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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Monday, October 31, 2011

Everyone needs a hero...

Here is a group of mine.  These guys and gals get after it all year long!  I'm also envious of all the sunshine.....

Late October Teton Psych from andy dorais on Vimeo.

More here:

UltraLite Alpini Shelter 200

Over the years I have used a lot of kit.  Much of it home made.   Not because I was cheap but because you simple couldn't always buy the gear you needed in the US.    Back in the '70s I made my own bivy sacks (bothy bag) from coated nylon on my Bernina sewing machine.

A quick search under goggle images for "bothy bags" will turn up a pot full of them

But here in the US you would be hard pressed to come up with a proper bivy sack.  I am not talking sleeping bag covers here, but real climbing bivy sacks.  The kind that will make the difference between survival and death if caught out in really bad weather in the mountains.

Thankfully I know one place that can square that situation away,  Brooks-Range.

Half the size of a Nalgene 1 liter bottle and 8 1/2 oz on my scale for the two man version.

Simple idea, coated nylon generally, keeps heat and moisture in.  Works better than you would ever suspect keeping you warm.  They were made from silk or canvas before nylon and used on most of the  big north face in the Alps as standard survival gear from the '30s on.

Not bad in a pissing cold rain either.

The Rab Infinity Down Jacket

Mr. Rab Carrington himself, at a crag in Osp, Slovenia.  photo couresty of  Veronika

The "RAB" stands for Rab Carrington.  For guys like me of a similar generation Rab Carrington was one of the hard Brits running around the Alps and later the greater ranges knocking off the plums.

"In the 70’s, you weren’t a rock climber, you were a mountaineer. In winter you ice climbed, in spring you tried to get rid of the winter fat, in the summer you went to the Alps, then you did a bit in the autumn before it closed in for the winter - the drinking season.

In 73/74 we started going to the Alps in winter. We went out, a team of Brits, not knowing much, doing our own thing. We were aiming for a speedy style, but the first route took Al and me two days, and we later found out that Patrick Vallençant had skied down it in about 15 seconds.

The whole team of us shared an apartment. That was a wild time, totally drunken and debauched. We didn’t get our deposit back at the end of the season, that’s for sure.

I learned how to make sleeping bags by accident. Al Rouse and I had a completely abortive trip to Patagonia in 1973, when we travelled overland from the USA. We got to Buenos Aires to pick up our climbing gear - which was being shipped out from Liverpool - only to find the gear hadn’t even left the port thanks to a dock strike. We partied instead, but I also ended up working for Hector Vieytes, a friend of mine, for six months in Argentina, and that’s were I learnt the basics.

I fell out with Al Rouse in Kangtega. We were very successful, Al and I, and had gone on lots of great trips together over the years. We’d just done Jannu in 1978, were going to Kangtega in 1979, then on to meet Doug Scott and go to Nuptse, then Makalu the year after, then we’d a chance at Everest. But we’d grown apart, we had a different emphasis. He was more into publicity and success à la Bonington, I was less in to that - we separated.

I started my business when Liz, my daughter came along in 1981. It was the only thing I knew how to do. I worked on a building site in the day and in the evenings I sat upstairs in the attic and sewed sleeping bags."

More here:

The reason I mention Rab's history is I am convinced a basis in hard alpinism is the design genius behind a lot of innovative and quality gear.  Problem is there are a lot of pretenders out there with neither design genius or building quality gear.  And the climbing public seldom knows the difference.  Give enough shit away and sponsor the right people with a slick multimillion dollar catalog campaign and all is "right" with the world.  Right of course till the "shit" fails by design or by lack of quality.

I am a huge fan of down as insulation.  Sadly I don't generally climb where is it dry enough to use it a lot these days.

Alaska sure.  In the Alps? Not so much for what I have been doing recently.  May be this spring that will change.  My buddy Jon Griffith thinks down is the sheet for climbing jackets.   Here in the are a dead duck.  In Canada...on the ice fields, or the big faces?  Sometimes.  Around town?  Sure.

Jon's hard won suggestions:

There are a few down garments I have no problem recommneding if used i nthe rght conditions.

The excellent Norrona Lyngen and Eddie Bauer Peak XV jackets are two.  More here:

As slick as the Norrona is it is a bit heavy for some things as is the XV when you start adding them to your pack.

I have a bunch of down sweaters, the previous Eddie Bauer pullover Hoody being one of the best and most used.  But is is a pullover which limits the garment's use I find.  And most of the time if I want down I want more than a sweater weight garment.

Enter the Rab "Infinity:".  It has a little more loft than a sweater, packs smaller and was obviously designed by a team that knows about "fast, light and warm".   The down is 850 fill.

Here are the factory specs:

◦NEW Pertex® Quantum 10D ultra light rip stop nylon outer and lining

◦Stitch-through baffle construction
◦210g /7oz of down fill. (L) of 850 fill power superior quality European white goose down
◦Lycra edged fixed down filled hood
◦2 hand warmer pockets with YKK zips
◦1-way YKK front zip and mini internal insulated zip baffle with chin guard
◦Elasticated cuffs
◦Double exit hem drawcord
◦Short cut

I got my XL a month or so ago.  It weighs 17.5 oz on my scale...close enough to the advertised over all weight of 16oz/460g for a large.  I spent a day in a light rain with it and the material was still shedding water when I finally added a shell.  I like the cut and the amount of insulation you get for the weight involved.  Like many really good pieces of kit, it is a simple product with a very complicated design.
And imo this one is done right. 

Of all my down gear, the Infinity is a piece that finally fits in where I thought a good piece of kit was needed.  It is a small niche market for climbers but the RAB Infinity is one well worth looking at. if you have similar needs.

The Eddie Bauer Sweater pictured above at -30C.  The RAB "Infinity" bumped it in my line up because of the better design and materials used for cold alpine climbing by RAB.

Credit where it is due? Eddie Bauer has a price point that is difficult to ignore for high quality down garments.   The original Down Hoody is an excellent bit of kit.

RAB Infinity Jacket is $280 retail.  The Eddie Bauer Hooded Down Sweater is $200.  The $80 difference?  While both are sewn through, The RAB is a "jacket" and the EB a "sweater" in my opinion both with appropriate levels of insulation.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Up next? A soft shell review

In the early part of this century I purchased a set of clothing that while not new to me made a big impression.   It was a Gamma MX top and pants from Arc'Teryx made from Polartec Power Shield.  Likely one of the first really popular soft shells in North America.

Certainly not the first soft shells available though as I had been climbing in wool blend Schoeller materials since the early '80s that came from Europe via Canada.   The Arc'Teryx gear offered similar performance and a lot more stretch.  The stretch is what impressed me the most.  All of the garments have proven themselves durable even in the nastiest limestone off widths.

A few years climbing it the Polartec products had convinced me that I never wanted to be without that "action suit" again in the mountains.   So I bought spares on sale and put them away for safe keeping.

Today my spares sit unwrapped in the closet and I have for the most part moved on from soft shells.  The one strong hold is pants but even there my soft shell pants have gotten lighter and more breathable than my original Gamma MX gear.   Gamma AR maybe.  The Gamma Lt version I use a lot winter and summer.   Or the NWAlpine Saloppettes. 

But the new Gamma MX hoody...hangs unused for good reason.

An Arc'Teryx Gamma MX Hoody on Curtain Call, 2008.

The reason I mention all of this is I am about to start a new soft shell review.  So to get much traction the newest soft shells have a lot to live up to.  I have climbed and skied a lot in different versions of the older models.  And I have indeed gone on to products I think work much better in a winter climbing environment, like the Atom LT and Nano Puff.   We'll see if that still holds true from all our gear testers this time around.
What the newest versions can do different and better is worth looking into.

Here are the hooded jackets I will or want to be testing in this review.  Currrently the list is stacked in Arc'Teryx's favor.  No intentional just what I have easily available for comparisons.

old Gamma MX
old Gamma SV
new Gamma MX
new Venta MX
ACTO Hoody


Outdoor Reasearch:

Gipfelgrat Jacket

Alpine Jacket
Baltoro Alpine Jacket
Baltoro Guide Pro Jacket

Eddie Bauer:
First Ascent Hyalite

I am open to any suggestions for any similar garments.

And if anyone has a contact they are willing to share at Mammut USA I could use some help there.
Photo courtesy of Dave Searler and Ally Swinton on Pinocchio, East Face of Tacul, Chamonix.

The kind of place a good soft shell garment excels.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Petzl Picks again?

Or, "Why do your new DRY and ICE picks suck on ice and mine don't?"

If you aren't having a problem ignore the rest of this.  For those that are hopefully this will be helpful.

Most of us loved the original Cascade picks on the Nomics and the older Quarks simply because they climbed water ice better than anything else available in factory form...then or now.

Petzl in all their engineering wisdom decided to better the first generation Nomic and we see now how that has gone.   I am a little amazed at just how far off their customer's requirements are in all of this.

Not like it will lose Petzl a large part of the market share but disappointing none the less that we have to fiddle with the gear to make it work as required.

I posted most of this info previous but people keep asking as the new tools arrive and get into climber's hands.

The first change is the new DRY and ICE picks have another couple of degrees in incline.  To put that into perspective there is generally 2 or less degrees of difference between the Fusion/Cobra/Viper?Reactor.

So in the grand scheme adding two more degrees on the Nomic is a BIG deal.

Top set of picks is the Cascade overlaid the new ICE
Middle is the new ICE Pick
Bottom is the older Cascade pick for a Nomic

But the change in tooth pattern on the ICE pick is what most will easily notice on the Nomic while on ice.

It isn't easy and you can't duplicate the Cascade exactly by carving up a ICE pick.  But you can get close enough to make them climb ice easier.

Again the Cascade is the upper pick.  The lower is a slightly modified ICE.
On this one I have only cut down the new elongated and heavy hooked front tooth.

dbl click the picture here.  Top pick is a ICE I modified to climb pure ice easier and the lower on a brand new ICE, that is untouched.
As you can see to improve removing the pick on water ice the entire row of smaller front teeth ( I do the first 6 and taper into the higher ones) need to be cut down to the smaller proportions on the upper Cascade pick.

All of this is easily done with a hand file (I use a 10" Bastard file) in just a few minutes.

I have highlighted in the pink circles the new pick where I cut it down with a hand file.

Here is another look at the added angle to the new picks.
Cascade pick is in back of this overlay and a new (slightly modified) ICE in front.

The new picks work great for mixed and dry tooling imo.  Not so much on pure ice.  I have saved a small stock of the older Cascade picks for pure ice just to save myself the hassle.  Hopefully Petzl will still be selling the original Cascade picks.

What one learns and Second Chances...

In the past few weeks I have learned a good bit about myself.

With some after thought I guess I have learned more about myself, people in general and our relationships when I have been injured.

In early September 2011 I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Tonsillar Cancer which is HPV P16 driven.   If you are going to get Tonsillar cancer, pray it is HPV P16 driven.  (more on second chances in a minute)

Up first was a "radical neck dissection" to remove the tumors.  I was pulling 5.10 a week after surgery so how "radical" can it be?   Now Radiation and Chemo follow.  I'll be fine in the end.   A little worse for the wear and tear may be but pounds lighter and seconds faster.  It won't hurt my climbing in the long run is my guess at this point.  I will come out of this even healthier and more fit than I have been in a long time.   But not a fitness and weight loss program I would recommend either.

So I get a second chance.  A cancer they can cure.  And a new lease on life with a rebuilt body after loosing 25% of my body mass from chemo and rad.

We all make promises.  Some you intend to keep and others you know you will unlikely be able to keep. Most of us do what we can and with some effort more than we might have thought possible until pushed.

I had first intended to keep my health issues quiet.  But as I realised there wasn't an easily accessed body of knowledge on how to get through this I started asking for beta from any of my friends (and their friends) that might have some insight into a this particular cancer and treatment that would eventually strip me of 25% of my body mass.  It all seemed pretty damn scary at the beginning.  A little less so now even after dropping 20# in the first six days of treatment.   And my friends pulled through for me.  Thank you, THANK YOU!

To pay back that debt I will eventually start a new blog documenting this entire experience in detail so it will hopefully be a little less scary for the next guy. 

Ten days  ago I was unsure if I would ever be able to walk again let alone climb.  The initial chemo shattered me physically and mentally in a short 6 days.  Not something I easily admit to, but there it is.
Water boarding?  Shit, try Cysplatinum.

I, like many who ride a bike, often wonder if Lance did drugs to win those Tours.  I don't need to wonder any more.   Lance did weeks of  Csyplantium.  I'm only required to do a few days.  Lance has been required to suffer more than most can ask to endure.   I suspect that is how he won Tours.  Chemo drugs may have taught him the secrets of suffering but no one in their right mind wants the education.  

My friends, family and and our extended climbing family have been the BEST.  People have reached out to help and support me, some I hardly know.   But I "know" them now.  It means a lot to me and I am more than grateful.  When you can't move and someone offers a helping hand they are a more than human...more than a kind soul.  How anyone does this by themselves hopefully I'll never have to know, thankfully.

Like climbing we seldom do anything alone.  And there is a time when we are all alone and a required to dig deep and run it out.  That comes as well.  But we never get their by ourselves.  Some one helped us get to that.

I rushed to get the shell review done before all this started.  I was happy with the end result. It was one more off the tick list of "to dos".   I have a huge assortment of gear review projects currently in the works.  But they are going to have to wait till I can write (without chemo brain) and get outside again.  Those sorts of things will be on hold for a bit as I get through this.  Future plans?  Cham and maybe the Kahiltna again this spring.    I am antzy to this over and get to THAT future.   But for now I am living cancer.  It will be my way of life for a short time.  The experience will enhance me, not define me.

I learned (again) to never take a day for granted.  Never forget you have friends.  Take care of them, even when you don't have the time.  And be thankful every day above ground. Use those days wisely!   2nd chances are a wonderful thing :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ice is coming...time to start thinking about technique.

Photo courtesy of:

Every fall I start thinking about ice climbing again, what I learned last year, and what I find are the important things I want to work on this year and the kind of climbing I most enjoy.

Over and over again for the last half dozen years I think the ability to use one tool in the most effective manner is the most important advantage with the newest ice tools.  Some tools allow you to take advantage of that opportunity better than others.

But no matter the style of tool, being able to easily match hands on an ice tool and make the lest amount of placements per foot of vertical gain is what we are looking for and what is really important.

The fewer the placements the better your endurance.   The more positions you can use on your tool the more your strength will last, short or long term.  That will happen on vertical ice or less than as well.

The more you move your hands around and use them in slightly differing manners the warmer your hands will generally stay.

These are videos I have posted previous.  But if you haven't seen them it is worth taking a close look at how the climbers in each use their tools.   Both the videos are getting dated now for gear but the climbing techniques shown are not.   Hopefully you'll get some new ideas of your own from what you see.   

and another example here:

I like having options!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Just a tease.......

of an awesome new line,,

WI 7+, M7, 600m It's a mega version of the famous Polar Circus in Canada. In the massive gully it almost felt as if I was in a canyon, surrounded by fantastic granite features. The ice is really steep, full of air holes and the overhanging sections through the ice flutes were hard to protect. And even the transition sections in waist-deep powder were not particularly easy. I had to summon all my strength and conviction to climb the final meters to the top and I almost gave up. Breaking trail through the deep, unconsolidated snow took a long time and was really tiring. But when you get so close to the top, you just don't give up.

Ines Papert and Wolfgang Russegger established Quantum of Solace (ABO, WI 7+, M7, 600m) up the Great Wall of China in Kyrgyzstan.

more here:

Classic Rocky's limestone

Everyone should get in some of this fun!   One of Temple's classics.

Greenwood/Locke, Mt. Temple aka 'the Eiger of the Rockies' from Joshua Lavigne on Vimeo.

The author's write up is worth a look as well.

winter's coming......

MATRIX RELOADED - climbing movie full version from BERNARTWOOD on Vimeo.

Ya ready?

Simply Alpinism!


Friday, October 21, 2011

Blue Ice gear is here again!

If you live in North America and have been looking, I have a limited stock of Blue Ice, Octopus packs, the Chouca lwt mountaineering harness and a few dozen of the Boa ice tool leashes now in stock and ready to ship.  Sorry, the Warthogs are sold out again!

details here:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Here is a squared away customer base!

Hi5s and DPS 112s,  Anchorage kids obviously know how to play!
Only thing missing here are Dynafit TLT 5s.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A new double boot liner from Palau?

This from fellow climber Eduardo Vieira in Portugal:

"I came upon a reference to Palau liners on your blog a while ago while browsing the web looking for replacement liners for my Koflach Arctis Expe's.  I had tried buying a pair of Intuition Denali liners, but I got the sizing wrong and they ended up unusable and it was awful trouble to order them and have them shipped to Portugal. Not to mention that they do not come cheap here in Europe Now I contacted Palau about purchasing a pair of OVPM liners (cheaper and easier to buy than Intuitions in Europe) and they told me that they are going to sell a new liner, adapted to mountain boot shells and still cheaper than Intuitions. About the price of the OVPM's.


Eduardo Vieira"

Thanks again Eduardo  I am very interested in these as I am thinking about trying a much smaller Spantik shell with a thinner custom liner that is easily molded to lower the over all volume of the actual boot.   A tongue in place and a Velcro closure should be exactly what is required for my project.

Date: 17 October 2011 07:13
Subject: RE: OVPM Liner
To: Eduardo Vieira
Hi Eduardo,

Thanks for your request,
First I confirm you that it is not a problem for us to provide OVPM liner in
280 MP.

These liners are quite thick (10 mm) but can be adapt to your needs. We are actually working on a specific Mountaineering liner fitting specially Koflach, Scarpa Phantom, La Sportiva High mountain boots Etc..

You can check the attached item. Available in 10, 8 or 7 mm with an extra comfortable foam for high cuff.
This liner will be sale on our web site probably end of this month. Shipping costs for Portugal are about 15 Eur. I keep in touch with you and add by the way the size 280 to our store.

Best regards,
Eduardo Vieira []

I am looking to replace the stock liners on my Koflach Arctis Expe Boots. Came upon your website due to a reference in the Cold Thistle english blog.  I browsed the models and am contacting you to inquire if you don´t make the OVPM liners in size 28 (they are only listed up to size 27).  I compared them to the Ultra Light liner (which you recommend for use with  mountaineering boots) and the OVPM are cheaper, thicker (I am thinking about returning to Denali a third time), reinforced and about the same height (which is not a problem for me). If you do make them in size 28 how do I order them. Also what is the shipping cost to Portugal.
Thank you.
Eduardo Vieira

The FUN begins for the 2011/2012 season!


Kurt Hicks' great photos of skiing near Baker last week.  More sun again today!  Hopefully others will be getting out and ripping a few as well.

More about Kurt,climbing and skiing and this trip @

Saturday, October 15, 2011

2012 Petzl Nomic and Petzl Ergo comments.

As much as I like the Nomic I climbed all of last winter in North America with the new Ergo.    And for the most part loved every minute of it.  We had the earliest ice and some of the latest ice I have ever seen..

For everything I got on the Ergo was big fun.  Even easier to climb with on steep terrain than the original Nomic.  With  a single exception.

There were a few times (OK be honest more than a few)  that I was flagging on.  I was getting tired.  When that happens I get sloppy.  Or it was just really cold.  I get sloppy then too.

Somewhere we were soloing easy terrain and I was both cold and tired.  And I had big gloves on.  When all that happens with a pair of Nomic I now realise that I will often drop my little finger (and sometimes even my ring finger) out of the grip and let them hang below the rotation point on the tool.

But let me back up a bit here.  Petzl has gone to great lengths to add a serrated stainless blade to the pommel of the newest tools.  With varying levels of success mind you over two seasons.   But what we have now allows you to use the Nomic or Ergo on moderate terrain easier and just as importantly (may be more so) add some stability to the tool on steep ice after a pick stick.

Call the serrated blade in the pommel a good thing.  Except when it is not.

New Ergo on the left with the older style and smooth pommel piece

New Nomic and the new serrated pommel on the right

I and many others have used the original Nomic in alpine terrain to good effect.  You adapt and use the tool differently on moderate terrain.  But the serrated pommel allows even more use of the Nomic in the mtns.  The pommel change is an improvement in normal conditions.

But on technical ground not so much in a very limited circumstance.  Here is why I think so.  Even if I don't drop a finger out of the grip, I want as much rotation from the tool as possible.  One reason I think the Fusion is an inferior tool for most in comparison to the Nomic.    The spike of the Fusion and the serrated blade on the Nomic will eventually limit the rotation of the tool in the palm of your hand.

I might accept that in the Nomic and have with the newest tools and while climbing with the new Fusion and the spike attached..  But on the Ergo...not so much.  Changing picks today on  my Ergos I got to thinking..."the Ergo would be a better tool for me on really difficult climbing with the older, smooth and non serrated pommel".     Easy change.  Now if I drop a finger or two I won't mutilate them at the end of the swing.  The stainless serrated pommel will do that and shred a pair of gloves as well if they get between your finger and the ice.

That experience can be painful and indelible.
Easy answer?  "Does that hurt?"  "Then stop doing *IT*!"   If I worked at it I could always keep my hands and arms in the bus.  But being tired comes with the game as does cold temps and big gloves.  Generally if I have my Ergos out I am likely to get bit again.  So I changed the pommels to the original style.   Depending on what the climb is I might even change out my new Nomic's pommels as well.

Not the typical response when looking at the old or new Petzl tools but something to think about if the parts are available.   Everyone seems to want the new serrated pommel on their old tools.  I prefer  having the option of both style of pommel.  And if I had to chose between the two for every condition I'd stay with the smooth, original ones.   I know I'll get tired again and I won't keep my hands and arms inside the bus.

Back to the issue of the pommels themselves.

It is not like I am making this stuff up!  What happened to the "old days" when a broken grip rest was the rare and only issue with a Nomic?

The new improved 2012-2013 tools just became available again recently in Europe and now here in the US and North America.  Already I am getting reports in of loose pommels. 

this is typical:

"Interestingly though I've had mine for 1 month now.  Bought a brand new pair at full retail as soon as they hit the shops here in Chamonix.  The bottom griprest has already started to wobble on me.  Pretty annoying but I was just wondering if you knew of anyone who has had the same issue?"

The answer is, yes.  The one pictured below is not the first I have heard about or seen.

photo courtesy of a CT reader

A few failures reported both loose inserts and inserts coming out early this winter so it is already obvious the "fix" isn't good enough.  A liberal application of steel based epoxy kept my Ergos going all of last winter.  Only one size grip though because of it.  I'd suggest doing the same to your new tools.  And I really hate adding dumb as it might sound.......but be gentle with your pommels.   You can imagine just how careful I am with mine when mixing and matching pommels.  Which has to be an almost a certain recipe for failure until Petzl decides to do this right again.

Petzl reports the new pommel at double the last versions strength.

"How strong is the GRIPREST?

GRIPREST strength was doubled to withstand loads of 300daN."

pommel photos courtesy of Dave Searle

La Sportiva Hi5 rock!

New snow is down and we are skiing in the NW again.  Time to think about new ski may be?

The worst reviews I have ever read in hard copy have been on an 7K meter down jacket, the Eddie Bauer Peak VX, reviewed as a cold weather bouldering jacket.  And more recently the La Sportiva Hi 5 as an all mountain ski.

No doubt the writer in the Peak XV writes ot his experience level and customer base.

The more recent dismal review of the Hi5 as an "all mountain ski" I can't find a reason for that other than ignorance and being so lazy they couldn't make a turn on them in the back country.

I own a lot of skis these days.  And I paid a premium for the La Sportiva's Hi5s by comparison.

This blog is a simple response for the poor bastard looking for decent HI5 info.

I love this ski. I used it in terrible conditions inside the area and more in the back country.  It skis every bit as good as my Stokes in similar terrain and conditions and may be a little better from my perspective.  Both the Stoke and the Hi5 were NEVER intended to be all mountain resort skis although I use both there knowing their limitations inside the ski area.  You don't need five buckles to drive them and they are actually cut for skins.   The hole in the tip should have been a small indication what the ski was designed for.  Put them on you pack and you know why you bought them.  For true "all mountain" touring they rock.

I like the Hi5 enough I am temped to buy either a longer pair or a shorter pair. 

Do a search here for the Hi5.  The info is at least real and you know who wrote it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The alpine uniform AKA "the action suit"

Photo courtesy of Dave Searle.   Ally Swinton high on the Colton/Mac

I get asked all the time, "what do you wear?"

Easy answer generally for all my alpine climbing.  Likely little different from Ally's or Dave's (any Dave) outfit.  Two layers on the bottom, 3 layers on top.   Add and subtract as required.

Here is my list for a typical alpine ice climb in late fall conditions through much of the winter.

singles or more likely doubles
2 pair of liner socks or  simple mid weight if the approach is short and my feet tough

long under wear base layer (maybe two pair depending on weight)
uninsulated soft shell pants or salopettes
OR/and  insulated soft shells, ltw insulated hard shells or water proof shells as needed

base layer (generally a lwt hoody but may be two base layers stacked on each other if it is really cold)
mid layer (soft shell or Atom Lt or a simple wind shell, all choices temp dependant)
OR/and shell jacket or belay jacket (again size and volume is temp dependant)

all the various hoods
"Buff" style headband

as required by temps and expected moisture on route.

Hardware, harness, 35L or *smaller* pack, tools, crampons and various other bits as required by planned time on route.

I could take any one of a dozen photos from Colin's or Jon's blog or mine and little will change.  Nothing really going to change much if you climb fast and in control.  .  Layers change as the temps, your energy and your speed go up or down. 

Until you end up loooking like this!

Yes that is actually 7 layers I've got on trying to keep warm in a Loo bivy mid winter on the Midi.   Move fast, dress light to stay dry and hopefully just warm enough.   And if everything goes right.....pass every ass you come across and avoid the bivy all together  ;)

It is always a horse race.  Jon makes some good observations and suggestions here:

Hard shell pants are still very popular in the Alps in winter...because it can be really cold there up high even compared to the Canadian Rockies.  You can get high and stay high so easily in the Alps.

Down works in dry climates.  In my experience down doesn't work if you have to climb hard in it or you have a moist climate.  Much of any one's suggestions for clothing will depend on where they actually do climb and when.

It was pointed out to me recently that the Atom Lt makes a good belay jacket for a early fall ascent on the Grand Wall @ Squamish.  "But it is too warm for anything else".  Several of us use the Atom Lt as our primary mid layer climbing in winter.  Use an Atom Lt as a belay jacket there and you might just die. Different environments and different uses.   In our case a down verison of the same garment wouldn't work at all,  as the down would eventually get wet from perspiration.

What works for me may not work for you.  Pay attention to the details, make your own decisions, trust no one. 

I often wonder why I keep repeating this stuff past wanting to put a cool picture to good use.  I just took a few minutes to reread a part of Twight's "Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, Fast, and High"

Mark covers it all better and in more depth than I ever do here.  The specific gear selections might be out dated ten years on but the ideas behind the gear are not.  Try Chapter 7  pages 82/103   If you are reading this blog and don't have your own copy of " Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, Fast, and High" and use it as a reference your beta is seriously fooked up.  

The MacIntyre/Colton on the Grand Jorasses

And introducing Dave Searle as part of the Cold Thistle test team and the author of this guest blog piece.   It is Dave's picture of Ally Swinton chugging up the summit icefield of the Eiger that now graces the Cold Thistle masthead above.  Welcome Dave!


....That’s the words Ally said to me when we topped out on Pointe Walker at 5.45pm after climbing the Colton/ McIntyre (with Alexis Crux Variation).

Our plan was to traverse the Jorasses, after climbing the north face, to the Canzio Hut at the Col des Grandes Jorasses for the first day of our epic link. We wanted to traverse the Rochefort Arete to the Forche hut and finish up the Cechinel Nominee on the Grande Pilier d’Angle to Mont Blanc.

Little did we know just how long the first day was going to be……

Be sure to dbl click the Dave's and Ally's photos to see any of them full size.

Ally on the way up to the Leschaux hut.

We arrived at the Leschaux hut in good time on the Wednesday (21st) to hydrate, feed and sleep before our early start for the North face of the Grande Jorasses that night. Conditions looked good on the Colton/McIntyre, a lot better in fact than last time I was up there, but, looks can sometimes be deceiving.

For those interested, Route marked with red on how to get to the bottom this year.

Converse hut slippers= rad

Ally’s phone beeped into life at midnight signalling the time for the action to begin. We
brewed up, got ready and ate the mildly burnt porridge (nice one Ally) after what had turned out for me to be only a few hours of stressed out sleep.

We left the hut and were soon on our way up to the bottom of the face, navigating our way through the maze of crevasses up to the toe of the Walker Spur. One pitch of steep rotten ice got us over the first of three Bergshrunds with the next two being pretty straightforward to get us to the bottom of the face.

We moved together up the first ice field to the first ice crux. It was a lot steeper than the previous year when Myself, James and Gav had been on it. We were the first team up it too which meant every placement had to be swung for rather than hooked so it felt pretty hard, amplified by doing it by head torch.

I arrived at the bottom of the 2nd (real) crux to find it in less than ideal condition with a large blank section gaping the initial ice ramp and the steep wall.

me leading up the first crux

ally at first light after the first icefield

We opted for the steeper and more technical Alexis variation (the same way that Mr. Steck went when he soloed the route in 2h25!!) due to the conditions. It was an impressive lead by young Ally, with hard to place gear, thin feet and lots of rotten ice to be cleared. A few American friends of ours have since been up on the face for the Colton/Mac and said they did do the original crux pitch but they also said it was quite hard too “I had to pull out all the tricks in the book for that one!”

Ally on Alexis.

Ally a bit further up Alexis.....

Me following Ally after Alexis

It took a little more time than we would have liked to climb this variation pitch but you can’t hurry these things. If it needs time it needs time. After this pitch we worked our way up to the bottom of the mixed pitches where I took over again. Thin ice, loose rock, poor gear was the order of the day but I knew what I was in for and the pitches aren’t that steep either, just delicate. Soon we were sunning ourselves on the walker spur on the way up to the summit. We passed the bit of tat that I had placed on a ledge, where we had bived the previous year, and I wave of relief washed over me knowing that I wasn’t going to have to sit another night out there without a sleeping bag!

2nd mixed pitch.

We topped out at 5.45pm giving a total of 13hours on the face. We briefly discussed our options as the original plan to traverse the to the Canzio Bivi hut that afternoon seemed like a lot of hard work. Quite an ambitious plan such as this can easily be spoilt but any number of factors and the lure of walking off the back for Italian Pizza’s was strong. We were both feeling the strain after the Colton/MacIntyre but decided we should at least give the traverse a go, so we set off shortly after topping out (Thursday) preparing ourselves for a long night….

ooooohhh I think I need a sit down!

From Pointe walker to Pointe Croz is straightforward enough and it was soon after completing that section that it got dark….

Sunset, just after Pointe Croz

Just before it got dark at the first 1st abb.

The ridge is incredible, knife edge for the most part, with the 1000m north face on the right and equally long way down to Italy on the left. It was also incredibly loose in places which obviously takes a lot of care. There was a lot of rope on, rope off faffing about which eats the time up too. We must have taken the rope off for abs a total of 10 or so times. It was very cold too. We were both in all of our clothes and only movement was keeping us warm which stopped us from stopping to eat something warm. We made a fairly serious route finding error coming of Pointe Marguerite in our fatigued state. This cost us a huge amount of time, probably 4 hours in total. After we had corrected our error we eventually got to the top of Point Young the last summit on the traverse. From here it is about 200m of abseiling to get down to the col where the Canzio Bivi sits. We got down to the hut at 8.30am on Friday making it a 32hour single push from hut to hut. We were both seriously tired from such a long time on the go and with little food or rest (for me I had had ½ a pan of (slightly burnt) porridge, 4 chewy bars, 5 energy gels and a caffeine tablet that day).

As they say, "the rest of the story" is here:
Ally and Dave have been ripping it up this year in the Alps.  For Ally's version of the story and his comments on the new RAB sponsorship (congrads Youth!) look here: