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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Thursday, February 28, 2013

RAB's NeoShell Pant

On the 1st ascent of "Chucky"

RAB NeoShell Pant

reviewed by Craig Pope

The noise is deafening. It sounds as though I've crawled up under a train trestle and have my head inches from the speeding machine above. Jess just screamed something incomprehensible barely audible from only 30 ft away - or did I just imagine his voice?  The only dependable communication between us is a 7.7 mm rope periodically reminding me to hurry upward.  I can't see my tools, my gloves or the rock and ice less than three feet in front of me.

I am 2,200 ft up the North Buttress of Mt Hunter in the worst 'spindrift' I have ever experienced.  It may as well be called an avalanche. We've been perpetually hammered for about three and a half hours now, and avalanches are more considered to be a single violent event rather than a continuous pummeling.  After only three pitches in four hours, Jess realizes that the shaft of his carbon shafted tool is broken, and we are dehydrated and cold, so it is time to retreat. After eight hours of rappelling and 26 hours overall, we are back at our camp where it is cold, but partly sunny, and the radiant warmth feels great.  I throw my pack down, and despite the 2 mile ski and warmer temperatures, I'm not too sweaty.  I don't even even put on my down right away.

My body is dry, HAS been dry, and relatively warm for the last 26 hours of climbing and rappelling. In ALL different types of conditions!  From a cold, (10°F), ski to the base of the route, to a more aerobic intro on 75-85° ice as we cruised through the lower 8 pitches in calm overcast skies, to getting hammered by spindrift for the remaining 5 hours of climbing and 8 hours rappelling in the snow... to the the ski back to camp I stayed dry protected by RAB NeoStretch pant and jacket. During the ski in, I was able to moderate more aerobic moisture control by the almost full side zip on the pant, and the jacket, (despite the inevitable damp back from my pack), dissipates vapor moisture like a soft shell. Both the NeoStretch Pant and Jacket breath and stretch like a soft shell. For the majority of the ice season and on 90% of all my ice/alpine climbs, I wear softshell pants and jacket. Even if the ice is wet and dripping, I know that if I'm physically exerting myself, my own body heat will dry my outer layer. If my partner and I are 'swinging pitches', by the time they have reached the belay, my jacket is dry, and I can put on my insulation layer for the duration of their lead. In the past, especially when climbing in the alpine and not just cragging on ice, I would sacrifice comfort for the breathability of softshell. Despite being slightly damp, if there was precipitation, I figured I would always be moving, and if not, either in my insulation layer or sleeping bag. Inevitably, however, my insulation layer would get 'wetted out', heavy, and eventually gain weight or lose warmth, (depending on synthetic or down insulation).

On the Moon Flower

However, if there is precip in the forecast, I can wear my RAB NeoStretch all day. I can move quickly over vertical terrain and approaches, knowing my sweat will move through my outer layer, and stay completely dry from outside weather.  Unlike a softshell pant, I can kneel, sit, and stand in deep snow with out getting my mid layers wet.  When, in the past I would take an ultralight softshell, AND an ultralight hardshell, both of which don't hold up to much alpine abuse, I can take my NeoStretch pants, save weight, and know it will hold up to pitch after pitch of squeeze chimneys, hanging belays, post holing on the approach, all the while keeping me dry from the outside elements and moving sweat away from my body! 

Unless I'm hiking through the Olympic National Rainforest in April, I will never have to excessively sweat in a pair of hardshell pants.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Fall ....Part Two: Jack's Last Lesson.

Jack, running it out on Curtain Call, just prior to a 60' whipper from a solid stance below the first roof visible above him.

" Why did Jack fall? He was at a good stance, looking solid. He was using Black Diamond tethers and had both tools in. One tether came unclipped in the fall, both of their clips were bent and a tool ended up on the ground. It seems to me that for some reason Jack’s hand came off his tool while he was going to clip his quick draw into the screw. He fell onto his tethers, overloaded them and popped both tools. I’m fairly convinced that Jack had something go wrong medically, a heart attack, seizure, coughing fit, something. I just have a hard time believing that he simply fell from a solid stance. I will never know." Jonathon  Miller

Jonathon and I have talked a lot since Jack died.  We've talked about Jack's quirks and his humor and his friendship.  And how he really enjoyed mentoring and at times messing with people's heads.  Just for the fun of it.  I liked and could appreciate that.

We've both talked with Pam about our observations as well.  And Pam had thoughts of her own to share.  So this wasn't easy for anyone.  But I think Jack would appreciate the effort.  Simply because he loved to teach and pass on what he knew and his  experiences.  From our friendship I know he did that honestly and with out ego, just as he did with most every climber he met.  If we can learn something from this accident and Jack's life may be we'll all be better for it.

Some times I hate this blog.  Over the blog's three year history it gets the most views when some one in the tribe dies.  I have to admit it makes me angry.  But just as there is so much beauty in climbing there is also death.  More than most of us like to admit.  And may be the blog can make a difference in some small way.  I truly hope so.

I am well aware of the fact some might take offense to my comments here and my opinion.  It has taken all of us a long time to even want to share this in public.   So I'll get on with it.

Jack not only grew up in the school of modern ice climbing but in many ways helped defined it and  "wrote the book" on it.   And that may have been what killed him.

The picture above and the one previous of Jack on the first pitch of Curtain Call are classic examples of that in my mind.  On Curtain Call that day a few years ago,  Jack was 100 feet out and had stopped at a decent, no hands  rest.  He was on double ropes, with good screws, the first at 30' and a second at 65 or 70'.   We were chatting rather casually about the amount of ice being dropped from above by another pair of climbers.  Jack was safe and protected, just waiting for them to clear the final pillar.   I was getting bombarded and it was dangerous.  Then, Jack simply fell off.  It was like he intentionally just stepped out into space.  I was dumb founded!  

Just like on Bridalveil later, Jack fell off for no apparent reason.  An autopsy was performed and Jack did not have a heart attack as Jonathon and I had first speculated.  And at least on Curtain Call he was aware enough to maintain his tools through the entire flight and catch.  I took note and was impressed by that.  Pam didn't think the Medical Examiner went any farther with the autopsy than looking for the initial cause of death and the damage from the fall.   So we'll never know what caused either fall.  But it does cause one to ponder.

Pam's comments, "I know that some people have conjectured that maybe he had a heart attack or some other physical glitch that caused him to fall. All I know is that they did a full autopsy on him, and didn't find anything that indicated anything like that, for what it's worth. He had been sick with a bad cough over Christmas break, so maybe it was something as simple as a coughing fit. Who knows..........."

Jack wasn't hurt seriously on Curtain Call only slightly tweaked a knee from hooking a crampon just prior to stopping.  Two reasons Jack had no serious injuries from that fall.  One is, the ice was very steep that year and the other...was just shear dumb luck. 
The moderate conditions on Curtain Call (WI6) when Jack fell.  He was at a good stance just below the first roof and  20' below the obvious belay cave.

From those two incidents I have no doubt how we all can make our own ice climbing safer.  Jack just gave us all one last, costly, climbing lesson.  

Mind you,  Jack and I had been playing at this game over the same decades.  Jack had  always just been a lot better at it.   I have to admit I had never seen anyone take a whipper like that on ice.  No one.  I had time to think about the end result of Jack hooking a crampon or going upside down on that fall and smacking his head.  It was a long fall and we both had a lot of time to think about it.    It is a 120K  drive from Curtain Call to Jasper and no phone or services mid winter between them.  I've seen serious injuries from much shorter and seemingly less serious falls.

In that fall on Curtain Call Jack never dropped his tools, which were untethered.  And he finished that pitch straight away.  I was wide eyed and impressed.  He scared the shit out of me to be honest.  All the while Jack was apologizing profusely to me.   He said it was his first ever lead fall on ice...and I believe that. 

The day previous I had chastised Jack about the amount of pro he used...or rather lack of pro he used.  Typically if you are incapable of climbing a piece of ice, you lace it up.   It is a technique which almost guarantees you won't be able to climb that piece of ice.  There is no fine line between control and stupidity.  Being in control on ice  is mindset, strength and skill.   Stupidity is putting your partners and yourself at risk by trying to climb over your head.   

6 screws for pro and 2 for anchors seems legit on the long 2nd pitch of the Right Hand side of  Weeping wall.  The day previous Jack used only 3 Helix screws.  I was impressed but not pleased. I couldn't image the aftermath of holding a 60+ foot fall on ice.
Look, I know Jack was a better climber than I am.  But I also have stayed alive while climbing over four decades by being a little conservative at times.  I've taken any number of good sized falls on rock including a 70'er onto a swami and held a 150er' on a body belay.  No injuries to speak of and no falls leading on ice.   So when I think a partner is out of line, I have no problem giving them some shit about it.  Including Jack.
And as you might imagine after the conversation of 3 screws on a steep lead the previous day I wasn't all that happy about the winger on Curtain Call.  We both  wanted to finish the line, which, silly enough, seemed important at the time.
One of the conversations that came up later on that trip was umbilicals.  Jack had forgotten his Nomics at a rap station.  I collected them and refused to return them.  It  was the second set of tools I we had found that season at a rap station.  I had already told Jack that if you are gonna run it out at least use umbilicals so I wouldn't have to be totally responsible for his mistake.  Half in jest of course..and I made Jack buy me a burger and a beer to get his Nomics back.   Fair's, fair, right?  But Jack manned up and took the comments to heart.  He was gracious even as I rode him a bit.  I get cranky when I get scared.  Jack knew he had scared me.  He had scared himself I suspect as well.
Use umbilicals and use an appropriate amount of pro.  Or heaven forbid, just stay off things you are incapable of climbing safely.
So Jack liked to run ice out on lead.  He was very, very good at climbing steep ice.  And at least in our minds running it out above pro showed a level of skill and control few will ever attain.  It was a badge of honor. 
Adding a set of reliable umbilicals to the mix should have prevented any sort of serious accident.  Even though there isn't a single pair of commercially made umbilicals that are rated to hold a leader fall.  All the while most every one counts on umbilicals doing just that, catching a fall or momentary slip.    The unreliability of any commercial umbilical leash set should be well known by now.  If not this is your warning!
And if you are going to use an umbilical please make sure it is one that at the very least has a reliable attachment point to the tool.  And a strong attachment point on the tool.  Only a locking biner or a direct tie in from leash to tool is guaranteed to keep tools and leash attached.  Grivel and Blue Ice figured that out a while ago with their umbilicals.  Any sort of simple gated carabiner (no matter the biner you choose)  will not stay attached reliably on a metal to metal attachment system.  They will lever themselves off.
You might want to rethink your system if they look anything like this.
You are trusting your life to that system if something should fail.  Choose wisely.
Know what a fall factor is in climbing.  Know how to calculate it on lead and to minimise it to safe levels. It is important.  You need to have that knowledge if you want to lead on rock or ice. Make sure your partner is aware of the same info and can figure it out himself.  Communicate!
Know how to place pro and where, on any ice climb.  The best ice screws now are easy to place by comparison,  And it is easy to carry a bunch of them.  Be conservative, place good pro often enough to be safe and ..NEVER, ever fall.
More reading material on the subject here:
Jack, very proud to be included as one of the authors of our sport @ the Bozeman Ice Fest in in 2012.
Photo courtesy of
Claudia Lopez
 and the Bozeman Ice fest

The Fall- part one

Jack, running out the first pitch of Curtain Call

By Jonathon Miller

It isn’t often that you get to become friends with your heroes.

It’s even rarer to be there when they fall.

I first bumped into Jack Roberts here and there over the years, at the crags in Boulder or at the Ice Festival.  He signed my copy of his new ice guide at the Ouray Mountain Shop, “Ice isn’t just for your scotch!”  I really got to know him when I moved to Telluride and started guiding.  Ice around Boulder had pretty much disappeared and Jack had started coming our way do some guiding as well for the same company.    We co-guided various trips and clinics together and it always amazed me that Jack seemed to consider me an equal.  Pretty quickly that work relationship turned into a friendship.  Eventually Jack started to stay with my wife and I for a month or two every season while he was guiding in the Telluride area. 

I have been struggling to overcome some mental issues while leading ice the last few years.  I had a rather nasty close call while soloing Stairway to Heaven in Silverton and it has been messing with me ever since.  Later on, trying to lead the same pitch with Jack and my boss I took my first ice lead fall.  I was gripped, over thinking, moving slow, over protecting, all in all a mental mess.  As I fell I thought to myself, “Ah shit, I just fell on Jack Freaking Roberts!”  Jack took it in stride and was totally willing to help me get back on the horse.  In fact insistent would be the right way to word it.    Jack and I would go out between trips and he’d coach me and remind me “This is supposed to be FUN!”  Bridalveil was supposed to be my getting out from the cloud climb.  He was going to lead the first two pitches and I would finish it out and deal with the exposure and all. 

Jack had come over to work and climb right after the New Year.  I had recently started a new job managing a local gear shop and hadn’t gotten out climbing a lot recently.  Jack hadn’t had a ton of guide work, but had helped with the Ouray Ice Festival  clinics and had been getting out climbing with friends a bunch.  He was looking and feeling strong, although he was fighting a little cold.  We hadn’t gotten out together this season yet, but made plans to get out and catch Bridalveil.  I was feeling good and ready to tackle the steep climb and prove to myself I could.  On the slog up the road Jack did complain a little bit about being cold all the time and that he felt like he was slower than he was used to.  He just chalked it up to getting older.  He wasn’t looking forward to turning 60 after all.  We talked about life and our wives, how lucky we both were.  Jack was looking forward to spending time with Pam in Spain that summer.  He felt like she was his greatest accomplishment in life.

Bridalveil was in good shape in January 2012.  There was a substantial cone at the bottom that reared up into steep climbing with some overhanging mushrooms leading to the second belay.  The second pitch looked steep and sustained, while the third looked a bit more moderate.  Overall the climb was fat and in good shape.

Jack took the first pitch in his usual style, methodical, clean and with little pro.  He put in one screw towards the top of the cone, another after traversing around to the left to better ice, and one more before traversing back right to the belay ledge.  I came up and found Jack with a big happy grin as he belayed me to him.  I told him how nice of a lead it was, and that I would have placed a couple more screws. He chuckled and we bantered a bit about how good the ice was and how nice the day was as I handed over the gear. 

As Jack took off on the next pitch I belayed off my harness tied in fairly tight to two screws.  He traversed out left 10 feet on the ledge from the anchor and then up about 15 for his first screw.  As usual for Jack he looked confident, collected and clean.  I snapped a photo of him right before he started moving up again.  I didn’t get his face, he was too focused on the task at hand.

Jack methodically climbed up another 20-30 ft before he stop to place another screw.  The climbing looked steep, but was in a bit of a dihedral feature.  Jack used an efficient sequence of stems, kicks, hooks and swings to move up.  The ice looked solid and clean, he didn’t knock down much as he moved up.  Jack cleaned a bit of ice and drilled his screw in.  I looked down at that point to get ready to feed rope for the ensuing clip.  That is when he fell.  I will always hear the yell.

Jack fell past me and past the ledge.  It was a 50-60 ft fall onto a single 17cm Grivel Helix.  As Jack flew past me I tried to pull in rope and braced for the pull.  As he hit the end of the rope I was pulled from my feet and came tight against the anchor.  I was terrified that the screw was going to pull with the impact. Everything held.  My first coherent thought once the chaos stopped was “What the hell just happened?”  That was quickly followed by yelling for Jack to see how he was.  I could not see him below me, the rope went past one of the mushrooms on the first pitch which blocked my view.  Jack didn’t answer my initial calls and I began to escape the belay.  At that point two hikers came around the corner.  I don’t know their names, and never got to meet them after, but I owe them a great deal of thanks.  I yelled to them to see if they could see Jack.  They told me he was upside down, but that he was moving.  At that point I could start to hear him moan a bit as well.  I told the hikers to call 911 and get a SAR moving.  They called and were fantastic in being a communication relay from that point until SAR was on scene. 

By now I had escaped the belay and started to rap down a couple of feet to get a view of Jack and the situation.  The first thing I saw was his foot peaking above a bulge of ice.  As I got a little closer Jack came around and started talking to me.  He told me to give him a minute to get himself turned around.  I heard a bit of thrashing and then he got upright.  I still couldn’t see him well, he was hidden by the bulge of ice.  I asked him how he was doing.  “I think I’ve dislocated my hip!”  I asked if he thought he hit his head and he said no. He also said that he didn’t know what happened, why he fell.  And that he was sorry.  Jack then said there was a ledge below him and asked if I could lower him to it.  That sounded better than hanging in space, so I clambered back up to the belay and re-rigged to lower Jack.  I lowered him down slow and when he got to the ledge he was able to put in a screw and clip off.  He yelled up that he was safe, but he that he couldn’t untie his ropes.   I tied off both ropes and rapped to him.  We were on doubles and I will always kick myself that I tied BOTH off.  I should have tied one and left the other free so I could pull it from below.  Hindsight is a bitch.

I rapped down to Jack and got established at the small ledge.  We were at the base of the main pillar, at the top of the cone.  I did an assessment of Jacks injuries and level of consciousness, he knew who he was, what we were doing, when it was.  Everything but what caused the fall.  He looked at me and said how sorry he was and “Jon, I’m going to die.”  Matter of fact.  I told him that he was crazy and finished my assessment of his back and body.  His chief complaint was his right hip, but he was also having difficulty breathing and his right hand was not functioning quite right. 

The hikers were still talking to 911 and so I passed on my quick assessment.  They told me that SAR was gathering at the parking lot and that they would be on scene as soon as possible.  They also asked if I was capable of a long line evac as there was a helicopter in the area capable of it.  Unfortunately there are cables above the falls that would make that impossible.  I also told them that I would continue self rescue as far as I could to speed things up. 

I asked Jack if he thought I could move him.  He was in pain, but game to give it a go. I anchored the ropes again to the new anchor after realizing that I couldn’t pull either of them.  I set up a rappel on a extension and hooked Jack to it with a sling.  I removed his crampons and tossed them down so they wouldn’t catch on anything.  I was worried about his hip and moving him, but more worried about getting him down, there isn’t a lot of medical assistance that can be performed while on the side of an ice fall. I cradled him as best as possible in my lap and began rapping us down.  It was a slow and painful process. 

Jack was able to go down a few feet at a time with me simul-rapping and holding him.  Too much jostling was very painful, and his breathing was difficult when moving.  I kept talking to him and we would go a few feet then stop so he could catch his breath.  Then a few more.  After 50ish feet I was becoming very concerned that I was doing more harm than good.  The pain was increasing and it was taking him longer to catch his breath each time.  Jack kept asking me to stop, to help him.  I kept telling him it was going to be okay, and that I was trying.

The hikers told me that SAR was 10 minutes out and I could hear the snowmobiles down the switchbacks.  My ropes were about 12ft short to hit the ground and they hung on a steep section just before the ground.  With Jack’s increasing pain level and difficulty breathing when we were hanging I made the call to hunker down on a tiny ledge in the ice about 30 feet off the ground and wait for more hands.  I figured we would be able to get him down more comfortably, safely and without causing any more damage with the proper equipment. 

I wrapped Jack in my jacket and we waited, just talking to each other.  Jack kept saying how sorry he was and that he wished he could tell me how he fell.  I kept telling him not to worry about it, we’d figure it all out later.  Within a few minutes the first two SAR personnel arrived on scene, acquaintances of mine Con and Karen.  They quickly climbed up to and started giving their assessment over the radio.  The rest of the SAR team began arriving in a trickle of continuous snowmobile laps dropping off more people and equipment. I continued to hold Jack and make him as comfortable as possible while they rigged a new lowering anchor and prepared to haul up the litter.  Jack had been steadily losing consciousness, at this point he would not talk to anyone but me.  His pulse rate was getting low and his color was pale.  He kept asking me to help him, that he couldn’t do it on his own.  All too quickly Jack stopped talking to me and was just mumbling. 

More and more SAR personnel were arriving.  They wanted to know if Jack need pain killers and what they could do to help, Con and Karen said no, we just need to get him to the ground fast.  The litter was being hauled up when I believe Jack died.  He just faded away in my arms.

I told Con and Karen that we were losing him and helped them get the litter up and in position.  It was cramped and dangerous on our little ledge, and both Con and Karen hung their own asses out there to get Jack into the litter and down as fast as they could. We got him in and Karen brought the litter to the ground.  Immediately Jack was swarmed by the team trying to revive him.  They did everything they could and worked him for over 45 minutes. (long past when they knew he was gone?)

Jack died of a Hemo Pneumo Thorax.  Blood from his broken ribs and subsequent internal injuries filled his chest cavity and compressed his heart and lungs to the point they no longer worked.  He had six broken ribs on his upper right back(?) side, and a dislocated and hairline fractured hip.  If he was going to have any chance, he needed immediate surgery to stop the bleeding and relive the pressure. The nearest surgical ward is a 30 minute heli ride to Montrose, more likely an hour to Junction.

After we had lowered Jack down, Con looked at me and said, “Jon. I’m so sorry, but I think he’s gone.”  I told him I already knew.

The rescue seemed to take an eternity.  In reality, the San Miguel Search and Rescue was on scene with Jack within 45 minutes of the 911 call going out.  He was on the ground within 90 minutes of the call.  I am still blown away by them, their speed, professionalism and their effort.  They took it badly and immediately debriefed to see what they can improve.  I can’t thank them enough.

Lots of questions, things I wish went different.  Why did Jack fall?  He was at a good stance, looking solid.  He was using Black Diamond tethers and had both tools in.  One tether came unclipped in the fall, both of their clips were bent and a tool ended up on the ground.  It seems to me that for some reason Jack’s hand came off his tool while he was going to clip his quickdraw into the screw.  He fell onto his tethers, overloaded them and popped both tools.  I’m fairly convinced that Jack had something go wrong medically, a heart attack, seizure, coughing fit, something.  I just have a hard time believing that he simply fell from a solid stance.  I will never know.

I wish I hadn’t fixed both ropes.  I wish I pressed on getting him down further.  I wish we could have long lined him out of there.  The reality is that he would have died behind a snowmobile, or being worked on at the base, or maybe even in the ambulance.  Instead, he died in my arms in a beautiful place.  I think that was  better. 

I at least would like to think so. 

Many thanks go out to the San Miguel County Search and Rescue Team, EMS, Sherriff’s Department and Fire Department for all of their help and effort before and after the rescue.  They are all tremendous people.  Thank you to Will Gadd for prompting me to write this down shortly after the accident.  To so many people in the outdoor industry for their support after the accident.  To Josh and Tara Butson for being there.  To my wife, M’Lin for being my rock.  And to Pam Roberts, for understanding and being so strong for everyone, when we are trying to be strong for her.

Part two:  The Last Lesson


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ski-Mo and the Reality of Chamonix

This is a re post from just after my last visit to Chamonix. 

Mountain travel?    Apr 18, 2011

Jeff Street pulling some respectable local ice in his own TLTs,  winter 2012.

One thing that became glaringly obvious to me in Chamonix climb there in winter you need to ski. And not just get by skiing but really ski. Walk like you ski and ski like you walk kind of skiing.

I keep up on Colin's blog. Paid attention to but didn't really clue in on the skiing. I figured, "Chamonix...when I couldn't climb, I'd ski". How bad can it be to be me ;-)

I've spent months at a time on skis, with a pack, a bomb or even a full size grain shovel. But I haven't been into skiing for a while now.

This blog started with a totally different title. I had intended the comments to high light some of the newest gear available for BC skiing. But the truth is skiing is just another skill, like belaying or using an ice axe that anyone that really wants to climb mountains needs to know. The Europeans have known that from the beginning. Their environment demands it. Two major dangers in the mountain snow pack, avalanche and crevasses. Sure you can climb without skiing. But you'll never be an Alpinist.

My first real AT boots were a pair of plastic Trappeurs with a Vibram sole. Not the best sole for a decent release in a DH binding of that era. (circa 1980) My skis were 190cm Rossignol Alp 3000. Fat, wide and short for the day. Loved those skis. But not the panache or speed of the 207 SMs, just more fun generally. Only the AT binding set ups kept them from being a amazing bit of gear. To be honest one of my reasons for the lack of excitement in skiing the last decade or so was the lack of gear that was up to the technology available.

I still hadn't seen anything to impress me for lwt mtn travel past Ned Gillete's Epoke 900s and 50mm bindings. We used that gear up to 14K on Denali for over a decade. Great for mileage...not so good on the down hill. But still way better than walking. Easier to carry the climbing boots than ski in them.

So after skiing for a month and then doing the high traverse off the GM and over to the north face of le Droites in my Spantiks and a pair 180cm of BD Aspects I was well aware of the limitations of my skill and my gear that day. Embarrassing so...and imo dangerous.

I am seldom intimidated on a pair of skis or by terrain. Kinda goes with the the knucklehead idea of "water hard can it be?" That morning I came to the conclusion one could be easily killed just getting to a climb in Chamonix. It as the first time that the thought had occurred to me after all the talk and previous incidents and the heartfelt discussions. This while everyone else in the basin that morning whipped by me on AT boots and generally shorter skis. By the time I got to the face any notion of actually climbing (it or anything else) was drained away by each patch of bare glacier ice traverse, one kick turn and each open crevasse at a time. Places most sane people would be roped up on. But no one ropes up in Chamonix for the "normal" runs. And this is a ski run commonly skied by locals or guided for the tourists. Tourists like me..

The thought of actually climbing in AT boots (which I have detested for several reasons) at that point seemed like a reasonable and much healthier option if you didn't first end up in the bottom of a crevasse just getting there. (to be fair way fewer rescues in the Argentiere than the Vallee Blanche it that is any consolation)

I had great beta and a plan for the climb. Only the approach and decent were stopping me. When I asked one of my acquaintances their suggestion after having just done the route again for the umpteenth time...the only suggestion offered was "take skis up and over".

Ya, I was fooked at that point. Out of psyche, out of time and out of my league.
I have never been stopped on a climb because of my gear selection. But I have questioned my own choice in gear and what I could have done better while on route many times. I prefer not to do that on climbs I suspect will be challenge enough with out extra weight on my back and some funky boots to climb in.

More to come on this subject but now you know why I have been looking at the AT ski blogs more closely.  Right now I headed out to go bc skiing for the day. A renewed passion.

Here is an idea and the gear I eventually will be using. (and I'd bet alpine climbing and skiing does as well)

Photo courtesy of Colin Haley @
Since that original blog back in April of 2011, I have spent a lot of time in a TLT5 on alpine and water ice.  It has become one of my favorite ice boots.
The G20s are brand new however :)

 Friends, don't let friends, climb in stainless horizontals.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Edge of Never Interview with Mike Hattrup

This interview has been around awhile.  I just found it and  really like the movie and story.
Mike Hatrup is talking here about skiing and Chamonix specifically and other things in general.


Monday, February 18, 2013

The Scarpa Rebels..... Part One "The Ultra!"

dbl click for a full view of the boot

Scarpa introduced the Rebel GTX Carbon last year.  Great boot for its intended purpose.  Which was alpine rock.   In Oct of 2010 I had already seen  "what was coming" on the feet of  Ueli Steck doing some hard alpine mixed and steep ice around Chamonix.  I had wondered if "that" boot would only be "on Ueli's feet"  or ever make it to market.    We now know that answer.  It has indeed made it to market!  The new Scarpa Rebel boot is called the Rebel Ultra GTX.

The other two boots in the Rebel  line are the Rebel Carbon GTX, introduced last year.  The newest Rebel Pro GTX introduced at the Winter 2013 OR show.  I'll review each boot in turn.  The Carbon GTX I've been in a year now so that one I'll rehash a bit later.  The newest Pro GTX I have yet to handle outside the OR show.  The new Ultra?  Those I now have in hand.  And for me, well worth the wait.  Thrilled, is hardly an over statement.

The original Batura on M6 2009

Boots? Fruit boot technology is catching up to the Mtn. boot technology. You’ll climb different in them but you’ll also climb better. Ice becomes more like rock climbing in the soft ankle boots. Haven’t found one I want to send 1000m of hard 55% alpine ice in (until now) but it is entertaining trying to figure out how to rest the calves with French technique at every opportunity. More time in soft boots will likely encourage me to take them on endurance alpine ice.

Now we have both warm boots and soft ankle boots that have a rigid sole for even my size 12 feet. They can be amazing. Check out the usual suspects to see what fits you. I like the Batura for cold stuff close to the road (they are hard to dry out) and the Spantik for anything over a day out. There are much lighter boots I could be climbing in. We’ve only just seen the beginning to the newest boot technology. In the future look for a dbl. layered fruit boot that is warm enough for Denali which you’ll actually want to use for that M10 at your local crag. "

I wrote that 5 years ago almost to the day now.  And it is true the technology is just beginning to filter down to what is possible.  As I said above "until now".

The drop in boot weight for similar warmth and a lot more performance?

La Sportiva Batura (45) 1st gen. 2# 7oz / 1106g   (one boot)
Scarpa Rebel Ultra GTX (45)  1# 13oz  / 822 (one boot)

And by today's best for weight and warmth?

La Sportiva Batura 2.0  GTX   2# 2oz / 970g

Scarpa Phantom Ultra (2012)   2# 4oz / 1020g

Scarpa Phantom Guide (2012)  2# 7.5oz / 1120g

*Scarpa Phantom 6000 (2012) with Baruntse liner 2# 8oz / 1134g

It is coming....

I know I'll take some heat for the next few comments.  But anyone with a clue will realise what I am saying next is not a diss to any one's abilities, but simply a recognition of where technology takes us next.

In the pre sticky rubber days, pre-Fire', climbs were harder.  If you were good at your craft the sticky rubber made a difference on what you were now able to climb.  It was in instant jump in your abilities.  That is fact.  When Friends came along just prior, those too allowed any one to climb things they might not have done other wise, safely.   The eventual change from a curved pick to a reverse curved pick was a huge jump on what mere mortals were capable of ice climbing.  Stretch garments that were also warm enough...another jump in technology and what would eventually be climbed.

Anyone that tells you gear doesn't matter is clueless. (no matter what your/his/her skill level)  From the RURP to the Nomic...gear matters.  You just need to be able to take advantage of the gear.  That I can't help you with.

Boreal's Mutant, "fruit boot".

So the boots?  There is a reason the hardest modern mixed gets sent in Fruit boots.  I have a pair myself.  Boreal Mutants in fact.  With crampons they weigh 2 # even per boot in my size 12.

My newest  Rebel Ultras with my lightest steel crampon 2#  9oz. total per boot.

The original Kolflach Ultra @ 3.5# with crampons. 

From April of 2010
"I'd really like to see a sub 3# dbl boot and fully technical crampon combination for my size 12 feet.  Size 12, Koflach Ultra, Aveolite inner boot, circa 1980, Chouinard hinged crampons, Beck/Chouinard straps. Total weight 3# 9oz."

The Rebel Ultra is most certainly not a double boot, but it is more than a simple single boot.  More importantly it is a 4 season (for many areas but not all) ice boot that has finally dropped a almost a full pound off the equation.    In comparison for hard technical climbing, the boot and the crampon have both been improved and now @ the 2# 11 oz. total weight.  The Rebel Ultra isn't perfect.  And it isn't as warm as it might be.  For the weight and performance right now, as in today?  No wishful thinking here.  Nothing even in the same league.   I have no doubt the industry is headed in the right direction with this boot.  Super low profile and volume for a full on mountain boot.  Rigid enough and most importantly,  supportive enough to climb endurance ice in,  as the Phantom Ultra has already proved prior.  The newest Ultra is a better boot yet for fit and support.  I'll be able to climb harder in this boot.  Most will.

 Dave in the Phantom Ultra on les Droites
When you are testing boots in the field, with the same crampons and go from 1210g boot to a boot that tops the scale at 822g there is a huge difference on your feet.   I did just that today.  Using a TLT5 P on one foot and the new Rebel Ultra on the other.  You couldn't easily pick a pair of boots that are so totally different in every way.   To start with almost a full pound difference per foot!  But both boots offer some real strengths.    Comparing them side by side was really interesting.  The first was just how warm and supportive the Rebel Ultra really was by comparison.  Big surprise!!  And only in really good ways.  The Ultra is a lot of boot @ 822g for a size 45.

On the newest Ultra I had not originally liked the gaiter.  I've climbed in almost every gaitered boot in existence to date.  Back to an original pair of Trappeurs.  Some were/are better than others.  The Rebel Ultra is very, very good by any comparison to any of them.  It also begs the pant to be stuffed into them to clear your feet and crampons.  Think true Fruit boot performance here.  Even if the boot will breath better with a pant over the gaiter, not in it.  Save the over the pant use for big, cold north walls.  It will keep the boot drier.   For that hard project, tuck the pant and clear your feet and crampons.  Nice option I had given up on a while ago in my other gaitered boots.

The ankle, tongue and lacing system on the Ultra is unique.  More importantly I am not sure that I have ever had such good ankle support, ankle flexibility and heel fit in a boot, ever.  Support and flexibility in one boot?  How does that work?  Not sure myself, but in this boot, it does.  And very well indeed.

The unique and excellent ankle wrap and support on the Ultra.

The tongue and ankle  is wrapped and locked via Velcro and the laces..  It makes an exceptionally supportive and well fitting boot.

The Rebel Ultra's volume compared to the Batura 2.0.  Don't let the looks fool you, it is a warmer boot than it might first appear with such low volume. 

The Ultra has a very snug and technical last.  It is a tight fitting boot.  Biggest complaint I heard of the Rebel Carbon last summer is that it fit on the small side.  I saw a number of used ones being sold early on because the tight last of the Rebel wasn't for every one's feet.  This boot will have a very similar last so buy accordingly.   But I suspect they will fit most if you size them correctly first time around.  I have a narrow foot but seem to fit Scarpa generally better than La Sportiva.  I find the fit in the Rebel line exceptional for my feet with enough room in the toe box and exceptional heel hold down.  The Ultra the best of the bunch on all counts so far.
Ultra is 10oz lighter per pair than a Batura 2.0 in a size 45.  With a precision fit like no other ice boot in existence to date.  The difference in volume and warmth should be clear in this picture.
The mid sole on this boot is close to being perfect IMO.  Rigid with the right crampon (Petzl) and flexible enough to walk in easily.
Crampons?  No surprise I suppose that the Petzl Darts fit perfectly with an asymmetrical connecting bar.  And they are a dream to climb in for overall weight and performance.  It is  slick combination.  The sole toe profile is tiny so good luck getting a great fit with out a Petzl front bail on your choice in crampons.  I am having a hard time telling you just how impressed I am with this boot.  I am running out of ways to say juts how good this boot really is.  How long will it last?  Not sure...don't care:) 
I venture to guess that the newest Rebel Ultra will grab the majority of market share in light weight  alpine and ice boots (including the Batura and Phantom Guide) and dominate the market in just its first full season.  Move fast enough and this boot will be warm enough.  And the drop in weight might just allow you to move "fast enough".  The other boot builders?  Take note.  You are looking at the future in performance.   The boot is insulated for warmth and Goretex lined for weather proofing.   As good as this new boot is the technology could so easily be bettered.
That prediction is so easily given.  Steck used the prototype of this boot to free the Nomine Crack in the Dru Coulior, mid Oct. 2010.  How many guys have been on the Dru Coulior in a virtual fruit boot?
"Italian Korra free'd this pitch, at M7+.... Good effort to Ueli onsight freeing this in the dark!!"  Will Sim
The Dru Coulior
Photo courtesy of Dave Searle
In case you missed it?   Feb.  2010.  Ueli Steck, Ben Nevis, on the Secret,  X-10.  Scarpa  proto type boots.  Fruit boots again. Take a look at the lack of boot soles about 22:50
If you have ever dry tooled in rock now know the difference this boot will make in the alpine.   The new Rebel Ultra GTX is going to change the game...again.  And for the better.   Save your pennies.  You are going to want this boot.  My bet is they will be hard to obtain the first year.  No guarantee but the link below might help if you are in North America.
The current Rebel Ultra, that is reviewed above.
The newest Rebel Pro GTX introduced at the Winter 2013 OR show.
Both of the newest boots are insulated for warmth and Goretex lined for weather proofing.
The original Rebel Carbon GTX on alpine rock last summer.
This boot deserves high marks in use.

O2 as a performance enhancer?

EpicTV Interviews: Ueli Steck On Climbing Everest Without Oxygen from EpicTVAdventure on Vimeo.

"There is no difficulty. It's just the high altitude that is difficult."

"It's really easy to explain: all these people climbing with oxygen they're really just climbing a 6000m peak."

"You either cheat or you don't cheat"

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The best money you can spend in the mountains.....Vertfest

"To evolve, you must stay involved"  Glen Plake  

It is easy to get complacent and lazy.  It is much harder, having and keeping a beginner's mind, the mind of a student.  I have a hard time doing that myself.  And it takes me a concerted effort to get there.

Couple of reasons for that.  While I am curious I am not a very good student.  I'm demanding and stubborn and head strong.   And I don't listen well.  I have to work at it.  It might take cold hard cash to get me to listen at times.   My cash!  Worse yet I am not generally willing to do anything new.  As in a new sport.  The sports I do now I have been doing for several decades.  And in my own mind I am at least fair at them.  It has taken a good bit of practice after all.  I haven't done I have worked hard at getting proficient at what I do enjoy.  But truth is I aways want to get better.  I've worked as a teacher enough to recognise hard case students like myself.  It aint pretty.  Wish it were different but it is not.  A lot of ego wrapped up in all that.
So for me to want to learn something new, I need a harsh reminder that I don't know everything all already :)

A good physical trashing ( or falling even once a day on skiis will do it) generally gets me off the dime and rethinking what I am doing and how I might do it better.  But putting myself in the position of a student, and with a beginners' mind is really hard for me.  And when I do, I expect...usually demand, a lot.  As I said, I'm a tough student.

This weekend is our local skimo festival.  It is called Vertfest and has been held at Apental ski area for the last few years.  It is a great venue that hasn't yet really seen its true potential.  There is a lot of industry support from many manufactures like, Outdoor Research, Dynafit and La Sportiva among others.  A full set of demo skis and boots.  That has to be fun!

"Precious" @ The La Sportiva tent   :)

The Vertfest race was a a great course of either one lap (for 2250' gain) or two laps (for 4100' of gain).  My friend Jason Dorais of SLC laid down his two laps before I had done my first one.  Time I heard was around 1:15.  Which is smoking!  Even though I am not really sure Jason thought it was even a decent work out.  Others did ;)  Have yet to actually see results (shame on you VertFest guys!) But the ladies winner was no slouch either.  Sorry, I don't have her name just a pretty picture :)  If someone can pass it along that would be great.

Jason Dorais, the Men's winner on Scarpa and Trab

The obviously happy, Juya Ghanaie, Ladies OA winner!
 She also finished before I got one lap done!

Congrads to both!!

10 minutes prior to the start

At this point the pack has broken up and we are gettin strung out.

As good as the skimo race is at Alpental,  it is the demos and the following Sunday of clinics that is the real high point of Vertfest IMO.

For just under $100 plus the lift ticket, I was able to do two clinics on Sunday. 

Not that steep,  but there is a lot of ski base steep enough.
Alpental has a lot of steep terrain in bounds.

The first was an excellent " Steep Skiing" taught by Martin Volken of Pro Guide Service with input by Tim Petrick, currently working for K2.  But a legend at PSIA and the US Nat. Demo Team

Martin Volken, photo courtesy Andy Dappen

Alpental offers some steep terrain.  We generally had good snow and I learned a few things and was reminded of a few others.   You had to work for a living in this clinic.  And be a little careful as well with the crusty conditions and the ice the previous day under a foot of new snow.   Well worth the effort.  If you ever get the chance this is a "must do" with Martin.  It was a brilliant bit of instruction and perfect demo of the skill set required to ski steep terrain.  Martin didn't miss the chance to remind us that this kind of terrain wasn't  "normal skiing with a full pack in the mountains".   You need to be careful in the back country,  out of bounds and inside a ski areas like Alpental.  All good reminders, imo.

Olivia Race, photo courtesy of the LAS web site

The afternoon was taken up by my second,  3 hr. clinic.  This one, Sponsored by La Sportiva,  was unassumingly labeled,  "Intermediate Techniques to Improve Efficiency for Backcountry Skiing".
I always aspire to be more efficient!  How could I loose?  It was taught by Olivia Race from the Northwest Mountain School.  I have to say Olivia's class was really fun.  Low stress compared to the terrain Martin and Tim had us skiing.  I had no idea what to expect on this one and Olivia's obvious skill shone brightly in the three hours of instruction.  I have always said climbing (and skiing) is a thinking man's (or woman's) game.  Olivia reminded me of just how true that really is, again.  My brain almost hurt with just 45  minutes of her one on one tutelage.  But I didn't realise it until I was done and another of my fellow students came under her critical eye and gentle instruction style.  While  I mindlessly followed along happy for the mental break.  That hasn't happened in a long while.  Again, brilliant.  Learning new things is hard work for me ;)

Anyone that knows me (or has read reviews here) should know that I don't offer compliments often or easily.  And I am pretty picky on who I will go out to the mountains with out reservation.   I was lucky enough to meet three this weekend that I would add to that list any time.

No question, the best $100 I've spent on "gear" in a long, long time.

Hire a qualified Guide or Instructor and speed up your own learning curve!  That can include climbing or skiing and any part of either sport depending on what you are looking to improve.