observations on gear, adventure, and the world

Alpine Climbing

RSS mess

I’ve not been able to keep up with the really amazing stuff that’s been coming through my RSS feeds lately. So I’m gonna dump it here and now.

First, David Lama is going to blow up alpine climbing. Big time. Here’s a taste of things to come. freeing the compressor route was just the beginning.

So they used ice tools on their ascent and Will Gadd knows a thing or two about holding and swinging them tools. Here’s a post with a very clear title: How to hold an ice tool.

Kelly Cordes, rumored to climb ice, approves of David Lama (he said so on Facebook so it must be true) and Maurice Sendak.

The best thing I’ve ever read on climbing injuries, because it quotes all the other best things I’ve read on climbing injuries. Get well soon Dave MacLeod!

Boots don’t fit? Lace’em gooder!

Five things. A Cold Thistle guest post.

Soloing is cool if you’re good at it.

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SkiMo quivers and insulation.

We’ve got a good window of stability in the Wasatch right now, which happens to coincide with some serious “nest soiling” by the refineries in the Salt Lake Valley – so if you want to breathe hard its time to skin!

I’ve been having some great days out with GeoDave and the Crusher (I call him that because of how hard he climbs) and have put some of my gear through the paces. I wrote a bit about using the NanoPuff and the ROM Jacket together. On some of the tours since that post the temps have been significantly lower and we’ve stopped to dig pits and discuss crystal meth, and I’ve gotten a bit chilled. On tours where I could titrate my exertion to regulate body temp I wouldn’t have resorted to this but I busted out my down puffy, the Marmot Ama Dablam, and stayed warm. Since it’s a down piece I would have left it behind if it was warmer or if we were going to be pushing the pace because the likelyhood of wetting the jacket would have increased and the nano puff would have sufficed.

I’m also thinking about skis and a little rocker up front like the Dynafit Manaslu.

Brian Harder of Get Stronger Go Longer has the following gear notes from his Christmas excursion to the tetons:

Gear notes

I fueled my week with the usual flasks of Gu/water mixture. I consumed about 45 gels and a handful of Chomps during the five outings. Felt great.

I skied my Dynafit Manaslu 178cm on every trip. I know they’re great in powder and worked well breaking trail in deep snow but they were also good on the firm steeps. No hesitations. They’re mounted with Plum Race 165s and I drove them with my well-worn Dynafit TLT 5 without a tongue and powerstrap.

Got to trial a new favorite jacket of mine, the CAMP ED Protection jacket. It’s similar to many of the uber popular light puffy jackets out there but this one has a more impervious shell, a better fitting and featured hood and some extra length in the torso which keeps things toasty down low.

I carried everything in my trusted CAMP X3 Light pack. Super light and big enough to carry everything.

I’m a fan of Gels for hard days out, though I prefer a thick mix of CarboRocket to anything from GU, and I’m VERY interested in picking up the CAMP X3 pack. The insulation layer Brian is using looks interesting… and on the topic of insulation…

Dane over at Cold Thistle recommends that instead of one big insulating layer you pack a 60g synthetic and a 100g synthetic. What’s that mean? Check out his post: Synthetic insulation 100g to 60g

Now back to the ski quiver, Andy of SLC Sherpa and Skimo machine fame has a great thing going with SkiTRAB:

My quiver* thus is all from the same company has been built around the Maestro and is as follows:

Race ski: Ski Trab Race Aero World Cup (96/64/78, 720 gms in 164cm)

Mountaineering ski: Ski Trab Maestro (107/75/94, 950 gms in 171cm)

Powder ski: Ski Trab Volare (129/99/116, 1480 gms in 178 cm)

*I could have easily added the Trab Free Rando Light (171 cm, 112/79/96, 1200 gms) into this mix but it overlaps with the Maestro significantly.  Differences are increased weight without much to gain in width but along with that mass, it seems much stiffer.
My Harem

Of course there is some crossover in the function of each ski for the above stated purposes as I ski plenty of powder in the race sticks and could take the Volares “mountaineering”, but generally, each ski is a tool with a certain function.  All are equipped with race bindings that shed at least 300 gms per foot from standard tech bindings (The benefits of race bindings in spite lack of heel riser, brakes, etc is a entire other discussion).

I’m still liking what I see from the Dynafit Manasalu, it’s got a bit of early rise which I think is a good move. I’m also interested in hearing more about the race bindings v. regular.


Marmot ROM Jacket review

I’ve been putting this jacket through the paces for the last couple months and feel like I have a good handle on how it performs etc.

First, I should remind you that this was a jacket I bought after rather extensive research and experimentation with a specific goal in mind.

Here’s what I wanted:

A VERY breathable, light, windproof jacket with a hood that does well over a helmet or without a helmet.

I was looking for a jacket to solve a problem. I sweat a lot and generate a lot of heat when I’m ski touring. Last year I was doing laps in nothing but a Capaline base layer soaked in sweat. This becomes a problem when the wind kicks up, or when you stop moving. I found my self stopping to add and drop layers and getting cold as soon as I stop. I wanted a jacket that would keep the wind off but also keep me from getting too hot.

The ROM waiting at a transition under a nano puff

The ROM waiting at a transition under a nano puff

From what I read the ROM looked to be the best piece for the job/price. It doesn’t have a high-tech membrane, I’ve got other jackets for that, which keeps the price down.

Sizing:

I’m 6’3″ and 200 lbs, with a long torso and a large fits me very well. I’ve got pleanty of room for layering under it (though on tours I put my insulation on over it rather than loose all the heat) but the fit is athletic enough for trail running with just a light tee-shirt underneath.

I’ve taken the ROM on several ski tours, trail runs, and bike commutes and I’m convinced that I found the perfect jacket for my backcountry travel system.

Here how the jacket works for me on a tour:
– I layer the ROM with a light base layer, usually a Patagonia Capiline 1 or 2, and pack a Patagonia Nano-puff in my backpack.
– On the up I regulate heat by putting the hood up or down, opening and closing the hand-warmer pockets (mesh on the inside, with an interesting almost duct-like pocket design makes them as effective as any pit zip I’ve ever used), and taking off my gloves. I’ve only had to unzip the ROM about 1/3 of the way, while others have had to stop and drop a layer, but most of the time I’m zipped the whole way up. An “up” scenario, where the ROM really stands out is the classic Wasatch approach: The parking lot was chilly so everyone had on a few layers – I was just in the ROM and a Cap 2 base layer, we hit hte skin track and everyone had to stop and drop a layer. As we worked our way up a protected face all the jackets but mine went into the packs, I just unzipped my pockets and took off the hood. When we gained the ridge, just below the summit we got hit by gusts of wind – I closed the windward pocket and flipped up the hood and kept rolling while everyone shivered while fumbling for layers or just gutting out the cold gale.
– At the transitions, if they are quick I’ll just put up the hood and keep moving, If we are standing around I’ll toss on my Nano-puff (I’ll pop it back into the pack for the down as I usually get pretty warm on the down too- the nano puff is a great piece but I think the Arc’teryx Atom LT with a hood and full zip would be a bit better).

As far as wind proofing – bike commuting on freezing mornings is the key test and the long arms and torso make this a great jacket for that – though the tail is cut long it’s not quite long enough to be the perfect bike jacket, but that’s not what I’m looking for. The ROM does shut down the wind though and that’s what I’m looking for.

On trail runs where my pace varies I love the jacket – especially because my trail running usually has a solid amount of scrambling and 3rd, 4th, and maybe 5th class terrain where I have to slow down or risk a very exciting ride. For these sections I put on my light gloves, cinch up the hood and close the pockets – and I’m warm. Then when I’m back up to speed I open everything up and I’m good.

The ROM isn’t waterproof, though it manages moisture well. This is not the jacket you want for real rain or wet snow, but I can count the days in the last decade here in Utah where I’ve needed that. If the weather is worth touring in the ROM should take care of you.


Belay Jackets and Warming Up

Even though those topics sound related they aren’t really.

Dane from Cold Thistle has put together a rather exhaustive post on the belay jacket for alpine climbing.

He argues that synthetics are the way to go, and I’ll agree for the use case he’s talking about. But for a winter trip to the desert I’m going to say that down is better. Your pack is already pretty full right? And maybe you’re a bit warm on the walk to the wall, but then you want all the warmth you can get while you’re chilling between burns.

Since we’re already talking about climbing and staying warm, it makes sense to talk about climbing and getting warm.

The power company climbing blog, one of the better training resources out there has a great piece on warming up to send your project (route). This makes me curious about warm ups for bouldering. Sometimes, specifically when I’ve worked a problem to the point that I just need to come back fresh and send it, I’ve been surprised that after about three problems of increasing difficulty I’m ready to send. This may only work for me because I ride my bike about 20 minutes to get to the gym and do lots of hand and arm warm-up exercises between burns.


What to do and what to bring.

Between getting in some great climbing, and working on getting into grad school I’ve had a lot of gear show up at ampersand HQ that I haven’t been able to write about.

But I’ve come across some great stuff in my RSS miasma that I thought I’d share.

An entertaining and very useful post from Blake Herrington: General Dirtbaggery: Saving time, wasting time and explaining climbing on the Internet. Great common sense answers to common questions, for example:

Q: Is climbing safe?

A: No. But you can make it safer by worrying about the things that actually cause the most accidents, such as falling while unroped on exposed, “easy” terrain, rappel-rigging mistakes and communication errors.
Great! Simple and focused on what matters.
Since it’s nuking in the Wasatch right now here are some Backcountry Ski Pack lists:
From Ski Theory, What’s in My Pack and Why. Alex packs a lot of stuff, but he knows why he’s carrying it. Give it a read,
From Get Stronger Go Longer, Grand Teton Speed Project: Weight Matters. Brian brings less, but has reasons for that too. Also some ideas to consider.
Then, maybe somewhere in between (I know these aren’t apples to apples) from Camp’s Go Light Go Fast Blog: ELK MOUNTAIN GRAND TRAVERSE – TEAM CRESTED BUTTE GEAR RECOMMENDATIONS.
I like Brian’s thinking to help me not bring anything superfluous, I’ll be glad I didn’t skimp too much because of reading Alex’s post when things go sideways, and I really like to TCB post because it’s for a longer adventure but with Brian’s mentality.

Stoves.

Stoves, like bikes and skis and shoes tents demand a quiver.

Tea from water that was JetBoiled!

The Girl with Tea steeped with water that was JetBoiled in Maple Canyon!

Here’s the quiver for stoves:

(1) A canister “Son-of-Rocket” style stove – a canister stove that boils water with little fuel and time and weight.

(2) A light, sturdy white gas stove – for gold weather and trips to places where canisters don’t grow on trees.

(3) A car camping stove.

There’s an unending discussion on stoves, but clearly the perfect stove is dictated by what you use it for. Here are some of the more important considerations:

Cold: The isobutane mixes in fuel canisters don’t do well under 35-40 degrees, though Jetboil has some very innovative solutions you’ve got to pay for them. Melting snow takes a lot of fuel, and white gas is a lot cheaper than canisters.

Simmering:  I’m not much of a through hiker, my longest trips have been in the five day range, and I probably walk with all my kit for 5 24hr stretches per year. I read about through hikers who seem to care about simmering. That makes some sense to me for two reasons, first they probably want some variety in what they eat. Second one million mountain house meals can’t be tasty. I only care about this for car camping… mostly because the Girl cares about this.

Simple: For backpacking I carry the jetboil cup, stove, and fuel can (one small can = 2 people for 5 days @ 3 meals and one morning brew = boils 7 times per day) a long handled ti spoon and freeze dried food packages.  And a lighter, and a back up lighter. No dishes to wash.

Fuel Availability: White gas and propane are available everywhere. Canisters are not. WG and Propane are cheap, canisters are less cheap.

Something like a review: Quiver gear is a bit tricky to review, because so much of the stove’s performance depends on the use case. Stoves don’t compromise well so I recommend that you find folks who are doing what you want to be doing and find out what they are using.

I’ve got two cannister stoves that I’m quite happy with, but for different uses.

The Jet Boil Personal Cooking System: It’s light, simple, efficient. I love it for anything where I have to carry the stove. I don’t do anything but boil water in the pot so I don’t have to wash it on the trail. I simply add water to the backpacking meal in its original packaging and eat from the package, then all I need to wash is my spoon. On multi day trips I fold each empty package so that they all fit inside one another for very tidy waste management. I’ve got the most simple version of the Flash stove – no auto lighting mechanism – I’m hard on my gear so this stuff tends to break. I’ve got two aluminum cups, one with the flash insulator and one with the lighter Sol insulator.  Since I got my stove JB has made some improvements, but I’ve got no complaints about mine. The redesign involved some weight savings, a easier to use valve adjuster and a more functional lid. Again I didn’t notice these as problems on the Flash cup (the Sol lid and base were a bit too light and don’t fit (lid) and broke (base/cup)).

The Flash/Sol line isn’t great for “cooking” other than boiling, though Jet Boil makes a really amazing stove for that (Check out the Jet Boil Helios on Backcountry.com), and by not great I mean that the system is not designed for that sort of use. The stove doesn’t simmer at all. That said the Jet Boil system is perfect. It’s light, boils fast, packs well (about the size of a Nalgene for the whole system), wears well, and is easy to use. We take one stove packed in the Sol Cup with a can of fuel between the two of us on all of our backpacking adventures. I’ll often bring a back-up can, just in case valves get fouled or someone runs out. Also, if you expect temps to get much below freezing I’d suggest something that uses white gas.

For the girl and I this setup is perfect, for larger groups – 3/4 you could use the Sumo cup and only carry one stove – though I do like having a second stove for backup.

Disclaimer here is that I’m a huge Jet Boil fanboy – doesn’t hurt that one of my climbing partners worked for them (I’ll call him GeoBoil, because his parents are geologists and he worked for Jetboil – getting outside with him is like taking a geology course AND an engineering course… sorry ladies he’s married and his wife’s something of a badass) and has EVERYTHING they’ve ever made as well as an unending supply of great stories about the design process behind each product. Additionally, my experiance with the Helios is GeoBoil busting out an amazing chorizo bean and egg burito breakfast up in the Uintas.

MSR Wind Pro II Stove: My stove is a few years old so it may not be this exact model, but it looks and functions identical. I don’t have the little stand for the fuel so I just flip it over and prop it on rocks if it’s cold out. I don’t use this stove as my primary backpacking stove since it doesn’t stand up to the Jet Boil for weight, efficiency, and packability (depends somewhat on the pots you use I’ve got the MSR Blacklite set). You also need to be careful with the surface you put this on. In snow I use one of the blacklite pots as a stand, otherwise a piece of wood or cardboard keeps it in line. If you want to improve the eficiency of this stove, get a heat exchanger  for your pot – though this this puts this system farther behind the JetBoil in weight and packability.

So, this stove is better than the JetBoil in the cold – but still not as good as white gas, why do I keep it around?

Two reasons:

(1) Durability – this is the cockroach of stoves. There’s not a lot to it, but what there is is steel. You hold it in your hand and you know it’s built to last.

(2) Simmer. Yep – this won’t boil your water first but you can cook eggs with it!  To be fair with a good wind screen and heat exchanger system it does boil quite well, but I’m always amazed at how well it does at real cooking. For car camping I’ll use my JetBoil for hot water, since that’s what it does well, and hot chocolate, tea, coffee, oatmeal, grits etc are all breakfast staples, and then I’ll do bacon and eggs in the MSR blacklite pot. It’s a pretty slick arrangement, but for car camping I’m definately in the market for a Primus Firehole 100 or something in that genre.

What’s missing from my quiver:

(1) A big fat car camping stove like the Primus Firehole 100 I figure if your setting up a base camp this is the way to go – you’ll save a lot of money on fuel, though propane doesn’t like the cold too much.

(2) A fast boiling white gas stove – if I’m melting snow then canisters aren’t the best choice, also if I’m doing anything exciting internationally I want a multifuel stove so here’s what I’m after (and not just because Andrew McLean thinks its… well I can’t hear him over the roar): The MSR XGK EX Multi-Fuel Stove . If I need to be melting snow then it’s all about fuel efficiency, fuel cost, and speed but not about simmering, I think my Wind Pro will do fine for that in liquid feed mode, also the Wind Pro has a whitegas doppleganger called the Simmerlite that may be discontinued but you could find. 

A little note about use cases:

I do car camping for climbing trips and canyoneering trips, these range from really too hot in Zion national park to almost too cold in Saint George, Moab, Maple, the Uintas.. but not so cold that propane wouldn’t get me through. I do at least one but up to 7 nights of backpacking per year, most often in the desert or longer canyons, and some winter camping/hut trips. So my stove priorities reflect that, folks who spend months on a trail with lots of water may have very different preferences and needs (I’ll link to some stuff from them below)

 A little tidbit for the DOJ – Hey, I paid for this stuff with my own coin. Though I try to find sales when I can I also do my best to support local shops, REI, Backcountry, and great companies by not being too much of a jerk about getting the lowest price possible. I just find a price I can afford for a product I want and I pay it… or I don’t if I can’t find a price I can afford. But I NEVER EVER go into a shop and try to haggle about the price! SO I guess I strayed from the DOJ bit there… anyway here are some resources:

Section Hiker (for the long, long walk types):

Back Packing Gear Review List

Liquid Fuel Buyers Guide

Jetboil:

Helios: a fair but not ecstatic review I figured I’d put this here since my opinion on all things Jet Boil is rather ecstatic.

JetBoil – Oh, Conrad Anker took one of these systems up The Meru Shark’s Fin.

Backcountry.com:

Stoves page – not all comment sections are created equal. Backcountry.com’s comments and reviews are perfect in my mind. The mix marketing copy, sponsored athlete reviews (important because they have broad experience with the product line) and consumer questions and reviews. It’s all here, good bad and ugly. Some places, like the REI.com comment sections, tend to get over run by people who may be dissatisfied with a product because they don’t know how to use the product or were useing it for something it wasn’t designed for (touring skis always get bad reviews from folks who try them in resorts). On backcountry.com there’s a good conversation about products that allows you to really understand it’s strengths and weaknesses beyond the marketing copy.


Surprised again by the Osprey Flap Jack

I’ve been using the Osprey Flap Jack for just about everything that I don’t use my Chrome bag for. That is if I have to walk I’m taking the Flap Jack. I didn’t buy it, it was given to me by Specialized, so I’m always second guessing it’s suitability for my next adventure. Then I’m always surprised at how perfect it is.

Surprised because it’s listed on the osprey site as an Urban/Commuter pack. Look at this:

Flap Jack Packed

Here’s the Flap Jack with a 85% Load

I think of a 100% load as the absolute limit of possibility for loading a pack. Think insanely overloaded. That’s 100%. By this metric 80-90% is the sweet spot. Too much less than 75% and you’re carrying extra pack. To much more and it starts to get awkward and uncomfortable. Wait until you see what’s inside.

Flap up

There is still room for something under the flap, and the “half closure” bit holds everything in but is easy to work around.

I didn’t get good shots of the back panel and the straps, they’ve got an interesting corrugated padding that it light and quite comfortable. On the way down from Lone Peak I hiked for about two hours without a shirt and had no complaints.

The back panel also does a great job of keeping gear from digging into my back.

The load!

I was able to scramble, and hike-o-run comfortably with this load for an afternoon exploring. Then when I was climbing it stayed out of the way and held my water and food like a champ!

I was jogging around the Wasatch foothills for a few hours the other day with:

  • 2l Water in a camelback bladder – the laptop sleeve and the flap top make this pack perfectly hydration system compatible.
  • 10draws
  • 4 alpine draws
  • 2 full length slings
  • 4-13 BD nuts
  • .5-3 BD c4
  • 60m rope
  • Harness (very old BD)
  • Shoes 5.10 Copperheads
  • 4 lockers
  • GriGri 2
  • BD ATC-Guide

All told, a non-trivial load.

I didn’t realize how much I had in there until I got back and up packed it. All that and it’s made to carry your school books? AMAZING!

 

The Girl has a Patagonia pack, the Hotwire, and it’s the same sort of pack. An Urban/School/Commuter pack with a mountaineering lineage. The Flap Jack blows it out of the water – weight, space, comfort. The pack actually performs in the mountains, isn’t over designed for it’s urban side, just three elegant pockets, that I’m never sad I have. One fits a water bottle and some food on the side (securely I might add – no mesh half pockets here). Then phone keys, head lamp and wallet all stay accessible and out of the way in two zippered pockets on the back, which are covered by the flap when the bag is closed.

Two things that are sub-optimal:

(1) the buckle on the hip belt is a little less than burly. I’ve cracked one of them… to be fair it still works.
(2) It’s two layer/three pocket/flap top construction leads to some extra material.

As far as fit goes – I’ve got a VERY long torso, so any smaller pack is going to be a little tricky. The shoulder straps allow me to put the load on my hips if that’s what I need. I’m 6’2″ with the torso of a 6’6″ person and the legs of a 5’10” person… so unless you’re a giant you won’t even notice it.

If you want a day pack, climbing pack, and commuting pack that makes it all work. This is the one.