Alone, Not Alone

I gave a 25 minute slideshow about my Alaska trip to some middle schoolers out towards the suburbs.  I think it went well. I believe I told my story okay.

A colleague started the first half of the presentation describing the myriad types of climbing. I provided the ‘alpine mountaineering’ aspect in context of my trip in June 2011 to Denali. The students are reading a novel this Summer about a young mountaineer and his travails.

What stuck with me from my walk down the upper glacier from the camp at 14k feet was this feeling of ‘alone/not aloneness’. Going downhill is always relatively easy, finding comfort in a cold uncaring universe is certainly more challenging.

I was in a white-out cloud and the snow was deep, there were bamboo wands every hundred feet or so, I didn’t have a tent. Looking back I could see my tracks. Looking forward there was whiteness. I followed the wands. I found an old camp at 9,8k or so a few miles later. Ski tracks emerged. The crevasses began to show themselves more frequently. I spotted a camp on the lower glacier by the North East Fork. I had to jump a couple of questionable snow bridges. I saw a red tent, and another, they were speaking Spanish. By the red tent there were skis. I was on snowshoes. I would wait for the Tennesseeans. Eventually they’d be here. I would join their rope and cross the lower glacier before dawn.

A Bigger Cloud

Take Care, Ben

Ben Horne and Gil Weiss died while climbing in Peru this past week.  Ben was a good friend.  We grew up in Virginia running cross country together.  One year ago June he allowed me to tag along with he and Konstantin to attempt the West Rib of Denali in Alaska.  I was outclassed by him. He was fitter, and eminently ready to tackle just about any Alaskan peak.  It is immensely sad that he and Gil perished as they did, young, with so much ahead of them.  But knowing Ben, he lived for the mountains, and  I can only wish the both of them peace.

Ben at Lee Vining

Fathers and Sons

I was having a hard time finding a video from the Fathers and Sons Wall on Denali, and then I realized it was because the blog post I’d read (and subsequent video) was actually an ascent by Raphael Slawinski & Joshua Lavigne of ‘Common Knowledge’ (V, WI 6R) on the Washburn Face, across from Motorcycle Hill.

At any rate, it’s a good write up of their climb (here) and there is a nice photo of the Fathers and Sons Wall (here).

And I did find a couple of compete writeups from Alpine Journals by Ian Parnell (here) and a shorter writeup (here).

And the Z.IPA got bottled last night.  So that’s good.

 

Mountaineering Boot Sizing

I don’t think I have such incredibly abnormal feet, 10.5 EE US (“high volume”, “high arch”, “wide”), but as it turns out sizing mountaineering boots is a giant pain. Period.  Perhaps mostly because I don’t live in Colorado or Chamonix, but also because it’s difficult to find all the boots you want to try on in any one place, and except for out West, good custom boot fitters are hard to find.

I spent most of last year regretting not buying a pair of used Scarpa Invernos on sale from Whittaker Mountaineering. I figured size 10 UK boots with an Intuition “Thermofit” style liner would probably have fit fine.  I’ll never know.  I tried on pair of the Scarpa Omegas and they were far too narrow in the mid-foot. A local EMS had a single pair of 11 US Invernos with the non-thermo (“low altitude” cordura / open cell foam) liner, again they seemed a bit narrow but potentially with molded Intuition liners they would’ve been fine.

I borrowed a pair of older Koflach Degres (10 UK) all winter for ice climbing here in the Mid-Atlantic and for a Lee Vining trip, but the old liners were quite packed-in and they never seemed wide enough, plenty of toe room though.  I “vacationed” to a mountaineering shop in Keene Valley, NY and tried on both the La Sportiva Baruntse and Spantiks.  I think the size 45.5 EU Spantik was pretty close, but it’s hard to say, apparently thermo-molding the Spantik liner is a bit tricky, whereas the Baruntse’s Palau liner is apparently much easier to mold.  Dane Burns on his Cold Thistle blog has many more in-depth reviews (of boots, tools, apparel, climbing lore, etc) and has many more thoughts and years experience than I could hope to ever have on the subject.

The Baruntes were too narrow. I wore the Spantiks for a couple of days around the house before ultimately finding a pair of barely used Koflach Arctis Expes (11 EU) for 1/5th of the price, that felt incredibly good; wide, wooly, and wonderful on my feet.  In Alaska above 14k I paired them with the Forty Below K2 Neoprene Overboots and my feet were warm.  The boots were definitely too big though, probably almost a whole size and a half. But again, my toes were warm, so it’s probably better to err on that side of things.  It was a heavy combo, and didn’t leave a lot of feel for technical climbing.

Which brings me to the present.

What is a good 4 season’ish “all mountain” single boot here? I’ve been checking out the Scarpa Mont Blanc GTX.  It does indeed have a wide “high volume” fit.  And it doesn’t come in UK (sometimes labeled EU on double plastic boots) sizing, which is nice, as I’ve already established a pretty solid baseline of size 45.5 in most truly European sized mountaineering boots.  The tall lacing and narrow heel seems to lock down nicely, which is good.  So far I’ve been using the green Superfeet and they don’t feel like they’re reducing volume too much.

I’ve tried on the Scarpa Jorasses Pro GTX (45 EU), which ostensibly is a slightly stiffer lighter “more technical” synthetic boot similar to the Mont Blanc GTX (lineage is the ice climbing Scarpa Freney XT GTX).  All I can say is that in size 45 the Jorasses Pro GTX were quite a bit shorter (not narrower) and I could not really tell the difference in stiffness without climbing in them outside, but it is immediately apparent that the Mont Blanc GTX is a warmer boot meant for snowier climes.  And I trust in the durability of leather over synthetics in the long term usage of a mountain boot.  I realize this isn’t a pure ice climbing Winter boot here, but that wasn’t really what I was in the market for.

So that’s where I’m at right now.  Waiting for the ice & snow to come in.

Scarpa Mont Blanc GTX
Scarpa Mont Blanc GTX

 

 

Warm Socks

I spent a lot of time last year thinking about mountaineering boots and socks.  What I’ve decided (as far as socks) is that a mostly wool (say greater than 50%) acrylic blend is warmest for me.  This isn’t anything ground breaking.  What is funny though is that you can pay a lot or a little and it doesn’t seem to necessarily change how warm a sock will be.

I bought some relatively thin 45% Merino wool blends for about $4 a pair from an Eddie Bauer Outlet. These socks tend to be twice the thickness of a thin synthetic liner sock but offer significantly more warmth for little additional weight.  Similarly the standard Smartwool men’s hiking midweight crew is a great value and offers less bulk than a full on winter mountaineering sock, even when layered with a liner.

A surprising find was  a pair of North Face ‘Multisport’ quarter height wool blend training socks.  They look quite similar to the EB First Ascent ‘Mountain Training Sock’ and offerings by Darn Tough VT or Icebreaker, and have been my go to sock for running on cold wet snowy days.  Perhaps not quite as surprising, but the socks that were the overall winners for Alaska & winter in general, were the Patagonia Ultra Heavyweight Mountaineering Socks.  They are indeed what they claim to be.  Ben even wore my backup pair after summiting Denali on day four.

As far as the Thorlo & Smartwool ‘mountaineering socks’ I found the over calf length a bit too long compared to Patagonia.  I think they’re both quite warm, with a slight nod to the Thorlo in terms of warmth, but ultimately they were both too bulky and the fit wasn’t as good as Patagonia’s heavyweight wool mountaineer.  YMMV.

As far as liners, I found little variation, but did notice that at higher altitudes I had to make sure there wasn’t any constriction from the top elastic band.  Initially I thought tall knee height ski liners were the best option, keeping my legs warmer, but then I realized they tended to squeeze my calves causing painful constrictive brusing, so I stuck with the standard height Patagonia lightweight synthetic hiking liner socks and had no problems.  If you do have tall ski boots you’ll obviously need taller socks, just be mindful of swelling especially while sleeping in the cold at night.

This mini review is just my personal take on it. I bought all these socks out of pocket with my own funds and now I own two drawerfuls of socks.

 

 

 

All safe

Heard from L that B&K are safe save some cold toes. Will post some of my photos of Alaska to Flickr probably today.

Went running with M yesterday on the river and up the hill on my 1200m repeat loop. It’ll be nice to become a runner again. I suppose that’s the constant in this life, being reborn by trials of fire, or in my case pedestrianism.

My best to Evan on his XC two wheeled journey, I hope the weather stays clear and that it’s all downhill from Wyoming.

Humpy’s

At Humpy’s Alehouse. Waiting for a flight home. Not sure what to make of the Kenai River Arctic XPA. Definitely golden blonde in color but hoppy and alcoholic in its tone.

Probably should’ve started with the Midnight Sun Goldstrike Kölsch. Neither a lager or an ale. I’ll have to look up XPA as a style, they say “American Pale Ale”. I taste a lot of citrus, pine, and a certain dry hoppiness.

Looking forward to coming home.

Alive in Alaska

So the good news is that I’m alive in Alaska in Talkeetna. I arrived via single prop Beaver bush plane this afternoon after a long night slogging across a thankfully frozen glacier with some Tennessean compatriots I met at camp 11k as I was hiking down.

Sadly, I have some sort of Bronchitis, which is what brought me back down here to near sea level. Ben and Koysta still hope to finish at least the Upper West Rib, hopefully sooner than later, though Ben has already soloed the West Buttress.

It is warm and green here which is a nice change of pace compared to burning glacier sun, hot/cold & snowing, & sometimes incredibly cold. Hopefully I’ll spend a couple of days here to recover from the grippe and be on my way back East, as I do miss my family and friends.

Ready Set Go

Getting ready for the trip to Alaska. We spent two nights on the summit of Mt. Whitney in the little stone hut. It wasn’t too cold. The second night I felt a bit better with the altitude with some hot ramen noodles.  The Koflach Arctis Expe boots will have to do.  My VBL socks should work, my mittens are solid.  I may need a new pair of glove liners, which I probably should’ve bought in Colorado.