Archive for the ‘Gear’ Category

How to Succeed on Winter Alpine Routes

Some thoughts on success factors when climbing alpine routes in winter…

Stuart Taylor approaching the summit of Mount Index.Know the approach and descent. With short days you may  have to get to the base of the route in the dark or descend after sunset. Knowing where you’re going will be a bit help. Check it out beforehand, perhaps on a poor weather weekend.

Rehearse the climb. If you’re trying do a winter ascent of a line that climbs a summer route then climb the route in summer at least once. Getting off route in winter will waste time and saps your momentum. I’ve failed more than once after a slowing of upward movement turned into full blown retreat.

Watch the weather. In the Cascades at least weather is everything. Follow the weather forecast and read trip reports to keep up with conditions even if you can’t get out in the hills to check them out for yourself.

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Review: Trango Piranha Alpine Knife

The Piranha Alpine Knife. I actually found a Piranha Alpine Knife while climbing the Kain route on Bugaboo Spire and ended up using it for the rest of the trip. Previously I’d used a very small Gerber knife with a 2.5″ locking blade. The Trango is nicely designed and very small. The blade had an ingenious mechanism to lock it when open and relies on the biner to prevent accidental opening. It also includes a bottle opener. After some use I concluded that the knife’s small size doesn’t actually count in it’s favor.

The knife on my harness gets used for all sorts of things from cutting ropes to slicing cheese. The Piranha’s blade is actually very short, fine for cutting rap anchors but not much use for anything else. While you can open it one handed the knife’s very small size make this hard to do, especially with gloves on. I certainly wouldn’t want to be building anchors with this while retreating off a winter route.

My previous knife.My real problem with the Piranha is that you have to take it off the biner in order to use it. The knife is designed to be stored on a biner and this keeps the blade locked closed. This means you can end up dropping it, especially if you’re wearing thick gloves. My old knife could be used while still safely clipped to a sling so there’s no chance a dropping it while setting anchors.

If all you do is cragging and want a knife on your rack then the Piranha might fit the bill but for more serious use on large alpine routes and multi day trips I’m sticking with my existing setup. As for the bottle opener, I’ve never met a bottle I couldn’t open somehow.

Loosing weight for alpine routes

There are several of ways to do this…

  1. Train right
  2. Watch what you eat
  3. Take only the gear your really need on a route
  4. Take the lightest gear you can afford

What’s a real shame is most people seem to want to buy more lightweight “stuff” rather than work at what they have. A shiny new $150 climbing harness or a month of CrossFit?

Colin Haley’s article on equipment for alpine climbing is well worth a read however. Colin really knows what he’s talking about. Check it out.

MSR Reactor vs. Jetboil vs. XGK-EX

Is it me or is the MSR Reactor actually no lighter than an XGK-EX? I did the math and got the scales out and it sure seems that way to me. I’ll be posting more on this later.

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Winter is here…

Winter in the Pacific Northwest is finally here. It’s dark by 4pm and rains all the time and more importantly I’ve already had the chance to get out and completely fail on something. Conditions on New York Gully just weren’t happening last weekend.

I’ve been contemplating a new canister stove an reviewing the alternatives; JetBoil Vs. MSR Reactor. Here are some reviews I found useful.

If/when I get one I’ll be taking it out to play this winter and writing about it.

Review: Black Diamond Firstlight tent

The Firstlight in action in PeruI bought a Black Diamond Firstlight tent for my Peru trip. We ended up using it for all our overnight ventures, logging about ten nights in it. Previously I’ve also used a friend’s Firstlight for weekends in the North Cascades in both summer and winter. I thought it would be worth writing a brief review of it here.

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Good glass

A while back I got myself a Nikon D40. After my trip to Peru decided that a better, longer lens was in order. The stock lens that came with the D40 is an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 which is great but noticeably not up to the task of shooting candid street shots or wide angle landscapes. I’m not a fan of carrying multiple lenses while hiking or climbing and having to change them in awkward situations so I really wanted a single lens for all occasions – a “superzoom”. Continue reading »


So I’m lucky enough to have several climbing partners who snore more than I do. Loudly. Like sleeping next to a three hundred pound pig with a chronic case of congestion. It gets old really fast – trust me.

The obvious answer is earplugs but given my track record with alpine starts I like to use a watch alarm to give me a better chance of getting an early start. Earplugs, alarm. Not a winning combination.

But I think I might have a solution… It got me thinking what would I do if I was deaf and needed an alarm? Turns out that you can get a watch with a vibrating alarm. There are several specifically for the hearing impared. Casio also makes one for hunters.

I’m taking this to Peru so we’ll know if it works in a week or two.


A long, long while ago I bought a Canon AE-1. It was build like a brick and survived trips to the Arctic, Himalaya and Andes. A year or two back it died and simply wasn’t worth fixing so it took residence on a shelf while I waited for the price of Digital SLRs to drop to something reasonable.

I recently replaced my 35mm Olympus Stylus Epic with a Canon A630. This is a bit bulkier than I’d like but at least it runs on AAs which for me is a lot more convenient. I’ve gotten some good pictures out of it so far but this winter’s weather has prevented a lot of mileage.

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Review: Patagonia DAS Parker and Micro Puff Jacket

A cold summit in the Yukon with my Micro Puff JacketSo I own both these jackets. The DAS I mainly use for belaying while ice climbing as it’s really too bulky and heavy for all but the coldest alpine trips. The Puff Jacket is usually what I usually take on alpine climbs. I’m talking about them both here as I really think of Puff as the DAS’ little lightweight brother.

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