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.

 

 

 

Anorak

I’ve been without a lightweight rain shell for a while now.  I had a zipper fail on a Sierra Designs’ Hurricane rain shell and I sent it back to them for replacement; unfortunately I had the replacement mailed to Z’s office and they sent me a women’s size medium in return; she brought it to Asia with her. In Alaska I wore my EMS Orion, which is warm and keeps me reasonably dry, but it’s much too heavy for Spring and Summer, though it’s proven to be a good cold weather shell.

In my search for a new lightweight shell the Patagonia Specter keeps popping up.  As it turns out, Patagonia stopped making the Specter Pullover a couple of years ago. Their current offerings include some new higher price point alpine shells and the lower price point Torrentshell Pullover, but sadly they have yet to replicate the 6oz. Specter. The North Face sells the Triumph Anorak as part of their Summit Series which is quite similar and Marmot sells the Essence jacket, both in the sub 8oz. category.  And I do really love the Houdini, but what we are talking about here is a waterproof shell that weighs marginally more than the 4oz. Houdini.  The Houdini is an excellent wind shirt, but not a rain jacket, as was proven recently in the Delaware Water Gap during a downpour.

Kelly Cordes has a good in-depth post talking about waterproof breathable materials and shell construction. And a little searching will reveal users’ preferences on the Backpacking Light forums.  I’m in no rush to get another jacket and as long as it’s 90 degrees outside I don’t care if I get wet.

Patagonia Spectre Pullover

Patagonia Specter Pullover with optional kangaroo pocket!

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.

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.







Epic Fender Installation

Bought some VO 48mm fluted al-oo-min-ee-um fenders when they were on sale for like 40% off and I finally installed them yesterday. Mind you, this is all part of a larger effort to scale the Gitane into the best city bike it can be, namely a 6 speed with fenders. I think that’s about as far as I can take it. In its current fixed gear configuration it has lasted an astounding 6 years or so and has traveled with me to several large East Coast cities (is it Germanic in nature that we capitalize this?). And now I think it’s finally time to put gears back.

I believe the ~1972 white “Tour de France” Professional model came with 5 speeds, probably of the Maillard or Normandy freewheel variety (I know this wasn’t the higher end model with Campagnolo equipment or dropouts, Simplex all the way). I’ve already re-tapped the rear derailleur hanger for a modern threaded derailleur and used a rotary cutting tool (yes, VO fenders, it was for you) and notched it for the “B-Screw” that non-Simplex derailleurs of a modern sort now have. I even installed a rear rack that I’ll likely have to give back to a friend who is moving back East this summer (see, I capitalized East there because it’s in reference to ‘East Coast”, which may or may not be consistently capitalized).

So yeah, a single Suntour ‘retro-friction’ bar-end shifter will faithfully deploy the Shimano 600 rear derailleur across an equally old but unused 6 speed Shimano freewheel. Hopefully, I can stretch the rear dropouts enough (and dish the wheel) to get the whole system to work miteinander. I’m looking forward to shifting those Suntours.

As a non-sequitur: HMS refers to both a style of locking carabiner and the Münter hitch belay. HMS literally means Halbmastwurf-Sicherung or ‘half clove hitch belay‘, where ‘mastwurf’ is German for ‘clove hitch’ and you securely belay your partner using half a clove hitch & rope friction. The terms ‘Münter hitch’ and ‘Italian hitch’ can be used interchangeably. Or you may find yourself using a friction belay device of some modern variety.

Velo Orange 48mm Fluted Aluminum Fenders

Velo Orange 48mm Fluted Aluminum Fenders

DMM Sentinel HMS Carabiner

DMM Sentinel HMS Carabiner

Perfect pour, bicycle poetry, wide boots & other inanities

Ask and you shall receive, the “perfect pour”:

A bicycle wheel zoetrope animated film via Velocanoose entitled “The Cyclotrope” as created by Tim Wheatley of Falmouth Cornwall, UK:

The Cyclotrope from tim Wheatley on Vimeo.

On a side note, the track Tim uses is from a follow up to one of the few CD’s I felt immediately compelled to go out and purchase, that is Konono N°1’s “Congotronics” which is amazing. Anyhow, the track he used is from one of the follow up albums, “Tradi-Mods vs Rockers – Alternative Takes on Congotronics”.

Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers

Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers

And, on the brightest note of all, I found double plastic high altitude mountaineering boots that fit EE to EEEE wide feet. The Koflach Arctis Expe model (eg. the Arctic Expedition), they stopped making these for a couple of years while the company was restructuring but now Scarpa appears to be selling them. I tried on just about every boot I could get a hold of and these fit the best & I paid well below retail for a nearly unused pair:
Koflach "Arctis Expe" Double Mountaineering Boot

California Plate Tectonics

Day 0: Arrive SFO. C and I drink some beers with E overlooking the city, go pickup M, drop off E, go to bed.

Day 1: Wake up, it’s sunny in West Berkeley, get an espresso at Cafe Trieste, hike 8 miles with M on Sea View and Quarry trails in Tilden Regional Park. Call GTO. Run with GTO and his roommate up Strawberry Canyon trail up to MSRI, sunset over the bay, dusky redwood single track.  Roasted root vegetables.

Day 2: Wake up, sunny again, get an espresso at Trieste, M takes bus to the city. Run with GTO down past Berkeley Marina, past Golden Fields, out to the East Shore State Park with cool sculptures by the water, loop back via Cesar Chavez State Park. Dinner and drinks with E in the Mission. M doesn’t like Pirates, who does? He enjoys the ambiance of Latin American Club.

Day 3: Drive to Sugarloaf Ridge SP in Sonoma and hike for a few hours. Drive to Napa.  Buy a boat, I dare you.  Burgers & a bottle of Malbec at Gott’s Roadside. Ritual espresso from Oxbow Market  & a nice hand pour over Costa Rican single origin for M.

Day 4: Hike up to the Eucalyptus grove over the dirt track on Dwight with R&M.  Swung from the rope swing, hiked up then down from the insane house at the top overlooking Berkeley & the bay.  Colin Farrell is Crocket, living the dream.

Day 5: Pt. Reyes National Park with friends. Nice 10 mile hike down to the cliffs and shore overlooking the lighthouse. Drove to Marshall, drank Lagunitas, ate oysters, watched sunset. Land of milk and honey.

Day 6: Run with GTO on a nice big loop up Dwight up and over back below Sea View in Tilden, down Quarry, and back around. About a two hour run.  G Bombed down trails at the end onto the Berkeley dirt track. Vietnamese dinner with E; last night in SF.

Day 7: Fly to SD. Climb with L&B at a giant new gym.

Day 8: Hike Mt. Baldy via the “Baldy Bowl” (elev. 10,064′), about 8.4 miles roundtrip, about 3,900′ gain most of it in the last mile up the bowl. Crampons and ice piolets recommended and used. Took a bit more than 4 hours car to car.

Day 9: Run along coast south through La Jolla down to Wind & Sea beaches and back, about an hour. Drive to Joshua Tree & camp under a full moon; hear coyotes yipping.

Day 10: Start day climbing by 07:30 at Hemingway Buttress (east face, right) B leads a hard 5.9 to warm up (‘For Whom the Poodle Tolls’) & then ‘Head Over Heals’. I pull the bolt, sadly no heel hook for me.  Go to Lost Horse and climb three pitch ‘Bird on a Wire’. Walked to Jimmy Cliff & climb “The Harder They Fall”, easy 10a, then B solos the ‘Aiguille de Joshua Tree’.

Day 11: It rains in Southern California. Drive to Mammoth.  It’s snowing in Mammoth.

Day 12: Snowshoed big loop around Mammoth Nordic Trails, Inyo Forest welcome center. Deep powder. About 7-8 miles total.

Day 13: Drive to Lee Vining. Deep powder still being plowed, we have one pair of snowshoes &  poles for 4 people. Hike into Power Plant takes an hour. Hike to ice climbing takes another two hours. Ice climb on far right flow, traverse left above & top rope some WI 3 routes on the Chouinard Wall. Hike back. XL pizza in Bishop. Long drive back to SD.

Day 14: Run from Glider Port down Black’s Beach (aka Naked Man Beach), past Torrey Pines, back up through the preserve, down to the beach, back up final cliff staircase up to the Glider Port. Met with K, discussed logistics.

Day 15: Surf in LJ. Get up on small waves with a nice longboard.  The water is cold.  Climbing gym again in the evening.  Flight back east.