"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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Lo and behold

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

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..

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 Hunter4442m 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.

Scanning & stitching maps

Outdoor maps tend to be too large to be easy to use when climbing (or trekking for that matter). Copying or scanning & printing smaller portions of maps is often a good idea to create a map that is easier to manage. This can also save some money, as you are less likely to tear or otherwise destroy the original map.

Copying parts you actually need is obviously simple enough, but there are times where scanning is useful (particularly if you want to add route lines, campsites etc. on a map beforehand. However, scanning large format map raises few issues:

  • unless you have access to large format scanner, scanning in parts & stitching the pieces is required
  • folds and wrinkles are as good as certain to cause distortions. It is also virtually impossible to get the map to be completely flat on a scanner, which causes more distortions. And finally, scanners, particularly inexpensive ones, can add distortions of their own.

The best way (here: best equals the method that produces the best results, not the method where you might get acceptable results with least amount of time and effort) to scan maps for stitching I have come up with is the following (warning: the process is labor intensive; so if you can get the map in digital format, do yourself a favor and get it to save a lot of hassle).

  1. Get the map as flat on the scanner as possible. This can often be achieved removing the lid and placing heavy book above the map.
  2. Scan each piece normally. usually it's a good idea to leave edges unscanned, as they are almost certainly not completely flat causing bot distortion and darkness.
  3. Despite all the efforts described above to avoid distortions, there are some, trust me. Distortions are particularly bad for stitching as they are sure to cause disalignment on the part edges. The way to fight this is to:
    • create a grid and distort scanned image back to the size and shape it should have been. In the case of maps there are usually gridlines. The idea here is to create grid using image manipulation applications guidelines tool so that the grid size is exactly as it should be on paper map.
    • then load each of scanned images as new layer in image processing app and force it back to shape by distorting it so that the grids on map align perfectly with grid created above with guidelines. This also takes care of deskewing the scanned image (it is virtually impossible to scan large format originals with smaller format scanner without the scan to be a bit rotated).

Obviously one could try to be lazy and use stitching application for the same purpose and thus save a lot of manual labor. However, I have found that they usually do a bad job of stitching maps. No reason not to give it a go though.

One Crampon to rule them all, part deux

With Black Diamond about to introduce their new BD StingerBDStinger, it seems quite possible that Petzl might steal their thunder with all new Petzl LynxPetzlLynx. On paper it looks much like Petzl DartPetzlDart, just with proper downward points and heaps of adjustment possibilities. All this without too bad of a weight penalty. Interesting indeed.

Blessing in disguise

I broke the metal strap that is used to attach retention strap from the front bail of my Grivel Rambo 4GrivelRambo 4 's. It seems that this might have been a blessing in disguise as it made me do some comparisons of the front bails (I have few other Grivel crampons laying around (Grivel G14GrivelG14 's, my brother's old Rambo 2's).

I replaced the whole front bail with the one from mono-point set of Rambo 2. By doing this I noticed that the bail of Rambo 2 fits better with my Scarpa Phantom Guide's. It is not asymmetrical like Rambo 4 one, but this doesn't seem to matter. The difference is that the bail is narrower, thus eliminating the possibility of horizontal movement almost completely. The front bail is slightly longer though, so I ended up moving the front bail one step further back. This effectively moved the boot backwards half a step.

After noticing this, I compared the front bail of G14 and Rambo 4. Rambo 4 bail is significantly shorter, a bit narrower and asymmetrical in shape. By using slight violence I was able to fit Rambo bail on my G14. This moves the boot backwards quite a bit, which causes two changes:

  • front point gets effectively longer (which is otherwise significantly shorter than on Rambo 4)
  • secondary points and small additional points move significantly towards front giving them a much better possibility to actually hit the ice

I am generally not a big fan of very long front point (added leverage equals added strain for calves). However there's such a thing as too short. This new setup looks much better than the original one so I obviously need to give it a go to test whether this translates to better real-world performance.

While I was at it, I also tried out my new DremelDremel by sharpening pathetically dull secondary points.

Vimeo finds