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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Friday, June 29, 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Power or Endurance?

Some thoughts I have had about training recently while I try to get back in shape from this winter's ordeal.  There might be enough here for anyone that is really interested in power to weight ratios (any climber?) and training to at least peak your interest and make you think about your own training.

I simply like trying to get more out of my body, nutrition and labor.  Only way to know if you are do that is to measure.

OK, so here one of the things I am currently measuring.  I am doing a 2 mile uphill ride on my bike.  Not the typical 2 mile uphill ride mind you.  This ride has a name, "The Zoo".

From a local web site that is nothing but bike climbs in the Seattle area.  This one is one of the most difficult if not THE the most difficult climb locally.  There are longer climbs in WA state but few as continually as steep the Zoo.  Only Lion Rock is harder imo.    The Zoo is 10 minutes away.  Lion Rock 2 hours.

"Zoo Hill - named after the small zoo at the bottom - is arguably the toughest climb in the Seattle area. Ascending 1200 feet over 2.5 miles, it has an average grade of about 10%, with common gradients in 15% and some sections approaching 20%. This is not a climb to be approached lightly.
Or, as one rider noted, "Zoo Hill is the puke-inducing lactate-producing gasp-fest that I avoid unless taunted.""

So I keep track of my time, bottom to top @ every ride, along with my average cadence, average and max HR.  To those numbers I add my body weight, gear/clothing weight and my bike weight.

With the right formula I get how many watts of energy I produce from a given time on the ride.  That has varied from 235 watts to 358 watts, depending on how fast I am able to ride the hill and how much my kit and I weigh on that particular ride.

I have been keeping track on of my weekly or monthly rides on the Zoo since 2005.  Literally every ride I have done there rain or shine.

 but I forgot where I stole the quote...
"training is not just about how far you can go. Training is about how hard you can go for how long."

At the moment I can put out somewhere around 350 watts.  I'm surprised it is up from 320 watts which had been a personal best 4 years ago when I was fit, slightly heavier and had more muscle mass.  But I am working on power right now so it is good to see the improvement.   Good enough, if I could actually hold that tempo and the 350 watts, for a 18 minuite ride on the Zoo.  Which would be a new personal best.  Problem is I can't produce and hold that kind of power for 18 minutes.  More like 5 minutes or less right now.

So I am strong enough but I just don't have the endurance.  But it took some serious time, measuring, testing and retesting to figure that out.   It wasn't an easy answer and it wasn't the first place I looked.  My original thought was I simply wasn't "strong" enough.  Not enough power.  Truth is I just need to produce the power I have, for a longer period of time.   Knowing all this  stopped me from looking at new gears and new bike parts as well.  

The real answer here?  I require the endurance to produce that level of power if I am going to make 18 minutes on the Zoo climb.  And while I am training for that I'll make sure to add strength training to my endurance (and LTH) training so I can produce even more power to go even faster...for a much, much longer period of time. 

I mentioned this before.  I use to do a lot of rock climbing.  Trad 5.11 and easy .12 cracks.  I was never very strong by comparison...and could never do more than a dozen or so pull-ups at any given time.   But I could hang a long, long time on finger and hand jams by comparison to my partners who could do one arm pull ups and dozens of reps.  If I had been smart I would have added a few more pull-ups and dropped a few pounds back then.  My rock climbing would have likely taken a big jump in technical difficulty because of it.

Climbing on a bike or climbing on ice and rock easily tells you that you can never be too strong or too light.  Unless of course you don't have the endurance to pull off your particular goal.  Be it a 17 minute run on the Zoo, the Enduro corner on Astro Man or a quick run up Rainier.   If you can do the hardest move on your project you have the power.  But do you have the endurance to link every  move for the red point?

Bottom line?  Make sure you are training for your goals and to your weaknesses.  Power and Endurance both have their place.  And for most climbing, on the bike or in the mtns, those two goals should be equal partners.  Or at the very least know how to define them for your own benefit.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Double boots (climbing specific) Part Two the Spantik

The La Sportiva Spantik

They are tough, durable enough and not too heavy.  The laces, lace eyelets and inner boots could be better.   It would be a much better boot by most accounts if delivered with the Baruntse's Palau inner boot.

La Sportiva Spantik 3#.05oz / 1362g
La Sportiva Spantik with a Baruntse liner  2# 12oz / 1247g

La Sportiva Baruntse 3#4oz / 1470g

Scarpa Phantom 6000 new 2010 model 2#10oz / 1190g

La Sportiva Olympus Mons 3#6oz/ 1530g

French Mtn Police uniform boot?

photo courtesy of Courtney Ley 
The newest mtn bike shoe?  

The Spantik is the one double boot that seems to dominate the cold weather climbing world right now below 6000m.  Only the Scarpa 6000 has made much of an impact on that good fortune.  

The Spantik is simply a great boot for the intended purpose.  The technical lace system while originally not very durable has been beefed up a bit and now we don't hear of the failures the first few seasons brought.   The inner boot is hard to heat form but when done correctly offers a very good fit.  But the inner isn't all that durable and still easy to pull eyelets out of.  They do climb ice and mixed very well though.  A good many (most) of the cutting edge cold and hard climbing in the last few years has been done in the Spantik.

57g is about 2 oz

172g about 6 oz

The difference in climbing in a lighter boot?  The extra ankle and calf support is a noticable on the Spantik.  The warmth?  Only the Oly Mons stands out here in warmth.  All of these boots are plenty warm for any where under 6000m in winter. 

More on the Spantik here:

Monday, June 18, 2012


Good story and a worthy project I think for climbers in general and me in particular.  Gary Silver and I did the 2nd ascent of Slipstream in '81.  Gary died July 9 1988 at 7000m  on Gasherbrum II.  His body was never recovered. 

More on "Spindrift:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mountain Photography

When I was a kid Gaston Rebuffat's photos (and writing) inspired me and literally drove me to explore the mountains.

I've grown up but never loss the thrill of  seeing Rebuffat's work.  Great mountain photography is like porn I suppose hard to define but you know it when you see it.

I am a huge fan of Chamonix based photographer and climber,  Jonathan Griffith's work.  How could a climber not be?  Jon, shares his photos and trip reports on his various web sites.  The content is good enough to get me back to Chamonix after being absent several decades.

And now he  offering an amazing opportunity with a Alpine Photography Course.

Just a big thumbs up for the guys who make the effort to document and share our way of life.
Some great STOKE!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Yet to be verified but word is Colin Haley recently soloed Mt. Hunter's North Buttress, stopping just short of the true summit, specific route is unknown.  But Colin has done three different routes there in  previous seasons, the Bibler- Klewin, the French Gully and Deprivation.   (thanks for the update John)

"Next we geared up for an attempt of the Bibler-Klewin on Mt. Hunter's North Buttress (commonly and erroneously referred to as the "Moonflower Buttress"). First climbed in 1983 by Todd Bibler and Doug Klewin, this route snakes up an aesthetic line of ice streaks on the crest of the North Buttress."

Stunning solo obviously no matter what route or where he stopped high on the mtn.  But a nice tribute as well imo to his visit there climbing with Bjørn-Eivind Årtun.

Bjørn-Eivind Årtun leading the Shaft
photos courtesy of Colin Haley

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Climbing footware for a size 15 US foot

This is a guest blog from Climbing Guide, Ryan Stefiuk
More writing from from Ray can be found @

All my life I've had “large” feet. Mine are long but narrow size 15's. When I started rock climbing in 1996 I didn't feel like there were too many good rock shoe options. Yes, I could choose from a few different models of entry-level FiveTen shoes, but on the whole I didn't feel like there were many choices.
For years I crammed my feet into any too-small shoe, thinking that a tight fit would help my climbing. Some tight-fitting shoes actually fit my long feet and helped me climb better. Others made me focus solely on the pain associated with edging and smearing, and I wanted nothing more than to throw those shoes away and go back to flopping my way up routes.
When I began ice climbing in 1998 I immediately hit a brick wall with boots. There was one option I knew about – the Lowa Civetta. They make the Civetta up to size 16. Whew. I was good to go. The Civettas carried me up many a route, albeit sloppily. They weren't the best boots for using you feet, even with good crampons. I suppose some of the slop was due to my lack of experience. The Civetta, however just didn't compare favorably to today's high-tech single and double boots.
I've been climbing for sixteen years now and my footwear situation doesn't seem quite so grim any longer. Over the years I've discovered what shoes come in large sizes, and what models fit best. In order to make other big-footed individual's lives easier I've compiled a list of the best footwear available. The quest to accommodate your Sasquatch-sized feet doesn't have to be as difficult as mine was.
Below I'm going to outline good footwear options for people who's feet are larger than size 13. If you have size 13 feet or smaller nearly all climbing footwear is readily available. If you have size 16 or larger feet you may just want to try barefoot waterskiing or basketball. Climbing footwear may be hard to find.
As someone who has big feet, there are several keys to finding the right footwear and keeping it in good shape. A good climbing shop will have some larger sizes in stock. An even better shop will have stock and be willing to order products too. Try on everything that's even remotely close to your size. You'll be surprised by what fits and what doesn't. Once you've found the right footwear take care of it. I resole nearly all my climbing shoes twice and my approach shoes once before retirement. It's important to resole shoes before they're in need of real T.L.C. If you blow a hole in the rand it might be too late. When the rubber gets thin send them in to be resoled.
Nearly all shoe manufacturers make some shoes to size 15. Most now make multiple models. After repeatedly trying FiveTen shoes I've given up. The Italians make damn fine footwear, and their rock climbing shoes are no exception. If you're trying to fit shoes, most American climbing shoe manufacturers run a bit truer to size. I wear a 14 in most Five Ten, Mad Rock and Evolv shoes. I wear anywhere from a 12-14 in Scarpa and La Sportiva shoes (meaning many models fit me).
Here are the top picks from the current 2012 offerings:
La Sportiva Nago – My very long size 15.5 feet fit tightly into size 46 Nago's. Sized more comfortably, I would wear size 47. They're made to size 48. I'm not interested in any of the shoes produced by Sportiva outside of Europe. These entry level Italian-made shoes still climb reasonably well when sized properly.
La Sportiva Cobra, Miura, Katana, TC Pro – Believe it or not, size 46 (the largest size offered) in all of these shoes fit my feet and climb unbelievably well. The TC Pro's don't quite fit the way they're meant to fit, but they're still the most amazing edging shoes I've worn and they last a while. The others listed fit tightly, as they should, but not uncomfortably tightly.
La Sportiva Mythos – These stretch a ton and are made to size 48. I wear a 46 in these too.
Scarpa Techno – Scarpa might discontinue these. I like them and wear a size 47. These have been good trad shoes
Scarpa Helix, Reflex – One is a laceup, the other a slipper. These entry level shoes are nice as all-around shoes for moderate climbing and will stretch over time. I wear size 46 and they're tight. I guess someone with 17's could wear the 50 in the Helix and be comfy.
Scarpa Force – Another velcro offering from Scarpa, made to size 47. I tried these on and felt like a 47 would be adequate.
Mad Rock Flash – I've had three pairs of these cheap shoes and they climb really well. Once they stretch out they are comfortable enough. For gym climbing I like them. I wear size 14 and they are tight at first.
Evolv Defy – Another decent, cheap gym shoe. I wear a size 14 in these too. They're a bit softer than the Mad Rock Flash.
Lots of options here to size 48. Again, La Sportiva and Scarpa seem to take the cake for quality design and durable construction. Five Ten has a few models in large sizes too if you're into their products. Here are my choices from the 2012 offerings from these companies:
La Sportiva Boulder X – Size 48 fits my feet tightly at first. Some slight initial discomfort leads to a good fit for climbing and approaching without any foot slop inside the shoe. These shoes are durable and climb reasonably well.
Scarpa Geko Guide – Size 47 fits like a climbing shoe and eventually becomes comfortable for extended approaches. The Geko's are aggressive “climbing” style approach shoes. When sized tightly they'll actually climb as well as most entry-level climbing shoes. During a guided ascent of the 900' Community Pillar (III 5.9) in Red Rocks last fall I wore them the whole time and my feet thanked me later in the day.
Scarpa Zen, Mystic, Dharma Pro – All of these shoes are built on a similar last and should fit similarly. They're all built to size 48. These stiff shoes require a bit of breaking in but outlast most others. They won't climb the same way that the Geko or Boulder X will.
Scarpa Crux – Also made to size 48, I've worn several older versions of this shoe, and despite a lining that accumulates an awful stench (a theme I've noticed across many Scarpa shoes), these shoes climb well, hike reasonably and are affordable. They'll probably hold a resole just fine too.
Well, options abound for rock shoes. Approach shoes to a lesser degree. Large-footed individuals have far fewer options when it comes to mountain boots. Most boots are made to size 13 or 14. My feet hate me. I spent too many years in size 48 Nepal Extreme and Nepal EVO. Just this past year I did a complete upgrade to size 49 Nepal Extreme and size 49 Baruntse mountain boots.
When searching for boots in large sizes it's best to search a company's full website. Many internet search engines will redirect you to a company's North America site, but to find the most accurate sizing information you'll have to look on the European websites. In addition, most boots larger than size 48 are going to come from Europe and may take a long time to order and ship.
Scarpa Phantom 6000 – These boots are made up to size 49 in Europe but only offered to size 48 in the U.S. I haven't used them but I'm curious about them - they're a lightweight double boot with a built in gaiter.
La Sportiva Nepal Extreme - Most of us haven't seen a Nepal Extreme on a store shelf in several years. They're still made in Europe but the more popular Nepal EVO GTX is the only Nepal offering in the states. These incredibly well made boots come in sizes up to 50 and need to be special ordered from Europe. The build quality actually seems better than that of EVO GTX.
La Sportiva Baruntse - These boots are made to size 50 and stocked in the United States, meaning you can order them and have them delivered in less than a week. These boots climb well and are very warm. They're going to work for just about any mountain region below 8000m and are suitable for cold weather winter use. They're like a double boot version of the Nepal, meaning they're durable and functional.
Lowa Civetta - These boots have traditionally been made to U.S. size 16. They're warm and have stood the test of time in the greater ranges of the world. The addition of an Intuition liner makes these boots warmer and easier to maintain. However, in my opinion they won't compare favorably to newer models double boot models like the Baruntse and Phantom 6000, which have flexible outer shells and come with a stock thermoform liner.
Do you have suggestions or other good large footwear options for climbers? Post a comment below and I'll be sure to add the information to this post, which will also become a page on my site, so that it's easier to find.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Double boots (climbing specific) Part One the Baruntse

I seem to write a lot about boot.  Originally the big reason for that is I have a hard time getting a good fit in any boot and secondly I really don't like cold feet.  I have few boots that fit me really well, were warm enough and were as light as I thought they should be.

Don't make the mistake of thinking this is a recent problem that is just effecting the current  generation of Alpinists.  It isn't.  I had similar thoughts back in the 70's.  And I am sure others had similar thoughts long before I and my friends did then.

No question we have the chance to climb in some really nice boots these days.  Still the trick is to get the lightest weight boot possible that still offers the required protection from the cold and you keep the ability to climb hard in the boots.

The bigger the boot (volume wise) likely the warmer it will be.  And the worse the fit and the less likely it will climb technical ground with ease.  Ease compared to a pair of "more technical" single boots.  The reason a good single boot will be "more technical" is it can fit your foot tighter and give you a more precise fit.   Generally a single boot will do so by having less insulation in the boot upper and the laces can snug the boot around your foot easier for a better fit.

Just as we have all adopted slipper style rock shoes for a better feel of the rock, most Alpinists when they are able with the temperatures will adopt a light weight (lwt) single boot for technical ice and mixed climbing.

It is no surprise that lighter weight and more sensitive footwear have allowed us all to climb harder in any climbing venue be it hard rock or hard mixed.  The one caveat is still "the cold".

Two ways to dress for the cold.  Dress to insulate you from the cold and what ever physical out put you think is required that will still keep you warm when not active.  Or dress to the physical output you aspire too and hope you can maintain a pace to keep you warm in that system.

One is the safe and conservative bet.  It also means you will carry more.  The other is Russian Roulette with your toes.   Make a miscalculation and you will spend some down time from climbing while your feet heal up.

The result of a miscalculation at 7000' in Dec. Cascades 

If everything goes perfectly on an alpine climb generally even in winter in the Alps or NA, a double boot isn't required.  There are so many really good "super gaiter" styled single boots available now almost any of them will get you through most winter climbing with no cold injuries.   Unless of course things go wrong......

Double boots are really made for the knowledgeable Alpinist, that knows eventually, things won't go as planned.

Double boots aren't the best answer to Immersion foot.  That is generally a educational effort that may  be best prevented by prior knowledge and proper foot care, pre trip, during the trip and post trip.

More on Immersion foot here:

There are three likely places you'll hurt get your feet hurt from a cold injury, dehydration, belays, storms, bivies.

Belays are a given in hard technical terrain.  Dehydration doesn't need to be.  Get on a climb that is out of shape/condition or harder than your current skill level and you may well spend longer there than first anticipated.   Storms are a given in the mountains.  The weather forecasting now is a lot better than it was a few decades ago.  Take advantage of that fact.  Bivies?  Have the right bivy gear for the conditions.  Learn first hand that you really need to unlace your boots, if not get the shells off completely is a good idea on a cold bivy (or any bivy).  The increased circulation from just unlacing your boots will help fend off Immersion Foot and/or Frostbite.

Food for thought anyway.  Lots of reasons to wear a double boot.  The ease of which you can climb technical ground in them is not one.

This series of blogs will hopefully give a better overview of the 4 double boots that currently dominate much of the world market and certainly dominates the North American market.   Weights listed are from my postal scale for one size 45 boot, not a pair.

La Sportiva Spantik 3#.05oz / 1362g
La Sportiva Spantik with a Baruntse liner  2# 12oz / 1247g

La Sportiva Baruntse 3#4oz / 1470g

Scarpa Phantom 6000 new 2010 model 2#10oz / 1190g

La Sportiva Olympus Mons 3#6oz/ 1530g

Lets start the discussion with my favorite boot of the bunch:

The La Sportiva Baruntse

Better yet let's start with what I think is wrong with La Sportiva's Baruntse.   It really irks me when a company comes up with a incredible design and then for what ever reason (cost, model line appropriate) dummies down the product.  If you are a Porsche fanatic the Cayman and 911 projects easily come to mind.   The Cayman is an incredible car but limited by Porsche so it won't compete directly with the 911.  So what you get is a dummied down Cayman.

The Baruntse is too heavy.  Simple as that it is too heavy.   Easy way to make it lighter?  Carbon mid sole used on the newest Batura and the Oly Mons, and the Spantik.   Ditch the big lug Vibram sole for the lighter, stickier and shallow lug of the Vibram Mulaz.

Not just my thoughts but those of a number of the Cold Thistle readers:

"Do you have any insight into whether La Sportiva will produce an "Evo" model of
the Baruntse?  I would think that could be an ideal double boot:

Start with the Baruntse but use a Carbon Fiber insole (instead of Ibi-thermo) 
and make the TPU midsole thinner/lighter (same as the Batura 2.0).  Use Vibram 
Mulaz soles instead of the thick and heavy Montagna sole.  Make the inside 
height about 5mm higher at the toes.  Make the rear boot strap loop larger, and 
sew it at a 3rd place to the top of the cuff.  (Alternately, attach one end of 
rear boot strap to top of the stretch cuff.)  Use single rivet lace hooks on the 
shaft to reduce weight.  Inner boot: no changes!
If you have any contacts within La Sportiva, please pass these suggestions 
along.  I expect these changes could easily save half a pound in the weight of a 
pair of these double boots."

So it is not just me thinking the Baruntse is too heavy and that the Bareuntse could easily be the basis for the best traditional double boot ever built.  It is hard to see the technology available at La Sportiva to build a better Baruntse and also seeing that technology left on the drawing room table. 

OK, enough bitching.  What is right about the Baruntse?  All of these boots has advantages and disadvantages over the other 3 double boots I've listed.

I don't think anyone will argue that the Baruntse (manufactured by Palua, France) liner is the best of the bunch.  It has a super easy lace system and more importantly is "easily" heat formable for a perfect fit.  The outer shell's lacing system on the Baruntse is time proven and very simple.   A simple, traditional double boot lace system.  I have not heard of a lace failure on this boot.  between the exceptional inner boot and the easy to lace outer shell you will generally end up with an exceptional fitting boot.  And one that will climb exceptionally well despite the extra bulk and volume needed to keep you feet warm on even Denali without an overboot. 

The result is a highly technical and super warm boot that climbs exceptionally well on ice mixed and rock.

I think it is best to look at the La Sportiva Nepal Evo when making fit and performance comparisons to the Baruntse.

So yes if you like the Nepal Evo or the previous Nepal Top, you will likely be thrilled with the fit and performance of the Baruntse.   The Baruntse is simply, in my opinion, a super cold weather version of the Nepal Evo.  And I make that comparison with all due respect.  The Nepal Evo is one of the most technical alpine climbing boots in the world today.  Could the Baruntse be better?  Sure it could.  If it were better (read lighter in weight) it would be the only double boot I own.  The Baruntse offers the best fit and most support of all the double boots I have listed.   It is also priced at the low end of all the double boots I have listed.  Performance and cost advantages.  Makes one wonder about the weight doesn't it?

There are other posts here @ Cold Thistle on the Baruntse.  "Baruntse" in the search function should get you that info.  Including earlier pair of boots I did add the Mulaz sole to and drop a few oz.

But I'll leave you with a great video where the Baruntse (and the Scarpa 6000) were used on a quick ascent of Denali with no over boots.  More to come on the Spantik, 6000, and Oly Mons.

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