While I’m not super excited about how commercialized our holidays have become I do get stoked on seeing big discounts on gear that I own and love. I subscribe to quite a few gear companies emails and I’m combing them all for the best upcoming sales on specific items I have either reviewed or would love to own. I will also be specific on what the actual discount offered is! None of the “up to x percent off”… I hope you find this list more personal than your average marketing email, and if you have any questions about any of my suggested products please let me know in the comments!
Have a great Holiday tomorrow and be sure to #optoutside on Black Friday! I will be standing by REI’s great initiative on Friday and am pledging to myself and family that I will be 100% “radio” silent (and outdoors). I will continue this with Part 2 and be sharing deals I find around Cyber Monday and Tech Tuesday so stay tuned and…
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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The official start to winter may be over a month away but for many of us in the Northeast the proverbial snowball is rolling now! This past weekend is when I flip the switch from Fall rock climbing to thinking a lot about snow and ice starting with attending the 7th annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop (ESAW) this past weekend.
Word among the climbers in the crowd was how the Black Dike saw its first ascent of the season today by the insatiable Zac St. Jules and team.
On Saturday over 150 attended this gathering of avalanche professionals, educators, and recreationalists to learn more about managing risk in our beloved mountain ranges. All of the speakers gave great presentations and I’ll link Jonathan Shefftz’s detailed write-up for The Avalanche Review as soon as it is out of draft! After a solid day of presentations we continued to chat all things snow while mingling with the dozen vendor booths that help support ESAW’s mission.
While this was going on my Instagram feed showed me Fafnir, the Black Dike’s more burly neighbor went down to a couple of local climbers.
I also saw that Zac did not need a rest day after the Black Dike for he and three others including my friend Dave Dillon of Chase The Summit, bagged the first ascent of Pinnacle braving some really burly cold conditions during a 4 AM start! Both the Black Dike and Fafnir got subsequent ascents and I made plans to head up to Pinnacle early the next morning to attempt the second ascent of Pinnacle.
Assuming the cat was out of the bag we met at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center at 5:30 AM hoping to get a jump on other early season ice addicts. My friend Mike Leathum and Andrew Maver, both of IMCS, were all ready to hit the trail with Pinnacle as the objective but since we were a party of three we would probably not catch them since we were still in the gear organizing stage. We hit the trail by headlamp at about 5:45 and reached the base of Pinnacle right at 8 AM. Mike and Andrew had decided to head over to a tasty looking North Gully so we roped up and started up Pinnacle.
I lead in “parallel” and Benny² simul-ed with me a bit to reach the pin anchor. The ice was great and easily took 13 CM screws when needed.
I ran the second pitch together with the third and was soon sticking somewhat frozen turf shots as I pulled out onto the top of the buttress. By 10:10 AM we were all on top enjoying some sun and grub. I watched some other climbers start up Yale Gully and would only discover while writing this post (thanks Facebook) that they were my friends Joe Cormier and Andrew Blease! I also noticed Mike and Andrew had finished North Gully and were likely already heading across the Alpine Gardens.
We packed up and headed up, over, and down Lion’s Head Summer Route but first took a look into Tuckerman Ravine. Left of Left Gully looked good and there was ice all over the Headwall. We saw some climbers heading into the floor of the Ravine that were likely our fellow Northeast Mountaineering Guide Matty Bowman and Mike Pelchat who would climb the aesthetic “Open Book”.
Other reports of climbing from over in Vermont and the Adirondacks also appeared on NEIce and with no real warm temps in the next 10 days I’d say we are off to an EXCELLENT start! No doubt Dracula and Willard will see ascents by next weekend (or sooner?). Shoestring Gully is likely to get done this week. It’s time folks! Get your gear together and get out there!!!
Ice season is coming and while it is taking a little longer to get here than last year that gives you a little more time to get your kit together! Here’s some content I’ve previously posted to help you do just that!
I’m predicting we hear about something being climbing this weekend… it will be barely climbable, but will signal the start of the ice season. For us mortals the ice will be reasonable in 2-3 weeks, plenty of time to have your kit together!
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.
This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to introduce four guests of Northeast Mountaineering to the joys of ice climbing. The North End of Cathedral is in great shape for early season climbing and we had a full day climbing on the North End Slab and the Pillars.
Yesterday I got out to Frankenstein for the first time this season and enjoyed an excellent condition Pegasus Rock Finish.
This is quickly shaping up to be one of the best ice climbing seasons in recent memory. If you’d like to book a lesson with me let me know, I still have some mid-week dates available.
Shopping for a high end mountaineering boot is stressful. Climbers will pour over online reviews, solicit advice from guides, climbing partners, shop employees, and so on. No doubt about it pulling the trigger on a $500+ purchase while imagining black toes, blisters, or cold feet can feel as sketchy as running out 50 feet of verglas with no protection. While there is some truth to the saying “If the shoe fits” the unfortunate reality is few climbing shops will stock the high end models, and special orders may seem risky with various return policies and shipping costs. What is a prospective buyer to do? Read, read, then read some more. To that end I’ll add the following personal opinions to the plethora of positive reviews already out on the interwebs.
But first, context. It would be good to know what similar products the reviewer has experience with if in order to validate their opinion. These are the boots I have climbed in extensively over the last 16 years, both leading ice climbs up to Grade 5 in difficulty and countless mountaineering trips up Mount Washington.
Koflach Verticals (discontinued)
Scarpa Mont Blanc Mountaineering Boots
Of these the Cholatse’s have a special place in my gear room as I am on my 2nd pair and are worthy of their own review. Long story short they are a tad lighter than the Batura’s but can not compete with the warmth of the Batura’s. It’s not a fair comparison though as the Cholatse’s do not have the built in super gaiter. I’ll get into more detail on the Cholatse’s in another review. Let’s focus on the guest of honor.
Is it a single boot with a gaiter? A synthetic hybrid? A double boot? What exactly are we looking at here?
The President of La Sportiva NA, Jonathon Lantz, calls it a true “1.5 boot”. Half way between the best single boot and the best double boot for warmth. An accurate description would be a technologically advanced single leather/synthetic hybrid with a built in super gaiter. Quite a mouthful, but there really is quite a bit of technology put into this boot! Before we dive into that though let’s look at fit:
I am a very standard US Men’s Size 9 with a noticeable “Morton’s Toe”. The European size 42 fits me perfectly, as it has in the Asolo’s & Koflachs I have also worn. When comparing them to the Asolo Cholatse’s there is a slightly noticeable narrower feel to them. While my feet are medium width they are definitely not to snug for me but wider feet might have an issue with these. Narrower feet will really like the lacing system I am about to mention but low volume feet should consider swapping the factory insole out for a thicker insole like my well loved Superfeet REDHots.
Tucked underneath the velcro protected waterproof zipper is the boots lacing system. What sets this apart for other lacing systems is the integrated ratchet system just over the top of your foot. This ratchet system lets you get a snug lace which really holds the foot in place in the boot, critical for preventing toe bash on long descents and while repeated kicking into hard waterfall ice.
La Sportiva has essentially matched the bombproof waterproofness of a plastic boot but kept the boot breathable and much lighter. How? Two layers of Goretex. One within the boot itself, and another within the attached “super gaiter”. This technology was tested on one particularly drenching descent off Mount Washington this winter with 8+ inches of slush on the trail. I was not expecting my feet to stay dry given the conditions and felt a bit guilty when back at the shop my clients were wringing out their socks (they all wore plastic boots, so I’m thinking they must have stepped in a deeper flow at one or three of the waterbars that cross the trail).
I’ll need to confess a bit before I start talking about warmth. I have very warm feet. Fellow search & rescue members have raised eyebrows in the past when I’ve turned out with my Asolo Cholatse’s on, and while they have kept me warm while staying on the move in -20f temps with wind chills around -50f I have become more cautious about what I select for these missions that may involve a overnight bivouac with a patient. To that end if the mercury is down I’ll be in my Batura’s. Here’s why. The boot uses “Gore-Tex Insulated Comfort Technology“. While La Sportiva/Goretex doesn’t go into much detail about this technology there is noticeably more insulation in the boot than my 200gr Thinsulate Cholatse’s. The doubling up on the Goretex linings undoubtedly adds warmth while maintaining a small amount of true breath-ablility. The super-gaiter definitely adds a lot of warmth and I’m really a fan of having laces that never freeze (because they are 100% enclosed in the super-gaiter).
Coldest temps I’ve tested these: -27f ambient air temps with wind chills -50f to -60f. Feet were toasty while moving but I wouldn’t want to stand around for a hour. My sock of choice is the Smartwool Mountaineer Socks.
Were they as warm as my experiences with double plastic boots? Quite close really. The real difference here is the lack of a removable lining. This has implications for multi-day expeditions. A 5 day trip to Katahdin? No problem. A month long trip in Alaska? I might miss having a remove-able liner and would probably take a very close look at the La Sportiva Spantiks. As for day trip convenience if you don’t have one already pick up a decent boot dryer. I’m able to dry mine out daily during the busiest part of the guiding season and the drier really cuts down on any potential foot odor.
So how do they feel? Over the last two winters I have worn them up & down Mount Washington about 12 times, and ice climbed 30+ days in them. My feet were quite happy at the end of every day, which is saying something considering our low snow year has not given us the smooth sailing trail conditions we are used to. Mile after mile of uneven rocky scrambling, often with micro-spikes on to contend with acres of water ice covering trails most the season, and never a sore foot. While ice climbing the stiff carbon insole provides a stable platform while front pointing and the flexible uppers make flat footing super casual.
For mountaineering days I paired them with my older style Petzl Vasak crampons. They fit perfectly and the combo made for a very light boot/crampon match. For ice climbing I spent this season in the Black Diamond Cyborg crampons, again, a perfect fit.
If you’ve read all this, or read any of the other reviews around the web, you’ve probably heard enough by now. They are one of the best single boot for ice climbing/mountaineering in the lower 48! They score high across the board and if you can find a shop that stocks them take a few minutes to slip a pair on. You can also order them from Amazon here!
Contest/Giveaway: Edit 5/1/16 (CONGRATS TO WINNER TODD R!)
It’s been far to long since I’ve offered up some tasty shwag to my readers so today I’m offering up something that any outdoors person should be psyched to get. A VSSL Supplies Kit, worth $109.99! You can read my review of this clever product here. Simple to enter, just comment below on what your favorite boots are. Hiking, climbing, skiing, it doesn’t matter. Just keep it about footwear and you’re entered! All commentators will be entered into a climbing helmet and the winner will be drawn and announced on 5/1/2016. I think we’ll have a video clip of the drawing as Alex is pretty pumped about being the lottery official.
You can now follow North East Alpine Start on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as signing up for email notifications at the “Follow” link at the very top tight of this page.
See you in the mountains,
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which help to fund this website.
Yesterday Charlene, David, and Sam returned for an Ice Climbing 201 Course. A few weeks ago they went through our Winter Climbing 101 course and I posted that trip report here. With the basics out of the way we made our way to the famous Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch.
After practicing some self arrest we roped up and made our way up the right hand side for 3 full pitches of snow & ice climbing.
I’m looking forward to my next day with these three in late March when we make an attempt on Mount Washington. David’s heading back to Rainier in August and I can’t wait to hear about his trip!
Today I had a day off, so long time friend and climbing partner Tom C., store manager for EMS Nashua, met me for a day of cragging at Frankenstein. We headed toward Standard Route.
My first time on Penguin this year and the crux is definitely the first steep bit. A little brittle and awkward but once you reach the upper pillar the climbing is fantastic. Plastic fresh ice and bomber gear brings you to the top.
We headed down the descent trail, which is in the most technical conditions I have ever seen it. No snow in the gully makes the “gully proper” look like a valid grade 2 ice climb in its own right. I think the easiest down climb leaves the ridge a bit early rather than working down to the weird step down with great dry tool placements. YMMV.
We moved over to Dracula which had a party finishing the left side and a strong climber firing a steep line far right while a photographer on rappel snapped away. Once the left side was clear we cruised a very fun line in less than 20 minutes.
I lowered Tom and dropped the rope for him to coil while I hustled back down the descent gully. We considered hitting Pegasus Rock Finish on our hike out but our growling stomachs beat our motivation and we retired to the brewpub after a quick drive through the notch to check on other route conditions.
The ice is in fantastic shape right now, except for those south facing routes (Bob’s Delight is DONE)…. warmer temps bring softer (aka easier) ice climbing conditions, but keep your wits about you on anything getting baked above you.