Ice Climbing at the North End 2/6/16

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of taking Alex, Ben, and Eric ice climbing at The North End of Cathedral Ledge for a Winter Climbing 101 Program. We spent much of the day with another EMS Schools group taking the same course led by EMS Guide Cheyenne Chaffee.

EMS Climbing School
Cheyenne explains the differences between various types of traction devices and crampons

After some not-so-fast self arrest practice on the Cathedral Ledge Auto-road we started working on our footwork.

EMS Climbing School
Chaffee demonstrates the differences between “French Technique” “German Technique” and front-pointing
EMS Climbing School
Ben tackles some steeper ice armed with footwork and sharp tools
EMS Climbing School
A participant shakes out
EMS Climbing School
Nearby EMS Guide Keith Moon instructs a Private Ice Climbing Lesson
025
Alex takes a break halfway up the North End Pillars

While the North End Slab & Pillars were quite mobbed for most the day with the Ice Fest going on there was plenty of ice for us to play on. The ice to the right of Thresher has come in quite well this year, and survived the multiple thaws we have dealt with, providing a great spot to learn the basics without trying to thread the needle with a half dozen ropes on the Pillars. At the end of the day everyone was content with the mileage they had put in and we hope to see some return for the next step, either Mountaineering 201 or Ice Climbing 201.

Thanks for reading,

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket Review

The EMS® Men’s Feather Pack Hooded Jacket was my most anticipated item in last years Fall/Winter line at Eastern Mountain Sports and it returns this year! I was amped to pick it up just in time for a quick alpine climb on Cannon Cliff.

EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket
EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket

Built on the success of last year’s Icarus jackets (you remember, the ones that after the first production run EMS had low inventory right off the bat because employees snagged them all up?) this jacket falls in to the “light belay jacket” category. A few things set this jacket apart from your more casual winter coat and for me justified the purchase, even when my gear closet has no shortage of technical jackets!

EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket
1 fleece, 3 soft-shells, 1 hybrid, 2 hard-shells, 3 synthetic insulated and 2 down… of course I needed one more!

Weight:

The manufacturer states the average weight of a medium size is 15.5 ounces. My own scale measures my size large at 17.5 ounces. The closest insulated hooded jacket I have is my Wild Things Belay Jacket which weighs in at 24 ounces!

Pack-ability:

This jacket when stuffed into its internal pocket only takes up about 240 cubic inches of space, less than a football (pre-Deflategate of course). Dimensions when stuffed are about 8 x 6 x 5 inches with some room to squish smaller.

EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket
Stuff size of the EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket

Insulation:

This ultralight weight and extreme packability is achieved by using 800 fill DownTek. If you want to increase your knowledge of “fill power” in down products you can geek out on Wikipedia here. We’ve known for years that high quality down is the warmest insulation in outerwear, with one big disadvantage. Traditionally, when down gets wet, it looses 100% of its insulating capabilities and takes a decade or two to dry. Then came DownTek. Simply put it is water-resistant environmentally friendly ethically sourced down. You can dig into it deeper if you’re curious at DownTek’s Website. I just like watching videos:

Back to the jacket… and one other important piece of the “insulation equation”. Knowing that a jacket uses 800 fill power down is only useful if you know how much of that awesome fluffy stuff is shoved into your jacket. I had guessed it was 4-6 ounces but I wanted to know for sure and since this important tech spec was not listed on EMS.com I tracked down the Product Manager. The final answer? 5 ounces of 800 fill DownTek. That’s pretty darn good for a jacket in this price range!

Shell fabric:

EMS is using a 100% high denier ripstop nylon treated with a DWR (Durable Water Resistent) treatment:

“Woven with reinforcing threads in a crosshatch pattern, Ripstop Nylon prevents ripping and tearing. It’s one of the strongest forms of nylon around – they make parachutes out of this stuff.”– EMS.com

In hand it is very soft and light to the touch.

Color: As best as I confirm this will only be available in two colors this season. “Jet Black”, which is actually two toned (still boring), and “Warm Olive” which looks like no olive I have ever seen, whether warm or cold. Where do they come up with these color names?

EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket
Photos from EMS.com

UPDATE 9/18/16: The new colors are out for this Fall! You can see them here!

Hooded:

Pretty much every technical jacket I own has a hood. Even some of my long underwear has a hood. A hood makes a jacket so much more valuable in the mountains.  This hood fits over my climbing helmet perfectly. There is an adjustment in the back to pull the sides back a bit so you don’t loose your peripheral vision and get ambushed by a moose.

EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket
Alpine Hoodlum

Pockets:

There’s four. Two hand pockets, not set high since this jacket would go over your harness and not be tucked in (like your awesome soft-shell jacket would be). One external chest pocket (it’s where I keep my phone warm). One internal chest pocket that has a “flipp-able” zipper for when you stuff the jacket into this pocket. One easy design fix here is to add a small zipper pull on the inside pull of this zipper. I like things that are glove friendly. That being said, I would probably only have this jacket stored in the internal pocket for two situations;

  1. Pre-packing for the day to maximize space. Once the jacket gets deployed it’s probably going to be going on and off through-out the climb (that’s why they call it a belay jacket, you wear it while belaying, not climbing, unless it is really cold… but it doesn’t get really cold in NH does it?) Taking the time to stuff it back into its pocket would be silly, just shove it in the top of your pack and get climbing!
  2. Single pitch ice/alpine climbing, to clip to the back of my harness if I’m leaving my climbing pack at the base. There is a small sewn loop here for this reason, but I would be concerned about that loop being the sole attachment between me and my warmth at the top of an ice climb so my solution was to make the added zipper pull a little bigger so it could be clipped with the loop.
EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket
Yankee Ingenuity

Fit:

Ah, EMS Sizing. So reliable. So time tested. So never-the-same-two-years-in-a-row.

Here’s the size chart from the website (note it is “universal” and the disclaimer on the bottom):

EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket
So will it fit?

Humans are hard creatures to fit. So this is what I’ll do. I’ll give you my measurements, and hopefully you’ll have a good guess at what size you need (since you’ve already decided to buy the jacket if you have read this far).

I’m 5’9″, 180lbs, 42 inch chest, 34 inch waist, broad shouldered, average ape index (nice way of saying normal length arms). I tried the medium on first at the store (over a t-shirt and sweatshirt I was wearing. If felt pretty good, a more athletic fit. A bit too tight in the shoulders when I stretched forward (remember, broad shoulders). When I would lift my arms up (ice climber pose) it got a bit too snug to have full range of motion. I tried the large. The large may be a smidge roomy for me, but it definitely didn’t feel like a boxy house. Plenty of room inside for my skin/mid-layers/softshell (or hardshell).

Summary:

This is an excellent cold weather jacket at a great price suitable for winter backpacking, hiking, ice climbing, or waiting for the bus. You can purchase this jacket in both men’s and women’s, hooded and not hooded, right here.

 

EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket
EMS® Men’s Feather Pack 800 DownTek™ Hooded Jacket

 

See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart

Disclaimer: The author purchased this jacket with his own money. This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog.

Standard Route on Whitehorse, and the dreaded Brown Spot!

This past Wednesday Oliver returned for some more preparation before his Yosemite trip next month. We started the day with a full length route up Whitehorse via Standard Route (1080ft, 9 pitches, 5.7).

Lots of options!
Lots of options!

65 degrees, sunny, light breeze… perfect climbing weather… and we had the whole cliff to ourselves all morning! We quickly climbed up to the Crystal Pocket.

Oliver with Cathedral Ledge in the background
Oliver with Cathedral Ledge in the background

After a quick snack on Lunch Ledge I decided to climb the original “Brown Spot” 5.5 variation since I always take the Slabs Direct 5.7 variation. I quickly discovered why I never take this variation. The bolt protecting the move is one of the nastiest old 1/4 inches I’ve ever seen. The climbing itself doesn’t feel any more secure than the 5.7 variation. I stopped a little higher on the next ramp to belay to keep the rope drag down, and while I thought replacing the bolt might be a good community service I think it’s probably better to just stick to the direct finish. It’s MUCH nicer in every possible way.

Oliver cruising the upper slabs
Oliver cruising the upper slabs
Mount Washington clear & crisp in the background
Mount Washington clear & crisp in the background

It was only 12:30 so we ate some lunch and made our way down the hiking trail. Oliver was interested in going over some of the various anchor strategies we used on this climb so we drove over to The North End of Cathedral Ledge. There we spent a half hour or so going over some new and old techniques of constructing anchors. To wrap up our day we took a quick spin on Child’s Play, the fun 5.6 crack climb, then headed back to the shop.

Oliver’s got a couple more days planned with me this Fall before his Yosemite trip and is getting a few training days in at the tres-new Salt Pump Climbing Co. gym that recently opened in Scarborough, ME. If you are Downeast you should definitely check this amazing climbing gym out!

Thanks for reading,

See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart

Once a Climber, Always a Climber

It has been a couple of decades since Oliver has tied into a climbing rope, but to paraphrase a well known military adage; “Once a climber, always a climber”.

I discovered in the first few minutes of meeting Oliver that his list of adventures was long. From a NOLS course in the Cascades back in the 70’s (yes before I was born), to exploits in Yosemite while dirt-bagging at Camp 4 for weeks on end, to sky-diving, to scary leads in his first pair of EB’s, the conversations through-out the day would be as entertaining as the climbing.

While a professional career had put climbing on the back-burner for quite some time that burner stayed lit, and now, for his 65th birthday, his wife is sending him back to Yosemite this Fall for a week of reminiscent adventure. Oliver figured it would be beneficial to get a bit of training in before his trip to Yosemite, so he came to EMS Schools for a bit of refreshing.

After sorting our gear we made our way over to Whitehorse Ledge. The first few pitches of Cormier-Magness provided the perfect “Oh ya I remember how to do this” type terrain as we quickly dispatched 3 pitches.

The famous Whitehorse Ledge Slabs
The famous Whitehorse Ledge Slabs
Second pitch of Cormier-Magness, the classic
Second pitch of Cormier-Magness, the classic “Wheat Thin Arete”
Echo Lake and Cranmore Ski Mountain in the background
Echo Lake and Cranmore Ski Mountain in the background

After the 3rd pitch we practiced descending with 3 double rope rappels back to the shaded ground. A quick drive over to Cathedral had us eating lunch after looking at Whitehorse from a different vantage.

Whitehorse Ledge
Whitehorse Ledge

After lunch we rapped the Barber Wall and headed over to Upper Refuse.

That back-burner flame is fully lit now!
That back-burner flame is fully lit now!
Cruising the first pitch
Cruising the first pitch
And the 3rd pitch
And the 3rd pitch

We topped out right around 3pm, and started making plans for a couple more sessions before the Yosemite trip.

Thanks for the panorama Joe!
Thanks for the panorama Joe!

Every day I work in the mountains is rewarding, but I’d be lying if some didn’t stand out as a bit more rewarding than others. Watching Oliver reconnect to something that has always been a part of his life since his college days was very special, and I’m really looking forward to our next day together, which happens to be next week!

Thanks for reading, and as always if you like to you can follow NEAlpineStart at the top right of the blog. I have a lot of gear reviews coming up this Fall, along with some great foliage climbing!

See you in the mountains!

-NEAlpineStart

AMC Teen Wild Adventure Camp and another Learn to Lead Day

Last week I got to spend 3 days with a great group of kids partaking in week long Teen Wilderness Adventure Summer Camp and finished my work week yesterday with a private Learn to Lead & Self-Rescue course with repeat client Spencer. First, some pics of these motivated kids:

T-shirt says it all!
T-shirt says it all!
Abby enjoying the classic "Chimney"
Abby enjoying the classic “Chimney”
Our group on pitch 4 of Beginner's Route
Our group on pitch 4 of Beginner’s Route
Kevin's group heading down Cormier-Magness route
Kevin’s group heading down Cormier-Magness route
Top of pitch 4 of Beginner's Route
Top of pitch 4 of Beginner’s Route
Abby on Kiddy Crack
Abby on Kiddy Crack

Yesterday I got to head back out with Spencer. I’d climbed quite a bit of ice with Spencer at Mt. Willard, Frankenstein, and Cathedral, but we hadn’t climbed any rock yet together. Spencer had started to lead climb and wanted to work on his trad skills. We had an info packed morning session at the scenic “classroom” ledge before climbing Upper Refuse, and setting up some mock leads at the North End to round out our day. Despite questionable weather forecasts it was a perfect day!

Spencer finishes up Upper Refuse
Spencer finishes up Upper Refuse

Congrats to Travis D. who won the gear giveaway contest from my last post. He’ll be the proud new owner of an excellent harness knife by Colonial Knives!

Stay tuned tomorrow for my review on the Petzl Cordex Belay Gloves!

PETZL Men's Cordex Belay Gloves
PETZL Men’s Cordex Belay Gloves

Thanks for reading! See you in the mountains!

-NEAlpineStart

Private Rock Climbing with Kat & Hardy (and Wilderness Navigation blurb)

I was fortunate to spend the July 4th holiday with yet another awesome couple. While Hardy has dragged Kat along on some long fly fishing trips this birthday present was all about Kat and reconnecting to her passion through a private rock climbing course. Given the expected crowds on a beautiful Saturday, July 4th, I decided to reverse the flow a bit and we started the day by rappelling down Barber Wall and climbing Upper Refuse first thing in the morning.

No question, she's having a good time!
No question, she’s having a good time!
Look at that face!
Look at that face!
This couple was so cute & supportive of each other through-out, it was really awesome hanging out with them for the day!
This couple was so cute & supportive of each other through-out, it was really awesome hanging out with them for the day!
Kat remembers how she used to coil rope
Kat remembers how she used to coil rope

After topping out to a very crowded vista we enjoyed a bit of lunch over on Airation Buttress. For the afternoon we headed over to Whitehorse Ledge. It was the first time I’ve seen the rockfall from this past Spring near the Dike Route, quite impressive!

Recent rockfall below the Dike Route
Recent rockfall below the Dike Route

Kat wanted to work on some gear placement skills so we set up shop on Beezlebub Corner. We did a couple of laps on that, one where Kat did a “mock” lead”.

Hardy liked climbs with big hand holds... if you got guns might as well use them!
Hardy liked climbs with big hand holds… if you got guns might as well use them!

Kat was also looking for a burn before wrapping up the day so I dropped a top-rope on the 5.10a test piece, Seventh Seal. With a tight belay and a few rests both made it up the route, a great ending to a full day!

Kat dancing up to Seventh Seal... having a past in competitive ballet definitely helps your climbing!
Kat dancing up to Seventh Seal… having a past in competitive ballet definitely helps your climbing!

The connection these two share was quite apparent through-out the day. Between “atta-boy’s” and “go get it’s” they had just the right amount of loving encouragement without living inside a Hallmark card. It was a real pleasure to climb with them both and if I’m right about Hardy, and I think I am, I’ll be seeing them both this upcoming winter for a spot of ice climbing. and maybe a Mount Washington climb!

Today also concluded another Wilderness Navigation Course. Emily & Al joined me for the day while we covered the in’s & out’s of survival navigation, map skills, compasses, and bushwhacking. A bushwhack up Hurricane Mountain and some compass work out on Black Cap… It was a good day to tramp about in the woods!

Our circuit
Our circuit

Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

-NEAlpineStart

Eastern Mountain Sports Wintergreen Backpack Review

EMS Wintergreen, Big Chief Mountain, Cascades, Washington
EMS Wintergreen, Big Chief Mountain, Cascades, Washington

When I first saw the new EMS Wintergreen Backpack I assumed it was designed specifically for back-country skiing given some of it’s features specific to the sport like a dedicated avalanche gear pocket and excellent ski/board carrying options. After teaching 2 avalanche courses with it and some field testing in the Cascades I have discovered it is truly more of a winter “jack of all trades” pack as EMS has referred to it.

Color: As I mentioned in my review of the EMS Prez Backpack color is important for winter use, and EMS did well with this bright red technical looking color. While the photo above from a couple weeks ago in the Cascades was about as nice weather as I have ever toured in I often find myself skiing in thick New England whiteout conditions, and visibility is key!

Features: I love the dedicated avalanche gear pocket that holds my shovel and probe, however I do have a preference for an externally accessible probe sleeve that doesn’t require accessing a zipper to gain access to. My previous back-country ski pack had a velcro sleeve along the side that made accessing my probe super convenient.

The insulated shoulder sleeve for a hydration system is a nice bonus for those who want to use bladders in the winter (I stick to water-bottles and thermos during mid-winter conditions). Glove friendly buckles throughout indicate this pack was definitely put together for cold weather use!

Fleece lined goggle pocket– This is a new luxury I look for in all my ski packs. Not only does it store my expensive goggles safely but they are super accessible so when it’s time to pull skins and shred the gnar I don’t spend any time looking for my goggles… or helmet because of a slick helmet carry system. This stow-able helmet carry system is great, though most trips I have found room in the pack for my helmet, on more involved trips it will be a great boon to be able to securely attach my helmet on the outside so easily.

Comfort: The compression molded back panel and shoulder straps are exactly what I look for in winter packs. Despite a stiff frame the pack moved well with me while dropping 40+ degree runs off of Cowboy Mountain in Washington State and was even more comfortable skinning up to Big Chief. The waist belt is nicely padded and comfortable and has one zippered pouch on the left hip (I would like it on both as that is where I stuff candy/energy gels for easy access).

Size: The size of this pack hints at it’s more general “Jack of All Trades” design. At 32 Liters (1950 cu. in) it is big enough for full day mountaineering trips, lightweight overnights, family snowshoeing, etc. For a dedicated back-country ski pack it’s a little on the big side. I would love to see a smaller and lighter version, maybe 26-28 liters and under 3lbs. This pack weights 3lbs 6oz, which is a bit heavy for a day pack.  It’s perfect for a day of ski guiding since I carry an extra layer, a bivy sack, sam splint, and group size first aid kit when guiding. It’s a bit large/heavy for a more relaxed day of touring side country.

Convenience: Side zipper access! A huge positive for me on top-loading packs, it was a surprise to find this on a panel loader that opens up as wide as this pack does. Regardless the addition of a side zipper that accesses the main compartment makes quick stops for water or warmer gloves a snap. On the other side of the pack there is a zippered side pocket that is a bit interesting. While the product description says it can hold a probe I could not find one that would fit in it. It does hold a thermos or water-bottle easily, or my climbing skins when I don’t want to put wet skins back into my pack, but to be honest since this is a panel loader I would scrap both the side zipper and zippered pocket which would probably get this pack below 3lbs.

Bottom line: This pack is great for winter hiking in the White Mountains, general mountaineering (not technical ice climbing), snowshoeing, and back country skiing. But remember “Jack of All Trades” is not King of any. I’d like to see this pack stay in the line as an winter excellent all-arounder, and see a more streamlined dedicated back-country ski/ride specific pack come out over the next year or two.