Annual Holiday Gift Guide 2021

Every holiday season I hand pick just 10 items I think would be an excellent gift for the hiker, climber, back-country rider, in your life. These are items I either already own and love or items that are at the top of my own wish list for Santa. I hope this list helps you find the special gift for someone you are shopping for this holiday season!

VSSL Java Coffee Grinder

Holiday Gift Guide VSSL Java Coffee Grinder
Holiday Gift Guide VSSL Java Coffee Grinder

Definitely the greatest hand grinder for serious coffee lovers ever designed! We use ours daily to perfectly grind 20 grams local coffee. And speaking of quality coffee if you are local to Mount Washington Valley you know there are only two places to shop for coffee! If you are not local both of these small amazing coffee shops ship so order up some great coffee today from Frontside Coffee Roasters and Ski The Whites Coffee Company!

Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker

Aeropress Coffee Maker Holiday Gift Guide

I am a diehard fan of the Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker for our caffeine needs both at home and on the trail! It is simply the fast way to brew an amazing cup of Joe and clean up is so much easier than a messy French Press!

DJI Mini 2 Drone

DJI Mini 2 Fly More Combo Holiday Gift Guide

I bought the DJI Mini 2 Drone Fly More Combo last Spring and have been having a lot of fun making amateur video clips with it. I did quite a bit of research before I bought it and I think this is one of the best values for a quality starter drone! There’s a few examples on my YouTube channel of what kinds of clips you can create… here’s a short clip I made last month:

My Medic First Aid Kit

MyMedic First Aid Kit Review Holiday Gift Guide

We have a few first aid kits from this excellent company. Both of our vehicles have the original “MyFAK” kit stored in them and “The Solo” is a great small kit for quick adventures.

Rocky Talkies

Holiday Outdoor Gift Guide

An incredible rugged and easy to use pair of hand held radios can greatly improve safety while enjoying mountain sports. You can read my full review of these here and get 10% off with promo code “AlpineStart10”.


Luci Pro Series Solar Lights

Only until tomorrow MPOWERD is offering BOGO on the Luci Pro Series! Awesome for outdoor light both at home and while backpacking that really is a killer deal. I’m also a fan of the new Luci Base Light that can charge your smartphone while also providing great back-up light. We have that model and a few of the Original Luci Lights that we use while car camping and during power-outages at home.


Hydro Flask ($25-$40)

IMG_1645
hydro-flask-options

This socially responsible company makes the coolest water bottles and tumblers out there! Super high quality stainless steel technology keeps cold drinks cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 6 hours! Customization and tons of color and style options means there is a Hydro Flask out there for just about everyone!


Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer ($11)

Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer

I’m pretty sure the 10 seconds of silence from my girlfriend after asking her to marry me was enough time for her to accept that she loved a man with some seriously stinky feet. Luckily she said yes and I would soon find this foot powder, seriously the only product that works on my feet! 10 years later she is quick to remind me if she notices my supply running low. This one is a PERFECT stocking stuffer, pick it up on Amazon here.


Darn Tough Socks

Darn Tough Socks
Darn Tough Socks

Possibly the best socks I’ve ever owned and made right over the border in Vermont! For mountaineering and ice climbing check out this model! These socks come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee and make an excellent stocking stuffer!


DryGuy DX Heavy Duty Boot and Glove Dryer

DryGuy DX Boot and Glove Dryer Holiday Gift Guide
MaxxDry Boot and Glove Dryer

Every home in the Northeast should have one of these! It’s effective enough that I can easily dry my boots and gloves along with my wife’s in just a couple hours. No balancing them over the floor base heaters or getting them too hot near the wood-stove and risking early de-lamination! You can pick on up on Amazon here.


Petzl Nao+ Headlamp

ONECOL

The Petzl Nao+ is the best headlamp for anyone who gets after dawn patrol or squeezes in late night pitches after work!


Shop Local!

While I do love these online deals I want to take up this space by encouraging you support local businesses, especially small specialty climbing shops, with your business! To that end if you can physically visit these stores please do!

Burgeon Outdoors, Lincoln, NH

Ski The Whites, Jackson, NH

Eastern Mountain Sports, North Conway, NH

International Mountain Equipment, North Conway, NH

Ragged Mountain Equipment, Intervale, NH

Outdoor Gear Exchange, Burlington, VT

Summary

Well there’s my small contribution to the every growing list of Holiday Gift Guides that are undoubtedly hitting your mailbox this season. My suggestions are heartfelt and I hope they help you find something for the outdoor person(s) in your life!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above support this blog. Thank you!

Deal Alert: MyMedic “The Solo” First Aid Kit

We are about to hit the season of savings on outdoor gear! I’m organizing my annual Holiday Gift Guide and it will be ready by Black Friday. One item that will certainly make my “top ten” Holiday Gift Ideas is a quality first aid kit. MyMedic is currently offering 35% off their most popular first aid kit, The Solo, one I’ve reviewed in depth!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links support this blog

Deal Alert! Steep and Cheap

Occasionally a deal comes across my radar I think is worth sharing here. This one is only valid through tomorrow! Use code “NOVBUMP20” for an extra 20% off some already deeply discounted products! Here’s a quick list of my favorite items that are eligible for these savings!

Smith I/O Goggles ($250 with code only $100!)

Mammut Pro X 35L Airbag (an airbag for under $500!)

ALPS Mountaineering Phenom 2 Person Tent ($250 with code only $140!)

If none of those are on your wish list here’s a link to every item eligible for the additional discount!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above support this blog

Tech Tip: Buntline Hitch

rock climbing tech tip Buntline Hitch

There are many situations in climbing where it makes sense to construct your anchor from the climbing rope you are already attached to versus reaching for a sling or cordelette; most notably when swinging leads or finishing a climb with a tree anchor followed by a walk-off. In recent years the Connecticut Tree Hitch (CTH) has gained popularity among both professional climbing guides and savvy recreational climbers.

The Buntline Hitch is also a suitable option that has a few distinct advantages over the CTH.

  1. The hitch does not require a locking carabiner
  2. The hitch forms a suitable master point for belaying your second (when using a CTH you must tie another bight knot to create a master point).
  3. If tied incorrectly it forms either two half-hitches or a clove-hitch which have a high enough slip strength. The CTH tied incorrectly will catastrophically fail.
  4. It is fast to tie and untie

Credit: Big thanks to Derek DeBruin for sharing this hitch with in the AMGA Professional Facebook Forum and for his continued work disseminating quality information. EDIT: Derek credits Richard Goldstone for teaching him this method.

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous. Practice new skills on the ground and seek qualified instruction.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip: Rigging to Lower from a Sport Climb

Rigging to Lower from a Sport Climb

Rigging to lower from a sport climb is faster, more efficient, and safer than setting up a rappel. Here’s the why and the how!

Faster and More Efficient

When one rigs to lower one only needs to pull up enough rope to pass a bight through the fixed anchor and tie a bight knot that can be clipped to one’s belay loop. If one chooses to set up a rappel instead one needs to pull up at least half the rope (if the rope has an accurate middle mark) or the entire rope up (if the rope does not have an accurate middle mark). This is not only faster than setting a rappel, but safer!

Safer

As mentioned the fact that you do not need to locate the middle of the rope when being lowered leads to a reduction in risk. There are many examples of accidents that resulted from the two ends of a rope not being even during a rappel. When rigging to lower you also have the benefit of still being on belay. If you have led the route prior to rigging the lower the rope will still be traveling through quick draws below offering some protection against an unexpected slip. Finally this method keeps the climber attached to the rope in some form through out the process eliminating the risk of dropping the rope (it happens!).

How

The process isn’t too complicated but there are a few considerations and options.

  1. The first of which is whether or not to tether into the anchor during the process. The best practice depends on the situation, more specifically, the stance. When you arrive at the anchor if there is a decent stance you can omit tethering into the anchor and doing so reduces clutter and speeds the process. If the unexpected slip occurs at this stage your rope is still through the anchor. If you have passed a bight through the anchor some security can be obtained by keeping tension on the bight as you bring it down to your belay loop and tie the bight knot. However if the stance is small and insecure it would be best to tether into the anchor so you can rig to lower more comfortably. While there are a few appropriate tether systems out there one of the best options is the CAMP USA Swing Dynamic Belay Lanyard.
  2. Pull up some slack and thread a bight through the fixed rings on the anchor. Continue to lengthen this bight until it reaches your belay loop and pull it about 8 inches past (below) your belay loop.
  3. Tie a bight knot here. There are a couple bight knots you could use to attach the rope back to your climbing rope. An overhand on a bight works, but is harder to untie then a figure-eight on a bight. I often tie a figure 8 on a bight with an extra wrap or two around the two strands. This makes a secure bight knot that is very easy to untie after it has been loaded (sometimes called a figure-9).
  4. After the bight knot is tied connect it to your belay loop with a locking carabiner. Some climbers might chose to add a second reversed/opposed carabiner (locking or not). If only using a single locking carabiner make sure it is locked and properly orientated when you call for “take” and weight the new attachment. Best practice here is to get a little closer to the anchor so when your belayer “takes” you can weight the new attachment and verify everything looks correct the next step.
  5. Untie your original tie in knot and pull the long tail through the anchor.
  6. Remove the quick-draws (or whatever your top-rope anchor was), weight the rope, and ask to be lowered. Watch that you don’t get tripped up on the long tail coming from the backside of the bight knot! Once you are on the ground remove the locking carabiner and bight knot and retrieve your rope by pulling from the belayer side (less rope to pull). Move on to the next climb or head to happy hour (depending on time of day).

Close Your System!

One important caveat to this system, and almost all climbing systems, is to be sure to “close your system”. Essentially this means during your partner check (before anyone starts climbing) you ensure that the unused end of the rope either has a stopper knot tied near the end, is secured around a ground anchor, or tied into your partner. In order to explain the avoidable accident we are preventing I’ll share this simple example. You successfully lead a 35 meter tall route without realizing you are climbing on a 60 meter rope. After rigging to lower your belayer lower’s you and when you are about 10 meters from the ground the unsecured end of the climbing rope slips through the belayer’s brake hand and belay device and you fall to the ground. As unavoidable as this sounds it happens every single year! Close your system!

“I heard lowering through anchors is discouraged as it wears out the fixed gear?”

Professional mountain guides and climbing institutions around the country are actively trying to correct this common public misconception. It stems from the very real and modern ethic that active top-roping through fixed gear is discouraged. Over time, depending on the fixed hardware, this can lead to pre-mature wear on the fixed anchor. It’s easy enough if you plan on top-roping for a bit to use your own carabiners to save some wear on the fixed anchor. Only the last climber will lower through the fixed gear, and modern stainless steel rappel rings and “mussey hooks” can handle this type of use for many years to come. The gains in efficiency and reduction in rappelling accidents justify this technique, and the organizations that promote education and conservation are the same organizations promoting this technique, namely groups like the American Mountain Guide Association, The Access Fund, and The American Alpine Club. There may be some areas where locals are still resisting this modern technique. It’s possible their routes have more aluminum fixed anchors or they don’t have an organizing body that works to keep anchors updated like the Rumney Climbers Association. In those areas it’s best to check with local climbers on accepted practices, but hopefully these areas can be updated to better support lowering as an option.

Rappelling Instead

All this said there are times where rappelling will be a better choice. The American Alpine Club created this video which covers the steps to rig a rappel from a sport anchor instead.

Summary

Rigging to lower from a sport climb is definitely faster and arguably safer than setting up a rappel. I hope this post has you thinking critically about your process while climbing and that it was clean and concise. At the end of the day double and triple check what ever system you are using especially during transitions and climb on!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous. Practice new skills at ground level and under the guidance of a qualified guide, instructor, or mentor. Climb at your own risk. Affiliate links above help support this blog.

Tech Tip- Tying a Clove Hitch on to the Carabiner (and $200 Gift Certificate Giveaway!)

I originally posted this tech tip back in 2017 but with any climbing skill a bit of repetition can’t hurt. Here’s the original YouTube video and a new one I posted this morning.

CONTEST- $200 Gift Card to IME, North Conway NH

rock climbing tech tips

I’m giving away a $200 gift certificate to International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH to a randomly selected YouTube subscriber on November 30th, 2021! This gift certificate can be used on anything in their retail shop like a new climbing rope, ice axes, crampons, clothing, etc, or on a climbing lesson or avalanche course with the International Mountain Climbing School! No purchase necessary, just hit that subscribe button on my YouTube channel to be sure you will be entered in the drawing!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Gear Review (Preview)- Ortovox Diract Voice Avalanche Transceiver

Today Ortovox officially added two new avalanche transceivers to the market, the Diract and the Diract Voice. While a few preproduction samples have been checked out by other avalanche professionals I received a post production model about a week ago and want to share some preliminary opinions and thoughts at this revolutionary avalanche transceiver. A more in-depth review will be published after I’ve had some considerable real world field time with this model. I know a lot of people may be looking for a new avalanche transceiver before the snow really starts to fly and I hope this “first look” report will help you decide if you should consider the Ortovox Diract or Ortovox Diract Voice avalanche transceiver!

Initial Setup

Ortovox Diract Voice Review

After unboxing the initial set up was straight forward. As soon as you open the box instruction on the lid include a QR code directing you to download the Ortovox app for either iOS or Android. I selected English from the nine available languages and register the device through the app while synced to my smartphone via Bluetooth. Registration is a great idea since not only will up be sure to receive any important software update notifications it automatically extends the two year warranty by an additional 3 years giving you 5 years of total protection on your investment! More information and links to the apps along with some video tutorials can be found here: https://ortovox.com/us-en/service/information-user-manuals/avalanche-transceivers/diract-start

Ortovox Diract Voice Review

After registering the device I was instructed to calibrate the internal electronic compass used to ensure the device is held level in SEARCH mode and to analyze orientation when buried for the “Smart Antenna” technology (more on that later). I chose to do this outside in the yard away from the house and my cell phone to ensure no interference.

Voice Direction

Let’s start with the obvious biggest feature of the Ortovox Diract Voice. This is the first ever avalanche transceiver that gives the user verbal feedback during the stressful times of an avalanche rescue. Like others, I wasn’t exactly sure about the name Ortovox chose for this new model, but a quick Google Translation search revealed that “diract” is the Hindi word for “direct”. And that is what this avalanche transceiver attempts to do… direct your actions during the course of an avalanche rescue with important voice prompts. I demonstrate this in this video with some initial hands on practice in a nearby field:

POST PRODUCTION NOTES:

While filming the first couple test runs with my iPhone in AIRPLANE mode the transceiver experienced electronic interference which caused a false signal while outside the range of the transmitting transceiver and caused the transceiver to instruct me to start a fine search while still 18 meters from a second transceiver. Both of these errors were user-error, not software error! Any electronic with a GPS chip, Bluetooth, WiFi, radio transmitter, or microchip, should be more than half a meter away from a transceiver in search mode, or better yet powered off completely! I’ve left these first test runs in the final video as they demonstrate how the voice commands work and I believe that is useful. Twelve more test runs were conducted (6 filmed by the drone) and no other errors were observed.

My overall impression of this novel idea is positive. As an avalanche course instructor with over 100 avalanche courses taught I really do believe voice prompts can help rescuers react appropriately. Reminders like the initial “Run in 50 meter search strips and look out” encourage both urgency and situational awareness. Directional corrections like “run to the left/right” can help keep the searcher on the “flux line” while they are constantly conducting a quality visual search (often a part of rescue new rescuers struggle with). Getting outside of the fine search area the transceiver clearly tells you “You were closer!” When I publish my updated full review (ETA mid-winter) I will cover every voice command that’s possible and how best it fits into the rescue strategy.

There is one voice command I would have liked to have seen integrated. If the transceiver registers a number less than 1 meter during the search I would have loved for it to tell me to “Start probing here!” I have observed for years students will spend too much time on the fine search trying to get the lowest possible number when in reality if they are actually searching for a human sized target (and not a small stuff sack) and have a number under 1 meter they should halt the fine search and start probing. A probe strike is imminent. In that same line of thought it would be great if the transceiver could tell a quality fine search was carried out and if 1.6 meters in the lowest number after the fine search it could also direct the user to start probing.

That said a practiced rescuer should be able to make these transitions without the voice command, so the omission of this one command is no deal breaker!

Internal Lithium Ion Rechargeable Battery

Ortovox Diract Voice Avalanche Transceiver Review

The next biggest innovation in both the Diract and Diract Voice is the use of an internal lithium ion rechargeable battery. I think this is a great choice from a design point and I’m confident other manufacturers may follow suit as there are few disadvantages and many advantages. First of all having an internal rechargeable battery means no more pulling half used alkaline batteries out when they reach 60% and adding them to the draw of “not full batteries” I have in my gear room. This is better for the environment. The next advantage is you do not need to remember to remove your batteries at the end of the winter season. I’ve seen quite a few transceivers ruined with corroded batteries when owners left their batteries in them over the course of a humid summer. With this style battery it is best to not constantly “short charge” they battery, i.e. plugging it in every night to get it back to 100%. The user manual states to not charge until under 80%, and even states “once the battery charge falls below 40%, the device should be charged as soon as possible”.

The technical specifications claim that a full battery will provide a minimum of 200 hours in SEND followed by 1 hour of SEARCH. I will do some extensive testing of this battery over the next month and update this post accordingly by for now I’ll say I’m quite confident in this performance. After 2 hours of SEND and about 30 minutes of SEARCH my battery is still reporting 100%. Depending on how often you tour I imagine you’ll only need to recharge once or twice a season. I will be teaching rescue skills weekly from December through March and will report back detailed battery performance.

As for concerns about not being able to access or self-replace the lithium-ion battery Ortovox has had a third-party verify that this battery is good for at least 450 “cycles” and will still produce enough power to meet the 200 hours of SEND followed by 1 hour of SEARCH performance. A “cycle” is basically each time you charge the battery, which is why “short charging” is discouraged. Ortovox is working on a consumer focused solution for when it does become time to replace the battery, which based on my estimates of heavy use, won’t be needed for 5-7 years, if even then. The truth is with these numbers and proper charging habits the battery may last as long as the widely recommended “upgrade/replace your transceiver” suggestion of ten years. If that holds true that equals about 30-60 AA alkaline batteries from my own use staying out of a landfill!

The software is designed to self test the battery at every start up and will display a percentage, along with a alert if 30% or less, or “empty”. It also checks the health of the battery so if you ever do reach the end of the life of the battery it will display “Battery service necessary” and direct you to the Ortovox website for service/repair.

Finally it should be noted that you can not charge the battery when it is under 0 degrees Celsius. This may concern some users but I feel with proper planning this should never be an issue. My plan is to let my battery deplete for during day trips to within 40-50% capacity then recharge to full (one cycle). If I am heading out on a week long trip somewhere (Iceland this April?) I’ll recharge it to 100% for the trip. If you are spending two months on some amazing expedition I’m sure you can get the transceiver above 0 degrees Celsius in your sleeping bag if you need to recharge it.

Standby Mode and Auto-Revert

Ortovox Diract Voice Avalanche Transceiver Review

The next unique feature of the Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice is the addition of a “Standby” mode. Typically avalanche transceivers have only two modes, SEND/TRANSMIT or SEARCH. In a rescue scenario we teach everyone in the group not caught in the avalanche to switch their transceivers to SEARCH so that rescuers don’t waste time by “finding” people who are not buried in the snow. The issue is in a group rescue scenario you often do not need 5 people searching for a signal on a debris pile. For example if one person is missing and there are 5 rescuers you might only have 1 or 2 people actually searching with their transceivers while the rest of the group spots from a safe location and starts assembling probes and shovels to be ready for the extraction part of the rescue. These rescuers can utilize the standby mode to get their transceiver to stop transmitting, and, especially in the case of the Diract Voice, quiet the scene. We don’t need all the beeping and voice commands confusing the overall scenario. While in Standby mode the transceiver does have a motion sensor that is monitoring your movement. If no movement is detected in 90 seconds a loud alarm and display warning will indicate the unit will revert back to SEND in 30 seconds if 1) no movement is detected (i.e. you were caught and buried by a secondary avalanche), or 2) You press the FLAG button to cancel the revert.

Intuitive Design

Ortovox Diract Voice Avalanche Transceiver Review

The next thing I’d like to talk about is the shape and layout of the unit. Applicable to both models these transceivers are a slim design that fits comfortably in my hand and in my dedicated transceiver pocket on my ski pants. While I traditionally prefer to pocket carry my transceiver I believe I’ll start using the harness carry more often due to some innovative choices by Ortovox. The first is the decision to move the Recco technology from the transceiver to the carrying system. The second is the harness pocket holds the transceiver perfectly and adjusts with ease.

The layout of the controls is simple but well thought out. I am able to operate all functions on the transceiver with one hand regardless.of using my dominant (right) hand or not. With only two buttons and the SEND/SEARCH switch operation is really intuitive. To test the intuitiveness for a non-trained user I asked my 10 year old son to turn the transceiver on, put the unit into SEARCH mode, return to SEND mode, and power off the device. He accomplished all four tasks in less than two minutes with no further instruction.

Smart Antenna Technology

A feature of all Ortovox transceivers I have long been a fan of is the patented “SMART-ANTENNA-TECHNOLOGY ™. This basically makes locating your signal faster regardless of what orientation the transceiver is buried in by using intelligent position recognition and automatically switching to the best transmission antenna. Ortovox transceivers are the only transceivers that use this technology and I believe it’s an excellent feature.

Smart Display

The LCD display is quite visible in bright daylight and the brightness is adjustable via the free Ortovox app. I’ll be leaving it on the brightest setting while testing the battery performance this winter. The screen has a smart light sensor so when the transceiver is stowed in either a pocket or the carrying case it will shut off. After removing it from the harness a quick press of either of the two buttons will waken it.

Range and “smart” Search Strip Width while in SEARCH

Ortovox Diract Voice Avalanche Transceiver Review

I tested the Ortovox Diract Voice in an open field with a measured distance with the following results. I will update these this winter with other models buried 1.5 meters down in the snowpack. While in SEARCH for an Ortovox 3+ transceiver a signal was always acquired around on average between 30-40 meters with on result of 28 meters when the transmitting transceiver was in a poor coupling orientation. These results support Ortovox’s suggestion of a 50 meter search strip width in this open terrain with no interference. Yet another innovation feature of both the Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice is the unit somehow analyses the surrounding area for interference and adjusts the recommended Search Strip Width to be optimized. For example, in the open field (and even with my cell phone interference) the Search Strip Width was displayed as 50 meters. In my house while testing the Auto Revert function and surrounded by Wifi, electronics, etc the displayed Search Strip Width was reduced to 20 meters.

Multiple Burial Capability/Flagging (Signal Suppression)

The Ortovox Diract and Diract Voice transceivers have an intuitive system for helping the user manage the incredibly complex scenario of a multiple burial. The first is the display with indicate multiple signals with little “person” icons on the bottom of the display (up to three). This is another moment where I would have loved if the voice command could have verbally alerted me with something like “Multiple signals detected”. This addition would really help a searcher understand the bigger picture faster and manage their resources appropriately. Once you have finished your fine search and achieved a positive probe strike you can press and hold the flag button to have that signal suppressed, at which time the transceiver will direct you to the next closest burial. From my limited testing and reading of the manual there is not an option to “un-flag” a flagged victim. Should that be needed (and it shouldn’t if you use this feature with the caution taught in rescue courses) you will need to place the transceiver back into SEND then revert to SEARCH to remove all “flagged” targets. <insert info on any verbal instructions during FLAGGING>

Summary

This is a big moment in the history of avalanche transceivers. While there are a few great transceiver manufacturers out there I’m not surprised that Ortovox was the first to produce a transceiver that is so different from everything else out there. The benefits of a talking transceiver might vary by the user. Those who consider themselves “experts” in avalanche rescue will likely feel the effects of the voice commands less important as they are used to “listening” to the visual and audio clues of the various transceivers they have used over the years. In my opinion those advanced users might decide to upgrade to the Ortovox Diract (without voice) simply for the solid performance and benefit of the internal battery over transceivers that burn through alkaline batteries. Those who are new to avalanche rescue, or (gasp) rusty on their rescue skills (take an Avalanche Rescue course!), will likely find the voice commands from the Ortovox Diract Voice to be quite beneficial at guiding actions during the stressful moments of an avalanche rescue.

As mentioned this is an initial “first look” type review as I’ve only had this transceiver in my hands for about a week. I will test it throughly this winter while instructing over a dozen avalanche courses and will update my findings and opinions likely by late January. If you were planning on upgrading or buying you first avalanche transceiver this Fall in preparation of the winter I hope this information has helped you decide if the Ortovox Diract or Ortovox Diract Voice is the right transceiver for you, and if it is you can purchase one from these online retailers:

Purchase from REI.com

At the end of the day as an avalanche educator I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this review with the classic avalanche educator’s disclaimer. The BEST transceiver in the world is the one you practice with most! When was the last time you practiced avalanche rescue? How about taken an avalanche rescue course? Make avalanche rescue practice part of your seasonal preparation! There are SO many courses out there, if you are looking for one here’s some links to get you started:

AIARE Avalanche Rescue with Northeast Mountaineering <- the course provider I work for

AIARE 1 with Northeast Mountaineering

AIARE 2 with Northeast Mountaineering

Find courses with other AIARE providers all over the country at this link: https://avtraining.org/

You can also check out this free online training tool from Ortovox: https://www.ortovox.com/safety-academy-lab/avalanche-basics

Beyond Level One Online Avalanche Course*

Yet another way you could up your Avy Savvy brain is taking IMFGA Guide Mark Smiley’s newest online course “Beyond Level One*”. This is a massive online course designed to be taken over the course of a whole season with 120 episodes and contributions from some of the best avalanche professionals in the industry! I have taken other online courses from Mark and the quality is top-notch! I will be enrolling in this course myself to see what Mark has created and am especially excited about how much of the content I will be able to absorb à la podcast style!

Disclaimer: Traveling in avalanche terrain is dangerous and nothing in this review is intended to be “instruction” or assumed to be accurate. The author is a member of the Ortovox Athlete Team and received this transceiver at no cost as part of that partnership.

*Affiliate links above help support Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you. Purchasing a transceiver or online course through those links earn the author a commission. Thank you.

Tech Tip: Rappel/Rigging Rings as Master Points

With the gaining popularity of the Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor option I am making the case for using a closed rappel or “rigging” ring as the master point instead of the commonly used locking carabiner. Some advantages of this choice;

  1. A closed rigging ring can’t be accidentally opened or left unlocked.
  2. Using a rigging ring means you save a locking carabiner in the anchor construction
  3. Adding a rigging ring to your regular kit means you will have one to leave behind should bailing be necessary (they are all cheaper than most locking carabiners)
  4. A rigging ring is “omnidirectional” so you do not need to worry about optimum loading, short axis loading, gate loading, etc.
  5. In most cases a rigging ring is lighter than a locking carabiner

Disadvantages of carrying and using a rigging ring in your kit are almost non-existent. One of the challenges is deciding which rigging ring works best for recreational/guiding in this system. To assist with that I purchased 5 of the more common rappel rings and will share the specifications and considerations for each to help you decide! Let’s start with this weight/strength/price comparison… I added a Petzl Attache Carabiner for comparison reasons.

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
SMC Aluminum Descending Ring12 grams14kN38mm$3.75
SMC Rigging Ring26 grams32kN28mm$5.95
RNA Revolution Ring, Small38 grams25kN30mm$5.99
RNA Revolution Ring, Large56 grams25kN40mm$6.99
FIXE Stainless Steel Ring86 grams35kN34mm$5.95
Petzl Attache Carabiner58 grams22/8/6 kNn/a$15.95

Now let us take a closer look at each option from lightest to heaviest and how practical each is for this application starting with…

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
SMC Aluminum Descending Ring12 grams14kN38mm$3.75
Girth Hitch Master Point Rappel Ring Anchor

The lightest and cheapest option is by far a SMC Aluminum Descending Ring. While ultra-light weight I am slightly concerned about the lower strength rating compared to other options. 14kN is over 3,000 lbs, which is a much higher force than the master point of your anchor should ever see. In a response to a REI slack online customer asking about the strength of these SMC stated “If you over tension the slack line you may notice some flex as the units start to elongate around 800 lbs”. So while these are strong “enough” for use as a master point I’d prefer something rated higher so I’m not second guessing myself while setting up a haul system or the dreaded “fall factor 2” type scenario (should never happen!). They are super cheap and light though, and easily fit three or four locking carabiners.

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
SMC Rigging Ring26 grams32kN28mm$5.95
Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

At about double the weight and 2.5 times the strength the SMC Rigging Ring seems like it might be perfect for this application, and it is, for two piece anchors and two person climbing parties. The issue with this ring is once you have a three-piece girth-hitch anchor internal space in the ring is a bit on the tight side to fit three locking carabiners (party of two) and impossible to fit four locking carabiners (party of three, guiding). Here’s a shot of this with a three piece anchor and you can see how tight it is.

It works but I don’t like how the carabiners bind on each other in this situation. So this would only be a good choice for two piece anchors and two person parties. Next up…

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
RNA Revolution Ring, Small38 grams25kN30mm$5.99
Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

A little more weight (38 grams) and a little less strength (25kN) with just 2mm more internal diameter the RNA Revolution Ring, Small works great on this three piece two person anchor. If you don’t often climb in a party of three this is a good choice. This brings us to what is becoming my favorite option…

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
RNA Revolution Ring, Large56 grams25kN40mm$6.99
Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

The RNA Revolution Ring, Large is my best in class for this comparison. While it weighs close to a Petzl Attache Locking Carabiner (56 grams vs Petzl Attache 58 grams) it still has a few advantages as a master point. It has plenty of space for more than 4 locking carabiners so this would be great for recreational and guided parties of 3+. It’s stronger in all directions than most aluminum locking carabiners (25 kN). It can easily accommodate a three or four piece girth hitch, and is easier to handle with gloves on (ice climbing FTW). We will finish with a quick look at the heaviest option…

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
FIXE Stainless Steel Ring86 grams35kN34mm$5.95
Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System
Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor SystemGirth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

If you are not very concerned with weight the FIXE Stainless Steel Ring is a beast carrying a 35 kN rating with its 86 grams of weight. It can easily handle three lockers on a three piece anchor but a fourth locker would be pretty tight leaving this an option for two person parties.

Summary

Using a rigging ring is common in high angle rescue and industrial work and with the growing use of the Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor method recreational climbers and guides should consider the use of closed rings to create their master points for the advantages stated at the beginning of this post. No one anchor solution is appropriate for all situations and you should certainly practice this on the ground and seek qualified instruction and mentorship before trusting your life to any advice in this post. That said I think this method works quite well when appropriate and I expect it will be one of my common builds when multi-pitch climbing whether it be rock or ice (though I think this will really shine this winter while ice climbing).

Discount Purchase

After purchasing and testing these rings I let Rock N Rescue know their RNA Revolution Ring, Large was my “best in class” for this purpose and then they offered my readers a 10% discount on any purchases from their website with coupon code “AlpineStart10“. If you decide to add one of these to your kits you can save a little money on the purchase and at they the same time support the content I create here (this discount code will also earn me 10% of the purchase).

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Some links above are affiliate links. Making a purchase after visiting one of those links sends a small commission my way and keeps this blog going. Thank you!

Tech Tip: Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

I’ve been using the Girth Hitch Master Point (GHMP) Anchor System for a little over a year now having learned it from the great educational social media feeds of Dale Remsberg and Cody Bradford. Recent testing on the method was conducted by Derek DeBruin and John Sohl the Petzl facility in Salt Lake City and they published these results.

TL:DR Version:

“The girth hitch is a viable solution for the master point for anchor rigging, provided that;

1) Approximately 5cm of slip is within the climbing party’s risk tolerance

2) The girth hitch is cinched snugly by hand and body weight prior to use. This applies to a variety of rigging materials, such as HMPE or nylon slings or cord, as well as material conditions, whether new or used, dry or wet.” – Derek DeBruin

Best Uses:

There’s quite a few places this system could be well applied. It is primarily a solution for multi-pitch climbing. This isn’t a great option for constructing anchors that will be used for top-rope climbing. On a multi-pitch route with bolted belay stations I might even consider keeping a sling rigged with this system (much like how I keep a pre-tied mini-quad on my harness). Even if the bolts at the next station are not exactly the same distance apart you only need to loosen the hitch a bit to properly adjust it. On a multi-pitch route with traditional gear anchors a double-length Dyneema sling is a light & fast option for rigging this system. Multi-pitch ice climbing is where I see perhaps the greatest benefit as rigging this with gloves on will often be achievable with just an alpine-draw and good ice.

Here’s a video I created showing the method along with some suggestions, namely utilizing a full strength closed rappel ring as a master point instead of a locking carabiner, which adds security and saves a locking carabiner for other uses.

Summary

Because this is a material efficient and proven redundant glove friendly system I plan on keeping it in my growing “tool kit” of options. I still carry one mini-quad with me when I prefer independent master points (more comfortable for a party of three) and use it often as a glove friendly redundant rappel extension. The advantages over tying a more traditional old school pre-equalized cordelette anchor are great enough that I see less and less reason for ever taking my cordelette off the back of my harness. I still carry it for self-rescue purposes but newer anchor methods like the GHMP and mini-quad seem to solve most anchor problems more effectively. I’m stopping by REI today to pick up one a SMC Rigging Ring which is almost half the weight of the stainless steel one I used in the video. You should consider adding this to your tool kit!

Product Giveaways!

I’m running two giveaways at the moment. You can enter to win a SOL Emergency Bivvy Sack before the end of the month in the raffle at the bottom of this review of SOL survival products! You can also enter to win a camming device of your choice* by competing in an anchor building contest that ends at the end of October… rules for that contest are at this Instagram post.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous, you could die following any advice from this post. Seek qualified instruction and mentorship. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.

*cam will be selected by the winner from any in-stock cam at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH. Free shipping within the US.

Gear Review: SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) Survival Gear and BIVVY SACK GIVEAWAY!

September is National Prepardness Month so it was well-timed that I received a handful of SOL products from Adventure Ready Brands. The company was founded in 1973 in Littleton, NH and manufactures the world-famous insect bite treatment, After Bite®, a full line of well-known insect repellents such as Ben’s® and Natrapel®, first-aid such as Adventure Medical Kits® and Easy Care First Aid kits, survival products with Survive Outdoors Longer®, and burn remedy products such as AfterBurn®.

In the following video I show the features of the products I received and share some opinions on them. Adventure Ready Brands does not sell direct to customer so I tracked down some outdoor retailers that have these items in stock and provide direct links to the products at these retailers below. These are affiliate links, so if you do end up buying something after using the link I will see a small commission at no additional cost to you. Hey, thank you! Thank really helps keep this blog going!

SOL Rescue Floating Signal Mirror from Backcountry.com

SOL Rescue Floating Signal Mirror (Two Pack) from Amazon.com

SOL Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter from Backcountry.com

SOL Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter from REI.com

SOL Fire Lite Fuel-Free Lighter from Amazon.com

SOL Stoke Pivot Knife & Saw from Backcountry.com

SOL Stoke Pivot Knife & Saw from REI.com

SOL Stoke Pivot Knife & Saw from Amazon.com

SOL Stoke Camp Hatchet from Backcountry.com

SOL Stoke Camp Hatchet from REI.com

SOL Stoke Camp Hatchet from Amazon.com

SOL Emergency Bivvy with Rescue Whistle & Tinder Cord from Amazon.com

To enter the giveaway for a brand new SOL Emergency Bivy Sack just click the Rafflecopter link below for all the ways you can earn entries! Contest at 11:59pm EST on September 30th, 2021! Good luck!

SOL Emergency Bivvy GIVEAWAY!!!

CONTEST OVER! Congrats to Angel L.!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Media samples were provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.