The Only Way Is Up: Type 2 Fun on Mount Shasta

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

It was supposed to be simple, a warm-up for the real climbing. But, one small navigational error, mixed with some consistently bad decision making, turned our supposedly easy journey into an epic that would be impossible to forget.

Two long-time friends, my wife, and I had hiked from Mount Shasta’s Bunny Flat trailhead to Lake Helen, where we set up camp, cooked dinner, and went to bed early in preparation for an alpine start and summit attempt. The following morning, the alarm came quickly, at a time most would consider more night than day. We slowly crawled from our sleeping bags and began to layer up, fill water bottles, and pack our bags for the big day. Our plan was to summit, return to camp, pack it up, and head back to the car at Bunny Flat. Over the course of the day, we would climb almost 4,000 feet and descend more than 7,000, all at an altitude unfamiliar to us four East Coasters.

The alarm came quickly, at a time most would consider more night than day.

We left Lake Helen around 1 a.m. and moved up Shasta’s icy, steep slope toward the day’s crux: the Red Banks. Passing through the Red Banks was our chosen route’s one real challenge, and climbers have two options: Attempt the steep-ish chimney that runs through the Red Banks, or hike around them. We had elected the former option. Roped up as a team of four, we made consistent upward progress through the early morning darkness, frequently stopping to check the GPS to ensure we were heading the right way. Here, however, is where we made our first mistake.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Two of us had previously climbed Mount Shasta’s Avalanche Gulch route, and despite what the GPS said, we both felt like we were being pulled too far right, away from the chimney and toward the end of the Red Banks. Arriving at a cliff band with the sun beginning to rise, we realized our mistake. In fact, we trended too far to the left, missed the chimney, and were facing three options: One, traverse the icy slope, locate the chimney, and continue up the mountain, taking a time and effort penalty for our navigational misstep; two, descend back to camp, cut our losses, and begin preparing for the climbs on Shasta’s north side, the real reason we came here; or, three, just go up!

The only way out was up.

Going up sounded good. In theory, we could avoid any time lost from our mistake. After all, the climbing didn’t look that hard, and we would surely intersect with the Avalanche Gulch route farther up the mountain. But, whether blinded by ambition, overconfident, or just tired from traveling and the early start, this turned into our second mistake. Because of the route’s technical nature, we were no longer moving in unison; rather, one person would climb ahead and belay the other three up, significantly slowing our ascent and leaving us to nibble away at the 14,180 ft. mountain 200 feet at a time

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. After climbing one rope length, we discovered the cliff was bigger than we initially judged, leading to another rope length of technical climbing. After that, we ascended a steep snowfield, which brought us to a steep scree field, which further led us to another steep snowfield, all with bits of semi-technical climbing on crumbling volcanic rock (Type 2 Fun on its own) mixed in. At no time did we see or run into the Avalanche Gulch. It dawned on us pretty soon that we had climbed onto Casaval Ridge, one of the mountain’s more aesthetic lines and a far more challenging route.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The good news was that we knew where we were and knew that if we continued climbing, we would, in fact, intersect with Avalanche Gulch eventually. The bad news was that the climbing was slow, we had only packed food and water for a quick summit attempt, we’d been on the go for a long time, nerves were getting frayed, and there was no turning around. From our location, reversing our route would be much more challenging and time consuming. The only way out was up.

The early morning’s psych had worn off, and no one was having fun anymore. When we stopped to belay, there was nothing but silence, as everyone was locked into their personal bubbles of suffering and anxiety. Each time we reached the top of a snowfield or cliff band, there was a moment of anticipation, with everyone hoping that we’d finally get to familiar territory, but it was followed by disappointment when we realized we had yet another obstacle to overcome.

We’d been on the move for almost twelve hours when we encountered the crux of Casaval Ridge, The Catwalk. As the name implies, The Catwalk is a narrow section of rock and snow measuring between one- to two-feet wide, with a bulging wall of loose rock on your left and the abyss on your right. While not technically challenging, it is a heady bit of climbing, with dire consequences if you make a mistake, and not exactly the place you would want to be if your original plan had you cracking beers in the parking lot by now.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Never have people been so happy to see a place called Misery Hill.

Reluctantly, we climbed The Catwalk—what other choice did we have? It was also here where the day assuredly became Type 2 Fun, as a few tears were already shed. Luckily, after The Catwalk, the terrain became easier, and we could now clearly see Misery Hill, the place where Casaval Ridge and Avalanche Gulch join. Looking back, never have people been so happy to see a place called Misery Hill.

Below Misery Hill and off Casaval Ridge, we sat in the afternoon sun while nibbling on our remaining food and sipping the last of our water. With the summit in sight, two of us made a push for the top, but our hearts were no longer in it. A couple hundred feet shy of the summit, we turned around, picked up the other two, who were sulking at the base of Misery Hill, and descended Avalanche Gulch toward our camp at Lake Helen. There, we ate, drank, and packed up before hiking back to the car and the promise of hot meals, cold beers, and comfy beds in town.

After a day of relaxing, we went back and climbed Mount Shasta via Avalanche Gulch efficiently and without incident, summiting in the early morning with the peak to ourselves. But, we never did make it to Shasta’s north side. Over the course of our two trips, we only summited once, but got to experience two types of fun. I guess we should consider ourselves lucky we didn’t experience the third.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Video: Carried Away by The Eaglet

The Eaglet is New Hampshire’s only free-standing spire and, for climbers wanting a majestic adventure, is home to a few separate routes, with West Chimney (5.7) being the most popular. In 1929, Lincoln O’Brien and Robert Underhill recognized this beautiful structure and decided to take a closer look, unknowingly making the historic first ascent of a soon-to-be classic.

My alarm rang: It was 5:45 a.m. as I jumped out of bed, straight into my approach shoes. I was so excited that I hardly noticed the lack of sleep. After packing my car, I drove two hours north to meet up with my climbing partner, Justin. We immediately began to discuss the routes on our objective, The Eaglet. As we conceptualized over some hot tea, we realized that the mountain face would only make this climb much more epic.

Justin and I began our short but steep 30-minute hike to the base. After some back-and-forth banter, we finally geared up. Due to the icy conditions, we discussed minor changes to our route and decided West Chimney was the best line of ascent. Justin and I climb often and have attempted many different crags, but nothing compared to The Eaglet on this day.

Courtesy: Rachael Galipo
Credit: Kris Roller

The First Pitch

West Chimney’s first pitch begins to the climbers’ left. Justin started on the first lead, threading his way up ledges and shallow corners on the spire’s left-hand skyline. Given the abnormally difficult conditions, I had decided to relinquish the sharp end, which was made easier by my partner’s vast experience in this type of dicey terrain. Playing into your partner’s strengths is the key to success and safety in the mountains, and this day was his turn.

Given the route’s circuitous line of ascent and the wind carrying our voices off into the void, we came to a resolution: to use an age-old mountaineering formula for voiceless communication. This code—primitive at best—is based on sharp, distinct rope tugs: Three clear pulls indicate on-belay. When you’re climbing multi-pitch walls, communication is critical.

“I was so excited that I hardly noticed the lack of sleep”

Soon after Justin started out, I heard a holler of elation and subsequently felt three tugs. I got ready and began climbing, only to realize how icy the first hold was.

I continued up toward the route’s first crux, a small ceiling you need to climb up and around. There, I spotted a piton so old I assumed it was put in place by the first ascensionist. About 15 feet past this section, the climb got pretty slabby. This forced me to move quickly, so I didn’t slip.

After crushing through this part of the journey, I headed up and left to a loose and snowy vertical gully. A few tricky moves placed me at our first belay atop a ledge, where I joined Justin with a huge smile. With the energy of pure enjoyment, we were determined to get to the top.

Courtesy: Rachael Galipo
Credit: Kris Roller

The Final Pitch

The next pitch—my favorite—was a 60-foot crack, one splitting two walls and big enough to wedge our bodies into. After we snaked our way up using all sorts of abnormal moves, we reached the coolest feature: a chockstone the size of a Smart car blocking the crack’s exit. Still short of desperation and driven to succeed, I dug my way up. Trying so hard, I couldn’t help but look like I was in a cage fight. Justin began to laugh after witnessing my unusual facial expressions.

After grunting my way up to the second anchor, I once again reunited with Justin’s energy. He gets so stoked over climbing, and honestly at this point, it had completely rubbed off on me. It has been said that climbing is 90-percent mental. So, with this perspective, I’ve never had an unhappy moment out on these vertical adventures.

I finally set up for him to begin the final pitch. Making his way up the icy route, he began to spiral around the notch that stood between the cliff and its pinnacle. Justin then placed a quickdraw on a piton and turned to me to exclaim, “Rachael, you are going to love this!”

That was an obvious understatement. My eyes widened and my heart began to race from the exposure. Franconia Notch shimmered from a light dusting of snow and ice glimmering in the sun.

After one final hold to the top, I was standing next to Justin, looking at what we had just climbed and taking note of what we were actually standing on. This view once again made me speechless. Here we were, standing nearly midair with nothing but the White Mountains and an energetic atmosphere surrounding us.

This was hands down the most epic journey I’ve done in my two years of climbing. I cannot wait for the many more Justin and I will plan together and accomplish in the future.

Courtesy: Rachael Galipo
Credit: Kris Roller

The Guide's Guide to Choosing the Proper Ice Axe

“I hate winter,” “I hate snow,” and “I hate ice” are commonly heard phrases throughout the Northeast during the winter months, but not from our guides at the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. In fact, for many of them, this is prime climbing season, and whether they’re scaling the popular Lion Head route on Mount Washington or the famed steep ice of Frankenstein Cliff, they’re sure to be carrying an ice axe.

However, with so many different types on the market, knowing which one to pick can be difficult. To help make your decision easier, I spoke with EMS Climbing School manager Keith Moon to gain some insight into how to find the right ice axe, depending on what you hope to accomplish in the mountains.

Guide: KEITH MOON

School: NORTH CONWAY

Specialty: ROCK CLIMBING, ICE CLIMBING, AND SKIING

 

Keith offered some simple advice for trying to make sense of the ice axes on the wall of your local EMS: “The lower the angle you’re climbing, the longer and straighter you’ll want your ice axe. The steeper the terrain, the shorter and more radically shaped you’ll want your tool.” As a reminder, he explained, “The challenge is to match the right tool and technique to the right terrain.”

Credit: David Stone
Credit: David Stone

Mountaineering Axes

Mountaineering axes are distinguished by their straight shaft, adze (the flat, wide end of the head used for chopping steps in hard snow and ice), and classically curved pick, and they are staples of our school’s winter Mount Washington climbs. For these journeys, the EMS Climbing School uses Petzl products and has seen the Petzl Glacier axe dutifully accompany many to Mount Washington’s summit over the last couple of years. Although the Climbing School loves this model, our EMS stores carry a wide assortment of general mountaineering axes, including the incredibly popular Black Diamond Raven.

An essential item in any mountaineer’s kit, this axe used in combination with crampons is how climbers protect themselves when attempting low-angle terrain. The axe, when plunged into hard snow and ice, can be used for increased stability, while the pick allows climbers to self-arrest, or stop themselves, in the event of a fall. Even though this tool sees most of its use on Mount Washington by the Climbing School, Keith has occasionally tested its limits on some steeper routes with clients preparing for major trips on bigger mountains.

Not sure what length you need? Keith recommends that, when sizing a mountaineering axe, customers hold the head of the tool and let it hang by their side. When it’s sized properly, the spike should hang around the ankle bone.

Hybrid/Alpine Ice Axes

Hybrid axes represent the most niche tool the EMS Climbing School uses, and Keith admits that his Petzl Sum’Tech sees the least amount of action out of all the axes in his quiver. However, he is quick to remind us that having the right tool for the job can be the key to success in the mountains.

As the name implies, hybrid axes split the difference between their mountaineering and ice counterparts. They feature a slightly bent shaft for clearing ice bulges on steeper terrain and a more aggressive pick for ascending steeper sections of ice.

The Petzl Sum’Tec axe is the choice of many EMS guides for tackling objectives that blend steep sections with more moderate terrain. With an adjustable hand rest, the Sum’Tech can transition from a traditional piolet to a capable climber quickly and easily. Keith says that climbs such as Willey’s Slide and Shoestring Gully are great examples of when a hybrid tool is ideal.

While the Sum’Tech is an excellent tool, the Black Diamond Venom is another great option that EMS carries in its stores and online.

Credit: Keith Moon
Credit: Keith Moon

Technical Ice Tools

With their radical shapes, shorter lengths, and more aggressive picks, ice-specific tools look significantly different from their mountaineering brethren. In fact, they can even appear distinctly different from other ice tools, depending on if they have a recessed handle or not.

You will find both tools with recessed handles, like the Petzl Nomic, and models with non-recessed handles, like the Petzl Quark, at the EMS Climbing School. So, what’s the difference? Those with a recessed handle pivot at the pointer finger, while non-recessed ones do so at the pinky. Keith says, “Neither one is better than the other. What matters is that the tool swings naturally to you.” Either recessed or non-recessed, these are designed for high performance on steep ice.

Try them out…

Keith’s biggest piece of advice about ice axes is, try before you buy. Ice tools are a big investment, and you’ll want something that feels good in your hand and swings the way you want it to. Whether you take a lesson with the EMS Climbing School and put our Petzl tools to the test, or attend a demo or ice fest, try swinging several before you commit to buying.

Keith also recommends bringing the gloves you’re planning on climbing in to the store with you. It’s amazing the difference a glove can add to the feel of an axe, he explains, and just because something seems good in your bare hand doesn’t mean it will be that way with your gloves on.

…And pick a winner!

The fact is that Eastern Mountain Sports carries a bunch of great ice axes, and we have only mentioned a few here. I for one am anxious to swing the CAMP X-Dream. If you’ve been dying to get a new model for your winter Mount Washington trip, or have been looking at a new set of tools with the hope of stepping up your steep ice game this season, stop into an EMS or check out our selection on EMS.com.

Of course, if you want to swing them before buying, give Keith and the guides at the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School a call, and see if you can check out their Petzl axes. While you’re there, maybe you can get them to run you up that dream line at the same time.


Guide's Pick: Best Adirondack Ice Climbing Destinations

Winter is finally in full swing here in the Northeast, with the mercury hanging well below that magical 32-degree line in many places. And, that can only mean one thing: ice! Whether you’re a seasoned ice climber or a beginner just looking to get that first taste of vertical water, Lake Placid and the Adirondacks are home to some of the United States’ best and most accessible ice climbing destinations. The area offers varied terrain—from shorter, low-angled waterfalls to longer, more difficult routes—making the Adirondacks inviting for all skill levels. What’s even better is, EMS offers a range of ice climbing and mountaineering courses out of Lake Placid, tailored to your skill level. We caught up with EMS Climbing School guide Will Roth to get you the low-down on climbing Adirondack ice.

Guide: WILL ROTH

School: LAKE PLACID

Specialty: ICE, ALPINE, TRAD, and SPORT CLIMBING

Roth started climbing while attending Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and quickly fell in love with all of its aspects. Will’s passion is demonstrated through his impressive resume of ascents: He’s climbed all over the Northeast and American West, scaled the fabled big walls of Yosemite, completed high-altitude ascents in Peru and Bolivia, and winter-climbed in Scotland and Chamonix, just to name a few. “It’s impossible for me to get bored,” Roth said. “[Climbing] gives me a purpose. I’m always thinking about how I’m going to get things done, so I can climb more.”

With so much energy and passion for the sport, Will inevitably became a guide. Inspired by a great climbing mentor who was a guide himself, Will found his niche in the Adirondacks, running an ice climbing program for the Boy Scouts. He transitioned into his role as an EMS guide from there.

The Adirondacks offer the perfect backdrop for Will to teach his clients the fundamentals and beyond, and he’s quick to share the wisdom he’s accrued over the years: “Go with a guide service like the EMS climbing school that has high-quality gear for you to borrow. In ice climbing, quality gear can make a huge difference in your initial impression.”

If you do take an EMS course in the Adirondacks, rest assured that you will be outfitted with all of the proper technical gear to move on steep snow and ice, as well as expert instruction to give you a full understanding of what’s required to climb ice in the wintertime.

Before you depart, Will recommends bringing lots of easy-to-consume, high-calorie snacks. He also stresses the importance of staying hydrated by bringing along warm liquids: “Staying hydrated will make your day more enjoyable, and it’s easier to drink warm liquids. Cold fluids usually aren’t very appealing when it’s freezing out! Also, a warm belay jacket is important for comfort when not climbing.”

When you’re ready to go, use this list from Roth for some of the Adirondacks’ best routes:

Credit: Chris LaCour</a
Credit: Chris LaCour

Chouinard’s Gully (NEI 3 300′)

This is the route that Yvon Chouinard and his crew supposedly climbed during their historic 1969 visit. It’s three pitches of moderate ice, with the first being the steepest. Although you can rappel the entire route, walking off down a trail from the top keeps congestion on busy days to a minimum. This one is a classic and can get busy.

Pharaoh Mountain (NEI 3+)

If this route is in, get on it! It’s a long day, no matter how you do it. After a several-mile approach, three moderate pitches lead to the top. The first is the steepest, and after that, the higher you get, the easier the angle. Good map and compass skills and an overnight kit are a must on this excursion, especially if the weather is bad and visibility low. Most doing this climb for the first time significantly underestimate the time it takes to go from car to car, but it’s probably the Adirondacks’ best route of its grade.

Credit: molochmaster
Credit: molochmaster

Multiplication Gully (NEI 3+ 225′)

In the Adirondacks, we don’t have many climbs like this. It is a true gully, with steep walls on either side. Two pitches of moderate ice top out at a cliff that has vegetation so thick you better rap off. This climb truly is a gem, and being tucked back into a cliff with views out toward Whiteface Mountain really makes it stand out.

Credit: Bertrand Côté
Credit: Bertrand Côté

Positive Thinking (NEI 5- 400′)

This is the big, hard route. The initial long, just under vertical first pitch can be deceivingly thin, while the second pitch is short but steep! And, the last pitch is a fun romp to the trees. Topping this climb out is always satisfying!

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Roaring Brook Falls (NEI 3+ 350′)

On a below-zero degree day in the sun, this three-pitch moderate climb is where you want to be. Because you’re climbing a “live” feature, there are always interesting ice formations. More than other ice climbs, this one forms differently every year.

 

Whether you’re tackling Positive Thinking or taking EMS’s Introduction to Ice Climbing course, you’re going to have a good time in the Adirondacks. The rhythmic swing of the ice axes and the deliberate, precise nature of the task at hand all make for an experience that’s hard not to enjoy. And, what’s better than spending a winter day in the outdoors? For Will Roth, that’s what it’s all about: “The biggest thing climbing does for me [is], it allows me to focus on just one thing; my mind isn’t going in all different directions when I’m climbing. There is something very satisfying about that singular commitment.”

 


Ryan Knapp's MWOBS Observer Wish List

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered what items professional athletes and outdoor adventurers put on their wish lists? Because these folks know their stuff, we asked a handful of experts in different fields to tell us what they want for the holidays.

Since 2005, Ryan Knapp has been a weather observer and meteorologist at the home of the world’s worst weather, Mount Washington. At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington’s summit, the highest in the Northeast, sits at the convergence of several different storm tracks, giving it notoriously erratic, extreme, and even deadly conditions. The second-fastest wind speed on Earth—a staggering 231 mph—was recorded on the peak, and it has seen temperatures as low as 47 degrees below zero. And, it’s Ryan’s job to both keep track of it and try to predict what’s coming, which means he needs top-of-the-line gear.

Courtesy of Ryan Knapp
Courtesy of Ryan Knapp

1. Black Diamond Neve Strap Crampons

While the summit has an average snowfall of 281 inches, most of this is scoured off by our high winds, which then leave it as a giant dome of ice with hard-packed snow on the leeward sides. As a result, a solid pair of crampons, like Black Diamond’s Neve Straps, are an essential item for working on the summit, whether it is going to gather the precipitation can, repair an instrument, or go out for the occasional SAR effort. 

2. Kahtoola MICROspikes

In the heart of winter, crampons are essential, but in the shoulder seasons (specifically, spring and fall and even occasionally summer), they might be slightly overkill. However, it can still be slick, and in these situations, MICROspikes® are great for providing added traction between your bare boots and crampons. Once you strap these on, whether you’re on the summit or after work in Boston, you will wonder how you ever got around in icy conditions without them.

3. Princeton Tec Apex Pro Headlamp

The Mount Washington Observatory is a 24/7/365 operation. As a result, one of us works through the night. Since I have been working nights, good lighting is imperative. My go-to is the Princeton Tec Apex Pro. It has great battery life, is lightweight, and has either an energy-efficient mode or a super-bright mode for those times when dense fog and blowing snow limit visibility to just feet.

4. Seirus Combo Scarf and EMS Power Stretch Balaclava

During the winter, we see brutally cold temperatures and high winds. If we’re improperly covered, these factors can lead to frostbite on exposed skin. That is where having good head and face protection is important. When I go out, I usually use a dual-layering system for breathability and warmth. The first layer is a Seirus Combo Scarf followed by an EMS® Power Stretch Balaclava

5. EMS Men’s Feather Pack Jacket

For warmth, I wear the Feather Pack. It is very warm, and for those times I go out hiking, I can pack it within itself, making it easy to transport without taking up significant space in my bag.

6. EMS Helix Jacket

For great rain and wind protection, the EMS® Helix Jacket has deep pockets that allow me to carry some of my essentials. And, while it locks out the rain and wind, it also has the option to unzip the underarm vents, which let air in when the weather is mixed and changing every 10 minutes, like it does in New England.

7. EMS Freescape Insulated Pants

For my lower half, I go with the EMS® Freescape Insulated Pants. They are very warm and protect against the rain and winds, too. However, when I am indoors, they are breathable, so I am comfortable practically anywhere.

8. Darn Tough Socks and Vasque Snowblime Ultradry Boots

For my feet, I typically start with a pair of Darn Tough socks and then put on a pair of Vasque Snowblime Ultradry Boots. With this combo, my toes and feet are warm and toasty, even in spite of how far the mercury plunges.

9. EMS Altitude Mittens

For hands, I go with the EMS® Altitude Mittens. For keeping hands warm, it is scientifically proven that mittens are a better option than gloves. However, because these have an inner liner, you can also take your hands out for a limited time when you need the added dexterity that mittens can sometimes inhibit.

10. Julbo Universe Goggles

The last need is eye protection, and here, I would suggest the Julbo Universe Goggles. They are comfortable, they have a wide viewing area, and their lens adjusts on those days when clouds and fog are passing by, allowing for a bit of sunshine to mix in for uneven light. 

Courtesy of Ryan Knapp
Courtesy of Ryan Knapp

Paul Robinson's Climber Wish List

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered what items professional athletes and outdoor adventurers put on their wish lists? Because these folks know their stuff, we asked a handful of experts in different fields to tell us what they want for the holidays.

Born in New Jersey, Paul Robinson is a rock climber and boulderer who only uses the best gear out on his vertical journeys. 

Courtesy of Paul Robinson
Courtesy of Paul Robinson

1. Evolv Shaman

I climb five days a week, and having a pair of shoes for the long haul is what I need! The Evolv Shamans are my go-to shoes for the gym and outside. They’re great for all angles, from slab to super-steep roofs!

2. FrictionLabs Gorilla Grip Chalk

Most people just buy the cheapest chalk out there. I used to do the same, until I found out how much better performing FrictionLabs’ stuff is. The Gorilla Grip is a great combination of chunky chalk and a nice powder. It lasts so much longer than regular chalk and creates the best grip between you and the rock.

3. Black Diamond Mojo Zip Chalk Bag

You need to have a chalk bag, so why not have one with a zipper to hold some accessories and your keys? For these features, try the BD Mojo. Finding out you left your keys at the crag when you get back to the car at the end of the day is the worst!

4. Black Diamond Ozone Climbing Harness

Black Diamond’s Ozone Harness is super comfortable and durable. It’s lightweight and great for those send attempts, but also gives you enough to work a route with. 

5. prAna Men’s Barringer Hoodie

Winter is coming, and we need to stay warm out at the crag. The prAna Barringer Hoodie is lightweight but warm, so you can take it off easily before a climb or leave it on and climb in it!

6. prAna Men’s Stretch Zion Pants

Flexibility is key when climbing. PrAna makes the absolute best pants for that, including the Stretch Zion. They’re super durable and will last for years. These are the pair I wear almost daily and come on every trip with me.

7. prAna Men’s Keller Long-Sleeve Crew

The Keller Crew is a great top for climbing when it’s cold outside and a T-shirt is not enough.

8. prAna Men’s Mateo Crew

If it gets sunny and warm this holiday season while you’re out climbing, you still need to have a base layer, so why not pick a cool-looking one that photographs well? For all of these needs, check out the Mateo Crew. After all, everyone needs a good Instagram photo!

9. Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

Super bright and lightweight, the BD Spot Headlamp is something I always have in my bag. As the days get shorter, you never know when you are going to be hiking out after dark, so it’s always good to make sure you have a light to get you out.

10. EMS Wheeled Camp Duffel, Large

The EMS Wheeled Camp Duffel is the perfect travel bag, as it’s lightweight and super durable. Pack this thing up, and go on a trip for a week or six months—the options are limitless.

11. Spot Global Phone

I travel to far off places frequently, so having a satellite phone like the Spot Global is essential for getting help if necessary. In the backcountry, it is always nice to have that extra sense of security.

Courtesy of Paul Robinson
Courtesy of Paul Robinson

Raising a Badass Kid

A mom’s job is to keep her kids safe and grounded while simultaneously letting them find their wings. It’s an interesting dilemma.

I truly do not know how my daughter got into climbing. Maybe it was TV or that climbing wall at the state fair, but it resonated with her. Almost as a result, when she moved to Golden, Colorado, for an internship when she was 20, she promptly called me to say, “I’m not coming home.” For her, I think Golden had the perfect combination of cliffs, mountains, and opportunities. In staying there, she is now the online store manager for the American Alpine Club. Personally, I had always hoped she’d become a guide, but there’s still time.

Every famous climber has a mom, but this is a story about how any mom can help her kid become fearless and, well, a badass.

Courtesy: Joy Hoffman
Courtesy: Joy Hoffman

Rule 1: Support what they love, even if you know nothing about it

I had never climbed, so she didn’t get it from me. In fact, I can’t really recall when my daughter first climbed anything more than shimmying herself up doorways. Stemming was not a part of her vocabulary yet, and how far could she have really fallen? The reality is, she wanted to learn to climb—really climb.

Now, support doesn’t always mean money, although that helps. I had always tried to make sure she had the chance to learn, practice, and do. And, I learned all I could about climbing, myself. In fact, I probably did more research and reading than she did on it, but I wanted to make sure she had all the opportunities she could want.

Rule 2: Get professional help. No, not the therapy kind

When she was 14, she didn’t know anyone from school who climbed, even though we lived in spitting distance of the Gunks. So, as a responsible mom, I signed her up for the beginning climbing course at Eastern Mountain Sports. After I signed all the waivers, off she went with Eric from EMS to finally climb for real. I remember waiting in the parking lot, worried that they were late coming back, but you have to have faith in the people leading the activity.

When they got back, she was ecstatic. It was all she had hoped for and more. After a few more lessons and some indoor climbing, I realized this wasn’t just a phase.

She also became interested in mountain climbing. She wanted to climb Mt. Washington in the winter, so, when she had just turned 16, we made a December trip up to North Conway for her to do EMS’s overnight at the Mt. Washington Observatory. There, she learned all about self-arrest, ice axes, and much more.

At first, they weren’t sure about her coming along, since she was only 16 and I wasn’t accompanying her, but they saw how much she wanted to do this and that she was in great shape. She was determined, and I was committed to making sure she had the opportunity. Conquering the highest mountain in the Northeast ended up being a great experience for her, and I knew she was in good hands. I also knew this was just the beginning.

Courtesy: Joy Hoffman
Courtesy: Joy Hoffman

Rule 3: Get involved. You might just find out you like it, too

Now came the challenge. How do I get her out there again? Unless you’re Alex Honnold, it’s a two-person adventure. To get involved, I arranged a private lesson with Peter at EMS about setting up top ropes, which she learned how to do while I figured out belaying. We then spent every opportunity we could at Mohonk Preserve to climb the world’s most famous one-pitch routes (because I was a better belayer than a climber). She could finally get out a lot more.

Rule 4: Nothing comes without some risk

The next terrifying step in her progression was ice climbing. A few months after Mt. Washington, she tried her hand at that, once again with EMS. When they got back that evening, she told me about how the person above her on the wall had the ice tool slip out of his hand and come down on hers. Luckily, it was the tool’s less-dangerous end and only caused a slight gash, but it was her first real climbing injury. Some moms might have said, “That’s it—you’re done,” but that might not have gone over well.

Courtesy: Joy Hoffman
Courtesy: Joy Hoffman

Rule 5: Be willing to let them go and have faith in their decision-making

This is probably the hardest rule. By the time she was 17, she was rock (top rope and multi-pitch), ice, and mountain climbing, but it wasn’t until college that she actually had friends who did this stuff with her. As a member of her school’s outdoor club, she led hikes and climbing day trips to the Gunks. Honestly, I kind of missed spending the time with her, but you have to let your kids grow, even if that means they grow away from you.

At some point, you have to have faith that they know what they’re doing. She was extremely responsible. Safety has always come first, and that’s one reason I made sure she had professional help along the way. I joke that when I’m with her at least I’m under adult supervision.

Ultimately, though, You have to trust them. Do I worry? Not much, actually. If anyone will make the right decision, I know she will. And she proves it every time she goes out.

Rule 6: Let them handle their own problems in life

This wasn’t actually a problem for me, since she was very good at taking control. I think that comes from climbing.

At 18, she wanted to climb Mt. Shuksan with a guide company outside of Seattle, so I got her a hotel room, all paid for, and a plane ticket. I remember that, when I was 18, I had no problem traveling by myself, so I knew she would be fine.

I called her about the time I thought she would be at the hotel, but she rather rudely told me she’d have to call back and that she was busy. An hour later, she calls. Apparently, I found out, you have to be 21 to rent a room in Seattle. The hotel was not going to let her register, since she wasn’t 21. Instead of crying to mommy, she told them she wanted to speak with the manager. She advised him that her mother had paid for the room already and that they had a choice: Let her have the room, or she was going to sleep in their lobby. They made a concession and let her have the room.

Courtesy: Joy Hoffman
Courtesy: Joy Hoffman

Rule 7: Find them challenges

When she was 19, I saw on Facebook that the American Climber Science Program, in conjunction with the American Alpine Club, was looking for climbers to spend up to 10 weeks of the summer in Peru as part of an expedition. It wasn’t cheap, but it looked like an unbelievable opportunity, with seven mountains they were going to climb to take snow samples, measure glaciers, and document foliage. Some of these mountains in the Cordillera Blanca are over 20,000 feet tall.

I was so excited when she said she wanted to do it. I also felt that, if a teenage girl is willing to go out for 10 days at a time without being able to take a shower or wash her hair, she must really love mountain climbing. She was either going to come home, saying, “I love it. When can I do it again?” or “I never want to go back.”

I believe part of being a mom is helping your kids not to be afraid of pushing their limits. At that point, she’d never been out for that long in those conditions or at a high altitude. The medical release was frightening. The battery of immunizations and medications, including for malaria, didn’t relieve any parental anxiety, either, but when would she ever get a chance like this again?

For the first time, she wasn’t in the protection of a guide service, and she was thousands of miles away in another country, most of the time completely out of contact with anyone. Those were very long days as a mom, but I knew no call was probably the best sign.

At 19, she was the team’s youngest member. I followed on Facebook and could track where she was and how she was doing. It was great to see her making friends, laughing, learning the cultures, and finding her place in the world of mountain climbing.

She came back, saying she loved it. On one climb, she got to lead the rope team and was second in the line the rest of the time. The leader of the expedition told me he couldn’t have done it without her. Now, maybe that was what he told all the moms, but I’ll take him at his word. I still look back on those photos in awe of what she accomplished.

She’s now 23 and on her own in Colorado, still climbing. She inspires me so much that I even climbed Mt. Washington myself. It was the summer…but still.


Rethinking Cold Weather Layering: A Modern Approach

When I was first trained to educate customers about layering at the Salem EMS in 1994, I was told to use the acronym “EMS” (external, mid, and skin) as a way to teach new hikers the proper technique. Most outdoor enthusiasts know the benefits of wearing a wicking layer to move sweat away from the skin, insulating mid-layers to create “dead air space” that traps body heat, and a shell jacket to protect us against the heat-stealing effects of wind and rain.

The biggest downside to this “classic” ideology, however, is that the climber keeps their skin and external clothing on throughout the activity, only adjusting the mid-layers as conditions and levels of exertion change. Basically, the external shell must be removed while you add more or subtract internal layers, and taking off the outermost garment in a sub-zero environment has some distinct disadvantages.

First of all, there is the instant heat loss you’ll start to feel. Unnecessary heat loss will have to be replaced by burning more calories, our only source of heat or energy. Ultimately, we want to minimize the drastic cool-down one experiences when shedding their outermost layer, even for just a minute or two.

Second, even the most breathable shell jackets, when we are working hard climbing up a mountain, will start to get a little moist. Think of the area from your outermost layer all the way to your skin as a micro-climate with its own changing conditions. As we become warmer, the humidity in this space is close to 100 percent. As that moist air comes in contact with our outer shell, a portion of it, determined by the fabric’s breathability, travels through the membrane and escapes into the outside air, letting us stay drier longer.

Eventually, we will likely exceed the fabric’s amount of vapor transport potential, and this handy one-way moisture passing will get clogged up. This effect is accelerated in sub-zero temperatures. If one were to measure the heat trapped in each layer of clothing on a warm climber, you would find that those close to the skin are nearly 98.6° F, and the temperature slowly decreases as we work through to our outermost garment. When it is very cold (talking about negative digits here), our shell will be very close to the ambient air temperature, even though we are warm and toasty inside.

Why is this important? Because when that warm humid air that we’ve created through our exertion and then carefully wicked away from our skin and through our mid-layers comes in contact with that sub-zero shell fabric, guess what happens? It is no longer vapor. It freezes on the inside of the shell jacket, effectively inhibiting even the most “breathable” material to keep transporting moisture outside of our little micro-climate. Many winter hikers have witnessed this when they stop to adjust a layer and discover, upon removing their shell jacket, that the inside is lightly coated in frost. If not addressed, this blockage will make your mid-layers damper and damper, until you are a wet, soggy, warm mess. This is a real issue in a cold environment, because we all know how fast a wet person can lose heat.

EMS-MistayaLodge-Featherpack-7872

The Cold-Weather Fix

First, stop adjusting mid-layers. Build your clothing system from the skin out by only ever adding or subtracting on top of what you already have on. This is much faster on the go in the mountains, with the added benefit of eliminating the drastic cool-down that can occur when you stop to add a layer under your shell jacket in -40° F wind chills.

Second, have an insulating layer, preferably with a hood, that fits over everything, including your shell jacket. Wait – over the shell jacket? Yes. This is the single best piece of advice I can share with cold-weather travelers. Remember that micro-climate issue of evaporated sweat condensing when it comes in contact with your sub-zero shell? This is the solution: The shell needs to be warmed up to allow moisture to continue to flow in the right direction.

I’ve had many real-life opportunities to demonstrate this to clients on our Mount Washington winter climbs. A common scenario is, we arrive at Split Rock, just 0.3 miles from the summit. As we’ve been working hard, the inside of my hardshell jacket has a nice layer of frost on it. We take a five-minute break for a bit of water and food, during which we don our “puffy” jackets over everything the second we stop, even though we feel like furnaces from the 4,000-foot climb we just made. The addition of this insulating layer over our warm bodies quickly raises the temperature of that shell jacket to above freezing; then, the frost disappears, the jacket starts “breathing” again, and, when we take the puffy off right before continuing with our journey, we notice that our shell layers are soft and supple again – not frozen and crinkly from internal frost.

Up we go, warm, dry, and within sight of the summit.


Petzl Reactik+: The Most Versatile Headlamp Ever Made?

You’re not supposed to try new gear on race day. That’s what your training runs are for. But, when I got the opportunity to test out Petzl’s new Reactik+ Headlamp at the Angeles Crest 100-Mile Endurance Run, I couldn’t pass it up, especially since I hadn’t found a lamp yet that really delivered what I wanted. Other lamps were either uncomfortable or not powerful enough, or had poor battery life, poor light quality, frustrating functionality, or some combination of these.

But, now that I had this one, I was facing two big potential problems. I got the lamp just before catching a flight to California and was way too busy to deep-dive into the programming features it claimed to support. I was going to have to trust in the factory settings. On top of that, the lamp comes with a single rechargeable battery. I didn’t have time to order a backup, or the adapter kit that lets you run the lamp on AAA batteries. I was going to get one charge and that was it. No way could I make it through an entire night of running on a single charge—at least, not at a reasonable output. Right?

So, there I am, 12:30 AM at Chantry Flats Aid Station, mile 77.1. This is the last access point for my crew; do I ask for my spare headlamp? My next opportunity to swap lights is a drop bag 9.2 miles away…with a 2,500-foot climb in the middle. Oh, and my stomach is full-on rebelling. Will it take me three hours? If the wheels really start falling off, maybe four? I might be asking my lamp to give me seven hours or more of runtime at a fairly powerful output. Past experience has made me weary of relying on any lamp at that output in excess of four hours on a single charge or set of batteries. Seems like the smart thing to do would be to swap out the lamp now. Then again, if I were smart, I probably wouldn’t be running 100 miles in the mountains for fun.

The author putting the Reactik+ to the test during a 100 mile run.
The author putting the Reactik+ to the test during a 100 mile run.

Moment of truth

And, I’m really liking this lamp so far. It was obviously made with ultra-marathoners and other endurance athletes in mind. The headband is the most comfortable I’ve ever worn. Along the front, just behind the lamp, the fabric is a soft, lightly cushioned, sweat-wicking material, like a tennis sweatband from the 1980s. Then, along the back, the single elastic band meets dual plastic hubs, where it splits up into two thinner bands that wrap around the back of the skull and equalize pressure. The result is a comfortable fit that stays put through dynamic activity without the need for an additional top strap. Simple, but genius!

The light quality is top notch, too. A lot of lamps, especially bright ones, produce intense “hotspots,” where light gets concentrated in a small area, while what’s surrounding is much dimmer. The Reactik+ offers crystal clear quality that diffuses outward nicely.

Then, there’s the elephant in the room: Petzl’s much-vaunted Reactive Lighting Technology. The claim is that sensors in the lamp can measure the amount of light reflected back from surfaces and will adjust the output accordingly. So, if you’re running down a trail and then want to check out a map, the light will automatically dim to a more comfortable output. I’ll be honest: I was super skeptical. It sounded like the kind of thing that would be very hard to get right, and end up becoming annoying or distracting if it wasn’t perfect. But, consider my mind blown: It works great, and it is just subtle enough that you have to be looking for the auto-adjustments to even notice them.

It turns out that this technology is also a game-changer when it comes to battery life. What I didn’t realize during my race was that every time I had my head down on the trail in front of me (which was most of the time), I was actually saving a ton of battery power. I had the lamp on its medium factory setting with a max output of 170 lumens for five hours. But, most of the time, I was running the lamp on nowhere near 170 lumens! And, I always had just the right amount of light. When I picked my head up and looked down the trail, I could see plenty far while barely registering the variations in output.

So far, so good

That stretch from Chantry Flats to Idlehour Trail Aid Station was my lowest point in the race. My stomach refused to cooperate with my calorie needs. I was moving OK on the downhills, but every climb felt like I was crawling closer and closer to my own death. My watch battery died somewhere in there, but my pacer showed me her data, including an eye-popping 30-minute mile.

I made it to Idlehour at 4:04 AM. Thankfully, my stomach was starting to settle, and my energy level felt surprisingly robust. Even more surprising, my lamp was still going strong! I thought about grabbing the spare from my drop bag, but now, I was straight-up curious. Would this thing last ALL night? I only needed a couple more hours…and, last it did. It was a glorious dawn as I descended out of the Angeles National Forest toward the finish line in Altadena, CA: 100 miles in 27 hours and 40 minutes.

One month later, I’m planning a backpacking trip to Glacier National Park. This time, I actually get to play with the programming of this crazy lamp. The Reactik+ comes with Bluetooth® technology, and Petzl has a mobile app called MyPetzl-Light. You can choose from a number of preset activity profiles, including mountaineering, trail running, and trekking, among others, or create your own customized one. It’s a great tool, allowing you to preset target output or battery life for three Reactive Lighting settings and three Constant Lighting settings.

As I planned my trip, I thought about all the scenarios under which I might need lighting and for how long, and I used that set to cover all of my bases. You can even use your phone on the fly to check on estimated battery life or set new profiles.

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnjdMqfdccQ[/embedyt]

Set it and forget it

What I really want to do next is test out the lamp on night climbs. The last time I went to a crag at night, I distinctly remember being blinded by light reflecting off the rock six inches in front of my face but wanting the powerful output for route finding and making out details in the rock above me. Is the Reactik+ the perfect lighting solution for the nighttime climber? I’m thinking yes.

It’s the beginning of fall now. Shorter days are here, which means more time playing around at night in the wilderness. Thankfully, I’ve found the perfect light for just about any activity. Powerful? Check. Comfortable? Check. Customizable? Check. Rechargeable and long-lasting battery? Double-check. Intelligent lighting system that automatically adjusts output based on your needs? Who even thought that could be a thing? I guess Petzl did, and cheers to them.


Guide's Picks: Choosing the Right Base Layers

For success in the outdoors, having a good base is one of the most important qualities to possess. Whether your focus is fitness, knowledge, or experience, you can’t expect to advance in your discipline or achieve big goals without having a solid foundation to build upon. Like everything else in the mountains, having the right base layer when it comes to dressing for the outdoors is also extremely important. Wearing the correct garments can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of your excursion and can influence the enjoyability of your day.

Guide: KEITH MOON

School: NORTH CONWAY

Specialty: ROCK CLIMBING, ICE CLIMBING, AND SKIING

To make sure everyone heading north to climb, ski, and hike with the EMS Climbing School in North Conway is layered appropriately, I spoke with EMS Climbing School manager Keith Moon to get his professional opinion on what he looks for, and how to match the right base layers with their most popular winter trips and classes.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Climbing Mount Washington?

One of the most popular trips the EMS Climbing School offers during the winter is a guided ascent of Mount Washington. While Mount Washington is famously known for having the world’s worst weather, many clients are surprised when Keith advises them to choose EMS’s lightweight base layer. Keith believes a good rule of thumb when picking out garments is, “The more you’re moving, the lighter the base layer,” and remarked that clients are often surprised how warm they can get on an ascent of Mount Washington, even on some of the coldest days of the year.

Whether taking the classic day trip up the Lion Head, climbing a gully in Huntington Ravine, or going on EMS’s popular overnight trip to the Mount Washington Observatory, clients can expect to move while carrying a pack, and that effort can generate a large amount of heat. In these situations, EMS lightweight base layers are perfect for providing just enough insulation while wicking moisture away to keep you cool, dry, and warm.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Dropping a backcountry line?

With backcountry skiing continuing to become more accessible and growing in popularity, American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) classes are filling faster than ever. Advanced and novice backcountry skiers alike enroll to learn more about snow, snow conditions, and traveling safely in ungroomed terrain. As the largest AIARE provider on the East Coast, the EMS Climbing School is very familiar with the conditions you’ll face during your course.

According to Keith, the sport’s stop-and-go nature and EMS’s AIARE classes are perfect for EMS’s do-everything mid-weight layer. During an AIARE class, you’ll find yourself working hard skinning and hiking up to ski-able terrain before stopping to assess snow conditions and waiting for your turn to ski a line. Shortly thereafter, you’ll be working hard again as you nab a classic backcountry descent. EMS mid-weight layers offer an excellent compromise of wicking and breathability with insulation, allowing you to remain warm without overheating.

Credit: Mark Meinrenken
Credit: Mark Meinrenken

Climbing a frozen waterfall?

While winter of ascents of Mount Washington and backcountry skiing are certainly fun, this is the EMS Climbing School, and in North Conway, they don’t let a little thing like winter put a damper on the fun. In fact, many of the EMS guides would argue this is the best time of year to climb! Whether it’s at Cathedral’s North End or on the iconic Frankenstein Cliff, the guides of the EMS Climbing School spend a good chunk of their winter guiding people up everything from the White Mountain’s largest ice falls to its smallest smears. Whether you’re tackling the moderate Trestle Slabs or the classic hard route Dracula, Keith says the EMS heavyweight base layer should be your garment of choice.

One of the main challenges of ice climbing is staying warm. Even though you will spend a fair amount of energy on the initial hike and the climbing itself can be physically demanding, a large portion of single-pitch ice climbing is spent waiting for others and belaying them while standing in what amounts to a freezer. According to Keith, the EMS heavyweight base layers provide just the right amount of warmth to keep you comfortable in this scenario, without overheating you on the approach—helping you stay warm, psyched, and sending!

The big takeaway from talking to Keith is that there is no one layer that does it all. Well-prepared outdoor people have several to choose from, allowing them to tailor their layering systems to both the conditions of the day and their activity of choice.

The other takeaway is that these are only suggestions and not rules. Finding the perfect combination is a constant quest that takes into consideration the garment’s breathability, wicking, dryness, and insulation while figuring in the sport, exertion level, weather, and conditions you can expect to face in the outdoors. What you can be sure of is that EMS base layers have got you covered, whether you’re climbing Mount Washington, skiing Tuckerman Ravine, or ice climbing at Frankenstein Cliff with the EMS Climbing School this winter.