Gear Review- Arc’teryx IS Jacket

This winter I have been testing the Arc’teryx IS Jacket and I’ll sum up my experience with two words. Bombproof Furnace! In the category of synthetic belay jackets this one is a beast. Let’s look at the manufacturer description and specs then I’ll jump into some of the finer details and my opinion on the model!

Manufacturer Description

Created for alpine, ice and expedition climbing, the Alpha IS is the single-layer solution for severe alpine environments. The GORE-TEX outer delivers durable waterproof, windproof, breathable protection. Thermatek™, a DWR treated continuous filament synthetic, insulates without absorbing moisture. The combination results in a jacket providing comprehensive weather and thermal protection at a weight 18% lighter than the equivalent midlayer and hardshell system.

Specifications

Weight 610 g / 1 lb 5.5 oz

Fit Regular Fit, Hip Length

Centre back length: 78 cm / 30.75 in

Men’s Top Sizing Chart

Activity Ice Climbing / Alpine Climbing / Expedition

How I Tested

I used this jacket for about a dozen day trips this winter including summiting Mount Washington with wind chills around -30f to -40f, alpine ice climbing on Mount Willard with ambient air temps around 10f, top-rope guiding at Cathedral Ledge, and while standing in snow pits teaching avalanche courses in Tuckerman Ravine during mixed precipitation weather.

Performance

As I mentioned in the introduction the Arc’teryx IS Jacket is a FURNACE! This is thanks to the exclusive “Thermatek” syntheric insulation which has amazing heat retention properties while being so light and packable. From Acr’teryx:

Exclusive to Arc’teryx, ThermaTek™ is a continuous filament, synthetic insulation that is treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) to make it highly hydrophobic, which means that it repels moisture very efficiently. The lofty insulation is then laminated to a backing fabric to ensure an even distribution and insulation.

Key Advantages

  • Arc’teryx’s most efficient insulation when used in humid and wet conditions
  • Very resilient and durable
  • The fastest drying fill insulation in our collection

While I am not a fan of this color (it is also available in a much more visible “Magma” color), I found the black color to be even warmer if the belay stance was in the sun.

I also said this jacket is BOMBPROOF, both against all forms of precipitation and winds but also against abrasion. The weather protection comes from the N40p-X 2L GORE-TEX membrane. water-tight zippers, and DWR treatment. The abrasion resistance is thanks rugged shell fabric and fully taped seams.

Weight/Packability

Manufacturer listed weight is 610 grams, 1 pound and 5.5 ounces. My home scale weighed my size large sample with the storage sack at 680 grams, 1 pound and eight ounces. The jacket easily stuffed into the included stuff sack with measures about 10 x 6 x 6 inches and could be compressed further.

Sizing/Fit

Despite my measurements being a little closer to a medium I went with the large size so it would easily fit over my other layers including a light weight puffy. The sleeve length was perfect and I choose to wear this over my harness at belays. To be honest I don’t know how Will Gadd was leading steep ice while wearing this jacket… it’s too warm! The hood is generously sized enough to easily fit over my helmet.

Features

There are a lot of small design features I liked in this jacket. The elasticized cuffs easily kept snow out and warmth in. The large internal drop pocket kept my water warm and handy while hanging around ice cragging. The stiffened visor kept freezing rain off my face while explaining the Alpha angle to students in an avalanche class in Tuckerman Ravine. The “almost” waterproof chest pocket kept my iPhone protected during moderate rain over the Christmas vacation week. The hood easily fits comfortably over my climbing helmet.

Improvements

There isn’t much I would change with this piece. A softer piece of material in the “chin” area might be nice but most the time I was wearing this jacket with a buff on anyways. The shell and internal fabric is a bit on the “noisy” side, but that’s such a minor observation I don’t think anyone would notice unless you were trying to stalk a deer or something. And as mentioned, I’d like this more in the Magma color as I prefer high visibility colors for winter mountaineering and ice climbing!

Summary

The Arc’teryx IS Jacket is basically the brand’s highest end synthetic belay parka and hard shell jacket in one piece. With a high level of heat retention and protection from wind and rain this really is designed for harsh conditions. I would be hard pressed to find a synthetic puffy and hardshell combo and stay this far under two pounds! Granted the jacket commands I high retail price, but when you consider the price of a separate belay parka and hardshell of this quality I can start to see why it comes in where it does. If you climb in warmer, less harsh, conditions than our local Mount Washington, you might prefer to keep the “puffy” and hard shell as two separate pieces for more versatility, but if you are looking to simplify your clothing system for extreme cold or wet conditions this would be a piece worth looking at!

Arc'teryx IS Jacket Review
Arc’teryx IS Jacket Review

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links above help support this blog at no cost to you.

Tech Tip: Prepping Ice Screws for Easy Cleaning

A little pre-season maintenance can make cleaning the ice out of your ice screws a breeze. This is particularly handy for ultralight aluminum ice screws that are more prone to having tough to clean ice cores but is also useful with stainless steel ice screws.

If you found this video helpful please help me by subscribing to my YouTube Channel!

Links to the products below:

Hoppe’s #9 Silicone Gun & Reel Cloth

Petzl Laser Speed Light Ice Screws

Black Diamond Express Ice Screws

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Ice Screw Case

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above help support the content created on this blog. When you make a purchase the author receives a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

How to Prepare for a Winter Hike in the White Mountains

Winter Hiking Tips White Mountains

A quick look at hiking forums online confirms what I am expecting… unprecedented new winter hikers will be visiting the White Mountains this winter. In order to help these newcomers more safely enter the sport of winter hiking I’ve compiled a list of resources and advice below.

Weather

Likely the single most over-looked piece of information prior for a first winter hike is obtaining an accurate regionally specific weather forecast. If you are planning a winter hike in the White Mountains you should consult the Higher Summits Forecast for a few days before your planned hike and the morning of! Things change fast in the mountains and the forecast is published around 4am which should be in time for you to get an accurate update before you leave the car.

Gear

The second most likely mistake to make is not bringing the right equipment. Every one on the hike should at a minimum carry “The Ten Essentials“. I’ll list some of my personal recommendations below and add some opinions/advice.

Cell Phone– While this one isn’t officially on the list it should be. The mistake is thinking this can replace any of the other 10 essential items. You should not rely on having service or any battery life left. A mapping app does not replace a physical map. The phone’s flashlight does not replace a real headlamp. Cell phones are susceptible to cold weather, so they should be kept warm, inside a chest or thigh pocket. Most importantly, leave the car with a fully charged phone and immediately put the phone on AIRPLANE mode! While on airplane mode you can still take pictures and use the phone’s GPS chip to track your hike if you are using pre-downloaded mapping apps. If you are not on airplane mode your battery we die quickly as your phone searches for a signal in out of service areas.

Personal Locator Beacon– With cell phone service not guaranteed many experienced hikers are choosing to invest in a personal locator beacon (PLB). While a bit expensive (what insurance isn’t) a PLB works through a satellite network so you can request help, or let worried family know you are just running a little late, from virtually anywhere. The best kind of PLB’s allow for two way communication and custom messaging. It’s much easier for search and rescue to respond when we have a message about what the actual emergency is. One of the most popular models on the market that can do that right now is the Garmin InReach Mini.

Headlamp– You might think you can finish the hike before dark but everyone in the group should carry their own headlamp. For serious winter hiking I like headlamps that can really throw some light and perform well in the cold, like the Petzl Swift RL Headlamp. A more budget friendly option would be the Petzl Actik Headlamp. I actually stuff a Petzl Zipka Headlamp into my first aid kit as a back-up headlamp for when someone forgets theirs. I also use lithium batteries in all my headlamps for long life and excellent cold weather performance.

Map– The AMC publishes 6 great maps that cover the entire White Mountain National Forest. You could also learn how to make your own custom maps for free on a website like CalTopo.com, if you have your own quality color printer (or have UPS Store/Staples print them for you). Do not solely rely on your cell phone app to keep you from getting lost. Battery life can quickly drain in cold temps and we do reach temperatures below the operating range of the phone display’s.

Compass– Figuring out direction is the most basic part of wilderness navigation and there is no better way to do that than to use a compass. A solid basic model is the Suunto A-30L Compass. My personal all-time favorite professional grade compass is the Suunto MC-2 Pro Compass. Don’t know how to use a map & compass together to properly navigate? Take a quality Wilderness Navigation Course and/or get a good book on the topic!

First Aid Kit– There are lots of commercial first aid kits of various sizes and quality. For the last two decades I’ve started with the Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight and Watertight Series, the .7 size, and supplemented it a little. I’m also happy with a new My Medic Solo First Aid Kit I’ve started carrying. Any first aid kit I grab I usually stuff some extra medications in it, a spare Petzl Zipka Headlamp, a small knife, a fire-starter, and some chemical hand warmers.

The rest of the list includes; extra clothes, food, water, sun protection, etc.

Timing

Many rescues, accidents, and near misses share something in common… late start times. Darkness comes quick in the winter months so an early start increases your overall safety and leave wider margins for unexpected mishaps. Many experienced winter hikers prefer to hit the trail right at dawn. Starting a 4000 footer at 11am is riskier than starting a 4000 footer at 7am.

Knowing when to turn back

One of the hardest skills to develop as a new winter hiker is determining when to turn it around and head back towards safety. We want to be challenged and meet success on our hiking trips but we must be careful to always balance the delicate risk vs reward scale. Many books and articles have been written on the topic of lost life in the Presidential Range and greater White Mountain Region. You can learn from these tragedies and remember to stay humble… we are all prone to making mistakes. Some books on the topic worth checking out:

Not Without Peril

Where You’ll Find Me <- my short blog post about this event is here

The Last Traverse <- currently reading to review

Guided Instruction

For many the best way to get into winter hiking is to do so with people who are already experienced at winter hiking. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a very long history of helping people learn to recreate in the mountains safely and responsibly. They have tons of courses and guided hikes designed for the aspiring new winter hiker.

If you’re goal is to travel above treeline in the winter there are a host of well established guide services that offer quality programs and can rent you the specialized equipment you might not want to purchase yet as you’re just dipping your toes into the sport of winter hiking (like plastic mountaineering boots, crampons, mountaineering axe, etc). Better yet their guides will teach you how to properly pack, adjust layers during the day, walk with crampons on, self arrest, with an axe, etc).

Here’s is a list of some of the most known companies that run trips in the White Mountains;

Northeast Mountaineering <- disclaimer I work for this company

EMS Schools

International Mountain Climbing School

Ragged Mountain Guides

Synnott Mountain Guides

Redline Guiding

Chauvin Guides

Acadia Mountain Guides

REI Adventures

(if you are a guide service that leads winter hikes in the White Mountains and were not included in the above list please contact me to be added)

Get Educated

Other than the knowledge you can gain from the above guided experiences there are two skills every hiker should obtain early on in their hiking career, Wilderness Navigation Skills and Wilderness First Aid Skills. While you can learn some of these skills from sources like YouTube nothing beats hands on training with quality instructors.

More Info

Check out the Hike Safe website. It has great information to help you plan your hike including “The Code“. Also please consider purchasing a Hike Safe Card from New Hampshire Fish and Game. This purchase adds crucial funding to a very tight budget for search and rescue in NH and might help you avoid incurring the cost of a rescue should you need one.

From NHFG website:

It is important to note that people may still be liable for response expenses, if they are deemed to be reckless or to have intentionally created a situation requiring an emergency response.

Summary

Winter hiking is an amazing sport and one I have enjoyed for over thirty years. It can be magical, beautiful, spiritual, exhilarating, and grandiose. It can also go from a fun outing to dangerous and deadly quite quickly. My best advice is to start off slow, read some books or articles on it, seek advice from quality outdoor retailers, join a hiking group, start with smaller hikes and save Mount Washington or the Franconia Ridge for when you’ve got some experience under your belt. Maybe hire a guide or instructor and take a formalized course. Most importantly though… please come home at the end of your hike.

Winter Hiking Tips White Mountains
The author enjoying a cold day up on Mount Washington a few winters ago

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog. If you make a purchase through one of them the author receives a small commission at no additional cost to you. The author is also a guide who works for Northeast Mountaineering, which was listed alongside other guide services in the area. You are responsible for your own safety. The use of any information in this post is at your own risk.

Gear Review- Patagonia DAS Light Hoody

This year Patagonia has released a lighter version of their iconic DAS “Dead Air Space” synthetic parka and after a month of testing the Patagonia DAS Light Hoody I can honestly say it’s a amazing piece! Without a doubt you won’t find a warmer and more bomb-proof synthetic belay jacket under 12 ounces.

Patagonia DAS Light Hoody Review

For insulation Patagonia used 65 grams of down-like “PlumaFill”. This 100% recycled insulation truly feels as warm as high quality down yet has the advantage of still retaining heat should it get wet. You’ll have to go out of your way to get it wet though thanks to the almost seamless Pertex® Quantum Pro fabric with both a PU dry coating and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. That’s about as close to waterproof as you can get while still having functional breath-ability and makes this jacket stand above the Micro and Nano Puff jackets with their sewn through quilted patterns.

A two way zipper for easy access to your belay loop, size-able chest pocket, helmet friendly hood, and two handwarmer pockets round out the features. The cut of the jacket is roomy, closer to a true belay jacket than a typical “light puffy”. I went with a size large for my 5′ 9″ 180lb frame and there was plenty of room to layer under it but it didn’t feel to baggy. My only suggestion is the left hand pocket that can be turned inside out to stuff the jacket needs to be a little bigger, it’s a bit of a challenge trying to get the jacket to stuff into that pocket.

Here’s a quick video review I did on the jacket:

Summary/Who is this for?

The Patagonia DAS Light Hoody is a pretty versatile piece. It’s an excellent choice for a fast & light ice climber/alpinist belay jacket if conditions are typical. It’s a great insurance piece for the back-country skier or rider who doesn’t plan to stop moving but wants to be prepared for any contingency and winter hikers will find it an excellent addition to their gear closet. If you’re looking for some cold weather protection this is a jacket you should be looking at!

Purchase from Backcountry <- 20% off coupon applies! Link below!

Purchase from Patagonia

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Gear Review- Rocky Talkies

Communication is crucial to safe backcountry travel, and nothing helps improve communication than a quality set of radios. This past summer I received a new pair of Rocky Talkies to review and after 6 months of hard use I’m ready to share my thoughts on them!

Durable

Right out of the box I could feel how durable these radios are. First there is the shatterproof front screen that is transparent for the LED display. Then there is the removable rubberized case for all-around drop protection. The case fits so snugly I didn’t even realize it was removable until I really started to dig into the radio after months of use. There isn’t much reason to remove the case unless you’re carrying spare batteries (more on battery life later).

Rocky Talkie Review

In addition to having all this drop protection the radio comes with one of the most robust tether systems I’ve ever seen on a radio. A full strength Mammut Wall Light carabiner attaches the radio to my shoulder strap (or on my harness gear loop when not wearing a pack), and a metal snap-link auto retracting tether acts as a solid back-up and allows the radio to easily stay in reach.

Rocky Talkie Review
Photo by Kirsten Gehl

For water resistance the radios carry an IP56 rating, meaning they are splash-proof and snow-proof but should not be fully submerged. I’ve noticed no effect after having my pair routinely exposed to heavy rain or waterfall spray while guiding waterfall rappelling trips all summer so I have a fair amount of confidence in this level of resistance.

Clarity

The second feature that caught my attention was during my very first test run. I was standing at the top of a 200 foot waterfall and my co-guide was at the bottom as we prepared to send our guests down the rappel we had set up. I called him to make sure we were good-to-go and his response came back clearer than any radio, including some of the expensive and bigger radios I have been issued for search & rescue. The audio quality of these little hand-held radios far exceeds any of the other radios I have tested. It almost doesn’t sound like a radio, and sounds more like a 5 bar LTE connection with a modern smartphone!

Rocky Talkies Review

Simplicity

There are only five buttons, which makes this radio incredibly easy to use right out of the box. No need for programming, though you can use advanced features to add privacy codes. A power button, channel flipper, push-to-talk, and volume up and down. So simple! With these buttons you are able to scan all channels, lock and un-lock the radio, change between high and low power, change channel, change privacy codes (CT, DCS), and check battery life.

Range

This was one of the hardest features for me to truly test as I am almost never that far from my clients or partners. Alpine rock climbing in Huntington Ravine we are always within 60 meters of each other. This winter back-country skiing that distance can increase to a maximum of a half mile… still way within the suggested range. So I’ll share the claims and some of the great info Rocky Talkie has released to help address this popular question.

This is a 2-watt radio… the strongest watt option available that doesn’t require a license to transmit on. The antennae is fixed, which is something I like as other radio models I’ve used have removable antennas that often have been loose (and once almost lost).

Rocky Talkies Review
Image from rockytalkie.com

Rocky Talkie makes these range claims:

Line-of-sight: 25+ miles
Mountains: 1 to 5 miles
Forest/Hills: 0.5 to 3 miles
City: Up to 1 mile

Rocky Talkies Review
Image from rockytalkies.com

To further illustrate how the range of these radios, and many radios in general, are effected by the terrain they are being used in they published this excellent blog post addressing this topic.

Battery Life

I found the battery life to be substantial, especially for such a small radio. My informal testing showed the battery would last for over 12 days of use while guiding both waterfall rappelling and rock climbing trips. These were 5 to 8 hour long trips were radio use was light. Based on that I would expect I could easily get 3-5 cold backcountry ski tours in before needing to charge. It charges with a USB-C to USB-a cable (included).

Some more info on battery life from the manufacturer:

The Rocky Talkie has a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 1550 mAhrs. Battery life is dependent on how frequently the radios send and receive signals. With normal usage, the battery can be expected to last 3-5 days (assuming the radio is used 8hrs/day). The battery will last over 120 hrs when in standby mode (the radio is on but not transmitting or receiving signals). The battery life was tested in high power mode (2 Watts), so you can expect a slightly longer battery life on low power mode (.5 Watt).

Dedication to Rescue Teams

Rocky Talkie has pledged to donate $2 of every radio sold to search and rescue teams. They are giving $10,000 every year through an annual award and through a grant program. That kind of support from a manufacturer is really appreciated!

Summary

Rocky Talkies Review

For under 5 ounces this might be one of the best things you could add to your outdoor kit when it comes to overall team safety. The rugged feel of these radios inspire confidence in their longevity. The crystal clear audio instills confidence that the message I am sending or receiving will be understood. While there are a lot of handhelds on the market these days, you’d be hard pressed to find many other options that were obviously designed for with the climber and skier in mind!

Video

Purchase

As I finish this review I see that they are currently sold out… not surprised as I’ve watched outfitters and rescue teams across the country snap these up. The guide service I work for, Northeast Mountaineering, has purchased a fleet of 10 for our guides to use this winter! They should be back in-stock by early November, so you can subscribe to their email for notification of the restock here.

10/15/20 UPDATE! They are back in stock!

Purchase Here

DISCOUNT!

Use “AlpineStart10” when checking out to get 10% off!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Media samples were provided for purpose of review.

Gear Review: Deuter Guide Lite 24 Backpack Review

Deuter Guide Lite 24 Backpack Review
This summer I’ve been hiking, rock climbing, and guiding with the new Deuter Guide Lite 30+ Backpack and I’m ready to share my thoughts on the pack and who it may be a good choice for. The new for 2020 Guide Lite Series has some great features for packs in this category. Let’s start by looking at the specifications and then we will break down the performance and look for places we might improve.


Manufacturer Description

All new for 2020! The pinnacle series from Deuter has been completely redesigned and overhauled – resulting in a new, minimalistic Guide Lite 30. Balanced load distribution and stability are results of a flexible, tensioned Delrin U-frame. Its ultra-lightweight. uncluttered design includes quick, one-handed, access via a draw cord closure.  Mountaineers and alpinists will love the lightweight nature and minimalistic feature set of the Guide Lite 24.  Our newly innovated ice axe attachment has 3 points of contact, yet still allows users to remove the ice axe nimbly, and without taking off the pack.

Manufacturer Website Listed Weight: 1.43 lbs

I did find some weight discrepancies when using my home electric cooking scale. Normally packs are an ounce or two off but in this case the complete pack was a half-pound heavier than claimed. I took the removable components off the pack and weighed everything separately and together to get a better idea of the true weight based on each configuration.

The complete pack weighed 2 lbs, 1 ounce (938 grams). The top lid weighed 3.5 ounces (94 grams). The waist belt weight 5.5 ounces (160 grams). So the claimed pack weight looks to match the completely stripped down version of the pack at 1 lb, 8 ounces (684 grams).

For a pack of this volume I do feel this is slightly on the heavier side when compared to similar packs in the class. This extra weight probably comes from the more robust internal frame and thicker closed cell foam shoulder and back pads then similar models.

Fit/Length

Deuter Guide Lite 24 Backpack
Deuter Guide Lite 30 Backpack

Deuter lists the “length” as 22 inches. I wasn’t sure what this was referring too. User torso length? That would be a giant (or at least MLB player). I broke out my tape measure and it appears that the length of the pack when flattened from bottom to the top (not including extendable collar) is about 22 inches, so I’m thinking that’s what they are listing in the specs. More importantly though is what size torso will this pack fit, and for that I took some more measurements. This pack only comes in one size (though there is a woman’s version and a larger capacity version). Measuring from the top of the shoulder straps to the middle of the waist belt is about 17 inches. This would be the closest measurement to torso length (if you don’t know your torso length it’s easy to measure with a tape measure, YouTube it!).

I have a 19 inch torso (5’9″ tall but torso length is more accurate when fitting packs). That means this pack rides a bit high on me when it comes to the waist belt. This worked fine for me as I often was wearing this pack over my harness, and I preferred to leave the waist belt on and clip it above my harness. Combined with the sternum strap this helped the back hug my back closely while climbing.

Volume

Deuter Guide Lite 24 Backpack

With 24 liters (1,465 cubic inches) I could easily carry my full rock guiding kit or my 4000 footer packing list while I work on the 48’s with my son this summer. The extendable collar adds another 600 or so cubic inches. An external helmet carry system frees up even more pack space, and a climbing rope can easily be secured over the top of the pack thanks to long enough top-side compression straps with fast release buckles.

Performance/Comfort

Deuter Guide Lite 24 Backpack

This pack definitely carries well. The internal frame feels like a thin plastic sheet reinforced with two stiffer stays running down the sides. This made awkward loads (like a full trad-rack) carry with no pressure points. The waist belt is quite wide (4.5 inches at widest) and wraps perfectly around the body. In my case this was a bit over the hip bone but a shorter user would find it quite comfy. The height adjustable sternum strap (with whistle) did a great job of keeping the pack centered. I would suggest they remove the “load lifting” straps and buckles as they really don’t serve a function since they are attached at the top of back panel. Overall this was a very comfy pack for day-hiking and rock climbing multi-pitch routes.

Features

Deuter Guide Lite 24 Backpack

Quite a few features on this pack that some may really like and others may find a little bit excessive for an alpine pack. Things I really liked was the well sized removable top pocket with both external and internal compartments. It also has a great “alpine emergency” info graphic under the lid that lists emergency numbers for different countries, universal SOS signals, and more. The pack is hydration system compatible through I did not use a system with the pack. I also didn’t test this pack in winter so I have not used the ice axe carry system but playing with it at home it’s pretty slick. While seemingly cosmetic I’m a huge fan of the high visibility orange color that this pack is available in.

Summary

The new Deuter Guide Lite 30+ Backpack is a solid choice for a technical backpack that also has the carrying comfort and features one might look for in a more general day hiking backpack. Dual ice axe and rope carrying capability let it cross over to both winter mountaineering and ice climbing applications. This is a pack worth looking at if you’d like a well made pack that can serve you well whether hiking 4000 footers or getting in some multi-pitch climbing.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links above help support this blog.

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.

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

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“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.

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“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.

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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!

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.

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…

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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.