New Half Day Clinics and Climbs!

For the month of October I am excited to announce you can now book a private half-day lesson or guided climb with me through Northeast Mountaineering! This offer is only valid for the month of October and is based on my availability which I will try to keep updated below. If you are interested in any of these three half-day custom offerings use the contact form below or message me on Instagram or Facebook with the date you would like to book. Once I confirm the date is still open Northeast Mountaineering will invoice you to lock the date down!

Pricing

1 person* $175 2 person* $225 3 person $310 4 person $400

Hours, you pick what works best for you!

8am-noon or noon-4pm


Beginner- Square Ledge Top-Roping

Rock Climbing Square Ledge
Foliage as of 9/26/20 from the top of Square Ledge

If you have never rock climbed before you can’t pick a better place to try it than Square Ledge in Pinkham Notch. A short 25 minute hike brings us to this 140 tall cliff with amazing views of Mount Washington and it is just covered in good hand and foot holds. There are climbs here that anyone can do! A great choice to see if you’ll like outdoor rock climbing, and the foliage right now is EPIC!


Intermediate- Guided climb up Upper Refuse

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Reaching the top of Upper Refuse, Cathedral Ledge, 9/27/20

This three pitch 5.6 climb on Cathedral Ledge is an excellent introduction to multi-pitch traditional climbing and happens to offer an incredible view of Mount Washington Valley. You should have some prior outdoor top-roping experience for this program. *only available for 1 person or 2 person groups


Intermediate/Advanced- Self Rescue and Multi-pitch Efficiency

Self Rescue Course Cathedral Ledge

This skills based program will help intermediate and experienced sport and trad climbers acquire the skills necessary to perform a self-rescue and improve your overall efficiency on multi-pitch climbs. The curriculum includes improvised hauling systems, belay escapes, smooth transition techniques, and rope ascension. A solid foundation in basic belaying, rappelling, and lead climbing will help you make the most of this program.

Dates Still Available*

October 1,2,5,6,8,9,10,11,12,13,16,17,18,19,21,23,25,26,27,29,30

Interested? Just fill out this form and include the date(s) and which program you would like to book, including the AM or PM hours, and I will get back to you as soon as possible to confirm the date is still available and Northeast Mountaineering will invoice you!

Let me know if you have any questions and see you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Route Guide- The Best 5.6 Pitch on Cathedral Ledge

Rock climbing Cathedral Ledge
Climber: Alexandra Roberts, Photo by Brent Doscher

You’ve probably never heard of the best 5.6 pitch on Cathedral Ledge. Better than Thin Air? Yes. Better than a version of Upper Refuse? Definitely? Better than Child’s Play? Of course!

After a few people asked me about the climb I was on yesterday I decided to post some details about it because frankly this climb deserves more traffic! We do not have many moderate trad pitches on Cathedral and this one is five stars and few people even know about it… I’m hoping to change that!

The climb in question, is the 2nd pitch of Goofer’s Delight. There’s a few reasons why this wasn’t getting climbed much. Here’s some history:

History

The first ascent was during the summer of 1970 by Henry Barber and Bill O’Connell. Henry returned to the climb and got the first free ascent in October of 1972 with Bob Anderson. As Ed Webster’s Rock Climbs in the White Mountains, 3rd Ed. describes the first pitch “A sustained and strenuous climb… thrash over the lip of the cave (5.9+)”. Take note that this climb was rated 5.9+ prior to 5.10 being a recognized new grade of difficulty. Anyone who wants to do the first pitch of this route should be thinking it will be hard 5.10.

Webster’s book also suggests that the 2nd pitch follows “a dirty, right-diagonalling [sic] crack (5.6) through the lichen to the top, or (a better choice), finish up Tabu (5.9 R).

Jerry Handren’s earlier guidebook, Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges shows some discrepancies in its description listing the route as 5.9, then the first pitch at 5.10a, followed by calling the second pitch both 5.8 (assuming this is if you finish up a corner to the right of Tabu) or 5.6 (assuming you finish up the dirty flake).

The most recent guidebook, North Conway Rock Climbs (2012), also by Jerry Handren, makes no mention of the 5.6 finish and only lists the 5.8 more direct corner finish.

Fast forward to 2016. Local climber Joe Comeau replaces the bolted anchor and protection bolt on Tabu, and spends a few days scrubbing the lichen on the 5.6 finish of Goofer’s Delight. What’s uncovered is one of the nicest wildly exposed moderate pitches in New Hampshire. The only catch is unless you are up for the first pitch burly (5.9+) “thrash” you’ll need to rap in for this one. To help with those logistics I provide the following topo and description.

Rock Climbing on Cathedral Ledge

Descent

You can rappel with a single 60 meter rope from an oak tree about 20-25 feet back from the edge (1). I was actually breaking in my new Sterling Velocity, a great 9.8 mm rope! I set my anchor quite high in this tree to aid with the pull after descending. Your ropes should hang to climbers left of the small pine near the edge. The ends will easily reach the bolted anchor below Tabu but double check your middle mark is accurate and close the system! I prefer to tie into one end before I start my rappel. That way as soon as I reach the station I am ready to clove-in to the bolted station (2) (I use a mini-quad here).

If the first climber down is leading the pitch have the second climber arrive on the left side of the station to make exiting the station easier. Once they are secured to the anchor the rope should pull smoothly and it’s a decent ledge for a ledge coil.

rock climbing Cathedral Ledge
Rap to the small birch, yellow highlighted route shows the 5.6 path, the large pine mid-way is partially obscuring the 5.8 direct finish

Leave the anchor and walk/traverse out right past a small pine and into a stellar hand-rail/crack. The feet are really good here despite it looking dirty in spots. Don’t forget to place something for your second despite the mellow traversing. You can sling the huge pine tree (3) mid-pitch with a double length sling. The second half of the pitch is 5 stars, if only it could go on for another 100 feet!

rock climbing Cathedral Ledge
Maury McKinney stopping to place his first piece after leaving the anchor… the large pine is mid-way, and the small notch to the left of the tree on skyline is the finish. It is hard to capture how stunning this feature is especially past the large pine

After pulling the wildly exposed final moves you have two options for an anchor. If you have the right sizes left (#1, #2 BD Camalots) you can get a great gear anchor in these cracks (4). If not you can go back to the trees (5). If you do I would suggest using a technique to extend yourself back towards the edge for better communication (and awesome photo ops). These trees are a bit “piney” so I don’t like to run my rope around them (use a cord and locker). A system that uses a “BHK” for a master point is great here.

Gear

If you are comfortable with the grade (it feels more 5.5 to me but the exposure might make it feel 5.6) a regular rack up to #2 is sufficient. If you want to sew it up I would double up on the .75, and #1. Tri-cams work well in a few places. It’s definitely a G-rated route when it comes to protecting it, just don’t leave your second with a huge swing potential.

Summary

This is an excellent end of day pitch after topping out Upper Refuse or Thin Air if you’re looking to get one more great pitch in before heading out. You can combine it with top-belaying both Tabu (or leading it if you are up for it), and Reverse Camber, or a lap on nearby Pine Tree Eliminate. Due to the traversing nature of the climb top-belaying it without leading it first is not feasible. So that’s it, best 5.6 pitch on the cliff! Check it out and let me know if you agree/disagree!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

References:

Rock Climbs in the White Mountains, East Volume, 3rd Edition by Ed Webster, pages 133-137

Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges, by Jerry Handren, page 64

North Conway Rock Climbs, by Jerry Handren, pages 211-212

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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 24. 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 24 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.

Tech Tip: Unweighted Passive Pro/Girth-Hitch Traditional Anchor

IMG_4890


Today’s tech tip is focused on multi-pitch traditional anchor efficiency. Of all the acronyms in circulation to help you evaluate an anchor (SERENE, RENE, ERNEST, NERDSS) I’ve always been partial to ERNEST as it addresses an often over looked part of traditional anchor building, namely “Timely”.

On a multi-pitch route efficiency is important and taking too long to construct or de-construct an anchor can cost a party valuable time that at best means they get less routes in during the day and at worst means they experience an unplanned bivouac.

When building traditional anchors on multi-pitch climbs most climbers build 3-piece anchors. It’s beneficial to the party to use some passive protection in the construction so that the next lead has more active protection (cams) available. In vertical crack systems I often try to find one or two passive pieces above a multi-directional active piece. Placing the passive pieces above the active piece makes it easier to create an anchor that can withstand an outward or even upward force if the belayer is lifted about the master-point while making a hard catch.

Cleaning passive pieces (nuts) that have been loaded can be time consuming and even impossible at times, so I look for opportunities to place passive pieces that are only seated with a light tug, and essentially backup other solid active pieces like the attached photo and video below demonstrate.

 

Combine arrangements like this with the low material cost time efficiency of a clove-hitch master carabiner anchor and you can create super fast efficient RENE, SERENE, ERNEST, NERDSS anchors in so many places! Give it a try!

Tech Tip: Girth Hitch Carabiner Master Point

Girth Hitch Carabiner Master Point


One of the things I love about climbing is how we keep finding better ways of doing things. Sure, we get into ruts where we resist trying something different (why fix it if it ain’t broke mindset), but every 5-10 years I notice we make another leap forward because someone decided to think outside the box and try something new.

Most people who climb with me know I have an affinity for the “mini-Quad” when constructing my anchors. If you are not familiar with the “mini-Quad” check out my post and video about it here. The mini-Quad is still my “go to” choice when climbing in a party of three or more (mostly multi-pitch guiding), simply because having two separate master points is more comfortable for guests and helps with keeping things organized.

If I am climbing in a more common party of two though, I’m going to be using the Girth Hitch Carabiner Master Point a lot more frequently. It has some great advantages to other methods like;

Advantages

  1. Does not require long sling/cord material. For a typical two point anchor (bolts) a single shoulder length (60 cm) sling is sufficient.
  2. It’s super fast to tie. Try it two or three times and you’ll see how fast you can build this.
  3. It’s super fast to break-down. Since it is a “hitch” and not a hard “knot” once you remove the carabiner it vanishes. No welded dyneema knot to work on!
  4. It’s redundant. Testing shows if one leg fails or gets cut (rockfall) the hitch will not slip! Compare this to a “sliding-x” anchor with the same length sling and this is definitely better if direction of load is close to uni-directional.
  5. It’s “equalized” to the limitations of the physics. Yes true “equalization” isn’t quite possible but close enough.
  6. It has zero extension should a leg fail.

All of this adds up to a great SERENE, RENE, ERNEST, NERDSS or whatever acronym you like when debating or evaluating the merits or flaws of an anchor.

Disadvantages

  1. It requires an extra locking carabiner to form a master point.
  2. It is a “pre-equalized” method, meaning of the load direction changes you’ll lose load distribution (just like a tied off bight).
  3. Every one is attaching to the same master-point, so for party’s of 3 I might more often opt for the mini-Quad

Considerations

I plan on using one of my Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron carabiners as the master point carabiner for a couple reasons. It’s a fast carabiner to deploy and it auto-locks, but I prefer the added security of the style of locking mechanism since I am clove hitching myself into a separate locker attached to this master point locker, and will be belaying off a plaquette as well. While it should go without saying care needs to be taken when introducing this method, especially to newer climbers. Since the master point is a carabiner it is crucial no one mistakes this carabiner as their own attachment and removes it when perhaps taking the next lead. This perhaps is even more reason to use a Magnetron as the master carabiner and screw gate carabiners for your personal tether/clove hitch with rope attachments.

Regardless of what locker you use as the master point I would recommend having your belay plaquette set along the spine of the carabiner vs your own tether attachment for maximum strength and security.

Vs. The Clove Hitch Master Point Carabiner Method

Another similar looking method uses a clove hitch instead of a girth hitch to achieve many of the same advantages, however I find the girth hitch slightly faster and easier to tie.

Summary

The Girth Hitch Master Point Carabiner is a slick new solution to add to your repertoire.  It is not a “solve-all” solution but based on context I can see this option being used efficiently and effectively in many situations. As with any new anchor skill practice on the ground first before you use it 100 feet off the deck. Seek proper instruction from qualified guides and instructors.

More info:

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links support this blog.



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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Labor Day Deals on Outdoor Gear!

LaborCapture.PNG

I’m up early but it looks like my guiding day might get rained out so I decided to scour the web for some of the better deals on outdoor gear and clothing as most companies end their Labor Day sales today. Below is a curated list of what is not only on sale but something I have personally owned and tested or is on my wish list!

Backcountry has up to 50% off a few brands. Some great deals on Patagonia like 45% off some of the Nano Air and Nano Puff models! I reviewed the Nano Puff back in 2015 here and it’s still one of my favorite pieces! Black Diamond is up to 30% off with the Ultralights set at 25% off now is a great time to lighten up your rack! Some real saving’s on Arcteryx today like almost $200 off the Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots and 25% off the Atom AR Insulated Jacket!

REI is running some sweet deals like 20% off Thule and Yakima racks and roof boxes! 25-30% off most REI, Big Agnes, and Nemo tents and sleeping pads! They also made it easy to find the items that are actually 50% off by grouping them under their “Peak Deals“. Expect limited quantity and sizes in there!

Eastern Mountain Sports is going big with quite a bit of inventory 70% off! 20% off all Black Diamond, 20% off La Sportiva Footwear, and a current coupon for an extra 20% off a full or sale priced item! COUPON CODE: “LABORDAY19“. There is a fairly long list of excluded brands though… you can see the list here. Finally they have summer clearance items listed at 70% here!

Patagonia is running some great web specials like 40% off the Micro Puff and Nano Puff jackets and hoodies visible here.

Just about every retailer is running sales today and since it looks like a wash-out here in the Northeast I think I’ll spend some time today organizing my gear closet and seeing if I’m all set for the rapidly approaching Fall!

Coming soon… I’ve got reviews in the works for the new Wild Country Revo Belay Device. The “Take20Summer” coupon code does work on this item by the way! I also finally got my hands on both the Mammut Smart 2.0 and the Mammut Alpine Smart and testing has begun! Expecting to have reviews on all of these done in time for Rocktober!

Climbing trip to Camden ME in two weeks! I’ve been to Camden twice for some family camping but this trip it’s just me and my buddy Bob heading out to sample the climbing there. Have you been? Must do routes? Let me know in the comments below!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



P.S. The above links are affiliate links. Making a purchase through one of them sends a small commission my way which helps keep content coming. Thank you!

Which Belay Device For Which Use?

What belay device should I use?

“What belay device is that?” was the question that popped up from my friend @sammyspindel on a short Instagram story clip of my anchor while belaying a client up the last pitch of Upper Refuse on Cathedral Ledge a few days ago. The question generated some great back and forth conversation and ultimately provided the motivation for this post, so thank you for the question Sammy!

What belay device I use is largely determined on what type of climbing I am doing. In this post I’m going to explain the advantages, disadvantages, and helpful strategies of some of the most popular options out there. I will attempt to break it down based on type and style of climbing (gym, sport, trad, alpine, ice, top-rope, multi-pitch, party of 2, party of 3). My hope is you’re able to make some informed choices over what belay device(s) you decide to use. I’ll try to work through these options from simplest to most complex.

Here we go…

The Munter Hitch

Every climber should learn how to use a Munter Hitch. This incredible hitch has served climbers well for over a hundred years. This skill can save the day when your partner drops their shiny new flavor of the day belay device off the top of the 3rd pitch of a 7 pitch climb or when your ropes are two icy from a dripping ice pillar in below freezing temps and you can’t get them bent through your tube-style device. All you need is a pear shaped locking carabiner. I prefer the Petzl Attache or Petzl William Locking Screwgate. Avoid auto-locking carabiners to facilitate tying the hitch onto the carabiner, something I demonstrate in this first video. The second video shows how this can be converted into an auto-locking Munter!

Practice this skill at home. Practice while watching the news. Learn to tie it with your eyes closed. Learn to tie it with one hand. Learn to tie it onto the belay carabiner on the anchor with one hand. Advanced users/aspiring guides: Learn to tie it on to a carabiner so it is already in the “belay” orientation. Learn to it on a carabiner so it is already in the “lower” orientation. Then learn to tie it in both those orientations when the carabiner is on your belay loop (I still struggle with mastering this last step as looking down at the carabiner turns my head upside down).

Some key points about the Munter Hitch…. IT DOES NOT “TWIST” THE ROPE! Improper use of the hitch will introduce serious “twists” and kinks into your rope. The solution? Always keep the brake strand parallel with the load strand. In that orientation you can watch the way the rope moves through the hitch without creating twists. If you hold the brake strand anywhere but parallel you will introduce twists. This is quite un-intuitive when using this hitch to rappel as our muscle memory wants us to pull back or down with the brake hand while rappelling. The proper hand position (and maximum braking power) is obtained by holding the brake strand straight up and parallel with the loaded rope. I know, crazy right? Moving on…

Standard Tube-Style Belay Devices

Almost every climber everywhere has owned and used a classic “tube-style” belay device. It’s as standard as needing a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag. There are more options in this category then ever before. While there are subtle differences in weight and design they all function relatively the same. While a summer camp or outdoor club might opt for the cheapest option I’d suggest for the majority of recreational climbers to go for one of the most popular models in use that includes a “higher friction” side to assist with braking and rappelling. The two models I see the most of are the Black Diamond ATC-XP and the Petzl Verso.

Some notes on this style device. I no longer carry one opting instead for the more versatile models that can be used in “plaquette” mode (more on that in a minute). That said for top-rope and lead, single pitch, gym, sport, and trad climbing there is nothing inherently “wrong” about choosing one of these simple devices.

Tube Style Devices with “Plaquette” Mode

For little additional cost and weight you can carry a tube style belay device that can also serve in “plaquette” mode. This is ideal for lead climbers who wish to belay their partner directly off the anchor after leading a pitch. This European style of belaying has become much more prevalent in American climbing in the last few decades for good reason. At its core it is more comfortable for the belayer and much simpler should the second climber need assistance to pass a crux. The time tested choices here are the Black Diamond ATC Guide and the Petzl Reverso 4. Newer options that are gaining solid following’s are the DMM Pivot which makes direct lowered off the anchor while in “guide mode” easier and the Black Diamond ATC Alpine Guide that is optimized for working with skinny twin ropes.

Black Diamond Alpine ATC Guide
Black Diamond Alpine ATC Guide

DMM Pivot Belay Device
DMM Pivot Belay Device

Single Strand Brake Assisting Devices

This category covers devices like the Petzl GriGri, Petzl GriGri+, Black Diamond Pilot, and the new to the scene Wild Country Revo. While noticeably heavier (and pricier, except for the BD Pilot) than simpler tube style device than these devices have more applications then I think most people realize. Devices like the Petzl GriGri are just at home in the climbing gym as they are on large sandstone big walls (especially given the additional durability of the GriGri+). Some climbers may avoid using one of these devices due to needing to carry a second belay device for rappelling. Well, two things… first you can rappel with these (blocked-rappel options), but more importantly and something I will get into towards the end, what’s wrong with carrying two devices? It opens up a lot of options and solutions to potential climbing issues!

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

Improved Belay Check
Petzl Grigri+ – photo by Alexandra Roberts

Wild Country Revo Belay Device
Wild Country Revo Belay Device

Wild Country Revo Belay Device
Wild Country Revo Belay Device

You can see my full review of the Petzl Grigri+ HERE!

You can see my full review of the Black Diamond ATC Pilot HERE!

Double Strand Brake Assisting Devices

This covers some more niche options like the Edelrid Mega Jul,  Mega Jul Sport, and Mammut Smart Alpine Belay Device. These have the added benefit of brake assistance when lead belaying but can still allow for smooth double rope rappels. These are not as ideal for direct belaying off a top anchor like in a multi-pitch setting so I do reach for this option very often preferring my DMM Pivot or the standard Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4.

Lowest Friction Plates

Now we get to the device that sparked this whole post. My Kong Gi-Gi. This device’s most notable quality is that when used in plaquette mode it takes the least amount of force to belay two single rated ropes at the same time. I’ve found no device that comes close to the ease of belaying two single ropes when climbing with two seconds and using “parallel” technique, a common guiding tactic to belay two seconds at the same time.

Kong Gi-Gi Belay Device

While belaying directly off the anchor shouldn’t seem tiring I’ve known many guides who developed elbow tendinitis from the repetition of pulling two ropes through plaquettes up thousands of feet of moderate climbing over a decade or so of guiding. It can serve as a rappel device if needed, though that requires an extra locking carabiner and is a relatively low-friction rappel device (third hand back-up strongly recommended).

So what should you carry?

I guess it makes sense to break this down by end-use… there are so many tools available to us these days but here’s my take on optimizing your belay device load out:

Gym/Top-Rope Only

If you’re really not sure you even like climbing but want your own belay device you can keep it simple an pick up a simple tube style belay device like the Black Diamond ATC-XP or Petzl Verso. I think the higher friction side is worth the extra cost. If you are addicted to climbing you might as well invest in a single strand brake-assisting device like the Black Diamond Pilot, Petzl GriGri, or Wild Country Revo.

Outdoor Sport/Single Pitch Climbing

At this point I think owning two devices makes sense. The Black Diamond ATC XP or Petzl Verso plus a a single strand brake-assisting device like the Black Diamond Pilot, Petzl GriGri, or Wild Country Revo will make weekend trips to Rumney or your local sport crag quite enjoyable!

Multi-pitch Trad

If you’re going more than one pitch off the deck a plaquette device like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 is an easy pick. I’ve started carrying my Petzl GriGri on multi-pitch trad routes for a multitude of reasons since it greatly simplifies rope ascension in a rescue scenario but also works great for hauling bags on big wall. “Lifer’s” with big wall aspirations should seriously consider the added durability of the Petzl GriGri+.

Multi-pitch Ice

Here I’d go with the standard plaquette device like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 and the knowledge of the Munter Hitch mentioned at the beginning to help deal with icy ropes. I leave single strand brake-assisting devices home when ice climbing as they tend to not work as well on ice ropes and weight is a premium. If you climb on really skinny floss like 7.7mm twin ropes you should look at the new Black Diamond ATC Alpine Guide!

Climbing in a party of 3 (Guiding-Style)

Parties of three typically climb in either “Caterpillar” or “Parallel” style. Basically “Caterpillar” is the leader climbs, then belays the first second, after the second arrives with the 2nd rope belays the 3rd climber. It’s slower but a better choice for harder routes and newer climbers as the other option “Parallel” means the leader takes both ropes and belays both seconds simultaneously. A lot of issues can crop up to make this a mini-epic. However for skilled leaders and guides this is often a method that can see a three person party move as fast as a two person party.

Combos

As I mentioned earlier carrying two belay devices can make sense in a lot of situations. These are the combos I find myself using most as a climbing guide:

Multi-pitch rock with one guest

Petzl GriGri + Petzl Reverso 4

or

Petzl GriGri + Black Diamond ATC Guide

Group Top-Roping

Wild Country Revo, Petzl GriGri (or Petzl GriGri+), Black Diamond Pilot, or the new Wild Country Revo

Guiding Multi-pitch Ice

Kong Gi-Gi + Petzl Reverso 4

or

Kong Gi-Gi + Black Diamond ATC Guide

Summary

At the end of the day there are an amazing array of belay devices to chose from. The above suggestions are just my personal experience with what has worked well for me. When I started this post I thought I would cover every device out there but there are just way to many options! Hopefully the suggestions and comments I’ve made help you pick a system that works for you! Let me know in the comments if I left out your favorite belay device or if you found any of this useful and…

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

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Gear Review- Salewa Wildfire Edge Approach Shoes (and Giveaway)

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The new Salewa Wildfire Edge approach shoes arrived a few weeks ago and I’ve since logged a dozen or so days hiking and climbing in them. The obvious feature that intrigued me is the so called “Switchfit” system that promises a select-able performance orientated “climbing mode” and a comfortable casual “hiking mode”. I’ll go into how this “tech” lives up in reality but first let’s cover some of the less “edgy” features of this higher end approach shoe.


Fit/Comfort

Out of the box these felt great. I went with a US men’s size 8 after Salewa recommended downsizing a bit. In a US Men’s Shoe I typically bounce between a 8.5-9 and since I wanted to be able to take full advantage of the “climbing mode” downsizing felt appropriate. The size 8 was the right call and the width was perfect for my medium width feet. The toe box is sufficiently snug without being too snug. This might not be the right choice if you have a very wide forefoot. The heel cup is also the right proportion for my foot and feels quite secure without having to lace them up excessively tight. An interesting feature of the removable foot bed is that they can be customized to adapt to different volume feet. I left them assembled for a “medium” fit and they feel great!

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge- Options for a narrow or medium volume foot.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The outsole and midsole offer a fair amount of torsional rigidity and underfoot support. Forefoot flex is on the stiffer side for approach shoes which is advantageous for reduced foot fatigue on long rocky treks, security while edging in technical terrain, and a bit negative for smearing on slab.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Well sized heel cup

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge- ample room in toe box


Traction

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

Salewa uses a Pomoca sole which has one of the nicest tread patterns I’ve seen on a trail shoe. I found traction to be excellent in dirt, mud, and forest duff. The diamond shaped lugs are about 3 mm raised in the forefoot which make for great traction while fast-hiking up dirt trails during our “mud season”. On the heel 5 mm raised lugs made descending dirt/mud trails feel quite secure if I needed to pump the brakes.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

Under the big toe the lugs have been suppressed to create a climbing zone, or “EdgePlate” which is becoming popular in this specialized shoe category. The idea here is to provide more surface area for technical rock climbing. These felt somewhat secure on dry 5th class rock that was edgy. They were definitely adequate for 5.5 featured face climbing, but 5.6 slab quickly felt in-secure. The rubber compound used is noticeably denser than something like 5.10 Stealth rubber. The advantage is I feel this sole will easily outlast a softer higher friction sole, at the cost of friction on slabby dry rock. On one test hike I encountered a very low angle wet section of granite bed-rock where I found the soles to really struggle with decent traction. This was a very un-traveled spot and my suspicion is I was walking on some Spring thin lichen that will pretty much make any shoe slip but friends who had joined my fared a bit better on this short section with their softer sole compounds.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

For the most part these shoes provided excellent traction for what we encounter hiking and scrambling in the White Mountains, handled featured low fifth class rock well as long as it wasn’t too slabby, crushed muddy steep trail runs both up and down, and only came up short on wet “licheny” slab.


SwitchFit

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Left shoe is laced tightly to engage “climbing mode” which forces the foot forward in the shoe. Right shoe is left laced casually for “hiking mode”.

Time to talk about the elephant in the room! What is SwitchFit? Salewa says these shoes have a “hiking mode” and a “climbing mode”. At first look it might appear that the difference between these two “modes” is simply lacing the shoes tighter to activate “climbing mode”, and that’s not too far off from reality. However it you look a little closer there is some actual effective design in this system that changes how these shoes feel when you crank them tight. The last eyelet the laces run through functions like a 2:1 pulley attached to a Spectra type cord that runs around the heel. When you snug up the laces for technical climbing and pull the laces forward the snugger heel pushes your foot forward in the shoe. In this mode my foot felt completely stable while edging on 5.5-5.6 face climbs. To switch to “hiking mode” you simply loosen the lacing which opens the toe box up and makes for more comfortable hiking. It’s a pretty simple system but it does what it claims to do!


Durability

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge performing well on a 5.6 face climb at Square Ledge, New Hampshire

While I’ve only put a month or two of mileage on them I’m confident they will be be one of the longest lasting approach shoes I’ve tested. I base this on the thickness and relatively denser POMOCO outsole and the way Salewa wraps a substantial rubber rand up and over the big toe on the toe box. Close inspection of seams and eyelets reveals every point of potential stress has been appropriately re-enforced.


Summary

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The Salewa Wildfire Edge is a well built durable approach shoe suitable for rugged trail runs, 4th and low-5th class scrambling, and fast & light backpacking. While the “SwitchFit” system might seem a bit gimmicky at the end of the day it does exactly what it claims. Durable and comfortable this is one of the best approach shoes I’ve tested. Nice work Salewa!


Purchase

Buy on Backcountry.com <- 20% off with coupon “TAKE20MAY”

Buy on Moosejaw.com <- 20% off with coupon “FLIPFLOP”

Buy from REI.com

Buy on Amazon


Other media


Friendly Foot Giveaway!

Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer
Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer

Every footwear review I run this summer will be an opportunity to win some of the best damn foot deodorizer ever! I’m been a die-hard fan of this stuff for at least 5 years now. My wife takes notice if my stock is getting low as it is the only thing that works on my funky feet! Climbing shoes, ski boots, approach shoes… it doesn’t matter! A sprinkle of this in my socks and my feet smell great after any full day adventure. Enter for a chance to win a bottle by clicking the Rafflecopter link below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


Other big deals right now!

EMS “Upgrade Your Gear Sale” ends today!

REI “Anniversary Sale” ends today!



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Deal Alert! Happy Five Ten Day!

Five Ten Climbing Shoes


Today is 5/10/19, or “Five Ten” day. To celebrate Adidas is running 20-30% off all Five Ten models for the next 24 hours. I’ve reviewed a couple models over the years including the ultra-popular Five Ten Guide Tennie Approach Shoe. You can read my detailed review here if you don’t already know about this classic.

Other models I’ve climbed in over the years include the casual Rogue VCS and the more performance minded Anasazi Pro. I’ve never been disappointed with a Five Ten which also carries a whole line of mountain bike shoes!

I feel fortunate to have gotten my first few days of rock climbing in for the season this week before I start my WEMT course next week and have my head in the books for a bit! A day at Cathedral Ledge, another at the recently re-opened to access Band M Ledge, and White Ledge in Albany all with great weather and even better friends was the perfect start to my season.

Upcoming Reviews: Super stoked to get my hands on the new Wild Country Revo Belay Device, the new Petzl Meteor Climbing Helmet, and the Arcteryx Koneal FL Approach Shoes. Stay tuned!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

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