Trip Report- Willey’s Slide & Mount Washington

I was fortunate to spend the last two days with John W. who recently moved to New Hampshire from points south and has steadily been increasing his mountain skill repertoire. An avid hiker John had set a goal to summit Mount Washington in the winter and felt a One-Day Mountaineering Course would be a good pre-cursor before a Mount Washington summit attempt. You see John had tried Mount Washington non-guided in the winter last year with rented equipment and came to find out there is more to using crampons in steep terrain than meets the eye. He can tell you that story personally if you get the chance to cross paths with him in the mountains but I can tell you about our two days.

After spending some time at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse dialing in our gear choices and packing strategies we made our way to the historic and classic Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch. At the base of the route the snow was perfect for practicing self arrest, the fundamental skill of quickly stopping oneself while sliding down the mountain with an ice axe. This skill is not intuitive but must become second nature should you wish to travel in steep snowy or glaciated terrain. John showed marked progress after a half hour of practicing. We then worked our way up the first couple hundred feet of lower angle snow climbing working on proper crampon technique.

ice climbing new hampshire

John works on crampon technique with Mount Webster behind him

ice climbing new hampshire

Short pitching our way up the right side of Willey’s with a party of three on the center ice line

A quick list of skills we covered:

Gear selection & packing

Crampon Skills: French Technique, German Technique, Front-Pointing

Ice Axe Skills: Piolet Canne, Self-Arrest Grip, Travel Grip, Self-Arrest from all possible falling positions

Roping up, how & why

Short-pitching, ice screw placement, anchoring in

Knots covered: Figure 8 follow through, Clove-Hitch, Overhand on a bight, Figure Eight on a bight

Rappelling with a device

Arm-wrap rappel


Day 2- Mount Washington Attempt

We met at 7 am sharp and headed off to the trail-head to get a jump on some questionable weather coming in the afternoon.

Climbing Mount Washington

Ready to roll

With low avalanche danger and well above freezing temperatures I decided we would forego the typical Winter Lionshead Route and tackle the more direct (and arguably more fun) Right Gully of Tuckerman Ravine. We still carried avalanche gear with us along with some ultralight harnesses, helmets, and a short rope due to the semi-technical ascent choice.

Climbing Mount Washington

We made great time to Hermit Lake arriving here by 9:30 am

Climbing Mount Washington

The floor of Tuckerman Ravine is always impressive

Climbing Mount Washington

Heading up towards Right Gully

Climbing Mount Washington

Topping out Right Gully

Climbing Mount Washington

Final push above Split Rock

Climbing Mount Washington

The clouds lifted for mere minutes while we got a quick summit photo

With snow conditions prime for glissading I brought us over to the top of the East Snowfields on the south side for a fantastic ride back down to the flats (see video).

Climbing Mount Washington

Dropping a thousand feet in elevation in 10 minutes tends to make you smile

We then connected into Lobster Claw Gully for another quick descent back to the floor of the ravine.

Climbing Mount Washington

Faster than Winter Lionhead but need to be avalanche aware and know how to navigate into them from above!

Climbing Mount Washington

Blue skies as we exit

Climbing Mount Washington

Sun setting on the Boott Spur Ridge as we leave Hermit Lake

Thanks to excellent snow conditions and Johns affinity for hustling downhill we made it back to the parking lot 2 hours and ten minutes after standing on the summit!

This day happened to be John’s 55th birthday and I was truly honored to spend it with him in such an amazing place! I look forward to seeing him in the mountains again soon.

Checkout some of the video from our two days!

Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Gear Review- Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots

Likely one of the most important choices a climber makes involves their footwear. Happy feet are so crucial for happy climbing and my feet have been quite happy this season while I’ve been testing the Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots. Before I break into the details here is how they have been tested:

Mountaineering: (paired with Petzl Vasak Leverlock crampons)

4 winter ascents of Mount Washington with the lowest ambient air temperature around -20f and wind-chills around -50f.

ArcTeryx Acux AR Mountaineering Boots Review

One more trip up “the rockpile” in my ArcTeryx Acux AR Mountaineering Boots

Waterfall Ice Climbing: (paired with Petzl Vasak Crampons, Black Diamond Cyborg’s, and CAMP/Cassin Blade Runner’s)

30+ pitches of waterfall ice climbing including Black Pudding Gully (WI4+), The Black Dike (WI4+) Drool of the Beast (WI5-) and Repentance (WI5).

ArcTeryx Acux AR Review

The author on Black Pudding Gully (WI4+), photo by Brent Doscher Photography, http://www.brentdoscher.com/

ArcTeryx Acux AR Mountaineering Boots Review

The author on Drool of the Beast, photo by Brent Doscher Photography

I mention specifically what crampons I tested these with as this is a very important consideration when selecting a climbing boot, especially in this case and I will get into that further in the review. But first lets take a look at some of the details of this design.

I’ll start with some preliminary info from when I first received these boots back in October.

Arc'teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boot Review

 

“A pinnacle of design for mountaineering, ice and mixed climbing, the Acrux AR is the lightest, most durable, and lowest profile insulated double boot available.”- Arcteryx.com

That is a strong statement, and it happens to be true. Let’s compare some of the other lightweight double boots on the market:

La Sportiva Spantik (88.96 oz/pair)

La Sportiva Baruntse (82.96 oz/pair)

La Sportiva G2 SM (72.22 oz/pair)

Scarpa Phantom 6000 (70 oz/pair)

Arc’teryx Acrux AR (69.1 oz/pair)

This is actually less than an ounce difference than my La Sportiva Batura 2.0’s that I reviewed last winter here.

 


The obvious difference between these and my Batura’s is that these have a removable liner.

ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT Review

ACRUX AR MOUNTAINEERING BOOT

These liners “feel high-tech” in hand. I wore them around the house and they feel like a comfy slipper designed for astronauts. From arcteryx.com:

“Arc’teryx Adaptive Fit technology uses a removable bootie that employs stretch textiles and minimal seams to create an instant custom fit with no pressure. With protection extended beyond the cuff of the boot and the highest level of breathability in this category, the bootie’s GORE-TEX® membrane optimizes climate control and waterproof benefit. The perforated PE foam’s quick dry properties improve comfort, and a rubberized sole allows the bootie to be used as a camp shoe.”


Arc’teryx partnered with Vibram®  and created the AR outsole using Vibram® Mont rubber which keeps its frictional properties in sub-zero temps.

Arcteryx AR Mountaineering Boots Preview

“The specially developed Vibram® AR outsole is designed for support and sure footedness. The tread and construction feature a semi-blocked toe, with anti-slip grooves, a medial climbing support zone, and heel created to provide braking on steep descents. The Vibram® Mont rubber compound maintains its performance in sub-zero conditions.”


Now that I have had sufficient time in the field to test them let’s get into the question on everyone’s mind. How do these perform?

On the approach

Honestly these have been the most comfortable mountaineering boots I have yet to wear. They feel like they were custom made for my feet. For reference I am a US men’s size 9, EUR 42, medium width forefoot with a slight Morton’s toe. Unlike my previous double boots (Koflach Degre, Vertical, and Arctis Expe) it is easier to put this boot on by first putting the slim fitting liner on then sliding into the outer boot. When the liner is already in the boot it is a little more tricky to slide on but not impossible.

The lacing system is probably the only thing I could imagine being improved upon. There is no traction/tension grabber that is becoming common in a lot of boots in this category. For a boot at the high end of the category I would LOVE to see Arcteryx take it a step further and add a ratcheting lacing system like Boa.

As it stands I’ve adapted my lacing strategy. For general mountaineering and easy ice climbing I lace them at home and leave them all day. For harder ice climbing (WI4 and up) I’ll lace them at home, approach, then take the time at the base of the route to snug them up for better performance on the vertical. It doesn’t take long and leaving them loosely laced on steep ice can lead to some insecurity.

For comfort on the approach and descent these score very high. They are super light and warm enough for my feet in all the conditions I’ve tested them in. I do have “warm” feet though so if you suffer from cold feet I would suggest some solid test runs before going to significant altitude. The long term comfort is so significant that I’ve returned home after 14 hour days and left them on while stocking the wood stove and cooking dinner. No joke I have not felt the need to pull my feet out of these as soon as I get home even after significant slogs.

One of the reasons they might be so comfortable on the approach and descent is the small amount of flexibility within the shank/out-sole, a trait some who have tried them are concerned about, but one that I feel is easily remedied. I will elaborate more on that in the next section.

On the climb

The slim looking low profile Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots are the Lamborghini of the climbing boot world. Ok, that might be going a bit overboard but seriously I find these perform extremely well on steep water ice when paired with the right crampon. Why is the crampon pairing so important? Two reasons.

  1. These are super light boots. For hard ice climbs a heavier crampon might actually reduce your energy expenditure by giving your boot/crampon a better balance for efficient kicks. Before you call me crazy consider this is the same theory that explains the practice of adding pick weights to your ice axes. I find the heavier Black Diamond Cyborgs and CAMP Cassin Blade Runners to add a nice amount of weight allowing me to “kick lighter” and let the boot/crampon do the work. So super light boots are a plus for the approach and descent, but it’s nice to add a little mass for the kicking portion of your climb!
  2. These boots have some flex. That small amount of forefoot flex feels great on that 8 mile approach, but when you are front-pointing on near vertical ice having a secure platform takes precedence. I noticed the flex first when leading a 3+ route wearing my well worn Petzl Vasak Crampons. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was noticeable. I’ve since lead multiple grade 5 ice routes using the Black Diamond Cyborgs and CAMP Cassin Blade Runners and in all cases the inclusion of the stiff heavier crampon virtually eliminated all noticeable flexibility while front-pointing on both steep rock and ice.

Summary

Five months of some of the best Northeastern ice climbing I’ve had in years have left me with a super positive impression of the Arc’Teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots. Slipper like comfort, 3-season like weight (yet still plenty warm for my feet), and high end performance when it matters most all add up to a fantastic new edition to the growing assortment of lightweight double boots. You should try a pair on!

Thanks for reading! Take it one step further and comment below! Have you tried them? What did you think? What’s your current boot crampon/setup?

Disclaimer: Arc’Teyrx provided a pair of these boots for the purposes of review but all opinions expressed above are my own. Affiliate links help support this blog.

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Gear Review- La Sportiva Tech Gloves

The La Sportiva Tech Gloves are another great option in the growing category of technical gloves designed for mountaineering, ice climbing, and mixed climbing. For this review we had guest reviewer, AMGA certified Rock Instructor, and all around sender Justin Guarino, test these over ten hard days of ice climbing and mountaineering in the White Mountain Region. Here is his take on this technical alpine glove!


La Sportiva Tech Glove Review

La Sportiva Tech Glove Review- photo from lasportiva.com


The Good

  • Warm even when wet
  • Excellent dexterity
  • Slip Resistant Grip (great of ice climbing)

The Bad

    • Durability
    • Odor
    • Slow to dry

The Verdict

I was very pleased with these gloves and there performance was top notch. The test consisted of a few weeks of steep ice and mixed terrain as well as times of idle inactivity whilst coaching students. Through the entirety of the test my hands were as happy as they could be in the sub freezing daily temps. Easily clipping gear while running it out on grade 5+ waterfall ice and placing cams was never difficult on sketchy stances while sending steep mixed corners. From the onset I took the approach of looking at this glove as a contender for multi day alpine walls in Alaska this spring; I have to say I would take them with me on this death defying terrain were a glove can make or break you.


La Sportiva Tech Glove Review

Justin starts up the crux pillar of the classic Grade 5 ice route Repentance


The Details

Warm when wet:
This is critical and they performed excellent. My hands get sweaty… maybe because I’m always scaring myself. With that said wet from the inside wet from the outside (dripping ice and snow) doesn’t matter they did the job. Truly a pair of gloves that you can start and finish the day with. That in itself merits buying them for they simplify your selection. One and done get after it!
Excellent dexterity:
Given that I often venture into strange terrain, terrain where you better be able to get gear in and not fumble your crucial equipment. I have to say that given the level of insulation the dexterity of these gloves was astounding.
Slip resistant:
This is a crucial trait of an alpine glove and they delivered! Designed to perform and it showed. No fooling around. Its life or death at times up they. Not once did I pull these gloves off with my teeth in a panic and spit them out! I’ve done that before with other gloves and was glad I didn’t have to!
Durability:
You can’t hold it against La Sportiva. If you climb as much as I do you don’t expect these things to last… and they won’t. 10 days on them and I probably have 10 days life left in them. I am a professional and use them at a professionals level of activity so like I said I didn’t expect them to last. (Editor’s note: 20 days of hard use might translate to 1-2 seasons for us weekend warriors).
Odor:
I mean come on all gloves smell bad. But these in particular produced a particular offensive odor. I suppose I need to dry them out better. But who has the time… Climb climb climb! (Editor’s note: I’ve noticed this with most gloves and the only resolution is a good glove/boot dryer! This is the one I use everyday and it is amazing!)
Slow to dry:
Lots of insulation but once the water gets in there it stays. They are still warm but you better believe that makes me nervous especially in sub zero temps. Again they are gloves what do you truly expect. All said they are a great buy.
La Sportiva Tech Glove Review

Justin finding some alpine conditions on Mount Webster’s Shoestring Gully

Thanks you Justin for sharing your feedback on these gloves! If you would like to give these a try you can find a pair on Amazon here or Backcountry.com below!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: La Sportiva provided a sample of these gloves for the purposes of this review. The opinion expressed above are solely of the tester. Affiliate links help support this blog.

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Repentance, Black Dike, Ice Fest, Avy Course!

What a week it has been! This time last Wednesday I was just topping out the classic hard line Repentance on Cathedral Ledge with my old friend Tom and new friend and fellow Northeast Mountaineering guide Jordan. The route was in excellent shape and felt a few degrees easier than when I first climbed it a few years ago with Bob & Ryan.

Thursday I got to guide NEM regular guest Nick up an equally fantastic Black Dike on Cannon Cliff. It had been years since I’d climbed this route and it was in great shape. We did have to wait for a party ahead of us but completed the climb in 6 hours car to car with some of the best glissading I have ever seen on the descent trail!

Friday we started our 4th avalanche course of the season and students and instructors alike partook in evening social hours upstairs at International Mountain Equipment and watched presentations at the Theatre in the Woods.

AIARE Avalanche Course

Skinning out in Crawford Notch during our Observational Outing during day 2 of our AIARE Avalanche Course

On Monday I started a 2 Day Ice Climbing Course and had the pleasure of introducing father & son team Andy and Peter to ice climbing at Cathedral Ledge and in Crawford Notch. The snow was fantastic and I geeked out a bit over some of the snappy wind slabs we found along our route.

Later that night I heard of a climbing accident on the Black Dike. A climber had fallen during the final moves and severely broke his ankle in the 50-60 foot fall. I spoke briefly with Nick last night and he is in good spirits and incredibly grateful for all of those who assisted him off the cliff.

That brings us to today, a chance for me to do some laundry, get to the dump, and attend to other household errands that have been put off for a bit too long. Another round of snow inbound for tonight so I’ll probably find myself skiing tomorrow before our next avalanche course starts on Friday.

What an absolutely fantastic winter we are having! Hope you are getting out there and enjoying it!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Gear Review- Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Jacket

The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket is a bombproof technical super light three layer hard shell suitable for everything from hard ice climbing to alpine touring and Skimo.

Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review

Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

Over the last 3 months I have tested this jacket climbing above tree-line on Mount Washington, leading Grade 5 waterfall ice, and taking laps on the Sherburne ski trail. Its versatility and durability combined with its extreme pack-ability make this a solid contender in best hard-shells of 2016/17.

Durability

Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review

Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket uses GORE-TEX® 3L, 30d nylon plain-weave face with nylon C-Knit™ backer and DWR (95 gsm, 100% nylon). The nylon C-Knit™ backer supposedly creates a “quieter construction”. While it may feel a little softer than an old stiff style GORE-TEX® jacket it definitely does not feel like a soft-shell jacket, but that is a sacrifice one makes when they want 100% water and wind proof protection. After a few thousand feet of back-country skiing, a half dozen or more ice pitches, and 2-3 days above tree-line on Washington the jacket is showing virtually no signs of wear.

Weight/Pack-ability

Black Diamond Helio Shell Review

Hard shell protection at less than a pound!

Definitely one of the key features of this streamlined jacket is how light and small it packs. Black Diamond lists 370 grams for a size medium. My size large was 386 grams, or 13 5/8 ounces. I could crush the piece down to about a 6 inch by 6 inch by 3 inch package, easily small enough to forget about it in your pack until that snow switches over to freezing rain or the next pitch climbs out a drippy shower-fest.

Comfort/Sizing

Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review

Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell Review- photo by Brent Doscher Photography

The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket is designed to be worn with a harness and omits hand pockets to save weight and increase pack-ability. While Black Diamonds size charts put me in a size large I would definitely prefer a size medium in this piece. For reference I am 5′ 9″ 180 pounds with a 42 inch chest. The large has a lot of space in the chest and I feel it would better fit a 44+ inch chest or someone closer to 200 pounds. Sleeve length was slightly long on the large but could be shortened with the Velcro wrist straps. Length was perfect for tucking into my harness and the hood easily fit over my ski helmet. Plenty of room in the shoulders for long reaches over the head. A medium would be perfect for me.

Features

The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket sports a streamlined minimalist design to keep the weight down and the pack-ability up. Full length pit zips, two large chest pockets, velcro cuffs, and an innovative and effective “Coheasive” single pull draw-cord system at both the hem and the hood leave little to talk about here, and that’s ok. The alpinist or skimo customer this jacket is designed for is not looking for a ton of bells and whistles. This shell has what it needs and nothing it doesn’t.

Summary

I’ll admit I am often reluctant to pack a hard shell jacket on most my adventures. I prefer the superior breath-ability of soft shell jackets for the high output sports I pursue. However having the hard-shell packed away as a piece of insurance is a wise move when conditions change and things become a bit wetter or windier than you were expecting.

The extreme pack-ability and less than a pound specifications of a true hard-shell make the Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell a solid piece of insurance to carry on just about any mountain adventure.

You should check it at Backcountry.com here and Amazon here!

Disclaimer: Black Diamond provided the sample for the purpose of review. The opinions above are solely mine. Affiliate links above help support this blog. 

 

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How to Plan a Hut Trip: Practical Advice That Will Save Your Bacon

Some great advice from Rob Coppolillo of Vetta Mountain Guides via the Brooks-Range blog!

BROOKS-RANGE

So you and your crew have reserved a hut, made time for an adventure, and you’re ready to get going—lucky you! Pulling off a fun, lower-risk hut trip requires some planning, though, so let’s dive in and think ahead to your ideal trip.

hut trip 5

Your Crew

A beautiful hut, plenty of food, and epic snow should all mean a wonderful journey ahead, but don’t discount how important the chemistry of your crew can be. If three chargers want to go huge, build kickers, and ski their legs off while you and your best bud from college just want to catch up, lounge by the fire, and read Danielle Steel novels (hey, don’t knock it), your group may end up with different ideas about “the ideal” hut trip.

Discuss your goals, fitness levels, and abilities before you head into the field. Including new or unfamiliar people to your group isn’t necessarily a…

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This winter so far…

What a winter this is shaping up to be! Finding time to blog about any of it is starting to get tricky as I balance 5-6 days a week of guiding with getting my kiddo out on the slopes, driveway cleared, lunches made, dinner cooked, laundry done, say hello and good night to my wife, and wake up and do it all again.

I’m not complaining! This is absolutely my favorite time of the year and for good reason. Skiing and ice climbing conditions have been quite far above par. The transition to a new guide service has been almost seamless and the stoke level is at an all time high!

I’m keeping this post quite short as I have a little more prep to do for tomorrow’s 3rd avalanche class with Northeast Mountaineering but I want to share a couple of my favorite moments this season so far!

Ortovox, DPS Skis, and Revo Ambassadorship

Avalanche Course

Photo by Brent Doscher Photography

Definitely the coolest thing that has happened to me since fatherhood is having these companies support me. A huge shout out to Matt Murphy of Life Style Sales for connecting me with DPS skis, the makers of some seriously legit back-country sliding pro-tech, and Revo Sunglasses, high-end goggles and sunglasses I’ve been sporting for everything from whiteout flat light Tuckerman turns to blue-bird sunny day ice climbing. And finally I somehow ended up on Ortovox’s Athlete Team. I’ve been using their avalanche gear for years and now I have the opportunity to test and promote their incredible clothing and pack line. I am humbled and motivated by this opportunity. Expect to hear a lot more about what they are doing with high-end technical clothing when the dust (snow) settles.

Ice Climbing

ice climbing

Photo by Brent Doscher Photography

I haven’t kept hard numbers the last few years since fatherhood but I can say without a doubt I’ve climbed more ice in the last two months than I remember climbing the last few years, including the first Grade 5 in probably 5 years. I feel strong and look forward to ticking off some routes that have long been on my wish list this season.

Avalanche Courses

avalanche courses

Photo by Matt Baldelli Photography

I love being in the classroom as much as the field when it comes to avalanche education. It’s hard to describe how stoked I can get the minutes before another 3 day avalanche course starts. The excitement of getting ready to engage another group of back-country adventurers and start them on their journey of life-long snow-study and critical decision making produces a natural high to me. Or it could be the triple shot Americano. Either way I love teaching these courses.

Speaking of which I have case studies and agendas to print out for tomorrows course so that’s it for today. Stay tuned for a ton of gear reviews from Outdoor Research, Black Diamond, CAMP/Cassin, Patagonia, Ortovox, DPS, G3, and more.

Oh, and if you book an avalanche course, or any course with us at Northeast Mountaineering, use promo code “DavidNEM” for a chance to win a free guided day.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

 

 

Posted in Avalanche Courses, Ice Climbing, Mountaineering | 2 Comments