say for certain what the effect on performance will be or how the molded liner will resist pack-out. But given the improvement in fit and how they feel tip-toeing around the house, I expect good things. If they pack out or stretch I will try molding them again. It's also possible that the fit could be further improved with additional molding, use of heat gun, etc., but I'm not inclined to mess with them unless the field performance is less than satisfactory.

I don't know why La Sportiva is so reticent about providing directions for molding these liners--it totally transforms the boot and is an essential step to get the most out of these (very expensive) boots, in my opinion. The lack of information on how to do this made me nervous and kept me from trying it for quite a while, but in the end it was easy. I hope this helps a few other climbers--but please don't blame me if something goes wrong."

OK, so here is my update. After the last failed attempt to mold my own Baruntse liners with the sparse La Sportiva directions with James' info in hand as back up I went to our local master boot fitter, Zach Volmer, at Sturtevant's in Bellevue. (having been a boot fitter in the past, my caution is don't do this at home kids) They have custom fit my ski and most importantly my climbing boots for the past 5 years. But neither of us was brave enough to trash a pair of new Spantik inner boots until today. Luckily again...nothing was hurt, no small animals died as a sacrifice and finally the Spantik can live up to the claim of "thermo formable".

Here are the numbers we used in a boot fitters hot air oven, 225 degrees @ 10 minutes. But a caution if you are doing this at home. It is at the least a two man job and you'll need the proper set of 2 pairs of toe caps, good thin stretch sock and some big plastic bags.

This is what Zach and I did today that actually worked.

10 minutes in the oven until the inner boot's foam "attained the slightly alarmingly marshmallow consistency".

While that is happening. With bare feet add a toe cap while standing on what ever insole you will have in the inner boot. I used both, the flat silver foam insole and the La Sportive "orthodic" insole layered on top. Add a second toe cap that now captures the insoles as well as your toes. Put a tight, light weight sock over all of that to hold it in place.

Pull the fully heated inner boots out of the oven. Quickly...but very carefully.... insert your now stocking feet and toe capped foot and insoles into the hot inner boot. I first did a couple of dry runs before we heated the inner boot to see just how tight my toe capped foot would be in the inner. It helped during actual forming. Lace the inner boot is super soft and you could easily wreck your inner boots at this stage by pulling out a lace eyelet. Add a plastic bag to help the inner boot slide into the shell. Adjust top cuff and tongue and lace the outer boot...again loosely. Wrinkles here in the outer boot will give you hot spots on the inner boot later. Now Kick both heel into pocket and toe into front of boot. For the best fit, once all that is done, get a good flat stance and hold in a slightly bent knee position for a few minutes. At 5 minutes walk them till the inner is cold. 10minutes more should do. And you are done.

I got a good custom fit in the Spantik inner boot using this method. Down side? There isn't a lot of foam to move around in the Spantik inner and the ankle hinge area is an obvious week spot in the inner boot design. It is obvious this inner boot won't last for ever. But La Sportiva will sell you a spare set.

Another seemingly down side to the Spantik inner is durability. Eyelets and hooks coming off or breaking plagued the first issue Spantiks. It was so bad I went through three pair before I had climbed three pitches in them.

The hard foam of this inner does not like to flex. If a eyelet or lace fails on the inner boot, having a good fit and good heel hold down is almost impossible. To solve that obvious problem Daniel's pictures show what he did to keep his inner boot working if the lace failed while on a big trip. Call it preventive maintenance.

Spantik shell and a La Sportiva Baruntse inner boot

Next up is the Baruntse inner boot. This time the numbers are 225 degrees at 8 minutes in the same oven. The Baruntse liner will shrink up a full size after being heated so you might want to order it one full size up if you are going to use a Baruntse liner in a Spantik. There are no true half sizes in the Baruntse liner. A 44.5 and the 45 are the same. 43.5 and 44 are the same size.

Better to have this inner too big than too small to start off with if my experience shows anything.
Make sure you don't over tighten the inner or outer shell when lacing this inner boot up when it is still warm and just out of the oven. It is also mandatory that you adjust the inner boot tops and tongue. Work fast but be precise.

Lots of foam in the Baruntse inner. Given the right inner boot size...meaning you want more inner boot than less, the Baruntse inn boot will give any one a great fit if the work is done by a good boot fitter with the proper accessories to do it right.

The final inner boot shown in this picture is from the Scarpa 6000. It is both thin and fragile.
Worse yet it is difficult to get off and on even sitting at home. None of the things that makes me want to trust my ten little piggys to them. But with a little luck the Baruntse linner will also fit in your 6000s if you decide a better inner boot is in order. Mine do.

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 The Spantik's or 6000's original liner. I know it is lighter. The Palau liner is warm, but not overly thick. It is very easy to dry out, easier than the Spantik's from my and others experience, as there isn't much nylon to absorb water. The lace system will allow you to easily sleep in them on a bivy with both warm and dry feet. 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. Spantik's liner is 250g, the Baruntse-Palau is 150g. 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. The Baruntse linner will also soften up the cuff and flex of a pair of Spaniks a bit. Makes them easier to walk and climb in. If you want a ski boot the Intuition liners in a Spantik will make them stiffer in the ankle. The Baruntse inner, on the other hand, stiffen up a pair of Scarpa 6000 boots enough to make them a better endurance ice boot of long bouts of moderate angled alpine ice.

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.

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
Dear Dane
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.
Rebecca Carroll
Customer Service Representative
La Sportiva N.A., Inc.
3850 Frontier Ave - Suite 100
Boulder CO 80301
303.443.8710 ext 13

Finally in late 2011...La Sportiva chimes in:

Heat Moldable Liner Important Instructions:

La Sportiva recommends that you read the following instructions carefully before proceeding to heat mold your boot. The company does not accept any responsibility for damage caused to third parties due to incorrect use of product. La Sportiva recommends that heat molding is carried our at a specialist shop.

Steps to follow for the correct adaptation of the shoe to your foot:

1) Turn on the oven and set to the ideal temperature of 130 degrees C.

2) Put the La Sportiva liner in the oven and leave to warm up for 10/12 minutes.

3) Make sure the external boot shell is completely open and that it is kept at room temperature.

4) Insert the foot bed into the liner to determine the "top-cap" height within the boot. Use a sock to help the foot slide easily into position.

5) Remove the liner from the oven and insert your foot. Make sure that the underfoot seams present are not deformed. Proceed as quickly as possible so that the lining does not cool down thus losing its properties.

6) Fasten the liner tightly.

7) Allow the foot to slip within the liner and the liner shell, keeping the gaiter open. Be careful not to damage the liner in any way.

8) Make sure the heel is well positioned towards the back of the liner.

9) Buckle the external shell with just sufficient adjustment in tension and set the boot aside until completely dry (about 10 minute)

After Care:

•Remove the liner after every outing
•Allow the boot to dry naturally, never by a heat source
•Avoid over heating the liners. Store in a cool dry place during the summer months
•The liners can be hand washed in cold water


Another "Pinnacle" trailer......

The trailers just keep getting better and better...

Daniel Harro's climb , Stay Dry to Stay Warm, part II

"Above the grey rock bivy site was the worst of the trenching and with all seriousness I made a trench so high, or I guess deep, that I could not reach the top with my arm fully extended with a tool in my hand. I was forced to climb out of the trench after about two hrs of wet sugary leading. All in all it was a great learning experience."

Alaska Range Spring 2010 from Daniel Harro on Vimeo.

Daniel Harro's addition to the "stay warm - stay dry" post generated some interesting speculation and lots of questions.

Realize I made the post first and after Daniel read it he asked me to add some of his Alaska experience to drive home the point. So nothing here is critizing Daniel. We both hope the info offered will simply help someone else avoid similar

Before we get into the gear details you first need to understand the climb and conditions Harro and Willaims had in Alaska in the spring of '10. Record amounts of new snow and terrible ice conditions were common through out the range last spring.

Their climb on Peak 11,300 is a great testament to the team's tenacity and endurance. I've climbed with Daniel and know how strong he is. In the past a xc racer at a national level if that gives you any idea. Wallowing in chest deep snow for hours on end is mindless and dangerous. The level of physical labor involved has to be experienced to be believed.

Harro and Willaims spent 3 nights and 3 and 1/2 full days climbing to get up Peak 11,300. The guide book says "1 to 3 days, Alaskan Grade V 5.8 60 degree ice and extensive cornicing. " The next party to summit 11,300 after Harro' team did it following their pre built trench and tent platforms in 40 hrs with a short bivy mid route.

Take a look at the "pre built trench" in the video to get an idea of just how miserable the route was in that condition.

Back to the gear.

The Marmot bags they carried on route were stuffed into the issued Marmot water proof stuff sacks that came with the bags. The frozen bag in the picture was a bag pulled out of that stuff sack in "block form" frozen solid.

Three major reasons the bags got this wet.

#1 They were in severe storms 3 full nights...which is unusual conditions to be on route and still moving. They were opening the tent door every time to get snow to melt. Doing so enveloped the inside of the tent in spindrift every time the zipper came down. It would have been better to fill a stuff sack full of snow once, for the entire night's cooking chores. Using dedicated pee bottles would help as well. Keeping the tent fully zipped up would also keep the tent environment drier by allowing the heat generated with the stove and bodies to drive the moisture in the air through the single wall of the tent.

#2 Their gaiters were water- proof shorties on top of good double boots. The moisture generated in such nasty snow conditions didn't allow the heat to push moisture out of the boots and into the pants to add body heat and help dry both boot and pant. Instead the gaiter stopped any moisture from their feet at the ankles and froze there. Then it later melted in the sleeping bag and obviously soaked the foot section of the unprotected down bag. No high tech outer material is going to protect you from moisure you bring into the bag.

#3 Poor choice in clothing. Both climbers used Gore-Tex shelled jackets. Good choice but they could have done even better. Both climbers used soft shell pants. Not the best choice for the conditions. During a typical year in decent conditions that combo would have worked fine in Alaska. In 20/20 hind sight, and from my computer desk, plowing through 6 or 7 feet of snow for 3 days running it was the wrong system. A super light single inner layer for insulation (wool for a reason) and super light set of bibs and a jacket in Gore-Tex or Event would have solved much of the moisture problem in the tent even with their simple down bags. Ditching the additional gaiter and using a pant gaiter and elastic loop would have done much of the rest.

They hard to argue with their results.

For those that asked...I would have used a down bag on this climb myself. And Daniel is taking another down bag to Alaska again this spring for an even bigger project. I used a synthetic bag on my 1st two trips to the Alaska range. The last 6 I have used down and will continue to use down in Alaska and most everywhere else I climb.

I don't know anyone who climbs seriously that doesn't use a down bag the majority of time. Down is the lightest insulation available for the amount of volume they offer. And just as importantly they stuff the smallest.

But if this post tells you anything, even seemingly tiny decisions, like the wrong choice in a pair of gaiters, can lead to major issues.

In this case, again, it is the Indian and not the arrow.

The good things? Both climbers used the Arcteryx Duelly belay parka on route. That jacket and their personal limits of suffering is what enabled them to summit and get back down with no cold injuries. Daniel's comment on the Duelly? "The single best piece of gear we took to Alaska". But then it is not the normal synthetic jacket either and is more comparable in thickness and warmth to the very best of the down jackets available and still lighter than most.   But most importantly it is not effected by moisture inside or out.  They also both used La Sportiva dbl boots, Spantik and Baruntse which was a part of the equation as well. (more on that comparison tomorrow in a new inner boot post)

The down Mtn Hardware jacket in the picture is a "base camp only" item they both took to use around camp and for cooking. They never intended it or used it for climbing.

Thanks to Daniel for telling "the rest of the story". And thanks to readers for asking the questions through the blog.

Immersion foot?

Frostbitten toes are easy to identify. Immersion foot is not.

(this is another retread piece from June of '10. It is worth a few minutes of your time if my personal experience is any example.)

In the last couple of weeks I have been asking my buddies what they have been up to. With all the nasty weather over most of the Western states and into Canada no surprise many of us are still trying to ice/alpine or even "winter" climb of sorts.

Frost-bite is less of an issue outside of Alaska in spring. Immersion foot is not. And that injury is more serious than you might first think.

"Immersion foot occurs when feet are cold and damp while wearing constricting footwear. Unlike frostbite, immersion foot does not require freezing temperatures and can occur in temperatures up to 60° Fahrenheit (about 16° Celsius). The condition can occur with as little as twelve hours' exposure."

FWIW I suspect mild immersion foot injuries (the ones with no visual injury) are very common in the summer and winter alpine climbing communities but unreported and generally unrecognised for what they really are.

How easy is the injury to sustain? I came off a 24hr c2c winter climb and on the walk out decided I was tired enough a nap on the trail was in order. Something I had done before many times in the past winter or summer. I wasn't particularly dehydrated (but likely more than I realised), hungry or cold but with the early start from home, the drive, the approach, the climb, the decent and then the walk out I was pretty worn out and had by then been up for 30+ hrs. So a quick nap seemed a luxury. I laid down on my pack to keep me off the ground and figured as usual when the cold woke me up I'd finish the walk out with a bit more energy. The cold did wake me up as expected. So I got a 20 or 30 minute nap. And with in a few minutes of walking I was warm again and life seemed better. But what I hadn't noticed till then was I still had damp feet from breaking through some water ice earlier in the day. Took longer than expected while walking to the car for my feet to warm up, but they did eventually warm up. When I got home I took a hot shower and hit the sheets for a few hrs before I went back to work. When I finally stepped back into my shop I noticed the front half of both feet were numb. Because I kept climbing all winter it took a full 18 months for that to totally disappear and my feet are very susceptible to re injury. (front of my feet go numb) Now re injury can happen by just a few hrs of cold feet sitting at the computer early in the morning barefoot. Or wearing tight rock shoes in cool conditions and not moving, like a hanging belay for example, can do it as well.

Another example? I spent most of my first Alaskan expedition wiggling my toes every night for a hr or so before I fell asleep in my lwt bag if we weren't actually out climbing. I'd count the toe curls until I fell asleep. By the end of that trip I had numb toes but no frost bite injuries. I'd bet now I had a classic case of Immersion foot.

Not a lot is out there for the care of Immersion foot incurred in a climbing situation. Two friends I talked to about the injury said they had "frost nip", a third thought he had "nerve damage". But the symptoms are nearly the same. And almost everyone I know who has spent time out winter climbing has had either Immersion foot or Frost Bite. I suspect the basic treatment to heal the injury (nerve damage, Immersion foot, or moderate Frostbite-blisters) is also the same, keep your feet warm, clean and give yourself time to heal the injury completely without re injury.

What we miss is Immersion foot can easily lead to very serious re injury and less resistance to cold injuries in general.

So how do you know you have it? Many of us have always thought of it as "frost nip" but it generally is not. Immersion foot is serious damage to your nerves and circulation in the foot. And frost bite will be the freezing of tissue. But Immersion foot may have almost no outward sign of injury. Frost Bite most defiantly will. A good thing many of us are beginning to recognise there is an injury with Immersion foot by incorrectly naming it "frost nip". Your feet or at least the toes and forefoot become numb with Immersion foot. Get a good enough case of Immersion foot and even your once comfortable but tight rock shoes will now not fit and worse yet re injure you feet on a typical spring day and you don't have to have cold feet while it happens .

The other culprit that leads to Immersion foot is abuse, same reason the rock shoe scenario is so hard on their past winter's injury. Get on some hard and continuous alpine ice with a tight fitting boot and it is very easy to pound you feet and toes into submission with nerve damage. But sometimes it is hard to tell nerve damage from Immersion foot. Keeping your feet warm and dry once out of the mountains is your best chance of healing your feet quickly and getting back outside in comfort.

Besides making an effort to treat your feet better and wearing a warmer climbing boot this time of year with all the bad weather, what can you do once you have a good case of Immersion foot?

My answers to date: wear very warm shoes in the house or office so your feet sweat. Keep your feet dry even if you have to change socs several times a day while doing little or nothing. It will heal the nerve endings faster if your feet are warm. But avoid doing nothing once you are out of your boots. Walking seems to speed healing. Pounding out mileage I am not so sure about once you get into the "abuse of feet" distances. Watch how warm/dry your feet stay if you are riding a bicycle for training. Remember you only have to get to 60° Fahrenheit (about 16° Celsius) before damage can re occur. After the first incident with Immersion foot your feet will be damaged easier the next time. The amount of time between the first injury and the next exposure can make a difference as well on how you heal and your next case of Immersion foot. While your feet are still numb stay out of tight rock shoes. And most importantly avoid getting your feet cold again for any reason while they are still numb. The more time between exposures to cold the better.

As a side note to make the point. Have you ever heard of older people having "poor circulation" in their feet and them always being cold? Remember that Immersion foot can be experienced at 60° Fahrenheit. Many, many cases of "poor circulation" as we age are simply reoccurring Immersion foot events until the person has suffered permeate cold damage to their feet.

Make some one you know happy this winter (or all year long) by buying them chemical heat packs and show them how to put them in their slippers or sox :)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ice, Snice and a good Screw...

Here is another recycled bit from 2/1/10 early last winter.

I wrote the following on 2/28/08

"Ice screws? If you are not currently climbing with the newest generation of Grivel screws you are wasting energy. I’ve tried EVERY new screw design currently on the market, in almost every snow and ice condition you can think of. With all due respect to Black Diamond, and with no hype, no bs, there is no other manufacture even close to Grivel's current production. The Grivel screws are as revolutionary to ice climbing as Jardine's Friends were 30 years ago. Big statement I know. But placing good gear, easily, where you want it instead of were you could makes climbing much, much easier and a lot safer."

"To support my comments I have the newest Grivels (360s and Helix) and both models of the newest BD screws on my rack now. I'll stand by my original comments as the Helix being the best of the bunch the majority of time. Although the 360 is good may be even a toss up with the BDs..although the BDs rack/stack and deploy much easier. The BDs just don't start or cut ice as easily. I am not a big fan of the 360, wacky hanger design, although the 360 does have an advantage over all of them in tight placements."

"Sitting here at the key board I see that the BD screw has longer initial teeth and a thinner tube profile. Both of which should be an advantage over the Grivel chewing into ice. Grivel threads start a bit shallower at the teeth (by 1/10s of an inch). Which technically means it will start a bit quicker but it isn't much. The thread designs are totally different from Grivel to BD. Grivel's finish is obviously smoother. All issues which will make a difference +/- in performance.

I'll easily admit both Companies offer good products and everyone develops there own preferences."

In the past two years, I have learned a lot about ice screw manufacture. The level of nickel plating, the weight of ice screws, the differences in thread, tooth and tube profiles and the inside diameter of the tubes. I've looked at the hanger designs and how that effects racking and initial placement.

In design and manufacture I would have thought that the newest BD screws would have been the best available. I've seen a multitude of in house tests that show all sorts of info why the BD or the Grivel tubes are the "best".

I am a big believer in numbers so the other day I pulled out a few more brand new BD Express screws to make up for the other half of my Helix rack I would leave at home. Off I went, fat, dumb and happy to the local ice crag.

Mind you the climbing wasn't hard...WI4 and good feet but really bad ice. Ice was covered with snow in many places, terribly chandelier and thin. Scary enough for me that many times I was placing two screws at a time hoping to get at least one solid screw if I wasn't hitting rock. Not a technique I would normally use or recommend so you can get an idea on my mind set. In 130 feet I placed 9 screws as pro. 6 of them were placed as 3 pairs.

Once again I got a clear picture of the actual physical differences between BD and Grivel screw placement. I then spent part of the afternoon today, resharpening the same batch of screws, both BD and Grivel.

Some of my observations I found interesting while doing the sharpening. The BD screws remind me of a fine honed razor knife. Really sharp but something that won't hold an edge for long or be very durable. Cuts well till it gets dull. But the thinner side walls and razor edge dulls quickly in my experience. The Grivel on the other hand have more of what I would call a "combat edge", that stays sharp even with some abuse. Both take some effort to resharpen to factory spec.

I don't particularly like the 360. I find the crank and hanger too cumbersome in use. So I generally don't use it. The Helix marginally better. But enough better that I prefer its down sides over the additional effort to place a BD Express. I have no loyalty to any gear manufacture be it BD or Grivel. My loyalty is guaranteed by what works.

So I used the Helix on water ice almost exclusively. But because of the huge weight savings over any other steel screw I take the BD Turbos into the alpine...for water ice or snice. There is so little "real" difference in use between the two brands. But the weight difference is a "big" thing. 20g or close to 1 oz in a 6 oz screw.

Last winter a BD Express literally saved my live while being lowered off a thin lead and one of my two screws popped out of marginal snice. Another place where I had set a pair of screws hoping for the best. A pair of BD Express this time and the only gear 60 feet out, set in a tiny patch of "hope and a prayer" snice, 10" apart. The first screw popped within milliseconds after taking full body weight! The second took the dynamic load and then held, thankfully. My guardian angel had to work over time for a few months last year :)

Screws are really expensive these days. BD Express or the Grivel Helix can be had for $55/60.
I pay retail for mine and it is painful. I'd suggest you "try before you buy" if it is possible.

A comment from a buddy I trust, Doug Shepard, doing a BD Turbo Express review in Dec of '07.

"How is real world performance? These things rock!

They start easier than my old BD screws. At least as fast to start and place as the Grivel 360 screws in my opinion, which I thought was the fastest screw on the market to place. Combined with the multiple clip-in points, this screw takes what is great about the Petzl Laser (ease of use), the Grivel 360 (extremely easy to start), and the old Turbo Express (durability and ease of racking) and duplicates or improves on each idea.

Multiple partners have all commented on how much easier the new Turbo Express screws are to start, place, and remove. They are an all-around improvement over the old model. Only time and extended use will tell how durable they are compared to the old model and competing products."

Bottom line? You can get too anal about some things :) I am about ice screws for sure. To some extent it is personal preference and what you are most used to climbing with. Between the BD and Grivel the difference is little. Obviously I have a preference and I am sure the BD crew cringes and roll their eyes, rightfully so, when I post something like this, while Gioachino @ Grivel rubs his hands in glee.

The newest generation of ice screws are amazing. In many ways they have opened up much of the new mixed terrain and allowed the old "classics" to be done faster and much safer. There are no losers here.

Staying warm generally means staying dry...

After I had made this post my buddy Daniel Harro asked I add this:

"Here is a Marmot Helium 15 degree down sleeping bag after spending three nights on Peak 11,300 in less than ideal conditions. Two things that helped get the down soaked..... 1. Their is no way to stay dry climbing through waist deep / chest deep snow for three-four days, if you were not getting wet from the snow you were sweating from the huge effort of moving upward. 2. these bags are nylon which have no water resiliency what so ever so any snow / water that touched the bags they simply absorbed. Over all a great learning experience!"

Eric Williams back at Mountain House base camp. Harro photo

Couple of thoughts come to mind on staying warm. Climbing in a wet snow storm all day will get you wet if you are dressed wrong. Or being over dressing for the conditions will get you wet from perspiration.

I've used my synthetic parka to dry my soft shell out in wet snow conditions after I got chilled on a belay. I couldn't get myself dried while stopped without added insulation. I also have used a base layer to do the approach in, knowing I would soak it and then changed to dry clothing to do the climb. That is a lighter and much warmer tactic over all for me.

The major issue of winter climbing is moisture management. Be it boots, clothing or sleeping bags. The reason it is an issue from what I have seen is people over dress for the activity level, just as likely use the wrong piece of kit or simply don't pay attention to the details like getting into a down bag with wet clothing on. Current soft shell technology in a snow storm (done it myself) is not the smart option. Doesn't matter what it is made of, wet gear is a poor insulator. You stay warm by staying dry and hydrated.

There are climbs I wouldn't take a down bag on and climbs I wouldn't take anything but a down bag on. It depends on the amount of care I can/want to dedicate to the bag and amount of space in my pack.

Some times a very light synthetic over bag is a good answer for keeping your down bag dry and being able to dry your gear at night. Put the wet gear between your down bag and the liner. But climbing into a down bag with all your wet clothing on is a sure way to soak your down bag no matter what high tech shell material the manufacturer used to keep it dry. Climb "cold" so you aren't sweating and have less clothing to dry at night. Use Synthetic insulation in bags and jackets where appropriate. Staying dry and warm is a thinking man's game that should be played 24/7 in the mtns.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ueli Steck's new book?

I know little about it past no ghost writer and not out in English yet. But I suspect it will be a good read.

More below:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Magazine fashion shoots, gear whores and reality?

The idea of the "Real Weight" post back on 5/2/10 was to get you to think about your own gear and the options available. The dumbest thing anyone can do is copy what you see in the magazines or what the "pros" are using in the ads. Trust me, I've done it myself. (again and again) Generally it is gear given to them. It may or may NOT be the best available. Or the best for what they are using it for. Free gear means more money for the next airline tickets. These days most any of the gear available will work. Think about that before you buy the next, best, "anything".

It is obvious from the blog I go through a lot of gear. Very few things I write about are given to me. Only one item in the entire blog to date has been free. I had asked to buy that piece of gear on a pro deal first. I only write about things I really like. So if you think the reviews about the "good gear" I like are harsh, imagine what I would write about things I think are shite?

The blog is here to make you aware of things you might not have seen. I'll tell you what does or doesn't work for me and why generally. But for heaven's sake (and your own) don't take my words as gospel. They are just one guy's opinion and observations.

Why am I telling you this?

I look at pictures in the magazines and on the Internet just like everyone else.
I also have a very cool network of friends and close associates, all exceptional climbers, that I can ask about specific gear. And just as importantly I ask questions on the same blogs you likely do.

I get suckered into buying gear that may well be state of the art but doesn't actually work very well or has an obvious design flaw . Two very recent examples have sorta stumped me on how the design flaws made it into production. I've mentioned that in the reviews but may be not harshly enough. I'll leave it up to you to figure out what the gear was and what was fubar imo. Pays to be aware, educate yourself, and always buy with the doctrine of caveat emptor in mind.

Friday, November 26, 2010

La Sportiva Trango Prime, Trango Extreme Evo GTX and the Nepal Evo

This blog entry is a cut and paste from posts I made on a fall of '08 thread at about all three boots in the title. I have edited to update any new info I have acquired since '08.

The entire post can be seen here:

So what is the real difference between the Prime and the Extreme?

The Prime is suppose to be a bit warmer with more insulation and a higher cuff should offer a bit more support. Although Sportiva writes it up like the Prime will climb hard mixed better. Which makes no sense since as the higher cuff should offer more support and less flex ability.

The reality is the cuff on both boots are the same height with the Extreme offering marginally more support. But boy is that cutting things close to even suggest they are any different. They are but it isn't much. I doubt you'd notice the difference on the smaller sizes. ( I wear a 45)

If the Prime is a warmer boot and a bit lighter than the Extreme and dry faster than the Batura it will be a big hit. (It is lighter but not warmer and dries just as slow if not slower because of the attached gaiter)

Soft uppers and rigid soles? The "Ice" and "Batura" were/are classic examples. Cool designs, rigid soles and unless you get a perfect fit no way to really lace in your heel or support your ankle. Makes a rigid boot with a extremely soft ankle and generally some heel lift.

The Trango and Trango Extreme avoided the lacing problem but still offer little support in the ankle for me. I'm hoping the Prime will solve that problem.
(it did not...and is a very soft boot in the ankle)

Prime doesn't have the dbl rocker sole or sticky rubber of the Trango Extreme or earlier Ice Evo....which is too bad. But the Prime is suppose to have a liner (Not Goretex or OutDry..likely Event? Does any one actually know?), better/more insulation and more tongue padding ( the Extreme Evo has the best padded tongue) and a more user friendly lacing system.

The Prime really is an updated Trango Ice Evo with simpler lacing system, a little more warmth and a little less weight. I would hope they are good boots for most everything but really cold weather. (they weren't)

The Nepal Evo is not a boot to easily compare to the Trango line. Nepal is much, much more boot with just a little more weight. Stiffer, thicker mid sole for one thing. (at least for a 45 ) No matter what the boot is, short of plastic, the bigger/longer the boot the more flex in the sole. Starts making a difference in 11s and up I think.

How stiff a boot is in the ankle is a totally different story from stiffness in the sole. No question the Nepal wins "stiff ankle" hands down. They are a pretty stiff boot (ankle, flex and sole) by almost any standard. We are comparing a leather upper in the Nepal to a fabric upper on the Trango series. Also when you talk "Trango Extreme"...there have been 5 different versions of the "extreme" Trango not including the Extreme Ice series. The early ones were all leather, the later ones, all fabric, including 3 versions in yellow. To date the Silver Extreme Evo Gortex LWT is the stiffest ankle imo and still all fabric so not that stiff when comparing to a leather boot like the Nepals. The newest yellow Trango, Prime, is much softer than even the other fabric boots in the ankle with a totally different and less rigid sole imo and a big rocker built in.

I'll add the Nepal Evo weight in a 45 when I get time. But I left it out of the discussion because it really isn't a super LWT mtn boot like the Trango series.

Nepal Evo is a great boot and I love mine but it is more along the lines and durability of a traditional leather technical mtn boot. Which as a mtn boot for any condition or terrain they are truly great boot if they fit you

FWIW the Batura is a all fabric boot, with a rigid sole, and again, with a very soft ankle. No where near the precise fit of the Nepal Top although adding a Nepal Evo inner tongue helps a bit for fit on mine.

Nepal Evo in a size 45 (one boot) is 2lb 10.5oz. So just bit more than the others and closer to the Batura than I would have thought. The difference between the lightest to heaviest Sportive "technical sport boots" in a PAIR of 45s is
12.8oz. or 6.4 oz per boot.

Depending on your size foot, the heavier Nepals may be well worth the extra 12.8 oz on hard ice. They are for me. For other climbs I use the Batura for extra warmth and long walks and the Trango Extreme GTX for longer walks in milder conditions.

A good gaiter on the Nepal Evo will make it almost as warm as the Batura imo. And the Nepal Evo seems to dry out easier.

The older Trango series have a super sticky and not very durable rubber sole. I like how sticky it it however and think it worth the trade. No fabric boot is very durable.

The Prime has the same outer sole at the Batura which is less sticky and more durable than the Trango Ex Evo.


I have yet to find any of the fabric boots "comfortable" in comparison to the Nepal Evo..which is mostly a leather boot.

I had both the Trango Extreme and the Prime and returned the Prime. One of the reasons was I liked the sticky sole which the Prime does not have. And it fit differently, wider than the Trango Extreme. Wider than my Nepals in the toe and heel. Also the Prime is harder to get in and out of by most everyone's accounts. I have a pair of the Ice that were converted to laces eyelets and they have the same problem. Easy to rip the gaiter out of the boot when getting them on in the morning. Not worth the hassle imo. Wish it were a different answer.

Some type of liner in the Prime but no Goretex...which is THE reason most have decided against it imo. Would help if La Sportiva would actually tell us what liner they did use. If you have used any of the other Trango is obvious they would be a much better boot if they were water proof. Goretex seemed to be the best of the liners for waterproofness, warmth and durability. Looks like the new Out Dry is am improvement on the Goretex.

20 hrs of hard use should be easy enough to get from any Sportiva I've had no complains. But Any run down 4000' of Canadian scree is going to show up on a fabric boot I suspect.

Bottom line: Nov. 25 2010.

The Trango Extreme GTX Evo is an extremely light, warm and with the GTX liner least water resistant, moderately cold weather climbing boot. And I love the sticky soles. Only big down side is they are hard to dry impossible. But I climb in this boot a lot. More than any other I own. It is cheap in comparison to some others and most importantly it fits me well. I'll buy a 2nd pair of these and likely wear them out as well.

The Nepal Evo is imo the best all around mtn boot on the market. (the same could be said of its clone the Scarpa Mt Blanc GTX) It will do everything and do so in some pretty cold temps. Drys faster than the Trango Extreme. If I had to have just one pair of boots to climb in..this would be the boot. Best fit for me in the entire La Sportiva line. It also offers more support on the sole and in the cuff than any fabric boot. This is the boot La Sportive should up grade with OutDry, a lwt sticky Vibram sole and put a integral gaiter on.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Petzl Nomic Review..Old vs New

Colin Haley photo of Bjørn-Eivind Årtun on their new route, Dracula, Mt Foraker, June 2010.

"The old Nomic and a pair of C-T hammers"

Up front...the old Nomic is every bit the equal for climbing difficult ground as the new Nomic.

No need to panic.

Major change on the new Nomic? It is the new pommel that has a serrated stainless blade. It will add some stability on hard ice and can be used to give the pommel some stability as a cane on easy terrain. Better yet just use the top of the Astro or Dry pick while reversing the tool in that same easy terrain. Not suggested by Petzl but the new pommel can be retro fitted to the old Nomic. Just bolt it issues what so ever.

Biggest over all improvement? New pommel fits bigger hands and thicker gloves much, much better. But it can be bolted right on no fuss, no muss to the older tools if that is something you want to try. The new Pommel offers a tiny bit more support and more coverage and hand protection on the upward curve towards the ice. Maybe the most important improvement is a metal to metal interface where they mate up on the end of the shaft. BUT...the metal to metal female/male fittings have some slop in the mating surfaces so they move backwards and forwards a bit even when cranked down tight . That is not an improvement. You won't get every advantage of the size improvements for big hands using the new pommel on the old tools but a good bit of it. Worth buying that piece of kit and trying it on your old tools. It is an option now.

I don't like the serrated blade in some places on hard technical gets in the way during extreme rotation. I put the old pommel on my new Ergos because of it. But I do like having the option.

Hammer and adze? Yes you can add either the hammer or the adze designed for the new Quark to the Nomic. A small bit of round file or Dremel work to the tool head will allow you to fit the new Petzl hammer to the old style Nomic head. (see the detail photos below) But why would you? Needing a hammer is one thing, using the one Petzl made for the Quark is another. There is a better answer that is about to get even better shortly. That would be the Cold Thistle, 4mm, Nomic hammer. If it was not a LOT better than Petzl's offering I wouldn't bother making it. C-T hammers will also be much, much easier to change in the field using the newest Petzl picks or older style picks we cut for you. And the C-T hammer will fit the old and the new Nomic head with NO changes. Having it difficult to fit the hammer or change picks with the required spacer is a down side to the newest Petzl pick/hammer design. The new pick and spacer is truly a bitch to change in the field if the pair of Nomics I have here is any example.

C-T hammer info and pricing can be found in this link:

The new umbilical attachment? Good move on Petzl's part but if you want it to hold more than TOOL weight on your umbilicals you need to do a small mod on the newest Nomic's pommel. There isn't enough clearance between plastic and aluminum to get even 3mm cord through which you'll need to opened up for 4mm + cord. The hole Petzl drilled in my samples are 5.9mm. But these samples had some threads showing internally which will need to be taken out if you want to use 4 or 5mm cord there. The edges of the hole are well chambered on these but I would check that as well and do it if there is a sharp edge on either side of the shaft. Easy enough to drill out and chamfer the hole. I like 5mm cord there because you always know what the knot will do and it is easy to inspect cord for wear. Again easy to modify the older Nomic and now even easy enough to modify the new Nomic as well.

After cutting up the pommels on my first new set of Nomics I might modify these a bit different the next time around and cut up the grip a bit instead of going under the pommel. Looks like to me that you could now easily run a cord from the full strength hole in the handle and go behind the new smaller pommel. Done right it might be a better answer. I'm undecided at the moment. But the new tools are easy to cut with a Dremel or a round file where I used a vertical milling machine on the original Nomic's pommel. The best answer on the new tools is still a work in progress. What ever the answer the factory version isn't it for me.

New picks...DRY and ICE? Same materials, same heat treat, slightly different designs from the Astro and the Cascade. Still great picks...all still 3mm tips. Now rated as T picks instead of B picks. Little or no change in strength more likely just the label. Truly awesome picks, old or new!
Old picks fit new tools, new picks fit old tools. New picks require a spacer...which is a major PAIN to replace in the field. Buy the old Astro or Cascade if you need to carry spares and think you'll break or bend a pick or need to replace them on a climb. I like the original Cascade pick design on pure ice better FWIW. Either way buy the old picks because they are easier to replace and no spacer required if you aren't using a hammer.

Is it worth selling your old Nomic to get the new one? Obviously way in fact. Worth making a few mods on either tool to suit your own bet.

My old Nomic and umibilical about to pull a bulge on Curtain Call

Here are the details:

Tool weights:

old shaft 366g (+4g)
new shaft 362g

pommel old 20g (-4g)
pommel new 24g

old Cascade pick w/weight 188g (+8g)
new Cascade pick w/weight 180g

Old Nomic is 8g heavier with the old pick design. Old Nomic is the same weight with the new "ICE" pick design.

8g = 1.4 oz. Dbl click the pictures for the details where required.

My undying, loyalty, respect and appreciation to Daniel Harro for loaning me his new Nomics for this review :) But..... you'll need to get in line for the hammers!

The link below is worth a read as well.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Winter Layers?

This is a post from Feb of '10 . But as the season is just getting started for '10/'11, thought it worth re posting again as nothing has changed besides more manufacturers offering similar garments this winter.

(or in this case lack of layers)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

OK..back to the clothing systems.

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

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

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

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

Light enough...breathable enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Layer ONE:

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

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

Layer TWO:

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

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


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

Worth noting that I have now cut one full layer from the previous suggestions from even last year's system. Insulation is used as required in the base layer and in the outer layer. And most manufactures are now making something similar..Patagonia's Nano series is another example. Mtn Hardware has one as well. But there is no seperate insulation layer short of the belay jacket. The real insulation is in layer THREE where the insulation can EASILY be added or just as likely removed to keep you dry and mobile.

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

Layer THREE:

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

Listed in amount of warmth is required. Warm temps to cold and how much moisture I expect:

Mountain Hardware Compressor Hoody (Primaloft 1)
*shown here in combo with the Atom Lt @ -20C in the shade* (lots of other high qulaity jackets in this catagory now)

Narrona Hooded Down

MEC Tango Belay Jacket (Primaloft 1)

Eddie Bauer XV

As a system that is it...THREE... layers total. And one generally will be in the pack.

Gloves and boots?

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

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

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

An after note..

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