"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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Multi-pitch efficiency

  • Lead in blocks. Leading in blocks reduces the wait time, as it distributes leading and belaying more evenly (timewise, that is). This is very significant during the winter. It also often means less need to swap gear at belays if the pitch took less than half the rack.
  • Limit the number of belays. On multi-pitch routes very easy way to save loads of time is to build as few belays as possible. Usually this means using the full length of the rope. Naturally this isn't always feasible, but aim to run full rope length before placing the belay. Sometimes simul-climbing or soloing may be called for for the easier sections.
  • Get efficient on belays. By far the easiest way of shaving off time is at the belays. The key here is not so much to do things as fast as possible, it's more important to do the right things and nothing more. Stuff like building a belay so that no fumbling with it is necessary when continuing upwards, handling a rope when bringing up the second so that no recoiling is needed, efficient way of swapping gear, the second starting to clear the belay as soon as the leader is secured (in ice this means the first solid screw is placed) etc. make a lot of difference.
  • Make do with a single pack (if at all possible). Leading with a pack is so not my favorite thing to do, especially if the climbing is anywhere close to my limit. If you can't get by with just one bag, use small leader's pack and large second's pack.

The Alps

I just noticed there is a newish climbing-related film available in Blu-Ray: The Alps: Climb of Your Life . It was originally shot as Imax, so the feature length is substantially less than the is the case with typical films. Furthermore, it is more of a document than a feature film.

Just as one might expect from a HD transfer of a Imax film, quality of shooting as well as picture quality leave very little room for improvement.

In praise of Abalakov-thread

Now that the winters isn't too far far away, I decided to pay homage to Abalakov thread (aka V-thread), ingenius, yet extremely simple ice anchor. Knowing how to build one efficiently is a necessary skill for anyone planning on doing multipitch ice climbs.

It can be used to bail off a route without the need to leave expensive screws behind. However, it's greatest potential lies in a use as belay anchor. Whenever you can't descent by simply walking down, Abalakov thread is often a better way to rappel than to use trees. Of course, on alpine terrain trees are often not readily available either. But even if you had abundance of sturdy trees, using them usually involves criss-crossing across the fall to get from the tree to next. Meaning that you often can't use the full length off the rope. However, by far the biggest downside of using trees is rope's magical tendency to wrap around them and bushes, making a tedious, and often dangerous, process of retrieving a stuck rope a very real possibility. Using Abalakov's the risk of rope getting stuck is far diminished as you can follow a vegetation-free line.

Suit up!

About a year ago I finally decided to dig my pockets deep enough to dish out cash to purchase "Mountain Hardwear Transition Featherweight Zip T", lightweight, yet windproof shirt made of Gore-tex Windstopper Next2Skin (N2S). After using it in rock climbing and trail running, I can't rave enough about it. Why more manufacturers don't make apparel like this, is beyond me.

Windstopper N2S is typically far thinner than (most) softshell fabrics, thus it breathes better, packs smaller and is not too hot. In my book, you can't find a better clothing for summertime rock climbing in alpine surroundings or otherwise chillier days. Granted, these things don't come cheap, but they are worth every hard-earned cent.

Few year back I decided to replace my old and reliable bombproof Marmot Alpinist jacket with new hardshell. Finally I decided on Mountain Equipment Matrix, basically a Paclite shell with reinforcements of Gore-tex XCR. After experiencing its greatly enhanced breathability, reduced weight and bulk through simpler design, I doubt I'll ever go back to full-on armour-like shells. Granted, these things aren't as durable (which I experienced first hand by tearing mine with an ice axe pick during one less controlled slide during a walk-out). That being said, very few fabrics are particularly resistant against well-sharpened picks. Furthermore, light weight shells are also so much cheaper that I feel somewhat reduced longevity is justifiable for getting better function and added comfort.

Double dipping "Touching the Void"

I went to shopping spree after founding out that a film based on Joe Simpson's classic Touching the Void is available on HD DVD as well. Clearly this was too good to pass, no matter that I already owned a copy on DVD.

Although mountain footage would benefit greatly of High Definiton quality, there is very little climbing-related stuff available on HD. That being said, there is BBC's documentary Planet Earth , one episode of which contains beautiful mountain scenery. That being said, Vertical Limit is available in Blu-Ray. In it's unrealism it is either a very funny comedy (however unintended that is) or failed attempt at action/thriller.

Articles up for grabs

There are several great articles by Andy Kirkpatrick available at his site PsychoVertical.com. It seems that book of the same name is in the works as well.

Andy collaborates with Climb Magazine, which currently offers host of articles for free divided in three sections:

To access those articles you have to registered though.

Size matters

This winter has been extremely disappointing for us Finns willing to climb ice. Actually you pretty much need the calendar to know, that it, indeed, is mid winter, not early autumn as the weather has been plenty misleading. Should winters go on like this, retailers should probably forget about long screws and only stock 10 and 13 cm versions; there's not much use for the 16 or even 22 cm screws when your drink has more ice than local ice falls.

Lucky for me then, that since I happened to own a pair of recalled Petzl Sharken crampons, I decided to take single 10cm Petzl Laser Sonic ice screw as part of the compensation for returned crampons. I initially though that that screw wouldn't see much action. How wrong I was! This year I've placed it on most of my leads, to the point that I went on and bought another one, this time Black Diamond Express. Seems like American 10cm is more than 1cm shorter than the French one.

Although 10cm screws don't look like much, if you only have 10cm thick layer of ice, those certainly are the best options, much stronger than tied of 16 or 13 cm screws. Furthermore, fully sunk 10cm is way preferable to 13cm screw that made a little too close contact with underlaying rock. Saves plenty of money as well. Obviously quality of the ice is even more paramount to the strength of the placement than is the case with longer screws, though.

Vertical Pleasure

After reading some very interesting stories about the climbing life of Briton Mick Fowler, that can safely be described as eventful, not to mention hardcore, I decided it was time for me to buy his autobiography Vertical Pleasure: Early Climbs in Britain, the Alps, the Andes and the Himalaya.Fowler, MickBaton Wicks Publications2006This is the first set of mountaineering memoirs of one of Britain's leading mountaineers that was shortlisted for the Boardman/Tasker Award and published in Britain and the United States. Fowler describes his full development as a climber initially under the tutelage of his widowed father, then with school friends in London, then to Britain's more esoteric haunts, (sea stacks and far flung ice climbs) and finally in the Alps, the Andes and the Himalaya. Mick Fowler, who works for the Inland Revenue, is now recognised throughout the world as one of the most innovative and widely travelled mountaineers of his era. With job and family life making all the normal demands, his big climbing ventures have to be squeezed into tight holidays. Despite this he has pulled off some of the finest climbs and first ascents of recent years that are envied by his fellow mountaineers for their shrewd esoteric selection, grandeur and bold challenge.97809385674009780938567400Vertical PleasureBiographyen.

Turned out that buying that wasn't nearly as straight-forward as I expected. amazon.co.uk offered it for a bargain prize of £75.00. Most of my usual suspects don't seem to list that at all and those that do offer prices even higher than Amazon, culminating in thoroughly affordable $350.00 at Chessler Books. Surely it is supposed to be superb read according to reviews (eg. Vertical Pleasure), but $350 sure is steep. Finally I stumbled on Antiqbook, which offered it for much more reasonable € 29.50 + shipping. Not exactly affordable either, but not too astronomic.

For brief foretaste, read the article The Secret Life of a Tax Collector: Climbing Mountains.

All mashed-up

Since I have recently employed quite a few web 2.0 techniques, I decided to continue the trend. This time around, I added mashup of sorts, namely I exported newly geo-tagged locations from Glockner Group page (Hohe Tauern) to Google Maps map and embedded that map to said Glockner group page.

While I was at it, I also implemented a couple more microformats, this time hCalendar and hAtom. This essentially forced me to employ tagging as well. Next time I feel the need to review something, its likely to mean the inclusion of hReview.

Finally, I fixed some bugs in RSS creation (change log), added tiles to index page entries, and changed the presentation of the said entries slightly.

ABC going semantic

Microformats logo. Credit: Microformats.org, Licensed under: Public Domain.

I decided it was time to go more semantic by implementing microformats. In more exact terms, I implemented hCard (html vCard) to item list type, which I use to contain information about huts, hotels, lifts, tramways etc.

The big idea behind hCard is to allow browser to recognize contact information on a web site so that it can be easily picked up and exported to vCard, common standard to store contact information that can be exported from and imported into common contact management applications, such as Microsoft Outlook or Google's gmail. Somewhat related, postal address works poorly in the mountains, therefore coordinates are much more usefull in locating huts etc. Especially if you use gps device. Luckily, there's microformat for that as well, namely geo. My own homebrew linking system seems to be not too far away from xfolk so I might change the site a bit so that it takes advantage of that as well.

Forthcoming Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 8 are likely the first browsers that can handle such microformats out-of-the-box. That being said, there are already plugins for current browsers, eg.