THANKYOU HYALITE & BOZEMAN

crossing the pacific for the first time, our first foray into the north american ice climbing scene was a blast. representing teton bros. and polartec, iceclimbingjapan touched base with the soul of american ice climbing at the bozeman ice festival.

downtown Bozeman, Montana: where heel spurs, shotguns, baggy pants and ice climbers gather peacefully

where the mountains meet the prairies, Bozeman is as much stoner cowboys, snowboarder hooligans and big city game hunters as it is serious ice climbers. home to Joe Josephson, Doug Chabot, Conrad Anker and Jack Tackle (plus a legion of transient climbers and home to the Alex Lowe legend), Bozeman and Hyalite were the perfect hosts to our entourage from Japan.

Hyalite Canyon and peaks in the distance

Bison: pretty much says it all

strikingly similar to the ice area in Sendai, Hyalite is layer upon layer of tiered icefalls and squiggled gullys. fat cascades fill the lower ampitheaters, steep cliff lines are hung with daggers and thin twisting routes lead up to the high icefalls that loom overhead. there is ice everywhere.

iceclimbingjapan’s Nae Yagi on a warm up icefall on Unnamed Wall in Hyalite

and on her usual terrain: M10 route to the right of Bingo Cave, with House of Flying Daggers in the background

days in the canyon tended to start early to avoid the festival crowds, and by mid-afternoon we were usually back in town and deep in the festival, where the UIAA championship circuit was the focal point for competition climbers from across Europe, Russia, Asia and North America.

moon over Hyalite: serene and luminous before the festival crowds arrive. apparantly at the right time coyotes actually do howl in the distance…

Yamagishi flaying the rope for a pre-dawn warm up in the Mummy ampitheater

Westy crossing a snow gully on the way towards Zack Attack (WI5)

Marat figuring out the M sequence at the start of a thin and barely connected The Matrix WI4, upper Mummy area

Mens difficulty finals outside the Emerson in downtown Bozeman

 coffee, coconut oil and organic food: the perfect diet for fuelling a whirlwind trip to one of ice climbings meccas.

many thanks to the good folk of Bozeman, especially Marat and Westy for showing us around. the staff of the Lewis & Clark Motel deserve special mention for cheerful service to the no doubt annoying demands of ice climbers keeping weird hours, stomping snow thru their lobby, eating all the cake and brewing espresso in the rooms. special thanks goes to Graham from Cilo gear for the tour of small town Montana that included Bison watching, excellent conversation and the quintessential American experience – outrunning an oncoming train across the rails in a speeding car.

 

 

POLARTEC POWER WOOL: TALES FROM THE TESTING

still a way from its full release, Polartec has OKed comments from the testing process to ferment interest in another of its game-changing innovations.

expedition use is what matters: weeks of constant use, minimal maintenance, just a squirt of dish liquid to clean it and an hour in the sun to dry – true expedition functionality

unlike Neoshell that took on the big players like Gore and Toray, and Alpha which was all hush-hush with the special forces, Power Wool is an everyman fabric that slides straight in with Polartec doing what Polartec does best – produce comfortable next-to-skin fabrics.

at first it seems weird that this hasn’t been done before, afterall blends of wool and synthetic fibers have been around as long as people have felt itchy, but its not till now it could be produced in a dual-density weave that put the different fibers where they were wanted in durable and comfortable form. like any two materials that don’t naturally mix, problems had to be solved to make them integrate and remain stable.

but yeah yeah, whats it like in the real world? and how is this any better than what we already have?

 

very cold and very bright: as a layer that wicks, stabilizes and protects from the sun, Power Wool has the function of multiple other fabrics

first we need to define performance as simply saying ‘its great’ or ‘it sucks’ after a bout of normal use doesn’t mean much. things need to be seriously thrown against the wall before we can say if they work or not. in this case the test ground was the trip to Gangga VII, which fulfilled the ‘expedition criteria’ of all Teton Bro’s Mountain Project designs.

  • 14 days continuous use

  • interfaced with expedition gear

  • subject to constant expedition stressors

  • maintained under expedition conditions

the primary factors to judge on are;

  1. fabric function – how well it does what its meant to

  2. construction function – how well it can be made into what it should be

  3. integrated function – how well it interfaces with what its expected to

the aim here is not to set out to destroy it, but to provide an environment that’s expected to render it significantly useless – for it to fail of its own accord, failure meaning a degradation of performance to below the standard required. in this case this includes the standards of existing fabrics that already do pretty well, which means the stakes were pretty high.

to not fail means to continue doing what its meant to at the limits of testing. where a baselayer fabric has to shine is its capacity for non-stop wear. shell layers and most midlayers go on and off, making ‘constant’ for a shell very different to ‘constant’ for a base. round-the-clock for a baselayer is just that.

where the Power Wool really shone – pun impending – is that its 24/7 use included that as a sun layer. protective sun layers are nothing new of course, but they rarely double as an insulating layer too, the concept of either being viewed as opposite ends of the spectrum. what alters this is Power Wools remarkable wicking ability which works to dry the skin, not insulate it, achieving its warming properties mostly thru minimal heat loss from convection, rather than trapping radiated heat like most baselayers.

contrary to current baselayer trends Power Wool doesn’t need body mapped paneling to achieve fit and stretch – a really big deal design & construction-wise. body mapping is great in theory but every seam and every method of construction used compromises

 

Power Wool as an interface fabric: warm and dry when covered, fast to dump heat when its vented. Power Wool (shown here under a layer of Neoshell) profoundly increases the performance of other layers by getting things stable at skin-level

in a layer system is where Power Wool really matters. being so thermally efficient all other layers over it have a better chance to work effectively, and having a finely textured outer facing and requiring minimal construction it slips under layers with nothing to impede it. because of its high stretch Power Wool barely bunches up in the crooks of elbows, behind the knees etc.

over the 2 weeks of continual use the deodorant properties stayed within acceptable and over a month of expedition maintenance a single quick wash with dish detergent was enough to bring cleanliness back to baseline.

the problems

the only issue was one of minor durability. caught with a crampon during a fall, a hole in the leg laddered in a way something like a stocking. the hole itself didn’t expand over a further week of use, and the laddering didn’t compromise the fit or construction, but it was unexpected to see.

another issue is where a problem was solved; avoiding the durability issues of wool, Power Wool has a firm stretch. unlike pure wool that sits lightly against the skin because it doesn’t handle constant stretch so well, Power Wool’s dynamic stretch makes for a firmer fit, something more like a wetsuit. its not a problem, just more demand on good quality 3D construction.

the big issue tho will be consumer demand: baselayer design has stagnated due to lack of glamour (who cares when you cant see it right?) and understanding (theyre just ‘thermals’, right?) which means even tho Power Wool can easily improve the performance of an entire clothing system it needs the interest from climbers to get the best designs on the market – and thats not easy. its another rant in its own right (stay tuned), but if climbers spent more on baselayers and less on shell layer bling then the near-mythical properties that these fabrics have could be realized.

 

so a verdict?

it wins hands down. as a functional fabric, as a material for clothing construction, and as a primary element in an integrated system it excelled. no other baselayer material does any of those things quite as well, and usually 1 out of 3 below standard. Power Wool in the right design makes a baselayer that achieves more than any other fabric, and this in turn lets the layers over it work better.

 

DYNAFIT DAYMAKER HELMET+LIGHTING SYSTEM

a few months ago, after playing with this at a tradeshow, the thought was WOW! now, after using on expedition, the thought is %&$#@+ WOW!

its a gear off!! two impressive helmets in an impressive place. the Dynafit Daymaker at 5320m on Gangga VII

perhaps because of the serious price tag Dynafit’s Daymaker ‘head system’ has seen little exposure. this review aims to change that. closer to something the PJ’s would wear, the Daymaker system is a big step all round; for helmets, for lighting and for wearable integrated climbing gear.

whats striking about this set is the spec of the elements both standalone and combine. they havent churned out the basest version of whats possible, they have nailed the current upper end. its not like Dynafit have combined superfluous gimmicky bits of junk with this – both a helmet and a headlight are fundamental climbing gear. both elements have also seen a lot of recent innovation and both showcase new technology that has a broad base of users – which makes you wonder why more companies arent putting out integrated systems.

minimal and comfortable

the helmet: alone its one of the lightest helmets out there – and its no minimalist foam dome. full spec, its shelled foam with a full plastic cradle, headlight lugs, a webbing harness (with a funky little magnetic clasp) and the rear battery housing. its fully CE and UIAA rated for mountaineering

thats a serious lighting set up

the headlight: ‘headlight’ is the correct term here. produced by BMW the lighting functions and operates in every way like the lights of a car. the beams are set, with left and right beams set at 2 angles (ie 4 individual lights, a narrower power spread and a wider ambient spread), each set ramps up and down like close, regular and high beam, and its simple one-touch operating. just like a car, with very little in common with every other light out there. build-wise its stunning – BMW havent let the side down at all. attachment is with soft silicone arms onto the helmet lugs with small locator holes in the helmet to fix it fully. the cable threads thru a vent opening then runs along the inside behind the cradle (and via a charger connection) to the battery pack.

the silicone arms & cable

the power is impressive at 1000 lumens, but its not exactly as it seems. the focal power beam feels like its about 300, with the remaining 700 going into the ambient spread. rather than a beam that could be seen on the moon you get a spread that illuminates a basketball court right back into your peripheral vision. it has to be remembered that this is a system designed foremost for backcountry skiing, where the eye demands as wide a spread of illumination as it does a powerful direct beam. the extra lumens dont feel like 1000 at first, until you compare with the ambient spread on a regular headtorch and you realize its not for reading in a tent its for illuminating mountain sides

the battery pack alone is an impressive bit of design

the battery pack (USB rechargable & insulated) has a life of about 4hrs on full juice, which is impressive. at less than that it scales down to about 12hrs on what could be called ‘normal output’.

combined: together it weighs less than most helmets! also its so finely balanced and jiggle/vibration free it feels seamless with nothing that could work loose. its specifically glove friendly (WOO-HOO!! finally a headlight that is!) with a single large rubberized button that glows red (reflects onto your hand so you can see where it is)

in reality: its as good as youd hoped. for normal stuff it functions like a regular light minus the problems associated with strap on use, then you have a serious degree of upscaling that is impressive. when needed you can light up a large area to allow a whole group to utilize the light, useful for things like belay stances, setting up tents and organizing gear at 4:00am.

4:00am, 4600m, -10c, normal headlight on full beam spread

4:01am, 4600m, -10c, Dynafit Daymaker on full beam spread…

issues: the light doesnt articulate so its slightly less good for map reading. theres no red beam – a serious failing. the light isnt really useable as a standalone so in tents you need to mess about. whilst the rear battery is elegantly integrated it seems they could do a bit more with the front cable, making it hidden from rock impacts. a spare battery is no doubt a pain in the ass/expensive to procure, meaning you need access to a charger which ok but not great on long trips.

in a way this is star trek stuff – a big leap in so many ways that a few minor elements need to catch up. plus being a ski helmet its a bit unfair to place the demands of exped climbing on it, but then again Dynafit is now owned by Salewa so perhaps time to listen up.

NEOSHELL EXPED BIVY BAG

the neoshell exped bivy bag: putting evolution into the technology, not the bling

new places generate new ideas. bivy bags have stalled a bit with designs for alpine use, getting more complex and tent-like rather than lighter simpler. but what hasnt stalled is Neoshell and its constant evolution as polartec develops more and more variants for more and more uses.

having used this design for years teton bros got hold of the perfect neoshell for it and here we are – the first available* neoshell bivy bag. the interesting factors are;

its light at 95gm2 this bivy bag comes in at around 350g.

it stretches who doesnt want that? finally a bivy bag that doesnt just feel like a sack.

its long we added an extra 20cms so you can sit up in it with a helmet on, stuff your boots in the end and totally hide away inside with the drawstring cinched shut.

its tough this neoshell is a ripstop version.

its simple minimal seams, minimal openings. the zip is centered so you can sit up in it with it open and when things are grim, turn it over to act as a cowl.

its orange, very if you need to be found stay warm inside. reflective logos make this bag a defacto survival bag.

* this bivy bag is available as a direct supply only – it wont be sold on shelves. due to international differences regarding drip testing neoshell hasnt been finally evaluated yet, meaning we are only selling these direct.

contact iceclimbingjapan thru the bookings & contact tab for details on orders

LIGHTER, FASTER: THE POWERWOOL / NEOSHELL SYMBIOSIS

its usually hard to get excited about ‘new’ developments in clothing, most being just marginal variations on accepted themes. the leaps are usually pretty minor in both function and weight savings.

but every now and then a leap occurs. it takes technology and elegance of design to fuse for it to happen, and when it does notice needs to be given. genuine significant development dont happen by chance, almost always being the result of sophisticated processes.

often what hinders developmental leaps in extreme weather clothing is the lack of systemization; enhancing function by 10% and cutting weight by 10% on a single garment usually goes unnoticed, being lost amongst the inefficiencies of whatever else is being worn. only by systemizing can the factors be tuned enough for serious innovations to exist. in one way its about controlling as many factors as possible, in another way its about streamlining a complex set of processes. in both ways its about increasing function as efficiently as possible. so now one of those leaps has arrived. symbioticly applied together two of Polartecs latest textiles have formed a combination that is both elegant in its function and dynamic in its abilities.

PowerWool and ‘alpine’ Neoshell: a quantum leap in clothing systems.

new versions of Neoshell include a superlight, hi-stretch variant that comes in under 120g/m2, which combined with a radical take on Teton Bros Apex Award winning Tsurugi Jacket produces a full shell layer at about 230g – which is over 100g lighter than the next lightest Neoshell jacket. under this sits a ‘1.5 layer’ made of PowerWool, combining the best elements of wool against the skin and Powerdry to wick moisture away; a combined process that took 2 fabrics to achieve in the past now being done by a single layer at 149g/m2 – light even by baselayer standards alone.

PowerWool; merino, synthetic, fleece – whatever youve got against your skin doesnt work as well as this stuff

combined is a system that weighs in at about 515g for both, yet the whole being greater than the sum of the parts this doesnt function like some low calorie mismatch. profound design optimizes on the fabrics to create a series of micro-climates with the functional spectrum of systems 50% heavier (ie any other system). the Neoshell breathes, protects and moves like a true second skin, its function at maximum capacity due to the seamless layer of PowerWool beneath that keeps the skin regulated and dry by transporting unstable moisture across the easily-controlled air mass surrounding the body. the stretch of both layers results in minimal dead air mass, and large vents allow for consistant temperature regulation that evens the curve of body temperature fluctuation. the PowerWool forms a seamless layer that has total body surface conformity which is the foundation for temperature regulation, the hydrophobic nature of wool finally having the durability of structure to optimize on those properties.

so there you have it; a full function Alpine skin-to-shell system that moves and breathes with the body and weighs under 520g. advanced construction means no compromising elements and innovative design-work results in ferrari-like ergonomics that make piloting the system intuitive.

currently this combination is not available for general release tho a limited number will be made available. enquiries for further details are welcome.

 

 

海金剛の夏の壁 UMI-KON-GOU’S SUMMER WALLS: TYPE 1 FUN

type three suffering on frozen alpine rock and ice is all good and well, but theres time for type one fun too. Japan has a whole range of summer routes that are fun in their own right and good training for nastier objectives.

sure, some stuff can be climbed in a single day but where’s the fun in that? half of what makes a serious route serious is spending time on the wall, living vertically and refining all those things that pay off in winter, not to mention the evenings, nights and mornings when the wall is quiet, just the noise of the sea birds and the espresso maker.

the routes

Umi-kon-gou (海金剛): lots of routes but still a lot left to try

before the typhoon patterns arrive Japans coastal walls are what summer is all about: climbing from sea level with a cool breeze whilst inland swelters, the sound of the waves below and the views along the coast. the Umi-kon-gou (海金剛) buttress down the coast from Tokyo has about a dozen routes up to about 200m, most between 5.10a to 5.11c and mostly natural gear. spending a few days on the face, staying on the ledges, allows for interesting linkups and attempts at some of the unclimbed lines. Umi-no-gou’s lines are a good range of hand-sized cracks and wandering pitches on good rock thats surprisingly solid for its location over the sea.

as a training location Umi-kon-gou offers a lot. most traffic is confined to 3 or 4 trade routes, so getting onto less visited sections to work on alpine systems like stripped down aid and big wall techniques is easy. made easier still by staying on the routes to make the most of the hours when everyone else has gone home and is stuck in traffic.

the gear

clockwise from top: 70m 10.1mm rope, large pack, light pack, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, hanging stove, espresso maker, water bag, tarp, bivy bag, rack, rock shoes, wall boots, harness & aid setup

going alpine-style in summer employs a wide mix of equipment thats very stripped down compared to winter. we usually use a leader-pack/second pack system, and for the sake of training run pitches together to get used to being efficient on gear.

staying on routes like these is easy with the large ledges (tho the luxury of a portaledge is noticeably absent…). bivy gear is simple and light, with tarps being perfect due to the selection of vegetated ledges. sleeping bags are synthetic of course, and light closed cell sleeping mats are the answer to the hardy vegetation that would shred a thermarest.

the rack

from left: assorted slings & free biners, passive pro (wires & hexs + a big bro), large cams, small cams (inc a few off sets), ball nuts, blades, beaks, hooks, light hammer & brush

summer wall racks are somewhere between big wall and alpine racks. a set of cams keeps things rolling, whilst a good mix of big to micro passive pro makes keeping the winter protection skills sharp. as all this is aimed at alpine walls its a chance to work on alpine aid by including the basics of winter aid: beaks, knifeblades, rurps & hooks.

slings are another throwback to the alpine style where routes zig and zag and a maze of ledges makes protection savoury. the whole lot gets strung on a chest rack to make for easy changeovers.

the rig

clockwise from top: aiders, chalk bag, adjustable fifi, 5mm cord + knife, locking biner, nut tool, micro traxion, manual belay/rappel device, assisted belay device, ascenders, mid-weight harness.

not dissimilar to a contemporary Yosemite rig, Japanese summer wall rigs are free setups tweaked towards walls. a mid-weight harness with removable leg loops gets combined with daisys, aiders and a fifi hook. serious wall harnesses are overkill, with nothing above about A3 theres no 5hr hanging belays, and an adjustable Kong fifi hook is good for making the occasional hook sequence a bit less stressful.

being alpine style, most leading is done with a light pack that holds whatever is being switched between: wall boots or rock shoes, gloves, chalk bag etc. a micro traxion goes too for those sections where hauling is needed. belaying wants an assisted device like a Cinch or Gri gri, but for rappels a manual device like a reverso still gets carried.

the clothing

clockwise from top: light alpine boots, hardshell helmet, sun glasses, assorted wall gloves, buff, sun cap, windstopper gloves, High Efficiency active layer, Powershield trousers, Neoshell jacket & over pants, Primaloft belay jacket

its summer, so the heat and exposure to the sun, wind and salt is the priority. mornings can still be cool, especially if the wind comes up and the suns not showing, and of course rain can come out of nowhere.

from Teton Bros we get the chance to play with fabrics, a good thing considering the range of conditions we need to cover. Stretch Woven Powershield trousers have the ergonomics and protection that works, and Power Dry High Efficiency is the perfect active layer being both cool and protective from the sun. if the rain hits theres a Neoshell top and bottom – both stretch – that also act as a wind layer, and if things go really south, or just for chilled early mornings, a light Primaloft belay jacket is the final barrier.

footwear it the usual stiff-soled light alpine boots for standing in aiders and rugged approaches, with comfortable rock shoes for when things are more fun doen that way. being summer, nothing beats hanging out barefoot when theres no climbing going on…

the reason

days on summer walls are long and enjoyable. theres no constant movement to stay warm or melting snow to drink. you dont need to keep wet gloves in your sleeping bag or worry about boots and ropes freezing. you dont need to add butter to everything eaten to stay warm thru the small hours. morings begin at 5:00am when it gets light and the birds stir, with coffee made not by torch light and no need to pre-warm the gas canister. the smell of espresso as you rack up and feel the rock warm, packing away the few things needed for a summer night out, makes winter alpine climbing seem distant – even tho, in the end, thats what all this is aiming towards.

trip report coming soon

LEASHLESS LEASHES

leashes suck. but theres 2 things that suck more; dropping a tool into the void where you cant get it back, and dropping a tool into the void where it hits someone else.

its training season which means its not about giggles, its about work. there are things to be acheived and that means doing stuff that doesnt always work and tools get dropped. the current project location is a longish roof/lip that sits in a tier above a 30m face thats very popular, and which also means dropping a tool is either a pain in the ass or potentially fatal to people below. so, hot on the heels of the already talked-about top rope belay system, is this leashless rig. most set ups have ‘biners and junk that get in the way, and most tools have less-than-perfect interfaces for leashes but this solves much of that. really, its like no one has put 2 and 2 together on this. add to this the way leashes twist around each other and theres a matrix of problems that never seems to get resolved. it annoyed me like it does many others, but function demanded a result and having a rack of leashes i sorted it out.

simple, elegant & functional

the basics

those are Blue Ice Boa leashes hitched to the swivel and hitch sling from a Black Diamond Double Springer. the Fusions (reknowned for having dubious attachment options) simply have 2mm cord hitched around the pommels with loops hanging off. the loops from the Boas hitch into these, via looping over the head of the tool. no little biners, no drilling into metal, nothing requiring tools beyond the scissors to cut the Springer leashes off the swivel. find a better system. you can even re-rig it to the heads of the tools in seconds for piolet stuff.

the interfacing bits: nothing fancier than some girth hitches, clove hitches and double fishermans

it is expensive. you need to spend on 2 sets of leashes unless you rig from other bits. but its more than worth it if leashes drive you crazy on the times when you have to use them.

note: this rig by no means is said to support a fall. anecdotally it has, but none of the parts is rated for such

POLARTEC SYSTEM: WHAT’S POSSIBLE

at iceclimbingjapan we don’t really test garments, we test systems. Japan is an ideal testing ground as results can be gained and processed rapidly, in direct conjunction with the developers.

difficult, cold and complex: the mountain ranges of Japan allow for efficient R&D

tasking from Teton Bros, who interface for Polartec, means we are a vehicle for the Polartec range, which is interesting as they are the only producer putting a full system of compatible fabrics out there. sure, Neoshell is interesting. yes, Alpha insulation is innovative. and High Efficiency, Stretch Woven and Power Wool etc are all useful, but it’s the combination that counts.

so what do we have to play with? theres dozens of variants of dozens of fabrics, which means hundreds of possible combinations. iceclimbingjapan is mostly winter and alpine specific so what we center on a system that keeps an exerting human functional down to very cold and unstable temperatures (about -30c with winds gusting to about 80kmph).

systemized textiles with innovative results

just like testing the latest Ferrari but with tires from the 80s and an exhaust system from the Clinton years would be a severely compromised ’test’, so would be evaluating any component from Polartecs latest range when combined with random elements of old gear. what makes a system good is that it minimizes outliers and therefore makes the function more predictable – something that really matters when planning edgy endeavors.

it also really matters in the market place, where the consuming public – rightly so – disputes manufacturers claims for performance. ‘Neoshell feels cold’, ‘Alpha doesn’t wick’ etc are common complaints heard from consumers who almost always have combined these innovative textiles with others that are not. its just a fact of innovation that your favourite fleece may well be the weak link in an otherwise efficient matrix.

so what have we found?

for a start, the Polartec system works, across a wide range of conditions, for a wide range of activities. ‘works’ here means staying more regulated, comfortable and within a safe functional zone than other random collections of gear allow, and is evaluated simply by experience. whatever the factors, combined as a system, the Polartec range functions with a true sense of integration. the next-to-skin fabrics keep you dry, the midlayer textiles insulated without condensing moisture, the shelter layers block the elements whilst allowing excess heat and moisture to dissipate. all fabrics stretch to math the range of motion of the body. they also all interface smoothly with each other and can be pieced together using construction technology that doesnt compromise function.

weve also found the system to be simple. gone are the days of complex combinations. with each fabric working well over a larger spectrum of conditions, systemizing them becomes simpler. the function of each element still needs to be understood, but the way they work when unimpeded is profound.

weve found too that old notions of ‘layers’ and ‘systems’ no longer apply. sure, weve all known this for a while now, but the resolution has been unclear. old school fleece and shells haven’t really had a part in most active systems for years, but without replacing what goes either side of it has been hard to substitute. applying the out dated layer system gets harder and harder as innovations get more and more profound. anyone advocating a regular way of layering along the lines ‘base-mid-shell-down’ is ignoring the technology currently available. its just not that rudimentary anymore.

one example of a Polartec system: Power Wool base, stretch Alpha midlayer, Powershield outer layer. all elements stretch, move and respirate moisture in harmony.

now single garments do much more than function as a single layer, with garments using fabrics like Power Wool, Alpha and Powershield being referred to as ‘1.5 layers’ or ‘+layers’ that do multiple things at once. combining these ‘1.5 layers’ gets simpler and simpler because they are more and more functional. there really is no reason to be overheating or getting windchilled anymore.

so where to go with it? design.

its one thing to innovate with fabric technology, but quite another to innovate with design, and sadly this is what lets the paradigm down. these new fabrics really demand new designs to feel them at their best, but the consumer market just doesn’t float it. complete systems like what Polartec has developed could easily put seamless, integrated garment ranges onto climbers bodies – but climbers are reluctant to try it, which means giving up the dinosaur gear and showing a demand for the future.

TRAINING: TOP ROPE SOLO SET UP

to climb seriously requires training, and of that an amount needs to be on-wall. a gym and weekend sessions are fine, but real progress is made with enough specific sessions and the problem here is finding a partner. if youre lucky you will have an accomplice who will belay for the long hours required to get the volume in, but if you dont – or dont want one – then a system of soloing is needed. bouldering? it will only get you so far. when reality comes in +/-50m pitches you need long enough sequences to function.

despite a bad reputation, roped soloing need not be the game of russian roulette its made out to be. both solo leading and solo top roping – if done right like anything – can be safe. theres even a train of thought that removing as many people from the equation reduces human error.

for the moment this is about top rope (TR) soloing for training. it differs from recreational TR soloing in that its meant to be hard, which means falling, which means having a system both bombproof and easy to use. yes, it will work for recreational TR soloing too, but the same cant be said for the reverse scenario – a lightweight recreational system is the wrong idea for training.

the basics

this system uses 2 independant ropes, both ideally around 10mm for safety and ease of use. it is assumed the ropes have bombproof, independant anchors at the top of the route, and are weighted but not secured at the bottom. wandering or overhanging routes may have the rope redirected via regular quickdraws.

the basic process has the climber climbing from the bottom along a static rope which feeds fluidly thru the safety devices. falls are arrested with minimal impact shock loading to the ropes and safety system. escape from the arresting system is both safe and fast.

it is recommended the route is rappelled before climbing to check for risks like loose rock, ropes running over edges, direction of pull on anchors, direction of fall etc.

the system: belts-n-braces safety yet easy enough to use for relentless training sessions

the nuts & bolts

  • 2 x 10mm ropes or doubled single rope

  • sit harness:

  • chest harness (rigged or manufactured)

  • capture or oval locking karabiners

  • Trango Cinch

  • Petzl Micro Traxion rigged with an extender cord to the toothed cam

  • additional gear includes a safety tail and prussick loops/ascenders

all up its not a cheap set up, tho all devices also fulfil many other functions. other versions like Gri Gris and lead solo devices can also work, but have been found to be both not as smooth, as easy to manipulate or as low-bulk/low weight.

how & why

this set up uses a Trango Cinch as the primary arrest device because of its smooth rope action due to having a less acute curve that the rope passes thru to arrest. it also sits better when suspended with a chest harness and is clipped between the harnesses loading loops. as a secondary arrest device a Petzl Micro Traxion is used because of its ease for disengaging when rigged below the Cinch. both devices are attached via capture or oval biners so to minimize cross loading.

in use, the Cinch takes the primary loading as it moves up the rope above the Micro Traxion, which, unsuspended, trails below by gravity. when loaded by a fall the Cinch grabs the rope, taking the majority of the load, whilst the Micro Traxion usually grabs a minor part of the load that is engaged from rope stretch. the Cinch arrests by a camming angle that locks the rope when loaded. it doesnt use sharp teeth, so is considered less potentially damaging to your rope. the Micro Traxion does have teeth so grabs aggressively, but is considered fine for a back up if the Cinch were to fail. under load the Micro Traxion requires another device (the Cinch) to assist in disengaging. the Cinch itself requires no disengaging, being the device also used to rappel off the route.

at no time is the climber completely disengaged from the rope

climbing

the ease of flow of the Cinch is the key to this set up. as the climber ascends there should be no need to pull rope thru the device, even if the device has been weighted, assuming there is adequate weight at the bottom of the rope. minimal play in the movement of the Cinch means little shock loading can occur, and gravity has the Micro Traxion trailing far enough below the Cinch to avoid entanglement.

rigged for TR solo: note the coiled rope used to weight the bottom, the directional quickdraw at the base of the overhang and the bomber tree for an anchor

CLICK TO ENLARGE

occasional upward yanks can be applied for ‘watch me’ moves, to further reduce slack in the system and minimize loss of height gain if rests are taken. likewise paying small amounts of slack into the system for overhanging or wandering routes is easy to do one-handed by tilting the orientation of the Cinch and disengaging the Micro Traxions teeth with the pull cord.

falling

training means falling. and falling on this TR solo system is little different to falling on a belayed top rope. the use of a Cinch suspended from a chest harness entails very little impact, and the high center of gravity hugely reduces the chance of inverted falls or inversion from a swing.

disengaging the system under load

lets say you peel off a hard move on an overhang and are left suspended in space. you dont need purchase against the wall to disengage the system and rappel to the ground. begin by checking and arranging the loaded pieces to confirm everything is fully engaged and locked (ie no nasty surprises once you disengage something). if the system feels dubious, tie an alpine butterfly backup knot 1m below on the same rope the Cinch is on.

once confirmed, grab the rope running downwards thru the Micro Traxion and pull it upwards using the action of the pulley for leverage, simultaneously disengage the Micro Traxions teeth by yanking on the extender cord attached to the biting cam and lock it open. note it only takes a second of applied strength to do this. remove the Micro Traxion from the rope.

this will leave you suspended from the engaged Cinch, which is then used to rappel the rope. note: at this point confirm the correct rope (the one going thru the Cinch) is used to brake the rappel.

TOP ROPE SOLOING FOR TRAINING

a system like this makes it as easy as it ever will be to get realistic training time beyond the limitations of bouldering. applied structurally within a smart training program TR soloing is good for 4X4 and endurance sessions that few belayers are enthusiastic about, along with projecting hard sequences and testing things like aid placements, new gear and speed. in the end the set up here with a 60m rope is a smaller load to carry than a mat and opens up far more options. the more fluent you are with the system the more fluid the training session can be. expect to spend one or two sessions working it out and a few more getting comfortable, after which the gains in vertical-time are big.

the system here works just as well for drytooling as it does for aid and free. ice? thats not impossible; the angle of function of the Cinch and the grab of the Micro Traxion makes this as good a set up as can be for the medium. as with any pursuit on ice, its the effect of cold on ropes and hardware that adds the extra element of risk, and tho this system has been used on ice its a scenario needing extensive specifics before recommending.

note: all the usual stuff applies. copy this at your own risk. iceclimbingjapan and the people who represent it are not responsible for the outcomes of using these or similar methods. top rope soloing carries risks associated with height, impact forces, entanglement, equipment failure, friction, rock fall and a multitude of other factors, of which the outcome can include death or serious injury. anyone using these or similar techniques accepts this, and acknowledges that the use of equipment in this way may contravene the expressed recommendations of the manufacturers.

LA SPORTIVA SWING FLIP-FLOPS/SANDALS REVIEW

flip-flops/sandals dont usually get much mention in the climbing pantheon of equipment, usually not being deemed as ‘serious’ enough footwear to get attention.

when no-name chinese flip flops can be bought for $1 a pair or Havianas for $10 it may be wondered why a pair of ‘special’ flip flop sandals at +$50 a pair can be taken seriously. surely a pair from the dusty shelves of the local chinese supermarket will do..?

la Sportiva Swing Sandals: a curiously functional addition to the serious climbers footwear

the Swing sandals are not the same. where a cheap pair will do for a trip round the mall, the Swings get you a lot further than that. La Sportiva has used the same materials and construction from their approach and climbing shoes in the Swing, producing a likeness that is superfical only. the feel and function of the Swings are immediately felt – as is the absence of the familiar ‘flip flop’ sound when you walk. big deal? very. the Swings are a much more streamlined product than the chunky sandals other climbing companies offer. after wearing offerings from Patagonia, Evolv and Salomon these are easily the most high quality and shoe-like, with lower profile dimensions and a more sophisticated design without being bitsy.

what Salomon markets as ‘recovery footwear’, La Sportiva has taken further and produced something at once both leisurely and functional. the Swing has a low stretch upper that minimizes blisters and gives a secure fit (via no internal seams just like some rock shoes) and a non-slip footbed that reduces the sandal from twisting around the foot when wet. under that theres a true mid-sole, made from the same yellow stuff thats used in Spantiks, and then the sole itself is the same sticky ‘Frixion’ rubber found on the Ganda approach shoes – ie proper off road stuff. its quite possible the Swings rate as a minimalist approach shoe, and after a few weeks of walking into crags in them id be happy with that idea. the Swings have the function and fit to get you over boulders, across sand and even the odd patch of snow-pack. i dont doubt that someone somewhere may have nailed 5.10 in them.

but where the La Sportiva Swing sandals really come in is with foot condition. if you climb year round you need to take care of your feet, and nothing screws with them more than being constantly cooped up and compressed inside shoes and boots during summer, with climbing footwear being second only to ballet shoes for their destructive nature. if you climb more than once or twice a week, especially if youre in basecamps, footcare become a major concern between bouts of being stressed inside boots.
sandals allow your feet to breathe and expand naturally, recouping a degree of form and allowing the tendons and muscles to relax. exposure to sunlight and air limit infections and allow damaged skin to heal.

initially easy to dismiss the entire genre of footwear, La Sportiva’s Swings are much more than goofy slip-ons. 5 x better than the surf shop version? yes. certainly 5 x better craftsmanship, materials and fitting – the Swings are given the same attention as the rest of the La Sportiva catalogue.

failings? well theres not a lot to go wrong with the Swings but time will tell. the usual weaknesses of flip flops are the soles separating, the straps losing integrity and the footbed deteriorating – all being common to the simple cheapness that most sandals arise from. the Swings tho are not intended to be cheapo, disposable footwear – the materials make that obvious – so the assumption is they will minimize the issues of others.

is it weird to care so much about flip flops? maybe. but when humid summers and long bouts of torturing my feet in climbing footwear are all part of the job description im happy to see La Sportiva giving the subject some attention.