(originally posted April 2018, updated March 2021)
With the arrival of April the Spring skiing (and falling) season has started in Tuckerman Ravine. After watching a couple tumble almost 500 feet down “The Lip” last year I thought some advice on fall prevention might be prudent.
The snow conditions in Tuckerman Ravine vary greatly this time of year from day to day and often hour to hour. The best type of snow for descending this time of year is referred to as “corn snow”. This is snow that has undergone multiple freeze thaw cycles and looks like little kernels of corn. Backcountry skiers jest that we are “harvesting corn” when the conditions are good. But corn snow is all about timing.
Try to ski too early in the season or the day and the corn hasn’t formed yet. Conditions that promote the formation of…
This season I’ve been backcountry skiing with the updated Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack and I’ve put in enough miles in the skin track to now share some opinions on the pack. Bottom line is this is an excellent pack for extended days in the backcountry with innovative organizational features, plenty of room for a full guiding kit, and a comfortable carry system.
With 34 liters of standard internal space this already is a roomy bag for a day tour. This newest incarnation of this pack now has a roll-top closure that can give you another 10 liters of storage which helps this pack cross over into a multi-day adventure or a semi-technical tour where you might need to carry a harness, a few screws, a rope, etc. When the skin track ends and the boot ladder begins you can carry via A-Frame or Diagonal (I tend to always opt for A-Frame). The system will also carry a snowboard or snowshoes, and includes an external helmet carry option as well. There’s an easy ice axe attachment for my Black Diamond Raven Ultra Axe when I’m heading into steep terrain. Here’s a look at what I can easily pack in this bag:
The pack fits my 5′ 9″ 17 inch torso frame quite well. Snow resistant fabric in the back panel and closed cell foam padding on the shoulder straps and waist belt don’t hold snow which keeps me dryer during a long tour. The sternum strap height can be optimally adjusted. I found the pack carried my full 25 pound kit quite well on both the skin up and the ride down, with my only issue being remembering to re-buckle the “load lifting” straps which must be un-buckled when getting full access through the back panel. My other full back panel access touring pack doesn’t require that step, and if I forgot to re-attach one of the straps I would quickly notice the load shifting around when I started skiing. Not a big issue, just a small step I need to pay attention to.
This is a fantastic touring pack built by a well known company with a lot of thought put into the design. Despite an impressive amount of organizational capability it doesn’t feel like a pack that has “too many bells & whistles”. It rides and carries well and feels like it will handle hundreds of days in the backcountry with ease. If you are shopping for your first dedicated backcountry touring backpack or looking to upgrade your existing pack this would be a great model to consider!
You can find both men’s and women’s versions of this pack here on Backcountry.com in a few different capacity options. Moosejaw, for the most part, only has stock of the women’s models viewable here. REI does have the 20L and 30L versions found here.
Over the last few months I’ve been testing the Mammut Eigerjoch Pro Hooded Down Jacket and it’s time to share my thoughts in a review. This jacket falls into the high end “belay jacket” category and boasts some impressive technology and innovative features that I’ll get into momentarily. But first let’s talk about the elephant in the room. While the official name of the jacket includes “hooded down jacket” this piece is more accurately called a “hybrid” jacket as Mammut has done something pretty non-standard in belay jackets these days and insulated with both 800 fill goose down and Primaloft Gold insulation in areas more prone to getting damp.
This kind of high end optimization is typical of products in the Mammut “Eiger Extreme” collection and many of the features I’ll talk about below fortify my opinion that the Eigerjoch Pro is much more that just a jacket. Let’s look over the manufacturer description and specifications before we get into my opinions on the product.
Don’t let unpredictable mountain conditions affect you. With the Eigerjoch Pro IN Hooded Jacket Men, you are prepared for the wind and weather. The insulating jacket protects you from moisture with its extremely lightweight Pertex® Quantum Pro material. A combination of down and PrimaLoft® chambers on areas exposed to moisture ensures optimum moisture-wicking and a comfortable body climate. Goose down and feathers keep you warm, while bonded external seams favor enhanced heat retention and weather protection. The jacket is tailored to alpine movement sequences thanks to Mammut® Vertical Motion Technology™, which draws on optimized ergonomics. Mammut® High Reach™ technology allows unrestricted freedom of movement when climbing. You can overcome any mountain challenge.
Extreme goals, extreme demands – this requires extremely functional clothing. With the Eigerjoch Pro IN Hooded Jacket Men you can master every challenge on the mountain. Its double-chamber construction allows us to adapt different zones of the jacket to the respective needs of the body. PrimaLoft® is used in exposed areas and inside where moisture occurs, while the other zones have a warming down filling. With this double-chamber construction, cold bridges can be reliably excluded so that you can completely rely on your expedition from standing to securing.
Extremely lightweight Pertex® Quantum Pro material with ultra-thin water-repellent coating and Diamond Fuse technology for increased weather protection and excellent abrasion resistance
MAMMUT Thermo Management System™ for optimum weather protection and comfort
Double-chamber construction to avoid cold bridges
Taped external seams for greater heat retention and weather protection
Combination of down and PrimaLoft® chambers on areas exposed to moisture for optimum moisture-wicking and body climate
MAMMUT® Vertical Motion Construction™ for optimized ergonomics during alpine movement sequences
MAMMUT High Reach Technology™ for unrestricted freedom of movement when climbing
MAMMUT® High Visibility Backer Technology™ for high visibility in alpine terrain
Stormproof, vertically and horizontally adjustable helmet-compatible hood with reinforced shield for an optimum field of vision at all times and easy operation when wearing gloves
Backpack-compatible chest zipper pocket
2 internal glove-warmer pockets made from mesh material
Internal chest pocket with zipper
2 climbing-harness-compatible front pockets with zippers
YKK Vislon® 2-way zipper for smooth operation
Elasticated hand gaiters
Silicone webbing on the hem ensures perfect sealing and stops the jacket from riding up
Hem drawstring can be adjusted with one hand
Additional stow bag with carabiner loop
I’ve spent over a dozen days in the White Mountains putting this jacket up against some of the worst weather Mount Washington could dish out during summit climbs and while teaching avalanche courses. I’ve also worn it a handful of times while instructing waterfall ice climbing at both Cathedral Ledge and in Crawford Notch. I found the jacket to be more than adequate with heat retention while worn over my typical ice climbing/mountaineering layers. This isn’t surprising considering the amount and quality of the insulation used in the jacket. The Pertex® Quantum Pro material was 100% wind-proof and two prolonged sessions in early season freezing rain revealed the DWR treatment and taped seams work at keeping moisture out.
Another feature I really liked that helped with keeping heat in and snow and moisture out was the elasticated hand gaiters. I’ve never tested a piece of outerwear with this feature and it was a really nice touch, especially when climbing an ice choked alpine gully with active spindrift consistently flowing down the climb.
I went with a medium which was a touch to tight for my 5’9″ 180 lb frame. I was still able to climb in it but a large would have been a better pick for me. The hood was perfectly sized for wearing over a climbing helmet and was easily adjusted while wearing gloves so that you maintained full field of view while turning your head. The silicone hem on the inside bottom helped keep the jacket tucked under the harness when reaching overhead. Rounding out the long list of features already mentioned in the manufacturer details above a convenient stuff sack with a carabiner carrying loop is included.
There are so many choices out their in the field of high end belay jackets but the Mammut Eigerjoch Pro stands out as one of the best in class choices. Combining the best properties of both down and synthetic insulation while adding features like “hand gaiters” and high performance shell materials make it clear this is a jacket truly designed for extreme conditions. If you’re in the market for a belay jacket upgrade take a close look at this one!
Affiliate links help support this blog. A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Special thanks to longtime client and friend Joe for modeling. All images are my own and subject to copyright.
After having an almost tech free long weekend and a solid #OptOutside Black Friday with the family I’m ready to share a few of my favorite hand-picked deals on outdoor gear for tomorrow’s Cyber Monday… some of these are limited to tonight/tomorrow only so don’t miss out!
This is the nicest ice screw carrying case I’ve ever seen! Granted ice screw cases can be hard to come by. I’ve had an old OR case that was ready to be replaced and was quite happy to receive this one. It’s the perfect size, ultra-light, made out of bombproof material, and has a nice outer zippered pocket that holds an Allen wrench for tightening tools, a few heavy-duty zip ties for field repairs, a small file for field tune-ups, and thanks to a tip from Ragged Mountain Guides a silicone gun cloth that helps ultra-light aluminum ice screws perform better in dense ice. I’m also pretty excited to be reviewing the Prism Crampon Bag and Prism Pack this winter too!
These are 40% off through tomorrow with promo code “CYBER40”! Awesome for outdoor light both at home and while backpacking that really is a killer deal. I’m also a fan of the new Luci Base Light that can charge your smartphone while also providing great back-up light. We have that model and a few of the Original Luci Lights that we use while car camping and during power-outages at home.
Larger online retailer sales…
Backcountry has some great deals (up to 40% off) on Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, and Patagonia! You can see everything here!
REI has some of the same types of discount up to 50% off here!
EMS‘s biggest deals are with their “Doorbusters” with some up to 75% off all viewable here!
Unique gifts (you won’t find these at a box store)
I’m going to start with some local artists who make hand crafted art with a strong mountain vibe and sense of community because they have a strong mountain vibe and sense of community! Seriously these two friends live enriched lives out of their Tacoma’s and converted vans while building their brands and chasing adventures all over the country. You can support them while giving something that is truly hand-made and inspired. Check out Brittni’s line of drink sweaters, hand poured candles, and stylish Trucker hats here!
What can I say about my friend Erik, aka @smellybagofdirt? I met him last winter after noticing his somewhat noticeable van all over the valley (or indisposed) then got to know him as an avalanche course student and soon to be bunk-mate and ski partner in Iceland… Talk to him for 10 minutes and you’ll see he’s on his way to making his mark in the world. He just launched his website and is offering some original stickers, posters, and t-shirts. If you have an adrenaline junkie in on your holiday shopping list you’ll find a unique gift from Erik for sure!
Anyone who plays in the mountains, and I mean anyone, should take a basic Wilderness First Aid Course. It’s a 16 hour commitment. It could save you or your partners lives. The courses are offered all over the country. There is absolutely no reason not to have a basic first aid course under your belt if you want to play in the mountains. Yet we resist signing up for one. Make it easy for your loved ones by signing them up and paying for it!
This is for the loved ones who like to play on steep snowy slopes! Everyone who knows me knows avalanche education is a huge part of my life. My first brush with this hazard was a life changing event and I can’t advocate enough for getting this education before you wished you had it! If you have someone in your life who has back-country skiing, ice climbing, or winter mountaineering on their short list of things to do help prep them for success by signing them up for an avalanche course!
This socially responsible company makes the coolest water bottles and tumblers out there! Super high quality stainless steel technology keeps cold drinks cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 6 hours! Customization and tons of color and style options means there is a Hydro Flask out there for just about everyone! Check out their Holiday Gift guide here.
I’m pretty sure the 10 seconds of silence from my girlfriend after asking her to marry me was enough time for her to accept that she loved a man with some seriously stinky feet. Luckily she said yes and I would soon find this foot powder, seriously the only product that works on my feet! 7 years later she is quick to remind me if she notices my supply running low. This one is a PERFECT stocking stuffer, pick it up on Amazon here.
Possibly the best socks I’ve ever owned and made right over the border in Vermont! For mountaineering and ice climbing check out this model! These socks come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee and make an excellent stocking stuffer!
Every home in the Northeast should have one of these! It’s effective enough that I can easily dry my boots and gloves along with my wife’s in just a couple hours. No balancing them over the floor base heaters or getting them too hot near the wood-stove and risking early de-lamination! You can pick on up on Amazon here.
The Petzl Nao+ is the best headlamp for anyone who gets after dawn patrol or squeezes in late night pitches after work. I admittedly don’t own one yet but it is high on my wish list!
While I do love these online deals I want to take up this space by encouraging you support local businesses, especially small specialty climbing shops, with your business! To that end if you can physically visit these stores please do!
Well there’s my small contribution to the every growing list of Holiday Gift Guides that are undoubtedly hitting your mailbox this season. My suggestions are heartfelt and I hope they help you flush out your buying needs this season.
I had already been a huge fan of HitCase after reviewing the HitCase Pro iPhone case back in October 2018. You can find that full review here. Now HitCase has entered the more casual/stylish iPhone case market with the new HitCase Ferra model and I was happy to receive a media sample to check out a couple months ago.
In a market flooded with fashionable iPhone cases I was curious why HitCase would deviate from their “hard-core” type protective cases. As the founder and CEO of the company says, “Protective products on the market today are focused on making products cheaper, but in the race to make things cheaper, things got worse, sharp edges, flow lines, rough textures, careless design.”
HitCase definitely doesn’t take short-cuts with their cases and the Ferra looks and feels like a swanky hand-crafted Italian leather phone case. With 2 meter drop protection it certainly isn’t as bomber as the Pro case which boasts a 5 meter drop protection rating, but 2 meter’s is pretty good for a casual case. Stainless steel buttons add more style and I appreciate having access to my mute switch through an open port while using the case.
The best thing about the case, and all HitCases for that matter, is the ability to use the TrueLux lenses with the case. These lenses open up the photography capabilities of the already amazing iPhone X to new levels. With Macro, Wide, and SuperWide options you can get pretty creative with your smartphone photography. One important distinction between the Ferra and the more active sport Pro model is how these lenses secure to the case. While the HitCase Pro has these lenses secure by a few screw threads keeping the lenses safely attached during bumpy mountain bike or ski descents they only attach to the Ferra with a bit of magnetism. This is fine (and fast) for casual use/outdoor photography but if you want to shoot while being less stationary you might be better off with the HitCase Pro.
The HitCase Ferra is for someone who likes hand-crafted leather and wants something more than a cheaply made case to accessorize their tech. The ability to use the TrueLux lenses with a casual case is an additional benefit. While I appreciate the style my iPhone is now snuggled back in the HitCase Pro case which has become my all time favorite case so far! If you are looking for a really nice casual iPhone case maybe the HitCase Ferra is for you?
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Affiliate links help support this blog. A media sample was provided for purpose of review.
Climbing friends (and rap aficionados) you got to check this out from my friends over at The Dihedral <- happens to be an awesome climbing blog you should probably be following.
Climbing jargon has the tendency to isolate those in the know from those out of the scene. A major component of our site is built around rock climbing, and while rock climbing plays a role in many of our discussions, our primary aim centers around inclusiveness, community, and the role that nature plays in our lives. The notion of inclusiveness and climbing specific jargon tend to be at odds. This post is an attempt to remedy that apparent disconnect.
So, if you aren’t up to date on your contemporary climbing argot, I have taken the pains to construct a song to keep you in the loop!
My motivation for this song comes from one of the most underrated poetic lyricists of all time1. Big L.
Ebonics by Big L is truly a brilliant poetic classic that basically serves as a Google Translate from Standard English to what Big L…
I’ve tested most of the top brand iPhone cases designed for rugged outdoor use and the Hitcase PRO 2.0 is a standout in the category. I’ve been steadily beating on mine since last July when I received both the case and some of the accessories that sync so well with the Hitcase PRO design. A quick disclaimer before we start! Since I take all my pics with my iPhone I have zero images of the case since it hasn’t come off my phone since I put it on! Most images in this review are courtesy of Hitcase. Now let’s take a quick look at what makes this iPhone case so bad-ass.
The most distinctive feature of the Hitcase Pro is the “railslide” mounting system. Essentially Hitcase designed a rugged rail on the side of the case that allows you to quickly and securely attach the phone to a great selection of different mounts.
The monopod “ShootR” is basically a well though out selfie-stick! It’s super light and pack-able but the best feature is how it connects to the Hitcase railslide mount. This makes it feel very secure when shredding sick lines or hucking off a bridge into the river.
You can easily capture GoPro style footage while being hands free with the ChestR Mount.
There’s also mountain bike mounts, helmet mounts, vehicle mounts, and more! You can see the full selection of mounts here. The case can also attach to any GoPro® compatible mount, including drones, gimbals, and more.
The other big standout feature of Hitcase cases is the TrueLUX lenses that can attach to your iPhone camera to capture amazing images. With Macro, Wide, and SuperWide options these lenses definitely help you take shots you wouldn’t think possible on a smartphone.
Finally the case offers the type of protection you would expect from an “extreme” case. Waterproof and drop-proof to 16 feet. While I haven’t fully submerged mine I did have it in my pocket multiple times this summer while running Waterfall Rappelling courses. On more than one occasion it was exposed to high pressure directly in the waterfall and never experienced a leak!
See this case in action in this promotional video!
My iPhone is one of my biggest investments especially since I upgraded to the X this year for the amazing camera. I take it on countless rock and ice climbs all year along with lots of back-country skiing and mountaineering trips. For those reasons I have to protect it! The Hitcase Pro goes beyond mere protection and adds utility and flexibility greatly increasing the value of the iPhone’s own camera. I’ve found myself leaving the GoPro at home more and more these days and just shooting everything on my iPhone. If you need solid protection for your phone and like to shoot outdoor active photography this might be the perfect phone case for you!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Media samples were provided for purpose of review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links help support the content created here at Northeast Alpine Start at no cost to you. Thank you!
I try not to post to many “sale” type posts but I noticed this morning Backcountry.com is running a great sale on Black Diamond gear and I’m quite a big fan of this brand having reviewed quite a bit of climbing gear and clothing over the years. So I’m leaving this short post here to make sure you’re aware of it with some of my favorite call outs! If you’re not interested in my personal favorites and just want to see everything they have listed on sale go here!
Last year Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) released their first entry into the high end ultra-light outerwear market with the intrepidly named brow-raising jacket, “The Shell“. Already well known for their ultralight backpacks and shelters made from expensive but high performance fabrics this level of design in a piece of clothing was sure to turn heads and I was quite excited to find out I would receive a demo model to review.
How I Tested
I started testing in February while in the middle of my winter guiding season. This allowed me about 25 days of back-country skiing, mountaineering, and waterfall ice climbing to get acquainted. I only parted with my test model for a week to allow a fellow guide a chance to bring it on a South America climbing trip and was happy to get it back in time for a week long trip back-country skiing in Iceland. All in all this demo model saw 35+ days of combined multi-sport use from New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains, to 17,000 feet on Ishinca in the Andes, to the Trollaski Penisula in northern Iceland. The results are in!
Generally I like to start a gear review focused on the single most positive aspect of the item I’m reviewing and work down from there. With the HMG “The Shell” there was a four-way tie between Durability, Weight, and Pack-ability, and Performance. But durability ultimately wins out as this is the one feature I feel justifies the sticker shock when one first sees the price. This jacket is made from DCF-WPB fabric with Dyneema.
Dyneema is stronger than steel for its weight and has excellent fatigue resistance (cyclic bending) and UV, chemical and abrasion resistance. This durability is brazenly referred to from HMG as “tough as f*#k”. Although the jacket has only been out for less than a year I’d say it is safe to assume this material and construction will last 3-4 times longer than pieces that try to achieve what this jacket achieves with so little weight. A more conservative statement would be “This jacket will easily have triple the lifespan of non-Dyneema jackets.” So if this jacket can easily outlast models that cost half as much while offering the benefits I will get into below that sticker shock might start to subside.
If you get a chance to take one of these off the rack at a gear show you are going to be surprised at the weight, or lack of. You’ll need to look twice to make sure you really are holding it. A technical specification of 5.8 ounces does not do it justice, you need to hold this in your hand to get a sense of what “feather weight” really feels like. The only other shell I have tested that can come close to this ultra-light feel is the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket (2 ounces heavier). An amazing jacket at a more affordable price, but not 100% water-proof or nearly as indestructible as The Shell.
The Shell has one small zippered pocket on the front right that can be turned inside out and used as a storage sack complete with a small sewn carabiner loop for attaching to the back of your harness. The stuffed size is about the size of a softball with about a 4 inch diameter. This pack-ability will let you stuff this into the smallest of CamelBaks, running packs, and waist packs for go anywhere mobility.
There’s manufacturer claims and real life performance. Let’s look at each.
Claim: Waterproof Ratting: 10,000mm– This means the jacket should handle moderate to heavy rain.
Real-life: Unfortunate for our snow-pack but fortunate for my testing this past winter was plagued by multiple mid-winter rain events that allowed some serious testing of the waterproof claim from HMG. I wore this on at least three rainy adventures and my experience was that this jacket truly is waterproof. At first I was concerned about the front zipper as it did not look like the polyurethane waterproof thin zippers I was expecting (the small pocket on the jacket uses that style). Turns out HMG went with a longer lasting VISLON® Aquaguard® Zipper for the main zipper and I found it to be impenetrable even in the 40-50 mph raining-sideways-summit-day I had on Mount Washington. The slight stiffener in the visor on the hood was just enough to help keep the heaviest of downpours of the face.
Claim: Breathability Rating: 32,000 gm2/24hr– This is an incredibly high rating of breathablity for a fabric that also can claim true waterproofness!
Real-life: I’ll be honest and state that I was concerned about the breathability of a waterproof jacket with no pit zips or side ventilation. My concerns were first alleviated during an avalanche course I was teaching when I skinned from the trail-head to Hermit Lake, (2.3 miles, 1,870 elevation) in 1 hour 20 minutes on a 28°F (-2°C) day. It was one of the few times I’d ever left a shell jacket on while skinning in such fair weather all the way to Hermit Lake. Having easily logged another 20,000 feet of uphill travel in the back-country while wearing The Shell I can whole-heartedly attest to an accurate breathability rating! The only other pieces I could compare this level of breathability to is the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket or the Patagonia Houdini (not as indestructible as The Shell, or considered waterproof).
The only media sample I could get was a size medium so the fit was a touch snug for my 180 lb 5’9″ build with a 42 inch chest. HMG’s sizing chart would put me into a size large which I think probably would have been perfect. It is important to recognize that Dyneema fabrics have almost no stretch to them which means clothing must be quite quite close to your body’s own specifications or quickly be to tight or to baggy. That said I was able to wear this as a “second skin” right over my Ortovox Merino wool T-shirts. In cold conditions I’d layer my mid-weight puffy jacket’s, my full belay jackets, or my heavy ski jackets over it. If I wanted to wear more insulation under it I would have to get into my appropriate size, which would have been a large. Bottom line is following the sizing info on the HMG website and it should fit you well!
You can read the manufacturer specifications and right of HMG’s website here so I’m not going to cut & paste them here (unless you find that more convenient)? I am going to share the quick promotional video they produced as I think it shows the hood fit and other features quite well:
“The Shell”. Such a simple and confident name for a garment. It makes me think of the LOTR “one ring to rule them all” line for some reason. Is this the one shell you’ll ever need? Probably not. It is a niche type item. It is the epitome of minimalist functional artisan design. I love how it performed. I love the weight and pack-ability of it. I love that it is made in Maine!
Who is this for? This is an obvious winner for the ultra-light crowd, whether you’re a climber, skier, long distance trail runner, or sea kayak-er I can see this becoming a new favorite. The simple expected lifespan of this piece (Dyneema does not degrade naturally as fast as nylon) means this could be one of the best value pieces out there for its intended purpose. Hyperlite Mountain Gear has entered the outerwear business with The Shell, and I’m really glad they did!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Hyperlite Mountain Gear provided me with this media sample. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you.