May 4, 2015

Blind Date With New Ice Climbing Gear

Late this winter I had the privilege of spending just over three weeks in the Canadian Rockies. Two of the three weeks were spent ice climbing and one skiing. I don't usually like to bring untried gear on longer trips. In this case we were returning to town most nights so the commitment factor was low, and I ended up using 5 new pieces of equipment that worked pretty well. All of this stuff saw at least 12 days of hard use, some of it more.

Hoping the holes line up while drilling with the Petzl Laser Speed Light. Photo by Ethan Miller.

Petzl Laser Speed Light 21cm ice screw

When I'm building an anchor with ice screws I like one of those screws to be 21cm long. This is also the preferred length for building V-threads. The tube of the Laser Speed Light is made of aluminum instead of the usual steel. This makes the screw a lot lighter. In fact, the weight difference between the 21cm Petzl and the 22cm Black Diamond Express ice screw is 58 grams, the equivalent of about 2 Oz carabiners. They also seem to start a lot more easily than the BD screws, maybe due to the bigger teeth and the big C-shaped cutout at the base of those teeth. The lower profile hanger means less chipping away of troublesome spots in the ice and the single big clip-in point is simpler to use. These screws also come in an all-steel version. I like them so much I'm thinking about ditching my BD screws for a set. Anyone interested in buying a bunch of nice and sharp Black Diamond Turbo Express Screws?

OR Cathode light puffy jacket

This lightweight synthetic insulated jacket was a go-to for me on this trip, mainly because it fits me really well. Most days my upper body layers consisted of a base layer, an R1 hoody, and this jacket. When things got chilly I pulled a bigger puffy on over everything. The Cathode fits my skinny form well with a long cut in the arms and body. This means that it stays tucked into my harness while I'm climbing and covers my wrists well. Good wrist coverage keeps the blood flowing through arteries in my wrists warm, so that my hands stay warmer and I can wear thinner, more dextrous gloves.

The hood works really well over a helmet. Several similar, popular jackets have hoods that are designed to fit under helmets, which I find less than useless. I have to take my helmet off to take the hood on or off, which is a pain. If I do try to wear the hood over my helmet it pulls the whole jacket up and untucks it from my harness, so now I'm colder and the jacket obstructs the view of my gear loops. The hood on the Cathode, combined with the (for me) great fit means I stay warmer and am able to access the tools I need to climb.

The hood stays on my head no matter what and doesn't interfere with the fit of the jacket. Photo by Aaron Richards.
Dry Guy Circulator boot dryers

I knew we were going to want to climb every day and that we'd have minimal time to dry boots out. Wet feet are cold feet, so I borrowed a trick from road tripping skiers, electric boot dryers. It seems like there are a few brands and models of these. The Circulator is simple to use, just plug it in and stick 'em in your boots. They're small and travel well. I found they completely dry out a pair of ice boots overnight. Of course everyone on a trip wants to borrow them, and my partners and I found that two ice climbers can get almost completely dry boots by switching at some point in the night.

Innate Cha Vacuum Bottle thermos

For me this is a crucial item for winter day trips. I've had a hard time finding a good one over the years. For a while I had a model from REI that was okay but got destroyed when I backed over my climbing pack (long story). This was replaced by a Petzl branded thermos from Liquid Solutions. Just when I would get the lid on tight enough to not leak in my pack it would pop loose. I figured that Canadian skiers and ice climbers would never tolerate a sub-par thermos, and picked up this model from Innate at a shop in Canmore. The lid was easy to operate with gloves on. It takes up less pack space than the Petzl thermos, despite having the same inner volume. It kept tea and coffee piping hot. Best of all, I could crank the lid down tight enough to ensure no surprises in my pack.

Aaron sipping some hot tea.