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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Thursday, August 30, 2012


plastic or leather?

Was there ever any doubt?  The video is from April 2011.   The Nepal Evo and earlier Nepal have been around over a decade now.

A better overview I think with one only one minor mistake....the Kayland M11+ is not what I would call a super cold weather boot. (black and silver boot with attached gaiter on the left of the screen)   Although it is one of the best, single layer, technical ice climbing boots available.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Drugs in sport?

OK, no question I am sensitive to this subject.  The recent cancer and more major rehab efforts in the not so distant past than I care to remember high light that sensitivity.  But with what I realized just recently was over 40 years in endurance sports let me offer a few comments and more opinion yet..

I first noticed "enhanced athletes" when one of my climbing partners was light years beyond any of his peers in strength.  He also had a health club membership that cost more than my monthly apartment rent while we were in our mid 20s.  His personal coaching staff and trainer costs were way beyond the club's membership dues.   Younger than me by a few years he had already successfully competed internationally in two different sports.   He was gifted, talented, strong. and well supported financially.  It was years later before I put two and two together and came up ( in my opinion) with the idea of his obvious use of performance enhancing drugs.

The same guy worked hard and was obviously talented as well.  I've know a number of world class athletes over the years.   But it was obvious even then what he was getting from his work outs was not what we were getting from ours.

Still it is only my opinion that my friend was using "dope" to enhance his own climbing.  After all, how many enhance their own climbing by a little "weed" these days?  Last trip to Index made it obvious many do.  Red Bull,  a triple expresso, Gu?  Where does it start or end?

Herman Buhl used Dexedrine on Nanga Parbat.   These days we have living at altitude to increase red blood cells or buying a bed chamber to simulate sleeping at altitude to increase red blood cells or blood doping to inject your own red blood cells.  Diamox?  Better yet Oxygen?

How many will take advantage of the IV option in the Grand Columbian Ironman distance race in September?

"For all Iron and Super distances (Aquathlon included) athletes may optionally purchase an 1000 ml IV during registration for $35 that guarantees them accelerated post race hydration and accelerated recovery. The purchase will assure you a no hassle IV that will set you on course for a quick recovery. We will have medical staff waiting at the finish line to administer them."

I know from experience how long it took me to fully recover physically from a sub 12 hr long tri course event.  No question an IV would have helped that recovery.  I used two "force feed" 1000m IVs after a nasty bit  of food poisoning when I was still required to perform, for "better or worse".   But how can you not consider that doping?   The same (IV) is a common occurrence in the pro peloton btw and totally legal.  And how do you decide when to do an IV and what to add to them.  It is so easy to add something to an IV.   I literally lived off nothing but IVs for 5 months last winter so I know some of what is possible once you start sticking needles in your body.  Yes,  that was just an IV, no food or water via the mouth for months.   It isn't just a slippery slope but a quick road to hell if you view doping as "hell".

I have friends in the military who have commented about the use of "juice" used from Viet Nam to Iraq and Iran.  And none of them were pilots.

For any climb going past a 24hr c2c effort there are a lot of ways to chemically enhance your physical abilities if you are willing.  Funny though as my only recovery for any climb has always been a hot shower, a good meal and some decent sleep.  Even the massages I have always saved for after a hard bike or  exceptionally hard run.   Just never had the money for a massage when I was climbing hard.

Take a look around any big city triathlon or the local road races (bike or running).  Sorry but IMO 60 year old men just don't finish in the top 10 or even top 20 of a 500 person race without being a past professional or a damn good collegiate athlete in their 20s.   Even then top 10?  Not on their own is my bet.  The availability of drugs for the geriatric crowd these days is simply amazing and more common than you might think.

"Through the intelligent application of today’s performance enhancing drugs, we no longer have to succumb to the natural stages of life. So long as that man is willing to do his part by putting the required effort into his training & nutrition, he will be able to stave off and even reverse the aging process on both the inside and the outside."

But then may be I am full of shit and no one really has any idea what the human body is capable of yet.
May be the world really wasn't flat after all.  Imagine the possibilities.

Just food for thought.
Next?  Back to the regular program of climbing and awesome gear.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lance and how it relates to climbing?

"I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours. We all raced together. For three weeks over the same roads, the same mountains, and against all the weather and elements that we had to confront. There were no shortcuts, there was no special treatment. The same courses, the same rules. The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that. Especially not Travis Tygart."  Lance Armstrong

Personally?  I say fook the posers and USADA.

I don't get too wound up about anything, past my family, dogs, bikes and climbing.

I knew of Lance long before my own cancer showed up last fall.   I learned something about Lance when we "shared" the same chemo treatment, cis-diamminedichloroplatinum, trade name Cisplatin.

I got three, one day doses of Cisplatin.  Each literally shattered me physically.  And each dose  much worse than the previous cycle.  Lance did 4 cycles, each cycle 5 days long!  That is one  definition of real suffering.

By most accounts I figure I am a fairly tough guy when it comes to pain.  Lance lived through a entirely different level of pain.  Not one I would willingly follow.

How does this relate to doping and climbing?  When some yoho tells me they lead 5.11 trad and then can't get up a 5.8 crack without a hang or then wants to lead WI5 ice when they can't get up a Grade 3 cleanly, I shake my head and ruefully crack a smile.  "Waste someone else's time...not mine", is what I am thinking and not very kindly at that.

I don't care how hard you climb...just be honest about your skills with yourself and your partners.
Lance took on the best of his time and came out on top.  I can attest in a small way, that it took some serious effort in a couple of ways to get there.  More than most will have in them.   The same way I know what it takes to climb trad .11 or vertical ice.  The same way Ullrich, Basso, Pantini, Zulle, Kloden and the rest knew Armstrong deserved his wins.

Armstrong was never Cesare Maestri.  I am really sickened by the posers writing all over the Internet about Armstrong.  Most are  typically people who have never suffered or succeeded in sport or survived a serious illness and have no idea what it really takes to "win" at either.   I think Travis Tygart, and USADA has done a terrible disservice to the sport of cycling and Armstrong that can never be repaid.

As I said previous......I hold really strong opinions on only a few things that I'll care to share in public.  But in Armstrong's case, "FOOK 'UM!"

What are you on?

Update. August 30 2012

Got this link from Livestrong this morning asking for MONEY.  As a cancer survivor myself  and  9/2/11 diagnosis anniversary date coming up, I find LA wrapping himself in "cancer" instead of following through on his own claim of innocence shameful.  I am not pleased with USADA nor am I pleased with LA's reaction.  There are no winners here and much has been lost by both sides imo.   Lance has given only one thing to the Cancer community while taking in MILLIONS.  That was a gift of  HOPE.  And worth every penny no matter what the money trail is.  By not fighting the USADA what ever hope Lance did give is now gone IMO.   Lance is right about only one thing.  Time to move on.

I don't give a shit if he doped.  I do care if he continues to lie about it and hides from the truth while wrapping himself in the mantel of curing Cancer.

It is now time for BIG George ( George Hincapie) to earn his reputation.  He needs to stand up and tell the truth about what happened @ US Postal.

Take a moment to read these:

Then watch the new video.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The 2 man Bivy Sack?

The Things They Carried: The Bivy

Climber Freddie Wilkinson reflects on how ideas advance gear, and gear changes adventure

"The man who climbs only in good weather, starting from huts and never bivouacking, appreciates the splendor of the mountains but not their mystery...." —Gaston Rebuffat, 1953

"The first time I held a grown man was on the South Face of Cerro Poincenot, in Argentine Patagonia."
Freddie Wilkinson

More here:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Alpinist Andy Houseman's Interview, Denali's Slovak

And his partner Nick Bullock?

Monday, August 6, 2012

First STOKE of the season!

Just having coffee with Pete and Marko at OR last week got me revved up for the rest of the alpine season and the winter to come.  The video?  You can decide for yourself :)


I have been thinking about this subject since last last winter when I was first able to get back out on some Canadian ice.

Conversations over the week at OR just reminded of of the subject and encouraged me to finally put this one out there.  OR is if nothing else the ultimate gear head meeting in North America.  There are bigger shows but not on this side of the pond.

The comment I hear again and again is "how easy" the newest gear makes life in the mountains.

I agree 100%.

My story?  I am climbing harder in the mountains now while being older with less skill, being less fit and with less courage than I was 30 years ago.  How is that really possible?

First one that we forget is climate change.  It is in fact warmer every winter.  So for much of the climbing I do the conditions are a lot warmer.  That is a big one we often over look.  I am not sure the "systems" I use now would work as well if the conditions averaged were another 15 degrees colder.

None the less all of "us" are finding what we climb in for clothing today really has made climbing in general much, much easier.  The first rule of thumb is "stay dry to stay warm".

I'll start from the ground up and describe what I am using in typical winter conditions, in mid February on the north side of the Midi in Chamonix to Andromeda in the Canadian Ice fields.

I am using a very light weight, lightly insulated boots given the chance.  Fit is always a personal issue but so are the technical features such as crampon fit, mid sole flex, warmth, foot, ankle, calf support.

30 years ago if some one had told me I would be using a "soft" ice climbing boot on vertical ice in the future I would have laughed at them.

Yet the boot pictured above, the Scarpa Phantom Ultra, if given a choice is the boot I prefer to climb in today.  And while the boot pictured above is my size, I out weigh the user in this photo by 30#.  So in actual use I get an even softer flexing boot.   It makes them easier to walk in.  But given a slight change in climbing styles it also makes them a much more versatile and generally easier boot to climb in on technical ground for me.

Mind you I don't want a boot that is any softer or less supportive!   But this one (boot styles and technology)  surprised me in many ways.

The Phantom Ultra is by the manufactures description, "is the lightest of the next generation of the Phantom series. The new uppers are a made with combination of materials designed to save weight yet provide enough insulation and weather protection for Scottish winter climbing and summer alpinism."

Please be patient with me for a bit here as I relate all this back to the topic of  "systems".

A softer flexing boot allows your feet to stay warmer because it is moving and flexing more naturally. Given enough insulation from the ground to combat the cold temps and enough protection above the sole to keep moisture out you can have warm feet if your feet stay DRY and have good circulation in a similar boot.  Think of the old Army Mickey Mouse cold weather boot compared to a Spantik for flexibility.

Mind you I don't want to stand around in -30 temps in a pair of Ultras but I have.  And amazingly I stayed warm enough.

I believe (after all this is just theory on my part) that the Ultra stays drier inside during use than the older generation Batura or its big brother the Phantom Guide, because it lacks insulation and breaths better.  Your feet (at least mine do) sweat a lot.  Getting rid of that moisture is a priority.

Such a priority even the difference of using a pant gaiter over the boot instead of putting the pant into the boot gaiter is important to staying dry and keeping your feet dry.  And of course what the boot gaiter is made of and its ability to pass moisture is also equally as important.

Systems?  Light weight four way stretch materials that are both water proof or water repellent make a huge difference in pants.  The differing layers that can be worn under the "outer shell" or just as likely, now bonded to the outer shell are almost unlimited.

I have gone from 3 pairs of medium to heavy socks in my mtn boots to two pairs of really light layers.  The same thing has happened on my lower body.  I am down to a pair of long johns and a outer layer pant for the most part.  But I can see a time (and have used prototypes) that mean only a pair of half johns or boxer shorts and the outer layer....insulation included.   All the stripping of additional layers means more *comfort* and freedom with every step and climbing movement.  And with the current stretch materials added less effort involved.

These days, water proof, breathable (really breathable), 4 way stretch, durable and super light weight is not only possible but could be common place if you know where and what to look for.  Having seen some of this already I am getting even more curious as to what is available and even more demanding of my own choices.

Sad but true, if you are climbing in gear that is even 10 years old, and more likely even five years old, you are wasting energy.   That is a fact.  As much as I don't like a market driven economy in climbing..especially alpine climbing.... these changes are here to stay and the changes are making our goals in the mountains (or just outdoors) easier to obtain.

From easier to prepare and carry food to lighter weight, more flexible and more durable clothing things are changing for the better...rapidly.

On the upper body I have gone from several layers to 3 as a system.  The garments used may change depending on the temperatures expected but it is the same system.  I am hoping to hear from some of the more active outdoor designers themselves about the systems they are using.  I don't even see everything that is available in materials let alone get to test all of what is available out doors.  The OR show just drives that home to me with every edition.    More feed back from some of the guys at the "cutting edge" is really exciting for me.

It is really fun to still be involved at a time when every piece of kit from crampons, harness, tools,  boots, gloves, clothing through to helmets are changing radically in such a short time.

The newest helmets are 165g...a 1980's state of the art helmet 648g

A Nomic is 600g and 1980's Clog 875g

Clothing has gotten warmer, drier and much, much lighter across the board in everything from socks to gloves......while adding full four way stretch.

Cold weather, technical boots and crampons combos are still stuck at the magic 1350g (3# for a size 45) after a full 30 years of "development"!

There is always more to come!

Ueli Steck the designer?

I found this article while researching info for one of my own and thought it worth republishing.  Enjoy!

"The Trust: Ueli Steck and SCARPA discuss their symbiotic relationship of innovation and design

Mar. 29th 2012
Literally coming off the heels of their latest collaboration, the new Rebel GTX Carbon alpine boot, speed climbing supercharger Ueli Steck and SCARPA answer a few questions about their decade-long relationship of designing, building and testing the best mountain boots, and how it pertains to the changing state-of-the-art in alpine climbing.
[For SCARPA:] Being a really good climber doesn’t necessarily make someone a great product designer. What makes Ueli stand out as a contributor to SCARPA product design? It is essentially a matter of feeling, and then a lot of experience in mountaineering and climbing. When you feel and use the product as Ueli does, you can also easily imagine it. And what our R&D needs is to make feelings and ideas concrete, and create a product that can be part of the action itself. Ueli has this kind of sensitivity and we firmly wanted him to share it with SCARPA.
[For Ueli:] You’ve actually been working with SCARPA for a while. How long? How did that relationship come about? It started in about 2001. It was actually Romolo Nottaris who supported me first. It was not just a business decision; it was also a personal feeling, which was always very important from the beginning.
[For SCARPA:] What does SCARPA expect from Ueli as a design consultant? How do you use his feedback? His feedback is now extremely precious for us. First, from a strictly technical point of view, we try to create a product which can satisfy the needs of one of the greatest mountaineers ever, and, we also try to understand deeply its sense of speed and lightness.
This last point is one of our main goals: if Ueli and his ideas become a sort of icon in the mountaineering world, this is what we would like to have happen to our products as well. Quality and performance of our products and style are great strengths of our brand, and every day we aim to reach the highest levels.
[For Ueli:] What initially drew you into collaborating with SCARPA? What is the first product you were involved with? The first prototypes I got were the Phantom Light and the Phantom 8000. Erhard Lorethan and I got the shoes just when we went to the north face of Jannu for the first time in 2002. SCARPA managed to build them after the first Phantom Light and Phantom 8000 for the market, which was based on these prototypes. It is pretty nice to see that many other brands are making these types of shoes now. The first season SCARPA came out with them, everybody told us they’re never going to sell, that it’s just something for a very special interest. And now lots of people sell them. It is always hard to bring changes into the market.
[For SCARPA:] Ueli was quite involved in developing the midsole/sole platform on the new Phantom collection. How did his involvement affect and direct that project? Sensitivity, insulation and lightness are the main goals Ueli wants to work on. Due to the fact that these parameters have very different characteristics, it is often difficult to combine them together. In such a combination process, SCARPA can show its know-how and its ability in developing a product. This positive cooperation enables us to create a product that can provide a real innovation and benefit for the user.
[For Ueli:] You’ve been really involved with the new midsole/sole design (and its success) on boots like the new Phantom collection. What was your involvement around that project? What did you want to see SCARPA achieve? What do you think of the results? I was quite involved in the Phantom Ultra and Phantom Guide. The Ultra came definitely only on my demand. Everybody at SCARPA was afraid of the light sole. But that’s what I was looking for. The Phantom Ultra and the Phantom 6000 are very good boots. I also needed some time to convince SCARPA to use the lighter sole on the Phantom 6000 and to use a system to have an automatic crampon. It’s sometimes difficult to make someone understand what exactly we need for climbing. To make the best shoes you can’t always make decisions based on the commercial and production side of the business. You have to find the production solution for the shoe, and you have to find the marketing solution to make the market understand the product. Sometimes it is really hard to bring new ideas. People always think what they used for the last ten years was great. They first need to feel the difference, and for this they have to wear a new product.
[For SCARPA:] What about Ueli’s contribution is unique, and how does that keep SCARPA at the forefront of alpine and climbing product design? We are currently assisting the growth of a new great generation of climbers whose approach to the discipline has radically changed from the past. They do not only climb hard, but they are also changing the way in which this sport is conceived.
Ueli isn’t just a fast climber. He applies his style of speed- and ultra-marathon level endurance to mountaineering that is as revolutionary as Reinhold Messner’s introduction of alpine-style climbing to the Himalayas in the 1970s. Steck is, in effect, creating a new sport, shattering speed records by moving faster over snow, rock and ice than most climbers can imagine.
For SCARPA to be a part of this new “innovative generation”, and have the opportunity to be linked to Ueli with our products, gives us a unique possibility to share our passion for the innovation and for this sport. Eventually, his time record for any given climb may be beaten. The contribution of Ueli gives our company once again the possibility to establish new milestones in history.
[For Ueli:] Where do you get your ideas for product design? Is it something you consider after a trip with regard to things that didn’t work as well as they could, or do ideas come to during actual climbs? Or both?
My vision is actually to combine trail running shoes with mountaineering boots. That’s all you need. Having a warm trail running shoe to climb Everest would be so great. For a technical face you need a climbing shoe that is warm enough. It’s simple. I just try to look at other sports to improve mountaineering boots. I think we can learn a lot. If you look at cross-country ski boots, they are very light and stiff enough to use crampons.
[For SCARPA:] What are the biggest rewards and hurdles with this kind of partnership? The chance to live every day with intense passion of our work, to interpret our mission as a footwear company in a very important, contemporary way, and to imagine and develop products for the climbers of the future. Ueli today represents the future of mountaineering, and the most ethically respectful climber ever.
We ask ourselves during the R&D meeting section “what does it mean for a footwear company to be focused on innovation?” Traditionally, in the climbing world, records were fixed. When a team or soloist bagged a first ascent, that was that. The route could be climbed again, climbed faster, or in a different style, and off course, with very innovative products. But the first ascent stayed on the books. Time-based records, like those in running, only hold until someone faster comes along.

SCARPA has been trying to push the limits of our products for 74 years, and set new standards with the cooperation some of the most important climbers in the world. I’m sure our company, with Ueli Steck at the moment, reaches the highest levels.
[For Ueli:] How does helping design products affect your own climbing experiences?
A lot of ideas come from the fact I did these speed ascents. I needed something light and very precise to climb. And I really don’t like to suffer. Shoes make your life much easier.
I don’t like heavy boots. Think about your normal life. If you wear comfortable shoes at your home, why can’t we build shoes for mountaineering that are also comfortable enough for watching TV? This is what we have to think about. There is still a lot of work, and I hope I get the chance to work on that. I reached a point in my climbing where I cannot improve a lot more; I just can climb another project. I won’t have these mind-breaking changes anymore. Speed climbing is normal now. When I started, everybody thought I was on drugs to be that fast. I am looking for new challenges in my life. Building mind-breaking shoes is very interesting."

You can find the article here in the original form and more:

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Summer OR 2012

For me a dozen or so really note worthy new items at OR related to alpine climbing is a huge success.

No ice or  sheep in sight, so many of the great minds in the industry compare notes @ the RAB booth ;-)

BD has a new lwt helmet which I really liked.  New biners again and of course some great cams.  More on all of this shortly.  The new BD Vapor helmet is a stand out.

6.6oz or 187g  BD's new Vapor.  Very very nice new lid!

But the ugly award goes to Petzl.  I happen to like ugly so the new Petzl Sirocco climbing helmet @ just 165 grams was a HUGE hit with me.   More to come but super durable, and super protection at 165g!  I don't give a chit how it looks.  And $100 full retail!   This will be my new lid as soon as they are available.

The new Sirocco is TOUGH!

Ice tools?  I have now actually seen the newest lwt Petzl hammer for the Nomic.  Nice bit of kit.  But from that I have decided to do a new run of the Cold Thistle hammers asap.   There is easily room for both imo.  As I mention earlier the Lynx  crampon is being shipped to the NA market again.  They simply over sold last year's production.  It has been a very popular crampon for good reason.

Read more:
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photo courtesy of Wild Snow

NWAlpine's new wind shirt made of Dyneema.
I have a sample I will be testing but Wild Snow as a write up on line now.
And more Neoshell kit that I am really excited about!  Still under wraps at the moment.

The "WOW" at the show for me was the new Scarpa's Rebel Ultra.  Only 60g more than the original Rebel and it will take a clip on technical crampon!    Very close to 1 1/2 lb or  680g  per boot.  Outstanding!!   More to come on this one asap.

Here is one of the best from this year's show.  Another lwt Rebel from Scarpa.   More to come asap.

I've been climbing in the Rebel the last couple of months and really like it.  An in depth review on that boot is coming soon.  However the new Rebel Ultra is going to be a huge success imo.    I am chopping at the bit to make the Phantom Ultra (my favorite ice boot currently)  and Rebel Ultra comparison for ice climbing.   These things should really rock.  I believe I first saw a pair of these on Ueli Steck climbing the Dru Coulior last fall...but no one would comment past, "that shoe only exists on the feet of Ueli Steck".    Guess that might have been true last is not now and will be availabel to the public next spring.  A fully featured fruit boot we can take into the mountains?   Some one is getting the message, finally!   Very exciting boot imo!!

Arcteryx?   Official word on the Duelly from the guy actually making the changes?  Not going to down insulation and not going away.  Just a slight revamp of the pattern, so we'll have a better fit.   Dually will be back again in the fall line up.  Some very cool new clothing combos I had not seen there in the Gamma line up though.  Damn!  Another I want!  And the possibility of some super suggestions coming directly from the Arcteryx designers on the combos and layering systems they use personally.

Another big one for me is the newest food being offered.  Gu has/needs some serious competition I think for climbing calories.  

Three new food companies (and their food products) that impressed me were, (hot drinks and soup available now as well) and  All are worth checking out.  And I'll be writing more on then asap.

Hopefully we'll get a few more things to test in the near future from Millet, Mammut, Mountain Hardware and RAB that I am really interested in  for alpine climbing.

Down the road?   For alpine climbers there is James Bond kind of stuff being talked about behind closed doors at every level.   Gear that is yet beyond my imagination.

I've been looking at sun glasses again and will have a review of several of my personal picks from a huge fields everyone seems to be playing in these days.

I'll add more as I unpack and get to my pictures and notes.