Angel Slides and a season ending injury

I started writing this post on March 9th, the day after my accident. Most people who know me know that I prefer to debrief and learn from mistakes soon after an incident before details can be forgotten or recalled inaccurately. For a couple reasons after only a few paragraphs I stopped writing until today, three weeks later.

The first reason, I think, was because I was actually injured. While being partially buried in an avalanche last April was a bit of a shake up the lack of injury made it easier for me to talk about it soon after it happened. This accident required a trip to the University of Vermont’s Medical Center’s Emergency Department. It’s been almost three weeks since the accident and I’ve recovered enough to go on short walks with the kids and dog. I can sleep on the injured side again. Riding a bike, skiing, or climbing are likely activities that are still a few weeks off.

The second reason I think I’ve delayed sharing this accident is from watching the severity of COVID-19 ramp up significantly in the weeks following my accident. My injury and situation pales in comparison to the stress many families are experiencing due to the current pandemic. While this injury ended my winter guiding season it is clear the season was unfortunately going to end pre-maturely as we try to flatten the curve. Despite these two reasons today I decided to sit down and finish this account and share it for whatever benefit can be found.

Events leading up

On March 5th I drove over to the Adirondacks to teach an AIARE avalanche course for the iconic Mountaineer in Keene, Valley NY as part of their annual Backcountry Ski Festival. It was an amazing event to be a part of and I can not say enough about all of the staff of The Mountaineer who made me feel right at home in their neck of the woods. I was co-instructing with Casey Henley, a fantastic outdoor educator and mountain guide. We had an amazing group of 10 positive and engaged students. The weather was beautiful every day and while the snowpack was on the thin side we were really making the most of our time together.

On the last day of the course, March 8th, the class planned a ski tour of Angel Slides off of Wright Peak.  We toured as two separate groups of 6. The first 2.5 miles are very gentle rolling terrain, then about a half mile up a drainage and a couple pitches of denser trees before reaching the base of the 1,500 foot slide path.

backcountry skiing avalanche courses Adirondacks
After reaching the dam and getting our first look at the objective, Angel slides
backcountry skiing avalanche courses Adirondacks
A student makes progress up the skin track before our high point
backcountry skiing avalanche courses Adirondacks
From our highpoint right before our descent- Theodolite App

We ascended the left hand slide to about 3,600 feet and after making some snowpack observations enjoyed some of first steeper turns of the course. Skier’s far right held some still cold powder and I was feeling pretty good as I reached the bottom.

The next leg was some pretty tight tree skiing just under 20 degrees (steep for tight tree skiing given the snow conditions). We took it very slow and methodically made our way back down into the drainage. It was work and I could see some fatigue settling in with a few students in each group. We still had a 2.5 mile rolling hiking trail to take us back to the trailhead.

Opinions were split on what the best way to cover that distance would be. Two in my group with local knowledge opted to re-skin for the exit. The rest of my group decided to ski it. CalTopo says the 2.2 miles from the Dam only loses 300 feet. My decision to ski it was influenced by how sticky my nylon climbing skins were getting in the quickly softening snow. Timing wise it seemed it was 6-in-one and a half-dozen in the other. With each small downhill the skiers would pull away from our two skinners, and with each herring bone or side-step up over the next small incline the skinners would quickly catch us.

backcountry skiing avalanche courses Adirondacks
A screen shot from my Avenza/CalTopo GPS track of our tour… .2 miles from the trailhead (blue dot)

Less than a quarter mile from the road our exit and tour was just about complete. A short little descent brought me to the bottom of the last significant pitch of the day. I was at the front of my group, and had just caught up to our other team and was making small talk with them after moving just slightly to the left side of the trail.

The accident

It was about 3:45pm. I was stopped on the left side of the trail a few feet from the bottom of the slope. I was facing to the left, skis parallel on the slope, just below a water-bar log feature that was partially buried into the trail. I didn’t hear or see my student coming. He was moving fast as he went over the back of my skis and caught my boot as he flew past. My legs were taken out from under me and I came down on my left side with some force landing on the protruding waterbed. The pain in my left chest and abdomen was instant and blinding. I rolled to my knees and took a breath. I knew I was hurt. I reached under my shirt and palpated my left ribs. My senses were returning. Someone had a hand on my shoulder and was asking if I was OK. It was one of my students, Veronica, an emergency room physician from PA.

I didn’t think anything was broken but I had a pretty significant about of abdominal pain. I decided to try to stand and was able to. Someone was carrying my skis to me from 15 feet downslope… I didn’t realize until later that the force of the hit took me out of both my skis while I basically just fell in place where I was stopped. The student had tried to avoid me and was uninjured from his crash. So close to the parking lot. I decided to walk out. I tried not to groan to much.

Back at the parking lot I was determined to finish the course properly and then figure out what steps to take regarding my injury. I instructed students to rally on the Visitor Center porch and start their debriefs. I went into the bathroom so I could look in the mirror. I lifted up my shirt and was surprised to not see any bruising yet. There was a noticeable “indent” for lack of a better term, about the size of a small apple, just under my lowest left rib. My abdomen was not asymmetrical. I could see some swelling on the outside.

I rejoined the class and we began our course close. I started to rush the process a little as standing and talking was quite uncomfortable. I asked Casey to run most the course close. He used the “one rose and one thorn” tactic to have each student reflect on the effect of the course. I love that style of debrief, but I was thinking I needed to speed this along, as it was now just past 5pm and my original plan was to make the 5 hour drive back to North Conway.

We finished the course close and I asked Veronica if she could step inside and do another assessment of my injury so I could make a decision. She was willing and as I lay on the visitor center couch performed a quick abdominal exam. Again, ribs and chest felt fully intact. Severe pain and tenderness in my ULQ and LLQ, areas that harbor my spleen, stomach, and a kidney. No left arm or left shoulder pain (good news for my spleen). There’s not much that can be diagnosed with soft tissue/organ injuries without an ultra-sound, something Veronica had been considering adding to her adventure kit for sometime (and she has subsequently added as she is pursing expeditionary medicine).

I discussed my plan to try to drive home and seek medical attention locally. I did not want to get stuck in Lake Placid if my injury would require overnight hospitalization or surgery. In hindsight I was being very stubborn and short-sighted, but whatever, I decided I would drive home and monitor my heart-rate and try to be hyper-aware of any change in mental status. If I felt the slightest bit dizzy or nauseous I would pull over, put my hazard lights on, and call 911. That was my plan. I called my wife and told her what happened and that I was going to drive home. I would call her every 30 minutes as long as I had service.

It took almost an hour on the road for my heart-rate to fall under 100. It dropped down to 80 and I hoped it would stay there as Veronica had said if it stayed above 100 after an hour I was likely dealing with some internal bleeding or organ damage. I left the radio off and just focused on the drive and what my body was feeling. While waiting for the Plattsburg Ferry I slowly walked into the empty waiting shack and changed out of my ski clothes. I couldn’t reach down to take my ski socks off. As they directed our cars onto the ferry I was selected for a random trunk search. Changing clothes and two trips to my trunk while moving slowly, I was must have raised some suspicion.

While crossing Lake Champlain as the sun set I felt the slightest bit better. The pain wasn’t as bad now that I wasn’t driving. I tried to breath calmly. We reached Vermont and the pain came back quickly with a bit more intensity. I had been on the road for almost two hours. I called a family friend back home, a doctor at my local hospital, for her opinion.

She didn’t like my symptoms. The fact that small bumps in the road caused noticeable increases in the pain, the location of the injury, the possibility of how bad it could be… I had planned to make it to my local hospital in North Conway so I would be closer to my family should I need to be admitted, but in talking with her it was pretty clear they would probably just put me in an ambulance and transport me to Portland, Maine Medical… adding another hour to seeing definitive care.

I was about to pass Burlington. I made a decision, put my signal on, and exited the highway with my Waze app guiding me to the Emergency Department of Vermont’s Medical Center. Ten minutes later I called my wife back and told her I was walking into the ER to get checked out.

After getting through initial COVID-19 screening the woman at the counter asked what I was here for. I said something like “Suffered some physical trauma to my lower left abdomen and now experiencing acute pain, some slight deformity, swelling, and well… I’m in a lot of pain.” The other woman asked how it happened. “Skiing injury” was my short reply.

“Ok, you’re all checked in, go have a seat and we will call you when its your time.”

I didn’t get three steps away from the counter before my name was called and I sat down with the triage nurse. He took my vitals. I looked at the heart-rate monitor… pulse 92, blood pressure 163/125. That’s not good I thought. They prepped a bay for me and I started to get hooked up. They took blood samples to run a full set of labs and I was asked to provide a urine sample. That would be tough as I was feeling very dehydrated since I finished my water at about 3pm when we started our descent and it was now 7pm and I was told I couldn’t drink anything, even water, just yet. I managed a urine sample, and there was no blood, so hopefully kidney is good.

In less than an hour the ER physician came in to give a full exam. An ultrasound was ordered. I waited. The bay next to me was taken up by an elderly man who had shortness of breath, felt weak all day, and had a mild fever and stuffed up nose. It dawned on me coming to the hospital next to an international airport was putting me at risk to the Coronavirus, but things weren’t quite as bad as they are today so I didn’t worry too much.

The physician could not find any blood in my stomach or other obvious bleeds in my organs from the ultrasound. He felt a CAT scan was appropriate. I cringed at how the increasing financial cost this accident was going to effect my family but I was done trying to just hope for the best and a CAT scan would be pretty definitive. The technician who wheeled me down the hall for the scan inquired about my injury and when I told her it was while teaching an avalanche course she confided she had just bought her first avalanche beacon. I encouraged her to follow that wise purchase up with a formal avalanche course soon.

After the cat scan the waiting began. Still not allowed to drink anything. The nurse let me know the doctor was going to get to me soon but they were dealing with a serious trauma  that just came in and it might be a little while. I waited. Around 11:15pm the doctor came in with the preliminary results. No internal bleeding or ruptured organs. Diagnosis… internal abdominal contusions. Basically bad bruising on the inside of my abdominal cavity. My ribs had done there job absorbing the impact and protecting my organs. Still hurt like hell. I could be given morphine for the pain but that meant I would have to be admitted overnight. I declined and asked to be discharged… and for a glass of water.

Driving home was now out of the question as I was three hours from home along mostly dark less travelled roads and had been up since 6am and was feeling the fatigue from a full ski tour, dehydration, and injury. I checked into a local hotel in Williston, VT, just east of Burlington, and spent most the night trying to find a position I could fall asleep in, something that would become a nightly ritual for the next couple weeks. In the morning I had a small breakfast in the hotel lobby while the morning news confirmed that Williston, VT schools were closed following a faculty member with COVID-19 symptoms. I got on the road and headed for home.

Reflection… what happened?

On the drive home I had plenty of time to rethink the whole day and what led up to the accident. I told my students during our debrief that my “thorn” was that I pride myself in careful risk management and rarely will cop to “bad luck” being the culprit when an accident occurs. Even the word “accident” bothers me. I got hurt. That means I made a mistake. What was that mistake and how could I have avoided it?

I called the student who had crashed into me on my drive home for a few reasons. First of all I wanted to see how he was doing. He had expressed concern and regret over losing control and taking me out. I tried to, probably unsuccessfully, alleviate some of that guilt. I was in charge of managing the risk during our tour and it was on me for stopping in a spot that still had some risk from skiers behind me.

After my conversation with him and a few weeks of contemplation here’s my list of contributing factors;

Fatigue: He admitted he was quite tired at the end of the tour having negotiated terrain that was at his upper level. He mentioned he was frustrated with the rolling terrain exit and felt he wasn’t letting himself pick up enough speed to surmount the inevitable next uphill section which would result in tiring side-stepping to get back to a slide-able grade. He went into this last descent picturing a big uphill on the other side and thus came into view of me and some of the other students on the narrow trail with way too much speed.

Inexperience: This was basically his 2nd time back-country skiing. He had taken a one day mountaineering skills course and a one day back-country skiing skills course where he had skied in Huntington Ravine (likely lower Fan and out the Sherburne Ski Trail). His resort skiing resume was long but tree skiing was a first for him, and he knew that taxed his energy.

Back-to-the-Barn Syndrome: We were so close to the trailhead after a fairly long tour. I was really happy with how the three day course had gone and was excited to get on the road and get back home. We had covered so much more serious terrain and we were in the final stretch. This may have caused me to relax my normal “what could go wrong here?” type attitude.

While I’ve rethought this day almost every day since the only thing I feel I could have done differently is just moved a little more off to the side where I stopped. It wasn’t a blind corner or just over a convexity and in debriefing with Casey he didn’t think I could have done much different.

Recovery- Week One

The first week was pretty bad. I don’t like taking pain medication so I probably put myself through some un-necessary discomfort. Dressing was painful. Walking was painful. Driving was manageable but getting in and out of the car was awkward and painful. I let Corey, my boss, know I couldn’t do any outdoor field work in the weekend’s upcoming avalanche course. I was optimistic I could handle teaching the classroom portion. Just 5 days after the accident I welcomed a new group of avalanche students into our classroom space. I split the classroom sessions with my co-instructor Grant like we normally did. I was feeling ok despite the increased physical activity.

Around 2pm I went home while Grant took the class into the field for some physical rescue practice. No sooner did I walk in the door did I get hit by some uncontrollable muscle cramps in my abdomen. It was as bad, and even somehow worse, then how it felt the day after the accident. I was brought to the floor while the spasms made me wonder if I had somehow ruptured something. I called my wife at work and put her on speaker while I tried to get my body under control. Deep breathes. I made it to the freezer and got the large gel ice pack and wrapped it around my left side. The spasms slowed. My heart rate came back to normal. I was ok, but I wasn’t ready to go back to work yet, even in a diminished capacity.

Recovery- Week Two

Slowly the daily pain level reduced. I could sleep on my uninjured side. The first week I could only sleep slightly reclined on my back… either side did not work. Not fun for a side sleeper. I could go on short walks now, which was quite timely as schools were closing and social distancing was coming at us quick. I was able to help convert our downstairs into a more suitable learning environment for the distance learning that was about to be how almost every child was going to start attending school. I made a few trips to the stores to stock up on the things everyone has been stocking up on. Every day I didn’t come down with a fever or cough made me more confident my ER visit hadn’t had me contract the Coronavirus.

Recovery- Week Three

This current week is almost pain free. I was able to manage the snowblower to clear the 8 inches of snow we got this past Tuesday. I could not shovel the snow from our front porch though. That motion is 100% off-limits, somewhat ironic as anyone who has watched me teach proper shoveling avalanche rescue knows I would place well if the Olympics had a shoveling sport.

Looking ahead…

I’m anxious to be able to physically do the things that keep me emotionally healthy. Social distancing is a mixed blessing while I’m recovering. I’m hoping there might be a little snow left by the time I feel I could go for a very light easy ski, but the reality is if those few dozen cold powder turns on Angel Slide were my last of the season I’m ok with that. There’s more important things happening right now. It should be clear to anyone who recreates outside now is not the time to take risks. I’ve avoided following up with my PCP following this injury because I don’t want to burden an already stretched thin resource nor do I want to spend more time in a hospital just yet.

It’s hard to stay positive when the evening news paints a darker and darker future but I’m trying to focus on the good things that are coming out of this. Cooking more for the family. Daily family walks with the pup. Attacking house projects I’ve managed to put off for years. We are going to come out the other side of this a stronger family and I hope a stronger society that realizes what’s most important in life.

Finally I want to ask everyone reading this to really look out for each other during the next few months. Be a responsible citizen and respect social distancing, stay at home directives, and most importantly limit and minimize your amount of risk-taking. We all need to enjoy some time in nature but do it in your backyard in a low-risk manner. Even if I was 100% recovered I would limit myself to easy walks and hikes below tree-line and on very low angle slopes. I would not go mountain biking, rock climbing, back-country skiing, or any activity that is more prone to accidents. Our first responders and medical system are begging us to avoid injury right now. Please do your part.

See you in the mountains (hopefully locally and on a mellow walk),

Northeast Alpine Start



Top 3 Backcountry Ski Backpacks

A reader recently asked for my opinion on one of my favorite back-country ski backpacks which has motivated me to share by top three choices for back-country skiing! Here they are!


First Pick: The Ortovox Haute Route 32L Backpack

Ortovox Haute Route 34L Backpack Review
Ortovox Haute Route 34L Backpack- photo by Cait

I now have two full winters with over 70 days of back-country touring with this pack and it is my over-all favorite. I find it to be the perfect size for day trips in the White Mountains and last April’s ski trip to Iceland. The dedicated avalanche safety pocket fits my shovel and probe perfectly, and outer vertical pocket holds some of my oft used tools in an easy to get to spot; I stick my snow card, compass, Rutchsblock cord, and snow thermometer in there. The “goggle pocket” is where I stash all my food for the day, and I’m able to carry a bivy sack, large puffy, and usually fit my goggles, buff, facemask, and ski gloves inside my helmet inside the pack, though there is an external helmet carry option. Finally the back panel full access to the main compartment is super convenient!

This pack is also available in a 30 and 38 liter short torso size, and a 40 liter size here.


Second Pick: The Patagonia Snow Drifter Backpack

 

I reviewed this pack back in 2016 and having tested quite a few packs since this one has stayed in my memory of being one of the best designed ski packs on the market. It shares a lot of the same features as my first pick like a well designed avalanche gear pocket and back-panel access. Unfortunately it is either discontinued or simply out of stock at almost every retailer. There are a few left on sale here.


Third Pick: The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

This is actually my first pick if the ski mission is technical, i.e. I’ll be carrying rope, harness, a couple screws, a technical ice axe, crampons, etc. I got the ski modification on this pack and while it is the priciest of the three the materials used in construction made this a pack that will survive a decade or three of heavy use in the mountains, where as I would expect to wear our my first two picks after 5-7 seasons of heavy use. While this pack gives up some convenience features like the dedicated avalanche gear pocket it gains pure rugged simplicity. As I said in my detailed review back in 2016 this is the pack I would choose for a ski focused trip to Katahdin or a ski mountaineering day in Huntington Ravine (up Pinnacle down South or the like).


Did your favorite make my list? Let me know in the comments if it did or didn’t! I will be looking to review 2019/20 back-country ski packs early next season!


See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

Disclaimer: The author is an Ortovox Athlete and all packs were provided for review. Affiliate links help support this blog.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course 12/14/18 – 12/16/18

The first avalanche course of the season with Northeast Mountaineering wrapped up yesterday late afternoon after 3 solid days of mixed classroom and field sessions. We have an awesome new classroom venue just minutes from The Bunkhouse and we were stoked to have so much snow on the ground for the first course of our season.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Great new classroom space only minutes from the Bunkhouse

After a morning of classroom on Friday we spent the afternoon outside learning and practicing avalanche rescue skills. On Saturday we spent a little time learning how to PLAN a tour in avalanche terrain before heading up to Hermit Lake on Mount Washington for some practice monitoring conditions along our tour.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Learning about layered snow packs in one of the most beautiful places in the White Mountains

On Sunday we started with a student led trip planning session at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Teamwork makes the dream work!

We then skinned up the Gulf of Slides Ski Trail.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Main Gully
AIARE Avalanche Course
Approaching the Lower Snowfields in Gulf of Slides
AIARE Avalanche Course
Working our way up through the Lower Snowfields before traversing back into the Main Gully
AIARE Avalanche Course
Great weather for our full tour day!
AIARE Avalanche Course
Combining modern tech with old school navigation
AIARE Avalanche Course
Found some thin and stubborn pencil hard wind slab on this 37 degree slope at 4,500 feet to lookers left of the Main Gully. You can also see the December 3rd Melt-Freeze crust about 50 cm down here.
AIARE Avalanche Course
Pit location details, courtesy of Theodolite App
AIARE Avalanche Course
Edge-able, ski-able, but we are glad to see more snow in the forecast!

Summary

All in all it was a fantastic start to the avalanche course season with Northeast Mountaineering. The new curriculum rolled out pretty smoothly and I am digging the new “AIARE Framework” that creates a slightly smoother “flow” of decision making then the classic “Decision Making Framework” some of you may be familiar with. The new organization of the Avalanche and Observation Reference Tool is pretty sweet, and I really like the new 2-3 hour pre-course online learning component! If you have been waiting to take an avalanche course I’d say you should wait no longer! Most providers in the area are seeing courses sell out quite regularly! You can see what dates we have left here!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



Personal Gear List

I often get asked what gear I personally use so I’m creating a more permanent post that I will update when ever I upgrade something in my kit.

The Essentials

Hydration: My standard day trip hydration strategy starts with a 32 ounce wide mouth Nalgene bottle. I will occasionally supplement with some Nuun Electrolytes + Caffeine tablets and often add a 25 ounce Thermos filled with hot tea or an espresso style drink.

Nutrition: Left over pizza from Flatbread Company is hands down my favorite food to carry in the mountains but can strain the food dollars a bit. GrandyOats is the best granola I’ve ever tried and is almost always in my pack. I’m currently reviewing some tasty offerings from Patagonia Provisions and will share that experience soon! I also occasionally carry some soup or homemade chili in a Hydroflask Food Flask.

Navigation: I make my own custom maps using CalTopo and import them into the Avenza app on my iPhone. I’ll also print a hard copy to use in the field and carry the Suunto MC-2 Compass. I currently use the Garmin 3 HR Watch but wish to upgrade to the Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire GPS Watch.

First Aid Kit: I start with an Adventure Medical Ultralight .7 First Aid Kit and supplement with with a few extra pairs of Nitrile gloves, extra medications, iodine tablets, and a sam splint. I also stuff my backup headlamp and knife in my first aid kit so if I have my kit the next two items are definitely with me!

Headlamp: I currently use the Petzl Actik Core Headlamp and a Petzl Zipka Headlamp stuffed in my First Aid Kit as a back-up. I would like to get the Petzl Nao+ Headlamp for night skiing and riding.

Knife: A simple folding knife is always in my first aid kit, like this one.

(much more coming soon)

 

Gear Review- Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support/Lite Boots

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Light and comfy enough for a steep volcano scree field in blue jeans- photo by Matt Baldelli

This will be my third winter skiing and climbing in my Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots and I should have shared this review much sooner! The good news is since they are not new-this-season you can score a pair at amazing savings (like 45% off!). That’s basically pro-deal price available for everyone! But you still probably want to know if it’s a good boot for you right? So let me share my experience with them to help you decide!

I got these at the start of the 2016/17 winter as part of a back-country setup optimized for uphill efficiency but that could still slay on the downhill.

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Boots Review
Finding the line in flat light- photo by Brent Doscher

How I tested

I’ve since skied over 50 days in them including two week long ski trips to Iceland. This includes skinning at least twice a week while teaching avalanche courses every weekend from mid-December until April. I ice climbed in them a half dozen times up to leading grade 4 waterfall ice. I’ve skied them on powder days and more typical east coast crud days. I’ve worn them all over Mount Washington and on groomers at local ski mountains. Suffice it to say I’ve put enough time, miles, and elevation on them to form some opinions!

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Leading Within Reason, WI4 photo by Benjamin Lieberman

Let’s start with…

Fit/Sizing

I went with a Mondo size 27.5 for my US Men’s size 9 feet (slight Morton’s toe, medium arch/width). I wear my favorite Darn Tough ski socks with them. They fit like comfy cozy slippers for walking and skinning. They are comfortable “enough” for vertical ice climbing… but I’ll get into that more under climbing performance. When cranked tight for downhill performance they are as comfy as any ski boot I’ve ever worn, but I’ll go into a little more detail on that under ski performance.

Climbing Performance

When I say they are the most comfortable ski boots I have ever ice climbed in you must take it with a grain of salt. Why would someone climb vertical ice in ski boots? Well if it involves a ski approach/descent having a one boot system is a pretty sweet option. With out a doubt I’d say these climb better than any dedicated climbing boot skis. Simply put climbing boots do not ski well as they have virtually no “forward lean”. I learned this lesson the hard way skiing out of Chimney Pond in Koflach Vertical mountaineering boots many years ago. Long story short dedicated mountaineering boots might be great at hiking & climbing, but they will always come up short for real downhill skiing.

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Boots Review
Lowering off after leading an ice climb at the Hanging Gardens, Frankenstein Cliffs, New Hampshire. Photo by Benjamin Lieberman

Enter the Arcteryx Procline. In touring mode this boot is definitely comfortable enough for a 12 mile approach even if it includes quite a bit of walking. However it is to stiff laterally for classic “French Technique”. You will find yourself switching to front pointing as soon as the angle is too steep for simple heel to toe walking. While leading waterfall ice up to grade 3 it performs quite well and I even led Grade 4 in them.

I climbed in these with both my Petzl Vasak’s and Petzl Leopard FFL crampons.

A modern dedicated ice climbing boots like my Arcteryx Acrux AR are noticeably more comfortable (and warmer) for real technical rock and ice climbing… they also are terrible for downhill skiing. Perhaps the best way to explain it is route and condition dependent. While everyone reading this might not be familiar with my local terrain I think these examples should work.

  1. Early season or low snow years ascent of Pinnacle Gully on Mount Washington (Grade 3) which involves a 2000 foot 2.5 mile approach. I’d stick with a comfy mountaineering boot and leave the skis at home.
  2. Mid-late season or great skiing conditions ascent of Pinnacle Gully, this would be a perfect boot!
  3. My next Katahdin trip.

Finally you should know these are not the warmest boot out there. I have some freakishly warm feet so I tend to get by with less insulation than some of my climbing partners but there was one sub-zero day in Tuckerman Ravine where I got pretty cold toes while teaching an avalanche course. Standing around in them in arctic conditions is not the best idea. I still think they are plenty warm for fast & light adventures or summer trips to the Cascades.

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
I’m wearing my blue jeans here since we were on our way to the airport when I saw this line an hour from Reykavik that needed to be skiied- photo by Matt Baldelli

Skiing Performance

The Arc’teryx Procline boots are only compatible with tech bindings like the Dynafit Speed Radical Bindings (my setup) or the G3 Ion 12 Bindings. I’ve been using them to drive the DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1 Skis (168cm). I assembled this set up to focus on uphill efficiency. Total weight for skis, boots, bindings is only 6.5 pounds per ski! Thanks to the 360 degree rotating cuff these are incredibly comfortable to walk and skin in. The carbon plate to switch from walk to ski mode has an easy to operate lever. In practice if you are not leaning forward enough while switching to ski mode the plate might not align perfectly with some raised nubs that really lock the plate in place. It’s quite easy to lean forward during this process and after a little practice you’ll get the plate to lock completely with little fuss.

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Boot Review
Walking back to the car after another great day in Iceland

Once switched into ski mode you can crank the two buckles down and the “power-strap” adds even more control. The boots definitely feel laterally stiff enough to ski fairly aggressively. Edge to edge control is sufficient enough for any black diamond in-bounds runs and I find the boots supportive enough to drive the skis in spring corn and mid-winter powder. When conditions are icy New England crud you’ll find me skiing these in a fairly conservative manner.

Summary

The Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots are the most comfortable boot I have ever skinned uphill in. They also are the only ski boot I’ve climbed technical ice in. They perform so well on the downhill that I ski them on in-bound groomers but really appreciate the all day comfort during long back-country days. They are not the warmest boots out there, but I have others for days when it’s really really cold out there. If you are in the market for a boot that is as efficient for uphill travel as it is for downhill travel you should take a close look at these! I’m really excited for my third winter season in these!

Buy on Backcountry (currently 45% off!)

So what’s changed with the new model this season? Check out this video from ISPO 2018 to learn about the upgrades the new version of this boot has! (Thanks to Ron B. for sharing this with me through Facebook!

 

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Gear Review: Petzl Leopard LLF Crampons

I picked up a pair of Petzl Leopard Crampons towards the end of last winter for a back-country ski trip to Iceland. While I had been happy with my Petzl Vasak’s I wanted to shed some weight from my back-country touring kit and the Leopards do just that! I pair them with the Arcteryx Procline Boots which happen to be 45% off right now (just sayin’) Let’s take a closer look at these crampons to see if they are right for you! First the manufacturer’s deets!


Manufacturer Description

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

Ultra light crampon with LEVERLOCK FIL binding, for ski touring and snow travel

Extremely light due to their aluminum construction, LEOPARD LLF crampons are perfect for ski touring and snow travel. The CORD-TEC flexible linking system minimizes bulk for ease of carrying.

Description

  • Very lightweight:
    – crampons made entirely of aluminum, optimized for snow travel
    – very lightweight (only 330 grams per pair)
  • Very compact:
    – CORD-TEC flexible linking system optimizes volume of crampons when packed in their bag (included)
    – tool-free length adjustment
  • Binding system especially adapted to the usage of these crampons:
    – self-adjusting elastic strap around the ankle
    – strap for good handling and easy removal
    – compact heel lever facilitates crampon installation/removal

Specifications

  • Number of points: 10
  • Boot sizes: 36-46
  • Certification(s): CE EN 893, UIAA
  • Material(s): aluminum, stainless steel, nylon, Dyneema®
  • Crampons come with protective carry bag

Alright, that’s out of the way so let’s breakdown the good & bad starting with…

Weight/Pack-ability

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

This was the biggest reason I chose these for my ski mountaineering kit. When your crampons only weigh 11 ounces it is hard to justify not packing them “just in case”. The CORD-TEC adjustment system lets them pack up into the smallest stuff sack I’ve ever used for crampons measuring about 7 by 4 inches.

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review


Sizing/Fit

First make sure you select the right model! For ski boots you want the “LeverLock Universal” (LLF). The regular “FlexLock” (FL) model is suitable for hiking boots with or with out front and toe welts.

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

I’ll admit I was skeptical about sizing a crampon that joins the heel piece to the front piece with string! Ok, maybe “string” is not the right word. The “CORD-TEC” is actually a woven 100% Dyneema cord. I measure it just shy of 5 mm (3/16 inches). That would give it a breaking strength around 6000 pounds… so not “string”. Dyneema is also highly resistant to abrasion.

http://phillystran.com/product-catalog/12-Strand-Braids-Spectra-Dyneema
3/16 Woven Dyneema CORD-TEC
Petzl Leopard Crampon Review
Joined with bar-tacking, this cord is replaceable but unlikely to need replacing

Petzl does sell a replacement for it if you ever wear it out somehow. I have a hard time imagining how much use it would take to requirement, but the option is there.


Adjust-ability

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Toe piece fits my Dynafit boots perfectly
Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Slight gap between the heel level and boot but they haven’t come off yet!
Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Perfect balance of security and comfortable walking!

I found the CORD-TEC system to be very easy to adjust for both of my ski boots. No tools required an quite intuitive. Do not be intimidated by the instructions, once in hand you could pretty much size them without looking at the instructions, but if you are having any issues give them a look!

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Solid fit on my Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots

DEAL ALERT!

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Light and comfy enough for a steep volcano scree field in blue jeans- photo by Matt Baldelli

Backcountry has almost a full size run of the Arcteryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots at 45% off right now!

Buy on Backcountry

Petzl Leopard Crampons Review
Syncs really well with my Arcteryx Procline Boots!

Ok, sorry about that, back to the crampons!

Performance

These have been tested over a few thousand feet of snow climbing in on neve, spring corn, and classic NH “windboard”. For an ultra-light aluminum crampon they perform great! They have not, and will not, be tested on waterfall ice or mixed rock routes. They are not designed for that and I’m sure such uses will shorten their life-span. So far they have only been in contact with snow but I’m not too worried about walking over short sections of granite to get to the next patch of snow this Spring. It’s gear. It should get beat on from time to time! These will be my choice model for my next trip to climb in the Cascades.

Summary

These are for ski mountaineers, back-country skiers, and riders who have found themselves on a steep slope wishing they hadn’t left their crampons in the car. These could also be a nice step up for many winter hikers who sometimes rely on Kahtoola MICROspikes in terrain where more aggressive traction would be more appropriate. Just make sure you get the Flexlock model.  Skiers should get the LevelLock model. Finally these are for anyone who is looking to shave ounces off their total kit while still having the tools they need to reach the places they want to play. If that’s you then you should consider checking these out!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

These crampons were purchased with my own money. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start. 

Winter Prep Time, Gear & Head Check!

I usually wait until November to share some tips on getting ready for the upcoming snow & avalanche season but since I got my first turns in today over at Wildcat I just can’t help it. I am so stoked for this winter let’s go go go! If you are excited for winter like I am let’s get down to business so we will be ready to climb, shred, huck, slide, and skip our way up and down our amazing mountains all winter long!

Skiing Mount Washington
Photo by Corey Fitzgerald

First order of business…

Gear Check!

Time to find your avalanche beacon in that mess of a gear closet and put some new batteries in it. You remembered to take the batteries out at the end of last season right? Wouldn’t want any funky corrosion in such an important device. If you have one of my favorite beacons, the Ortovox 3+, make sure you check your software version. If it is running version 2.1 you gotta send it in for a quickie update. Ortovox covers the shipping both ways and I sent in my fleet of 8 beacons and got them back in a week! All the details on that process are here!

Ortovox Avalanche Beacons
Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Beacon- photo by Cait Bourgault

Oh you don’t own a beacon yet? Well we probably should get you one if you have plans that include slaying back-country pow or climbing alpine gullies. I can help you pick out the right model with this post from last year.

Maybe you have an old beacon and thinking it’s time to update? Great timing because Ortovox will give you $75 towards a new beacon! Read up on this recycling program here! Oh, and this is when I put fresh lithium batteries in my headlamp, cuz I’m planning on being a more active member of my local Dawn Patrol squad this winter!

Head Check!

Are you thinking about avalanches? You should be! The Mount Washington Avalanche Center has posted its first general advisory of the season. It is important to understand that very small avalanches can have very large consequences this time of year as our run outs are basically big cliffs and large rocks. Size-able avalanches can happen before the center switches to the 5-tier North American Avalanche Danger Scale. You can read about one such local occurrence here if you need some convincing.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Hands on learning about snow stability- photo by Alexandra Roberts

If you want to venture out and play on some 30+ degree snowy terrain (I sure do!) then you should be thinking about stability (or lack thereof). If you’re not sure what to look for then now might be a good time to sign up for an avalanche course. This is my tenth year teaching avalanche courses and this year I’m teaching AIARE 1, Avalanche Rescue, and AIARE 2 for Northeast Mountaineering.

Our schedule:

AIARE 1

 3 days, $370pp, includes two nights lodging!

December 14-16, 2018
December 28-30, 2018
January 4-6, 2019
January 11-13
January 19-21
January 25-27
February 1-3
February 8-10
February 16-18
March 1-3
March 8-10
March 15-17
March 29-31

With this many AIARE 1 courses running you might think you can wait to book. Well might I say… don’t! Historically we are 80% sold out by mid-December. If you want to chose the date you take your course do so early! You can register directly here. Be sure to enter “DavidNEM” in the promo code box for a good chance at winning a free guided day of your choosing (and to let Northeast Mountaineering know you heard about this from me right?).

Avalanche Rescue

$150pp, includes one night lodging!!!

January 18
March 21

AIARE 2

3 days, $485pp, includes two nights lodging!

March 22-24

Only one date… ya I know wish I could run more but the demand for AIARE 1 is still quite high… we might find a way to squeeze another 2 in during the winter but don’t bet on it. If you have taken a recent 1, and the Avalanche Rescue course, jump on this one quick before it sells out (we have an Avalanche Rescue course scheduled the day before so you can meet that requirement the day before this course!)

Ok, moving on…

Head Check Part 2

If you’ve been spending time learning about snow and avalanches for years now something you’ve definitely figured out is there is still more to learn. To sound cliche… the learning never stops! So to that end here’s a few ideas to get those wheels spinning (and skins gliding)…

Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop!!!

This is coming up Saturday, November 3rd! It’s in Fryeburg, ME. It’s an amazing full day of knowledge and winning shwag. There’s always good food and beer there. There is no reason you should not go to this if you have bothered reading this far. It’s only $50 for a full day of brain boost and you have a pretty decent chance of walking away with some nice schwag by the end of the day! Register now and come high five me at the AIARE/Ortovox table or creeping-on-the-DPS-table!

Avalanche Podcast you say?

Slide: The Avalanche Podcast

Can’t make it to ESAW? That’s okay… I understand… sometimes schedules just don’t work out you know? But guess what? You can still start priming that back-country brain by listening to some wicked smart guy talk about avalanches on a Podcast! I just finally finished the first two seasons of “Slide: The Avalanche Podcast” by Doug Krause. Find it on iTunes or where-ever you get your podcasts…

Rescue Practice

EMS Schools Avalanche Course
Real life rescue practice, full story here

It’s time to refresh those beacon skills. Run some drills. Dig! Don’t neglect the importance of “big picture” type scenarios. Sure, you bracketed that beacon buried under 6 inches of freshly fallen maple leaves in only 2 minutes 13 seconds flat but did you see that glove sticking out of the ground over there? That ski pole? Did you remember to fake-call 911 before you started your search? I’ll refer you to the Quick Reference- Avalanche Rescue flow chart at the back of your AIARE Field Book… oh… you don’t have one? Scroll back up to that stuff about signing up for an Avalanche Course… oh and how’s that First Aid training going? Taken that Wilderness First Aid Course yet?

Ok enough preaching… I’m just really really really excited for this winter. I think it’s going to be a good one. I just feel it. Fingers crossed, snow dances complete, sacrifices made… here it comes!

avalanche courses mount washington
A powder day on the Cog- Photo by Corey Fitzgerald

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Beacon Retirement FB.JPG

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