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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Friday, September 30, 2011

Gearing up?

For the guys that are really good at alpine climbing I doubt they spend as much time at sorting gear as I do.  But with less time to climb and generally more time to think about it I admit to putting in some serious overtime sorting and deciding on the gear I'll use on alpine trip with a planned bivy.

The guy pictured above might be the exception to that general rule.    But Mark still climbed more than he wrote or ever talked.  So may be all the "real" guys just talk about it less but obsess obout it behind the door of their own gear closet.

As I was about to finish this blog piece I got a hearty laugh.  Thank God I am not selling anything as this is actually the ultimate ad for what Dane thinks is the cool shit :)   Take the choices with a grain of salt here.  Simply my/our choices for the moment.  Things continue to change.....and I am swayed by things like cost as well as function just like everyone else.  But from all the choices available to me (and the choices are truly unlimited) this is what we are using for this trip.
Everything else being equal (and it never really is) and I have the chance, I look at the numbers first.  How much does it weigh?  

If you look at the shell test we are about to do (which is the reason I came up with blog entry) there are shells there that weigh from 5.6oz to 22.9oz.  You can bet which one I will start off in when I need a shell.   But if you kick out the highs and lows there the better shells for what I had intended to test will run between 13oz.  and 19 oz. Which makes much more sense "everything else being equal".

I've had cold injuries this time of the year on Rainier's North' side.  The option of dbl boots or the Batura is open to all of us.  Doug and Lee will be in Baturas because they are easier to walk in and lighter than the best off the shelf doubles.  I am tempted myself to take Baturas.  Warmer than my Ultras but heavier as well.

Easier to climb in though than my Spantiks by volume and easier to walk in.  The walk in is easy which we'll do in runners.  That means I'll pack my boots from the car to 10K.  When I weigh my Baturas and my Spantiks (customised with Baruntse inner boots) the difference is less than 2.5 oz per boot...or 5oz for the pair.  So the marginal addition of extra weight is worth the warmth and dry boots with a planed 2 days above 10K.

Nod at the moment goes to my Spantiks this time.   I'll sleep better for the decision...but cuss the final 1000' of elevation gain on the walk up to Liberty Cap and over to Columbia Crest I suspect.

Crampons?  I have a few choices but with heavy boots and a easier route,  a combo of the stainless Sabertooth front and a aluminum Neve heel seems appropriate for this climb.  10oz less a pair than the standard Saber so they are light.  Because of the time of year for snow conditions (read cold and dry hopefully) and my questions about the durability/reliability of the stainless Sabertooth I have stripped the bots so I can more easily inspect the crampon for cracks.  The other crampons being used are Doug's Petzl Dartwins and Lee's Grivels G22s. 

I'm also taking along a lwt axe to supplement my Nomics (one CT hammer, new serrated pommel, ICE picks and no pick weights)  on the easier snow climbing so even with out crampons I figure I could cut steps if a crampon failed.  Doug has the New Quarks with  CT accessories of course.  Lee is using older Nomics, no hammers or pick weights.  And we all have trekking poles. 

At the moment with three of us in a stripepd Nemo Tenshi Tent a Feathered Friends Vireo seems like a good idea. 

Two of us taking them.   Lee is playing it smart and is taking a 2# Swallow.   With Cascades Designs newest, high tech and super light prototype NeoAir XTherm mattresses and the tight quarters of the Nemo Tenshi we should be warm enough. 

With all my gear hopefully stuffed into an admittedly small, 25L Blue Ice Wart Hog pack.

Gloves between the three of us seem to be an equal split between Mountain Hardware and Outdoor Research with the odd pair from Arc'teryx thrown in.  I'll get more specific on gloves later as it will consume an entire blog post.  But Lee wants to take only one pair of gloves.  I'll likely take three of differing weights.  No sure what Doug will do.   But those choices should be of interest with all the new models we have available from the three companies mentioned.

Doug and Lee will be in NWAlpine pants and Salopettes.  I will either use NWAlpine Salopettes or the new Patagonia North Wall pant..depending on the temps forecast between 10 and 14K and what I think will be required under them for longs.

Speaking of longs I am excited to try some of the newest technology (again a Polartec concept) in Cabela's E.C.W.C.S.   It is a Thermal Zone® Polartec® Power Dry® and might be much better than simply dbl layering my longs as I have done in the past to gain warmth in really cold conditions.   Guess we'll find out soon enough with all three of us using the Thermal Zone technology.  I had heard a  rumor that Mr. Twight was involved in the early design work on these. 

The NWAlpine hoodies are a given for all of us as a base or mid layer.   We have RAB Infinity Endurance 800 fill down jackets coming for a insulation layer.

I am hoping we can use the RAB high quality down garments under/over these test shells and have the newest technology there WOW us with the performance.

Nastia climbing high on our current objective. (photo courtesy of  N. B.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jeb Corliss? The Flying Squirrel!

I keep track of a few different things in sport.  Having jumped from prefectly good air frames and flown parapents I find what they are doing now with the current technology pretty spectacular.

I had seen Jeff and others fly some amazing stuff on youtube previous but when I caught him talking about this flight and the specific details on some late night talk show I thought to myself...."that dude is gonna die".  :(

Well....sheet...he didn't.....thank goodness.  Easy to ignore the announcer.  Thankfully the flight wasn't as bad as it sounded on the talk show or at least doesn't appear to be. (not like I know anything about it past the pictures)   But no question the dude can fly.  Congrads to Jeff...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jeff Lowe?

Jeff Lowe at the base of Metanoia.  Alone, in the winter of 1991 over nine days of climbing he climbed through bad weather, took a near-fatal fall and suceeded in establishing the new route on the Eiger, Metanoia. Photo courtesy of  Jon Krakauer

Jeff at court and everyone including Mark smiling :)

I was lucky enough to attend Jeff's birthday party in Utah at the Snow Basin Ski Area a few weeks ago. 

The attending crowd of a hundred or so was like a who's who' in American alpine climbing.  With Colorado and Utah obviously giving a good showing.    Huge pleasure and an honor for me to be able to be there.

I have tried to keep on on Jeff's Metanoia Film Project but am always learning new things.

First was,  with even some of the best of the current generation trying no one has repeated the route.   Not on a top rope for the film and not without trying including a big fall on a serious attempt last year.

The most recent climbers have included Ueli Steck, Josh Wharton and Daniel Mader.    None beginners.

Heard that Jeff got buy some of the most difficult sections of the climb via free climbing and a whisk broom to brush away the snow.  Jeff took a big fall on this route as well.  Makes modern dry tooling seem....well seemingly ineffective may be in this case.

I may have posted this previous but thought it worth while again.

More video and ways to support the filming effort here:

DPS skis again!

The Bastards...just what I need....more skis!

DPS' Stephan Drake tests the Spoon behind Alta, Utah. from DPS SKIS on Vimeo.

Before Cloud Machine from DPS SKIS on Vimeo.

Big fun for me!

If you didn't know I spend some spare time designing and building ice tool parts you wouldn't know how excited I get seeing those tools getting used as intended.

The pictures here should give you an idea of where "my gear" has been.

But I have to say this one got me pretty jacked up this morning.  Congrads to Ally and Dave on the Colton- MacIntyre via the Alexis.

    I hope Dave and Ally forgive me for stealing the picture!

The Shell Shoot off, mano mano

A couple of months ago I started a project that has grown into a much bigger gorilla than anything I have done before on the blog.

A month ago I made my intentions public to do a side by side comparison of the newest high tech shells/jackets that I find most appropriate to my style of climbing...which is generally cold, not wet.

Once the blog readers got interested in that post, so did a few of the clothing companies.  And even more gear showed up at my door.

This all started because I have been so impressed with the Neoshell Apoc by Westcomb that was given to me as a writer's sample.  The Apoc was free so I figure if it is good as I think it is, no problem doing side by side tests against all comers.  The first side by side was with a Marmot Hyper jacket.   Those reviews were posted to the blog earlier in the year.

But with so many hard shell, soft shell, stretchy jackets available today I had to do more.  Polartec is the culprit here producing all sorts of fabrics that make some amazing garments to climb in.  Think Shoeller on steroids when you think Polartec.   Not sure if I hate them or love them yet but I know they are costing me and the rest of those involved some serious coin.  More on that in a minute.

I don't want to spoil all the fun for the field test so I'll just give you some high lights.  First there will be three of us using all the jackets over a 4 day period.  We'll be carrying at least 3 jackets a piece and we'll rotate over the trip so everyone gets into every jacket.   Hopefully this will include some decent climbing and at least one good day's walk.  But I am still not sure just how many jackets we will be taking.

Besides myself,  Doug Klewin, well known for the 1st complete of the North Buttress of Mt Hunter will be giving all the gear a once over.  As will long time UK alpine climber and Chamonix resident  Lee Clark.  Both better climbers than I and maybe even more critical of gear.  Our comparisons and opinions of like gear should be really interesting.

There are a number of things we'll be field testing on just this one trip that I will eventually write up as well, crampons, ice tools, helmets, new gloves, sleeping pads, packs, boots, approach shoes, and more clothing among them.  But that will have to wait for now.

The jackets I have currently for the field tests and reviews are:

Outdoor Research's  AXIOM jacket cut from a stretch water proof breathable version of *Gore-Tex’s Active Shell* 13.7oz Large

Westcomb's APOC jacket cut from Polartec's stretch waterproof  breathable *NeoShell*  17.4oz  XL

Marmot's HYPER jacket cut from stretch waterproof breathable technology, *MemBrain® Strata 100% Nylon Stretch* 13.4oz XL

Patagonia's KNIFEBLADE  pullover made with *Polartec Power Shield Pro* 20.8 XL

Eddie Bauer's FRONTPOINT jacket that is now discontinued, a hybrid of hard shell and soft shell technology. 17.8oz Large

Mountain Hardware's DRYSTEIN jacket cut from their stretch, water proof, breathable *Dry Q Elite* 18.7 oz XL

Arc'teryx VENTA HOODY in *Gore Wind Stopper*  22.9 oz XL

Arcteryx SQUAMISH pullover •Gossamera™—100% Nylon ripstop fabric with water repellant coating
5.6oz  XL

Arcteryx SQUAMISH pullover in use

A few more may yet show up before we take off.  If they do we'll give them a fair shake as well. Interesting to me when I explained what I was planning and what I wanted to test, several manufactures wanted me to test garments I didn't think suitable to judged side by side with the original core group.  I took all comers any way and added a few of my own (at my expense) because I think it will make a better side by side comparison.

I am likely more interested in the results of our little field test than you are! Other weight comparisons can be made here:

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Arc'Teryx soft shell?

I found this link earlier today.  Haven't seen or used the new Arc'teryx Acto.  But I agree with much of what the author, Jason Kruk has written here.  Different combos, looking for same results.

"Arc snuck this beauty onto the new fall '11 website without any fanfare. They should have made a bigger deal, though, it's the best thing to happen to softshell jackets ever.  I had given up on softshells for my upper layers. The once game-changing Gamma Jacket hadn't received an update in far too long. The material was too heavy to justify using on a serious alpine climb. It didn't breath particularly well, either. I would sweat like a pig while climbing or working hard on the up while ski touring. I switched my systems to a lightweight fleece layer like the Delta LT and a Gore piece on top like the Alpha LT or new FL"

More here:
"The Acto PSA!"
Enough said that I will be checking the Acto out asap.

more from a little digging on the Acto

I thought the Acto sounded good enough that three days after posting this blog I had one here to play with.  During the winter of 2008/9 I had a very similar fleece jacket from Arcteryx that another Arcteryx sponsored climber used and promoted.  Price was similar but mine was without a hood.  It did breath well, and shed water fairly well even in our wet and rainy climate here in the NW.

It is a very similar thickness to the Acto gridded fleece.  But it had better cuff detailing and a more trim, more athletic fit.  It was made to be used as a mid layer piece as well.  Soft grid pattern fleece on the inside and a hard finished soft shell on the outside that other layers moved freely on.

I don't remember the name of that specific piece from Arcteryx for sure but I think it was an earlier version of the Epsilon AR Jacket.   Arcteryx lists the Epsilon and several others as "hard fleece".

More here:

After seeing the Acto I can say I am a little disappointed on the fit and detailing on this $300 garment.  And like my previous garment before it, I am not sure I can find a place in my clothing system, either climbing or skiing, that the Acto makes much sense compared to others I now use.  
If you can take a look at one I would to make up your own mind.  I think part of the problem is we all seem to want a lwt version of the Gamma MX.  The Acto promises a lot and doesn't do much for me @ $300.   The Gamma MX seems a steal at $350 by comparison as does the Epsilon SV Hoody @ $225.
I haven't even bothered to look at what else is available from other manufactures for similar style garments.  But may be you should if the Acto sounds enticing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How come?

How come I try gear and love it, then I read the latest gear review..doesn't matter where... and it sucks?  Sucks bad in fact.

I have to wonder if they actually even used the item for what it was intended.

Not only that but I paid just under $20 cash for two hard copies of the annual "gear guide" that are total BS for content.  Ads were good though.  And manufactures pay $3 to 5K for a color cover?  What are they thinking?

An incredible 7K meter peak down jacket reviewed for bouldering comes to mind. (no really that was the review!)  Or one of the best skimo/touring skis I've been on,  written up as a total looser when used as free ride ski?   No, really, who would have thought.."free ride lift ski"?  (me rolling my eyes here)

Do the stars, moon and freaking Sun have to align with a hefty wad of cash for the FREE gear to get a decent/honest review in hard print?  The more I think about it and see what does get published the more pissed off I get.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Double boots

I have probably spent more time in plastic double boots that any other style of mountain boots.  Two decades to be exact.  I was climbing in leather single boots before that for the most part with the occasional foray into leather double boots.  But the older and better double leather boots were heavy.  Really heavy even compared to a good single boot and a Super Gator.

So what I ended up with was a very good pair of leather single boots (Haderer) and a custom pair of Carmen/Chouinard Super Gaters that were modified by adding more insulation (synthetic pile) and a zipper down the front that was backed with flaps and Velcro.

Once I got into a pair of Kolfach Ultras (shown above) I never looked back.  Even if that did require a few layers of mole skin every week during the first winter season climbing and guiding in them.

So 30 years later you might ask how did those original plastic boots compare to what we have now?   A recent conversation on a Internet forum made me ask the same question myself.  But this time I wanted a more complete answer.  Some times we get caught up in the newest, lighter, better, warmer and eventually more expensive product and loose sight at what we once had.  It is called institutional memory.  This blog is one way I have tried to keep our climbing history and its institutional memory alive.

Sometimes it is not better to reinvent the wheel every few years.  It might actually be better to build a better tire for that wheel and take advantage of the best technology first.

If you look at the original idea behind double boots the biggest advantage is to keep your boots (inner boot at least)  unfrozen and if required dry on multi day outings.  You can put the inner boot in your sleeping bag and dry it out over night or at least keep it from freezing if needed.

The disadvantage of double boots is that they add volume to your feet.  Volume means extra warmth everything else being equal.  But as we all know nothing is ever "equal".

So if we have a huge volume boot you have warm feet.  A Sorel or other double layer cold weather boots are a good example.

Warm but severely lacking on most technical ground.

So what is really required is a certain level of warmth but at the same time the real key is to keep the over all volume of the boot as compact as possible so it is easier to climb technical ground in.

Make sense?  

Big volume for warmth. 

 Small and sensitive to climb technical ground in
So some where in between we should be able to come up with a double boot that is both warm and sensitive.  But it isn't as easy as you might first expect.

A multitude of materials to make a boot from these days.  Plastics, fabrics and the old stand by, leather.  And all have advantages and disadvantages.

So first I think to have the best boot you need to look at the last.  The last describes how the boot interior is shaped.  Currently we have literally bath tube shaped lasts (some plastics)  and very ergonomic shaped lasts that match the foot almost perfectly (again some plastics).  And boot lasts that are every where in between.

In the old days a cobbler or boot maker would have literally hundreds of hand carved lasts.  Once measured and your foot matched to a specific last the boot fit could well be phenomenal.  With the ability of good leather to mold to your feet the fit just got better with use.

With a boot built to your foot the amount of insulation added to the best double boots simply made the warmer.  With a generic boot last the boot just got heavier than required and may or may not have gotten warmer for your foot.

The answer for that was "give them a bath tub" and let the inner boot take up the slop.  That would give you a warm boot if the inner boot and bath tub last actually fit your foot.  But it was also heavier than required if the last had been done correctly to fit your foot.

It is not happen stance that the best lasts on good leather double boots like a Haderer double or a plastic boot like the Dynafit TLT look like your foot.

This is the best example I can easily show you of what I am trying to convey on boot lasts.  The Koflach Arctis is over size and bath tub shaped.  The TLT 5 is very anatomical lasted.  Even with just a ski boot sole the TLT5 is easier to climb in for feel. 

I have heard a great many comments on how cold the TLT Series of boots is compared to other down hill ski boots.  I'll challenge those comments.  You really need to look at the amount of insulation before  you start to make comparisons for warmth.

How do you make a boot warmer the easy way?  Add volume.  This is the answer from Kolfach with two different boots, both the same marked shoe size.  In this case a 11.5 US.

So let me back up a bit here.

I have summited Denali a couple of times in Koflach Ultras with foam inner boots and simple nylon knee high gaiters.  I have also turned around at 17K on Denali in really cold temps with the same boots and had really cold feet.  But the issue wasn't that I didn't have warm enough boots.  I did.  The reality was the temps were too cold for me to be climbing. (no one else summited that week either btw)  My feet getting cold were just the first sign of that cold.  That and a thermometer that bottomed out during the night at 17K.

So when it comes to double boots I think there is a distinct disconnect between what the manufactures make us and what we really need.

La Sportiva Spantiks seem to be the most common boot for winter climbing in Chamonix by a huge margin.
Some type of double boot and generally a insulated over boot seems to be required (or at least suggested) for Denali.   More likely a Olympus Mons can be used above 14K on Denali in early spring and over kill later in the season.  And a Spantik won't be enough boot for Everest or K2 or winter climbing in the Himalaya.  There are and should be options for volume and sensitivity.

Current Koflach "Guardian"
But actually the last gen Ultra shell, which was/is an excellent boot.

If a 30 year old Kolflach Ultra will get you to the top of any Alaskan peak, and keep your foot warm and dry how much more warmth do you need?  My answer would be none.   If  I need a warmer boot I can use a Spantik or a Scarpa 6000 which both have a bigger volume.  The Spantik slightly larger than the 6000 by what I can tell.   And just a tiny bit warmer as well form my experience.  But when you start getting cold feet in either of these boots isn't going to be a boot issue but your hydration and food intake is my guess.  The Olympus Mons and its close mates made by other brands are the next and final step up for cold feet btu the boots are huge!

So what I think is missing is a totally different boot.

One with the volume or something similar to a old Koflach Ultra or better yet the newest TLT 5s.

Modern material, fabrics, plastic, leathers,open and closed cell foam all make great materials to work with.  San Marco made a single boot in the '80s that had a plastic lower and a leather upper.  It would be easy enough to come up with something similar now.  Think of a Nepal Evo with an anatomically cut plastic lower and leather upper and a thin, easily heat formable foam inner boot?

It is a boot that would easily replace the Spantik everywhere but Denali and the greater ranges.  But perfect in the rest of Alaska or Mt Blanc most of the year.    I suspect it would be the boot of choice for everyone from the Canadian Rockies to Chamonix if done right.  Basically a boot that we all really need but that no one has even thought about making.  Might be because simply no one asked until now. 

These days I don't care how good the outer boot is or how good the anatomical shape of the last is.  If your inner boot isn't easily heat moldable you are behind the curve.  The liner needs to be air permeable as well.  We can do better than a VBL.  But the inner can not retain any moisture.  It is possible.  But it is frustrating to see all this technology out there and no one taking advantage of it.  I think it is too easy for the boot designers and manufactures to get tunnel vision.  instead of going back to the basics and requirements at the drawing board level

A short design list for the new double boot I want made:

Less over all volume, more akin to a high quality technical single boot.
Double boot so you can dry the inner or keep the inner from freezing
simple inner boot lace system for fit
Lace system for the outer shell so it is one handed and most importantly reliable (no Velcro it wears out)
Anatomical last on both inner and outer so you use what insulation you do have to best effect
Plastics and synthetics for the lower boot for water resistance.
Upper of fabric or leather for a close and flexible ankle fit
Split the insulation between the inner and outer boot so the fit can be optimised in the inner but the outer offers good insulation above and below the sole 
Use the smallest sole lugs and stickiest rubber technical climbing soles possible.
Honey comb carbon mid sole for rigidity long term and most importantly warmth through the sole

As much as I really like the "super gater" boots they are a design dead end.  All of them.  Simple reason.  The newest pant fabrics allow the pants to be easily used as a breathable gaiter now.  Adding a gaiter, no matter the material, slows the moisture coming out of the boot and slows the evaporation.  So the attached gaiter is not a help in design as you might first think,

Our climbing clothing, from boots to hats are really now more than ever a system.  Attached hoods on the base layer, help us eliminate one additional layer.  Mid layers with attached hoods allow us to use a lighter mid layer for warmth.

Boots and the gaiters we use are a part of that system as well.  As are gloves and the gauntlets on the gloves and seals on the jacket sleeves.

Gaiters on the boots aren't required and in fact lower the performance of the boots.  Remember the basics..."you must stay warm to stay dry".  Adding a feature that keeps you from staying dry or that slows the drying is a feature you don't need.

double click this one to see them all

Any of the current boot makers have all the technology to make the boot I describe and market it for $700 or less than the current price tag requires on some of the boots today. 

These are the two lightest true mountaineering boots available that I know of.

La Sportiva Trango Evo Extreme GTX 2#3oz  992g
Scarpa Phantom Ultra new 2010 model 2#3.5oz 1006g

1000g or less in a size 45 four season mtn boot is a magic number.

Here is the list and pictures of the current double boots that I can lay my hand on easily.
And a few odd ball combinations that I have used.  Check out the over all weights and the inner boot weights.

I know it is possible to build a light weight technical double boot in my size (12 US/45/5 Euro) that would come in under 1000g per boot.  And be the warmest and best climbing technical boot currently available.  But I am shocked no one is doing it yet.

Euro size 45.5
La Sportiva Spantik  1370g
liner 252g

La Sportiva Spantik with a Baruntse liner 1290g
liner 172g

La Sportiva Baruntse 3#2.5oz / 1503g
liner 172g

Euro size 46
Scarpa Phantom 6000 new model  1230g
liner 234g
Scarpa Phantom 6000  Baruntse liner 1200g
liner 172g

US size 11.5
Scarpa Omega  1110
liner 140g

Scarpa Inverno  1450
liner 318g

Koflach Arctis Exp 1440
liner 462

Koflach Degre 1160
liner 184g

Koflach Ultra (1980 vintage, white) 2# 10oz or 1190g total
Kastinger foam liner 234g

29.5 Mono
Dynafit TLT 5 Performance size 45.3-29.5 mono, (no tongue) 1210g
TF liner 232g

TLT 5 Mountain TF  1200g (no tongue)
TF liner 232g

All the current double boots are within ounces of each other.  1110 being the lightest..the Scarpa Omega.  And the Kolfach Arctis the heaviest and likely the biggest boot by volume @ 1440g.  Volume wise the Arctis compares to the Spantik.  And is bigger imo than the 6000. I am still impressed by the original Ultra now called the "Guardian" by Koflach.  Sadly it seems to be sold over sized with the Arctis' liner.  That shell, properly sized, with an Intuition liner would still be one of the best climbing boots available and around the 1100g or less instead of the 1258g Koflach lists.

More here on the Kolflachs:

More on Scarpa's plastic boots here:

Bottom line here?  Some really good cold weather boots available today and all of them climb well on ice.  The price point of the plastic boots make them a reasonable alternative if the $700+ is a little hard to swallow on the most popular models.

I have been turned around with cold feet but I have never been turned around on technical ground because of wearing plastic boots.  The temps that did stop me would still do so in a Spantik or a 6000 today.    I found it easier to climb 5.10 rock in a pair of the old Ultras than I do in the bigger volume Spantiks.  The reason is simple..less volume means a better climbing and easier to climb in boot.  Plastic boots make sense on hard technical rock or vertical ice in cold conditions if you can get a decent fit in them.    If I could get my hands on a pair of the current production Koflach Guardian's easily, I'd be climbing in them this winter instead of my 6000s or Spantiks.

That doesn't say a lot for the current state of the art in double boots imo when a 30 year old boot technology  and 1/2 the retail price of the upper end "state of the art models" available is the better option most days out today.

I'm lucky enough to have almost any double boot available to me.  But if I had to choose just one pair of mtn boots for every condition, any season and mtn would be a rather old school pair of white plastics from the current  Koflach production run.

If the idea of a ultra modern, super light weight and low volume double boot interests you,  make sure to add your own comment to this blog post.  More on the idea here:


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Petzl Lynx?

They are being delivered now.  I saw them in several stores in the Rockies while on a road trip this week.
Everyone made a point of saying, "stock is limited".

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Petzl Nomic 2011/2012

As expected the "new" Nomics have been improved from last year and are being delivered in the EU as I write this.  NA can't be far behind.

Edvin was nice enough to post the details on the "fix" and send me a link.  Thank you sir!  More here:

photo courtesy of Edvin MellergÄrd

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gear geek maxed...the new Batura 2.0

I am still in the middle of my write up for these but if you wonder just how far real gear geeks go to improve a product take a look here.

Winter Layers?

This is a post from Feb of '10 . But as the season is just getting started for the winter of  '11/'12, thought it worth reposting with a few updates from what I have learned over the last two winters.

Winter layers?

(or in this case lack of layers)

If you have seen this all before skip down to "layer ONE".

I get to spend time ice climbing around Banff and on the Icefield's Parkway in Alberta Canada. Places I have climbed and skied in most winters for years.  Last winter I was lucky enough to spend a few months in Chamonix.

Besides the obvious high quality ice climbing I always look 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 have learned in the last two years, 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. Some times even these will 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 Polartec fabrics) 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 changes drastically. Tools te 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  (while not getting chilled) at the base of the climbing.  That generally means I bring an extra top layer if the approach is long.

To stay dry on the climb 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.
The trick here is to make sure your clothing system will dry out with body heat alone.  One wrong layer and the system may not work efficiently.  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.  Which if you look at much of what is available today for cutting edge fabrics here in the US is actually a Polartec product.   But early on unbelieving on just how far I really needed to go I bought all the gear in a insulated form. I have worn out a set of both over time. And I still love both of them for climbing. For everything but the very coldest weather (below -10C) I find the insulated soft shells to be too much insulation and not breathable enough.

That was then (2010) ...and it may still be true.  But last winter at the OR show in Salt Lake City, there were several new fabrics that were getting a buzz.  I was lucky enough to get a Neoshell Westcomb Apoc jacket to try out.  Previous I had spent years in hard shell Goretex garments and finally abandoned them it for winter climbing.  Neoshell was the first of the "modern shells"  I have been able to use.

And by most accounts Neoshell is what all the rest of the new fabrics are being judged by if the early reports are accurate.

I am currently testing some of the newest variations on that idea from Polartec.  And it would seem that we might actually have more breathable and more water repellant soft shell options available soon.  But I'll report what I do find if there is a significant change.

So 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?"

This year Arcteryx has changed the material on the Gamma MX Hoody and is offering an alternative to that technology in the Venta MX Hoody.  Both are suppose to be more breathable.  Patagonia is there as well using Polartec fabrics.  Mountain Hardware, Eddie Bauer and Outdoor Reasearch and even Cabella's have joined the game as well.

All with one idea, to stay warm you must stay dry.

Last year I thought the Gamma MX hoody would be the one piece of clothing I would always take on alpine/ice routes. Last winter I didn't use the Gamma MX at all climbing, but did for one day of skiing in the Alps.  So, yes it is a big change for me as well.  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? And 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 for price point.  Buy I do like the detailing offered by the R1.  I want to be comfortable and the R1s details like a long cut, easily tucked in and off the face zipper make a difference to me.  Not a $100 difference mind you as I'll find the R1 on sale before paying retail.

Yes, 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.  Last winter in the Alps on  the-20C days I would use two layers of the Paradox longs and lwt soft shell pant.  So the system isn't perfect.  I'd also add a Merino wool hoody from Sherpa Adventure Gear under my R1 on the really cold days.   But even when adding layers for more warmth in the Alps I know the material I was using would breath.

This new technology (again a Polartec concept) Cabela's E.C.W.C.S Thermal Zone® Polartec® Power Dry® might be much better yet than simply dbl layering as I have done in the past to gain warmth.
This technology with a hood would be hard to beat.

Generation III Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (GEN III ECWCS) from PEO Soldier on Vimeo.

It shouldn't be a huge surprise that Mark Twight has his design fingers in the US Military's current cold weather systems,

Layer TWO:

That depends on the outside temps and the level of aerobic action I expect.

In the past I have used the 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.   And now discontinued.

But here is where the newest fabrics get interesting.  There are now several offerings from Polartec that are soft shell and "hard" shells that might well replace what I thought was a good use of the fabric technology in the EB Front Point.

Patagonia is offering a new Power Shield Pro product, Marmot is offering a Power Shield '02.  That is just touching the surface as Mountain Hardware is in the game as is Outdoor Reasearch and Arc'teryx.

We can thank our tax dollars and the US miitary for testing much of this gear and the budgets that enabled Polartec and others to do the research and development.



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. I use a Nano puff to layer over my Atom light in many cold weather instances.  Mtn Hardware has one as well with the stretch side panels . But there is no separate insulation layer short of the belay sweater (like how I am using the Nano Puff)  and a actual 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 three 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 -10C to well above freezing and still breath enough on the "death marches" while toiling and 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)

I use this combo now with a Arcteryx Atom SV and have been happy with it to -20C as well. 

Any of these trhee will offer even more warmth if required
Narrona Hooded Down

Arcteryx Duelly

Eddie Bauer XV

As a system that is it...THREE... layers total. And one generally will be in the pack or going in and out of the pack.  Only times I have found myself climbing continuously in all three layers on my upper body last winter I was either very tired or more likely it was dark and I was tired.

Staying hydrated and your food intake up as required has not been mentioned.  But the fastest way to get frost bite is get dehydrated.  Fastest way to get tired and stat moving slowly is not eat enough.  You need to manage your clothing system and what you east and drink.

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 currently.

But there are new players here as well, Salewa, Mammut and Arcteryx again.  But it is hard to find bad gear these days.  Much easier to use the right gear in the wrong place though.  I think the newest materials and designs will sort themselves out in the next winter or two  and much of this will become common knowledge.  Right now it is hard to keep track as there is so much new gear and new applications it is hard to keep track.....I can't.

Bottom line to all this and the field testing? I'm climbing harder and faster with less effort and less clothes and in more comfort than ever before. Huge success for me.

I think you find a similar result.

An after thought..

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.