Climbing in the Age of Covid-19

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus


I pulled into the parking lot below Whitehorse Ledge minutes before Bob pulled in. This was my first time coming back to climbing since an injury at the beginning of March followed by an on-going pandemic that generated stay at home orders and strong social pressure to not partake in riskier activities while the local medical centers braced for over-whelming traffic and struggled with sourcing enough PPE and ventilators if things got as bad as they might.

It had been a long and sometimes difficult two months. First, recovering from a painful injury that left me unable to do much more than walk slowly on flat ground. Second, once I felt like I might be able to turn a ski, deciding alpine Spring skiing would have to wait for 2021.

So it should go without saying I was excited to be tying in with one of my longest lifetime friends and climbing partners but it wasn’t without a little trepidation. My family had kept our circle very small and tight and a couple hours on a cliff with Bob was definitely a cautious step forward that I hoped would bring us more and more to normalcy as things evolve with the pandemic.



We had talked about how we would protect each other and manage not just our climbing risk but the risk of spreading a virus that has managed to bring the country to its knees with its ease of transmission combined with how many potential asymptomatic carriers could unknowingly start an outbreak.

When Bob got out of his truck we went without the typical firm handshake or bro hug while gearing up. My rope, his rack. We both used our own hand-sanitizer before shouldering our backpacks and hiking up to the cliff. We walked, almost without realizing it, about ten feet apart instead of shoulder to shoulder like we’d done for hundreds of days of climbing together.

I stacked the rope while Bob racked up slightly further away than normal. We decided Bob would lead the 9 pitch mellow slab route for a few reasons. He had been out climbing a few times already and was feeling pretty good. I didn’t know how I was feeling on rock post-injury and having such a long break from climbing. We also wanted to get back home to our families early and this route definitely climbs faster when not swapping leads. Perhaps I also thought this would mean less handling of gear… most of the pitches were run out slab climbing so I was only cleaning 4 or 5 pieces of protection per pitch, mostly just quick-draws.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
Bob starts up pitch 2 of the Cormier-Magness route

We reminded each other that no gear should go into our mouths. This is a natural habit for climbers when cleaning and leading climbs and a habit we wanted to be conscious to avoid. At each anchor I clove-hitched myself in a bit longer than normal, finding it easy to keep about 6 feet between us. Instead of directly handing Bob his gear back I would long-reach over and clip it to his end of the rope. We both reminded each other not to touch our faces.

At the third anchor I donned my disposable face-mask I was carrying. While I might believe both Bob and I are not spreading this virus we can’t be 100% certain at this point, neither of us have been tested for antibodies and even if we had been the jury is still out on exactly what any of those results would truly mean in terms of both immunity and potential to spread. The main reason I wanted to don the mask was to put myself into my potential clients shoes if I end up going back to work this summer.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
At the “smile” belay after linking into Beginner’s Route en-route to Standard Route Finish, a great-link up Bob suggested we do

Current CDC guidelines recommend masks or face coverings if you can’t stay at least 6 feet away from people. I’ve sat through a number of great webinars hosted by the American Alpine Club, The Access Fund, and the American Mountain Guide Association about how climbers and guides should move forward during this pandemic. Both the company I guide for, Northeast Mountaineering, and most guide services I know who are starting to operate again, will be requiring some type of face covering when social distancing is not possible (essentially at belay’s, fitting harnesses, etc).



Two hours after starting up the face we reached the top. I laid what gear I had cleaned from the last pitch on the ground for Bob to collect and stepped back to coil our rope. After stuffing the rope in my backpack and changing out of my climbing shoes we both used our hand-sanitizer again and started our hike back to the parking lot. We then jumped in our separate cars and drove a few minutes to the lower viewing area of Cathedral Ledge for a post climb beer (we brought our own) and to watch two parties getting after it on the cliff, one party on the Beast Flake and one on Camber, two of the cliffs classic hard routes. No one was on any of the easier trade routes.

Rock Climbing During Covid-19 Coronavirus
The view from the top of Whitehorse Ledge with Echo Lake below, Mount Kearsarge on the left, Cranmore Ski Mountain in the middle, the Green Hills Preserve to the right, and the beautiful Saco River Valley all around

After some great catching up and the cold refreshment we made tentative plans to start climbing together again once a week. We expressed gratitude to each other for an awesome morning of climbing and then parted ways. No high fives, no fist bumps, no bro hugs. Just a smile and a wave. When I got home I left my climbing gear and rope in the trunk of the car, changed my clothes, and showered, before hugging my kids. I waited a couple days before collecting my gear from the trunk and putting it back into my gear room. It felt good to be climbing again, even though I was doing things a bit differently than before.

Resources:

https://americanalpineclub.org/news/2020/5/1/climbing-in-the-covid-era

https://www.accessfund.org/open-gate-blog/climbing-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

https://amga.com/coronavirus-update/webinars-resources-members/

See you in the mountains (when they are local and mellow… for now),

Northeast Alpine Start

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Wilderness Navigation Online Course May 9th! (New course May 24th)

Wilderness Navigation Online Course Map and Compass


In 2008 having been on a few search and rescue missions for lost hikers I looked around for a quality navigation course and couldn’t find one I thought was comprehensive and effective, so I decided to create my own curriculum. I’ve since taught this course over 50 times for organizations like the Appalachian Mountain Club, Tin Mountain Conservation,  Eastern Mountain Sports Schools, Kennett High School Adult Education Series, Northeast Mountaineering, and for private high school outdoor programs like The Brooks School.

I’m excited to say I can now present the classroom portion of this course in an online live interactive format and I am announcing my first ever online Wilderness Navigation Course for Saturday, May 9th, from 9am-1pm EST. (NEW COURSE IS MAY 24th- invites have been sent to first 12 on waiting list)

So what will be covered in the course? Here’s a look at the curriculum:

Curriculum

Improvised (Survival) Navigation Techniques

Proper use of a Magnetic Compass

Reading Topographic Maps

Locating your position using terrain association

Locating your position using single-point resection

Location your position using triangulation

Navigating by altimeter

Navigating in a white-out

Creating accurate trip plans and estimating hiking time

A brief introduction to online mapping and smart phone app integration (this topic will be offered in detail in another online course soon!)


Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target .4 miles away through dense forest.

Course participants will also get a copy of the presentation for future reference and an invitation to connect to a private Facebook group to discuss any of the course content down the road as questions come up or information is forgotten.

For this first run I am limiting the class size to 10 students. (Class size increased to 12) If you are interested please read the next section carefully before registering!


Wilderness Navigation
Prior course participents learn how to use Terrain Association to located their position then confirm their beliefs with solid Resection and Triangulation compass skills

Student Requirements

Experience: You do not need to have any previous training or experience with navigation, reading maps, or using a compass. While this is an entry level course previous courses have shown me that even self described “experts” learn easier and better ways for performing some of these skills in this course.

Time Commitment: This course will run on Saturday May 9th from 9am-1pm EST. (New course is Sunday May 24th from 9am-1pm EST) You will need to be available during that time to fully participate.

Equipment: You will need a laptop or computer connected to the internet. While you could attend the course via a smartphone I think you will benefit from a full size screen. You will need a base plate style compass. I am a fan of these two models, the second one being my personal all time favorite compass and the one you will see me using throughout the course.

Suunto A-30L Compass

Suunto MC-2 USGS Mirror Compass <- my preferred compass

You will also need to be able to print three sheets of paper, two in color. There will be a single lesson worksheet and a color topographic PDF (both 8.5 x 11) emailed to you shortly after registering along with the invitation to the Zoom meeting. You will also receive instructions on how to print a local topographic map. Most of us have gotten familiar with Zoom over the last few weeks. If you haven’t attended a Zoom meeting yet do not worry, it is super easy and I’m happy to walk you through it 1 on 1 prior to the course so you are not stressed about that aspect!

Optional Equipment: A ruler or straight edge is handy but not required. A topographic map of your area can be helpful for a couple of the self-guided outdoor sessions.

There will be a couple self-guided outdoor sessions to keep us from sitting in a chair or staring at a computer screen for too long, so you will also need access to some “outside”… hopefully no one reading this is 20 levels down in a bunker right now.


How to Register/Tuition

If you meet all those requirements and would like to attend just fill out the short contact form below! I can answer any additional questions you might have and once I confirm I still have a spot available I will send a tuition ($50) request via PayPal or Venmo, your preference.

Cancellation Policy

If I need to cancel the course for any reason at any time a full refund will be made. If you need to cancel earlier than two weeks prior to the course for any reason a full refund will be made. If you need to cancel within two weeks of the course a 50% refund will be made. If you need to cancel within one week of the course no refund will be made.


I am really excited about my foray into online instruction. I love teaching adults the variety of mountain skills I’ve acquired over two decades of guiding people in the mountains and this is a method I’ve wanted to try for years! I have other courses in the works, perhaps the most requested from a lot of my avalanche course students, is a course focused on online mapping and modern smartphone integration. While I love using tech responsibly in the mountains you must acquire and practice the fundamental navigation skills if you don’t want to find yourself in a spot because your tech failed!

So that’s it! Let me know if would like to sign up by filling out the short contact form below! Also please share this with your outdoorsy friends who might be interested!

EDIT: 5/25 WOW! I’m humbled that this course SOLD OUT in less then 24 hours! Fear not I will schedule another one very soon! If the demand is there I could even offer this on a weekly basis. If you are interested in this course please fill out the form below and I will add you to the list and notify you when the next course is scheduled! (second course invites have been sent to first 12 on waiting list, feel free to join the waiting list using the form below to receive notifications of openings and new courses)

See you in the mountains (when we are back to traveling),

Northeast Alpine Start



Disclaimer: No course online or in person can guarantee your safety. You are solely responsible for any outcome resulting in following information or advice in this post or in this course. I strongly discourage any non-essential travel outside of your home while we are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Please stay local while practicing these skills. Affiliate links help support this blog. Thank you.

Staying Healthy While Staying Home

I thought I’d share what our family has been doing to stay healthy during these challenging days. I’m in no way an expert on nutrition and holistic living but I’ve noticed we’ve been doing some pretty positive things since the stay at home order.

Outside Time

staying healthy during #stayhome Covid-19 pandemic
One hour a day of outside time

First is getting the whole family outside for a minimum of an hour every day. Following an injury at the start of March I haven’t been able to go on strenuous hikes so to be honest these short nature walks with the family have been great. We walk our dirt road neighborhood or drive a couple miles to a relative’s paved neighborhood so the kids can ride their bikes. We’ve also started going to the Fryeburg Fairgrounds once a week which is a fantastic spot to ride bikes and play some frisbee as it has so much open space the dozen or so families there are easily able to stay distanced. One thing I’ve changed is I’ve started carrying my first aid kit 100% of the time, even for just short walks. While we are practicing very low risk outdoor activities we should still be prepared to handle unexpected scrapes and minor injuries!


staying healthy during #stayhome Covid-19 pandemic
Family bike riding (and dog running) at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds

PSA: The White Mountain National Forest is for the most part, “closed”. Details here.

staying healthy during #stayhome Covid-19 pandemic
Staying Low and Local… short nature walks near home are the best option right now

Healthy Eating

I used to think my career as a climbing guide would keep me active enough I could eat whatever I wanted as I was getting plenty of exercise. Having crested 40 reality has caught up and following a period of inactivity post injury I’ve really cut out some of my favorite indulgences. We, like many, are cooking more at home then we ever have. We do take-out about once every two weeks both to give us a break from cooking and to support some of our favorite local restaurants.

staying healthy during #stayhome Covid-19 pandemic
Lobster salad inside an avocado with a little bit of our family’s favorite seasoning, thanks for this idea Mom!

The one food we’ve been eating a ton of lately is avocado. It’s on toast for breakfast in the morning and often in what ever veggie or turkey sandwich we make for lunch. I have to thank Absolutely Mindy for the tip about “Everything But The Bagel” seasoning… It is amazing on avocado and eggs! Most recently it was the serving vessel for some lobster salad we made with left-over lobster meat.

Nutritional Supplements

We’ve been drinking a lot of orange juice and taking our daily vitamins. I also put in for another order of Gnarly Nutrition, this time adding the Performance Greens to our pantry. This stuff is so delicious and packed with so much goodness! You can see my full review of a lot of their product line here!

staying healthy during #stayhome Covid-19 pandemic
A scoop of this in a fruit smoothie takes it up a notch!

Culling clothes, toys, and gear

We’ve spent a lot of time going through the kids clothes, toys, and gear. We’ve been able to donate outgrown clothes and toys through our local COVID-19 barter/trade Facebook group and it’s been great freeing up space and decluttering our living spaces.

So that’s it! Anything you’ve been doing more (or less) of during these strange days?

Stay healthy and see you in the mountains when they re-open!

Northeast Alpine Start

 

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What’s your first aid kit look like?

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.

Wilderness First Aid Medical Training
“The path to helping others”- photo by Peter Lewis, SOLO
Wilderness First Aid Medical Training
Hands on medical training- photo by Peter Lewis, SOLO

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!

Northeast Alpine Start



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Tech Tip- Listen to Avalanche Podcasts

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 Utah Avalanche Center Podcast by Drew Hardesty

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 8.01.39 AM.png

“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.


Right behind my first suggestion is the The Avalanche Hour Podcast by Caleb Merrill.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 8.03.03 AM.png

“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!


Third on the list is Slide: The Avalanche Podcast by Doug Krause.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 8.03.45 AM.png

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



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Gear Review: Mammut Eigerjoch Pro Hooded Down Jacket

Mammut Eigerjoch Pro Hooded Jacket Review

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.

Mammut Eigerjoch Pro Hooded Jacket Review

Manufacturer Description

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.

Features

  • 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

Performance/Warmth

Mammut Eigerjoch Pro Hooded Jacket Review

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.

Mammut Eigerjoch Pro Hooded Jacket Review
Elasticated hand gaiters keep warm in and snow & cold 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.

Fit/Sizing

Mammut Eigerjoch Pro Hooded Jacket Review

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.

Mammut Eigerjoch Pro Hooded Jacket Review
Stuffed in the included stuff sack ready to be clipped to the back of your harness

Summary

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!

Available in Men’s and Women’s Here

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



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.

Gear Review: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Alpine Climbing Kit

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Pack Review

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!


Manufacturer Description

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.

Manufacturer Specifications

WEIGHT

1.82 lbs | 29.1 oz | 827g
Weight does not include hip belt and may vary slightly by torso size.

PACK FEATURES

  • 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

Hyperlight Mountain Gear Prism Pack Review

Now for some opinions!

Capacity

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.

Comfort

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.



 

Features

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.

Hyperlight Mountain Gear Prism Ice Pack Review

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.

Hyperlight Mountain Gear Prism Ice Pack Review

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.

Versatility

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.

Accessories

Hyperlight Mountain Gear Prism Crampon Bag Review
Hyperlight Mountain Gear Prism Crampon Bag

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.

Hyperlight Mountain Gear Prism Ice Screw Case Review
Hyperlight Mountain Gear Prism Ice Screw Case

Available sizes

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!

Savings

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!

Summary

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.

Outdoor Gift Guide for Cyber Monday!

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!

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Ice Screw Case

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Ice Screw Case

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Ice Screw Case

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!


Luci Solar String Lights

Luci String Lights
Photo from http://www.mpowered.com

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)

Mountains For Breakfast $15-$25

Product Collage-01

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!


Stay Wild Never Mild $2.50-$23

Stay Wild Never Mild

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!


Wilderness First Aid Course $195

Wilderness First Aid Course

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!


Avalanche Course

Ortovox Avalanche Shovel Comparison

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!


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! Check out their Holiday Gift guide here.


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! 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.


Darn Tough Socks ($15-$27)

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!


MaxxDry Heavy Duty Boot and Glove Dryer ($55)

MaxxDry Boot and Glove Dryer
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.


A high end headlamp!

ONECOL

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!


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!

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 flush out your buying needs this season.


Affiliate links above help support this blog.

Gear Review: Cassin X-Dream Ice Axe

(Originally posted September 2017)


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

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

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

versatile

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

Buy at REI              Buy on Amazon         Buy on Backcountry


The Handle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Picks

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

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

Buy at REI                    Buy on Amazon         Buy on Backcountry


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


The Shaft

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

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

Summary

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

Buy at REI              Buy on Amazon         Buy on Backcountry

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

Thanks for reading! See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

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

The 2019/2020 Northeastern Ice Climbing Season Begins!

Ice Climbing New Hampshire
Northeast Mountaineering guides Joshua Klockars and Zach Coburn getting ready for another great ice season on Mount Washington! Photo by @mattybowman

Last week marked the official start of the Northeast ice climbing season with ascents of both of the usual suspects, the iconic Black Dike on Cannon Cliff and Pinnacle Gully in Huntington Ravine, Mount Washington. The Black Dike fell to Adam Bidwell and partner and from what I’ve heard a second party was right behind them. My fingers are crossed that the route comes in as good as it did last season when I was able to enjoy 3 early season ascents and am grateful my friend Dave Dillon of Chase The Summit was able to capture one of those climbs with his drone! Check out the footage and my “route guide” below!

 

Black Dike Route Guide (some spoilers)

Friend and fellow Northeast Mountaineering Guide Matty Bowman showed what early season dedication is all about by hiking up to Huntington Ravine 4 times in one week, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday before finally getting to send Pinnacle with Zach Coburn and Joshua Klockers on Friday, likely the first ascent of the season (though there were some tracks heading up to the route so who knows!)



What’s cool about this kind of motivation is he took condition photos on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, so we can really watch the climb turn from “total shower” to do-able early season ice climbing…

BF220348-2C59-4252-8EC6-770D0A85F7A9
Pinnacle Gully from left to right top to bottom, 11/4, 11/5, 11/7, 11/8 (2019). All images courtesy of @mattybowman
ice climbing mount washington
Another look at five days of ice growth! All images courtesy of @mattybowman

Something that is interesting to me is comparing the actual ice growth and “climb-ability” to what conditions the Mount Washington Observatory as reporting. The “F6” is a data sheet that can help spot trends that might indicate a hike might be worth it for those who are keen on seeking out early season ice.

ice climbing New Hampshire
Weather data from the summit of Mount Washington for the beginning of November 2019

Reports came in of parties climbing Hillman’s Highway (pretty low angle scramble with some patches of ice), and Mike Pelchat posted a short video of someone grabbing a lead on a steep pillar of typical early season Tuckerman Ravine ice.

While I got the first seasonal ascent of Standard Route at Frankenstein last year I doubt I’ll get it this year as we just brought home a puppy and my free time is dedicated to potty training this puppy… but maybe? My bet is Standard is climbed by the end of this week, though it won’t be “in” for a couple more weeks.

Ice climbing New Hampshire
November 15th last year… just 3 day from now…. hmm? Photo by Alexander Roberts


So what are your goals for this season? For me I just want to find time to review some of the new gear I’ve got to demo. I’m most stoked about the new Cassin/Camp Tech Crampons, some Mammut boots, harness, and incredibly awesome looking belay jacket, and a handful of the best ice climbing ropes out there… so stay tuned for a heavy gear review season while juggling a full avalanche course schedule!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above support this blog.