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Neoshell pants, where are thou?

One of the very few Polartec neoshell pants. Credit: Eider,  Shot on 2013-07-30 Photo taken.Licensed under: Public Domain.
One of the very few Polartec neoshell pants. Credit: Eider, Shot on 2013-07-30 Photo taken.Licensed under: Public Domain.

After having given Polartec NeoshellPolartecNeoshellWaterproof fabrics have forced outdoor enthusiasts to live with the restrictions of sweat, saturation, cold and overheating for too long. Introducing Polartec NeoShell. The first truly breathable, fully waterproof, temperature regulating fabric ever. Tested and proven by some of the most committed outdoor enthusiasts on the planet. With unprecedented breathability in a waterproof fabric, it's the ultimate in personal climate control. garments a go (Rab Stretch Neo pantRabStretch Neo panthttp://rab.uk.com/assets/product-images/stretch_neo_pants_beluga.jpgThe Stretch Neo Pant is a fully waterproof and highly breathable over trouser. The Stretch Neo Pant makes a perfect partner with the Stretch Neo jacket and provides complete wet weather protection. The Stretch Neo Pant boasts 3/4 length side zips to make getting them on and off very easy, 2 zip pockets with water- resistant zips, belt loops and brace attachment points and reinforced crampon patches. All these features hint at the Stretch Neo's favourite environment - out on the Mountain! and jacket in my case), I am coming to conclusion that Neoshell would be the best fabric for ice climbing in wet and windy conditions and high altitude use, where you need very good windproofness simultaneously with high level of breathability.

None of the softshells I've tried seem to cut it when it gets really windy. Obviously they aren't quite waterproof enough when ice climbing in very wet conditions either. Gore-products on the other hand tend not to be anywhere near breathable enough for highly aerobic. Therefore I feel that Neoshell membrane laminated to stetchy softshell fabric would be just what the doctor ordered. Apparently Dane appear to be convinced that Neoshell soft garments are a way to go as well: Polartec Neoshell "Soft"? The real game changer?.

Unfortunately, this is where it starts to get complicated. There seems to be none available. Neoshell is relatively scarce to start with, and most of the garments made out of it are jackets. To make matters worse, many of them are light to very light, which unfortunately means that the fabrics used aren't particularly durable. And virtually every single garment is laminated into hardshell fabric.

For example, Rab Stretch Neo garments are basically three-layer hardshell, that just breathes better than Gore Pro shell. However, they are not very stretchy and appear to handle wear and tear of technical alpine climbing very poorly. Most other Neoshell garments (Montane, Eider) seem to laminated into light or very fabrics as well. 300-400g pants are surely nice when packing your backpack, but are of very little use when they have been ripped into pieces. They work without a doubt great for hill walking etc. But abuse of alpine climbing is a different matter altogether. Furthermore, Rab Stretch Neo pants leave a lot to be desired as far as features go (lack of integrated gaiters, completely unnecessary and counterproductive long zips).

I've tried to find Neoshell soft pants with no unnecessary bells and whistles, but such pants appear to be very difficult to come by. Mammut apparently makes (or at least made) Mammut Gipfelgrat Jacket MenMammutGipfelgrat Jacket Menhttps://d1qxh2iwg385ci.cloudfront.net/medias/sys_master/8812490326046/Gipfelgrat_JA_black_bild1.eps_Zoom2.jpgThe latest innovative waterproof Soft Shell jacket for technical alpine use, all year round and in all weather conditions. The jacket has all the required features and an optimal temperature for use on the mountain. out of Neoshell, but not pants. The same applies to Marmot Nabu JacketMarmotNabu Jackethttp://cdn.marmot.com/sites/marmot.com/files/imagecache/product_full/product_images/80740_6674.jpgThe peak of high performance innovation, the Nabu Jacket, utilizes new Polartec® Neo Shell® fabric to blend stretch, waterproof and breathable qualities together. It also offers a special wicking backer to control sweat and keep your core ultra comfy, making this the perfect all-around mountain jacket.. Eider Uphill Neoshell pantEiderUphill Neoshell panthttp://www.eider.com/media/declinaisons/10430/image/c452x520/EIV1930_0247.jpgThe Neoshell membrane: the new membrane meeting Polartec expectations regarding breathability. Very technical pant dedicated to the most demanding mountaineers. is pretty much the only piece of kit that comes anywhere near. Seems to have been discontinued though.

On the other hand, Polartec Power Shield ProPolartecPower Shield ProIn 1998 Polartec launched Polartec Power Shield and the soft shell revolution. It was developed in recognition of the fact that 90% of the time you are outside, the weather isn't that bad. So there is great benefit in giving up a little weather protection, in order to get a lot more breathability. In 2010, we are building on that product history by adding real water resistance to our soft shells with the launch of Polartec® Power Shield® Pro. Polartec® Power Shield® Pro combines never before seen levels of air permeability with durable hydrostatic resistance to keep you dry both from within and from out. After launching Polartec Power Shield Pro at the consumer level in Fall 2010, it has won numerous awards, including Outside Magazine and National Geographic Adventure "Gear of the Year" and others. should be very good material for pants as it retains comfort and stretch of softshells but adds significantly better water-resistance and improved wind-resistance at very small penalty in decreased breathability. However, it appears to be very rare as well, as Patagonia Knifeblade PantPatagoniaKnifeblade PantBuilt for mobility and pared-down storm-level protection with optimal breathability, the Knifeblade Pants are highly water-resistant, performance stretch soft-shell pants built with lightweight, moisture-shedding Polartec Power Shield Pro fabric. is the only pant made out of that I've come across. Pants made out of regular PowerShield are more common, but obviously they lack the level or weather-proofness of PowerShield Pro.

That being said, Millet Roc Composite PantMilletRoc Composite Panthttp://www.millet.fr/resize/media/declinaisons/13231/image/f488x520/MIV5711_4333.jpgPant with braces, built from WINDSTOPPER® X Fast Stretch 3L fabric for modern mountaineering: ultimate performance, absolute precision, freedom of movement, extreme resistance to adverse weather and abrasion is very interesting concept as well. At least on paper, it seems to combine the weatherproofness of Gore-tex with comfort and breathability of Windstopper while minimizing the bad points of either. Lower legs are where you need water-proofness the most as you'll be regularly plodding in deep snow. This is also were poor breathability of Gore-tex doesn't really matter that much, as nothing breathes when inside deep snow. And lower legs is not where you sweat the most in any case.

Color me blind

While trying to find replacement for my worn out softshell (Arc'teryx Gamma MX HoodyArc'teryxGamma MX Hoodyhttp://images.arcteryx.com/F13/450x500/Gamma-MX-Hoody-Buckeye.pngThis wind-resistant, breathable hoody is perfect for alpine specialists looking for enhanced mobility. A tough, highly wind-resistant outer face sheds moisture and a light fleece backer adds warmth while wicking away moisture.) I found out, that many of the best looking design are only available either as black or some other very dark color such as navy blue. This might be stylish choice for everyday use, but we are talking about garments targeted squarely for alpine climbing. On the mountains color choice like that is a joke.

Bright colour that stands out against rock and ice works better (far easier to spot out partner) and is safer (easier to see if there's a party above you or to spot from helicopter should the shit have hit the fan). Oh, and they look better in pictures as well.

Hollywood howlers

Will Gadd reveals in his blog that he has worked as a double in the , the upcoming Jason Bourne movie. It is directed by Tony Gilroy, previously encaged as writer for movies like Duplicity, Michael Clayton and The Bourne Ultimatum. It'll be very interesting what will come of it.

You did have to tamper with it, didn't you

Licensed under: Public Domain.
Licensed under: Public Domain.

I have said before that if you find something that just works, it would be good idea to buy rest of the stock as you can rely on manufacturers to either discontinue the model or tamper with it so that everything that made it great in the first place is lost.

Two latest examples of this are:

  • OR has ruined the Outdoor Research VertOutdoor ResearchVerthttp://05030077193e809f264e-1522c9aa9166aed90604201d00e4590f.r7.cf2.rackcdn.com/470x500_72524_189.jpgThese close-fitting gloves are the perfect choice for any cold-weather activity that requires sure grip and precise dexterity. Soft shell fabric resists wear, breathes well and lets you move without restriction, and the leather palms provide a natural, conforming feel and excellent grip.. While seemingly the changes to current model appear all good at first, they have also fiddled with the fit making the fingers far longer. This has made the fit worse for me. They are still usable but not very good like the old model. The change also required me to go one size smaller, which eliminated the possibility of using very thin liner inside to boost warmness. So all in all, far inferior product to me.
  • BD joined the wagon by tampering with the Black Diamond ImpulseBlack DiamondImpulsehttp://demandware.edgesuite.net/sits_pod21/dw/image/v2/AAKN_PRD/on/demandware.static/Sites-BlackDiamond-Site/Sites-bdel/default/v1374991456448/products/gloves_gaitors/801452_impulse_blk_up_web.jpg?sw=472The Impulse is Black Diamond's lightweight, breathable, four-season softshell glove. The Impulse's stretchy Polartec Power Shield shell, neoprene knuckle padding and bonded, high-loft fleece lining give you the ideal balance between warmth, protection and dexterity. Imported.. The new model seems to have a different fit as well and it is also stiffer and thicker due to reinforcements. This doesn't feel that bad, but some of the suppleness of the older model is lost and fit is also somewhat worse to my hand.

All changes are not all bad though. New Marmot Spring gloveMarmotSpring glovehttp://cdn.marmot.com/sites/marmot.com/files/imagecache/product/product_images/15390_1087.jpgThe Spring Glove is a reliable, functional, top-value glove that has proven its mettle with guides throughout the mountain ranges of the world. A versatile lightweight glove well suited for Spring Skiing. (model 2012/2013) seems to be an improvement over the previous model. AFAIK the model has been changed yet again, but at least in the pictures it looks exactly the same, colors aside of course. And anyway, this time I was foresighted enough to buy several pairs.

Lo and behold

Licensed under: Public Domain.

Lo and behold, there appears to be newish pants made by Haglöfs that seem to have several things done right that most everyone gets very wrong time and again.

Just as a reminder, my ideal climbing pant, both soft and hard shell should have the following features:

  • High waisted cut with suspenders. I do not like bibs as they add unnecessary weight and diminish breathability. They can have elevated back provided it is made out of mesh or some else extremely breathable fabric (good but not mandatory on my book), but should not be very high in the front. I see no gain out of that. On the minus side, they adds bulk and decreases breathability.
  • Cut needs to be trim to reduce unnecessary bulk and prevent them from snagging too readily. Which greatly increases their real-life robustness while actually making the pant lighter, a real winning combo imo. This requires good functional cut which in turn benefits greatly from stretch fabric. Particularly, lower legs may not be too wide to avoid them from snagging to rock, crampons and the like, which greatly increases the risk of ripping. And adds utterly useless bulk and weight with no gain whatsoever.
  • Full length side zippers are completely unnecessary. They have no use, and add bulk, weight and just another thing that can break. Furthermore, they also make the pant less breathable and stiffer. While I can see the logic behind the thinking of putting in full-length zips (I just agree with the line of reasoning), I can't figure out what the heck has been going on through the designers at Rab who put 3/4 length zippers so that it doesn't go through waist and upper thigh. This is a stupid joke in my book that brings all the bad point of full-length zippers with none of the benefits.
  • They should have a two-way zipper from the waist to mid thigh to facilitate ventilation by opening them and to make it easier to answer the call of the nature. This seems to be something no one gets.
  • Decent integrated gaiter complete with tightening and, more importantly, loop so that you hook it under your heel or the boot to prevent it from raising. Hook doesn't work for me, as I use Scarpa Scarpa Phantom GuideScarpaPhantom Guidehttp://www.scarpa.com/images/products/87411-210/detail.jpgRedefining mountain performance, this boot is suitable for challenging the most technical routes in cold climates, whether ice cragging or in the high mountains. Phantom Guides that have no place to fix that hook properly. Inside the boot's integrated gaiter would be a possibility of course, but the loop is far better.

While not ticking all the points above, Häglöfs models don't have full length side zippers which most manufacturers seem to be dead set to have. They also make Haglöfs Couloir pantHaglöfsCouloir pantphoto to Häglöfs Couloir pant of Gore-Tex stretch soft shell fabric complete with membrane and all. This seems like a winning combo to me, a hard shell pant that is as comfortable as a soft shell. I have not even seen the pant, much less tried it, so can't comment on how well it performs in real life. That might change though.

Update 2013-10-22: I went ahead and bought Haglöfs Couloir pants 1,5 years ago. Those are fairly ok, but nowhere near as good as they could have been. First of all, they are far too wide in lower legs. Also, integrated snow gaiters are poorly done. And the fit isn't otherwise very good either, nowhere near as good as on some identically sized Haglöfs softshells. So unfortunately this is yet another good idea spoiled by half-asset execution.

On a more general note, Polartec NeoshellPolartecNeoshellWaterproof fabrics have forced outdoor enthusiasts to live with the restrictions of sweat, saturation, cold and overheating for too long. Introducing Polartec NeoShell. The first truly breathable, fully waterproof, temperature regulating fabric ever. Tested and proven by some of the most committed outdoor enthusiasts on the planet. With unprecedented breathability in a waterproof fabric, it's the ultimate in personal climate control. and hybrids may have stolen the thunder of Gore-tex softshell before many garments made out it ever got to the market. Not quite sure whatever happened to stretch versions of Gore-tex which were far more common several years ago than they are now. Currently Millet uses stretch Gore fabrics, but no one else as far as I know.

DMM ice gear lineup

Licensed under: Public Domain.
Licensed under: Public Domain.

On the hardware front, DMM seems to be modernizing their axe line up for 2012/2013 season.

DMM The SwitchDMMThe Switchhttp://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2012/01/new-dmm-ice-toolsthis-week.htmlSetting new standards for technical climbing in any terrain – ice, mixed or alpine. A true, leashless all rounder! If swinging around on a marginal pick placement with both hands matched, gunning for the next sketchy hook is your thing, then look no further, likewise, if quick enchainements in the Alps or psychedelically featured Continental ice float your boat then this is the tool for you. The Switch is DMM’s new ‘state of the art’ full strength leashless tool that takes all of our design heritage and manufacturing knowledge and brings them together as a modern classic. looks like a pretty exact replica of Petzl Nomic. Interesting to see can they one up the competition. I reckon at least their grip rest won't be wobbling and shouldn't break off either, as the handle appears to be fixed part of the shaft. This obviously means that it can't be adjusted, but it probably isn't too bad if the size fits you inthe first place. Might be a bad news for anyone with really small or really large hands though. It is also rumored that they are working on bringing new screw to the market.

On paper the new Switch looks a lot like Petzl NomicPetzlNomichttp://www.petzl.com/files/imagecache/product_outdoor_slideshow_image/node_media/nomic-1_1.jpgThe NOMIC allows the entire rock climbing repertoire to be transferred to ice. Thanks to its adjustable ergonomic handle, it offers multiple grip modes and limits the risk of snagging when switching hands. The ICE pick allows easy penetration in any type of ice, and pulls out easily. The modular head has two removable pick weights to balance the axe and propel it into the ice with an exceptional swing. The NOMIC can also be equipped with a hammer when placing pitons.. it would be interesting to try them out to see whether they feel like it as well. That beings said Black Diamond FusionBlack DiamondFusion looks very similar to Nomic on paper as well, yet feels quite different.

Nomic micro hammers

I have been trying to find new Petzl Lightweight hammersPetzlLightweight hammers for Petzl NomicPetzlNomichttp://www.petzl.com/files/imagecache/product_outdoor_slideshow_image/node_media/nomic-1_1.jpgThe NOMIC allows the entire rock climbing repertoire to be transferred to ice. Thanks to its adjustable ergonomic handle, it offers multiple grip modes and limits the risk of snagging when switching hands. The ICE pick allows easy penetration in any type of ice, and pulls out easily. The modular head has two removable pick weights to balance the axe and propel it into the ice with an exceptional swing. The NOMIC can also be equipped with a hammer when placing pitons., which Petzl apparently manufactures now. I reckon the older larger hammer would be better for actually pounding in pins, but their weight has adverse effect on the swing, which I reckon is usually far more important than the effectiveness of hammering in the pitons.

They seem to be very difficult to locate though. Maybe vaporware, all too familiar from the IT industry, has landed in climbing gear industry as well.

Update 2013-10-23: I did manage to find those hammers and have used them the last winter. I can verify that they do not spoil the swing, so all is fine on that front. haven't pounded many pitons with them so jury is still out on that front, but given the shape of the shaft I suspect hammering is about exactly as awkward as it is without it. The difference is that you won't abuse the head of the tools. So, looks to be pretty sweet compromise. The only real downside is that you need to use new style picks which have a cutout for the hammers. This is unfortunate, as I feel the old shape of the picks was better, mainly because it was easier to sharpen (new picks require a mjaor reshaping when your picks shortens.)

Ice cold

Ice season is finally here. UKClimbing seems to have a series of articles giving some tips how to climb more efficiently and safely.

Reel Rock 2011

Reel Rock 2011 poster. Credit: Sender Films,  Shot on 2012-02-29 Photo taken.Licensed under: Public Domain.

Reel Rock 2011 seems to include lots of stuff related to alpine stuff. It starts with Will Gadd's and Tim Emmett's exploits on wildly overhanging spray ice in Canada's Helmcken Falls, followed by a shortened version of Cold , featuring a winter ascent of Karakoram's Gasherbrum 2. After that the film moves to rock climbing. Most of this in this film's case take place on the big walls of Yosemite. The film is available as HD download.

Moonflower Is another interesting looking new video. It details the climb "Cartwright Connection"Mount Hunter4442mAK4+/nccs IV AI3 5.8; V/AI3/70°, 5.8,A32440m, 7-10 days on route on Mount Hunter's Moonflower Buttress by Britons Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker. For more info, see British Moonflower Buttress Expedition 2011 or Cartwright Connection.

To be or not to be?

By doing some research for climbs in the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash, as well as back when I was doing the same for Langtang Himal of Nepal, I tumbled across whole range inconsistency of issues. These make even identifying the peak a tad difficult and therefore complicate finding further information a great deal.

These issues include things like:

  • inconsistent naming of Peaks
  • inconsistent writing form of the same sames
  • inconsistent altitude

Identifying the route has also the very same issues with naming. Also those and sometimes vague details about the route make it difficult to identify the same route. If first ascentionist information is available, it can make this a lot easier. It is not free of pitfalls though, as there appear to have been few ascents reported as new route when the route had actually been climbed before. Listed first ascencionists can also be inconsistent between sources if one source lists a route as climbed without summiting whereas another source considers the first ascent that ends up on a summit as the first ascent. In Peruvian Cordilleras several routes end on a summit ridge without actually summiting.

Jeremy Frimer's excellent guidebook Climbs & treks in the Cordillera Huayhuash.Frimer, JeremyElaho2005The pre-eminent guide to one of the world’s great mountain ranges, detailing the approaches, the treks, the climbs and travel. 09733035570973303557FrimerGuidebooken lists references to sources he considers to be primary. While this approach is very much common place (usually mandatory) in scientific world, I don't remember having seen it used in climbing world too often. Makes perfect sense though.

Sources of information I consider primary within the realm of climbing world (in descending order of importance, IMO):

  • guidebooks
  • Alpine journals (I consider Alpinist and Mountain Info to be somewhere between a journal and a magazine in this respect and Himalayan Index to be journal of sorts)
  • climbing magazines

Some of these are available either completely or at least partially online:

Another point that I have sometimes wondered is that in some areas there are very few repeats and virtually all ascents are called new routes. Sometimes this appears to be caused by practically every variation to an existing route to be considered a new route. And variations on mountain routes are pretty much the norm either intentionally (due to conditions) or unintentionally (getting lost). Obviously there are no stead-fast rules when a route is a route and when it is a variation. This is brought up in an The Changing Nature of Climbing of Alpinist.

Yet another point to consider is what constitutes a mountain. In Europe, most notably in Chamonix area, there are apparently not a bumb small enough not to be a mountain with name and everything. In less explored areas, say Himalayas or Andes, what is considered to be a mountain is usually very different. In those areas I suspect that the whole range of peaks making up the mountains of Chamonix could be just one mountain, with Aguille Verte, Grandes Jorasses etc called Mont Blanc Norte I and II respectively. At the very least, Mont Blanc du Tacul, Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc du Courmayer and other satellites would most definitely not to be counted as mountains, some of them probably not even as side summits. Not that there's anything wrong with them being counted as mountains, if they weren't it would certainly make reading guidebook more confusing due the great number of routes on various features on Mont Blanc and its satellites. If going to less explored areas though, it is worth a note that up there something called say North summit may actually be very much independent peak.

Also just because a peak doesn't even have a proper name but is referred to group name and a number (say Caraz II or K7) doesn't mean that it wouldn't be imposing peak on its own right.

Then there are mountains that have highly misleading name. Take Yerypajá Chico as an example (peak sitting on Cordillera Huayhuash main chain between Yerupajá in the south and Jirishanca in the north). The name would suggest a lower side summit to Yerupajá. However, a peak with a primary factor (altitude gain from low point separating it from its nearest higher neighbor) of over 500m is hardly a side summit of anything.