Vintage Gear

I love old gear.  I collect old gear catalogs (some scans from my collection here.)  Even though modern clothing and equipment is (usually) better than old school stuff, there is an undeniable satisfaction in using a piece of gear of clothing that has been around the block and proven itself over the years.

There’s some vintage gear you couldn’t pay me to use (old ice screws, for example.)  However, even though I generally am one of the first people to run out and buy the latest and greatest stuff, there are some pieces of gear that I’m still using that’s many years (sometimes decades) old.

Here’s some examples of vintage gear that’s still getting use:

Karrimor:  It’s no secret I’m a big fan of vintage Karrimor rucksacks.  I have a web page devoted to vintage Karrimor packs here.  My Karrimor packs are no longer my first choice for long alpine routes, but they are my go-to cragging packs.

Two generations of Karrimor Alpiniste backpacks, and two generations of climbers

Two generations of Karrimor Alpiniste backpacks, and two generations of climbers.  The Pink Alpiniste is older than the climber carrying it.

Chouinard Equipment:

When I started climbing, Chouinard Equipment was the premier mountaineering company.
Although my old Chouinard hexes have been replaced with cams, and my Chouinard X-Tools have been replaced by new leashless tools, there are a few pieces of Chouinard gear that I’ve held on to and still use.

Chouinard Hawaii 5.10 shirt

The Chouinard Hawaii 5.10 shirt is an awesome Hawaiian shirt with a climbing gear theme.  I’ve seen them go on Ebay for over $400, but I’m not even tempted to sell it.  Here it is, keeping me cool in the Utah desert near Indian Creek.

This Chouinard Expedition Sewing Kit holds needles, thread, sewing awl for sewing heavy pack fabrics, repair tape, and other necessities.

This Chouinard Expedition Sewing Kit holds needles, thread, sewing awl for sewing heavy pack fabrics, repair tape, and other necessities.

Cotton interior.  Nylon exterior.  Tough Comfortable.  Chouinard Rock Bottoms climbing pants

Cotton interior. Nylon exterior. Tough. Comfortable. Chouinard Rock Bottoms climbing pants.  Still cragging.

Chouinard Rock Bottoms pants in action

Chouinard Rock Bottoms pants in action

Lowe, Latok, and Cloudwalker:

Jeff Lowe has been one of the most prolific innovators in climbing equipment and clothing.  Although I’m not going to go back to using Snargs instead of modern ice screws, there’s still some Lowe gear that I’m using.

Old school leather boots and Lowe Footfangs still climbing

Old school leather boots and Lowe Footfangs still climbing.  I don’t use these myself, but I loaned the boots and Fangs to a friend for his son to use at the Ouray Ice Park, 2013.

Latok Gear Sling

Latok Gear Sling. Lightly padded, adjustable, with a tacky material that keeps it from sliding around on your shoulder. Made circa 1986, and I haven’t yet found anything better for alpine climbing.

 

Jeff Lowe Cloudwalker Papillon  Sweater

The Papillon sweater is named for its “butterfly” neck closure that has two “wings” of material that zip up to create a very cozy closure around your neck.  I really like this design, and over the years, I’ve only seen two other pieces of clothing with this feature (the original Lowe Papillon fleece sweater and the original Patagonia Talus softshell pullover.)  This particular sweater is  made from a quilted fabric that is soft, wind resistant, and hard wearing.  It makes a great cold weather rock climbing piece.

Lowe Cloudwalker Papillon Sweater

Lowe Cloudwalker Papillon Sweater

The Dachstien Sweater

Dachstein sweaters were the original insulated softshells.  These sweaters are knit in Austria from heavy wool, which is boiled and felted to provide extra wind and weather resistance.  They are warm, durable, wind and water resistant, and have a surprisingly broad temperature comfort range.  I don’t use my Dachstein sweater for anything technical (they are too heavy) but my Dachstein is still my go-to clothing for cool and cold weather car camping, wilderness survival practice, and working outdoors in the winter.

Dachstein Sweaters in Winter Conditions

Dachstein Sweaters in Winter Conditions.  My son (on the left) is wearing my original sweater, which I outgrew a long time ago.  I got the one I’m wearing on ebay a few years ago for $70.

If you can’t find a suitable Dachstein sweater on ebay, Bradley Alpinist sells them brand new on their website.  Dach Uber Guide

Old School Rock shoes:

Today’s shoes are all downturned, slingshot-randed, slip-lasted high-performance affairs.
Sometimes, however, all you need is a comfortable pair of shoes with sticky rubber.

Calma Lynx.  28 years old, and still climbing.

Calma Lynx. 28 years old, and still climbing.  Still a good shoe for long days on granite.

These Scarpa Brio rock shoes have been resoled twice, and are older than the climber who's wearing them.

These Scarpa Brio rock shoes have been resoled twice, and are older than the climber who’s wearing them.

Revue Thommen Swiss Alps Challenge Airspeed Altimeter Watch:  

Revue Thommen is a venerable Swiss company known for making mechanical watches and traditional aneroid altimeters.  They were not the first company to make an altimeter watch (The first altimeter watch was the “Bivouac” watch by Favre Leuba.)  However, the Revue Thommen Airspeed Altimeter was to my knowledge the 2nd watch to incorporate a mechanical movement coupled with an altimeter.  It’s a beautiful and elegant piece of Swiss engineering.  It’s calibrated in meters, which makes it a bit of a chore to use in conjunction with U.S. maps, and it is not as accurate or useful as a GPS, but I still take it to the mountains on occasion.

thommen

Revue Thommen altimeter watch and granite.

thommen2

Navigating through a ski traverse in the high Sierras.

 

Suunto Ambit 2 Saphire (HR)

For over a decade, I’ve used a Suunto Vector watch with built in compass and barometer/altimeter.  I’ve been pretty happy with the Vector, but have always thought that having a wrist-top GPS would be useful.  About 6 or 7 years ago, I bought a wrist-top GPS, but ended up getting rid of it because it was big and bulky and had a very difficult time getting a GPS fix.  At that time, the wristwatch GPS tech just wasn’t that good.

Fast forward to the present, and you see GPS tech in all kinds of small devices.  I figured it may be time to try a wrist watch GPS again.  REI had the Suunto Ambit2 on sale, and the discounted price coupled with my long and positive experience with my Suunto Vector made me decide to take the plunge and buy this watch.  The model I purchased was the Suunto Ambit2 with a sapphire crystal and heart rate monitor.  After about 6 months of pretty regular use, these are my thoughts:

Suunto Ambit2 Sapphire

Suunto Ambit2 Sapphire

Form Factor and Physical Design:

The Ambit2 is not all that big.  It’s more or less the same size as my old Suunto Vector.  The Ambit2 is maybe a tiny bit wider, but it is also a tiny bit thinner than the Vector.  It’s a large watch, but it isn’t so large or bulky that it is annoying to wear.  One thing I do miss, however, is the lanyard kit that you could buy for the Vector.  If I’m rock climbing, I don’t ever wear a watch on my wrist, and in such instances, I typically would wear the Vector around my neck, using the accessory lanyard kit that Suunto sold.  I have not seen any similar kit available for the Ambit2.  I may have to jury rig something myself if I want to carry the watch in this manner.

I paid a bit extra and got the sapphire crystal.  I like the extra durability and scratch resistance that a sapphire crystal provides, particularly because I occasionally subject my watch to some bumps and scrapes during the hard-knock backcountry activities of climbing, hiking, and skiing.

The Ambit 2 is water proof to 100 meters.  I’m not a scuba diver, so I will never have to test that claim.  (If I’m at 100+ meters of depth when I’m fly fishing, something will have gone terribly wrong.)   The battery is re-chargeable via a USB charger, which is nice.  I always hated having to change the battery in my Vector, so being able to just plug in the Ambit 2 and have it charge up is a nice feature.  Charging doesn’t take very long.  It will go from 40% power to 100% in about an hour.  Battery life is pretty good.  The watch will run for weeks if you aren’t using the GPS, and with the GPS engaged, (in hiking mode with 1 minute updates) I have been able to go for 14 hours and still have 84% of my battery life left.  From my use, the Suunto estimates of 50 hours of battery life in GPS mode appear accurate.  This battery life has been sufficient for my uses.  If you’re hiking a long trail over more than a week, and planning on tracking your progress via the GPS function, or if you’re settings have the GPS updating every few seconds, you might need to plan on recharging your batteries at some point during the trip.

Suunto Vector on left, Suunto Ambit 2 on right

Suunto Vector on left, Suunto Ambit 2 on right

Vector and Lanyard Kit (No such accessory is available for the Ambit 2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generic functions, Alarm and Backlight, Barometer and Altimeter

The Ambit 2 has various time keeping functions, including 12 or 24 hour display, stop watch, date, etc.  One big improvement that the Ambit 2 has over the Vector, and many other digital watches I’ve used is that the alarm is pretty loud.  Many watches have very weak alarms, which don’t have the volume to wake you up for an alpine start, especially if they are muffled by your sleeping bag.  The Ambit 2 alarm is much louder than the Vector’s alarm, and not nearly so easy to sleep through.

Another great feature of the Ambit 2 is the backlight.  It’s really bright.  Not only does it really light up the watch face, but it is actually bright enough to illuminate the area around you a bit.  It’s perfect for navigating your way through a darkened alpine hut, where you don’t want to use a headlamp because you don’t want to shine your headlamp beam on others who are sleeping around you.  It’s also great for shining around in your tent when you are trying to find your headlamp.  Obviously, it’s not going to replace a headlamp, but I have found it to be very useful in a number of nighttime situations.

The altimeter function is GPS corrected, which makes it very accurate and not as affected by weather as a traditional altimeter that relies solely on barometric pressure.  I’ve found it to be accurate to within a few feet.  There is a barometric pressure tracker as well, which graphs the pressure over time.  This is useful to look at in the morning, to see what the pressure has done while you were asleep.  If the pressure has risen, that’s generally a good sign of fair weather.  If the pressure has dropped, then that’s often a portent of incoming storms.

GPS and Navigation Functions

This is where the Ambit 2 really shines.  The GPS in this watch is really good.  I have never failed to get a quick GPS fix when I have been in the backcountry.  The Ambit 2 can almost always get a location fix in about 30 seconds or so from the time I turn on the GPS function.  Once the GPS is activated, the Ambit 2 will give you your GPS coordinates, which you can then use to locate your position on a map.

However, even better, the Ambit 2 can be used in conjunction with your computer to pre-plan routes.  You can create a route using Google Earth and export it to Suunto’s website (called Movescount.com) as a .kml file.  Then, you can download the route into the Ambit 2’s memory.  When you activate the navigation functions, the Ambit 2 allows you to select one of these pre-stored routes and will point you in the direction you need to go to follow this route.

I have found this to be very useful.  For example, this past summer, I was planning to hike and climb a local peak, however, we would not be following an established trail for part of the approach, and we needed to locate a specific ridgeline in the dark.  I plotted out my path on Google Earth, then uploaded the path to the Suunto web site, and downloaded it into my Ambit 2 as a route.  Sure enough, in the pre-dawn hours, we became confused as to the path we needed to take, and I used the Ambit 2 to help us navigate the correct route.  Having the Ambit 2 was sufficient for us to navigate even though it was too dark to see any decent land marks.  We just followed the path on my watch, correcting our path to keep the arrow pointer on the route layed out on the watch face.

To give an example of how this works, below are two pictures which show how routefinding is done.  This first picture is of a short route that I created using Google Earth and then uploaded to the Suunto Movescount Site.   You can see the path laid out on the map.

Sample Route that I created on Google Earth and uploaded to the Suunto Movescount Web Site

This next picture is a photo of what this route looks like when downloaded to the Suunto Ambit 2.  The route path is laid out on the screen, and the arrow pointer shows my current position and direction.  I can use this arrow pointer and the track line to keep myself on the selected route.

Ambit 2 Navigation Screen with route shown (At this point, I am partway through the route.)

The usefulness of this functionality should be readily apparent to anyone who has ever been lost or just unsure of their position.  For a climber, you could, for example, create a route showing you the descent route down the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier.  With the GPS navigation function, you could have the possibility of finding your way down from the summit even in whiteout conditions.

You also have the ability to create GPS waypoints at any time while using the watch.  If you are hiking, and discover an interesting place, and want to be able to find your way back, you can mark the location and save it in the Ambit 2’s memory as a point of interest.  This feature also allows you to leave a “trail of breadcrumbs” as you go, so you can retrace your footsteps whenever you wish.

The Ambit 2 does not have the benefits of a standalone GPS with a big color screen, that is loaded with area maps, but it does provide a lot of navigation functionality, particularly if you spend the effort ahead of time to create your routes in advance.

Tracking features  

In addition to helping you navigate and know where you need to go, the Ambit 2 is very good at tracking your progress and showing you where you’ve been.  You can activate the GPS and have it track your location as you move, and then you can upload this data to the Movescount web site and see where you were.  Here’s an example of an uploaded track that recorded one of my hikes on a local mountain.

Uploaded GPS Data that tracked my hike and climb of a local peak, along with data regarding the distance, altitude, etc.

As you can see from the screen shot above, the data collected includes the path traveled, as well as aggregated information on average speed, altitude gain and loss, distances, etc.  This is great for tracking your training and assessing your accomplishments.

Training Aids

In addition to the various navigation features, the Ambit 2 will keep track of training.  It works in conjunction with a heart rate belt to monitor and track heart rate.  You can track both distance (via GPS) and heart rates if you’re running or biking or doing other mobile training activities.   I use the Ambit 2 to keep track of my work outs at the gym.  I don’t use the GPS function because I’m staying in one place, but I do keep track of my heart rate data.

Here’s a typical data screen for an indoor workout, in this case a 90 minute bout on the stair stepper:

Data Capture from a stair stepper work out

Data Capture from a stair stepper work out

Apps and Customization:

There are a number of apps available for the Ambit 2, both from Suunto and also user created apps.  They range from practical (storm alarms) to silly (virtual cat hunting.)  There are tons of training apps available, but the only app I had any interest in was an app that provides me with sunrise and sunset times.  However, I found out that the sunrise/sunset information is available without the need for an app simply as an option on the barometer screen.  So, I don’t currently have any apps installed.

Dislikes and Problems:

I had to put this section in here, but I honestly can’t think of very much to say that I don’t like about this device.  It could always be smaller, but if that compromised the functionality, then I would not be in favor of miniaturizing it.

The price is high, but I assume that it will be discounted as the Ambit 3 hits the market.

The menu systems can be a bit overwhelming and hard to remember, but with increased use I have become increasingly familiar with the various menu options, and navigating to the feature or function I want is getting easier and easier over time.

Conclusions:

The Ambit 2 has become an “indispensable” piece of gear for me.  I use it to track my training, I use it for navigation, and I use it for mundane tasks like knowing what time it is.  If I lost it tomorrow, I would go out and buy a new one.  It’s really a quality piece of gear that delivers a lot of functionality in a small and compact package.  I just hope that it proves to be as durable as my old Vector has been.  If so, I will still be using the Ambit 10 years from now.

Kanz Field Kitchen with Partner Steel Propane Stove

Kanz Field Kitchen

Kanz Field Kitchen

When I’m car camping, I don’t like to rough it.  I like to live in luxury.  If I’ve got a truck to carry my stuff, I’d just as soon have all the comforts of home to the extent possible.  When I’m backpacking, I’m content with lightweight freeze dried meals, but when I’m living out of my vehicle, I want to eat well.   There’s something extremely satisfying about cooking and eating a tasty well-cooked meal at your vehicle base camp.

Kanz Field Kitchen with Partner Stove

Kanz Field Kitchen with Partner Stove and Bacon!

I have experimented with various stoves for car camping, and have a number of different camp kitchen set ups, some modern and some vintage.  My hands-down favorite is the Kanz Camp Kitchen with the Partner Steel dual burner propane stove.

The Kanz Field Kitchen is very nicely made, constructed of aluminum and high quality birch plywood.  It is well thought out, with ample storage space for pots, pans and other cooking necessities, and plenty of work space, assuming that you buy the add-on side shelves and the brackets that turn the top lid into another shelf.

The Field Kitchen can be purchased alone, or with a variety of stoves.  I bought mine fitted with the Partner Steel dual burner propane stove.  The Partner Steel stove is a real performer, putting out 10,000 BTU’s from each burner.  Heat control is excellent, and you can adjust the heat down to a very low level without the burner sputtering or going out.

No need to compromise on your meals with this kitchen.

No need to compromise on your meals with this kitchen.

There is one thing however, that I really hate about the Kanz Field Kitchen, and that is the legs.  I have the long leg set, so I don’t have to use up table space for the kitchen.  However, in order to attach the legs to the kitchen, you have to slide them into holes in the bottom.  This is a rather difficult job given that the kitchen is pretty heavy when loaded down with all of my cooking kit.  It is particularly difficult if you’re trying to do it by yourself.  I’ve attached and detached the legs on my kitchen dozens of times, and I still haven’t found a way to do it easily.

I use the stove in conjunction with a lightweight aluminum propane tank from Worthington.  It’s a 6 pound cylinder that is taller and skinnier than most.  It works well for my purposes.  If you can’t find them elsewhere for cheaper, Kanz sells them on their site, here.

For me, the Kanz Field Kitchen is the best I’ve used.  The Partner stove is truly amazing, and the stove is very well integrated into the kitchen.  The whole set up is super quality constructed and will likely outlast me.  It’s a great camp kitchen that really doesn’t compromise on performance.  However, all that quality and performance doesn’t come cheap.  A fully kitted out Field Kitchen with a propane cylinder will run you close to $1,500.  If you can get past the price tag, then the only other down side is that if your food tastes bad on a car camping trip, you can’t blame the kitchen.

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket

The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer line of clothing are pieces that are designed with the overall goal of providing protection with the least possible weight and bulk.  I own the hooded down jacket and the hooded windbreaker.    This review is of the hooded down jacket

Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket   8.8 ounces (size X-Large)  

I’ve owned the Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket for about 9 months now, and it has become one of my favorite and most used pieces of clothing.  It weighs only 8.8 ounces and is filled with water resistant 850 fill power down.  The quilting on it is of sewn through construction, rather than box baffled.  The hooded down jacket provides warmth and wind protection that is greater than a fleece jacket, at considerably less bulk and weight.  It’s an excellent light “puffy” for climbing, or any backcountry activity where you need some lightweight warmth.

I’ve been taking this jacket with me on backcountry ski trips, on “shoulder season” rock climbs in the spring and fall, and summer alpine climbs.  It fits easily into a small daypack, and provides me with warmth for chilly belays or cold evenings.  For how light and compact it is, it provides a remarkable amount of warmth.

Cold day in the desert:  Ghost Whiperer down jacket on Castleton Tower

Cold day in the desert: Ghost Whisperer down jacket on Castleton Tower

The hood fits nicely over a helmet, and the elasticized cuffs and simple elastic cord at the hem keep out drafts.  The Ghost Whisperer fabric is water resistant, and I’ve had no issues fending off light drizzle and mist.  The 850 fill power down is treated with something called “Q-Shield” which is supposed to make it more water resistant than normal down.  I can’t really comment on the effectiveness of this down treatment because I haven’t ever soaked this jacket.

Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket on the Lower Saddle, Tetons.

Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket on the Lower Saddle, Tetons.

There are two zippered handwarmer pockets, and you can stuff the Ghost Whisperer into a pocket for storage.  There is a loop so that you can clip the stuffed jacket onto a carabiner.

Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded Jacket stuffed into its own pocket

Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded Jacket stuffed into its own pocket

The jacket does have some limitations due to its light weight design.  The fabric is extremely light weight.  I haven’t managed to rip it or wear a hole in it, even after climbing in it a bit, but it really isn’t made to take much abuse.  If you’re looking for a jacket for groveling up chimneys and off-width climbs, this is probably not a good choice.  The zipper is very lightweight and it doesn’t take a whole lot of pressure to pull it apart.  I’ve had several occasions when it has separated from the bottom and come undone.   So far, this hasn’t been a big issue, as I’ve been able to unzip it and then zip it back up again.  The zipper coils haven’t seemed to have been harmed by this.

Regarding warmth, this jacket is very warm for its weight, but it’s not a substitute for a thick insulated jacket for really cold conditions.  For cold winter ice climbs and high alpine bivis, I would still want a thicker, heavier belay jacket, but for most other situations, the Ghost Whisperer is sufficient.

Sizing on this jacket is a little on the small side for an over-layer.   I tend to wear a size large in most jackets, and a size large would have fit me, but I wouldn’t have had much room with a size large to layer clothing underneath.  An X-large size gives me room to use this as a top layer.   If you’re planning on using this jacket as a mid layer, then I’d suggest you get your normal size.  If you want to use it to layer on top, then I’d suggest going up a size.

Here’s a list of other insulated jackets to give some perspective and comparisons of weights:  The only other jacket I’ve used that is close to the same weight class is the Montbell UL thermawrap jacket, which is not as warm and which doesn’t have a hood.

Insulating Layers  (Size Large unless otherwise noted)
Montbell UL Thermawrap jacket 9.2
Montbell Thermawrap parka 16.2
Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody 14.9
Patagonia R2 pullover 13.3
Golite Coal Jacket w/hood 19.5
Jeff Lowe Cloudwalker Papillon Sweater 22.5
Arcteryx Dually Belay parka 29 oz (XL) 26.5 oz (L)
Brooks Range Alpini mountain anorak down hoodie (XL) 13.6
Patagonia Encapsil Down Belay Jacket (XL) 20.6
Montbell Mirage Down Jacket (XL) 14.7
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down Jacket  (XL)  8.8
Patagonia Nano Air Hoody  14.5

Alpine Rock, Part 2: Washington Pass

After climbing in the Bugaboos, we decided to head back down to the U.S. in search of good weather and good climbing.   We ended up at Washington Pass.

Clouds over Burgundy Spire

Our first objective was Burgundy Spire.  We decided to climb it via the West Ridge of Paisano Pinnacle, which is a 5.9 variation that adds 7 or 8 pitches to the regular Burgundy Spire North Face route.   We started hiking at about 6:30.  The approach was long and steep, and ended with a bunch of scrambling over nasty loose gravely ledges. I was glad when the approach finally ended, and we got to start climbing.

The climbing was a lot of fun, with excellent granite, clean cracks, and good friction.  From the top of Paisano Pinnacle, we traversed a bit over to the regular North Face, and headed up that.

On Paisano Pinnacle, with the Early Winters Spires in the Background

On Paisano Pinnacle, with the Early Winters Spires in the Background

The North Face route started out kind of slabby, but steepened up as we got higher.  At one point a bit past midway, we had to traverse right and go through a big tunnel formed by a balanced rock slab.  By the time we’d reached the top, I was pretty tired, and was happy that the descent was pretty much straightforward rappels.

Climbers on the final pitch of Burgundy Spire.  Look Closely, and you can see climbers topping out on Paisano Pinnacle far below.

Paisano Pinnacle.  Climbers can be seen on the friction pitch near the top of the route.

Climbers on the final pitch of Burgundy Spire. Look Closely, and you can see climbers topping out on Paisano Pinnacle far below.

Summit pitch on Burgundy Spire

The hike out was uneventful, and we finished the final bit of the hike in the dark.  I was glad I had brought my emergency headlamp (a Petzl E-Lite) in my first aid kit.  All in all, it had been a pretty long day, and I was tired.  We ate trail food for dinner, and slept on a pull-out camp spot on some forest service land outside of Mazama.  The next day, we rested and took it easy at a hotel with a hot tub.

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After a day of rest and relaxation, our next objective was the Early Winters Spires group.  The plan was to do a traverse, starting with Liberty Bell, and working our way across the spires, up and down each one of them.

Clouds and mist over the Early Winter Spires

The morning was cool, with mist, clouds, and light rain.  We were alone as we began the approach up to Liberty Bell, which is pretty unusual because Liberty Bell is one of the more popular peaks in the Cascades, and we were climbing on a Saturday, on Labor Day weekend.  The climbing was pretty straighforward, but I was struggling with it much more than I should have.  I realized that I was getting pretty worn out from my week of climbing.  By the time we reached the top of Liberty Bell, I’d pretty much decided that I didn’t have the traverse in me, and would be happy to call it quits with just the Liberty Bell summit.

Chad, channeling his inner French Guide, munching on a baguette and cheese on top of Liberty Bell

Chad, channeling his inner French Guide, munching on a baguette and cheese on top of Liberty Bell

We rappelled down Liberty Bell in intermittent rain, and then made our way down the trail.  In spite of ever improving weather, I was happy with my decision to call it a day after tagging the Liberty Bell summit.  It had been a good day, and I was pretty much done with climbing for a while.  On the way down, we saw lots of people headed up to climb in the spires, and we also ran into a family of mountain goats, who were not at all afraid of us.

Descending Liberty Bell

Friendly Mountain Goat

We drove back to Bellingham, I dropped Chad off at his home, and then caught an early flight out of Seattle back to Salt Lake.

The trip had been a real success.  Between the Bugaboos and Washington Pass, I had climbed over 40 pitches of beautiful alpine granite.  I was tired, but happy, and already dreaming about what to do as an encore next year.

Alpine Rock, Part 1: Bugaboos

Snowpatch Spire, viewed from McTech Arete

Snowpatch Spire, viewed from McTech Arete

It has been more than 20 years since I last visited the Bugaboos.  I had planned three trips since then, and actually bought plane tickets twice, but my partners always seemed to drop out on me, usually at the last minute.  Every year it seemed like the Bugaboos was on my list of places to climb, but every year it always seemed to fall through.

This year, my plans finally paid off, and I got to go back to the Bugaboos again.   My success in getting to the Bugs was mostly the result of just giving up on going with any of my climbing partners and hiring a guide.   I scheduled 9 days of private guiding through the American Alpine Institute.  My guide for the trip was a great guy named Chad Cochran.

We met in Bellingham early Saturday morning, and spent the rest of the day driving.  Spent the night in a cheap hotel in Golden, B.C., then drove up to the Bugaboos trailhead and hiked up to the Conrad Kain Hut.  The Kain Hut is super nice, with luxurious cooking accommodations and comfy pads to sleep on.  It’s  a great alternative to tenting, especially for a climber like me with old bones and stiff joints.

Bugaboo Trail Head

My rental truck wrapped in chicken wire at the trailhead to prevent animals from gnawing the rubber bits.

Bugaboo Trail

View of Snowpatch Spire from the approach trail. If you look closely, you can see the Kain Hut peeking out directly below the snowpatch.

Conrad Kain Hut

The view from the Kain Hut

The view from the Kain Hut

The weather forecast for the next few days was good, and we were stoked to go climbing.  We picked the SE Shoulder (Weissner Route) on Snowpatch Spire for our first objective.  It’s long, (17 pitches) but of moderate difficulty, so it seemed like a good route to start out with and get our systems, communications, and changeovers sorted out.

We left the hut Monday morning at about 5:30 and we were scrambling up the rock to the base of the route about an hour and twenty minutes later.  After we scrambled up to the saddle where the route starts, the real fun began.   What a terrific day!  We were all alone on the route, and the weather was perfect.  We had blue skies, comfortable temperatures, and great climbing.  We pitched out the lower sections, but we simulclimbed the easier parts along the margin of the big snowpatch, which saved us a lot of time.

Chad Cochran, on the Snowpatch Route

There was a lot of great climbing on the route, with my favorite pitch probably being a beautiful open book section a couple of pitches below the snowpatch.  The views were amazing, and the summit dramatic.   This is truly a stellar route.   It took us a little over 6 hours from the time we began climbing to the time we topped out.  That was a pretty good time, attributable mostly to Chad being a serious rope gun who made short work of the technical pitches.

Climbing on Snowpatch Spire

The descent down the back side of Snowpatch was simple but tedious.  The first rappel station is right below the summit blocks, and we just rapped down on fixed anchors, taking in gorgeous views of Pigeon Spire.  Once at the base, we had to work ourselves down and left (skier’s left) around to another series of fixed anchors on the West side of Snowpatch Spire that drop you down to the glacier and snowfields on the South side of Snowpatch.   This descent route was required because the Bugaboo/Snowpatch Col was not in condition for descent.  When I was in the Bugaboos 21 years ago, the Bugaboo/Snowpatch Col was a nice ramp, covered with snow and ice.  Straightforward cramponing was all that was required to get up or down.   However, in its current state, this avenue is a horrific death trap, with lots of very loose rock, and big slides coming down it with frightening regularity.  Luckily, the new descent route on the West side of Snowpatch was pretty straightforward.

Pigeon Spire, from the rappels off of Snowpatch's summit

Pigeon Spire, as seen from the rappels off of Snowpatch’s summit

We were back at the hut in time for an early dinner, and made plans for our next day.  I wanted to try something technically a bit harder than the Snowpatch Route, but not quite so long, as I was kind of tired from our long outing.   We decided on a climb of McTech Arete, a 6 pitch 5.10 on a buttress in the Crescent Spire area.

McTech Arete

View of Bugaboo Spire from McTech Arete

We got up late, and strolled over to McTech Arete.  We were in no hurry, because the route doesn’t get any sun until about 10:00 or so.  About 10:30, we began climbing.  This was another stellar route.  Unlike the Snowpatch route, it didn’t feel really alpine, but the climbing was great, and the views were amazing.  We had excellent vistas of Snowpatch and Bugaboo Spires, with glimpses of the Howser Towers peeking out from above the col.  The climbing was definitely harder than the climbing on Snowpatch, but I managed to only fall off once.  Just about every pitch was really enjoyable, and the experience was great.  It was casual cragging in an alpine setting.

Climbing on McTech Arete

After finishing off McTech Arete, we headed back to the Hut.  I was pretty tired at this point, and was in need of a rest day to recuperate a bit.  The weather report indicated that the weather window was closing and the weather getting more unsettled over the Bugaboos, so we decided to leave the Bugs and head back south to Washington Pass in search of more good weather and fine granite.  We packed up and took off the next morning, However, I had already decided that I was definitely coming back with Chad next year.  Next time, we were going to start out on the Beckey-Chouinard, a route I have been dreaming about much of my life.

For now, however, I was satisfied.  I’d climbed a big route on Snowpatch that I had wanted to climb for a long while, and had a great time in the mountains.  I got some much needed rest and relaxation on the drive back to Washington.

Summer, 2014 Outdoor Retailer Highlights

I met John Long at the Addidas booth!!

I met John Long at the Adidas booth!!  (Although I look a bit grumpy, I’m smiling a lot on the inside, as I’m a big fan of John’s climbing career and writing.)

The 2014 Summer Outdoor Retailer Show is in full swing here in Salt Lake City.

It’s a huge event, taking up not only the full space in the Salt Palace, but three large temporary pavilions and a tent city as well.

I’ve spent the last day and a half wandering around the show, looking at stuff, talking to exhibitors, and trying to take in the huge number of products on exhibit.

Overall, I haven’t seen anything truly groundbreaking or game changing.  I haven’t encountered any gear that will change the way I play in the outdoors.  However, there have been a few items that have caught my attention.  Here they are:

Ropes with UIAA Dry Certification.

The UIAA recently came out with new standards for “dry” ropes.  In order to meet the UIAA’s new dry rope standard, the rope can not absorb more than 5% of its weight when subjected to being sprayed with water.  Manufacturers can still claim “dry” status for their ropes, but they can only put the “UIAA Water Repellent” label on their ropes if the ropes meet the UIAA test specifications.

The UIAA Water Repellent Logo

The UIAA Water Repellent Logo

A number of Beal and Edelweiss ropes are touted as meeting the new standard, and Mammut also had a couple of new ropes that meet the new standard.

However, not all of the rope manufacturers I talked to were excited about the new standard.  Some of them felt that the UIAA standard was not sufficient for testing of actual water resistance.  The biggest complaints centered on the fact that the test doesn’t require submersion of the rope, but rather the rope is sprayed with water.  The other complaint I heard about the test procedure was that the test is self-administered by the manufacturers themselves rather than administered by a third party lab.

A piece of rope is affixed to a slanted board, and water is sprayed on the rope.

The UIAA test protocol:  A piece of rope is affixed to a slanted board, and water is sprayed on the rope.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  My feeling, after talking with a number of people is that some rope manufacturers are going to adopt the new test criteria, but that others are going to push for a submersion test, administered by a third party testing facility.  This will likely take the form of an E.N. (European Norm) test.

So, while all this is getting worked out, there will be a few ropes on the market that meet the new standard and a bunch more that don’t.  Until the dust (or water) settles, it appears that there won’t be a consistent test for dryness that all of the manufacturers are going to use, as some of the manufacturers are simply not going to be using this new UIAA test protocol.

The North Face Ice Project Pack

North Face Ice Project:  A pack designed specifically for ice cragging

North Face Ice Project: A pack designed specifically for ice cragging

This is one of the few items I’m actually going to run out and buy as a result of seeing it at the show.  It’s an ice climbing pack that is very different than the typical ice climbing packs that I own and use.  My other ice climbing packs tend to be stripped down, lightweight affairs devoid of extraneous features or bells and whistles.  This Ice Project pack is all about bells and whistles.  It’s built for comfort, not for speed.  It’s an ice cragging pack, meant to organize all of your gear and equipment that’s needed for a day climbing frozen waterfalls or mixed routes.  It’s not really made for wearing while climbing.  It’s more for transporting all of your stuff to the base of the route, and having everything easily accessible and organized when you get there, rather than having to just dump everything out in the snow.

It has a zippered opening that makes access easy, and there are accouterments for storing up to 10 ice screws, compartments for your rope, crampons, helmet, and other gear and necessities.   It’s the perfect pack for “ice cragging” where your approach isn’t super long, and you aren’t going super light.  It’s all about convenience.

It’s available on a limited basis this fall, and will be in broad distribution by late winter 2014 or early spring, 2015.   Price is $200.  I’ve already got one on order.

Crux AK 47 x Pack

The Crux AK47x.  Alpine simplicity

The Crux AK47x. Alpine simplicity

This pack couldn’t be more different in design and conception than the North Face Ice Project.  The Crux is a stripped down alpine pack made for going fast and light on big alpine routes.  It’s got a 47 liter capacity, which makes it suitable for longer routes where you’ve carrying lots of food, fuel and/or equipment.   The frame is a semi-flexible thermo foam affair, that provides some support without adding too much extra weight.

There are a number of well thought out details that climbers will appreciate, such as a grab/haul loop that is large enough to be easily grabbed while wearing big mittens, and 4mm climbing spec drawcords that can be used as rap tat in an emergency.  The AK47 x differs from the regular AK47 in that it has an extendable/removable top lid, as opposed to the fixed top lid on the regular AK47.

Crux has a bit of a cult following in the U.K., where they are based, but this company is relatively unknown here in the U.S.  This pack looks like a contender for climbers who want a light, streamlined, no-nonsense alpine-oriented pack.

Crux webpage here.

ak47x

Crux AK47x Suspension

 

SMC Spire Belay Device

Lots of companies are coming out with new belay devices these days.  I looked at new devices from DMM, Edelrid, and various other companies.  The one that impressed me the most was the SMC Spire.

The Spire functions pretty much like the Black Diamond ATC Guide.  It can be used to belay a leader using one or two ropes, and can be used in “guide mode” to belay one or two followers in autolocking guide mode.  What sets it apart from devices like the Black Diamond ATC Guide and the Petzl Reverso 3 are its small size (easily the smallest and lightest of the three) and the clever mechanism for lowering a following climber when in guide mode.  The guide mode release function is horizontal rather than vertical, and provides an easy and controlled lower that is much easier to actuate and control than the ATC Guide or Reverso.  It’s a very elegant and simple piece of engineering.  If I were in the market for a traditional (non locking assisted) belay device, the Spire would be at the top of my list.

I found a Youtube video demonstrating the Spire HERE.

SMC Spire Belay Device

SMC Spire Belay Device

SMC Picket Cables.  

Another interesting find at the SMC booth are the new detachable picket cables.  This relatively simple product is nothing but a cable with a connector that allows it to be attached to the holes in pickets.  Some pickets come with cables attached permanently, but I’ve not seen picket cables that can be attached and detached.  This allows you to either use the cable or not as you wish, or move it up and down on the picket as conditions dictate.  It’s not a ground-breaking, super innovative product, but it does allow a climber to have a bit more flexibility when it comes to using cabled pickets.

SMC Picket Cable

SMC Picket Cable

Energy Food That Doesn’t Taste Horrible

I’ve been kind of fed up with energy bars lately.  I’m getting to where eating a Pro Bar, or Power Bar, or Cliff Bar or trying to down a pack of Gu or other energy gel makes me gag.

There were dozens of outdoor food companies hawking their wares at the O.R. show, and I sampled everything I could, trying to find things that I enjoyed eating.  Here are my favorites:

Bridgford Shelf Stable Sandwiches.    These were a real surprise.  Bridgford makes these as part of the U.S. Army’s new “First Strike Ration.”  I figured that if it was Army food, it probably was nasty.  These sandwiches are actually pretty tasty.  There are some meat sandwiches (my favorites were the Italian sausage and BBQ beef) and sweet sandwiches (including a quite good French toast flavor.)  They kind of remind me of “hot pockets.”  They can be eaten cold, or warmed up by dipping the sealed pouch in boiling water.  I could see myself brewing up some hot cider, and using the hot water to warm up one of these sandwiches before mixing up my drink.

Folks who insist on all-natural, organic, gluten free, low fat, and low sodium will need to look elsewhere.  These sandwiches don’t check any of these boxes.  However, I don’t really care.   I don’t eat enough meals in the backcountry that having some artificial or non-organic ingredients is going to harm me.  When I’m in the backcountry, all I really want is something simple, convenient, that tastes good and that will provide me with the energy I need to keep going.   These sandwiches fit that bill well.  I ordered a couple cases of them at the show.

Link to Bridgford

Bridgford Shelf Stable Sandwich

Bridgford Shelf Stable Sandwich

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honey Stinger Waffles and Honey Gels

These are organic waffles filled with honey and various natural flavorings.  They tasted great, and the mix of honey and carbohydrates should provide a good energy boost.

The Stinger folks also market an energy gel made from honey.  I sampled a few flavors and found them to be more palatable than the typical energy gels I’m used to eating.

I’m going to stock up on both of these items before my next climbing trip.

Honey Stinger Waffle

Honey Stinger Waffle

Chef Five Minute Meals Tuna and Chicken Salads with Tortillas

The Chef Five Minute Meals folks make various kinds of ready made meals.  Most of them seemed a bit heavy for backpacking (they are not dehydrated) but they had a couple of items that seemed reasonably practical, particularly for shorter trips where paring down weight to the absolute minimum isn’t essential.

Their Tuna Vegetable Salad, and Chicken Vegetable Salad are very tasty, and when matched with one of their tortillas would make a nice lunch that doesn’t require any refrigeration and very little preparation effort.

Packable chicken salad and tortilla

Packable chicken salad and tortilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MSR Windboiler Stove

MSR Is coming out with a new system stove, called the Windboiler.  It’s kind of the little brother of the MSR Reactor, and looks positioned to compete with the ubiquitous Jetboil line.  Claimed advantages of the new Windboiler over the Jetboil are increased wind resistance.  (The Jetboil sucks in wind.)  The Windboiler is supposed to have better simmer control when compared with the Reactor, which will make it better suited for tasks other than snow-melting.  A hanging kit will be available for the system.  If MSR’s performance claims for this stove are accurate, the Jetboil system is in for some very stiff competition.

Stock Photo of the MSR Windboiler.  (I wasn't allowed to take a picture of it at the show.)

Stock Photo of the MSR Windboiler. (I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of it at the show.)

 Unsubstantiated Stove Rumors

I was really looking forward to the Jetboil Joule, a stove with a high output burner and inverted canister.  It looked like it was going to be competition for the MSR Reactor for cold weather snow melting tasks.  However, I was disappointed by how big the Joule was.  It’s just too big for climbing or backpacking use, except as a basecamp stove.  However, I heard an unsubstantiated rumor that the Jetboil folks are working on a lighter, more compact version of the Joule.  If true, then this is quite interesting news.  Until this becomes reality, however, I’m sticking with my MSR Reactor.

First Aid, Repair, and Emergency Survival Kit

Over the years, my first aid kit has morphed, getting bigger or smaller depending on my level of optimism.  I’ve carried big kits with everything plus the kitchen sink, and minimalist kits consisting of a few aspirin and a roll of tape.

After decades of fluctuation, I’ve finally settled on a largish kit (at least by climber standards.)  It has supplies in it that allow me to deal with some of the more common backcountry injuries:  blisters, cuts, abrasions, bleeding, and pain.  In addition to the first aid supplies, I have materials to start a fire and repair fabrics.  A small leatherman tool and a small emergency flashlight provide some functionality for repairing and fixing things, cutting, and vision after dark.

I carry this kit with me pretty much any time I head into the backcountry.  I’ve used everything in it at one time or another.

Here’s the contents of my current standard kit.  Total weight is 13.3 ounces.

First aid/emergency kit, with contents labeled.

First aid/emergency kit, with contents labeled.

1st Aid Kit

All packed up into a relatively small package

Assisted Braking Belay Rappel Devices Suitable for Trad and Alpine Climbing

I am becoming more and more convinced that belay/rappel devices with assisted braking are a big improvement over traditional ATC or Reverso type belay/rappel devices.

Assisted braking devices are not fully auto-locking like a Gri Gri, but provide significant extra friction when catching a falling leader or rappelling, when compared with an ATC or Reverso.  I really like the added security of the braking assist.  When catching lead fall, the effort needed to control the rope running through the device is minimal, and there is very little rope slippage.  Similarly, when rappelling, it’s very easy to stop yourself while on rappel.  Generally, you can just take your hand off the device, and it stops itself.  In most circumstances, this eliminates the need for a prussik back up when rappelling.

My first assisted braking device was the Mammut Smart Alpine (see my initial review of that device HERE.)

Mammut Smart Alpine in belay mode

Mammut Smart Alpine in belay mode

The Smart Alpine is a pretty good design, but it has a few flaws that have led me to abandon it in favor of some newer devices:  First, the Smart Alpine tends to lock up too easily when feeding out rope.  It also had a habit of allowing thinner ropes to migrate under the separator bar, causing the ropes to get stuck, and a somewhat jerky rappel mode when in auto-lock configuration.  I put up with these issues because of the enhanced safety of the assisted braking, but these flaws made me interested in trying out other assisted braking options.

Enter the Edelrid Mega Jul and Micro Jul:

My next trial of an assisted braking device was the Mega Jul and Micro Jul by Edelrid.  These devices are identical in design, but the Mega Jul is designed for ropes of diameter from 7.8mm to 10.5mm, while the smaller Micro Jul is made for skinny ropes from 6.9 to 8.5mm.

My first impressions using these devices were so good that I bought 2 Mega Juls and 2 Micro Jules.  They seemed like they would replace all my other belay devices.  However, I was somewhat disappointed and worried when the thumb cables failed, first on my Micro Jul, and then on a Mega Jul.  I sent all four of them back to the Edelrid distributor, and they eventually replaced them with new ones that have improved connection between the device and the cable.

Early Jul devices had weak cable attachment

Early Jul devices had weak cable attachment

The new and improved Mega Jul and Micro Jul devices seem to have solved the problem of the weak cable attachment, as I have used them without any failures.  These devices are really very good.  They are made of steel instead of aluminum, so they can be made very compact and still retain the needed strength.  The Mega Jul is very compact and weighs only 2.3 ounces.

Belaying with the Mega Jul

In spite of its small size, the Mega Jul is a very versatile device.  It provides a very effective assisted braking function while lead belaying, can be used in guide mode to belay one or two seconds (with an autoblock function that locks up automatically in the event they weight the rope,) and can be used to rappel in either an assisted braking mode, or in a normal mode similar to a regular ATC or Reverso.

Paying out rope to the leader is pretty easy.  I found the Mega Jul (and Micro Jul) to be easier to use for lead belaying than the Alpine Smart.  They hang up less often than the Alpine Smart, and are smoother when paying out rope.  Lowering a leader and rappelling are about the same as the Alpine Smart.  Both devices are adequate, but are not super smooth.  They tend to be a bit jerky when lowering or rappelling.  Rappelling is greatly facilitated by using a separate carabiner, although you can use the thumb release.  If you use a separate carabiner, it needs to have a nose that is narrow enough to fit in the carabiner hole.  (The Edelrid small locker biner fits well, but not all others do.)

Video showing the various techniques for belaying and rappelling with the Mega Jul and Micro Jul.

Guide mode is also reasonably good.  Taking in rope requires about as much effort as with an ATC Guide or Reverso, and lowering a second while in guide mode isn’t overly hard.  (It requires a third carabiner inserted into the carabiner hole to release tension.)

Overall, the Mega Jul and Micro Jul are superior to the Mammut Smart Alpinet.  They outperform the Smart Alpine in lead belaying, and are much smaller and lighter.  Performance in guide mode and rappelling are about the same.

Climbing Technology Alpine Up.  

The Alpine Up is made by the Italian company, Climbing Technology.  It has some advantages over the Edelrid Jul devices, but is signficantly heavier and bulkier.  The Alpine Up weighs in at 6.2 ounces, which is close to double the weight of the tiny Mega Jul.  It is designed to work with twin and half ropes from 7.9mm to 9mm in diameter, and single ropes from 8.9 to 10.5mm in diameter.

If you can overlook the significant disadvantage in size and weight, the Alpine Up is the best performing assisted braking device I’ve ever used.   The signature feature of the Alpine up is the “click up” mode.  The click up feature allows the rope to run more smoothly than any other device.  This is because when the rope is not weighted, the rope runs in a loose, large radius curve that allows for very quick and easy rope control.  Paying out or taking in rope is effortless, with very little friction and resistance.  However, when the rope is weighted (when the climber falls) the rope changes position, and “clicks” into a tighter assisted braking position.

Alpine Up in Click up Mode. The rope is not weighted, and runs very smoothly with very little resistance.

This feature makes the Alpine Up by far the easiest of the assisted braking devices for belaying a leader.  It doesn’t hang up or bind, and makes taking in or paying out rope super easy and smooth.

The rope has been weighted, and the rope and carabiner have clicked into locking position, providing assisted braking force.

 

Once the device is locked, a flip-out lever allows for easy lowering of the leader if necessary.  If the leader begins climbing again after a fall, you just give a tug on the carabiner and move it back into the non-braking position.

The assisted braking configuration is also used for rappelling, with the lever controlling the rate of descent.  Rappelling is very smooth and easily controlled, and you automatically stop if you take your hand off of the release lever.

Guide mode with the Alpine Up is very smooth, and requires the least effort of any belay device I have used other than the Kong GiGi, which is designed specifically for use in guide mode.

Overall, the performance of the Alpine Up is superior to any other belay device I have used.  The only drawbacks of the Alpine Up are price (about $100 including a carabiner) and weight and bulk.

Instructional video detailing how to use the Alpine Up

Bottom Line:  What is the Best Assisted Braking Device?  

So, given my views regarding the Alpine Up’s performance, It would seem as though it would replace my other belay devices.  However, even though it’s the best performer, there are times when I still prefer the Edelrid Mega Jul or Micro Jul.

The Mega Jul and Micro Jul are significantly lighter and more compact, so when weight and space are at a premium (i.e. alpine climbing) I will usually reach for one of the Edelrid devices over the Alpine Up.  Also, the Micro Jul is the only device capable of being used with really skinny twin ropes, such as the 6.9mm Edelrid Flycatcher.

Bottom line is that when I’m cragging, I generally take the Alpine Up.  When I’m alpine climbing, I generally take the Mega Jul or Micro Jul.

Ski Pulk sled

Ski Pulk sled, heavily loaded

Ski Pulk sled, heavily loaded

 

I’ve used sleds on occasion to carry large winter loads.  However, the sleds I’ve used have always been home made jobs.  I’ve bought kiddie sleds and modified them in various ways to make them serve as ski sleds.  My modifications began relatively simply, just drilling holes in the front of the sled and attaching cords to pull with.  These simple sleds performed poorly, being next to impossible to control on anything other than level terrain, so I tried more elaborate modifications, using ski pole sections to make solid poles to help control the sled and make it more easy to turn and stop.  However, in spite of my best efforts at do-it-yourself modifications, my sleds pretty much sucked.

When I needed a sled for a yurt trip this past spring, I decided to buy a commercially built sled specifically designed for use by a skier.

After doing a bit of internet research, I decided on a sled by the Ski Pulk company.

The sled I bought was the Paris Backcountry Sled with Split Poles.

After dragging this sled uphill for miles, and skiing with it on downhill for more miles, I have to say that I’ve been very happy with it.  It’s worlds better than my home made jobs.  The first thing I noticed are the poles.  I bought poles that break down into two pieces, which makes the poles more compact when disassembled.  The poles screw together neatly and securely, and there is no slop in the threads.  The attachment points from the poles to the sled are also very secure.  The poles flex a bit, which adds to the comfort, but are rigid enough to provide for good steerability.

The hip belt is much like a padded hipbelt for a back pack.  It’s comfortable, and allows for differing attachment points for the poles, allowing you to vary the level of control and response over the sled.  (Moving the attachment points outward tends to increase control, but also makes the sled react a bit more to the natural movement of your hips as you stride.)

Pulling the pulk up a steep, narrow track

Pulling the pulk up a steep, narrow track

The sled also comes with a set of fins that provides better tracking on steep terrain.  They are easily removable, and can be screwed inverted in the bowl of the sled when not in use.  If you decide you need them, it takes less than 5 minutes to unfasten them, move them under the sled, and screw them in deployed mode.

An optional duffel bag is available, but I just used one of my own.  The sled comes with straps and buckles so you can strap your stuff down securely in the sled.

In use, the sled pulls well, with excellent control.  I used the Ski Pulk on an approach to a backcountry yurt followed a steep, narrow, winding path.  Going up in fresh snow was not a problem, even when loaded with 50-60 pounds.  Much more surprising and impressive was the sled’s downhill performance.  On hard snow, going down a path that resembled a bobsled run lined with trees was surprisingly easy.  The sled handles very well.  The slight flex in the poles helps to cushion dramatic turns, aiding balance, but the poles have enough stiffness to allow for radical changes of direction when needed.    On easy, open slopes, I could ski fun turns, and the sled just followed obediently behind me, hardly interfering at all.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the Ski Pulk sled.  After using this thoughfully designed and well built sled, there’s no way I will ever consider using a home built sled again.