Mountain Standards

Posted November 26, 2007

Osprey Talon 33 Backpack: The Latest in Urban Design

I'd had my eye on a new mid-sized daypack for some time, so when I saw the Talon 33 first advertised, I took note. "The Talon 33 is the most versatile pack in its series, meeting the needs of everyone from the expert light and fast backpacker to hardcore do-it-in-a-day alpinists," read the description on the website. The weight—one pound, 12 ounces—made it an instant contender for alpine climbs, and despite being so light, it sported numerous bells and whistles: hipbelt pockets, ax attachments, helmet pocket in back, sunglasses pocket in the top lid, hydration slot, haul loop, topo pocket inside the top lid, exotic buckles adorning most edges, and some loopy harness system that takes a university degree more advanced than mine to operate. And the design—all swoopy and sleek, with futuristic graphics showcased in colors such as Spicy Chili, Moonlight Blue, and Acid Green—was sexier than anything else on the market. Acid Green! My wife has an Osprey Switch 26 ski pack, and last winter she extolled the intelligence of its design: the top lid holds a ski helmet, an outer pocket houses shovel and skins, there's place for probe pole and hydration bladder alike. Given her praise of the Switch, and the light weight, features and pure sex appeal of the Talon, I thought I had found my pack.



Posted November 21, 2007

Mountain Hardwear Men's Typhoon Jacket: Resilient Repellent

Washington's mountains experience a summer drought and a winter monsoon. Between these perfect conditions for climbing and skiing, spring and fall bring persistent storms that deposit large quantities of rain or wet snow during shoulder-season outings, leaving me no choice but to pack a hard shell. Generally, mild temperatures cause me to loathe wearing a rain jacket, as sweat inevitably builds up. I pull on my hard shell when I reach the point where I am getting wetter without it than I will be while sweating in it. Get stuck in rain or wet snow on a long climb with no waterproof layer and, as Canadian guide Scott Davis says, "the forecast calls for pain." That said, there are days where nothing less than waterproof will work. Despite marketing claims, no fabric is both adequately breathable and waterproof. I thus prefer my shell jacket to be light, compressible, totally waterproof, and able to be worn over a soft shell.



Posted November 14, 2007

Rab Generator Jacket: Lightweight and Brilliantly Designed

For this past summer's guiding season, I wanted a jacket light enough that I could carry it along, even if there was the possibility I might not need it. I found that this was a common situation in the Tetons—I would start summit days in shorts, convinced that the conditions would prove comfortable, but inevitably the winds would swirl and the temperatures would plummet to below freezing. So while guiding in the Tetons this summer, the lightly insulated Generator Jacket from Rab proved itself to be a brilliantly designed, key lightweight layer.



Posted November 14, 2007

FiveTen Camp 4 Approach Shoes: Win Again

These are a new-ish, beefy approach shoe from 5.10. I saw them quite a bit in the Tetons this summer and expect to see a lot more of them in the future. Why? These shoes rule!



Posted November 10, 2007

Black Diamond Firstlight Tent: Bombproof, Featherweight

Early this summer I began testing the Black Diamond Firstlight Tent, from the Vedauwoo desert to the alpine flanks of the Grand Teton. I was pleased with its versatility—it seemed the perfect tent for any summer conditions. That worried me. The ultra-lightweight, single-wall shelter is marketed as a four-season favorite, but I feared how it would fare against the wintry precipitation and cold so common from October through April in the Rocky Mountain West. Yet now, in the middle of November, having weathered significant snowstorms and cold rainstorms in the Firstlight, I'm eager to sack up in this dome no matter the forecast.



Posted November 6, 2007

Mountain Hardwear Women's Quark: The Every-Day Outerwear

In spite of the plentitude of masculine, heavy-duty shells on the market, I spent this past summer testing the women's Mountain HardWear Quark jacket. Why, you ask, did I eschew various men's models in favor of the women's Quark? Because it's extremely light, and Mountain HardWear touts it as the lightest (9 ounces), truly waterproof raincoat on the market.



Posted November 2, 2007

Therm-a-Rest Toughskin: Rugged in the Dire and Amorous

There may be other inflatable sleeping pads out there, but you know you've got a corner on the market when your brand name becomes the vernacular for your niche. For years, however, I avoided Therm-a-Rests, preferring the closed-cell pads that, while they might not offer quite the same insulation and comfort as an inflatable pad, had the distinct advantage of low-tech: you could be pretty sure they'd never fail in the field, regardless of how many times you flopped your crampon-laden pack down on them at inopportune moments.



Posted October 30, 2007

Maxim Apogee 9.1 70m Rope: Stands Up to Abuse

I had initially stayed away from using longer ropes due to their weight and bulk. The Apogee, at 9.1mm, dispenses with this concern, but its slim profile gave me doubts about its durability. After significant testing on summer alpine rock routes in the Tetons, alpine climbing in the Bugaboos and the establishment of new multi-pitch sport and trad routes at Rock Springs Buttress in Jackson Hole, my doubts about the rope's durability were firmly laid to rest.



Posted October 22, 2007

Wild Country Infinity Sprint 8.4 60m Double Rope: Infinitely Durable?

Over the summer I tested the Sprint double rope (8.4mm, 60m), a member of the new Infinity line from Wild Country. While the company is a relatively new rope manufacturer, they've got the time-tested reputation to back up their products, and I was not disappointed. The rope, weighing in at 64 grams/meter, has a UIAA fall rating of 8, a relatively high impact force rating of 875 daN, an 8 percent elongation and 0mm of sheath slippage. And as a double-dry rope, both the core and sheath are treated to resist saturation. All of the aforementioned specs prove that Wild Country is truly putting safety and functionality at the forefront of their rope design.



Posted October 18, 2007

Petzl e+lite: For Emergencies and Every Day

The luggage gods are not kind. Multiple times, when traveling internationally, I've had to wait days for my luggage to catch up with me. I'm starting to get used to it—but it becomes problematic when I'm scheduled to guide clients and my gear is in airline purgatory. This was the case at the outset of a recent twelve-day trip to the Alps. Luckily, my bags arrived on the first evening as we prepared to leave for a backcountry hut. But one of our clients was not so lucky—her bag had not arrived by the time we departed. Between me and the other guide, we assembled an ample amount of climbing gear for the client. She ended up with my normal LED headlamp, and I pulled the Petzl e+lite from my first aid kit to use for myself.



Posted October 11, 2007

Rab Power Stretch Grip Glove: Almost Too Sticky!

This lightweight glove packs a punch for as light as it is and as well as it climbs. Had the temperatures been more normal in the Tetons this season, I probably would have squeezed more milage out of the thin Rab gloves, but global warming had most of us stripped to light sleeves—and certainly gloveless—many a day up high.



Posted October 1, 2007

Arc'teryx Dually Belay Parka: Avoiding Wetness for Winter Warmth

When I first heard of a new truly hydrophobic (no water absorbtion) synthetic belay parka called the Dually Belay Parka from Arc'teryx, I was sure it could not be true. We have all heard the promise before: "This synthetic insulation will keep you warm even when it's wet." The disappointment of realizing you are not warm—but in fact cold—sitting in a damp belay parka is true betrayal. This feeling goes away when you realize there is no better solution. Now there is no reason to compromise, or be wet and cold, as the Dually Belay Parka insulates while refusing to absorb water.



Posted September 26, 2007

Grivel G12 Crampons: Do-It-All Spikes

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.



Posted September 21, 2007

Wild Country VC Pro Belay Device: Smooth, Secure, Simple

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.



Posted September 20, 2007

Sunlinq 12Watt 12V Portable Power Pack: A Lightweight, Foldable Solar Charger

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.



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