The leaves are starting to turn high in our notches so I find myself starting to anticipate another great ice climbing season in the Northeast. Last season I had the opportunity to demo the CAMP/Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and while I shared my positive impressions of them with dozens of climbing partners I never got around to a full detailed review. With the ice climbing season quickly approaching what better time than now?
If I had to describe these tools in one word it would easily be…
There is more custom-ability in this model then any other ice axe I have ever used! Let’s start with my favorite feature of the Cassin X-Dream’s!
By simply loosening one bolt you can pivot the handle into a “dry-tooling” setting appropriate for high level mixed climbing and competitions. This setting will align the handle/pick in a configuration quite similar to the Petzl Ergo Ice Axe. I don’t personally climb in competitions or send overhanging mixed sport routes in the winter so I only tested these in the “ice” setting which was the perfect angle for comfortable swings on steep grade 4 and grade 5 waterfall ice routes, and is quite similar to the alignment of the Petzl Nomic. If you’ve never demo’d a tool with a handle angled like this it’s hard to explain how much of a difference it makes on steep ice allowing your wrist to stay in a much more natural position and facilitating the relaxed grip that is so crucial on grade 4+ ice.
Micro-adjustable trigger finger ledges can be adjusted in multiple ways. With a small phillips head screw driver you can swap the main trigger finger ledge from the included “X-finger small” with an “X-finger large, sold separately, $6”. My medium sized hands preferred the smaller less obtrusive setting.
For those with very small hands you can snap in the X-Rest handle height insert (sold separately, $8) which raises the height of the handle interior by about 3 mm.
The X-Trigger pommel (included) attaches to the shaft for an optional third ledge and can be slid up or down to your preferred spot. I liked mine just above the X-Grip 2 friction tape that is also included on the shaft.
Finally the entire handle can be swapped out with the recently released X-Dream Alpine Grip, a feature that greatly improves security when topping out an ice route and switching back to piolet canne.
There are three picks designed for the Cassin X-Dream Ice Axes and they come stock with the “Mixte” pick which I found worked as well as any ice pick I’ve used across the major manufacture brands. All three are T-rated which adds confidence when torquing or utilizing The Stein Pull. I plan on buying a set of the ice picks this season as I think the addition of the small hammer will add a nice touch of head weight and help this tool step even closer into the alpine environment (occasional testing of pitons, tool tapping to gently set a pick on thin ice, etc).
UPDATE: Soon after posting this review CAMP USA let me know that they just released two more compatible accessories that further add to the versatility of this tool. A new “Total Dry” pick designed for over-hanging hooking and competition. This brings the pick options on this axe to four! Also, and more exciting in my opinion is the new available head weights. I will be trying these out with a new set of ice picks this winter!
Cassin combines a T-rated aluminum shaft with a chromoly steel head that passes both CE and UIAA certification. Total weight is 1 lb 5 oz, 610 grams and the swing feels very natural and balanced. I did not find any need to adapt my swing to these like I have with some comparable models from other companies. With the included X-Grip friction tape and “third ledge” pommel I’ve found no need to supplement the rest of the shaft with after market grip tape. During placement the shaft dampens nicely without noticeable vibration and provides reliable feedback with each stick.
With a high degree of customization and optimization for steep ice, mixed routes, and competition climbing this Italian made ice axe should become a common sight on the steep ice drips around the world. If you lead or follow grade 4 and up waterfall ice you should try to demo a pair of these! While outfitting them with the new X-Dream Alpine Grip puts them in the running for the most expensive set of tools when it comes to waterfall ice axes sometimes you get what you pay for.
Those who know me know I can be a little obsessive about gear. I enjoy making detailed gear lists for trips sometimes weighing everything down to the ounce. I shared my first gear list for ski touring in Iceland this past April and most recently in a trip report for climbing Mount Shuksan in the Cascades. Since I have two more trip reports for the Cascades coming soon I’ve decided to give the gear list its own post that can be easily linked too without taking up so much space in the trip report.
Having over 20 years in outdoor retail I love chatting about gear so if you have any questions about any of my recommendations, or suggestions for better products, please comment below!
A super lightweight and pack-able 2 person single wall tent. I spent 12 nights in this from car camping between climbs to dug in at 11,000 feet at Ingraham Flats on Rainier and the tent performed perfectly through-out!
This was the best gear purchase I’ve made in over a decade. I have a few sleeping bags from a great heritage -30 EMS down bag to a fairly light 35 degree synthetic sleeping bag but I decided to upgrade for this trip and I could not have been happier for my first Western Mountaineering sleeping bag! I’ll go into greater detail in a review later but for now I’ll just say I slept GREAT in this compressible lightweight sleeping bag!
This goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I also like that it keeps my expensive down sleeping bag clean (extending its life) even after weeks of griming sleeping!
I upgraded from my older, heavier, bulkier Therm-a-Rest Prolite sleeping pad with this in “short” and doubled it up with the closed cell foam pad listed below. It was a great combo for both warmth and comfort!
This stove was amazing on this trip! Super fast and efficient for melting snow I could easily budget just 2 ounces of fuel per person per day assuming we had water sources at Lake Ann and below Winnie’s Slide bivy site.
For dinner and breakfast I went with Mountain House meals. The egg scrambles were one of my favorite. For a dinner appetizer I carried a Lipton noodle soup packet and combined it with a Miso soup packet, great for replacing lost sodium and electrolytes! The Mountain House Pad Thai and Chicken Fajita Bowl both tasted great!
My mountaineering boots of choice, full review of them here. While I LOVE these boots for my cold New England ice climbing and mountaineering adventures they turned out to be a little too warm for Shuksan and Forbidden (but perfect for Rainier, more on that later). My co-guide Jordan who has been having a banner season in the Cascades was rocking the Salomon S-Lab X Alpine Carbon 2 GTX Boots… these things look AWESOME! Basically comfy enough for long warmish approaches, crampon compatible, and climb rock really well… I will be getting a pair of these before my next summer Cascade adventure!
Make sure you select the Leverlock or FL option! Great all around mountaineering crampon in my book! I have led grade 5 ice in them and walked hundreds of miles in them from Washington to Katahdin over the last decade and they are still going strong! I do plan to shave a little weight for these longer glaciated non-water ice routes by picking up a pair of Petzl Leopard Crampons soon!
The lightest most compatible trekking poles I have ever seen! I’ve been loving these! I’ve used them all over the White Mountains including a 2 hour car-to-car ascent of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle! You can see them during one attempt in this video.
I brought this harness for the less technical Disappointment Cleaver route on Mount Rainier. Super lightweight, pack-able, and able to put on while wearing skis. It is everything I want in a mountaineering harness. Detailed review coming soon.
Cell phone service is very spotty on Mount Shuksan. I was able to find a bar or two of service (Verizon) at Lake Ann (southwest side) and send and receive a few text messages. We had no service at the bivy site at the top of Fisher Chimney’s however I was able to FaceTime my wife from the summit! For the times with no service the SPOT GPS Messenger easily allowed me to send “check-in” messages home and in my opinion is an important piece of rescue gear should an incident occur.
I recently upgraded from my older Petzl Myo model and this new model is awesome! Up to 260 hours of burn time and able to through light 90 meters! If you’re due for a headlamp upgrade I highly suggest you check out this model!
My current favorite GPS navigation capable smart-watch with optical heart-rate! This is the watch I used to create the GPS tracks linked in the trip report. It also allows one-button waypoint saving and the built in barometer/altimeter was a nice plus to our navigation plans.
I’ve been wearing these back east for most of my Spring/Summer climbing season with multiple trips in Huntington Ravine and through-out the White Mountains so I felt confident taking them as my main climbing pant to the Cascades. Having essentially lived in them for two weeks of non-stop climbing I can whole heartedly endorse the comfort and performance of these soft-shell pants!
This is in my opinion the most critical piece of glacier clothing you can own. I reviewed it in detail here but on a shade-less blazing glacier this one garment offers more protection and comfort than any other article of clothing I own. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it… EVERY climber should own one of these! I do have a small cult following of “sunshade hoodies” who have “seen the light” or better yet “appreciate the shade” that these things bring… just get one and thank me later ok?
Personal Climbing Gear- Kong GiGi with Black Diamond Magnetron and Gridlock, Magnetron and Petzl Reverso 4, Cordelette with Petzl Ange S, 2 prussiks, knife, Petzl Cordex Belay Gloves on Petzl Ange S, Petzl Attache anchor biner
Group climbing gear- Alpine Rack and Draws
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 60m rope
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 28m rope
Thanks for reading! Got a question or comment? Please comment below and stay tuned for next week’s trip report of The West Ridge of Forbidden Peak!
Can the new version of the iconic Petzl GriGri really be the belay device for “all climbers”? What makes it different from the current GriGri 2? After a few weeks of testing it turns out the differences may very well make this the one belay to device to rule them all. I’ll start with a three minute video highlighting some of the biggest changes then get into the details below.
Probably the most talked about feature of the new Petzl GriGri+ is the belay mode selection. A knob can be twisted to adjust the tension on the cam to be more suitable for either top-rope belaying or lead belaying. A seemingly slight adjustment in the tension of the internal cam spring here makes a very noticeable amount of belay ease and comfort. New climbers sometimes struggle with belaying a leader with a GriGri 2 or older model because the cam would engage while trying to quickly pay out slack for either clipping or a fast moving leader. When set to “lead belay mode” the cam spring is “stiffer” which allows you to feed rope out quickly and with less effort than previous models. This is easy to see if you skip to 1:30 on the above YouTube video.
This feature makes me feel much more comfortable having a less experienced climber lead belay me with the GriGri+.
Additionally the option exists to “lock” the selected belay mode. This feature is handy for using this in climbing gyms and outdoor group top-rope sessions further increasing the versatility of the device.
The second most talked about feature of the Petzl GriGri+ is the anti-panic handle. We’ve all heard stories of climbers being dropped in the gym and while sport climbing when a new belayer clamps down hard on the handle preventing the device from camming and letting a climber deck. Petzl has engineered a solution. If a belayer pulls too hard on the handle the cam will re-engage! It was a little un-nerving to test this but I wanted to feel how it worked so out came the GoPro and down I went, check it out here:
video being edited, will upload soon
This anti-panic handle adds a lot of safety in quite a few scenarios. First, while being lowered off a top-rope or from a high piece, if a new belayer pulls too hard on the handle and the climber starts to fall the cam will automatically re-engage. Second, while rappelling a single rope if you crank to hard on the handle and are going to fast the cam will re-engage preventing a fall. Once re-engaged you can either apply considerably more pressure to start descending again or “re-set” the anti-panic handle as I demonstrate in the video.
Less talked about than the above two features is the overall durability of this device. Petzl has fortified it in so many ways! First they added material in high wear areas and strengthened the design. They’ve closed off the non-handle side opening around the cam pivot which helps keep dirt and grime from gunking up the inside of the device. Let’s take a close comparison look between the Petzl GriGri 2 and the new GriGri+ below.
Petzl also included stainless steel plating in high wear areas.
They’ve added a stainless steel stopper that prevents the rare rope snag sometimes experienced in previous models.
This reinforcement comes at the price of weight and bulk, but only about one ounce (30 grams). As far as “bulk” I’d estimate it feels only about 5-10% larger than a GriGri 2.
One of the last things I want to mention that makes the Petzl GriGri+ suitable for such a wide range of climbers is its ability to work with any single rated rope on the market! That’s right, this device can go all the way down to a 8.5 mm rope! It is “optimized” for ropes between 8.9 mm and 10.5 mm but can actually handle 8.5 mm up to 11 mm. For reference the GriGri 2 could only go down to a 8.9 mm and was optimized for 9.4 mm to 10.3 mm. This is kind of a big deal considering many of us, especially climbing guides, are climbing on skinnier and skinnier single ropes. Being able to use this with absolutely any single rated rope is just more icing on the cake!
I’m a bit of a skeptic of the “latest and greatest” gadgets in climbing but the Petzl GriGri+ has surpassed the GriGri 2 in so many ways. There is definitely a small weight/bulk penalty but the added durability will be a boon when this device is well suited for so many types of climbing. I would consider it a great choice for gym and sport climbing, traditional climbing, guiding, big walls (especially in the desert where aluminum wears quickly), camp and school groups, and for my growing list of adventure photographer friends!
Disclaimer: Petzl provided a demo unit for the purpose of this review but all opinions expressed are my own. Affiliate links help support this blog. Climbing is DANGEROUS! Attempting anything in this review requires training and experience. Seek qualified instruction and climb at your own risk!
Please carefully review Petzl’s technical documentation and instruction here before attempting to use this device!
The La Sportiva Tech Gloves are another great option in the growing category of technical gloves designed for mountaineering, ice climbing, and mixed climbing. For this review we had guest reviewer, AMGA certified Rock Instructor, and all around sender Justin Guarino, test these over ten hard days of ice climbing and mountaineering in the White Mountain Region. Here is his take on this technical alpine glove!
Warm even when wet
Slip Resistant Grip (great of ice climbing)
Slow to dry
I was very pleased with these gloves and there performance was top notch. The test consisted of a few weeks of steep ice and mixed terrain as well as times of idle inactivity whilst coaching students. Through the entirety of the test my hands were as happy as they could be in the sub freezing daily temps. Easily clipping gear while running it out on grade 5+ waterfall ice and placing cams was never difficult on sketchy stances while sending steep mixed corners. From the onset I took the approach of looking at this glove as a contender for multi day alpine walls in Alaska this spring; I have to say I would take them with me on this death defying terrain were a glove can make or break you.
Warm when wet:
This is critical and they performed excellent. My hands get sweaty… maybe because I’m always scaring myself. With that said wet from the inside wet from the outside (dripping ice and snow) doesn’t matter they did the job. Truly a pair of gloves that you can start and finish the day with. That in itself merits buying them for they simplify your selection. One and done get after it!
Given that I often venture into strange terrain, terrain where you better be able to get gear in and not fumble your crucial equipment. I have to say that given the level of insulation the dexterity of these gloves was astounding.
This is a crucial trait of an alpine glove and they delivered! Designed to perform and it showed. No fooling around. Its life or death at times up they. Not once did I pull these gloves off with my teeth in a panic and spit them out! I’ve done that before with other gloves and was glad I didn’t have to!
You can’t hold it against La Sportiva. If you climb as much as I do you don’t expect these things to last… and they won’t. 10 days on them and I probably have 10 days life left in them. I am a professional and use them at a professionals level of activity so like I said I didn’t expect them to last. (Editor’s note: 20 days of hard use might translate to 1-2 seasons for us weekend warriors).
I mean come on all gloves smell bad. But these in particular produced a particular offensive odor. I suppose I need to dry them out better. But who has the time… Climb climb climb! (Editor’s note: I’ve noticed this with most gloves and the only resolution is a good glove/boot dryer! This is the one I use everyday and it is amazing!)
Slow to dry:
Lots of insulation but once the water gets in there it stays. They are still warm but you better believe that makes me nervous especially in sub zero temps. Again they are gloves what do you truly expect. All said they are a great buy.
Thanks you Justin for sharing your feedback on these gloves! If you would like to give these a try you can find a pair on Amazon here or Backcountry.com below!
The Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket is the lightest synthetic belay jacket I have tested this season that also competes well in the heat retention department. I previewed this jacket back in November and now that I have tested it above treeline on Mount Washington and while hanging at icy cold belays while ice climbing throughout the White Mountains I am ready to share some more first hand opinions on this piece.
Let’s start with the most important feature:
The Big Agnes Dunkley Hooded Belay Jacket uses 120g of Pinneco Core™ fill in the body and 80g in the sleeves. This “feels” warmer and puffier than the Primaloft ECO insulation used in other jackets I am testing and has decent compress-ability. I wore this over my typical soft-shell and Merino wool layers on Mount Washington in 60+mph winds with wind chills hovering around -40 degrees and was very pleased with the protection it offered. Yesterday after topping out a remote back-country Grade 5 route off the Kancamagus Highway I was grateful for the full enclosure insulated hood while I was stationary and exposed belaying both a photographer and my partner for the better part of a windy hour. Here’s some video from that climb:
Big Agnes does not list much detail in relation to the shell fabric, just: “100% recycled polyester shell is wind-proof and water resistant”. I have reached out to Big Agnes for more info and will update this as soon as I hear back! That said I found it fully windproof. It is likely there is a DWR treatment on the fabric as climbing under a drippy chandelier of ice a week ago the jacket did not take on any moisture.
24.5 oz. / 695 grams. The lightest option in this seasons line up of synthetic belay jackets this piece easily stuffs into an included high quality 10 x 7 stuff-sack. Oddly the manufacturer’s website description references an interior chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack but I believe this must be a web error as there is no interior chest pockets and the exterior chest pocket is far to small to function as a reversible stuff sack.
I went with a size large for my 42 inch chest and it fits great over my typical load out. The adjustable hood is the perfect size for my helmeted head. Arm length is slightly shorter than similar models and the back length feels slightly shorter, which works well over my climbing harness. If in doubt consult the manufacturer’s size chart!
Center front zipper includes interior no-draft flap and a zipper garage at chin
Features YKK Reverse coil zippers
Textured zipper pulls are easy to use with gloves
Adjustable drawcord at hem seals out wind
Two zippered hand-warmer pockets with zipper garages
Large interior mesh pockets for extra stash space
Exterior check pocket
Separate stuff sack included
120g Pinneco Core™ synthetic insulation in body, 80g in the sleeves
Insotect Tubic™ construction provides supreme loft and thermal efficiency
100% recycled polyester shell is wind-proof and water resistant
Jacket weight, size Medium – 24.5oz/ 695g
The Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket is a solid choice for a synthetic belay jacket, a must have item in every ice climber/mountaineer’s kit. I like the high visibility yellow but it also comes in a visible bright blue if yellow isn’t your thing. It comes in black too but I would not recommend that color for a belay jacket (bright colors are happy colors when you are freezing your tuchus off). If you’re in the market for a solid performer in the belay jacket you can pick this one up here at a great price.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Big Agnes provided Northeast Alpine Start a sample for this review and the product has been returned to the manufacturer. All opinions stated above are my own. Affiliate links above support this blog.
While I was searching for a new soft-shell pant for ice climbing this season I came across the LaSportiva Castle Pant. While billed as a ski pant this lightweight soft-shell slim fitting tech pant is a great choice for waterfall ice climbing and lightweight mountaineering which is how I primarily tested it over the last two months. The fact that it can serve double duty as a light back-country ski tour pant is definitely a bonus.
Let’s start with a look at the manufacturer description and specifications:
“The Castle Pant is a stylish and comfortable soft-shell ski pant made with technical, performance-focused features to give you everything you need to move confidently around the mountains.”
• 5 pockets <- manufacturer typo? Model has 4 pockets total, 2 front hand warmer pockets, one right rear pocket, and one right thigh pocket large enough for an iPhone 6s Plus
• Adjustable inner gaiter
• Reinforced bottom hem
• Front fly
• Reflective safety details
• Pre-shaped knees
• Suspender attachment
• Flat pocket construction
ITEM NUMBER: B74 SIZES: Men’s S – XL WEIGHT: 20.56 oz (583g) FABRIC: Main – Ectoshield™ (90% Nylon, 10% Spandex) • Bottom hem insert – Superfabric® • Inner gaiter – 100% Nylon FIT: Regular
Not a ton of info from the manufacturer so I’ll break into some real life impressions starting with the choice of fabric.
La Sportiva uses a proprietary “Ectoshield™” material which is a 90/10 Nylon/Spandex blend. In hand it feels like a durable unlined soft shell very similar to Schoeller™ products I have used before. It is noticeably stretchy and feels quite abrasion resistant. The waist belt has a soft micro fleece lining on the band. There’s an adjustable nylon inner gaiter along with a heavier re-enforced crampon patch on the inner leg and adjustable outer cuff.
This adjustable cuff is a nice feature as I can snap then tighter when wearing ice climbing boots or have a bit more room for my ski touring boots. Since I rarely wear gaiters while ice climbing the option to snug them up is quite nice!
It is highly likely there is a DWR treatment applied despite no mention of it on the manufacturer’s website. I climbed in them through very drippy conditions and they definitely resisted getting damp.
They fit great under my harness and are quite comfortable on the approach. As a 180 pound 5’9″ 34 inch waist I went with the USA Medium size (Euro L/50). I found the sizing to be perfect for me. Check the size chart if in doubt:
5’6″ – 5’8″
5’8″ – 5’9″
5’9″ – 5’10”
5’11” – 6”0″
31 – 32
32 – 33
33 – 34
43 – 35
35 – 36
WAIST (CLIMBING/CASUAL PANTS)
30 – 31
32 – 33
33 – 34
34 – 35
36 – 37
WAIST (OUTERWEAR PANTS)
33 – 34
35 – 36
37 – 38
39 – 40
After a half dozen climbing days in these I’m thinking these may be my go-to ice pants this season. The 10% spandex material gives complete freedom of movement, and they feel like they can take a bit of climbing abuse from time to time. While they fit my body quite well there are both belt loops and suspender attachment points to facilitate every body shape.
This is an excellent option for a dedicated ice climbing pant that can serve double duty as a lightweight back-country ski touring pant, something that many New England climbers, back-country skiers, and skimo folks might be looking for. Here’s a short vid of me rocking these pants a few days ago at Frankenstein in Crawford Notch:
If you’d like to pick up a pair you can find them on Backcountry.com here and Amazon here.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
While I received this item from La Sportiva for the purposes of this review the opinions above are my own. Affiliate links above help support this blog.
For the last couple months I’ve been testing the Black Diamond First Light Hoody. From early season recon missions into Tuckerman Ravine searching for climbable November ice to blustery cliff top rigging work while creating an instructional video with Northeast Mountaineering I’ve cultivated some appreciation for the versatility of this “light puffy”. Lightly insulated hooded jackets like this are a great addition to almost any climber or skier’s kit. If you are looking for a full on winter belay jacket you can check out some other models I am reviewing here.
The Black Diamond First Light Hoody uses 60 gsm of PrimaLoft® Silver Insulation Active with a traditional tube style baffling. This is a high end insulation that resists “migration”; basically it stays put within its baffles reducing gaps in protection. PrimaLoft® also claims it is more wind resistant but less thermally efficient than the PrimaLoft® Gold Eco.
So this type of PrimaLoft insulation isn’t as close to high loft down in terms of heat retention per weight but feels quite warm for the weight of this piece. It also boosts excellent breath-ability and will still retain heat if you get soaked in a “not quite full winter” rain event.
The Black Diamond First Light Hoody uses Schoeller® stretch-woven nylon with NanoSphere® Technology (80 gsm, 93% nylon, 7% elastane). This is a highly breathable shell fabric which allows this jacket to stay on during high output effort in cold conditions (skinning with sub-zero ambient temps) without overheating. In hand the shell fabric feels like it will handle abrasion better than some others in this category. The nylon woven mesh liner adds a bit of weight to this piece (65 gsm, 100% nylon) but is super soft and feels great directly on skin.
Manufacturer specs state 510 grams, 18 oz. My home scale on my size large reads 568 grams, 20 oz. The jacket compresses easily enough into its internal chest pocket and only appears to be slightly larger in packing size than the Nano Puff (but about 50% heavier).
A carabiner sewn loop allows you to clip this off to the back of your harness if you are leaving your pack on the ground and the top of the pitch looks a little bit more breezy than the base of the route.
I found the sizing to be spot on. I went with a large which fits my 42 inch chest, 180lb build, with a little extra space for a soft-shell and base-layers but not too baggy to throw on over a t-shirt. The hood is sized to fit perfectly over your helmet.
Yet another fantastic option in the growing lightweight hooded jacket category the Black Diamond First Light Hoody is an ideal “just in case” piece for edge season climbing and an obvious go-to choice for hard & fast winter objectives. If sharing leads on a multi-pitch ice climb I would still bring a full duty belay jacket like the models I am reviewing here. If you haven’t added a “light puffy” to your kit yet or the one you have needs replacing this should be on your radar.