we have had a good relationship with Iran going back almost 20 years. as Tripleshot Consulting, while the rest of the world hasnt known how to position itself with Iran we have been hosting a long and positive interaction with the climbers, mountain areas and evolving scene. always engaging, always welcoming, totally unique and refreshingly frontier, Iran as a climbing destination has long been on our radar, having visited destination stretching from the deserts of Yazd to the ranges of Hamadan and into the Alborz and Talesh mountains of the north east.
and now it’s time to open up about it.
Persian winter walls: exotic frontiers of both climbing and global thinking
anyone with a tv will be aware that global attitudes about Iran are changing fast, and this faster nowhere than within Iran itself. a large population of young, well educated and dynamic people has long turned out world class alpinists – not to mention the recent generation of competitive women ice climbers – and anyone who has spent time in places like the Baltoro will know Iranian climbers to be warm, focused, passionate and coming from a long history of climbing excellence.
rather than watch the changes from the armchair, iceclimbingjapan – as we did in China – is getting involved as part of the process. close interaction with Iran’s serious climbers gives us a unique position to go right to the heart of the huge climbing spectrum they have there. from multiple ice locations to huge alpine walls, desert walls and hard alpine mixed, Iran is a mountaineering dream. locations are easily accessed with Iran’s excellent infrastructure, the people and culture are extraordinarily welcoming, the food amazing and the landscapes bewilderingly beautiful. unlike some of its neighbors, Iran is healthy, stable, accessible and well run, and despite years of sanctions is a country bustling with activity.
climbing-wise we are focusing on the ice and the alpine mixed & walls, as usual. and there are no shortage of objectives. teaming up with some locals, we will be climbing in places as exotic as it can get, in the past associated with the great Persian empire, the hashasheens, the silk road and the Akkadians. like Tibet, climbing trips are inseparable from the deep cultural traditions of the location it occurs in and perhaps like no other country, Iran is as untrammeled by the plastic hand of tourism as is possible.
of course we expect that many climbers have a dark perspective on Iran – we accept that these trips are not for everyone. but we are also motivated to show the reputation is both untrue and backwards. for any climbers requesting it we provide a full risk analysis, and trips are completely fortified with visa, bureaucratic and logistical support. there is no secret that iceclimbingjapan’s trips to Iran are an extension of goodwill and comeraderie.
if the frontiers of climbing and global possibilities are your thing get in touch, and watch this space as we release more beta.
LIFE IS SHORT. DEMAND IS HIGH. SOME CHANCES DONT COME TWICE.
4 years ago we stood in the base of a volcanic valley in North East Japan, stared up at dozens of ice lines that dripped down the weird volcanic flutings, and knew in the hands of the right climbers it would work. we knew a smattering of routes had been done thereabouts, but we also knew huge sections of the valley walls had nothing done on them. asking around told us that decades before during a peak in Japanese climbing the hard mixed climbers of the day had done what they could for the era, putting up steep routes onto connecting ice with leashed tools as part of the wave of mixed athletic climbing. several M8 lines – test pieces for Japanese climbing – went up before things fizzled out and interest went elsewhere. What was done became obscure classics, novelties mostly forgotten, repeated rarely. meanwhile mixed climbing elsewhere surged and a core of hard climbers lead from the front, pushing both abilities and concepts ever-higher.
when iceclimbingjapan came into being we soon found limitations in the well known ice locations in Honshu and Hokkaido. interaction with international climbers in places like Shuangqiaogou and Hyalite, and discussions with Japan’s top climbers showed the idea was worth pursuing and over the intervening winters iceclimbingjapan made a series of trips up there, putting up new lines, mapping the blank areas and trying to make sense of the weather anomaly that allows ice to exist there at all. despite some uncommitted interest, nay saying and disbelief, those who actually went there all saw the potential and it was obvious it was much more than just throwing a rope up – most route possibilities were huge, bold and with a lot of objective issues – and it was clear this place would not be for everyone. during tent-bound and espresso-fueled pipe dream discussions we chewed away at ideas, and always one name kept coming up.
Will Gadd, the godfather of stoke, and Sarah Hueniken, the pillar of womans hard mixed climbing, gambled a big chunk of their winter to head into a part of Japan even most Japanese climbers know nothing about. their capacity to climb hard, develop lines, see potential where others dont and fuse possibilities into realities are the foundation that frontier climbing is based on. Will and Sarah both know they are ambassadors of the sport both to its adherents and on the industrial stage, and both get that coming to Japan will trigger more attention than simply putting up new routes in already well-know places. Will had been to Japan several times before and had a handle on what could be done. We threw ideas and logistics about but it took time to coalesce with the right people and an angle from the industry to see the value.
having a hotel with hot springs to return to each day keeps the psyche higher longer than a frozen tent
over 8 winters the idea ebbed and flowed, thru tragedies, tsunamis, changes in life and dozens of other projects. in late 2015, just as we stepped off the first winter attempt of Tibet’s Se’erdengpu big wall, Will’s email came thru; ‘This winter it’s on!’ and that means all systems into overdrive. Will knows the risks and variables that go with these things. several trips to Japan and a lifetime of trips to obscure places means that the vision warrants the uncertainty. like Spray ice, Niagra, Kilimajaro and the frozen mines deep under Sweden show when the work ethic, concept and risks align the results are always game-changing. to be part of the Gadd-Machine is to be strapped into a torpedo of potential that fuses insane ability with the alchemy of energy and inspiration that makes possibilities emerge where before none were obvious – at a rate even Red Bull barely keeps up with.
Raising the bar in so many ways is about more than just the climbing and demands quality documentation for all sorts of reasons. the climber-photographer interaction needs to function seamlessly far beyond the final act of just shooting the magic moment. compressed into the process of obscure locations, tight schedules and serial unknowns, capturing the process realistically demands an eye and a work ethic unwavered by the intensity of frontier climbing – a sense of humour and pragmatism is mandatory. when picking the team Will Gadd makes attitude the defining factor and everyone involved has to be 100% switched on the entire time and all channels need to be open, making John Price one of the handful of photographers up to the task. hooked on Japan long before this trip, John’s capacity to balance and integrate what others may find distracting allowed the perfect combination of his Rockies ice composition with Japan’s very different conditions.
to clarify the swirl of possibilities the plan was distilled simply: climb the most radical new routes possible. away from the expectations of well established mixed areas, in this case ‘radical’ meant the old school version of the term – fundamental and drastic changes from the root of the process. and with a resume covering ice bergs, spray ice and years at the leading edge of the grade game Will is the best guy to know what that means.
Tohoku as the location was the perfect stage for Will and Sarah. obscure and far from the well trodden ice locations of central Honshu they could get on with the job without the attention and complications their climbing celebrity brings. aside from a single day at Zao, we saw no other climbers the entire time. beyond climbing, Will’s connection to the region goes even deeper, back to the 2011 Great North Eastern Disaster where his immediate interest resulted in critical telecommunication equipment being sent over that directly impacted a wide spectrum of response applications and had very real outcomes. to be up in the region with Will had a lot more meaning than just putting up new routes, especially as we passed thru former nuclear exclusion zones, Sendai’s once destroyed airport and the quake-scarred Tohoku freeway. tourism of any sort hasnt been exactly thriving in that area recently so foreign visitors are already well outside the cube.
in Miyagi we met up with Aiichi Chiba, the name associated with climbing up there and author of the chapter for the area in the long-out-of-print guide to Japanese ice and mixed climbing. immensely strong, welcoming, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, Chiba-san resolved a lot of unknowns that set the course from which the final routes emerged. the connection between the old guard locals and the new wave linked things culturally, ethically and profoundly with a lot of positivity, and Chiba-san‘s connection became the element we needed to anchor things amongst the Japanese community both in Tohoku and Tokyo.
Chiba Aiichi, John, Sarah & Will in one of many morning car park gear up sessions
compared to central Japan, Tohoku is quieter, less populated, less commercial and wilder. forming a plan was dictated as usual by weather forecasts and predictions based on wind direction, altitude and travel time – nothing unusual aside from the fact barely any specific data existed. as true frontier climbing dictates, you cant just look on a website to answer all the questions so we had to get deep into the valleys to verify what was going on. initial recon in Futakuchi showed huge potential but the weather anomaly needed to catalyze the ice hadnt quite stabilized and the symphony of crashing ice was far from enticing. hours in slush, wet from warm snow, jet lagged and wondering if the gamble was worth it things became gloomy, buoyed only by possibilities in the forecasts and Chiba-san‘s optimism for other areas on the other side of the range. it wasnt what we came for but till conditions settled the idea of somewhere new was the best option.
the approach to Zao Ice Garden
long established as the place to go in Tohoku, Zao Ice Garden has enough stunning vertical ice lines for the potentials for overhanging mixed to be overlooked. despite an easily accessible cave with wild lines itching to go, none had been done. the obvious feature is a beautiful 30m blue pillar whos beguiling presence belied huge objective dangers that almost put an end to the trip and seriously affected group psyche. when things slip under the Gadd/Hueniken radar the shock waves are real and dont settle quickly, but the potentials opened up by the process of analysis and rethinking are amazing. in hindsight, the process of adjusting our perspective – as hard as it was – became fundamental to the routes that were done. without this the chance of just copy-catting the process and results of the Rockies may have been too easy. Japan deserves its uniqueness and to see how Will and Sarah switched the paradigm was as big a deal as watching them sequence the moves.
Sarah Hueniken making the step onto the hanging dagger on Fun Chimes M9, 40m, Zao Ice Garden, Yamagata
Fun Chimes (40m, M9) went up as the first route out there to engage the hanging ice and the roof of the cave. placements into the roofs iced-out cracks is true 45o overhanging ice climbing and the signature move out onto the suspended dagger is the set up for the thin frost, earth and ice above. its a Canadian-style mixed line reworked with Japanese features and doable enough to set the potential for the rest of the crag into motion. with a healthy Yamagata scene, chair-lift access and Chiba-san’s thumbs up, for the Ice Garden to become a Mixed Garden would be a straightforward and positive thing. from this our psyche started to lift and the temperatures stabilized, and this put our original ideas for Futakuchiback on the table.
Will’s idea of a rest day
that Futakuchi ever comes in is a result of a weather pattern that in normal years is solid but this winter was hard to predict. when it happens it happens and if youre not good to go it can pass you by. hourly scrutiny of the forecasts showed the pattern emerging later than usual and entering the final days available we scraped in at the start of the main cold plunge. literally overnight it all tightened up, froze and consolidated and the ideal lines could be tried, proving doable. its one thing to walk from the car and get on a world class vanguard route, its totally another to pull together the wherewithal, experience, attitude and work load and jump into a weird weather window and make it happen. its not just athleticism that sets great climbers apart from the rest.
Frozen Gold WI7, 100m
at the other end of the spectrum from Fun Chimes – which went up as a cool, fun, direct line linking charismatic features – Frozen Gold was the product of intensity, guile and vision. at over 90m and deep inside a volcanic flute formation, its an imposing line however you look at it. bizarre golden mantles are linked by small blobs that get smaller and line up directly beneath a large suspended icicle with nowhere to hide. at 75m you pull 2m out over air from the underside of the ice. situated at the valley head of a large buttress, dozens of these huge flutings exist, most with ice formations in the back and many much bigger. that none have been done previously is testament to the psyche needed to make them reality.
Will between the ice tiers on the first pitch of Frozen Gold WI7
neither of the 2 new routes came easily yet both went up in record time even with the extra levels of diligence put into making them safe. the nature of the underlying geology meant bolts were used where screws couldnt be, and the first ascents of both went unrehearsed and were photographed – profound for an M9, off-the-scale for a WI7 and an indication of the tightness of the whole operation. when Frozen Gold was done we stomped out, got in the car and drove directly to Tokyo. blitzed on coffee as we soared thru the tunnels and suspended freeways across Tokyo, Will jumped straight into his Arc’teryx presentation 6hrs after pulling the icicle on the FA of Frozen Gold. John had edited the images in the car on the way and the impact on the small audience was direct. Will didnt mince his words when telling them what was possible.
Will Gadd at the Arc’teryx store in Tokyo, 6hrs after doing the unrehearsed first ascent of Frozen Gold WI7
Sarah getting into the transition from frozen wilderness to digital wilderness on the Yamanote Line, Central Tokyo
in the end the world is left with 2 mixed routes that push the edges of skill, composition, location, style, vision and definition. these are not standard mixed lines where a sequence of dry moves end with a few moves on ice. harnessing the unique conditions and formations we found in Japan, the boundaries between ice and mixed are blurred and in flux. as Will stated at the Arc’teryx presentation, they are among the top routes he has done and the potential for more is vast. both routes exist in places with dozens if not hundreds of options right around them, and with the lid off the possibilities, both present the development of a unique type of ‘Japanese mixed‘. after a long time at a ceiling of old school M9 and WI6, Japan now has the doors open to what lays beyond.
so after a long time transmitting requests to help resolve Japan’s ice climbing deficiencies the wheels are now in motion; 2 new world-class routes put up by A-list athletes, dozens of new options thrown open, approval from the heart of Japan’s climbing scene and documentation by one of the best photographers for the job. repeats will be welcomed and new routes encouraged.
requests for the neoshell bivy bags has been way beyond expectations – seems the number of users who want a light, stretchy, breathable, extra long, simple bivy bag for mostly cold conditions is huge, which isnt surprising. the thing is, these are not commercial bivy bags, which means theyre not going to be on shelves and are not made in commercial quantities, and therefore the production process isnt straightforward.
-15c, direct onto frozen ground, inside a frosted tarp shelter, several nights in a row – no problem: the Neoshell bivy bags are made to simply work
the current status of the Neoshell bivy bags is
there are currently none available
a new batch is in the pipeline, hopefully before winter
the new ones will be an upgraded design thats greater volume to accommodate bigger sleeping bags / bigger people / more gear jammed inside
the fabric will be the same stretch Neoshell
the colour may change but will be bright for safety reasons
they will be made of less panels, so less seams to tape and all that goes with that
they will have water proof zips instead of a weather cover
the zips will be double, possibly triple pull
volume still wont be huge,w e are guaranteed to run out again
people who have already made a request are higher on the list, tho will need to confirm when the bags are ready.
weight will be under 400g
price will be under $300
we can send anywhere, tho thats not included in the cost
interested climbers should get in touch, and watch this site for announcements of availability.
when Training for the New Alpinism first came out it saw a spate of reviews from people who had bought it and people who had read it, with many people stating it was the grandest thing ever. that was well over a year ago (lets say minimum of one full yearly climbing cycle), and interestingly reviews of how the content of the book works are few. this review aims to counter that.
it needs to be said that intelligent training models for alpine climbing have existed for decades. Soviet climbers applied state science to it to produce national heroes, Japanese climbers did long apprentiships, the Poles followed a solid methodology, European climbers followed basic models for increasing performance that obviously worked and American climber Mark Twight put out a proto-model in the 90’s that was a big step along the way – but like most things climbing that dont relate to shiny gear, it was mostly ignored in favour for the quick fix. Training bridges the Men’s Magazine style of popular climbing information with the hard data presentation of sport science, being more towards the data end of the spectrum. if you dont like reading this book will feel like work, even to eek out the most accessible of informations – and thats a good thing. quick fixes will not be found here. House & Johnston are not asking you to find your inner climber, they are Rxing a way to construct it. unlike ultra running and sport climbing, alpine climbing has perhaps never been analysed enough and had the tennets of ‘sport’ applied to a degree that made it presentable. House & Johnston’s makes a good effort to remedy that.
in the real world
after years of incorporating House’s ideas for training, along with bits drawn from his lineage of climbers like Twight, Lowe and Yaniro, I allowed for the hype to cool before jumping in. After this a realistic dedication has been applied to see where the model goes. Ive chosen not to ‘adapt’ the methodology presented, and to do it in full, as prescribed as much as possible. I figured the writers have a good handle on the way things work so emptied my cup in order to see where it all was at. winter was spent applying the ‘full time climbing model’ presented in the latter part of the book, and spring onwards has used the ‘regular model’ the bulk of the book details. the concessions ive made are minimal, revolve around scheduling – i’m not a 25 year old with nothing to do besides train – so the methods and scheduling have been made to fit with a working, family life, albeit one that accommodates climbing.
the key to the House-Johnston model is smart planning. after getting a handle on the books awkward format, time and thought needs to be taken to put together a training plan and record it. House & Johnston dont churn out a step-by-step, one-size-fits-all, 10-minutes-a-day panacea for alpine success, instead you get the nuts and bolts to build your own plan according to your objectives and resources. the onus is on you taking control of your process.
after detailing the metabolic elements being trained, methods and indicators for training them are presented and then it’s up to the accolyte to make it real. this begins with a self assessment and is then dependant on the availablity of resources like mountain terrain, weight / resistance equipment and vertical environment. with these tools you structure a series of cycles that stimulate several metabolic zones in ways that increase their capacity. you are expected to re-test regularly and reassess continuously, adjusting when things need to be tweaked.
its more sophisticated than you think, and its also more subtle.
House-Johnston are not concerned with quickly turning out an army of one-peak wonders. the methods detailed recompose a climber to a metabolic type self-designed to take on serious alpine objectives, and they are aware this takes years over multiple cycles. they are also very good at detailing the shortcomings and pitfalls. these guys know what it takes to get good at climbing and more importantly they know what is a waste of time. there’s a degree of fantasy about many people having the time and resources to apply the models exactly, but House & Johnston accept that at a fundamental level its about using the resource of time as effectively as possible. and this is where the eye-opening stuff is. despite being a poster boy for hard alpinism, House pierces his own heroic image to present that the vast majority of training is done at and for the lower heart rate end of the scale. even at the exclusion of whiz bang technical prowess. anyone looking for vein popping, chick impressing, cover gracing, hard man stuff will be dissappointed. instead you get endless lonely hours of sustainable footslogging, old school gymnasium work, bulk time on unheroic routes and slow-burn recomposition of the metabolism. a common complaint for those starting what’s prescribed is ‘it doesnt seem hard enough’, and the presenters are adament that this – initially – feels so. the sophisticated, vanguard stuff isnt in the individual sessions – its in the scheduling. it doesnt feel too easy for long.
as 5 months of application (on top of a decade of dedicated endurance training) has shown, scheduling a cycle of sessions to stimulate the demands of alpine climbing isnt too hard – but scheduling to sustain it meaningfully is. keeping the capacity to train at the demanded levels becomes the horse that needs to be ridden; two max strength sessions a cycle sounds easy – until you schedule it as only about 10% of your overall training time with all the endurance and conditioning elements around it. after 3 or 4 cycles any holes in your schedule start to show. complaints that it doesnt feel hard enough suggest to me a) that no realistic self-assessment was done to start, b) sessions are being compromised somehow and/or c) both.
it doesnt take long to find that max strength is pretty intense stuff that takes solid recovery, and the majority thats endurance training affects this – especially when its done at the prescribed metabolic levels. it fast becomes apparent that the ‘easy’ sessions the early reviews harked on about are about condition for general volume, not specific heroics. its interesting to note that a year or so on, these complaints about things being easy have cessated, and that House-Johnston were explicit in predicting this.
now in the depths of the schedule – having juggled the ‘climb only’ schedule over winter then switched to the ‘normal’ schedule once winter conditions ended – it’s easy to see the development. House & Johnston put a huge emphasis on serious endurance – the sort of deep cellular endurance defined in days, not the pop endurance counted in minutes – and that’s stuff that has a deep impact. every element is tweaked in this direction and the time-resources are focused this way, and by about a month in obvious development is apparent. i like to think i have a base of endurance, and yet House & Johnston’s methodology shows the holes in that. simply put; without the numbers and indicators provided by the collective science you’ve probably overlooked true base endurance training, looking instead to higher heart rate training (not necessarily Crossfit, but simply a higher level of metabolic exertion). and it’s remarkable the difference made when a true base is worked on. even a short period developing what House-Johnston call ‘Zone 1’ goes a long way, and in the doctrine of training weaknesses addresses a fundamental hole in many peoples ability.
House & Johnston have sugar-coated this system minimally. there’s a few concessions where they recognize not everyone is a supported climber and they admit to remarkable achievments made without any structured training at all (no less Vince Anderson who climbed along side House for some of his peak achievments), but they never stray from the basic fact that there is no short cut or convenient way to get serious results; in the end, consistant, dedicated hours spent smartly training is what it takes. part of the beauty of House & Johnston’s book is the detailed analysis of when things havent worked, including a range of failures from multiple climbers. along with the analysis that produces raw data, it’s this that sets this manual apart from the pop-culture lads mags level of ‘training’.
at a users level, once the planning is settled the methods described are time-honoured and quite simple. most of what’s used is plain old hard work, with nowhere to obscure results or complex programming to hide behind. unsurprisingly most of what’s done happens in mountain or simulated mountain environments, with strength elements utilizing a gym or controlled environment for the sake of a) recording dependable and reviewable progress, and b) safety. this element is perhaps the most refreshing; the basic fact that endless climbing is not the best way to become a better alpinist – intelligent integration of on-mountain and off-mountain is. on-mountain stuff simply lacks the safety margin to push hard enough to develop some aspects.
a large part of real training is the ability to plot progress so to pin point problems – something random training schedules and ‘just-climb’ methods lack. the House-Johnston model, backed with quantified research and analysis, is big on using hard numbers to spot weaknesses. this perhaps is the main factor that distinguishes the climber athlete from the recreational climber. in short the athlete has expectations based on impirical progress, and the way to keep the curve correct is to manipulate its direction by training.
this translates in the actual doing in interesting ways, most profoundly with efficiency; having a clear idea of whats to be done (kms covered, loads lifted, time spent etc) lets very specific effort be applied and so results are clear. apply this to objectives (short and long term) and large pieces of the alpine puzzle fall into place. this element alone earns this books recognition as valuable – simply getting climbers to view their pursuit quantifiably. the included record sheets are clunky but useable and show real world processes in applicable ways, which when matched with objectives are a powerful tool for connecting to distant goals and analyzing weaknesses.
qualified climbers, athletes and analytic inquirers House & Johnston are, but qualified authors they are not. as a written work Training leaves a lot to be desired – manual or climbing porn its hard to decide sometimes. the data is certainly there, but the format and style lets it down. rather than a direct training manual as is stated on the cover, you get a patchy format of guru idlings and a format unclear on the use of side notes. add up all the tantalizing but pointless photos, disjointed text boxes and interjected sections and you get a lot of ill-used space. as a coffee table decoration this is nice but as a vehicle for functional data it doesnt help. a pared down ‘field manual’ thats stripped to training-only data would be a nice thing to see one day.
some parts of the book – the specific exercises, the nutrition, the psychology sections for example – lack the dimension of the physiology and planning sections. the beginnings of subjects are raised but not always followed thru with a methodology for developing. the psychology section especially is big on the impact it has but after some solid introduction little becomes of it. perhaps another book as certainly what is raised is far more interesting than the new age drivel many books address climbing psychology with.
in the physiology chapters there’s a lot of text describing the specifics of these things but the diagrams and illustrations are lagging far behind. knowing the physiology of muscle fibre adaption is good stuff, but it would help to see it extending macro-muscle groups so exercises could be better planned. along with this, indicator stats would be helpful (as they are with running, lifting etc) for things like vertical gain and strength:weight ratios. the graphs and diagrams that do exist are quasi-scientific, more like visual renditions of ideas than true plotting of data. the idea is there, but the anomalies that make plotted data realistic are missing, nevertheless it’s enough to work with.
Training for the New Alpinism comes at the right time. Twight’s previous efforts from Extreme Alpinism, gospel for the time, triggered a movement that eventually needed updating and refinement and this is it. it’s not as romantic and idealistic; revolutionary zeal has been replaced by cold data and isolating hours, but it’s based on enough years of collated numbers and research and that in itself is a turning point for the sport. along with becoming more athletic, climbing is also becoming more conceptual and it’s only delving into the quantic details that doors will be opened. what a generation of climbers who grow up on this stuff will acheive is exciting to consider.
where will i go with it? over a yearly expedition cycle i will observe how it goes. results are already impressive after what is essentially the entry phase. a series of sub-goals over summer will give momentum to the process and the omega point of a return to North Eastern Tibet will provide a test piece. so far it feels good and the process of readapting my body has a definite buzz to it. as yet i’m seeing nothing that stands out that needs to be questioned and im certainly feeling it is sustainable. the issues that have arisen have been reliably forseen by House & Johnston so im confident the broader indicators will likewise be reliable.
power wool is soon to have it’s big release for fall-winter, so it’s a good time to get some real-world beta out there along side the endless press releases and showroom fondling from the trade show circuit. having used the stuff over almost a year and taken it from baking granite walls to nasty tibetan snow storms and lots of variety of trips between, a decent perspective on the stuff exists.
having worn capilene, various merino wools, maybe every form of Powerdry, Powergrid and Power stretch and like everyone, the old school poly pros, Power Wool is as close to getting it right as has been achieved. now into 2nd and 3rd generation versions, some of the issues have been worked on and what now exists is impressive.
what matters is that the entire clothing ‘system’ rests on the foundation of the baselayer. compromise it and that $700 jacket is off to a poor start. baselayers need to fill a range of functions much more sophisticated than the other layers, so stakes are high, and as it goes Power Wool is as big – if not a bigger – leap in function that Neoshell or Alpha.
the way Power Wool works is straightforward: the inner side is wool that has a degree of insulation yet allows heat to dissipate consistantly, and the outer side is a synthetic fiber that wicks efficiently and allows moisture to pass thru unimpeded.
how they’ve made it work is very sophisticated: this is not 2 layers stuck together. evolved from Alpha-style technology, Power Wool is a bi-component 3D knit (not a traditional weave) thats the one layer but with 2 sides to it. the wool inner side is a waffle texture, the synthetic outer side is a denser uniform texture.
beyond all that are the properties of the fibres: the wool doest reek, it keeps your skin in good condition and it gives a firmness to the fabrics dynamic. the synthetic element gives it durability, provides most of the wicking properties and retains the elasticity of the ‘firm stretch’ factor that makes it fit so well.
speaking of which, the fit is a major factor at work here. firmer than a normal high-stretch baselayer but not prone to the stretch degradation of wool, Power Wool acheives much of it function by form fitting alone. it sits tight against the skin to have maximum thermal and wicking efficiency, but has minimal bunching around the joints or riding up like many tight layers do. perhaps the best factor is that by combining wool and synthetic 3 dimensionally theres no need for a patchwork of ‘body mapping’ panels – which means construction can be kept simpler and more durable yet function is heightened. this then leads to more sophisticated design possibilities ie, how panels conform to the body, where zips go, ways of connecting panels etc.
in use Power Wool is a true ‘put it on, leave it on’ fabric – which is vital for a baselayer. the days of stripping to a baselayer yet still sweltering are a big step closer to being over. Power Wool doesnt work by being thick – it works by being efficient, which means it’s almost neutral to the touch. as a single layer it will work comfortably well into warmer temperatures. this is largely increased by it currently being produced in a silver-grey that reflects radiant heat well. this stuff is as much sun layer as it is warmth layer.
on extended trips Power Wool has the odour minimizing properties of any wool, with the quick dry properties of synthetic. the minimal amount of seams needed to achieve high function also makes a garment with less pieces to come apart. over time is where the stuff really come to the fore, allowing the other layers in the system to maintain their functions too, remaining less compromised by the effects of grime as a trip wears on.
all this could only be done by Polartec, the only company working on a full spectrum of functional layers. they realize that for Alpha, Powershield, Neoshell etc to work properly they need to be on top of a foundation layer that gives them the best possible chance. of all the layers it’s taken the technology for Power Wool the longest to emerge, and in producing it theyve reinterpreted how baselayers can function.
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;
fabric function – how well it does what its meant to
construction function – how well it can be made into what it should be
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 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.
a few months ago, after playing with this at a tradeshow, the thought was WOW! now, after using on expedition, the thought is %&$#@+ WOW!
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
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.