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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.

Baking a slab.

It’s raining in the Salt Lake Valley Right now. Given the forecasts that means there’s another layer of the snow-cake in the oven right now.

Now’s a good time to interrupt the regular programming of climbing geekery that’s been the focus of this blog for the last several months with some snow notes.

Here’s a great synopsis of what is on the ground and what tonight’s snow is going to be on top of:

On northerly aspects I was finding all the ingredients in place: buried persistent weak layer sitting on top of a bed surface. All we need now is a slab.

And this ski movie looks awesome:

Into The Mind – Official Teaser from Sherpas Cinema on Vimeo.

Break on through.

I was working out at the Front Climbing Club last night, and I realized it’s time. Time to break through.

I’ve been working hard all spring, summer, and fall to get better at redpointing, trad, and all of the skills and mentalities that are essential to climbing outside. Now it’s cold. Too cold to spend a ton of time climbing outside (I do want to get out on some LCC granite before the next storm though). It’s time to bring the focus back to the gym and become a solid 5.12 climber.

Dave

Sonnie

And here’s something inspiring – The video is called Punks in the Gym, but as impressive as that route is I’m really inspired by China Doll. The speaks to my obsession with cracks.

I agree about the well rounded climber! I think it’s more fun if you can climb more stuff.

I’m applying for PhD programs and taking the GMAT over the next five weeks, but I’m going to put together a training program so that by the spring I’m ready for a trip to the Creek, Big in Japan, Goodrow’s Wall, and everything else I can find! I’d like to raise my on site level to hard 10 from easy 10. WE’ll see.

Sick.

Literally. I am sick.

Though, let’s be honest, this is pretty sick too:

A couple new pieces of gear that I’m stoked about for the winter season just showed up (I bought them so the DOJ can relax).

The Ama Dablam from Marmot, and the ROM jacket also from Marmot.

Part of the reason I’m psyched about both of these pieces is that the Marmot site has little videos from guides who have been using these jackets, and their descriptions of what the jacket does fit what I want them to do perfectly. It’s a lot more interesting to hear/see someone use gear in the field and how it works in real application than to read about what the jacket was designed to do.

Here’s the clip for the Ama Dablam:

I haven’t put the Ama Dablam to any real tests yet, other than the around-town-in-a-snow storm test. It seems to do quite well but the DWR is definitely just R not at all waterproof so the coat really needs a hardshell if there’s going to be any precipitation anywhere near freezing.

I’ve got the Patagonia Nano Puff as a supplement, from looking at the Baffin Jacket he has on it looks like the Arc’tyrx Atom LT would be a good option for layering as well.

Now, when I’m moving I make a lot of heat… and sweat so I’ve been hunting for a very light windproof piece to use for backcountry skiing and other higher output activities.

I’ve been pretty impressed with the ROM so far. I’ve gone on a run in a snowstorm and several very chilly bike commutes and it’s performed quite well. I’m looking forward to pairing this with the Patagonia Alipine guide pants for this winter’s Backcountry adventures.

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.

Snow comes to the Salt Lake Valley!

First a look at a line I want to get done before the snow piles too high, and then a  little Robert Frost to start us off.A look down at part of the 10c Goodrow's Wall - my trad project for the fall/winter

A Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

I’ve still got some rock projects that need to go down before it’s all about the skins and skis and desert climbing, but I’m getting psyched! For some reason I’m really into climbing in the cold… well 40 deg F type of cold. Everything is sooo sticky! And even though the cold hurts a little it also numbs you just a bit too.

Also a lot of gear and training notes laying around on scraps of paper and on my laptop that I need to get posted.