"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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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.

Chasing the Holy Grail: Winter Climbing's Glove Problem

Black Diamond Impulse is not marketred as skiing glove and thus not part of their ice climbing glove lineup. Yet it is their best glove for oice climbing, their real climbing gloves being too thick and too stiff due to excessive padding. Credit: Ari Paulin, (c) (c) 2010 Ari Paulin, licensed under: (c) 2010 Ari Paulin.

Finding a glove system that works for ice and alpine climbing is anything but straight-forward. No matter where you look, you can't seem to find a pair that does all things well, so generally multiple pairs is what you need.

For ice climbing, I tend to bring at least two pairs of relatively thin climbing gloves (the amount of insulation varies regarding the temperature but I generally never go thicker than BD Impulse or Outdoor Design Diablo) and a pair of mittens for belaying. I own several pairs of gloves with Gore inserts, none of which are waterproof. So I have virtually moved away from them, as Gore inserts usually don't hold water anyway and the inserts usually readily follow when taking the glove off. Which makes it virtually impossible to get them back on.

Kelly Cordes has a good article regarding the glove issue, which might give you good ideas. There appear to be several other entries regarding the very same issue.

Nanga Parbat

Credit: Ari Paulin,  Shot on 2009-10-31 Photo taken.(c) (c) 2010 Ari Paulin, licensed under: (c) 2010 Ari Paulin.

Even if it looks like the Everest movies isn't going to come to theaters near you anytime soon, there's still others. More specifically Nanga Parbat covering the tragic Nanga Parbat Rupal Face expedition by the two Messner brothers in 1970, on which Reinhold Messners younger brother Günther died.

Gear-whores ahoy!

There seem to be few interesting items just out or coming in the near future.

Without further ado, here goes:

Updated version of the superb Phantom Lite, the Phantom Guide is a very light boot with a precise fit and new uppers designed for use in cold conditions. Credit: Ari Paulin,  Shot on 2010-10-21 Photo taken.(c) (c) 2010 Ari Paulin, licensed under: (c) 2010 Ari Paulin.
  • DMM DragonDMMDragon Looks a lot like lighter and somewhat improved version of awesome Black Diamond Camalot C4. Looks like the final production design is different from the prototypes so that final model does not have a thumb loop. Before actually trying it out this feels disappointing.
  • Scarpa Phantom GuideScarpaPhantom Guide This one looks like a no-brainer to me. I've been using excellent Phantom Lite's for years. However they are starting to leak due to wear and tear, so I need to replace them anyway in the near future. Phantom Guide seems like a new and improved version. The only question that remains is whether to get them half a number larger than my Phantom Lite's; they are very snug, climb excellently but walking downhill would be more comfortable if there was more room for toes. See also introduction/review Scarpa Phantom Guide vs the La Sportiva Batura Edit: after using a pair for a trip to Alps (albeit with regrettably little climbing due to poor conditions) I think the fit has been changed. I ordered mine half a number larger, so direct comparison of fit against Lite's is not possible, but the Guide certainly feels like it has larger inner volume, more so than the size difference might suggest. I offset this by inserting thicker after-market insoles. The lacing system has been changed and the new one feels to lock ankle better. Certainly a plus. The shaft is a bit taller and possibly a bit stiffer as well. Not sure yet whether I like this change.
  • Hagan NanookHaganNanook There are situations where some form of flotation aid is unavoidable in order to get to the climb. While full-on ski touring kit can get you to the bottom of the climb as effortlessly as possible (not to mention the joy it provides while descending), it is also very heavy unless you can leave it below the actual climb. Furthermore, climbing shoes are much better to climb with than skiing shoes, but they really suck in skiing even if you could use them (with Silvretta 404 binding you can). Howeverer, this effectively means that even if your skis would be great for downhill skiing, the shoes aren't up to the job. The other option would be to climb with your skiing boots, but they are big, bulky, heavy etc. Basically everything that makes a bad climbing boot. This solution is very much workable, if the climbing isn't too difficult (especially not on rock). Not being much of a skier myself, I figure the ideal solution for me though would be a very light and compact skis that can get me to the climb using my climbing boots and that I can strap to my backpack for the climb if I need to descent to different side of the mountain. The fact that they aren't too great to ski downhill is negated by the fact that I couldn't ski down anything difficult anyway, especially not when wearing my climbing boots and a backpack containing the climbing kit. It seems that Andy Kirkpatricks reasoning is very similar in this matter.
Credit: Ari Paulin, (c) (c) 2010 Ari Paulin, licensed under: (c) 2010 Ari Paulin.
  • Petzl ice tools for season 2010-2011Petzlice tools for season 2010-2011 Petzl are revamping their ice weaponry for the next season. Once again, they have changed the pick system. This time around it actually makes sense though, as now their technical line-up (Quark, Nimic 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. Other revamps include clever-looking slider/trigger system for all of the tools and improved trigrest. For Nomic and Ergo this means studs added to the bottom of trigrest. This is not ideal in my book, as there's still no good solution for using umbilical cord-type system should that strike your fancy and such studs are most likely not as good for support as real spike (like used in Black Diamond Fusion 2nd gen). However, improvement still compared to current Nomic. Since I don't use Nomics for alpine climbing anyway (I use somewhat tricked Quarks for that) I can easily live with that drawback though. The hole in the handle works for attaching yourself to tool in case of emergency, especially if you expand it somewhat with a file. For the Quark Petzl did exactly what I wished though, by making the spike clippable. They seem to have some new ideas regarding to wiregate carabiners up their sleeve as well. New Ergos look funky, interesting to hear how they perform.

I tumbled on two very informative videos featuring the gear tips and tricks of Steve House.

Climb out of Development Hell, my ass

Some months back it seemed like the Everest movie based on 1996-events was actually going to get made when the reigns were passed over from Stephen Daldry to David Fincher. In recent months things seem to have gone pear-shaped again for the project. Now the holdup being mr Fincher being tied up with a Facebook-movie.