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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

your last chance at free gear for a month!

Tomorrow at midnight I'll draw a member's number and give away your choice of a Blue Ice Warthog or a Octopuss pack.  But you must be a member of the blog to get drawn.

This is a must see...

Click the lower title link and it will take you to the video

Ice Revolution from Granite Films Jim Surette on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Apprentice... aka ice skills again

"Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a structured competency based set of skills."

Ice climbing is a subtle sport.  At first glance it would seem to be all strength and bravado.

It isn't.  Knowing the difference between a high volume flow and a low volume flow can not only save your life it might well tell you where the best line on the falls will be or tell you when to climb or not in a snow storm or bright sun light instead.

Having an "eye" to know where the quality of the ice changes and will most effect screw and tool placement is not something you can learn in a day's outing.  It is just a start.  Most will need seasons, or moving to Canmore to accumulate that education.

Pulling plastic has about as much to do with ice climbing as playing basket ball.  Both will get you in shape if done at a high enough level.  Neither skill will mean squat when you clip on a pair of crampons.

Ice climbing is also extremely gear DEPENDANT.  I have said many times any old club will do in place of a decent ice tool if your skills will.  That is true.  But miss match boots and crampons and having the ability to do a gazillion pull ups won't help you for long.

I know for a fact having good rock climbing and rope skills will make you a better ice climber.  For no other reason than it will allow you to manage the rope systems easier and quicker.  Basic rock climbing skills on how a rope runs or should run are required on ice just as they are on rock.

But being able to lead 5.12 trad  (and few really do) isn't going to help you much on ice if you have never placed a screw.   It is simple right up until the point it isn't.  Why anyone would ever put in a bad screw is beyond me.  Finding poorly placed screws while following simply dumbfounds me.   Either the leader is WAY in over his head or they are an idiot.    Take the time to learn how to put in perfect screws while on the GROUND.  Then never, ever put in a bad one.  Learn what it takes to accomplish that.  It aint rocket science but then it isn't all that easy either with out some practice.  Your first grade 4 pillar is NOT the place to be learning how to place screws.

Just as your first 5.10 hand crack isn't the place to learn how to place your first cam.  Hello!

I learned to climb ice with a couple of friends who had also....never climbed water fall ice.  The sport was new then.  The original screws and ice pitons seldom worked.    We learned together as the ice climbing standards became more difficult and the gear better.  We paid our own dues.  Luckily none were costly.  But they easily could have been.  I can still honestly stay I have not taken a lead fall on ice.  But only through the grace of God.

The skilled ice climbers I am lucky enough to climb with can all generally claim the same.  Only "modern mixed" has changed that.  Even then a smart man/woman will go to great extremes not to fall with a pair of crampons on.  You down climb.  You hang on the rope, your umbilicals or a screw.  You DO NOT fall off.  

Remember, "it is a all fun and games until someone loses and eye."  Fall off and it just may be your eye!

These days "ice climbers" seem to be born in a gym.  Falling is a way of life.

Don't get me wrong...nothing wrong with falling.  I have done my own share learning to lead well enough to put up trad .11s and 12s.  And there were a lot of falls involved both on a top rope and on lead.

You must learn how to DOWN climb.

Climbing up something you can't easily down climb is tantamount to swimming off shore and well out of sight of land.  Better to have a safety net.   A big one if you can't down climb easily and quickly what ever you climb up.   Sure you'll do leads that you can't easily reverse.  But they should be damn few and far between.  If you can lead grade 4 ice in comfort, you should be able to easily and quickly down climb grade 3 ice.  Grade 5 ice on lead then Grade 4 ice should be an easy down climb.

Picked out climbs make you lazy.  Make an effort to get on ice climbs that aren't just "sport ice" and totally picked out with foot steps and pick hooks up big sections of the climb. I like that kind of fun climbing myself, "hook and book".  But it is TERRIBLE for the techniques required to climb virgin ice.
Get on new ice when you can.  You might find Grade 3 ice is hard enough again to get your attention and still be really fun.

Following?  If you can't follow any ice pitch faster than your leader can run it REALLY NEED TO STOP AND ASSESS you own skill level.   Reality needs to meet ability.    Because one of two things is happening here.  You are either attempting to climb way out of your skill level or the leader has skills you are a long ways from attaining yet.  Nothing wrong with just makes a hard day (and possibly dangerous day) in the mountains for leader and follower if that difference isn't recognised and understood.   Just be honest with yourself and your partners.  Always push yourself on a top rope or as a 2nd to go faster and climb better.   You can bet that is how the other guy got that much better.

Danger?  Yes, ice climbing will get you killed if you aren't careful.  It aint the gym or the local cragging area.  Things go to shit quickly on ice and snow.   Lots of pointy things to poke holes in your own personal meat bag that can cause problems.  Lots of things falling down for one reason or the other.  Climbers at drastically differing skill levels put the responsibility (and the majority of the safety issues) on the more experience and generally faster climber. 

Leading?   Leading isn't a big deal.  Falling off and getting injured is.  Who do you think will have to haul your sorry ass off the mountain if you take a winger?  Better hope your partner is up to the task. 

No one has the "right" to lead. You earn that right through experience, patience and skill.  You may know how to clip on a pair of crampons.  But do you know how to actually fit them?  You can buy all the cool gear, read of the books or pump your instructors and partners for info but if you don't know how it works and most importantly UNDERSTAND the gear/info what good is it when the shit starts to fail?

And all of it will eventually fail, including your partner...

You better have a good plan.


If you want to climb in the alpine faster and climb more difficult water ice learn how to be confident soloing in your comfort level of technical skill.  In the right conditions WI3 should be casual.  The same bullet proof ice in the alpine might well take a belay, the rope and protection.  Know the difference. Learn how to simul climb and more importantly...when you should and should not simul climb.

Grades on ice and in the alpine mean very little.  Conditions generally mean everything.  Think condition, then the technical grade if it is a concern.

You don't yet know what you don't know.   Again, nothing wrong with that.  But time to open your eyes if you fall into that category and start paying more attention.  We all "fall" into that category in case you are still wondering.  Including me as well as everyone i climb with.    Work harder at going faster, being more aware of your own and your partner's skill set and over all safety.  Learn how to down climb among other things.  Up your rock climbing skills and over all climbing SPEED in the summer.   Better and faster belays, not just your pure climbing speed.    It will help your ice climbing and alpine climbing next winter.

Back to the Apprenticeship?

It is a system of  training the practitioner in a structured competency based set of skills.

To get good and stay safe ice climbing (or alpine climbing) you need to serve a Apprenticeship. 

Either get some good professional instruction or find a friend (or a long list of friends) who has/have the ability and desire to pass those skills on to you. 

I am still asking questions and learning every trip to the ice.  Are you?

Days are long past that I would suggest a few buddies teach themselves how to climb ice....if you want to stay safe while learning our craft.

This post has been called a rant.  Fair enough, but IMO more an impassioned plea.  But rather a rant to wake some up than stone silence and let them get hurt.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fitzroy and the Funhogs!


It is a dead horse... (more on stainless crampons)

but do you really want to be riding it?

OK, this got my attention.  In less than 10 days counting back from today I got reports of 3 pairs of bent, broken or cracked Black Diamond Stainless crampons.

Call me cynical but it was exactly this time last year that the same thing happened...actually within days of each other one year apart.   Over a dozen cracked or broken pairs of Black Diamond stainless crampons popped up over the last year.  But 3 in a row, in mid Feb 2012!  Again?! 

edit for an update:  Same scenario again in Feb. of 2013.  More reported BD stainless failures.
It is mid season for ice climbing world wide.  Check your crampons.  If you are on stainless, check them twice!  

This one bent while climbing ice.  It isn't trick photography.  The front point simply straightened out under body weight,

"The one front point flattened out when he was 5' off the deck. He fell to snow."

cracked  using a rigid soled boot

Crack here is circled in red.

And these are crampons I really liked initially, BD's Sabertooth and Serac.  Crampons I climbed and soloed in.  And the most recent faulty crampons are all the reinforced 2nd gen. versions.

I could care less about Black Diamond.  They made it clear last winter that they have little concern about your safety while using this product.  The sales samples and prototypes excuses are really long in tooth a full year later.  These cracks and failures are all in the same place.  Make damn sure you inspect yours closely prior to EVERY use.  The front point collapsing under body weight is a new one for me. 

Check your gear, be attentive and pay ATTENTION if you are still climbing in any of the BD stainless horizontal front point crampons.  When these do come apart, make no mistake, it is a catastrophic failure.  Falling off an ice climb because of gear failure can very easily get you dead.

So one more time...

Since Black Diamond won't tell you this, I will.

You all be careful out there on Black Diamond stainless 'pons!  Friends don't let their friends climb on stainless horizontals. 

More here if you want the enterainment:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A reminder on crampon fitting....

Just got in two new pairs of boots as I get ready to go to Canada for 10 days of testing, photos and climbing.

I'll take 5 pairs of boots and 5 different crampons to climb in this trip as I attempt to see where I am at physically and mentally.

As I spend the evening fitting crampons this comment comes to mind,

"Precision crampon technique is impossible without a proper (perfect) fit of boot to crampon."
Jeff Lowe from the WATERFALL ICE video, 2005.

In other words, if your crampons won't stay on the boots first, without latching the binding, likely the crampon doesn't really fit your boot.

Finally some one gets (again) how it is suppose to be.  No tricks just a perfect friction fit.
Petzl Lynx on a Scarpa Phantom Ultra and no back binding.

More Petzl Nomic pick feed back?

This from Petzl America recently:

"- We are NOT bringing back the Cascade pick for the Nomic. Perhaps this rumor is based on availability of the Cascade pick for the previous generation Quark, which is still in production.

- Same story for the 1st generation Griprest. We have no plans to bring this one back, although there still may be some stock out there which could be feeding these rumors.

- There is no new Griprest on the horizon, however, the latest (post* Quality Alert) generation of the Nomic Griprest will fit the 1st Gen Nomic."

The still available 1st gen Quark Cascade picks can be easily cut down and used in any version of the Nomic for those that prefer less "stick" water ice pick.  And for durable dry tooling the old 4mm T rated Quad pick will work with little effort as well.  Quad is my choice in the alpine if a lot of rock is involved.    Might be better to think of the Nomic as having 4 different picks available directly from Petzl.
Ally's original Quad pick in a 1st gen. Nomic with a CT hammer.  Winter of '10/11 in Chamonix.

Either way easy enough to copy the Nomic blade pattern and reshape the lower back section of the older Quark picks to fit the Nomic.  Only adding the clip in hole, if required, is difficult.  The Quark Cascade pick tooth and back edge patterns are exact copies of the older Nomic Cascade picks.  A few minutes work with a grinder and files.  Add a spacer, bolt the new pick in and you are ready to rock!

Older Quark Cascade pick on the bottom, Nomic Cascade on top.
Obvious where you need to remove metal on the earlier picks to fit.


Quick mid weight down jacket comparison?

When guys get together there is usually no lack of posturing.   When it comes to climbing, the Internet allows all sorts of spewing that won't happen in person, face to face.  "Stand and deliver" actually means something on the rock.  It is how we measure ability..and mouth some times.

Some might have expected by now that I like measurement and comparisons.  I see a lot of gear and the small percentage of what I do like I can easily put words to.  But I find it even more interesting when very similar products are forced to "stand and deliver".    Get down to the details and there is generally a different worth noting.

Two mid weight down climbing jackets I like a lot and have mentioned before on the blog seemed worthy of a side by side comparison.  Both jackets run a little small compared to US sizing.  The numbers listed here are for a men's XL in both jackets.   I am 6'1" and 187#.  Both jackets fit me well with even light layers under them.  The RAB being the slightly bigger of the two for overall fit.  But easy enough to call both patterns "athletic" for fit.

The Narrona Lyngen, 22.3 oz or 632g. 3" of loft at the shoulder.  Retail?  $348.95 Only one US retailer.
(3/4" of additional loft and a big drop of 9.5 oz in weight from my first Lyngen of 3 years ago!)  One seriously has to wonder what changed?

"Aero™down proof 30 g

A super-lightweight and down proof technical fabric, aero™down proof weighs about 30 grams/m². It’s soft, water-repellent and windproof, and has a good strength for being so lightweight.

Our down products use the highest available down quality that we can find, which is a by-product of the food industry (in contrast to being killed just for insulation). Our down comes from the mountains of Pyrenees in France where the birds spend their days outside in a free gazing environment. All treatment of the birds complies with European standards, and the highly specialized washing of the down passes the Oeko-Tex 100 standards. Our down™750 means down fill power from 750 to 800 cu in/oz with the percentage of down cluster from 93–96%.

PrimaLoft™ One 130 g

PrimaLoft™ is a patented micro-structure that gives great thermal insulation to help the body maintain its temperature, minimizing energy loss. Extremely light and soft, it was originally developed by the US Army to replace natural down. As down absorbs moisture, it becomes wet and loses its thermal-insulating abilities. PrimaLoft™ absorbs three times less water, is 14% warmer when dry and 24% warmer when wet, than the competitive insulation."

130g Primaloft is used in the hood and neck, and in side panels from the wrist's cuff to the arm pit and back down to the waist's hem.

The RAB Infinity, 17.4oz or 492g, 3" of loft at the shoulder.  Retail?  $299.95  And many US retailers

"[shell] Pertex Syncro (10D ripstop nylon); [lining] Pertex Quantum (10D ripstop nylon)

850-fill European goose down"   (It seems RAB likes a short description, but that is all they have listed :)

For a gear geek is was kinda fun to make this comparison.   For the 3" of  insulation both jackets offer with premium goose down one has to ask why the weight and cost differences?  And which jacket offers an advantage for the climber?

After all RAB has made its reputation based on customers for the most part, members of the climbing  community.  Differing with what Narrona has done for the most part in the skiing community.

I have used both jackets climbing with great satisfaction.  Again both jackets are sewn through baffling with an extra layer of material used as a wind panel across the chest.  Simply sewn through in back.  Both have hoods you can use over a helmet.  The Narrona hood is much larger though and easier to use with a helmet and offers much more protection with a flexible visor and a tunnel design on the neck.

28" back

24" back

The difference in that 4" is a longer back on the Lyngen.
Below is a side view of the front to back taper on both jackets.

But the front, where the harness is, stays the same.

straight cut sleeves and arms

Raglan sleeves and articulated elbows

Sewn baffle comparisons

Hood and neck detail

Hood and neck detail

double cuff on left and a single cuff on the right

Nylon mesh chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack with haul loop

small internal chest pocket..of minimal use because of size

22.6 oz or 17.4oz ?  As expected from two of the cutting edge climbing design teams you get a choice.  5.2 oz more in the Lyngen gets you a little more jacket for warmth and coverage.  More hood, more garment length and the back up of Primaloft One in areas most likely to get wet in use.  And most important a pattern more easily allows one to climb some very difficult terrain and stay covered.

For a bit less than a 1/4 pound in weight savings the Infinity gets you a very basic jacket with a great attention to detail and a little less of weight.  Hard to turn a blind eye to that fact with all the basic needs covered and $50 less @ retail.

Both jackets have single slide front zippers.  Too bad because both could use a dbl slider to get around the harness.  Both offer good zipper buffers/baffles and coverage.

The integrated stuff sack and tie in on the Lyngen is a nice feature.  The Infinity chest pocket barely has enough room to carry the stuff sack that comes with it.   The integral pocket with the net backing seems a bit fragile on the Lyngen.  But it stretches to fit.  The Infinity comes with its own stuff sack.  Both carry systems have integral haul loops attached.  

Compression is about the same on both jackets.  Either will easily fit in the RAB stuff sack.

The shell material on either jacket will shed water for a good bit of time.  But neither material is "water proof",   The Lyngen 's nylon is heavier physically than the Pertex RAB uses.  Neither material will do well wrestling with  limestone.

So what did I get from this review?  Comparisons generally have a single winner.

I added up the "points". Lyngen has a better hood, better cuffs, better pattern and articulated elbows.   It has a better internal pocket to dry gear in and would make a better pillow if that is something you require. Call it 6 points better than the RAB.

The RAB is simple.  I like the fit and how light it is.  I like the Pertex.  I didn't notice the smaller hood or the simple pattern cut on the RAB while wearing it,  only as I layed them both out on the floor for photos.

I knew I liked the Lyngen better but wasn't sure exactly why.  But no question I like the $50 savings on the RAB.   The RAB version might well have a better quality down and more of it.  I can't tell. 

I am obviously nit picking here.  Others may prefer the simplicity and less weight above everything else on the RAB.  Both are seductive.

Both of  these jackets are exceptional garments for my own use.  This review, like many I do was simply for my own edification.  I am keeping and will use both jackets.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bjørn-Eivind Årtun and Stein-Ivar Gravdal RIP

The info below, sad as it is,  was graciously sent to me from climbers in Norway and Sweden yesterday.

"Bjørn-Eivind Årtun (45) and Stein-Ivar Gravdal (37) were found dead attempting a new route at Kjerag in Lysefjorden, Norway yesterday.

They went out on Tuesday expecting to get back Thursday, when they weren't a Sea King was called on Friday and found them hanging from a rope 100m above the scree slope. Local mountain rescue will start a recovery operation today."

When they didn't return, a helicopter search was initiated, and on the morning of February 10 the two climbers were spotted hanging upside down on the face, motionless.  There are indications that a large rockfall was the cause of the accident writes the Norwegian Climbing Federation on their website.

Another really sad day this winter.   Bjørn-Eivind Årtun was certainly one of my climbing heros.  Both were easily two of the world's very best ice climbers.   Bjørn-Eivind was gracious enough to help with the Cold Thistle tool projects early on..   My heart goes out to family and friends.  Both he and Stein-Ivar will be dearly missed.

More on about Stein-Ivar Gravdal here:

"Bjørn-Eivind Årtun on his and Colin's new route, Dracula, Mt Foraker, June 2010."
More here on Bjørn-Eivind

Bjørn-Eivind Årtun soloing on the Cassin

Stein-Ivar Gravdal avec Bjarte Bø, Sigurd Felde et Rolf Bae (†)
Great Trango Tower, 6285 m, Norwegian Buttress, Pakistan, 2008

Stein Ivar Gravdal

photos courtesy of: Bjørn-Eivind Aartun/Annelin Henriksen/Colin Haley

Hopefully a better translation from the previous news feed:

"Two climbers died on Kjerag.  Both SeaKing and personnel at sea abort mission to collect the bodies of
the climbers."  This according Victor Jensen at the Rogaland Police.

"Unfortunately the SeaKing helicopter has to return from Kjerag at 1.30pm. The rescue boat with crew has also returned from the place" says Jensen. "Low cloud and poor visibility has made the mission difficult. The  crews will make a new attempt tomorrow."

The police are attempting to place guards at the scene of the accident until Saturday night.  One of the climbers is from Stavanger and the other from Oslo. Both are well known in the climbing community. They travelled out on Tuesday to climb the Kjerag wall and were due back on Thursday evening. When they didn't return their families tried to reach them on their mobile phones without success. Search and rescue were alerted at 12.30pm on Friday that the two climbers were missing. A SeaKing helicopter sent out and found two people on the mountainside at around 2pm. A little later the climbers were found to be dead.

World class

Ture Bjørgen is a spokesperson for Rogaland mountain rescue, where one of the climbers was a member.
"These were climbers at an elite level. They were extremely experienced, talented and had a long resume of climbs" says a sad Bjørgen, who knew the climbers personally. One of the climbers had climbed the Kjerag wall multiple times previously and completed many new routes according to Bjørgen

Found at the bottom of the wall

The two climbers were found low down on the mountain side and Bjørgen speculates as to what might have happened "As they were found at the very bottom of the mountain side it might mean that they were killed at the very start. They may also have climbed to the top, abseiled down and have been killed at the bottom" says Bjørgen.  Considering that the two are at the bottom of the wall, Bjørgen doesn't think it will be too difficult to get them down again during the day.

More details here:

Coilin Haley, Alpinist 32 "Scared"

"I might die climbing. You might, too. We can make efforts to minimize the risks, but ultimately we either accept the possibility of dying on a mountain, fool ourselves that the possibility doesn't exist—or we quit."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Even the small ones are dangerious.

Approach and trail running shoes...Salewa?

As I get back outdoors the gear I am using comes to my mind.  Thought along with the previous training thoughts I add some comments on shoes.  And one shoe in particular.  Where I live here on the west side of the Cascades you can generally run trails for 10 months of the year with little heartache.  Some do it year around.  But not me.  We do get a lot of rain and mud however.  But that can happen any time of year.

I use a a combination of protective socks ( ) and differing shoes to protect my feet depending on the conditions and weather.  I hate cold feet.

I have a couple of friends that make fun of running shoes.  We have a long granite ridge traverse in the Selkirks that we do in the summer.

Running shoes without sticky rubber can turn that outing into a "run away" mission if you aren't careful.  Adding the protection of a good approach shoe for that kind of adventure is just common sense.  A hard lesson learned on my first attempt at the traverse.

My Garmont and Selewa approach shoes are  better compared to low top lwt boots than my Nike Free running shoes.  But they are the appropriate shoe for the Selkirks in comparison to my Brooks Cascadia.

The new to me Salewa Firetail GTX (bottom right) seems to be a unique blend of technology and construction that is a good match to my own needs.  I have yet to have cold feet in these no matter the conditions an only regular socks. 

Here is the Salewa company line on these:

"The Salewa Men’s Firetail GTX Hiking Shoe represents an evolutionary step forward, the missing link between a technical approach shoe and a lightweight trail runner. Specially-designed Vibram outsoles, climbing lacing, protective rands, and a customizable fit enable the state-of-the-art Firetail to handle approaches and descents on the most technical trails with ease and, thanks to the Gore-Tex insert, in any weather."

•Gore-Tex insert keeps your feet bone-dry on rainy days in the backcountry

•3F System distributes the lacing power over the whole foot for unmatched heel retention, so you enjoy a friction-free, blister-free precision fit as well as excellent ankle support

•EVA midsole and PU Shock Absorber cushion your foot on descents, and the Multi- Fit Footbed allows you to adjust the volume of the footbed in the shoe for a perfect fit

•All-around aramidic fiber and rubber rand protects the shoe from impact and abrasion and provides grip when you climb

•Climbing-style lacing extends further towards the front to allow you to dial in your fit

•Proprietary Salewa Vibram Approach outsole provides maximum grip and edging on rocks and helps you put on the brakes on steep descents

•Armored mesh protects the shoe against abrasion while enhancing breathability on hot summer hikes

There are a gazillion different running /approach and trail shoes available.   Everyone has their own favorites and styles.  So it is a tough market for them and good for us as consumers.   The Salewa version was a new one for me as were the Garmonts previous.  I'd rather use a running shoe to be honest and a light weight one at that.  But for my own use the Salewa has come up with a good combo of protection, additional ankle support, sticky rubber, excellent fit and may be a link between a "heavier technical approach shoe and a not so lightweight trail runner".   It is worth a second look if you require something similar for those full on, long days in the mountains.

Salewa Firetail GTX Hiking Shoe

Norrøna Lyngen down jacket?

First time I have done something like this.  But the price is a $100 off what I paid for mine a couple of years ago.   While not cheap it is an exceptional jacket.  Normal retail is 349 Euro or $465 today!   I get nothing from this.  Just a friendly heads up to the locals that might be interested.  B/C has 47 in stock and three color choices @ $279.16 delivered.  Gotta love a strong dollar.

NORRØNA (V) MAGAZINE - A ski oddysey from Norrøna on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The "first" North Face climbing boot?

The new Verto S4K GTX from North Face.

My first experience with North Face climbing boots was when they made La Sportiva a part of their corporation a few years back.  I bought two pairs of La Sportiva boots on sale when that relationship ended.  A pair of the first Trangos and the original Nepals.

So when I heard about the "first" North Face climbing boot I was at least mildly interested in the end result.

Seems North Face has saturated the blogger market with free boots to get the word out on the new Verto S-4K GTX.  Smart marketing on their part.

I own or have owned and climbed in a lot of mountaineering boots.  Boots suitable for technical climbing on the South Pole and boots suitable for a summer alpine scramble in the Sierras or Cascades.  So there is a lot of leeway on what manufactures and users define as a "climbing" boot.

I have friends who use similar boots to the new Verto S-4K for much of their own summer climbing in the Cascades.  The La Sportiva Trango S Evo GTX  and Scarpa Chamoz GTX come to mind when comparing like boots. 

North Face was also smart in using the obligatory red and silver colors on their new boot.  It is now easy to  confuse the La Sportiva Trango Extreme Evo Light GTX  (an actual fully featured climbing boot)  with the North Face  Verto S-4K which is not.

That doesn't mean the Verto S-4K isn't a good boot.  It seems to be from my perspective as long as you understand its limitations.  For one it isn't all that warm.  But as warm as the red La Sportiva Trango Evo or Chamoz GTX  I think.  And because of the Gortex equally as water proof.   It isn't all that stiff  in the sole nor is it intended to be.  So it is easy to hike in.  It fits my narrow feet and heels very well and it seems to be is slightly more robust that my Trango S Evos.  I like the fully bellowed tongue.  And how comfortable this boot was out of the box.  That alone should sell a ton of them.  They weigh in at 1# 15 oz per boot in my size 12s.   The red Trango S Evo weighs in at 1#13oz in a comparable size 45.

The Verto S-4K  needs a basket  for the front of the crampon.  But it will take a heel lever.  They would work fine for any of the NW glacier slogs mid summer.  But that is the limit of where I want to use them when it is cold and wet.

The soles are likely the best available for rock climbing in boots.  It is the Vibram® MULAZ.  Same sole on my beloved Scarpa Ultras and half a dozen other pairs of similar lwt mountain boots that directly compare to the Verto S4K.   The soles are closely trimmed and the low profile toe lacing allows you to take every advantage the sticky rubber on the MULAZ.

Boots for me are first all about the fit.  The new North Face Verto S-4K last fits exceptionally well  on my foot.   Sad that the style of boot isn't one I use very much.

At least the sample boots I received are made in Romania.  I have to say I am impressed with the end result.  Rightfully or not my feet feel better trusting them to a European factory than one in Asia.  I am hoping for great things from the  future technical boot line up.

 Bottom line on the North Face Verto S-4K?

It is not a highly technical "climbing" boot.  But it will do anything a Trango S or Scarpa Charmoz will.  So it is in good company.  It could be lighter.  But it is within  ounces  of the other two boots for comparison in my size.   But I had hoped the new contestant would win the weight comparison with a knock out.  It didn't.  Neither did they hit any surprise price point.   The buy in is steep at $350.  Same as the Trango S Evo GTX. 

As a first effort for North Face?  They did extremely well.
Currently available in the UK.
The company spiel?

Verto S4K GTX £229.99

Inspired by the endeavours of The North Face’s team of elite mountaineers, the Verto S4K boot delivers absolute best-in-class technical fit and performance for the most demanding alpine conditions.

■Traditional Italian craftsmanship and innovative European design
■Finest materials assembled without compromise
■Synthetic leather and rugged Panatex textile uppers
■GORE-TEX lining gives waterproof, breathable protection
■X-Frame provides lateral stability and flexibility
■Over-injected TPU cage provides midfoot support
■Stainless steel upper eyelets and locking instep eyelet
■Smartlite PU mudguard resists abrasion better than rubber
■TPU Cradle heel stabilising technology with crampon spoiler
■Five-part co-moulded midsole
■BASF Agile PU body and EVA heel cushioning
■Northotic Pro+ premium EVA footbed with gel heel
■Ortholite forefoot cushioning pads
■TPU shank and polypropylene/fibreglass lasting board
■Vibram Mulaz outsole with climbing zone for superior edging

The Ply-Ice Board

This is a guest blog by my long time climbing partner, Dave, aka in the UK  "the Wanker", Fulton.

"Alright now so winter is finally here. You’ve been out to your favorite bit of ice a half dozen times and maybe even gotten in a couple of road trips to places that offer more choices than top roping the piss out of some smear off the road near an overpriced gas station. Hopefully more cold weather climbing is on the books but in the meantime what to do? Oddly enough maybe this is the time to go back for some more laps on that plywood training board also known as the ply-ice board. If you don’t have one, build one or poach laps someone else’s. Some may argue why bother when one could just get the real deal in on the weekend but then again getting a few laps in during the week can’t be all that bad, can’t it? Recently I added a few extra boards on mine in between the nice big chunky ones just to break it up a bit. Now I warm up by hooking all the big wood then break it up by hooking every other narrow board all the while keep a close watch on the feet. Up and down is one lap. The ply-ice is 16’ high so starting with 5 laps is a good warm up. Give it a one minute rest then alternate the thick boards with the not so think ones. My ply-ice has a bit of an unfair advantage in that the top 8’ is slightly over hanging and even though it doesn’t look like much after about 30 minutes you begin to notice it. Does this make a difference once out on the frozen stuff? I built this in my backyard in Idaho then left for work in Europe doing what I could to keep fit for when I returned in January. While I was gone and at my insistence, my buddy Joe got full use of it and when I returned it was pretty apparent it did him no harm. Consequently I did my best to play catch up while I was back and now that I’m back in the UK it’ll hopefully pay off when I get up to Scotland next week. Lesson learned? Just because you’ll be climbing this weekend doesn’t mean you should train a bit this week"

Ouray Ice

The Petzl ICE pick issue

The quotes listed below were found from a quick Internet search on the current Petzl ICE pick. It seems silly to me that Petzl had a amazinglyly well recieved pick, the Cascade, that they have now discontinued for the Nomic.  Even more so now that the Cascade pick would fit all three tools, Nomic, Quark and Ergo. When your customers start using another brand's picks I suspect you have an issue that needs to be resolved, sooner rather than later.

None of this is to argue the newest picks are bad, just that some prefer the previous design.

Here is a short discussion on how to modify the newest picks for better ice performance by duplicating the  older Cascade pick.

Quotes by various Internet authors on the same subject:
"I've heard rumors that Cassin's X-All picks can be modified to fit onto Nomic or Quark. Any truth to this? I'm a little frustrated with the new Petzl Ice picks (detuning isn't working out that great)."

"The new Nomic Ice pick is hard to clean, but filing it down to closely match the profile of the old Cascade pick worked great for me."

"there are a few things I noticed with the new Ice picks. Durability, cleaning, and ice displacement. Maybe this season is a bad example because how thinner the routes are, but I noticed my Ice picks getting chewed up and worn down significantly faster. I've filed the picks three times already, when I normally do three filings for the entire season on my old Cascade picks. Cleaning on the new Ice picks is harder than before, this is well know."

"When I compare the picks to old style, they are completely different.  It has been pointed out that I can modify the new Ice picks, but I haven't had the chance to test that out."

"I have a big potential issue with the new Nomic Ice pick though. At the gym where I train, it is literally impossible to get a stick in the Iceholdz(TM) on the mildly overhung system board. With adjustments to swing and hand position, I have been able to get good sticks with both Cobras and the old style Vipers. I'm guessing the first tooth is too steep (which is one of the things causing the cleaning problem with Laser picks) so I worry what they'll be like on real ice."

"The new Ice picks, while better than the old Astros, are definitely not as good as the old cascades from my experience using both of them last season on a pair of new Quarks and old Nomics. I'm pretty sure the reason is the same already mentioned: the angle of the first tooth."

In North America if you have a similar thought you can direct an email to Petzl America at
It is a topic Petzl wants to hear from you on.  So the emails aren't going to a round file as some might expect.

I don't have a Petzl France email but if you are outside North America I suspect your concerns will be relayed to Petzl France as well.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Working out and silly details.....

I suspect when the hit count and membership goes up most who write a blog at some point start thinking what they write actually is important.   Generally it is not.  But like much of what I do, this is for me anyway :)    So you are forwarned!

the man in the mirror

If the last 6 months taught me anything it is I want to be the water and not the rock.   And water is not my personality, never has been.  So it is a big change.   Days like today (when you are suffering) if nothing else gives you a more clear picture of yourself.  Why I ever go out on days I don't really feel like it, generally I'll never fully understand.  But today I knew.  There is a storm coming in tonight so I wanted to enjoy a tiny bit more sunshine.  But I didn't really enjoy the sunshine.  And the sun effected snow in the morning was well frozen shite by the time I headed home.  Marley really enjoyed the snow conditions so that was one bonus!  Me?  Not so much, in the breakable crust.  But it was my attitude not the snow conditions that sucked.  For the typical climber with an A personality it pays to remember that it is not the workout that makes you stronger, but the rest and recovery after the workout.

When I really want to climb I don't take a HR monitor.  But so much of my time outside is only training for something else more important to me.  Which can make some days "less than fun".   The HR monitor is generally my close companion.  One I am constantly conversing with and referring to.   If you are going to train, pays to heed the workout zone and the level of the effort for your desired effect.   You simply need to pay attention to the details. 

Zone 3

Zone 4

Zone 5

Speaking of details.   This the second time I have skied in a pair of Dynafit "Movement"  pants.

They came highly recommended but are hard to find as Dynafit imports so few to NA.   I bought what was available knowing they might be too large. (they are)   I first skied in them before cutting out the pre marked  buckle slots.  Nice pant but not all that impressive on the first run. After all they are not much more than a nice weight ski tight with a logo.

Previous to this trip I trimmed the premarked cut outs on the bottom of the legs.  I am most impressed with the end result.  The right pant really allows you to take advantage of the TLT boots in the back country.   Dynafit's "Movement" pant is the "right" pant for the TLT.  But easy enough to make your own as well.   Again it is all in the details.

ski mode

walking mode

Home sewn pant mod that does has the same effect

While I am thinking about clothing.  This one was a surprise and continues to impress me,  "Cabella's E.C.W.C.S Thermal Zone® Polartec® Power Dry® " long johns.  Cabellas' is not the first place I shop for gear.  But neither is Costco and both have surprised me in the past.  The E.C.W.C.S Thermal Zone® Polartec® Power Dry®  is a base layer made up of several different weights of Polartec materials that are smartly sewn.  In comparison to other long johns I have used they are warmer and a lot less bulky.  Which makes them much easier to move in and just as important stay dry in.  There is some really amazing technology and effort incorporated here.  I have one pair right now but will be buying more.  The bottoms are that much better than everything else I have used.  Ease of movement at the knee and no boot top bunch.  Too my surprise I noticed both improvments today when I went back to skiing in the typical long john bottom.    

E.C.W.C.S Thermal Zone® Polartec® Power Dry® top.
Nice mouth full ;) 

More detail stuff,  If you want to run a HR monitor or a tech watch and more importantly want to pay attention to them for some reason be sure to put them in the right place.  This one is buckled over my base layer and the other layers are blocked from covering the monitor.  Silly stuff, but just more details.

The details?  Do you have a foot problem?  Even just a tiny one?  Pays to remember them the night before and address it then.  Better than landing in the parking lot for what ever adventure you have in mind and forgetting there is a problem.  A two inch strip of tape can make the difference between a really fun day for me and enough additional pain to be really annoying.  Another small detail.

Doesn't matter if it is Water or Rock.  What you have seen here are some of my details.  Just a small reminder to pay attention to your own details.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

At the risk of getting sucked in....

.......into even more crazy endurance efforts and great reviews on gear...check out Nate's place

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cerro Torre..chopping the bolts.

"Sorry to be brutally honest, but I simply don't have respect for liars. Maestri told the biggest lie in the history of climbing for the gain of his own reputation. Alpine climbing often relies on the honor system, and unfortunately people like Maestri ruin the system of honesty for all of us. Dishonesty goes beyond the simple game of besting one's competition - consider for a moment that Maestri's drive to be labeled the winner was so great that he didn't even have the decency to tell Toni Egger's mother and sister the true circumstances of how Toni died in the mountains.

The fact that Maestri also vengefully showed the world the most heavy-handed climbing style it has ever seen - the epitome of the "murder of the impossible" - doesn't help him gain respect.

If Maestri were to come clean in his old age, and tell the world what actually happened during his 1959 Cerro Torre attempt, it would probably require more courage than any climb ever demanded of him."
Colin Haley  2/4/2012
More here:

Friday, February 3, 2012

Uphill track!

I'm alive and on the uphill track!  It is a good start for the rest.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

For those that have been reading C-T, Dave Searle's name should be no surprise.   Dave has offered the readers here some great gear reviews, commentary and amazing photos.  The masthead photo of Ally on the Eiger is just one example of Dave's photography.

Mid-winter, first day of skiing, Dave broke his leg.  He's well on the mend now and suspect he'll be out skiing and climbing literally within weeks now.

But Dave's a talented fellow.  He used his time being broken and bent wisely.  The end result of his efforts will make anyone's climbing or skiing trip to Chamonix much easier.  I've only poked about a tiny bit inside  but from what I have seen...I said to myself, " Brilliant!  Why didn't I think of that!"

Good effort on Dave's part and a must see, check out the links below and enjoy!