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.

 

UNSEEN, UNNAMED, UNCLIMBED: GANGGA VII 2014

anyone saying the era of real exploration is over is simply wrong

gangga VII, 5425m, north east tibetan plateau. south east coulouir, 5.7 M4 VI, 85degrees ice, 40 – 60 degrees snow, +/-500m, 9 pitches to 5340m. no summit…this time

over a month from September to October iceclimbingjapan lead another trip to the Sichuan/Tibet plateau to find & climb new peaks – new as in totally unclimbed.

based on 15 years of trips to remote parts of China ICJ teamed up with the master of Tibetan exploration, Tomatsu Nakamura, to get the inside knowledge on whats out there to do. from his vast base of data we settled on an objective that suited ICJs model of small footprint, highly mobile trips that shed many of the problems associated with the big, dinosaur industry ‘expeditions’ found elsewhere. the Gangga Massifs were chosen with their +/-5500m mixed peaks and relative easy access, which made for a streamlined ascent profile that fitted our window.

aside from that almost nothing was known. first we had to find the base of the mountain before thinking about climbing it – a big matter considering only half a dozen photos of the Gangga peaks existed, all of them from the same side. it didn’t help too that the area was known as a center for civil unrest, with access restrictions forming a large element in the planning…

SO WHAT’S THERE?

even several months of speculation didn’t touch on the amount of climbing out there. what turned out to be extremely complex topography uncovered decades worth of routes in just the one part of the Gangga we recced (approx. 10% of the range). characterized by a series of high cirques (+4500m) ringed with rock peaks theres climbing everywhere. from ideal boulders to 1200m big walls, ski routes, hard alpine, moderate ridges and huge ice lines theres endless possibilities.

basecamps mostly sit above 4000m, on grass yak pasture (nomads use the Gangga valleys connecting the Yalong river to the higher grasslands), with pristine spring water (ie very comfortable). high camps tend to be up the steep scree slopes that lead into the cirques thru openings in the walls (ie not so comfortable).

 Gangga VII highcamp (4500m)

another common feature of the Gangga massifs geology are the formations of spires and pillars that form maze-like networks of couloirs between faces and snow fields, making for complex route choices requiring a broad spectrum of climbing ability. theres lots of steep snow plodding to be had – but it takes solid mixed alpine to get to.

WHAT DID WE DO?

Gangga VII SE face:  SE couloir starts from the top of the visible snow/scree and emerges at the ice/snow that disappears round to the north side at the obvious notch on the right skyline. (note: the peak appearing to the left is a sub-peak foreshortened, +/- 5050m)

our permits were for the most distinct peak in the Gangga’s central massif, unnamed despite being so prominent, marked simply as 5425m in Nakamura’s images and sometimes referred to as Gangga VII. after looking into options from the accessible eastern side and balancing a large team of varied ability, we eventually settled on an ‘easy looking’ mixed couloir that twisted from the SE side thru pillars and faces around to the NE headwall – via several blind spots. other options included direct and variant routes on the SE face, a wandering mostly-rock line on the south face, linking pulpits of snow on the NE side and taking the SSW ridge from a notch in the west side of the cirque. all elegant choices that one by one got crossed off due to time, safety, logistics and ability. in the harsh light of reality – when theres been no one to go before – of all the gear used for climbing Occam’s razor is the right tool for the job.

top of Pitch 1

so the SE couloir it became and 2 attempts under very different conditions got us to within 4 or 5 pitches of the summit after 500m of steep final approach from highcamp and 9 pitches of mixed alpine up to WI4+ of ice and M4+. things ground down as they got steeper, difficult routes choices turned against us, the ice proved thin and an underestimation of the gear needed (twice as much thin gear next time…) meant we pulled out just before the transition to the (unknown) north side, at about 5340m.

mention must be made of Rob’s outstanding lead on pitch 8; run out above minimal gear and a stressful belay and the hardest moves capped with the last short screw left.

as a first attempt on an unattempted peak in an unexplored massif in an unknown range in a restricted corner of the Tibetan plateau things went exceedingly well. all members of the climbing team and support staff came home with the fingers and toes they left with as was the defined goal. the seamless efforts of the logistics staff maintained a perfect platform for the climbing, supplying excellent food, a comfortable BC, happy living atmosphere and unobtrusive local liaison. its no exaggeration that BCs in China are arguably the best anywhere – an even bigger deal considering theres no mass industry running to format with dollar-a-day locals.

imposing: Gangga VII as seen from the approach

SO WHATS NEXT?

as always, further, cooler and more efficiently. back in Chengdu we met up with Tomatsu Nakamura and started laying down the next trips ideas and organizing the next lot of logistics. the team has been solidified, access and BC locations have been mapped and equipment is being arranged. initial interest is centering around a healthy blend of walls, mixed lines and high altitude ice, with short recce trips further into other parts of the Gangga range (including the whole undocumented western side).

fresh food, good coffee, clean water and variation: BCs in China are healthy, happy and relaxing, meaning good recovery and sustainability in remote places

this years trip established the groundwork for pulling the climate data, access, bureaucracy, supply and resources into line with the demands of climbing, creating a ‘light & fast’ model that functions extremely well. yes, climbing in China has its idiosyncrasies, but beyond that is a level of function that can open up serious expedition climbing like its never been done before. when you have the inspiration and know how to do it of course.

as always, interest & inquiries for 2015 are welcome from both independant teams and individuals. numbers will be limited but several trips can run  and several teams can climb from a shared BC

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

2015 CHINA EXPEDITIONS

interest for the 2015 China expedition season is already pouring in, with several objectives lined up as things take shape. the right questions are being asked at the right time – with 9 months to confirm and put the wheels of preparation into motion – so a distilled version is offered here.

unclimbed +/-5500m peaks. there for those who have the motivation. photo Tom Nakamura

why China?

its been decades since significant new expedition climbing destinations have opened up. as expedition ability has evolved in the cauldrons of Alaska, Baffin and elsewhere, true exploratory climbing to unexplored ranges has been a little thin. many climbers have glanced over China (with exceptions of course) but dismissed it as too hard to organize – which has been a good thing, leaving vast areas untouched.

the tightening up of protocols for climbing in China deterred many, but in effect has done exactly what was intended – preserving the high peaks of China from a rush of crass commercialism. now the high peaks of China are there only for those with the motivation to approach them as true expeditions. theres no ‘sign-and-climb’ safaris here.

China realistically has several hundred >5000m peaks that are unnamed, unexplored and more often than not, unseen. climbing here reignites the same ideas about furthering the greater body of climbing knowledge as climbing in Nepal and Pakistan did half a century ago. these opportunities come often….

what a trip to China involves

trips start by landing in Chengdu – a large modern city totally unlike most entry points to high altitude climbing areas. consistantly in the top 5 chinese cities to live in, Chengdu is a major player with international flights, a subway, an easy layout, international hospitals & supermarkets and embassies. hotels are comfortable, and being the capital of Sichuan the food is world reknowned. along with 3000 years of heritage theres a large Tibetan quarter and as the self-proclaimed center of Chinas outdoor industry theres even a gear district. Unlike Kathmandu & Islamabad, things like gas canisters and energy bars are not hard to find in Chengdu, so we stock up here.

Chinas roads go to above 4500m so we do the trip up onto the plateau over two days. after leaving the Sichuan basin the roads go thru alpine forest and huge gorges as we ascend, eventually coming above the treeline then crossing over high, barren passed strafed with prayer flags and following the rivers where settlements are. usually we stay another day in medium sized Tibetan towns sorting redtape before heading out into the blank areas around the peaks. depending on the objective this may involve horses and yaks to get stuff to BC.

Chinese basecamps are comfortable and well supplied. at around 4000m we are low enough to acclimate to quickly, with the added advantages of theres no dhal baat and anything edible is permitted. the cooks that oversee the BC logistics take food very seriously and resupply of fresh food for longer trips is regular, meaning the level of recovery is greater. far from the uninhabites moodscapes of southern tibet or Baltoro, most BCs are on grassland and sometimes take advantage of existing rock structures left by the semi-nomadic tribes that cross the area between the lower forests and the upper reaches of the Yangzi and Yellow rivers.

the climbing itself is unique to the objective. the general area is the extreme fringes of the monsoonal pattern so rain helps carve up the geology as much as the movement of snow and ice. above 4000m freeze level starts hitting from around late September as the weather gets drier and clearer. day/night temps can vary as much as 20c. unlike further south towards Yunnan, snow doesnt build year round, making for more exposed rock including huge alpine walls. some peaks have glacial approaches whilst others have alpine grassland right to the base of the scree.

with so many objectives and such civilized access its easy to spend weeks and weeks looking into potential routes – only the dropping temperatures and ever-present redtape limit what can be done in a season. for long trips occasional forays into town to keep things sane are possible, with hotsprings, massage, restaurants and internet cafes to keep life on track.

returning to Chengdu is easy and can involve alternative routes thru other areas hiding new climbing potential. the descent from the high plateau is usually comfortable and the luxuries and sophistication of Chengdu a welcome distraction before flying out.

trips to 5000 – 6000m peaks requires equipment somewhere between regular winter and big wall gear

who are these trips for?

first ascents in unheard of places are not for everyone. if the safari-like process of summiting is all that matters and you want a contingency of support staff to make things as comfortable as possible then the obscure ranges of the Tibetan plateau will be a disappointment. there will be almost no climbing scene to fraternize with at basecamp, no well trodden trails and no mass-industry to answer every matter that arises.

these trips are for climbers who enjoy the process of working it all out; the route finding, the organization, the on-mountain processes and the bigger picture of going into undocumented places. unlike commercial ‘pay to climb’ trips that are guided along well-established schedules, iceclimbingjapan trips are real expeditions and require every climber to be part of the process.

the profile of a climber who ends up on an unclimbed peak somewhere near Tibet includes;

  • having a head for organization

  • a high degree of team awareness

  • a functional ability to self-schedule

  • an applied ability to use the right resources for the job

  • a clear perspective of undertaking complex activities in alien cultures

  • a comprehension of their contributing to the tradition of mountaineering

objectives

iceclimbingjapan specializes in unclimbed peaks. direct consultation with Tomatsu Nakamura, explorer of the Tibetan Plateau and Alpinist correspondent, provides a huge resource for peaks that are almost unknown. options exist for alpine ascents, big walls and technical routes, on peaks ranging from c.5500m to 6500m.

whatever your objective is, it will involve all the elements of exploration. despite iceclimbingjapan pulling together all the logistics, the lack of comprehensive cartography and local information pertaining to climbing still leaves inevitable gaps that need to be considered; in this part of the world simply getting to the base of a route is a significant objective, and all that is acheived – summit or not – furthers the greater data base of international climbing.

what you need

TIME: climbing in unexplored areas takes time – time to do it and time to prepare. whilst some peaks can be attempted with a 3 week schedule, most require about a month, especially if they have glaciated approaches. ground logistics in China are usually very good, with good roads going to high altitudes – but beyond the roadhead things things change; the absence of a developed ‘sherpa industry’ and the obscure nature of unexplored regions means approaches are hard to quantify exactly. but thats the nature of true expeditions.

MOTIVATION: these are not ‘sign up and climb’ trips. all members need a high degree of motivation and independant ability, integrated with a perspective that caters to the exploratory nature of these trips. unlike trips to well trodden areas, not all of the process is known. a climbers motivation but be as much to explore as to climb, and must cope with the uncertainties that entails.

RESOURCES: whilst nowhere near the outlay of an 8000m trip, expeditions to unclimbed areas still entail ‘exped level’ costs and equipment. costs depend on team size, location, duration and specific logistics. iceclimbingjapan’s logistics covers everything to the mountain then a lot of whats needed on the mountain itself, but individual climbers need to have the right gear and make the right food choices for themselves.

what you get

iceclimbingjapans in-country logistics partner makes the perceived impossible happen. permits, accomodation, food, transport, liason, redtape and consultation are all arranged to support the on-mountain process. iceclimbingjapans unique and extensive background in the region pulls together a range of styles and possibilities that adapts to each trip, far removed from the normal commercial climbing experience.

the basics for planning include;

  • 3 week to 9 week schedules

  • multiple peak & route possibilities

  • costs cover all logistics from Chengdu and back again, except personal on-mountain equipment & food*

  • all team climbing equipment supplied**

  • all permits, chinese insurance & chinese taxes included

  • liaison staff, logistics staff & translators provided

  • all accommodation pre-booked

  • visa support letters provided

  • basecamp-only & on-mountain options

*some personal climbing hardware can be supplied at additional cost

**additional costs for specialized big wall equipment and objectives with glacial approaches requiring fixed ropes

China has unique logistics that once demystified opens up unprecedented possibilities

the expedition process

the basic schedule needs to be confirmed by the end of June and full payments in 90 days before departure. by this time the objective needs to be nailed down, the daily itinerary decided and the team consolidated around the expedition process. with this done we can arrange the paperwork that results in visas and logistical consolidation. China is not like Nepal, with a stack of pre-applied permits just needing the names on them, instead each permit is individually evaluated according to its specifics in a process as opaque as it is thorough.

long before this tho every climber needs to prepare for a style of climbing thats very open – no one can tell you whats exactly needed. covering this skill base means getting fluent in several branches of alpinism, and whilst mastery is not needed in all of them a solid base in general alpine climbing with a functional knowledge of technical rock, ice, big wall and descent is expected, as is being equipped to apply it all.

on a first ascent trip to China there wont be a contingency of in-situ locals to pick up any slack – the expedition is under its own steam to get to and climb. this means no miles of fixed ropes, pre-placed high camps, shuttled supplies or morning cups of tea handed thru the door. what you use on the mountain you carry on the mountain and that requires a degree of team dynamic often absent from industrial climbing trips.

the region

west of Chengdu is a huge area that begins at the edge of the Yangzi basin and extends far up to the high altitude rainshadow of the Tibetan plateau. encompassing forest, grassland and high alpine, to the south lays the jungled ravines of Himalayan Yunnan and to the north the deserts and steppe of Qinghai then the southern Gobi. collectively known as Kham and Amdo, the region buffered Tibet from China, acting as a cultural conduit thru its narrow ravines and high passes.

all down the length of the region are +5000m peaks, with most being unclimbed. previous attention has focused around Minya Konka and Siguniangshan, but beyond these focal points little has been climbed, mostly due to travel restrictions and a process with the authorities too difficult for most climbers. whilst the rest of the worlds big mountains are congested and perhaps over-travelled, Tibetan Sichuan is virtually unknown, with large villages still taken speechless at the sight of foreign faces and the idea of climbing mountains completely alien.

totally off limits till the 90s, most roads lead into eastern Tibet and the areas that are open today are controlled and limited – perhaps not a bad thing after seeing the crush of tourism in less regulated places. nomads still cross thru the valleys connecting the lowlands and high plateau, Khampa cowboys still ride thru town, monasteries are not tourist attractions and the approaches to mountains are along herders trails not trekkers highways. after leaving Chengdu its unlikely to see another foreigner.

security

Its no secret that western Sichuan has occasional flares up between the Chinese authorities and locals after centuries of facing off that span raiding armies from Lhasa, CIA-trained guerillas, gun fights well into the 90s and ongoing tensions centered on the monastic community, but China in general is a safe destination and unlike Pakistan and Nepal, foreigners are not seen as elements of leverage for upset locals.

historically the Khampa areas have been regarded as bandit-ridden and conduits for smugglers but aside from petty concerns like pick-pocketing in markets this doesnt seriously affect passing groups of climbers so long as precautions are taken. all climbing trips to peaks require a liason officer and a translator/camp co-ordinator to keep things on track.

beyond Sichuan…?

it doesnt end here. in the bigger picture of whats possible in China, Sichuan is really the start point – further west into deep Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang lay peaks and ranges that are mostly unseen, leading eventually to the northern side of the Karakorum. like Sichuan these areas are slowly becoming accessible, more a process of demand rather than supply. having spent 15 years in these parts of China, talking to the right people and being in the right places iceclimbingjapan has the wheels in motion for objectives rarely realized in the last half-century.

got what it takes and interested? inquiries and ideas via the bookings & contact tab