"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

What's new




Blogs etc.


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

No pain, no gain

Ice and mixed climbing require highly specific set of skills, that are not too easily gained by doing anything else. And yes, this includes rock and gym climbing too. Furthermore, the game is largely within the head. Best way to improve your confidence in ice climbing is to ice climb. Failing that, drytooling and rock climbing and even indoor climbing can all help.

However, when none of these are an option due to accessibility or time constraint, there are quite a few exercises that can be performed at home with not much equipment and that don't take too much time to complete.

Swinging. Take ice tool and duct tape some weight to head (say two cans of beer). Then start doing swings (aim for precise swinging that matches actual ice climbing swings). Depending on your fitness, weight and swinging speed, 40-60 repetitions per hand and a set should make the hand properly pumped. If it doesn't increase the weight. Repeat three to four sets per hand.

Calves. Bog-standard toe raise, either each calf separately or both at once. Or mix and match. Repeat between 40-60 times. If it doesn't start to burn your calves properly, either put your toes on a platform or put a backpack on.

If you have a pull up bar, there are lots of possibilities. For variety and added specifiness you can use the bar, hang from it from your tools or attach rock rings to bar. Of course there are the classics:

  • dead hang
  • one handed dead hang
  • pull up (normal, staggered)
They all work just fine and are beneficial. That being said, I have tried to come up with ones that more closely mimic actual climbing motion in hopes of them being even more effective. So I have come up with these two exercices:

combination exercise consisting of

  • pull up - lock off combo (repeat until properly pumped or until you can't do a pull up anymore)
    • dead hang for about five seconds
    • pull up
    • lock off for roughly five seconds either at top position or lowering my arms to 90 degree angle
  • to allow me to stay on, I place my feet on a bad support (small climbing hold bolted on wall in my case) to take some off the weight off my hands (not too much) and allow to shake out
  • keeping my feet on the support, few repetitions of a pull up, lock off and reaching higher with another hand (as in reaching for the next hold)
  • another shake out
  • few repetitions of dead hang and shake out placing feet on support
  • finish with dead hang until the pain becomes unbearable. Alternatively just hang while keep feet on a bad support (easier, thus allows for more duration).
This combination exercise should take few minutes to complete thus it is good for endurance, not just pure strength. I believe it mimics the actual climbing pretty closely.

Another simple exercise I find effective is to do a lock off (in 90 degree angle) while raising my feet (curled up) towards chest and keeping them there. This puts a load both on arms and core. This can very well be be combined with pullups by doing a pull up, keeping the lock off & feet raise for a few seconds, then repeating as many times you can.

Step up. Build a two or three step ladder, put a backpack on and start stepping. Unlike StairmasterStairmaster, this does not cost much, does not make much sound and doesn't take too much space. You don't have to use time to get to the training and you can train no matter of the weather. Obviosuly this is monotonic, but this can be aided by doing it in the living room watching tv or listening to music. Height of the steps and weight of the backpack obviously make a great difference in how strenuous this is. I use this exercise mainly for aerobic endurance, so I usually do this for an hour non-stop, changing the "leading" foot every five minutes. Mimics walking uphill with a backpack far better than, say, running, cross country skiing or mountain biking, although this certainly isn't as much fun. Trains both general aerobic endurance as well as uphill specific muscles of you feet. Add toe-raising on top step to make it harder.

Remote Exposure

Licensed under: cover photo.

There's a interesting looking book coming in a form of . It promises to give loads of useful info regarding the climbing photography.

Though many hikers and climbers carry cameras with them, they often come away feeling disappointed because their images fail to visually translate their experiences. In Remote Exposure Alexandre Buisse goes beyond the mere basics of photography and gives you the tools needed to create images that are not only of good technical quality but that are compelling as well.

This book will guide you through the various options for equipment, since the requirement for lightweight gear that is able to withstand cold, adverse weather conditions presents unique challenges. Learn about the importance of having an efficient carrying system and a logical, planned workflow.

Throughout the book you will find advice on where to point your camera and how to compose a strong image. Included are specific requirements for rock climbing, hiking, mountaineering, and camping. More advanced photographic topics are also covered such as digital capture and optimization techniques like high dynamic range imaging (HDRI), panoramic stitching, and how to achieve excellent results without a tripod.

The pages are filled with over 100 stunning images captured by Buisse as he hiked and climbed through mountain ranges on three continents. Photographers of all levels and those who just appreciate beautiful images are sure to be inspired by this book.

I also figured that it wouldn't hurt to brush up my self rescue skills. For this reason, I ordered Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations.Tyson, Andy & Loomis, MollyMountaineers Books2006When your climbing team is in trouble on the mountain—how to get yourself out of a jam without calling 911. - Self-rescue procedures for teams of two—the most common climbing party size - Techniques equally effective on rock, snow, and ice - Utilizes gear climbers already carry in their rack - Includes 40 one-page rescue scenarios and solutions for analysis The rope is stuck—or too short. A crucial piece of gear is MIA. You’ve wandered off route into dicey terrain. An injury leaves you or your partner in need of help. Climb long enough and finding yourself in a jam far from help is inevitable. In Climbing: Self Rescue, two longtime climbing instructors and guides teach how to improvise your own solutions, calling for outside help only when necessary.Because few climbers carry fancy (and expensive) search and rescue gear, all skills taught in this book use the items typically found on a climbing rack: rope, carabiners, slings, and cord. Text, illustrations, and photos explain knots, belaying and hauling systems, rappelling, ascension, passing knots, how to safely assist and rig an injured climber, and more. Roughly half of the book is devoted to real-life climbing scenarios and solutions ranging from moderate to severe. Because real-life situations rarely unfold as they do in practice, Climbing Self-Rescue teaches how to analyze and improvise your way out of a crisis.ANDY TYSON is a guide for Alpine Ascents, Exum and Antarctic-logistics and Expeditions. MOLLY LOOMIS is an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Alpine Ascents and Prescott College. Tyson is the author of Glacier Mountaineering; Loomis has written for Rock & Ice, Climbing, She Sends, and other publications.978-0898867725978-0898867725Self RescueInstructionalen.

One Crampon to rule 'em all

Front part of Grivel Rambo 4. I really like the front point configuration with additional point outside the frontpoint, secondary points facing forward and outward and back points facing backwards and somewhat out. If I were to nitpick, I'd like the secondary points to protrude forward more aggressively (that is to say a tad more forward) and the underside of them could have small teeth for better traction on rock. However, my biggest grief on Rambo's is the weight and lack of sensitivity. Also, flat and rigid structure makes the front part not to fit too greatly on shoes with rocker soles. Credit: Grivel, Licensed under: Public Domain.
Front part of Grivel Rambo 4. I really like the front point configuration with additional point outside the frontpoint, secondary points facing forward and outward and back points facing backwards and somewhat out. If I were to nitpick, I'd like the secondary points to protrude forward more aggressively (that is to say a tad more forward) and the underside of them could have small teeth for better traction on rock. However, my biggest grief on Rambo's is the weight and lack of sensitivity. Also, flat and rigid structure makes the front part not to fit too greatly on shoes with rocker soles. Credit: Grivel, Licensed under: Public Domain.

I have climbed last few years mainly on Grivel Rambo 4GrivelRambo 4 on ice falls and Grivel G14GrivelG14 on alpine stuff. Rambo 4 works fine, but it is heavy and due to vertical structure, it doesn't give as good a sensitivity as I would like. This is particularly not ideal on mixed ground and thin ice. Furthermore, it is by far the worst crampon I've ever used to walk on, due to height and point structure. So I think I am going to need to try lighter weight crampons.

I do my drytooling and mixed climbing on fruitboots (older model of La Sportiva Mega IceLa SportivaMega Ice with permanently attached Grivel RacingGrivelRacing crampons). Obviously this combo as far lighter and more sensitive than anything you could realistically expect from any combination of more traditional boot - crampon combo. However, keeping the sensitivity of the fruitboots as a benchmark, my current go-to crampon for ice falls (Grivel Rambo 4) leave a lot to be desired.

Some features I think are important:

  • Fit. Good fit consists of multiple things, starting from the general shape. In my case that is a curved frame to fit curved shoes (Scarpa Phantom GuideScarpaPhantom Guide 's in my case). Some other features affecting the fit
    • front bail must not be too wide to prevent sideways movement
    • back lever must not be too tall so that it does not press ankle painfully (particularly important of softer boots)
    • back lever should have a proper retention strap to prevent accidental opening (could be an issue when hooking). Petzl lever has strap on the bottom, which is a very bad design in my book. Both Grivel and BD place the trap to the top of the lever, which make accidental opening of the lever as good as impossible. Luckily, it is possible to fix the issue with Petzl lever by either replacing the lever with BD or Grivel one, or by tinkering with the stock lever.
  • Offset monopoint. I have read that some prefer dual points for pure ice. I wholeheartedly disagree. Proponents of dual point usually list more support as benefits for dual points. I don't really buy this arguments. Granted, if you have dual points planted all the way into ice, they would be more supportive than mono point. The problem with this argument is that it is virtually impossible to get dual points planted as well as a mono point. The problem is that when the ice is hard, you usually can't get duals fully in due to added resistance. Duals are also more prone to shatter the ice. Monos on the other hand can be readily placed into your pick holes. Furthermore, monos are far easier to plant on featured ice, not to mention on mixed ground (not a really a contest here). Also, I have found out that duals tend to pop out if you boot twists slightly. This is a common occurrence, at least on my case, when pulling over bulges.
  • The point of support is very important though. To boost the support of dual, the secondary points need to placed far enough towards the front. This is a problem with most crampons on sale. Particularly, secondary points of G14 are placed too far back and protrude to little forwards to allow proper support. On Rambo 4 secondary points are better, but they still be placed a bit further forwards. Many models have small teeth facing forward outside the mono. I believe Grivel got this one right with Rambo 4, which has a smaller point about on the position where there would be outside front point on dual points. This is longer than on most crampons for added supports but not too long to cause the same issues as duals do. Pretty much the best of both worlds in my book. I also like the secondary points to angle outside for better hooking and for kicking a ledge to give a welcome rest for calf muscles when placing a screw.
  • For hooking performance, points angling out and back are beneficial. This is another part that I really like on Rambo 4.
  • Replaceable front point is a benefit, hands down. That being said, secondary points are very important as well. Therefore, I don't see having to replace the whole front part (like is the case with Petzl DartPetzlDart and Grivel G20GrivelG20) as a problem, if spare front parts are actually available and the price isn't too astronomical.

So all in all, Rambo 4 point configuration on flat crampon would be pretty close to my ideal.

Petzl Dart. In many ways a polar opposite of Grivel Rambo 4. Very light and reportedly highly sensitive due to horizontal and minimal frame. Configuration of secondary points seems very good, although it has no smaller additional point between frontpoint and outside secondary point. Furthermore, secondary points could benefir from being a tad longer and facing outwards. Also, points facing backwards woulkd work better for hooking if they were polaced further to the back (or maybe those backmost orange points could have similar shape than the back part of secondary point). Credit: Petzl promo photo, Licensed under: Public Domain.
Petzl Dart. In many ways a polar opposite of Grivel Rambo 4. Very light and reportedly highly sensitive due to horizontal and minimal frame. Configuration of secondary points seems very good, although it has no smaller additional point between frontpoint and outside secondary point. Furthermore, secondary points could benefir from being a tad longer and facing outwards. Also, points facing backwards woulkd work better for hooking if they were polaced further to the back (or maybe those backmost orange points could have similar shape than the back part of secondary point). Credit: Petzl promo photo, Licensed under: Public Domain.

Of the crampons available on the market, Petzl Dart, Grivel G20 and upcoming BD StingerBDStinger seem to be the closest thing to those ideals, although none of these are perfects. Biggest issue with the upcoming BD Stinger (based on articles about the test samples) is the configuration of the small points between front point and secondary points. These seem to be located too close to front point and the outer one could be longer. This setup is rumored to change before production crampons hit the shelves, so there's hoping BD will fit the bill pretty closely. Particularly if they have fixed the front bail (far too wide in their previous crampons).

Screw 'em up

I've had my ice screws sharpened a few times by Grivel sharpening machineGrivelsharpening machine. The screws after the sharpening machine seem a bit rough, but they do work fine, despite them usually looking a bit rough. Bursts need to be removed with a file, but other than that they have worked just fine.

However, the machine seems to just take off the material from the cutting edge, which means that the valleys between the teeth tend to get shallower.

Sharpening the screws with a file could produce the screws with more new-like shape, but sharpening the screws with a file takes a lot of filing, as the teeth need to be equally long. Which often means that you have to make all other teeth dull at first, then reshape all of them. This is rather labour-intensive and it is also easy to screw the angles up, which could produce fine looking screws with pathetic performance. However, I've seen some screws sharpened with a DremelDremel machine, which shaves off significant amount of time. Given that we have no Grivel machine available anywhere near where I live, I believe I need to give this a go. Keep in my that machine sharpening the screws is directly prohibited by screw manufacturers as it can overheat the screws, therefore ruining the tempering (read making the screw get dull and/or bend easier).

La Sorcière Blanche

Credit: Seven Doc,  Shot on 2010-12-28 Photo taken.Licensed under: Public Domain.

Since it has been bitterly cold and the weather shows no sign of warming up any time son, I decided to pass time by checking what new (well, to me) films are out there. Firt of all I stumbled on La sorcière blanche which had previously slipped under my radar.

It's a newer film from the people who brought you Ice Up featuring the first ascent of La Sorcière Blanche (V, WI6+, M8, 7a 400m, FA: Philippe Batoux, François Damilano and Benoît Robert, 2006) in Le Fer à Cheval (France), one of the landmark ice climbs. Few pics from the first ascent of direct variant can be found here.

Not wanting to pay full postage for just one film, I decided to browse further and found Crackoholic. It got such a raving review by Dave McLeod that I just had to add that to my shopping cart as well.


So, after having finally decided on getting short approach skis. I figured it was time to try and find a new camera to replace my old Canon Ixus 850IS.

My decision process was as follows:

As far as image quality, robustness and versatility go, Single Lens Reflexor would be the only right way to go. However, I mainly take photos when going climbing (with the main purpose always being climbing, not photography). To be able to take the shots while climbing without having to sacrifice too much time for it, the camera needs to small and light enough to fit inside my pocket (or to hand it on a harness). So we are talking about preferably well under 200g. Which is to say even the smallest SDLR's are way too heavy and too big for me. So I needed to start looking for small camera that is as close to SLR camera when it comes to image quality as possible.

Credit: Lensmate,  Shot on 2010-12-28 Photo taken.Licensed under: Public Domain.

This is particularly difficult nut to crack as demands for the camera used for climbing photography are quite a handful.

First of all, it is obvious, that any chance to have decent shots requires a good lens. In my book, this means the following characteristics:

  • High quality lens with following features
    • No optical distortions
    • For action shots, wide angle is what's needed. The wider the better. Talking in 35mm terms, 28mm equivalent is pretty much the norm nowadays, 24mm would be better.
    • For landscape, reasonably long tele is required. I am less impressed with very long tele, as even in my limited understanding of photography I know enough to figure out that they don't really work in a very small camera. Way too easy to shake (yes, image stabilizers are a bliss, but even their abilities have limits) and far too little light. That being said, panoramas would benefit for reasonably long tele, so somewhere around 150mm would be great.
    • In order to have any realistic hope for decent pics in low-light situations, the lens needs to be bright as possible (read: low f-values)

Lightning conditions vary quite a bit as well which pushes the envelope when it comes to metering and censor.

  • Lots of snow and ice are tough for white balance calculation. Add to that plenty of reflections and it is easy to see why getting the colors right is not an easy task.
  • When it gets dark it gets worse for compacts. In order to be able to fit a small and light lens to small camera, you can't put a full-size censor to the camera. In fact virtually all compacts have a very tiny censor, only a fraction of physical dimensions of censors used in SLR's. This combined with very high pixel count makes the pixels tiny. Which is a bad thing, as tiny pixels means that little light is captured. Of course, small lens with high f-value doesn't help in this matter at all. To make matters worse the f-value is only half the story anyway, f2.0 in SLR equipped with full size censor (35mm) is a very different thing as f2.0 in a camera equipped with 8mm censor. Therefore all pocketable compacts make huge sacrifices in comparison to SLR's in this regard. Luckily there are few compacts that take some steps to right direction away from the main stream.
Luckily, some issues can be digitally remedied using digital processing, be that either automatically inside the camera of afterwards using photo processing. This is where in-camera HDR and such come into play. However, in a difficult situations, post-processing in image editor is needed. To have good foundation for this, particularly the following features are usefull:
  • ability to shoot raw. Main reason for this being to have as much information available for fixing various issues occurring due to a number of shortcomings caused either by the demanding lightning situations, limits of lens and camera software or lack of photographic skill of the camera operator. All three happening simultaneously is pretty much the norm for me.
  • bracketing. The big idea about bracketing is to take multiple shots at once with different settings thus increasing the likelihood of one of them ending up good. Bracketing is also a good way of getting ingredients to to be combined as a HDR shot later on.
  • in-camera HDR (essentially a combination of bracketing and a process to combine bits and pieces from several photos shot with different settings (almost) simultaneously).
Ability to use optical filters can help as well. Using filters it is possible to adapt the lens to different shooting situations, thus increasing the possibility of getting the colors right.

As the camera is going to be used primarily when climbing (alpine, ice and rock), it should be able to take full-on conditions. This area is particular shortcoming of compacts, as you pretty much can have both weather-proof sturdy design and reasonable image quality, just not in the same camera.

  • impact-proofness
  • water-proofness
  • camera needs to stand up to harsh temperatures, preferably with not too great negative effect on batteries.
My compromise is to use not particularly weather prof camera that I tend to keep in a case and store it in my pocket. Should it be really wet, I can weather proof it by placing the case in a sealing plastic bag. Obviously far from ideal a solution, but weatherproof compacts of the moment just don't seem to be up to task at hand when it comes to image quality.

Ability to shoot high quality video is nice to have. However, as the main purpose for me is shooting stills, shortcoming is video shooting (such as lack of optical zoom or autofocus) are easier to accept than shortcomings in the primary set of requirements.

Eliminating cameras according to above mentioned criteria, I came up with two or three options, namely:

  • Canon Powershot S95CanonPowershot S95.
  • Panasonic Lumix CMC-LX5PanasonicLumix CMC-LX5.
  • Leica D-Lux 5LeicaD-Lux 5. Essentially the same camera as Panasonic LX5 but with some tweaks in software, Leica brand and different software bundle.
  • Leica, Panasonic and Sigma also make compacts (albeit bigger than those listed above) with APS-sized sensor. However, they are so much bigger, that they can't comfortably fit in a pocket. IMO, pocketability is the deciding factor when it comes to size. Too big to dump in a pocket and any reason not to bring SLR is pretty much lost. Leica model also has some other serious limitations not to mention astronomical price tag.

After researching some reviews (eg. this one)I decided on Canon Powershot S95. Mainly because it is significantly smaller than the other two and according to reviews, overall image quality is supposedly pretty similar (and better than most other compacts). There are some differences but I figured they pretty much evened out when taking into account various aspects of image quality. Downsides of Canon were usually mentioned to be:

  • Mediocre handling, partly because of a missing grip.
  • Poor battery life. Clearly far from ideal, but reserve batteries are small and pretty cheap, so not a non-started either.
  • Video is reported to lack autofocus and optical zoom while shooting video. Fortunately, CHDK is coming to rescue in this area. Furthermore, I'd prefer AVCHD (as opposed to Mov) and 1080p50 (as opposed to 720p24). However, the main application being photography, I believe I can live with these restrictions.

Luckily, some of these of S95 can be partially remedied with aftermarket bits and/or CHDK software.