"Life is brought down to the basics: if you are warm, regular, healthy, not thirsty or hungry, then you are not on a mountain... Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall - it's great when you stop."

Chris Darwin

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Blogs etc.


Hi definitely

The Continuum Project follows some of the world’s best climbing talent around the globe to document bold new routes and daring repeats on ice, rock, and in the alpine.

Shot entirely in High Definition, watch as Guy Lacelle, Audrey Gariepy and Mathieu Audibert establish terrifying new ice routes in Norway and Rob Pizem and Mike Anderson crush brawny off-widths and delicate face climbing in Zion. Get on route with Ines Papert and Cory Richards as they blitz Kwangde Shar in Nepal and witness Majka Burhardt and Sarah Watson free the Beckey Route on Elephant’s Perch in the Sawtooths. Discover the rewards and risks of exploration with Jon Walsh and Ian Welsted as they establish a beautiful new mixed line in the remote Icefall Brook range of British Columbia and cool down on the difficult sport routes of Lions Head in Ontario with Sam Elias, Emily Harrington, Leslie Timms and Lauren Lee.

Extending the focus of Higher Ground, gain new perspective on the motivations and courage of some of the world’s top climbers through the superb cinematography and innovative approach of The Continuum Project. Credit: Ari Paulin,  Shot on 2010-10-21 Photo taken.(c) (c) 2010 Ari Paulin, licensed under: (c) 2010 Ari Paulin.

I noticed that The Continuum Project is out and available as HD download from Bouldering.com. So I went on and downloaded it.

Somewhat disappointingly, the quality is 720p and format is Quicktime (I would have preferred 1080p and mp4), but the quality is significantly better than dvd anyway and the film itself is stellar as well. As the price was reasonable ($14.99) I consider this well worth every penny.

While waiting for the download to finish I did some googling and tumbled in few other HD flicks as well:

What makes a good guidebook

I have once again shuffled through quite a few guidebooks when trying to come up with where to go next. During this research I have ran into guidebooks created with different philosophies. Of course, there are also good and bad examples of execution of any design.

Anyway, here are few thoughts on what in my opinion makes a good guidebook:

General structure. Probably the most obvious, and common, solution is to organise books based on mountain chains, then cover all of the routes on a specific mountain together, usually subgrouped by mountain face. This approach is employed in most of the guidebooks published by European alpine clubs (particularly Austriuan, German and Swiss). However intuitive and organised this approach is, it makes it rather tedious to get a good overview of what climbs are available from a particular starting point (typically a valley). To overcome this, I see two possible solutions

  • Have a introductory chapter for valleys that list huts and other commonly used starting point and list climbs/features that are climbable from them (including references). Actually many guidebooks have such a section but with no list of available climbs. ideally such a list should contain most important route details, such as name, grade, length and type and reference where full description of that route exists.
  • Have the whole thing organised by valleys rather than by mountains

I haven't seen a single guidebook using the former, the latter is used by some guidebooks for mountain areas (Mount Cook and Cordillera Huayhuash come to mind) and is almost always used for rock climbing and ice climbing guidebooks. The more I think about it, the more I like this valley based approach, although I still feel that the former option might actually be the best.

The general structure being whatever, I feel that index based on peak is absolutely necessary and should not be missing from any guidebook.

  • Maps in general and schematic ridge overview maps in particular, are extremely helpful in giving general overview of where things are and how to get from point A to point B.
  • Good images with route lines do a much better job in describing how the route goes than virtually any verbal description. Particularly if the key features are marked on that image. As added bonus, images work in any language. Such images are usually easier to compare to the text if they are put inline (i.e. not gathered to the back of the book), however the latter works too if the text references which image is associated with which route description.
  • First ascent info is useful when referencing different guidebooks, particularly ones in different languages when route names might not work too well in identifying which route is which.
  • Introductory general chapter that lists things like what gradings are used, seasons, classic climbs etc. are useful. Ideally the seasons should be broken down according to type of climbing as ice routes generally are in at the different time of the year than rock routes.
  • For grading, alpine overall grading should obviously be used (this seems not to be so obvious for publishers of guidebooks regarding to Eastern Alps). Additionally, I really like the technical gradings presented together with overall grade, not just in the verbal description. As for the grading scales, I prefer WI/M gradings for ice and mixed and french grades for rock. That being said, local scales work just as well. Particular area where the common practice leaves often a lot to be desired are snow/ice (and mixed) pitches. Commonly steepness is expressed as degree, which doesn't work too well if
    • route has short section that is significantly steeper than the rest of the route
    • route involves genuinely steep climbing
    if degrees are still used, then the length of the steepest passage, possibly combined with average angle could be sufficient. Still, it wouldn't do much good for really steep routes as anything between WI4 and WI7 would be pretty much 90. Obvious remedy would be to use WI/M grading (or Scottish winter grading). Which leads us to grading difficulties for mixed parts. Most commonly rock grade is used with perhaps mention of the climb being mixed terrain. The problem with this is that estimated rock grading in dry conditions doesn't really have any meaningful correlation to actual difficulty of the mixed climbing. For example uiaa IV pitch can be either easy mixed climb (perhaps somewhere around M2) or very difficult and bowel-emptying exercise depending of the nature of the pitch. M or Scottish winter grades would work way better.
  • As for elevation gains and times, it should be made obvious whether the figures are for the actual route or if they include approach as well. For routes generally used for descent, time typically required for descent should be indicated as well.

Screw you

Grivel 360 ice screw. Credit: Ari Paulin,  Shot on 2010-03-24 Photo taken.(c) (c) 2010 Ari Paulin, licensed under: (c) 2010 Ari Paulin.

I recently tumbled on an article and few net discussions regarding ice protection. Most seemed to consider BD Turbo Express and Grivel Helix as top of the range ice screws. Most didn't even mention Grivel 360, still the undisputed king of ice screws in my book.

See also Faulty by Design for previous post with me venting about lacklustre design.

People tend to rant about them being difficult to rack. And sure enough, they are more cumbersome to rack than most, perhaps even any, other screws. But then again, I tend to select my gear based on how they perform in their main duty. For me, ice screws exist to be used as protection, not mainly for being nice and shiny things to carry around hanging from your harness. Try to place one in featured ice and you soon realise that 360 delivers when anything else doesn't work at all. On more or less even surfaces there's not too great a difference to other top screws, although I still feel 360 is best of the bunch.

Somewhat similarly, I fail to understand why almost every manufacturer insists on having full length zippers on hard shell pants, yet, the very same companies make soft shells without them. Granted, softshell breathes better than hard shell, so there's some validity in that point from the ventilation point of view. That being said, bare skin or long johns beat any softshell by miles when it comes to breathability. Furthermore, zippers running from top to about mid thigh or just above the knee would be almost as good for ventilation purposes (You cant often really have them fully opened anyway and if you could, you would probably be better off by not wearing them). Not having full-length zippers would allow the pants to be closer cut, lower bulk, more supple and lighter. All this with one thing less to break. Another point I've seen mentioned as a plus for full-length zips is the ease of putting them on and taking them off. True enough, with zips it is possible to put the pants on without taking the boots of. That being said, I can't remember having ever either put on or taken off the pants en route. Therefore, I see no reason whatsoever to give this any sort of emphasis. If any pants need such zips, I feel that they are insulation pants (should one use such), not shell ones.

Be quick or be dead

Speed is important on long routes. Many alpine routes are so big, that unless you are fast, you are going to get benighted. Trust me, there's a huge difference being six beers deep in the pub after finishing the climb and suffering a cold night somewhere high on the route.

Note that being fast is very different from hurrying things. The easiest way of shaving minutes and hours from the ascent time is to be efficient. After all, not doing unnecessary things and doing the necessary ones in an effective way does not require any additional energy (might actually save some). There are few recent blogposts giving excellent tips regarding the speed on big routes. Be sure to check also my earlier entry on the same thing: Multi-pitch efficiency.

All that said, it doesn't hurt to train. Hmm, bad choice of words; actually, if it doesn't you aren't doing enough of it. One of the more effective ways of training more is to make it so easy that you run out of excuses of not to. In this regard, home wall is a great. No I don't have one, but I probably should. Due to housing arrangements, it may be a challenge to build a wall anchored to walls. However, there's no reason why it would have to bolted on, it could just as well be free-standing. And if there's no room for any sort of climbing wall, plain old bar and possibly rock rings can fit into almost no space.