With the current COVID-19 crisis we are trying to be prepared as possible for the foresee-able future. One aspect of self-reliance that might be over looked is being able to deal with small medical emergencies at home. Any trip to a hospital will likely put further strain on an already stressed medical system. To that end now is a good time to take inventory of your home medical supplies.
My Medic is a first aid supply company that has an amazing variety of medical supplies. It can be a bit overwhelming trying to decide what first aid kit you should start with so they have a handy “kit finder” that will help you narrow the selection. Our home kit is the basic “MyFAK” model. Then we have one Solo kit in each of our cars.
While having a properly stocked first aid kit is important knowing how to use what is in it is even more important.
The SOLO School located in Conway, NH offers some of the best wilderness medicine training anywhere. While they are closed until at least May 1st once they are back running courses consider enrolling in one of their programs (classes are offered all over the country). There are also a half-dozen or more free online first aid classes. While stuck at home you could brush up on skills through websites like FirstAidForFree and the Red Cross.
Accident prevention is high on our priority list right now and being able to deal with small injuries without visiting the hospital means we are more self-sufficient. I’d encourage every one to adjust their personal level of risk acceptance until we get through this crisis. Our family is limiting our exercise to short nature walks and bike riding around our neighborhood. Bike gloves and helmets are a must when riding. Make sure you are getting an hour of responsible outdoor time every day! We hope everyone stays safe and sane during these difficult days!
I started writing this post on March 9th, the day after my accident. Most people who know me know that I prefer to debrief and learn from mistakes soon after an incident before details can be forgotten or recalled inaccurately. For a couple reasons after only a few paragraphs I stopped writing until today, three weeks later.
The first reason, I think, was because I was actually injured. While being partially buried in an avalanche last April was a bit of a shake up the lack of injury made it easier for me to talk about it soon after it happened. This accident required a trip to the University of Vermont’s Medical Center’s Emergency Department. It’s been almost three weeks since the accident and I’ve recovered enough to go on short walks with the kids and dog. I can sleep on the injured side again. Riding a bike, skiing, or climbing are likely activities that are still a few weeks off.
The second reason I think I’ve delayed sharing this accident is from watching the severity of COVID-19 ramp up significantly in the weeks following my accident. My injury and situation pales in comparison to the stress many families are experiencing due to the current pandemic. While this injury ended my winter guiding season it is clear the season was unfortunately going to end pre-maturely as we try to flatten the curve. Despite these two reasons today I decided to sit down and finish this account and share it for whatever benefit can be found.
Events leading up
On March 5th I drove over to the Adirondacks to teach an AIARE avalanche course for the iconic Mountaineer in Keene, Valley NY as part of their annual Backcountry Ski Festival. It was an amazing event to be a part of and I can not say enough about all of the staff of The Mountaineer who made me feel right at home in their neck of the woods. I was co-instructing with Casey Henley, a fantastic outdoor educator and mountain guide. We had an amazing group of 10 positive and engaged students. The weather was beautiful every day and while the snowpack was on the thin side we were really making the most of our time together.
On the last day of the course, March 8th, the class planned a ski tour of Angel Slides off of Wright Peak. We toured as two separate groups of 6. The first 2.5 miles are very gentle rolling terrain, then about a half mile up a drainage and a couple pitches of denser trees before reaching the base of the 1,500 foot slide path.
We ascended the left hand slide to about 3,600 feet and after making some snowpack observations enjoyed some of first steeper turns of the course. Skier’s far right held some still cold powder and I was feeling pretty good as I reached the bottom.
The next leg was some pretty tight tree skiing just under 20 degrees (steep for tight tree skiing given the snow conditions). We took it very slow and methodically made our way back down into the drainage. It was work and I could see some fatigue settling in with a few students in each group. We still had a 2.5 mile rolling hiking trail to take us back to the trailhead.
Opinions were split on what the best way to cover that distance would be. Two in my group with local knowledge opted to re-skin for the exit. The rest of my group decided to ski it. CalTopo says the 2.2 miles from the Dam only loses 300 feet. My decision to ski it was influenced by how sticky my nylon climbing skins were getting in the quickly softening snow. Timing wise it seemed it was 6-in-one and a half-dozen in the other. With each small downhill the skiers would pull away from our two skinners, and with each herring bone or side-step up over the next small incline the skinners would quickly catch us.
Less than a quarter mile from the road our exit and tour was just about complete. A short little descent brought me to the bottom of the last significant pitch of the day. I was at the front of my group, and had just caught up to our other team and was making small talk with them after moving just slightly to the left side of the trail.
It was about 3:45pm. I was stopped on the left side of the trail a few feet from the bottom of the slope. I was facing to the left, skis parallel on the slope, just below a water-bar log feature that was partially buried into the trail. I didn’t hear or see my student coming. He was moving fast as he went over the back of my skis and caught my boot as he flew past. My legs were taken out from under me and I came down on my left side with some force landing on the protruding waterbed. The pain in my left chest and abdomen was instant and blinding. I rolled to my knees and took a breath. I knew I was hurt. I reached under my shirt and palpated my left ribs. My senses were returning. Someone had a hand on my shoulder and was asking if I was OK. It was one of my students, Veronica, an emergency room physician from PA.
I didn’t think anything was broken but I had a pretty significant about of abdominal pain. I decided to try to stand and was able to. Someone was carrying my skis to me from 15 feet downslope… I didn’t realize until later that the force of the hit took me out of both my skis while I basically just fell in place where I was stopped. The student had tried to avoid me and was uninjured from his crash. So close to the parking lot. I decided to walk out. I tried not to groan to much.
Back at the parking lot I was determined to finish the course properly and then figure out what steps to take regarding my injury. I instructed students to rally on the Visitor Center porch and start their debriefs. I went into the bathroom so I could look in the mirror. I lifted up my shirt and was surprised to not see any bruising yet. There was a noticeable “indent” for lack of a better term, about the size of a small apple, just under my lowest left rib. My abdomen was not asymmetrical. I could see some swelling on the outside.
I rejoined the class and we began our course close. I started to rush the process a little as standing and talking was quite uncomfortable. I asked Casey to run most the course close. He used the “one rose and one thorn” tactic to have each student reflect on the effect of the course. I love that style of debrief, but I was thinking I needed to speed this along, as it was now just past 5pm and my original plan was to make the 5 hour drive back to North Conway.
We finished the course close and I asked Veronica if she could step inside and do another assessment of my injury so I could make a decision. She was willing and as I lay on the visitor center couch performed a quick abdominal exam. Again, ribs and chest felt fully intact. Severe pain and tenderness in my ULQ and LLQ, areas that harbor my spleen, stomach, and a kidney. No left arm or left shoulder pain (good news for my spleen). There’s not much that can be diagnosed with soft tissue/organ injuries without an ultra-sound, something Veronica had been considering adding to her adventure kit for sometime (and she has subsequently added as she is pursing expeditionary medicine).
I discussed my plan to try to drive home and seek medical attention locally. I did not want to get stuck in Lake Placid if my injury would require overnight hospitalization or surgery. In hindsight I was being very stubborn and short-sighted, but whatever, I decided I would drive home and monitor my heart-rate and try to be hyper-aware of any change in mental status. If I felt the slightest bit dizzy or nauseous I would pull over, put my hazard lights on, and call 911. That was my plan. I called my wife and told her what happened and that I was going to drive home. I would call her every 30 minutes as long as I had service.
It took almost an hour on the road for my heart-rate to fall under 100. It dropped down to 80 and I hoped it would stay there as Veronica had said if it stayed above 100 after an hour I was likely dealing with some internal bleeding or organ damage. I left the radio off and just focused on the drive and what my body was feeling. While waiting for the Plattsburg Ferry I slowly walked into the empty waiting shack and changed out of my ski clothes. I couldn’t reach down to take my ski socks off. As they directed our cars onto the ferry I was selected for a random trunk search. Changing clothes and two trips to my trunk while moving slowly, I was must have raised some suspicion.
While crossing Lake Champlain as the sun set I felt the slightest bit better. The pain wasn’t as bad now that I wasn’t driving. I tried to breath calmly. We reached Vermont and the pain came back quickly with a bit more intensity. I had been on the road for almost two hours. I called a family friend back home, a doctor at my local hospital, for her opinion.
She didn’t like my symptoms. The fact that small bumps in the road caused noticeable increases in the pain, the location of the injury, the possibility of how bad it could be… I had planned to make it to my local hospital in North Conway so I would be closer to my family should I need to be admitted, but in talking with her it was pretty clear they would probably just put me in an ambulance and transport me to Portland, Maine Medical… adding another hour to seeing definitive care.
I was about to pass Burlington. I made a decision, put my signal on, and exited the highway with my Waze app guiding me to the Emergency Department of Vermont’s Medical Center. Ten minutes later I called my wife back and told her I was walking into the ER to get checked out.
After getting through initial COVID-19 screening the woman at the counter asked what I was here for. I said something like “Suffered some physical trauma to my lower left abdomen and now experiencing acute pain, some slight deformity, swelling, and well… I’m in a lot of pain.” The other woman asked how it happened. “Skiing injury” was my short reply.
“Ok, you’re all checked in, go have a seat and we will call you when its your time.”
I didn’t get three steps away from the counter before my name was called and I sat down with the triage nurse. He took my vitals. I looked at the heart-rate monitor… pulse 92, blood pressure 163/125. That’s not good I thought. They prepped a bay for me and I started to get hooked up. They took blood samples to run a full set of labs and I was asked to provide a urine sample. That would be tough as I was feeling very dehydrated since I finished my water at about 3pm when we started our descent and it was now 7pm and I was told I couldn’t drink anything, even water, just yet. I managed a urine sample, and there was no blood, so hopefully kidney is good.
In less than an hour the ER physician came in to give a full exam. An ultrasound was ordered. I waited. The bay next to me was taken up by an elderly man who had shortness of breath, felt weak all day, and had a mild fever and stuffed up nose. It dawned on me coming to the hospital next to an international airport was putting me at risk to the Coronavirus, but things weren’t quite as bad as they are today so I didn’t worry too much.
The physician could not find any blood in my stomach or other obvious bleeds in my organs from the ultrasound. He felt a CAT scan was appropriate. I cringed at how the increasing financial cost this accident was going to effect my family but I was done trying to just hope for the best and a CAT scan would be pretty definitive. The technician who wheeled me down the hall for the scan inquired about my injury and when I told her it was while teaching an avalanche course she confided she had just bought her first avalanche beacon. I encouraged her to follow that wise purchase up with a formal avalanche course soon.
After the cat scan the waiting began. Still not allowed to drink anything. The nurse let me know the doctor was going to get to me soon but they were dealing with a serious trauma that just came in and it might be a little while. I waited. Around 11:15pm the doctor came in with the preliminary results. No internal bleeding or ruptured organs. Diagnosis… internal abdominal contusions. Basically bad bruising on the inside of my abdominal cavity. My ribs had done there job absorbing the impact and protecting my organs. Still hurt like hell. I could be given morphine for the pain but that meant I would have to be admitted overnight. I declined and asked to be discharged… and for a glass of water.
Driving home was now out of the question as I was three hours from home along mostly dark less travelled roads and had been up since 6am and was feeling the fatigue from a full ski tour, dehydration, and injury. I checked into a local hotel in Williston, VT, just east of Burlington, and spent most the night trying to find a position I could fall asleep in, something that would become a nightly ritual for the next couple weeks. In the morning I had a small breakfast in the hotel lobby while the morning news confirmed that Williston, VT schools were closed following a faculty member with COVID-19 symptoms. I got on the road and headed for home.
Reflection… what happened?
On the drive home I had plenty of time to rethink the whole day and what led up to the accident. I told my students during our debrief that my “thorn” was that I pride myself in careful risk management and rarely will cop to “bad luck” being the culprit when an accident occurs. Even the word “accident” bothers me. I got hurt. That means I made a mistake. What was that mistake and how could I have avoided it?
I called the student who had crashed into me on my drive home for a few reasons. First of all I wanted to see how he was doing. He had expressed concern and regret over losing control and taking me out. I tried to, probably unsuccessfully, alleviate some of that guilt. I was in charge of managing the risk during our tour and it was on me for stopping in a spot that still had some risk from skiers behind me.
After my conversation with him and a few weeks of contemplation here’s my list of contributing factors;
Fatigue: He admitted he was quite tired at the end of the tour having negotiated terrain that was at his upper level. He mentioned he was frustrated with the rolling terrain exit and felt he wasn’t letting himself pick up enough speed to surmount the inevitable next uphill section which would result in tiring side-stepping to get back to a slide-able grade. He went into this last descent picturing a big uphill on the other side and thus came into view of me and some of the other students on the narrow trail with way too much speed.
Inexperience: This was basically his 2nd time back-country skiing. He had taken a one day mountaineering skills course and a one day back-country skiing skills course where he had skied in Huntington Ravine (likely lower Fan and out the Sherburne Ski Trail). His resort skiing resume was long but tree skiing was a first for him, and he knew that taxed his energy.
Back-to-the-Barn Syndrome: We were so close to the trailhead after a fairly long tour. I was really happy with how the three day course had gone and was excited to get on the road and get back home. We had covered so much more serious terrain and we were in the final stretch. This may have caused me to relax my normal “what could go wrong here?” type attitude.
While I’ve rethought this day almost every day since the only thing I feel I could have done differently is just moved a little more off to the side where I stopped. It wasn’t a blind corner or just over a convexity and in debriefing with Casey he didn’t think I could have done much different.
Recovery- Week One
The first week was pretty bad. I don’t like taking pain medication so I probably put myself through some un-necessary discomfort. Dressing was painful. Walking was painful. Driving was manageable but getting in and out of the car was awkward and painful. I let Corey, my boss, know I couldn’t do any outdoor field work in the weekend’s upcoming avalanche course. I was optimistic I could handle teaching the classroom portion. Just 5 days after the accident I welcomed a new group of avalanche students into our classroom space. I split the classroom sessions with my co-instructor Grant like we normally did. I was feeling ok despite the increased physical activity.
Around 2pm I went home while Grant took the class into the field for some physical rescue practice. No sooner did I walk in the door did I get hit by some uncontrollable muscle cramps in my abdomen. It was as bad, and even somehow worse, then how it felt the day after the accident. I was brought to the floor while the spasms made me wonder if I had somehow ruptured something. I called my wife at work and put her on speaker while I tried to get my body under control. Deep breathes. I made it to the freezer and got the large gel ice pack and wrapped it around my left side. The spasms slowed. My heart rate came back to normal. I was ok, but I wasn’t ready to go back to work yet, even in a diminished capacity.
Recovery- Week Two
Slowly the daily pain level reduced. I could sleep on my uninjured side. The first week I could only sleep slightly reclined on my back… either side did not work. Not fun for a side sleeper. I could go on short walks now, which was quite timely as schools were closing and social distancing was coming at us quick. I was able to help convert our downstairs into a more suitable learning environment for the distance learning that was about to be how almost every child was going to start attending school. I made a few trips to the stores to stock up on the things everyone has been stocking up on. Every day I didn’t come down with a fever or cough made me more confident my ER visit hadn’t had me contract the Coronavirus.
Recovery- Week Three
This current week is almost pain free. I was able to manage the snowblower to clear the 8 inches of snow we got this past Tuesday. I could not shovel the snow from our front porch though. That motion is 100% off-limits, somewhat ironic as anyone who has watched me teach proper shoveling avalanche rescue knows I would place well if the Olympics had a shoveling sport.
I’m anxious to be able to physically do the things that keep me emotionally healthy. Social distancing is a mixed blessing while I’m recovering. I’m hoping there might be a little snow left by the time I feel I could go for a very light easy ski, but the reality is if those few dozen cold powder turns on Angel Slide were my last of the season I’m ok with that. There’s more important things happening right now. It should be clear to anyone who recreates outside now is not the time to take risks. I’ve avoided following up with my PCP following this injury because I don’t want to burden an already stretched thin resource nor do I want to spend more time in a hospital just yet.
It’s hard to stay positive when the evening news paints a darker and darker future but I’m trying to focus on the good things that are coming out of this. Cooking more for the family. Daily family walks with the pup. Attacking house projects I’ve managed to put off for years. We are going to come out the other side of this a stronger family and I hope a stronger society that realizes what’s most important in life.
Finally I want to ask everyone reading this to really look out for each other during the next few months. Be a responsible citizen and respect social distancing, stay at home directives, and most importantly limit and minimize your amount of risk-taking. We all need to enjoy some time in nature but do it in your backyard in a low-risk manner. Even if I was 100% recovered I would limit myself to easy walks and hikes below tree-line and on very low angle slopes. I would not go mountain biking, rock climbing, back-country skiing, or any activity that is more prone to accidents. Our first responders and medical system are begging us to avoid injury right now. Please do your part.
See you in the mountains (hopefully locally and on a mellow walk),
I find it hard to believe the avalanche course season is almost over! I’ve had a great time teaching courses for Northeast Mountaineering with an amazing group of co-instructors and despite a relatively inconsistent Mother Nature field conditions have been quite prime for our course objectives.
One of the seasonal components of the AIARE Framework is “Continue Your Education”. AIARE 1 students often realize quite early in the course that becoming safer back-country travelers is a lifelong process. There is no finish line when it comes to avalanche education. To that end I share with my students one of the ways I’ve continued to learn about a subject I’ve been studying and teaching for over 10 years is by subscribing to multiple podcasts related to avalanche education. Multiple students have asked for a list of what podcasts I listen to which was the motivation of this post. So without further delay here’s my current playlist with a quick recap of what to expect from each. If you like to play in the snow you should give a few of these a listen on the commute into work or your drive up to the mountains!
“The podcast that helps keep you on top of the snow instead of buried beneath it.” This one is at the top of my list and if you only pick one podcast to listen to this is the one I’d recommend most. So many great episodes I hesitate to call out just one but I will… The April 5th, 2019 episode “Low Danger” is a must listen.
“Creating a stronger community through sharing stories, knowledge, and news amongst people who have a curious fascination with avalanches.” What can I say this podcast is fantastic! The range of guests is great and I haven’t found a single interview to not be engaging and enlightening… add it to your library!
Sadly it seems Doug hasn’t been able to keep this project going but the first two seasons are here for us to learn from. Doug focuses mostly on the human element and some of the episodes that have stayed with my had to do with effective communication in the backcountry and how we see ourselves in our stories (impaired objectivity). Definitely worth listening to the 1.5 seasons that are there and hopefully Doug can return to this project soon!
Honorable mention goes to the American Alpine Club’s Sharp End Podcast by Ashley Saupe. While not 100% about avalanches I’ve been a long time reader of the AAC’s Accidents in North American Climbing, a fantastic education resource in its own right and worth the annual cost of membership in my opinion! In each episode Ashley interviews those involved in climbing (and sometimes avalanche) accidents in an effort to learn what we can from these stories.
Well that’s the list. Within these 4 podcasts there are hundreds of hours of quality content that is sure to make you a more informed and safer backcountry traveler. If you found this post helpful please leave a comment below and if I missed one of your favorite podcasts please let me know! It doesn’t have to be avalanche related but outdoor recreation and risk management should be a consideration!
Happy listening and see you in the mountains!
Northeast Alpine Start
Affiliate links help support the content created here. Thank you!
Over the last few months I’ve been testing the Mammut Eigerjoch Pro Hooded Down Jacket and it’s time to share my thoughts in a review. This jacket falls into the high end “belay jacket” category and boasts some impressive technology and innovative features that I’ll get into momentarily. But first let’s talk about the elephant in the room. While the official name of the jacket includes “hooded down jacket” this piece is more accurately called a “hybrid” jacket as Mammut has done something pretty non-standard in belay jackets these days and insulated with both 800 fill goose down and Primaloft Gold insulation in areas more prone to getting damp.
This kind of high end optimization is typical of products in the Mammut “Eiger Extreme” collection and many of the features I’ll talk about below fortify my opinion that the Eigerjoch Pro is much more that just a jacket. Let’s look over the manufacturer description and specifications before we get into my opinions on the product.
Don’t let unpredictable mountain conditions affect you. With the Eigerjoch Pro IN Hooded Jacket Men, you are prepared for the wind and weather. The insulating jacket protects you from moisture with its extremely lightweight Pertex® Quantum Pro material. A combination of down and PrimaLoft® chambers on areas exposed to moisture ensures optimum moisture-wicking and a comfortable body climate. Goose down and feathers keep you warm, while bonded external seams favor enhanced heat retention and weather protection. The jacket is tailored to alpine movement sequences thanks to Mammut® Vertical Motion Technology™, which draws on optimized ergonomics. Mammut® High Reach™ technology allows unrestricted freedom of movement when climbing. You can overcome any mountain challenge.
Extreme goals, extreme demands – this requires extremely functional clothing. With the Eigerjoch Pro IN Hooded Jacket Men you can master every challenge on the mountain. Its double-chamber construction allows us to adapt different zones of the jacket to the respective needs of the body. PrimaLoft® is used in exposed areas and inside where moisture occurs, while the other zones have a warming down filling. With this double-chamber construction, cold bridges can be reliably excluded so that you can completely rely on your expedition from standing to securing.
Extremely lightweight Pertex® Quantum Pro material with ultra-thin water-repellent coating and Diamond Fuse technology for increased weather protection and excellent abrasion resistance
MAMMUT Thermo Management System™ for optimum weather protection and comfort
Double-chamber construction to avoid cold bridges
Taped external seams for greater heat retention and weather protection
Combination of down and PrimaLoft® chambers on areas exposed to moisture for optimum moisture-wicking and body climate
MAMMUT® Vertical Motion Construction™ for optimized ergonomics during alpine movement sequences
MAMMUT High Reach Technology™ for unrestricted freedom of movement when climbing
MAMMUT® High Visibility Backer Technology™ for high visibility in alpine terrain
Stormproof, vertically and horizontally adjustable helmet-compatible hood with reinforced shield for an optimum field of vision at all times and easy operation when wearing gloves
Backpack-compatible chest zipper pocket
2 internal glove-warmer pockets made from mesh material
Internal chest pocket with zipper
2 climbing-harness-compatible front pockets with zippers
YKK Vislon® 2-way zipper for smooth operation
Elasticated hand gaiters
Silicone webbing on the hem ensures perfect sealing and stops the jacket from riding up
Hem drawstring can be adjusted with one hand
Additional stow bag with carabiner loop
I’ve spent over a dozen days in the White Mountains putting this jacket up against some of the worst weather Mount Washington could dish out during summit climbs and while teaching avalanche courses. I’ve also worn it a handful of times while instructing waterfall ice climbing at both Cathedral Ledge and in Crawford Notch. I found the jacket to be more than adequate with heat retention while worn over my typical ice climbing/mountaineering layers. This isn’t surprising considering the amount and quality of the insulation used in the jacket. The Pertex® Quantum Pro material was 100% wind-proof and two prolonged sessions in early season freezing rain revealed the DWR treatment and taped seams work at keeping moisture out.
Another feature I really liked that helped with keeping heat in and snow and moisture out was the elasticated hand gaiters. I’ve never tested a piece of outerwear with this feature and it was a really nice touch, especially when climbing an ice choked alpine gully with active spindrift consistently flowing down the climb.
I went with a medium which was a touch to tight for my 5’9″ 180 lb frame. I was still able to climb in it but a large would have been a better pick for me. The hood was perfectly sized for wearing over a climbing helmet and was easily adjusted while wearing gloves so that you maintained full field of view while turning your head. The silicone hem on the inside bottom helped keep the jacket tucked under the harness when reaching overhead. Rounding out the long list of features already mentioned in the manufacturer details above a convenient stuff sack with a carabiner carrying loop is included.
There are so many choices out their in the field of high end belay jackets but the Mammut Eigerjoch Pro stands out as one of the best in class choices. Combining the best properties of both down and synthetic insulation while adding features like “hand gaiters” and high performance shell materials make it clear this is a jacket truly designed for extreme conditions. If you’re in the market for a belay jacket upgrade take a close look at this one!
Affiliate links help support this blog. A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Special thanks to longtime client and friend Joe for modeling. All images are my own and subject to copyright.
Christmas might have come a little early for me this year when about a month ago a package arrived with the all new Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Alpine Climbing Kit. It’s no secret I’m a fan of HMG products after reviewing the HMG 3400 Ice Pack back in February 2016. You can find that review here. After three years of hard use I’m happy to report that pack is still 100% service-able and I still use it for hauling heavy loads while running waterfall rappelling trips (think 500+ feet of wet static ropes).
The HMG line of Ice Packs is pretty well known by northeastern climbers by now. I’d wager over a third of the packs I’ve seen so far this season have been HMG ice packs. Just two days ago on Mount Willard another climber remarked that 3/4 of us in the area actually had the new Prism Pack, and the 4th had an HMG Ice Pack… so word is already out these packs are awesome!
I’ll explain what sets the Prism apart from the Ice Pack’s, as there are some definite design changes you may or not be looking for. At the end of the day though, the Prism pack, and basically the whole Prism “Kit” is incredibly well designed and should earn some “Gear of the Year” awards from major outdoor gear publications. Alright let’s get into the details!
Charge headlong into the spectrum of winter’s white light with the pack built for alpine adventure. The Prism beckons ice climbers, mountaineers, alpinists, and backcountry skiers to think big and go deep. Designed to meet at the intersection of speed, weight, security, and comfort, this top-loading pack features an extendable drawstring closure and an adjustable, removable low-profile lid. The hip belt provides two gear racks and two ice clipper slots, but is removable when not required for the task at hand, or when wearing a climbing harness. Highly adjustable compression straps secure crucial equipment while keeping the pack close to the body for free and unrestricted movement.
Climbers can store a rope under the lid, glacier adventurers can store their wands in the side pockets, and backcountry skiers can depend on the A-frame carry when they’re on foot marching up the steep stuff. Alpinists of all types can round out the pack with the Prism Crampon Bag and Prism Ice Screw Case for an even more dialed setup. However you move when the cold comes calling, the Prism brings your pursuits into focus.
1.82 lbs | 29.1 oz | 827g Weight does not include hip belt and may vary slightly by torso size.
Main pack body is built with Dyneema® Composite Fabrics DCH150
Side panels, bottom, and lumbar are 375-Denier DCHW for the ultimate abrasion protection from the environment, ski edges, and sharp tools
Removable, Hardline with Dyneema® hip belt with 1/8” closed cell rigid foam and 1/4” closed cell foam padding and spacer mesh features (2) gear loops, (2) ice clipper slots, and an offset buckle to reduce tie-in clutter
Extendable collar and floating lid allow for pack expansion
Diamond pocket locks tool heads in place without additional buckles
Reflective bungees with quick-release pull tabs secure axe handles
External crampon pouch with easy-cinch closure keep crampons secure and within reach during the approach
Multi-purpose compression straps allow you to draw in your pack or attach additional items like snowboards and sleeping pads
Top overload strap secures gear stored under the lid and brings the load closer to your center of gravity
Exterior daisy chains provide multiple lashing points for other gear
Axe loop for non-technical mountaineering axes
Low profile side sleeve pockets with drainage holes hold mountaineering wands/pickets, or trekking/tent pole tips
Hardline with Dyneema® shoulder strap construction with 3/8” closed cell foam and spacer mesh
Adjustable sternum strap with self-tensioning elastic and whistle
One removable, contoured aluminum stay, and an integrated 1/4″ foam back panel pad and plastic stiffener provide shoulder and spine support for a comfortable and secure carry
Proprietary seam sealing on all side seams and behind all sewn-on pack features
Bar tacked reinforcements on all stress points provide enhanced strength and durability
Made in Biddeford, Maine, USA
REMOVABLE LID FEATURES
Adjustable and removable lid means you can overstuff your pack using the extendable drawstring collar and still have weather protection, or remove it completely to save weight on clear days
Waterproof, zippered pocket on the lid provides convenient storage for snacks, gloves, phone, map, or anything you want within easy reach
Elastic sides provide a snug fit to keep weather out, while helping secure a rope underneath
Lightweight, aluminum G-hooks attach the lid securely to daisy chains in the front and rear and are easy to use with gloves on
Now for some opinions!
The HMG Prism is 40 liters (2400 cubic inches), and the removable top lid adds another 3 liters (214 cubic inches). I find this to be the perfect day-size for technical ice climbing and mountaineering. I can easily fit my entire guiding kit including bivy sack and ultralight sleeping bag without any hassle. Lashing a rope under the top lid is super secure thanks to the top buckle, the lid itself, and the 4 compression straps that all have quick release buckles.
The 1/4″ foam back panel is given some rigidity with a single removable aluminum stay and plastic stiffener. I left the aluminum stay in place as the contoured shape of the back panel fit my back like it was custom made to my own specifications. While the waist belt is removable I chose to keep it attached to the back. On approaches it helps stabilize heavier loads and after racking up and starting the lead I’ll clip the hip belt behind the pack. This pack rides incredibly well. I did try removing the top pocket and stuffing it in the bag but discovered for some reason the frame would hit my helmet when I looked up on a steeper ice climb. The top pocket when in use actually can make the top of the pack have a lower profile and prevent any helmet contact.
This pack is loaded with some solid features, first of all is the welcome addition of a top pocket. Many of us have gotten use to the simple roll-top designs of the HMG Ice Packs and have learned to live without a top-pocket. Now that I have a top-pocket again I realize it is really helpful for storing snacks, maps, my cell phone, etc. Bonus this top pocket is totally waterproof, so if you have anything that must stay dry while climbing that drippy waterfall you basically have a built in dry pouch.
The second most noticeable feature while comparing to the HMG Ice Packs is the addition of a sewn external crampon pouch. This is definitely faster and more secure than the bungee attachments on other models. In fact while descending the Mount Willard trail two days ago my client who had secured his crampons with the bungee on an older model pack discovered the risk when halfway down the trail I heard an odd jingle sound and stopped to see if his crampons were still on his pack. They were not… luckily they were just 10 feet back up the trail having slipped out there bungee attachment.
I chose to pack my crampons inside the pack in the slick new Prism Crampon Case (more on that later) when I head out for the day but at the end of the day when I’m de-racking and dumping gear into the pack for the hike back to the car I might opt to just drop my iced up wet crampons into the external pocket.
The next thing I noticed about the pack was the ice axe attachments. This was definitely a new design as there were no buckles for securing the head of the ice axes. Instead HMG designed a “diamond pocket” pouch that the head of the tools simply rest in while the handles are secured with the typical bungee/cord-lock girth-hitch method. I was slightly concerned this might not be secure enough to keep from losing a tool while glissading but have found it to work really well. I tested with both the Petzl Nomics and the CAMP Cassin X-Dreams and the system really holds the tools in place during all manner of descents. For added security I like to capture the upper grip rest of whatever leash-less tool with the girt-hitch bungee attachment.
Another strong feature of this new pack is it’s ability to adapt. The fancy ice axe pouch works for technical tools, but what about a standard mountaineering axe? A single traditional ice axe loop is just below the pouch so you’re covered there! Ski mission? Quick release side compression straps allow for a solid A-frame carry. Glacier travel, or flagging a route in white out conditions on Mount Washington? At the bottom of both sides of the pack are sewn pouches so you could secure route wands, tent poles, trekking poles, camera trips-pods, etc.
HMG designed two accessories to flush out the awesomeness of this kit. The Prism Crampon Bag and the Prism Ice Screw Case. Good ice screw cases can be hard to come by and my old Outdoor Research one was nearing the end of its life. This one is designed to fit perfectly at the bottom of the pack which helps with efficient packing. I also like to keep my two Allen wrenches for field tightening of lose ice axe bolts and a few heavy-duty zip-ties in the small zippered pocket. The Crampon Bag has the right balance of padding and and light weight and since my current two crampons (Petzl Dart and CAMP Alpinist Tech) are SUPER sharp I’m enjoying not worrying about punching holes in some of the super nice puffy belay jackets I’m testing this winter. It’s also sized perfectly to slide down into the external crampon pouch if internal space is at a premium.
I’m also happy to report HMG is making this pack in 4 different sizes! Everyone should be able to find the perfect size! With Small, Medium, Large, and Tall being offered everyone should be able to find the perfect size. I went with a size medium as I have a 19 inch torso, and while the official recommendation was to go for a large I prefer the waist belt ride a little high on me incase I was to secure it while wearing a harness. Bottom line though stick to the size chart on the website and you should be good to go!
Right now there is a small discount available through HMG. The first option is to buy the whole kit. Full retail for the three items would be $525 if bought separately. Buying the kit at $475 saves you $50, then you can use promo code “PRISM” for another $25 off, bringing the final price down to $450 for the entire kit. That promotion runs through 12/15, so you have a little time to think about it! Of course if you already have a crampon bag and ice screw case you could just score the pack for $395!
You can buy this pack directly from the manufacturer here!
I said at the beginning I’m partial to HMG packs… they make amazing stuff. I have yet to go visit their manufacturing plant in Biddeford, ME but that is high on my bucket list. It’s awesome knowing these world class packs are made right across state-lines in Maine! If you haven’t purchased a HMG (or any “Dyneema Composite Fabric” pack) yet you might be in for a little bit of sticker shock when you compare them to packs made from regular ole’ nylon and Cordura. Before you balk at the cost be clear these materials are waterproof and stronger than steel. The abrasion resistance is quite impressive, they are are very UV resistant, and insanely light weight! These packs can easily handle a decade of hard use, and a weekend warrior might get a full career of climbing out of one of these packs. Just saying, sometimes you do get what you pay for!
A media sample was provided for purpose of review. All opinions are that of the author. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.
After having an almost tech free long weekend and a solid #OptOutside Black Friday with the family I’m ready to share a few of my favorite hand-picked deals on outdoor gear for tomorrow’s Cyber Monday… some of these are limited to tonight/tomorrow only so don’t miss out!
This is the nicest ice screw carrying case I’ve ever seen! Granted ice screw cases can be hard to come by. I’ve had an old OR case that was ready to be replaced and was quite happy to receive this one. It’s the perfect size, ultra-light, made out of bombproof material, and has a nice outer zippered pocket that holds an Allen wrench for tightening tools, a few heavy-duty zip ties for field repairs, a small file for field tune-ups, and thanks to a tip from Ragged Mountain Guides a silicone gun cloth that helps ultra-light aluminum ice screws perform better in dense ice. I’m also pretty excited to be reviewing the Prism Crampon Bag and Prism Pack this winter too!
These are 40% off through tomorrow with promo code “CYBER40”! 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.
Larger online retailer sales…
Backcountry has some great deals (up to 40% off) on Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, and Patagonia! You can see everything here!
REI has some of the same types of discount up to 50% off here!
EMS‘s biggest deals are with their “Doorbusters” with some up to 75% off all viewable here!
Unique gifts (you won’t find these at a box store)
I’m going to start with some local artists who make hand crafted art with a strong mountain vibe and sense of community because they have a strong mountain vibe and sense of community! Seriously these two friends live enriched lives out of their Tacoma’s and converted vans while building their brands and chasing adventures all over the country. You can support them while giving something that is truly hand-made and inspired. Check out Brittni’s line of drink sweaters, hand poured candles, and stylish Trucker hats here!
What can I say about my friend Erik, aka @smellybagofdirt? I met him last winter after noticing his somewhat noticeable van all over the valley (or indisposed) then got to know him as an avalanche course student and soon to be bunk-mate and ski partner in Iceland… Talk to him for 10 minutes and you’ll see he’s on his way to making his mark in the world. He just launched his website and is offering some original stickers, posters, and t-shirts. If you have an adrenaline junkie in on your holiday shopping list you’ll find a unique gift from Erik for sure!
Anyone who plays in the mountains, and I mean anyone, should take a basic Wilderness First Aid Course. It’s a 16 hour commitment. It could save you or your partners lives. The courses are offered all over the country. There is absolutely no reason not to have a basic first aid course under your belt if you want to play in the mountains. Yet we resist signing up for one. Make it easy for your loved ones by signing them up and paying for it!
This is for the loved ones who like to play on steep snowy slopes! Everyone who knows me knows avalanche education is a huge part of my life. My first brush with this hazard was a life changing event and I can’t advocate enough for getting this education before you wished you had it! If you have someone in your life who has back-country skiing, ice climbing, or winter mountaineering on their short list of things to do help prep them for success by signing them up for an avalanche course!
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! Check out their Holiday Gift guide here.
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! 7 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.
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!
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.
The Petzl Nao+ is the best headlamp for anyone who gets after dawn patrol or squeezes in late night pitches after work. I admittedly don’t own one yet but it is high on my wish list!
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!
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 flush out your buying needs this season.
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?
If I had to describe these tools in one word it would easily be…
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!
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.