Gear Review: Dakine Fall Line Ski Roller Bag

Dakine Fall Line Ski Roller Bag ReviewI bought my Dakine Fall Line Ski Roller Bag around 2008 for a trip to Silverton, CO for some touring and an avalanche instructor course. In the last 10 years it has gone across the country with me a half dozen times to ski in the Rockies, the Cascades, and the Sierra Nevada. I’ve loaned it to multiple friends for their own trips (and been grateful every time it came back to me unharmed). The last two years it has come with me to ski in Iceland. It is the only real piece of “luggage” that I own, and I couldn’t be happier with it, so it was time to write a quick review about it!


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From the manufacturer:

DAKINE FALL LINE SKI ROLLER BAG

Our most popular ski roller bag, the Fall Line is the perfect jack-of-all trades ski bag. Well-featured and lightweight with all the features you’d need for a daytrip to the mountain or a week-long vacation hunting pow. With room for two pairs of skis, a set of poles and a removable boot bag, it’s a great solution for every kind of ski trip. The tow handle pairs with a rolling luggage bag, for one-handed navigation through an airport or hotel lobby, and the zippered external pocket keeps gloves, hats, travel papers and magazines easily accessible.


DETAILS

  • Limited Lifetime Warranty
  • Holds 2pr skis and 1pr boots, poles and outerwear
  • 360° padded ski protection
  • End handle pairs with rolling luggage for one-handed operation
  • Removable boot bag
  • #10 YKK lockable main zipper
  • Durable, over-sized 9cm urethane wheels
  • Exterior zippered pocket
  • Packs down tight for easy storage

DIMENSIONS

  • 175cm model
  • 12 x 8 x 74″ [ 30 x 20 x 188cm ]
  • Fits max. 175cm skis
  • 190cm model
  • 12 x 8 x 80″ [ 30 x 20 x 203cm ]
  • Fits max. 190cm skis
  • 6.2 lbs. [ 2.8 kg ]

My Opinion

While I considered buying a “single pair of ski” size bag I went for one that was big enough for two pairs of skis and I am so grateful I did! I’ve never put two pairs of skis in it, preferring to pack the majority of my ski clothes, avalanche gear, camp gear, etc into the ski bag. Clothing, ice axe, ropes, crampons, etc. this bag swallows everything I need for ski touring and the clothing helps protect the most important cargo… my skis!

Most airlines allow up to 50 or sometimes 70 pounds for a ski bag so depending on what airline I’m flying I check the maximum weight allowed for a ski bag and then pack it to within a pound or two of that limit. That lets me travel with just my ski pack as my carry-on with essentials for the flight.

Having a wheeled ski bag is a game changer for moving around airports. I wouldn’t consider a non-wheeled model for whenever this one wears out (after ten years it still looks great so I’m not too worried but I’m sure someday it will meet a luggage handler who is having a bad day).

Dakine has made one significant change to this model since I bought mine and that is making the “boot bag” big enough for two pairs of boots and making it removable. That’s a nice touch! My older version has two separate boot compartments on each end that fit one boot each. I don’t mind it, but since I only use one travel zipper lock I worry a bit about my ski boots falling out during transit. The new model removable boot compartment is inside the main compartment so one travel lock is all you need!

 


Summary

Easily one of my best outdoor gear purchases in the last 20 years. I will gladly upgrade to the current model if my current bag ever wears out, but it may be a while! If you are in need of a ski bag this one is most worthy of your consideration!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Disclaimer: This item was purchased by the author and all opinions are his alone. Affiliate links help support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review- NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody

Last Spring I was invited by NW Alpine, an Oregon based company, to demo a couple of their technical pieces. Right before I left for a back-country ski trip to Iceland the NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody arrived.


NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review- photo from NWAlpine.com

From NWAlpine.com

Outside Magazine included our Black Spider Hoody in their list of “The Only Winter Clothes You Need.”

The quintessential layer for all high output aerobic activity, the Black Spider Hoody is crafted from Polartec® High Efficiency Power Dry® fabric for superior performance. Functional in a wide variety of conditions, this piece will keep you warm during spring and fall rock climbing sessions and will quickly become a key piece of your system during fast and light winter excursions. For the many who run too hot to wear heavy layers when active, the Black Spider Hoody is the solution to this problem.

Featuring majority flat seams this layer can be comfortably worn against the skin or, depending on conditions, can be worn over a light shirt. A balaclava style under helmet hood, thumb holes on the cuffs and a zippered chest pocket round out the features on this minimalist layer.

Awards:

Climbing Magazine, May 2018https://www.climbing.com/gear/review-nw-alpine-black-spider-hoody/

Outside Magazine, December 2016https://www.outsideonline.com/2140321/only-winter-clothes-you-need


How we Tested

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
Sizing Contour climbing skins the night before our first touring day: photo by Brent Doscher

Other than wearing this for the commute from NH to Iceland my personal testing would be delayed as my friend Erik’s bag was lost by the airline and I loaned him this piece along with a few other items so he wouldn’t miss a day of touring. We then spent 5 days touring in Northern Iceland.

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
Skinning up some wind effected hard pack on Karlsarfjall mountain: photo by Brent Doscher

Made from Polartec® High Efficiency Power Dry® fabric this hoody is an excellent skin layer or can be worn comfortably over a snug fitting synthetic or Merino wool t-shirt. It is definitely thin enough for high aerobic activity.

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody
Striking my “what do I do with my hands” pose while Erik and Jerry are all GQ: photo by Brent Doscher

Sizing

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review

I went with a size large which was an athletic but not too snug fit for my 5’9″ 180 lb 42 inch chest. It was a more casual but functional fit for Erik who is 5’8″, 160 lb. To select the right fit just use the size chart above and the best measurement to refer to would be chest size.

Durability

After the Iceland ski trip I wore this for a dozen or more days while rock climbing back East in early Spring conditions. It’s come back out with me this Fall for more climbing and shows no signs of wear.


Performance

NW Alpine Black Spider Hoody Review
Great uphill travel piece: photo by Cait Bourgault

Breathable, not “too” warm, quick-drying. Everything you want from a performance minimalist piece. This type of Polartec fabric was new to me and it is really comfortable worn directly over skin. The thumb loops are welcome when slipping my wind shell on and the hood has a nice snug fit that works great under both my ski and climbing helmets. The zippered chest pocket was a great size for my iPhone (and convenient to keep it close and warm).


Summary

This is a nice addition to the wardrobe. Normally I would resist Anorak styles but this one has become a favorite. It fits a nice niche between a super thin “Sun Hoody” like the Patagonia Sunshade Technical Hoody and a thicker warmer hoody like the Arc’teryx Elgin Pullover Hoodie. You can pick one up directly from the Made in the USA manufacturer at this link:

Buy at NW Alpine

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: This item was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links help support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start. All opinions are that of the author.

Tech Tip: Tying Off Your Belay Device

You are four pitches up a moderate multi-pitch climb. Your partner just crushed the crux moves and is about 140 feet above you when you hear the yell. The rope comes tight on your belay device. He is out of view and there is no response to your calls. What now?

In today’s Tech Tip we’re going to cover what is often the first step in a rescue scenario, tying off your belay device. This skill, at the very least, will allow you to go “hand’s free” so you can perhaps get your cell phone out of your pack and call for help. Even better if you have the right skills you might end up transferring the climber’s weight to the anchor and ascending the rope to them to provide potentially life-saving first aid, then build a system that will help you bring them back down to the ground.

But it all starts with being able to tie-off your belay device.



“Self-Rescue” skills are something every climber should acquire and practice even if you don’t intend to lead climb. The systems can seem complex, and sometimes they are, but they are not that complex. You can learn them. Accidents will happen. The longer you climb the more likely you will need them. I recommend you try to get them before you wish you had them.

Self Rescue Skills Course

If you would like to brush up on your self-rescue skills with me send me an email at nealpinestart at gmail and we can find a date that works for you. This course is best done with one of your regular partners so you can be prepared to rescue each other should an accident occur.

Cost

1 person: $250 per person
2 people: $150 per person
3 people: $130 per person
4 people: $120 per person

 Course will be booked through Northeast Mountaineering once we have picked a date.



Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous and attempting anything described in this post can lead to serious injury or death. You are solely responsible for your safety. 

Rumney, Whitney-Gilman, Pinnacle!

I hope everyone is out there enjoying the best rock climbing weather of the year! Yesterday I finished three solid days of guiding for Northeast Mountaineering starting with a fun Friday at Rumney Rocks with Jennifer.

Rumney Rocks


Jennifer used to rock and ice climb all over the west before moving East and focusing on her career in Boston for the last decade but as the saying goes, once a climber, always a climber! The mountains were calling and after booking an upcoming 4 day climbing trip to Red Rocks she wanted to come up north and refresh her climbing skills and I was lucky enough to get to re-introduce her to the sport!

I can’t wait to hear about your Red Rocks adventure Jennifer and I look forward to climbing some ice with you this winter!


Whitney-Gilman Ridge, Cannon Cliff

Saturday I got to meet up with my good buddy and regular client Larry for his first taste of NH alpine climbing. Larry started his mountain adventures about 20 months ago when I led him and a group on a winter ascent of Mount Washington. We hit it off and he returned multiple times to ice climb with me before going out and sampling other climbing areas all around the country. We planned to tick off both of New Hampshire’s classic alpine ridge climbs starting with the Whitney-Gilman Ridge.

There were a few parties in the climber lot when I pulled in at 8:10 AM. A couple from Canada was heading off for Whitney Gilman and a party of three was heading for Lakeview. I filled out a climber sheet then hopped back in the car and drove down to Lafayette Campground, in my opinion the preferred approach for a Whitney-Gilman day. Larry arrived on time at 8:30 and we were heading up the trail by 8:40 AM.

Whitney-Gilman Ridge
Approach to Whitney-Gilman Ridge

As we got closer to the ridge I could see the Canadian couple finishing the 1st pitch and confirmed when we reached the alternate starting ledge there was no one else on route. Our timing was perfect as while we climbed the first two pitches right behind the Canadian couple no less than 3 or 4 parties arrived below. Some headed towards Duet/Reppy’s and two parties of two got on route behind us.

Whitney-Gilman Ridge
Larry following the 2nd pitch

Despite it lightly raining a few times on the approach the rock stayed relative dry and the climbing went well.

Whitney-Gilman Ridge
Larry halfway up the third pitch with a party on the 2nd pitch
Whitney-Gilman Ridge
Larry after just topping out the 4th pitch, the famously exposed “Pipe Pitch”
Whitney-Gilman Ridge
Larry tops out the Whitney-Gilman Ridge

We topped out a little before 2 PM and were back down to the car by 3 PM. While Larry has only been rock climbing a short time he has climbed in quite a few areas and he was certainly impressed with “New England 5.7″… to think of this route being first climbed in 1929 with hemp ropes and no pitons is quite awe inspiring! We parted ways for the evening but would meet up at 8 AM the following day for a trip into Huntington Ravine!


Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle

For our second day we headed high up Mount Washington for a super fun day on the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle. Since I have a season pass to the Auto Road we skipped the long approach from Pinkham and were hiking down the Huntington Ravine trail a little before 9 AM. Luckily we had Northeast Mountaineering intern and super talented photographer Peter Brandon join us for the day and all images below are his!

Descending to Huntington Ravine
Descending to Huntington Ravine-
Most dangerous trail in New Hampshire!
Most dangerous trail in New Hampshire!

I took advantage of this 4th class descent trail to practice some short-rope technique.

Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail
Short-Roping down the Huntington Ravine Trail

There was no one route yet when we arrived and one couple also using the “Euro” approach still making their way down the Huntington trail but with it being a beautiful weekend day I knew more folks would be arriving soon so we got racked up and moving.

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Gear up and go!

I’ve been practicing transitions from The Mountain Guide Manual and decided to lead the first two pitches in “parallel” so I could belay both Larry and Peter at the same time. We cruised up the first two pitches in no time and I then switched us to “caterpillar” for the 5.8 crux pitch.

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine
Starting up the third pitch
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine
Thanks for the solid belays Larry!
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine
Third pitch

While Larry was working the the crux moves a fast moving party of two, Micky and Ben, caught up to us. We let them play through and leap-frogged them once when we headed for the “Fairy Tale Traverse”. We held up here and let them pass again so we could get Peter in position to shoot this awesome last pitch.

Great meeting you Micky and Ben, your positive vibe was contagious and the wine & cheese spread you had waiting for your better halves at the top was most impressive!

After Peter led the last pitch we freed his rope and he pulled it up to get into a good position to shoot this last pitch. I then started out across this easy but exhilarating traverse.

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Heading out on the “Fairy Tale” traverse last pitch of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
The feet are really good! Just don’t expect much pro or hand-holds… SPOILER that’s a pretty solid Black Diamond .2 X4 providing some decent pro halfway across the traverse
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Topping out the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Larry starts out along the traverse while I belay… I just gotta say Peter this shot is killer!
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Another amazing capture by Peter Brandon
Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Larry two moves from finishing his second NH alpine rock climb

We soaked in some sun and coiled our ropes to hike back up to the car but first we had to look down in the abysmal Pinnacle Gully, a route Larry had ice climbed with me just last winter!

Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
Looking down into the abyss of Pinnacle Gully

And so Larry ticked off two NH greats in two days, but he isn’t done yet. As I type this he is en-route to climb in Acadia National Park where I am sure he will continue to gain knowledge and technique that will serve him well on all his climbing adventures. It is always awesome climbing with you Larry and I’m really looking forward to hitting the ice with you this winter!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Gear Review- AeroPress Coffee Maker and MSR WindBurner Stove

Today is National Coffee Day (September 29th) and I thought I’d share some thoughts on my most essential coffee related piece of gear, the AeroPress, along with a look at MSR’s newest high performance personal stove system, the MSR WindBurner. So grab a cup of Joe, sit back, and let’s start by talking coffee.


AeroPress

Aerobie AeroPress Coffee Maker Review
Aerobie AeroPress Coffee Maker- photo from Amazon.com

This has become the single most used item in our kitchen. I switched from a French Press many years ago when I discovered the advantages of the AeroPress over the French Press. These advantages also make it a better choice for our back-country and car-camping adventures. The ultra-convenience and pack-ability mean we even take this with us when visiting family out of state. You can read exactly how it works, along with hundreds of other positive verified reviews on Amazon, but here’s my top 3 reasons why I only brew with AeroPress:

1) Better coffee. Regardless of the grind and quality of your beans this method produces smoother less acidic/bitter coffee that is good to the very last sip (where as a French Press always left some icky silt at the bottom of my mug).

2) Faster. Once you have coffee ground and water boiled the remaining steps take less than a minute to produce enough hand-pressed espresso to make two 12 ounce Caffe Americano’s, which is just the right amount for my wife and I.

3) Cleaner. At home I just push the “puck” into the trash and give the plunger a quite rinse/swipe. In the back-country I can eject the “puck” cleanly into my trash for easy Leave-No-Trace practices.

After 5 years of almost daily use the unit shows no signs of wear. It is close to indestructible. At less than $30 this is likely the best value kitchen item I have ever owned!

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MSR WindBurner Stove

MSR Windburner Stove Review
MSR Windburner Stove- photo from MSR.com

If you need to melt snow or boil water as efficiently as possible the award winning Windburner stove might be for you. “Reactor” technology mixed with simplicity and pack-ability make this a great choice for 1-3 person alpine teams. I recently used this stove for a two week climbing trip in the Cascades at elevations up to 11,000 feet and can highly endorse its performance. My top 3 favorite things about the MSR Windburner.

  1. Fuel efficient. One 4 ounce canister easily melted snow and boiled water for freeze-dried meals for 2 people for 3 days from 7,000-11,000 feet in elevation.
  2. Pack-able. The 4 ounce fuel container fits comfortably inside the pot and the plastic bowl snaps onto the bottom. There is room for a small lighter and chamois cloth just above the fuel which makes my entire “kitchen” take up the same amount of space as a 32 ounce Nalgene water bottle!
  3. Quiet. So quiet that in bright sunlight sometimes it was hard to tell if it was lit!
MSR WindBurner Stove Review
Melting snow and boiling water for breakfast at 9000 feet on Mount Rainer- photo by Alexandra Roberts Photography

For foul weather use there is a hanging kit available, and since we are celebrating National Coffee Day despite my affinity for my AeroPress I would be remiss to not point out MSR also makes a Coffee Press Kit that fits this stove. Since I only melt snow and boil water for self-contained freeze-dried or dehydrated meals I prefer to carry my AeroPress and never have to wash or clean the pot. The only improvement MSR could make to this stove is adding a push button igniter. That would make this a 10/10 piece of gear in my book!


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   Buy on Amazon

   Buy from EMS


No matter how you like your coffee you can find all kinds of back-country suitable coffee accessories on Backcountry.com HERE!

COMMENT BELOW! Whats your favorite at home and in the mountains way of preparing coffee? 

Thanks for reading! Happy National Coffee Day! Here’s to staying fully caffeinated both at home and in the mountains!

-Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: All products mentioned were purchased with my own money. Affiliate links above help support Northeast Alpine Start.

Improved Belay Check

A tragic rock climber fatality this past weekend at a crag in Vermont has motivated this post. The exact events leading up to the accident are still not public but what is clear is the young woman fell 90 feet while trying to descend, presumably while being lowered.

UPDATE 9/22/2017: An official summary of the accident has been posted from the VT Search & Rescue Coordinator, Vermont Dept. of Public Safety. I now include it here before my original post below:


Following is a summary of the incident.

Three climbers (#1, #2, #3) were finishing up their day top roping on Harvest Moon. Climber #1 was making the final ascent of the day. Both #2 and #3 believed that the plan was for #1 to ascend, clean the anchor, and rappel down. The actual wording of this conversation is not entirely clear. #2 remembers #1 saying she would “probably” rappel, but “might” be lowered. #3 only remembers the use of the term “rappel”.

Climber #1 finished the climb, called “off belay” and #2 removed  the belay and took their harness off believing that #1 would clean the anchor then rappel down.  About 5 minutes later #1 called “are you ready to lower?”. Both #2 and #3 shouted “no” back, and #2 rushed to put their harness back on. Less than a minute later Climber #1 was observed in an uncontrolled fall down the face which she did not survive. She was tied into her harness and the rope was threaded through the bolts at the top anchor, with the free end ending up just a few inches above the ground.

Further investigation discovered that climber #1 did not have a rappel device on her harness. It was later found to have been in a pile of gear at the base of the climb.

The most likely scenario is the climber #1 had intended to rappel after cleaning the anchor, but discovered that she had left her ATC behind.  The communication of this change to a different plan was not clear.  While it seems most likely that #1 did not clearly hear the “no” and “no- wait” shouts from #2 and #3 and leaned back expecting to be lowered, it cannot be ruled out that she slipped or tripped while waiting for the lower or perhaps tried to move closer to the edge to improve communication. There is simply no way to know for certain whether #1 was expecting to be lowered at the time of the accident, or unintentionally tripped or fell while waiting to be lowered.


It seems lowering/rappelling accidents are on the rise. The 2013 Accidents in North American Mountaineering publication looked at lowering accidents from the previous 10 years and determined 34% where due to belayer error and/or miscommunication. During 2016 we had 24 accidents caused by rappelling and lowering errors. Twice this past week I witnessed miscommunication between belayers and climbers at Rumney Rocks, NH that almost resulted in a climber being taken off belay when they were still climbing.

I believe our standard “belay check” that we perform before climbing could be improved in an effort to reduce a large amount of similar accidents.

Let’s start by taking a look at the standard belay check most climbers perform before climbing. The rope is stacked and the climber is ready to leave the ground, whether it be on lead or top-rope. The climber looks at the belayer and asks…

“On Belay?”

The belayer, before responding, checks to make sure the climber’s harness is on properly, looks closely at the climber’s tie-in knot to make sure it is tied correctly and in the proper place on the harness, then checks that the belay device is installed on the rope correctly, and that the belay system is closed (knot or tied-in to the other end of the rope). At this point the belayer signals with…

“Belay on!”

From this point on the climber is free to ascend whether leading or top-roping with the belayer providing critical security should the climber fall.

The American Alpine Club has produced a quality video demonstrating these steps as part of the “Universal Belay Standard”. I’ve embedded their video below to start at this belay check.


 

But every year climbers die or get seriously injured when the belay gets dis-mantled when the climber is at the top of the route.

Let’s look at how this has can occur and how we can might best mitigate the risk.


Misinterpretation

Likely the most common factor is misinterpretation of what is happening when the climber gets to the top of the climb and needs to break down the team’s personal gear before being lowered or rappelling off of fixed gear. Essentially the climber arrives at the anchor and signals to the belayer. The belayer interprets this signal to mean the climber no longer needs a belay, and dismantles the system. The climber, expecting to be lowered, leans back on the rope and soon finds themselves falling.


Miscommunication

When the climber arrives at the anchor they signal with a non-standard signal that could have multiple interpretations. I often teach students that “OK” is a dangerous word in climbing. It can mean so many things and undoubtedly has lead to belayers believing one thing while the climber meant something else. Does OK mean you are in-direct to the anchor? Does it mean you are hiking down? Setting up a rappel?


Solutions

First we need to add a final step to our belay check when climbing in a single-pitch environment. Essentially our belay check should look like this.

“On Belay?” – climber

“Belay on.” – belayer

“What are you going to do at the top?” – belayer

“I’m planning to have you lower me through the fixed gear”- climber

or

“I’m planning to go in direct, call off belay, and rig to rappel” – climber

or

“I’m going to come off belay toss the rope down and hike back down” – climber

This communication, referred to as an “action plan” by the AAC, prior to leaving the ground would certainly help prevent many of the close calls and likely some of the serious accidents that occur. It is much easier to communicate with your partner during the belay check then when you are 90 feet above them at the anchor.

Stick to standard commands. “On belay, take, tension, slack, lower, off belay”. At busy crags use names and space out the sylables to be clearly understood by your belayer.

“John….  Off……  Belay” -climber

As a belayer make sure the command you heard was from your partner.

“Jane… Was… That… You?”- belayer

“John…. Yes…. Off….. Belay” – climber

Rock Climbing Belay Check
A busy day at the crag requires solid communication between belayer and climber- photo by @alexandraroberts

When the option exists chose to be lowered over rappelling. Lowering is often faster than setting up a rappel and argue-ably safer as the climber never needs to come off belay. The belayer knows the belay must stay intact until the climber is back on the ground. The AAC does a great job of explaining this skill here and in this video:


Summary

Climbing IS dangerous. Even with all the high quality safety gear and available training and knowledge we will continue to see tragic loss of life to seemingly easily preventable accidents. But…

We can see a reduction in accidents if we continually challenge ourselves and the climbing community at large to make small improvements in our methodology. Make sharing your “action plan” part of every belay check!

References

Accidents in North American Mountaineering, 2013, pages 9-12

Accidents in North American Climbing, 2016, page 125

Mountain Project Accident Forum

Book Review Coming Soon!

Vertical Aid: Essential Wilderness Medicine for Climbers, Trekkers, and Mountaineers

Vertical Aid: Essential Wilderness Medicine for Climbers, Trekkers, and Mountaineers
Vertical Aid: Essential Wilderness Medicine for Climbers, Trekkers, and Mountaineers

Gear Review: Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe

The leaves are starting to turn high in our notches so I find myself starting to anticipate another great ice climbing season in the Northeast. Last season I had the opportunity to demo the CAMP/Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and while I shared my positive impressions of them with dozens of climbing partners I never got around to a full detailed review. With the ice climbing season quickly approaching what better time than now?

Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe Review
The author on Black Pudding Gully, WI 4+, photo by Brent Doscher

If I had to describe these tools in one word it would easily be…

versatile

There is more custom-ability in this model then any other ice axe I have ever used! Let’s start with my favorite feature of the Cassin X-Dream’s!

Buy at REI              Buy on Amazon         Buy on Backcountry


The Handle

By simply loosening one bolt you can pivot the handle into a “dry-tooling” setting appropriate for high level mixed climbing and competitions. This setting will align the handle/pick in a configuration quite similar to the Petzl Ergo Ice Axe. I don’t personally climb in competitions or send overhanging mixed sport routes in the winter so I only tested these in the “ice” setting which was the perfect angle for comfortable swings on steep grade 4 and grade 5 waterfall ice routes, and is quite similar to the alignment of the Petzl Nomic. If you’ve never demo’d a tool with a handle angled like this it’s hard to explain how much of a difference it makes on steep ice allowing your wrist to stay in a much more natural position and facilitating the relaxed grip that is so crucial on grade 4+ ice.

CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Ergonomic handle allows for relaxed grip in steep terrain- photo by Brent Doscher

Micro-adjustable trigger finger ledges can be adjusted in multiple ways. With a small phillips head screw driver you can swap the main trigger finger ledge from the included “X-finger small” with an “X-finger large, sold separately, $6”. My medium sized hands preferred the smaller less obtrusive setting.

For those with very small hands you can snap in the X-Rest handle height insert (sold separately, $8) which raises the height of the handle interior by about 3 mm.

The X-Trigger pommel (included) attaches to the shaft for an optional third ledge and can be slid up or down to your preferred spot. I liked mine just above the X-Grip 2 friction tape that is also included on the shaft.

Finally the entire handle can be swapped out with the recently released X-Dream Alpine Grip, a feature that greatly improves security when topping out an ice route and switching back to piolet canne.

Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe Review
Original X-Dream Grip (included) next to X-Dream Alpine Grip, sold separately $79.95 ea.

The Picks

There are three picks designed for the Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and they come stock with the “Mixte” pick which I found worked as well as any ice pick I’ve used across the major manufacture brands. All three are T-rated which adds confidence when torquing or utilizing The Stein Pull. I plan on buying a set of the ice picks this season as I think the addition of the small hammer will add a nice touch of head weight and help this tool step even closer into the alpine environment (occasional testing of pitons, tool tapping to gently set a pick on thin ice, etc).

CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Author samples the sweets on Black Pudding Gully- photo by Brent Doscher

Buy at REI                    Buy on Amazon         Buy on Backcountry


UPDATE: Soon after posting this review CAMP USA let me know that they just released two more compatible accessories that further add to the versatility of this tool. A new “Total Dry” pick designed for over-hanging hooking and competition. This brings the pick options on this axe to four! Also, and more exciting in my opinion is the new available head weights. I will be trying these out with a new set of ice picks this winter!


The Shaft

Cassin combines a T-rated aluminum shaft with a chromoly steel head that passes both CE and UIAA certification. Total weight is 1 lb 5 oz, 610 grams and the swing feels very natural and balanced. I did not find any need to adapt my swing to these like I have with some comparable models from other companies. With the included X-Grip friction tape and “third ledge” pommel I’ve found no need to supplement the rest of the shaft with after market grip tape. During placement the shaft dampens nicely without noticeable vibration and provides reliable feedback with each stick.

CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Balanced natural swings- photo by Brent Doscher

Summary

With a high degree of customization and optimization for steep ice, mixed routes, and competition climbing this Italian made ice axe should become a common sight on the steep ice drips around the world. If you lead or follow grade 4 and up waterfall ice you should try to demo a pair of these! While outfitting them with the new X-Dream Alpine Grip puts them in the running for the most expensive set of tools when it comes to waterfall ice axes sometimes you get what you pay for.

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CAMP/CASSIN X-Dream Review
Author on Drool of the Beast, Grade 5- photo by Brent Doscher

Thanks for reading! See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

This product was provided for the purpose of review. All opinions are that of the author. Affiliate links support this blog.