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The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
The rest of the MS Team
Anyone who has exited from the top of the Aiguille du Midi ice cave to descend the narrow ridge leading into the Vallee Blanche above Chamonix will agree: it has your full attention. To the left, the ridge drops away down the famous Frendo Spur, somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,500 vertical feet. To the right, 800 feet of 50-degree snow will drop you to the base of the Midi's south face. So as I guide two guests down the steep and exposed arete, the last thing I need is my crampons balling up. Holding the rope tight between us, I wait for just the right moment, when all's steady, to whack my boots with my axe and knock the snow from them. That's it. I am buying new crampons, I tell myself. Tying yourself to people who are seemingly trying to pull you off of your feet every other step can make the cost of a new pair of spikes seem like chump change.
I've burned through a number of different belay devices, as my climbing obsession (and job) lead to unremitting use of these tools from March to November. I chose to test the Wild Country VC Pro because of its seemingly simple but effective design. This piece is an update from the VC belay device that has been on the shelves since the late 1980s. The classic version was a long-standing, standard device; the new VC Pro has big pitbull teeth on one side that allow for better bite with thin ropes. More importantly, it has all four hallmarks I insist on: smooth handling, effortless rappelling, secure holding and a simple design.
Guided clients demand a higher level of safety and preparation than you might find in a recreational group. Part of being safe is keeping your packs lean without skimping on necessary safety gear. While guiding I often need a satellite or cell phone to schedule pick-ups with my bush pilot, check weather, or communicate in emergencies. Over the years, I have started to use a small solar panel to charge my phone, allowing me to get through a long trip with a single lightweight battery.
The newly designed Black Diamond nForce ascenders were a crucial piece of gear for my main climbing project this summer. Using static and dynamic fixed lines from 8-11 millimeters, my partner and I spent about ten days working on a first ascent, free, on the east face of Snowpatch Spire in the Bugaboos. Although the face itself rises 2,000 feet, we ascended an estimated 3,000' of fixed lines, equipping belay stations, scrubbing cracks, and rehearsing the crux pitches that, unfortunately, are still resisting our redpoint attempts.
The search for the perfect multi-season jacket is exasperating—it has to perform well in various temperatures and conditions yet pack well, weigh nothing and (most importantly) look good. So you can imagine my excitement when I found a lightweight, durable shell that lived up to all my expectations. I found Mountain Hardwear's Women's Typhoon Jacket to be the perfect merger of fashion, function, and price. Weighing in at thirteen ounces and sporting a reasonable retail price of $199, its design and color options add a sense of style that rounds out this performance garment.
Sometimes first impressions are hard to shake, and I tried not to let my first impression of the Rab Neutrino Endurance jacket influence this review. No luck. The jacket wowed me at first appearance. Made from a water-resistant Pertex Endurance outer fabric and packed with 850+ goose down fill, it's an alpinist's dream come true: maximum warmth to weight ratio in a lightweight, weatherproof package.
I'll admit it: I've got a small head. As a result, I've spent the past few years bouncing between glasses that slide down the bridge of my nose, frames that feel like a loose, dead handshake, and cheapos bought shamefully from the children's aisle. So, when Julbo asked me to pick one pair of mountaineering glasses to test, I chose the Neve, a pair of glasses designed with Alti-Spectron X6 lenses for small heads, and, yes, women.
My go-to approach shoe for three years has been the La Sportiva Exum Ridge. Sturdy yet nimble, stealthy enough for talus-hopping but rugged enough to endure all the missteps that result in abrasion, the shoe has held tough for me through three summers in the Tetons without blowing out or debilating the tread. It's a tough benchmark to beat.
More than any piece of rock gear I've seen advertised over the past few years, I wanted to hate these Omega Pacific Link Cams. All those moving parts and the inevitable dumbing-down of racking-up brought out the Luddite in me. And the cost—about $100 a pop—seemed prohibitive, and the weight...
When you hear the name "Monster," it may conjure visions of a huge, ugly beast. Or for all you movie buffs it might bring a horrifying vision of Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci. Scary. Luckily, when I hear the name "Monster," I associate it with Metolius' climbing rope line—burly and strong.
Let's begin with an understanding. If given the choice either to snowshoe or ski on an approach, I am going to pick skis every time. When guiding on Denali, however, I find that the combination of people's varied ski skills, and the fact that we are schlepping huge loads up the Kahiltna Glacier, makes snowshoes the right choice.
I was looking forward to getting a set of Black Diamond's new C3 cams since I first saw the prototypes, and when I did, they were everything I expected them to be. They've been on my rack for a year now, and have been put to the test in just about every condition imaginable. From the misty summit of Torre Egger to a first ascent on Mt. Alberta; from greasy Squamish finger splitters to Bugaboo wall routes; and from overhanging quartzite trad routes at the back of Lake Louise to the mixed desperates of the Icefield Parkway, these cams have served me well. Despite the abuse, they're still working like new. They've held my repeated whippers, inspired the confidence I need when it comes time to run it out, and have shaved precious grams off the weight I've carried.
Mountain Hardwear has come out with a new 3/4 pant, the Silcox. This pant is made from eighty-five percent nylon and fifteen percent elastane and—when combined with articulated knees and a full-length gusset—has four-way stretch that is ideal for climbing, running, and... well, stretching. I sampled a size medium with a 23 1/2" inseam, and it fit perfectly (I'm usually a classic medium with a 32" waist). The pants come with an integrated belt made from 3/4" webbing for cinching them up when the time comes to send that project.
I used the cushy Therm-a-Rest Prolite 4 this summer in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, where I was guiding Gannett Peak for Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. I cannot say that this was my first Therm-a-Rest experience; I have owned many over the years. But the Prolite 4, the four-season model in Therm-a-Rest's Fast and Light Series, is truly a step above. It elegantly blends weight savings with packability and, most importantly, comfort.
Weighing in at 1.11 kg, the Osprey Talon 44 is one of the lightest packs for its size on the market. While I welcome any opportunity to lighten my load, I wondered if this svelte pack, when filled with ropes and cams, could hold up to being sat on and thrown on to rocks.