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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

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.  


NotMessner said...

Dane, would you guess that this is just hype, or a real advance:
“Instead of placing the waterproof membrane inside the glove like some companies do, Mountain Hardwear laminated it directly to the shell to stop wind and moisture from the get-go.”

Dane said...

Best gloves I have used to date for climbing have been Mtn Hardware's versions using OutDRY. There are other good gloves but I think OutDry is a better technology than the typical Gortex offerings.

Anonymous said...

In the picture of you decked out in all three layers is that a brooks range cerro jacket? How does it perform?

Dane said...

Brooks Range Cirro jacket is one of my go to pieces for climbing. Generally it stays in the pack. When things get bad it comes out.

•Insulation: Primaloft One®, 60g/m2
•Shell Fabric: 15 denier Pertex™

I am working on a Brooks Range comment. Gear that is "seldom seen" but often used. "Seldom seen" because when it does come out I typically couldn't give a shite about photos and more about surviving the night.

Runar said...

Two pair of liner socks? That's new one. Care to elaborate?

Dane said...

liner sock? In my boots I'll often use two pair of lwt liner socks if I know I'll have a couple long days. Less friction and easier to dry them over night in the bag. But it has to be a combo that works for you and your boot, try it on aa short outing first,

NotMessner said...

Dane, have you heard anything about Rab's new pull-over? Do you think it might be a lighter R1hoody? Here's Rab's hype: "Nils Nielsen has been testing the Boreas Pull-on and Sawtooth Jacket (both new products for March 2011).

“The last month I’ve been in the French and Swiss Alpes climbing and guiding. Almost every day I’ve been wearing the new Boreas top and Sawtooth jacket. Together it’s a perfect combo for both warm and cold days in the mountains. The Boreas is a thin pull on with a hood, it breaths well, but is still quite windproof. And the hood is super good when it’s windy. The stretchy fabric makes it fit good both with and without a helmet. And the small chest pocket also works well as a stuff pocket and is easily clipped to the harness on warm pitches in the sun. On colder days I’ve been using the Sawtooth jacket outside the Boreas for both climbing and guiding. The two napoleon pockets don’t conflict with the harness but still they are big enough for map and other essentials.”

Dane said...

Just by a quick look, both the Rab pieces mentionedd are made to wear over a Ri style hoody I suspect. Rab makes some amazing stuff, And Nils is as good as it gets for recomendations.

Take a look at Nil's web site there might be more details there.

Runar said...

Thanks a lot Dane. There is always something new one your site!
I'll try the liner trick. Have used Smartwool heavy and medium socks in my Ultras, but it gets a little to tight at times. Will try the liner+ultralite on the next crag day.

Also cudos to you for pressing the point of fit. That there are no bad apples in the new Neoshells is reasuring. That way I can get a jacket that fits my lenght and width and be happy with it ;)

Julian said...

Got my Arc'teryx Atom SV today in the mail from REI. It's like wrapping your upper body in an orgasm. Can't wait to get it out into the field, it seems absolutely perfectly constructed. Now to find an Atom LT to pair with it...