"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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Pimping Canon Powershot S95

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

Some of the issues with Powershot S95 can be partially fixed with tuning the camera with aftermarket bits and pieces and hacker firmware.

The camera doesn't have any form of a grip which saves some weight and bulk but makes handling it less secure. This is not helped at all by the relatively slick surface. There are two possible ways to improve this:

  • attach aftermarket grip
  • DIY solution for those not willing to spend money on a grip or wishing to save weight and bulk is to apply adhesive tape to improve grip.

Canon does not supply attachment for optical filters. I reckon this might be to differentiate S95 with larger and more expensive G-series. However, Lensmate makes a adapter solution with which it is possible to attach 37mm filters, such as polarizer, to S95.

Stock firmware does allow neither optical zoom nor autofocus while shooting video. Luckily, extra features can often be introduced to Canon point-and-shoot camera by utilizing CHDK firmware solution. S95 is currently not supported by S95 but there is a beta in works which is supposed to allow both, zooming and autofocus when shooting video. Obviously it can't repair the mechanics though, namely noise caused by zooming and AF. This might be the reason why Canon disabled these features in the first place; microphones are located very close to the lens, therefore the noise caused by zooming or refocusing is readily picked up by the microphones.

Raw files shot with S95 are reportedly not supported by the current versions of Adobe Camera Raw (used by both Photoshop and Lightroom).

I kind of like geotagging my images, therefore GPS unit built in to a camera would be a very welcome solution. Unfortunately S95 doesn't have one. Alternative would be to geotag the images manually in batches. Lightroom excels in tagging in batches but unfortunately, it does not have a means to geotag. Well, natively anyway. There is a usefull plugin that makes this possible. Unfortunately the process is somewhat cumbersome if you want to store GPS data back to original images (pretty much the whole point in my book, as software-lock-in is something to be avoided at all costs) due to limitations of Pluging architecture of Lightroom. However, until anything more straight forward comes along, it is still a very workable solution.

Polarization with no polarizer

It is somewhat surprising that it is widely considered to be most useful filter, yet there is no pre-made filter in Photoshop, or Lightroom for that matter, to apply the said filter post-shoot digitally.

Granted, it is not as good as shooting with polarizer as if the highlights or reflections are burned there's just not enough data to dig out the lost detail. However, part of the damage can be remedied digitally afterwards. And the fact that there's no ready made filter does not mean that the same effect couldn't be achieved with the aforementioned applications, it just a bit harder.

These same techniques are very much usable also when you don't want to use polarizing filter. For example you don't want to use it when shooting multiple pictures to be combined into a panorama.

It's all downhill from here

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

After a very long search for very lightweight (and short) approach skis that can be used with climbing shoes I finally found STC SnowVentureSTCSnowVenture. They appear to be the same as discontinued Rossignol FreeTrek. I did receive my pair but am yet to try them out. I had my eye on Hagan Nanook earlier, but didn't order them back then and now they are discontinued.

My reasoning for getting them is that some form of flotation aid is unavoidable in order to get to the climb if there's loads of snow. Usually full-on touring skis would be ideal up until you reach the climb, but they have few serious cons:

  • weight
  • if you can't leave them behind below the climb, their bulk can be awkward when climbing
  • you need to have skiing boot to use them. Granted, you could climb with them, but they are heavy and way too stiff unless climbing is technically straight forward

Downhill, real skis paired with proper skiing boots would kick ass, particularly if you can maneuver them. Short skis paired with light weight and far less sturdy climbing boots are way worse for downhill, but not being much of a skier myself, I figure short skis and climbing boots are better solution for my needs. It remains to be seen whether this reasoning is valid.

New weapons on the market

New modular head of Petzl 2010 lineup. The head is the same in Quark, Nomic and Ergo. This brings a long-awaited option of fitting hammers to Nomic for pounding in pitons. Credit: Ari Paulin,  Shot on 2010-10-21 Photo taken.(c) (c) 2010 Ari Paulin, licensed under: (c) 2010 Ari Paulin.
New modular head of Petzl 2010 lineup. The head is the same in Quark, Nomic and Ergo. This brings a long-awaited option of fitting hammers to Nomic for pounding in pitons. Credit: Ari Paulin, Shot on 2010-10-21 Photo taken.(c) (c) 2010 Ari Paulin, licensed under: (c) 2010 Ari Paulin.

New lineup of Petzl ice tools is on the market. See introduction including cool promotion video (available in HD).

Revamped lineup seem to be exactly what was reported earlier in several websites with the following new features/changes:

  • Once again, they have changed the pick system. This time around it actually makes sense though, as now their technical line-up (Quark, Nomic and new Ergo) use the same picks and modular head. This same system also fixes (one of) the biggest drawbacks of their excellent Nomic, the lack of hammer. I suspect that adding hammers to Nomiv will have negative effect on the swing. That being said, when the route requires pitons top be driven, you'll need a hammer, as simple as that. As the hammer is removable, it is now possible to fit it in only when needed.
  • Clever-looking slider/trigger system that can be fitted to all of the tools. Used like a very welcome addition to Quarks when using them leashless.
  • Improved trigrest. For Nomic and Ergo this means studs added to the bottom of trigrest. This surely gives better traction than current trigrest. This is not ideal in my book, as there's still no good solution to attach yourself to the tool for resting or if you want to attach spring leashes. Furthermore, such studs are most likely not as good for support as real spike (like used in Black Diamond Fusion 2nd gen). That being said, Petzl added a small hole beside trigrest. It is possible to fit thin cord through it to attach spring leashes. The hole is very small though, so it it can only take very small diameter cord (like 2mm) which probably makes it less suited for attaching yourself to it. Unless you drill a larger hole, of course. Yet, the hole in the handle works for attaching yourself to tool in case of emergency, especially if you expand it somewhat with a file. So this should still be workable solution.
  • For the Quark Petzl did exactly what I wished though, by making the spike clippable and griprest removable in case the route calls for lots of plunging.
  • Ergo is a new model targeted for extreme ice climbing, mixed and dry tooling. They look seriously funky. It would be very interesting to test how they perform in comparison to Grivel Monster. Some reports from climbers having been able test them say they are better on steep mixed than Nomic's. But so are the Monster's.

EDIT! Pommel design seems to be faulty by design in 2010/2010 version of Nomic and Ergo. See official notification by Petzl: Information concerning autumn 2010 versions of the NOMIC (ref. U21 2) and ERGO (ref. U22) ice climbing tools.

I have been anxious to get new Ice picks to fit them into my well-beaten pair of old Nomics in order to be able to attach hammers as well. Unfortunately Petzl has failed to deliver them. So recall of new line of tools and failure to deliver new picks in one season; doesn't seem to be a very good season for Petzl ice tools.

Search is over

Credit: Ari Paulin,  Shot on 2010-04-30 Photo taken.(c) (c) 2010 Ari Paulin, licensed under: (c) 2010 Ari Paulin.

I've previously written about my search for perfect alpine pack. To summarize, what I was was looking for is a pack small enough to actually climb with, yet large enough to carry a tent (very small one), sleeping bag, pad and few days worth of food on top of all the gear needed for technical climbing in mixed alpine terrain during the approach. So somewhere around 40 liters with a possibility to overpack.

Featurewise, some things I was looking for:

  • Lean-and-mean single compartment design
  • Reasonably durable fabrics
  • Low weight
  • Side attachments for ice tools
  • Strap for rope
  • Floating lid for overpacking

And some that I wasn't looking for:

  • Unnecessarily heavy and sturdy frame
  • Unnecessarily heavy and sturdy waist belt
  • Traditional ice tool loops
  • Zippered compartments aside from the ones on lid

The search is over, I decided on Cold Cold World pack made by Randy Rackliff. Mine is a custom model that is somewhat smaller than standard Chernobyl. Size aside, the other customizations include:

  • Standard cordura replaced with Spectra rip stop. I did go with 500D instead of lighter 210D for better durability as the weight difference is rather modest. Granted, dyneema might be a better still, but it is not too readily available and packs made of it tend to come with prohibitively hefty price tag
  • Standard ice axe loops replaced with pick pockets style attachment system that works better with modern leashless tools
  • Integrated crampon pouch
  • Standard rope attachment replaced with the model that is connected to pack only in the pack to facilitate accessing the pack without detaching the rope
  • Reflective tape added in order to be able to better locate the pack in the dark

So far the pack seems really cool and I am anxious to try it out. Customer service by CCW is absolutely top notch and prize of custom made pack is reasonable enough. So if the pack works as well as I expect it to, then I see no reason to look elsewhere whenever I am in need of a pack in the future.

Alpine armour

I have been very happy with how well soft shell clothing has worked in ice climbing. This combined with the difficulty of finding good hard shell pants, I am seriously considering bringing soft shells with the next time I venture into alpine climbing and using them as my main shell.

I don't trust them enough to keep the elements out if the weather turns really nasty, so I will bring very light hard shells (read: the lightest Paclite or similar I can find) just in case (and plan them to stay in pack). My theory is that this way I could enjoy better comfort and breathability of soft shell when climbing while still having fully waterproof clothing in case of a pouring rain. By taking very light hard shell the weight and space penalty isn't too great, so I reckon this approach might be feasible. Granted, very light hard shell isn't very durable, and probably can't take the abuse of full-on alpine climbing but with this approach they wouldn't have to; they would be worn only if forced to bivouac in foul weather or when sitting out the storm below the route.

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.