Opinion: Is Fleece Dead?

In the not-so-distant past, fleeces of varying weights and purposes stuffed our closets and backpacks. You needed stretch fleeces, with their enhanced mobility, for climbing in cool weather, Windstopper fleece for above-treeline scrambles, and trusty 300-weight fleeces just to leave the house in winter. Of course, microfleece suited your summer escapes and offered an outdoorsy alternative to sweaters in winter. In recent years, though, a host of new insulation choices have crowded the fleece out of our closets. In response, we’ve asked ourselves, “Is fleece totally dead?”

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There are far superior technical outer layers…

Fleece is no longer the premier technical outer layer. That much we know for certain, for three main reasons.

Better Fits and Packability

First, packability. When some of us started hiking, climbing, and skiing, down coats packed reasonably well. But, put one on, and you immediately resembled the Michelin Man. The synthetic coats of the day cut a slimmer profile, but packed about as well as fleece.

By contrast, today’s down coats use super-high quality down to create the same amount of warmth, without making it look like you’re impersonating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, while taking up far less pack space. As well, jackets with synthetic insulation now provide a less-bulky fit and have begun to rival down in terms of packability. Fleece outer layers? They still don’t pack well. And, who really wants to carry a giant pack solely to accommodate a technical fleece jacket?

Lighter Weights

Second, options. Much like the fleeces of the past, available in a wide variety of weights and features, down and synthetic jackets now come in an incredible range of sizes and styles. You’ll find everything from ultralight insulation, like the Arc’teryx Atom SL (men’s/women’s), to heavyweight pieces, like Marmot’s Men’s Guides Down and Women’s Aruna hoodies. Because of this, puffies have replaced fleece everywhere, from slightly cool summer summits to bitterly cold winter belays. Companies are even developing hybrids, like the EMS Impact Hybrid Jacket (men’s/women’s), which combines active insulation with lightweight, stretchy materials to keep weight down and packability up.

More Tech Features

Third, wicking. Within the outdoor community, fleece has long remained a staple for one significant reason: It keeps you warm, all while wicking away sweat. However, the advent of active insulation diversified the options offered. As such, today’s synthetic jackets provide more warmth, offer comparable breathability, and pack better than fleeces of similar weights. For these reasons, puffy vests are a four-season staple for us. As well, you’ll rarely find us in the mountains during winter without an active insulation-based midlayer, such as the EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch Jacket.

While active insulation has fueled the growth of synthetic options, technological advancements have further targeted common issues associated with down – most notably, its susceptibility to water. Hydrophobic down—down that’s resistant to water—and DWR (durable water repellent) treated shells on coats like the EMS Feather Pack (men’s/women’s) have helped minimize this insulation’s Achilles’ heel. No longer pigeon-holed for dry climates, down coats are now commonly used in soggy environments, like the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast.

All that said, abrasion resistance still gives fleece a leg up. It’s comparatively harder to tear.

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…But, don’t be fleeced into thinking it’s dead just yet

Despite synthetic and down insulation filling many of its former roles, we’re not ready to bury fleece just yet. Stretch fleeces, like the EMS Equinox Power Stretch Hoodie (men’s/women’s), are staples of our ice climbing and in-bound ski kits. In addition to being great for cold-weather pursuits, its adaptable design is a must-have for fall cragging. It’s also hard to beat the next-to-skin fuzzy texture of The North Face’s Campshire (men’s/women’s), especially when you’re wearing it around town. Lastly, a cozy microfleece lets you keep up appearances and stay warm while kicking back after a hard day playing outdoors.

For these reasons, fleece isn’t leaving our gear closet just yet.


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How to Choose a Climbing Harness

Your climbing harness is a vital piece in the safety chain. But, unlike your rope or helmet, it not only needs to be functional and safe, but it also needs to be extremely comfortable. Every time you take a fall, make a rappel, or sit back to work out a few moves or haul on some gear, your harness becomes the seat you’re sitting in. The bad news? You’ll come across a ton of options out there, all with different features and comfort levels. As such, for both new and seasoned senders, it can be dizzying to know which is right for you. So, how do you make sense of it all?

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Climbing Harness Construction

Step one: Know what you’re looking at, and for the type of climbing you plan to do, know which features are important.

The Belt

The belt, also known as the waist belt or a swami belt by old-school climbers, plays a vital role. It connects the climber to all other parts of the harness, as well as to the rope. More so, no other aspect is more integral to the harness’ overall comfort.

Made from a diverse collection of materials, harness belts come in a wide variety of widths and padding levels. As a good rule of thumb, models with more padding are more comfortable and aimed at climbers who will spend considerable time hanging in the harness, like multi-pitch and big-wall climbers. Harnesses with less padding, meanwhile, are streamlined for those who will not be hanging for an extended period of time—for example, sport and gym climbers.

Belts are more commonly adjusted using a single buckle. However, some styles—usually those accommodating a wide range of waist sizes—use two. While most modern harnesses feature self-double-backing (or speed) buckles, some buckles still require climbers to manually double them back. While speed buckles are great for convenience, you’ll have an easier time putting on a harness while wearing crampons with a manual option.

Pro Tip: Whichever closure method you choose, get in the habit of ensuring your harness is closed properly before you leave the ground. As well, confirm that your knot is tied correctly and your belayer’s device is threaded the right way.

Leg Loops

Usually padded and ventilated to match the belt’s material, leg loops come in two types: fixed and adjustable. Fixed leg loops are built with some stretch to accommodate different leg sizes. For this reason, they provide a fast and easy on-and-off solution for gym, sport, and other climbers who will not be mixing and matching multiple layers under their harnesses. Adjustable leg loops, meanwhile, are great for ice and alpine climbers, who may be wearing thin softshell pants one day and then multiple layers the next. As well, adjustable leg loops are ideal for climbers needing one harness to do it all.

Much like belts, adjustable leg loops use a variety of buckles. Make sure you’re familiar with the type of buckle your leg loops use, and get in the habit of making sure they’re closed correctly before you leave the ground.

GO: Adjustable Leg Loops | Fixed Leg Loops

Courtesy: Petzl
Courtesy: Petzl

Gear Loops

Most harnesses today come with four gear loops, which are designed for holding everything from quickdraws to cams to cordelettes. Made using a range of materials, gear loops come in a variety of shapes that affect how your gear is carried. For instance, you’ll find molded plastic on Black Diamond harnesses and sewn loops on Petzl models. Additionally, positioning varies between brands and impacts how easy gear is to access.

Pro tip: Almost any harness with four gear loops works for sport, gym, and top-rope climbing. However, if you’re planning on carrying a rack on your harness, consider trying the harness on with the rack first. This way, you can make sure you like how your gear is stored, see if it’s easy to reach, and test how it clips and unclips from the loops.

Ice Clipper Slots

If you’ll be using the harness for ice or alpine climbing, consider purchasing one with ice clipper slots. These small pieces of fabric allow for the use of ice clippers—a special piece of gear for racking ice screws and axes. Without the clippers attached, the slots are barely noticeable and add minimal weight. When the clippers are installed, they make organizing winter essentials on a harness easy.

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Haul Loop

Many harnesses feature a haul loop—a loop of cord, webbing, or plastic—on the rear. A useful addition, haul loops let you bring a second rope up routes that require full-length rappels, and further offer many other functions. For example, they’re a great spot to clip a chalk bag or to attach shoes for routes that you walk off.

Pro tip: The haul loops found on most harnesses are not rated to carry weight. Even if a haul loop is rated, you should never belay from or tie into it.

Belay Loop

Designed primarily for belaying another climber, this load-bearing vertical loop connects the two tie-in points. The width varies by the intended use: Many sport climbing harnesses have thinner belay loops to reduce weight and bulk, while general use and trad-focused harnesses often have more robust options to increase lifespan and durability. A feature on some models, wear indicators—different-colored nylon underneath the belay loop and tie-in points—indicate when it’s time to retire a harness.

Tie-In Points

Used primarily for tying into the rope, the tie-in points are the two loops connected by the belay loop. One is on the waist belt and the other is right in the middle of the leg loops.

Pro tip: What’s the difference between a belay loop and a tie-in point? The latter is ideal for use with fabrics, such as climbing ropes, personal anchor systems, and slings, while the belay loop is built for metal products, like carabiners.

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Fitting a Harness

Because everyone is shaped differently, the easiest way to determine a harness’ fit is to try it on. To get the ideal fit, you first want to position the belt above your hips and also be in the middle of adjusting the belt and leg loops. When you tighten the belt, it should be snug but not uncomfortable.

As well, you’ll come across women’s-specific harnesses, which, beyond the colors, are designed differently from the men’s models. Specifically, a women’s harness has a differently shaped waist belt, an increased rise (the distance between the leg loops and belt), and larger leg loops relative to the waist size.

Pro tip: How do you know a harness fits well? The belay loop and tie-in points are centered on the front of your body. If a gear loop sits at your belly button, try another size.

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Suggestions

Top-Roping, Gym, and Sport Climbing

Because almost any harness works well for these activities, make sure to prioritize comfort and fit. As well, none of these climbing styles require carrying an extensive amount of gear, so the number and location of the gear loops aren’t as important.

Traditional Climbing

Trad climbers need a harness with gear loops large enough to accommodate such gear as cams, nuts, and draws. The harness should have enough space for the equipment and carry the weight comfortably. For this reason, and because trad climbers frequently find themselves hanging in their harnesses for extended periods of time, these models typically have more padding than other offerings.

Ice Climbing  

Most ice gear racks fit better on a harness with ice clippers. Because of this, any harness for ice climbing should have these slots. As another feature, adjustable leg loops better accommodate the fluctuating layers worn over the course of the winter climbing season.

Mountaineering

Compared to other climbers, mountaineers don’t spend as much time sitting in their harnesses, and on routes measured in miles rather than feet, ounces quickly turn into pounds. For these reasons, many mountaineering harnesses are stripped down to the essentials. Also, for putting a harness on over crampons and skis, look for leg loops that open all the way.

GO: Aid Climbing | All-Around | Caving | Glacier Travel | Rescue | Steep | Winter Climbing | Work

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A Bostonian's Guide to Fall Foliage

For Bostonians, there’s no need to travel far this fall to find the foliage. In fact, whether you’re looking to hike, climb, mountain bike, or paddle, the Greater Boston area has something to satisfy everybody’s cravings for yellows, oranges, and reds. To begin, start with these five great activities, all within an hour of the city, for a quintessentially fall experience.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Boulder at Hammond Pond

It’s strange to find great bouldering, much less an idyllic fall getaway, behind a mall. But, somehow, Hammond Pond pulls it off. Tucked behind The Shops at Chestnut Hill, just minutes outside of Boston, the puddingstone walls, the pond’s gentle waves, and the rustling of hardwood leaves as they fall to the ground—and the occasional grunt of a boulderer working a problem—combine to make you forget just how close you actually are to civilization.

In addition to the wonderful setting, the season’s cool temperatures are perfect for climbing classic Hammond Pond boulder problems, such as Hammond Eggs (V1), Breakfast of Champions (V3), and Hermit Cave (V4). You’ll find the highest consistency and most classic problems in an area called the Alcove, a steep semi-circle of Roxbury Puddingstone. This type of conglomerate rock resembles pebbles thrown into a still-wet concrete wall and is only found in the Greater Boston area. The Alcove’s orientation protects climbers from cool autumn winds, while the rock receives a lot of sun, keeping it pleasant even on the crispest fall days.

Linking a combination of cobbles and cracks, the Alcove’s most difficult problems are found in the middle of the wall, where the angle is the steepest. The easier problems, meanwhile, are located along the outsides, which are angled more vertically. Because of the Alcove’s short height and limited amount of rock, however, make sure to check out traverses that increase the challenge and volume of climbing. Boulderers beware: Many of the problems here were established decades ago. Thus, given the close proximity to Boston, they possess an ego-deflating blend of old-school grading and slick holds.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Climb Rattlesnake Rocks

Tucked just down the road from Quincy Quarries’ graffitied walls, Rattlesnake Rocks is a classic destination for fall foliage. Rather than the Quarries’ vibrantly colored walls, however, the forest surrounding Rattlesnake Rocks delivers a canopy of gold, auburn, and crimson, while cool autumn temperatures ensure the area’s short, coarse granite walls are at their best.

Consisting of smaller crags spread out over a cliffline, Rattlesnake is much quieter than its multi-use neighbor, giving you some freedom to make the most of your “Rocktober.” And, while moving from crag to crag may be an inconvenience, the autumn-hued forest is made for ambling amongst Rattlesnake Rocks’ various walls and routes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mountain Bike Around Vietnam

No, not that Vietnam.

For Boston-area mountain bikers who prefer to race through colorful fall forests rather than idly admire them, Vietnam—located in Milford, roughly an hour outside the city—is an ideal outing. Infamous in the mountain biking community, Vietnam holds the distinction of being the first land purchased by a bike association. The New England Mountain Bike Association, or NEMBA, bought a 47-acre parcel to protect it in 2003, and today, it contains notorious singletrack, drops, and jumps. Even better, NEMBA’s parcel connects with other conservation land in Milford, Hopkinton, and Holliston to create an approximately 800-acre area. Legendary for its technical riding, Vietnam’s trails are best known for their rock gardens and steep rollers, as well as their natural and manmade drops and jumps.

Fall is the perfect time for a trip to Vietnam. Its often-soggy, low-lying areas are finally dry, and brisk temperatures enhance traction on the area’s steepest lines. While the forest’s changing colors and the rustling of leaves under tires can produce a meditative calm, don’t let your guard down too much. Fallen leaves add another challenge to Vietnam’s already-taxing trails, as they may hide in-trail obstacles.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Hike the Blue Hills

Hikers in Greater Boston anxious to explore brilliantly tinted fall forests need look no further than the Blue Hills Reservation. Just a short drive from the city, the Blue Hills deliver the perfect place for hiking, as the area’s rocky and once-lush prominences transform from dense grays and greens into a cornucopia of yellow, orange, and red shades.

Although the Blue Hills might not have the elevation found among its northern neighbors—the highest point, Great Blue Hill, stands at just 635 feet tall—the area boasts an impressive 125 miles of hiking trails and 22 named hills. All and all, it’s more than enough to keep even the most enthusiastic fall hikers busy. Proving you needn’t drive north, the various high points offer incredible views of everything from Boston’s skyline to the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, New England’s iconic fall foliage makes these views even more spectacular.

Hikers looking to get a quick foliage fix should head for the summit of Great Blue Hill, a roughly mile-long round-trip hike. On the summit, climb the Eliot Tower for an unrivaled view of the city’s skyline and Boston Harbor. On a clear day, hikers can see as far as New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock. So, take a minute to reflect on the leaf-peeping madness (and heavy traffic) you’re missing out on by staying close to home. Or, have a picnic on the open summit, or continue touring the park’s expansive network of trails.

Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA
Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA

Paddle the Charles

For taking in the foliage around Boston, don’t restrict yourself to land. Another option, the Charles River delivers a different perspective for viewing the season’s leafy spectacle. Whether from the comfort of a kayak or balanced on top of an SUP, you’ll find the river’s calm waters offer a multitude of trip options for leaf-peeping. Along with the awe-inspiring autumn colors, expect to encounter everything from old forests to city skylines, as the Charles snakes from Hopkinton to the Atlantic Ocean.

With ample put-ins and numerous places to stop for a picnic or to merely enjoy the scenery, the Charles River has an adventure for every level. And, while an out-and-back trip requires the least amount of logistics, it’s easy to stage a shuttle for a one-way trip with a little planning.

What’s even better than lazily floating on the calm waters to soak up New England’s stunning fall sights? Through the russet-colored forest, the occasional rumble of the highway lets you know others are fighting their way out of, or back into, the city to look for something you’ve already found.

 

Do you have a favorite fall trip around Boston? If so, we want to hear about it! Leave your favorite Boston-area fall trips in the comments.


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Alpha Guide: The Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

The Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle offers moderate climbing in an incredible setting on one of the Northeast’s most iconic mountains.

Break away from hopeful summiteers on the Lion Head and Tuckerman Ravine Trails and head to Huntington Ravine and the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle to find relative seclusion on one of the region’s busiest mountains. This must-do moderate alpine climb on Mount Washington, New England’s tallest and most infamous mountain, racks up the fun while delivering incredible exposure, an unprecedented view of Huntington Ravine, and one of the best pitches you’ll find anywhere, the Fairy Tale Traverse.

Quick Facts

Distance: Roughly 6 miles, loop up the Pinnacle and down the Lion Head.
Time to Complete: Full day
Difficulty: ★★★★ (5.7, Grade III)
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: Late-May to October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain 

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Turn-By-Turn

Most climbers approach Huntington Ravine from the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Gorham, about a 30-minute drive from North Conway. Getting to Pinkham Notch from North Conway is very straightforward: Simply follow Route 16 North. Roughly 12 miles past the Glen intersection, the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center is on the left.

Directions are just as easy for climbers coming from the north. From Gorham, just follow Route 16 South for approximately 12 miles, and the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center will be on the right. Ample parking is available in the main lot. However, it’s common for the main parking lot to be full on busy weekends; in this case, use the overflow lot on Route 16, just south of the Visitor Center.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Approach

The approach to the Pinnacle takes two to 2.5 hours for most climbers. It begins on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail (TRT), which starts in back of the Visitor Center. This segment of the TRT is a rocky dirt road that consistently heads uphill. Follow it for about 1.7 miles, until it intersects with the Huntington Ravine Fire Road.

At the junction (44.263844, -71.277946), turn right onto the Huntington Ravine Fire Road, and follow it for about a mile, until it intersects with the Huntington Ravine Trail (HRT) (44.267830, -71.277084). The fire road is wide and flat and ideal for making good time.

Once on the HRT, follow it uphill into Huntington Ravine. The trail starts off quite mellow, but turns to boulder hopping and then talus slogging as climbers get farther into the ravine. Pinnacle Buttress is the prominent ridge on the climber’s left (south) side, and as the ravine’s most striking feature, it is hard to miss. Keep hiking up the HRT, until a well-worn climber’s path branches off left. Follow it across a stream coming down Pinnacle Gully and to the left-facing gully that marks the start of the climb. There’s a nice spot to gear up at the climb’s base (44.274509, -71.288536); just be conscious of rock fall.

For a faster approach, drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road to the seven-mile mark and then hike down the Huntington Ravine Trail, until it intersects with the climber’s path. The descent takes hikers across the Alpine Garden and then down into Huntington Ravine. Once in the ravine, the HRT is steep and exposed, so exercise caution, especially if the rock is wet. This approach isn’t for everybody, but it only takes about 40 minutes, and for an additional advantage at the end of the climb, your car is right nearby.

On top of the first pitch. | Credit: Tim Peck
On top of the first pitch. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Opening Pitches

Most climbers break the route’s first 300 feet into two 150-foot pitches. Marking the start of the climb, the first begins by climbing the bottom of the prominent left-facing gully (5.easy) to a ledge, and then continues up and right over a slab and a right-facing corner. The final corner is the pitch’s crux (5.5), but it is well-protected and easy to read. There’s a nice, albeit mildly exposed, ledge to belay on atop the corner.

The second pitch follows a well-worn footpath around bushes and over a couple of slabby sections toward an obvious alcove below another right-facing corner. The climbing itself is generally quite easy (5.2), with the crux being a step out of a runnel and onto a slab. At the alcove, there are ample gear options on climber’s right for building a belay anchor.

Pro Tip: Since getting off the Pinnacle in a storm can be an ordeal and will require leaving gear, it’s a good idea to plan on re-confirming the weather as you enter the ravine and again before you start climbing. And, while going up may not be the best option, if you’re caught in bad weather mid-climb, there are easier variations on climber’s left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Business

The third pitch leaves the alcove and climbs the right-facing corner. Although not apparent at first glance, the corner protects well enough, with a pin in the middle and options for gear both above (medium cam) and below (small nut). The mantle onto the ledge atop the corner is the crux of the climb (5.7).

The third pitch continues above the ledge, and it is easy to get off route here. The most obvious route climbs directly up, eventually reaching an overhang with several fixed pins. But, that’s the 5.8 variation. If you do it, some thoughtful climbing takes you straight up through two pins. Then, step out left for a couple of strenuous and exposed moves protected by two more pins. Above the overhang, easy terrain heads up and right toward the Pinnacle’s final pitches. Belay here.

Remaining on the traditional route (and thus keeping the grade at 5.7) requires splitting the third pitch in two. Once atop the initial corner, head left to another corner and then climb back right up a ramp to a belay. From the belay, leave the ledge, and head down and left on a ramp until you’re under a chimney. Climb up through the chimney and to another belay ledge near the Pinnacle’s final pitches.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Interlude

Whichever variation you choose, the two routes rejoin in the easy terrain just below the Pinnacle’s last pitches. Most climbers do a very easy and short fourth pitch to get to the bottom of a large, bushy area.

Pitch 5 heads through the alpine scrub and toward a small rock step. If you’re heading for the Fairy Tale Traverse—and you should be, unless the weather is starting to turn—climb the step’s right side (5.6), hugging the edge of the arete. Continue along the edge of the arete for about 100 feet, until you reach a ledge and block near the start of the traverse. Belay here.

Since the climbing along the arete is awkward and has considerable exposure, it may feel like you’re off route. You’re not, however. If you’re at all uncertain, there are a couple of pins just left of the arete that serve as signposts.

The Fairytale Traverse. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Fairy Tale Traverse. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Money Pitch

As you belay atop Pitch 5, glance around the block. You’ll see a horizontal crack cutting straight across a smooth granite face. A little below, the face drops away, and Pinnacle Gully opens up. The upcoming pitch, known as the Fairy Tale Traverse, is fantastic. The climbing is excellent, the setting is one of the best in the East, and the exposure is tremendous. Once you start traversing, be sure to savor the moment; climbing doesn’t get much better than this.

From the belay, step down below the crack, and begin traversing, using the crack for your hands and friendly edges for your feet. Traverse the crack (5.5, ample protection) across the face, and then, follow it up for about 20 feet to a large platform. Belay here or top out first by climbing a small 25-foot step up to the blocky terrain atop the Pinnacle.

The final pitch before the top of the Pinnacle. | Credit: Tim Peck
The final pitch before the top of the Pinnacle. | Credit: Tim Peck

On Top of the Pinnacle

With the technical climbing behind you and ample places to sit comfortably, the top of the Pinnacle provides a perfect setting for switching from climbing to approach shoes, stashing the rope and rack, and getting ready to make your way back to Pinkham Notch. Before leaving, take a moment to soak up the fantastic view, with the Wildcats and Carters stretched out before you and Henderson Ridge to your left.

Pro Tip: Have a windshirt and puffy coat somewhere easily accessible in preparation for the unknown weather ahead.

Crossing the Alpine Garden. | Credit: Tim Peck
Crossing the Alpine Garden. | Credit: Tim Peck

Crossing the Alpine Garden

From the top of the Pinnacle, climbers should continue moving up the mountain, following a well-traveled footpath through the delicate alpine grasses. Eventually, the footpath gives way to a steep section of rocks and boulders that leads to the Alpine Garden Trail (44.273743, -71.292091). While it can be tempting to forge ahead toward Mount Washington’s summit or Pinkham Notch, the boulder field offers a great view of the top of the Pinnacle, and puts the route’s exposure into stark relief. Give the route one last glance before you continue on.

Located on the unprotected flanks of Mount Washington, the Alpine Garden Trail will likely have conditions different from what you experienced in Huntington Ravine. If you stashed a windshirt or puffy at the top of your pack, you’ll likely be reaching for it here. To head down via the traditional descent, follow the Alpine Garden Trail (AGT) south for a little over a half-mile to its connection with the Lion Head Trail (44.265045, -71.295601).

If you’re intent on continuing up to the summit (or if you took the Auto Road approach), turn right on the AGT and aim directly for the humongous cairn atop the intersection of the AGT and the HRT. From there, head uphill on the HRT for 0.3 miles, until it intersects with the Mount Washington Auto Road at the junction with the Nelson Crag Trail. Follow the Nelson Crag Trail 0.8 miles to the top, or if you parked at the junction, hop into your car and drive down.

Pro Tip: If you’re making a summit attempt, use good judgment, and consider the weather, time of day, and your own energy reserves before heading up. While it’s only a mile, the steep and rugged nature of the climb— combined with the weight of a rope and rack—can make it a long, slow slog.

Descending Lion Head with Tuckerman's Ravine in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending Lion Head with Tuckerman Ravine in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Normal Descent

Assuming you take the normal descent route, the Lion Head Trail (LHT) below the Alpine Garden isn’t made any easier by your climbing gear’s additional weight. Hugging the outside of Tuckerman Ravine, the LHT offers a rocky, steep, and direct path to treeline. If the weather cooperates, the Lion Head proper (44.264.042, -71.291275) is a great place to stop, admire the view, and give weary legs a rest.

After dipping below treeline, the Lion Head Trail’s steep and rocky nature changes. Specifically, this section features some short up-and-down areas, slabs, and tree roots. Pay careful attention when navigating, as it is frequently wet. Finally, 1.1 miles after joining the LHT from the Alpine Garden, the trail connects with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail just below HoJos.

Back on the trail where the day began, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail leads climbers down the final 2.3 miles to Pinkham Notch while losing 1,800 feet in elevation. Don’t let the width deceive you, however. The trail is very rugged and presents more of a challenge than most will want at this point in the day. On a positive note, it allows you to walk side-by-side with your climbing partner, and offers an opportunity to relive the day’s best pitches, which always seems to make the descent go by faster.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • The average high temperature on Mount Washington’s summit in July is 53°F. Because of this, it’s smart to always pack a puffy coat, like the lightweight, packable, and hooded Arc’teryx Atom SL (men’s/women’s).
  • A trip up the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle involves a lot of hiking through rough terrain with a heavy pack, which is made easier with the use of a trekking pole. Black Diamond’s Distance FLZ Trekking Poles (men’s/women’s) offer the support needed for the hike in and out of Huntington Ravine, and can easily be stashed up and stowed away in your pack while you’re climbing.
  • Hauling climbing gear into Huntington Ravine is no easy task. Luckily, you can lighten your load with Black Diamond’s new Ultralight Cams (.5, .75, #1, #2, #3).
  • A lightweight rope is another easy way to keep pack weight down. The Sterling Nano IX 9.0 mm is a great choice for those heading into alpine terrain. First climbed in 1928, the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle has no monster pitches, and 60 meters is more than enough rope.
  • The Black Diamond Speed 22 is the perfect pack for a trip up the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, big enough to handle a rope, rack, and multiple layers, plus food and water, and also compresses well and fits great while you’re climbing.

On the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
On the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Mount Washington has rightfully earned the reputation as “home of the world’s worst weather.” So, consult Mount Washington’s forecast before leaving, and if the weather isn’t in your favor, consider another objective.
  • The Northeast Ridge is a classic route on one of the Northeast’s most popular mountains. Consider getting there early or climbing during the week to avoid the crowds.
  • This route has no bolted anchors. So, if you’re planning on three-piece anchors at every belay, plan your rack accordingly. A normal rack for the route might be 10 cams (0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2, 3, with doubles of 0.5, 0.75, and 1), a size run of nuts (5-13), a couple of small tricams, and eight to 10 alpine draws. Climbers comfortable at the grade might bring a little less, while leaders near their limit might want to bring a little more.
  • A big day on the Rockpile deserves a big meal. Margarita Grill is located right near the intersection of Routes 302 and 16, and serves drool-worthy nachos and gigantic burritos.
  • If you’re not sure you’re up for leading the route but really want to climb it, the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School will be happy to guide you up it.

Current Conditions

Have you recently climbed the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments for others!


How to Choose Rock Climbing Shoes

In rock climbing, your shoes are your weapon. You go to battle with the rock, but having the right equipment for the right battle means the difference between victory and defeat. So, how do you choose the best shoe for your upcoming expedition? Well, it all depends on the type of adventure you’re about to embark upon. To begin, let’s break it down by which features are the most important and give you the best chance at sending it your first time:

Courtesy: 5.10
Courtesy: 5.10

Shoe Stance

A climbing shoe’s “stance” is basically the shape of it—specifically how much the toe is turned down below the heel. The degree goes a long way to determining control and pressure. There are three main stances: Aggressive, moderate turn down, and neutral. Each better suits a different style of climbing, whether that’s bouldering, crack climbing, or big wall climbing.

Aggressive

Aggressive shoes turn your toes downward while providing maximum heel tension and putting your feet in the power position for bouldering and sport climbing routes. All about precision, aggressive shoes allow you to focus power on the smallest of holds and propel yourself up a problem or route. Due to their asymmetrical shape, they are not meant to be worn for long periods of time, though. Bouldering problems and difficult single-pitch sport climbs are where these shoes excel.

Moderate Turn Down

Moderate shoes provide climbers with less of a camber than aggressive shoes. This allows them to excel in areas like slabs routes, longer multi-pitch climbs, and especially crack climbing. You sacrifice some precision but gain comfort and versatility with a moderately downturned shoe.

Neutral

Neutral shoes are the choice of many beginner climbers because of the all-day comfort they provide. Your toes lie flat within the shoe and get to be more relaxed than with any of the other stances. Don’t be fooled, though. Neutral shoes are not just for beginners and, in fact, are the choice of many big wall climbers looking for comfort while they scale long multi-pitch walls—think El Cap or Indian Creek.

GO: Aggressively Downturned | Moderately Downturned | Neutral

Courtesy: La Sportiva
Courtesy: La Sportiva

Lacing Systems

Believe it or not, the type of lacing system could mean the difference between topping out on a route or taking a whipper. Essentially, it keeps what’s in between your foot and the wall itself secure. The last thing you want is to lose a shoe when you’re three pitches from the top.

Lace-Up

As with traditional shoes, lace-ups make you pull to tighten and then are finished off with a bow or whatever knot you prefer. This system allows you to tighten your shoes as much as you want and at every spot along the lace’s length, allowing for the best all-around foot fit. Laces ensure your foot is completely locked in, wrapping the shoes around like shrink wrap, so you can really feel the wall when you go for the smallest of footholds. The only downside is, you don’t want them coming undone in the middle of a route. Imagine being 500 feet up and having to figure out how to tie your shoe in the middle of pitch seven.

Velcro

Grip, rip, and go. Velcro shoes are built for speed and on-the-fly adjustments when you’re climbing. A majority of aggressive shoes have Velcro straps, as climbers can put them on quickly before going after a bouldering problem or single-pitch sport route. On-the-fly adjustments are definitely a huge plus. 40 feet up a wall and you feel like your heel is slipping a little bit? No problem. Just reach down, adjust the strap to lock your foot in more, and keep sending it! However, compared to lace-ups, Velcro shoes don’t provide the same level of tightness and control. But, depending on the type of climbing you’re practicing, that may not be a concern.

Slipper

Can’t tame your excitement and just want to get on the wall as soon as you get there? Slip-on shoes cut all the time out of lacing up or strapping in. Instead, elastic material simply hugs your foot. That’s not their only benefit, though. They make great training shoes, because they have a softer outsole and midsole and therefore strengthen your feet quicker. Their lower profile also makes them great for thin crack climbs. Go ahead and wedge your foot up in there. Just don’t get your foot in too deep, or you may lose your shoe.

GO: Lace-Up | Velcro | Slipper

Courtesy: La Sportiva
Courtesy: La Sportiva

Outsoles

The outsoles are constantly battling to keep you on the wall or boulder. The rubber is what forms the bond between your feet and the rock. That’s one partnership with which you have to feel confident and trust completely.

Rubber Hardness

When you’re climbing, you have to trust every foot placement you make. Being confident that your foot will hold becomes a mental game, which is why having the proper rubber hardness makes all the difference. Soft rubber will be stickier, thus making it perfect for smearing and slab climbs where the footholds are tiny or nonexistent. They latch onto the rock, providing you with the best traction to top out.

Be cautious, though. Stickier rubbers degrade faster, so, for challenging, more technical climbs, you may want to think about a harder rubber. For gym climbing, crack climbing, multi-pitch big walls, and beginner climbers, you will want a harder rubber for its durability. You can wedge, lock, and heel-hook all day while trusting that your shoes will hold up and perform without question.

Thickness

Feeling the features of the rock while you climb aids in the mental game climbing brings forth. Having shoes with thicker rubber soles—typically between 4 and 5.55 millimeters thick—gives you the control and durability to edge all day. Thinner-soled shoes give you the ability to slab and smear, letting you feel the smallest of holds while you scale upwards. Once you’ve refined your technique and are dialing in your body movements on the rock, you might want to look into thinner soles, which are typically between 3 and 4 millimeters thick.

Edges

Climbing shoes continue to evolve as the limits on what can and cannot be climbed are pushed. Shoes with defined edges on the outsole give climbers the ability to balance on the smallest of footholds. They focus your foot’s pressure on a specific part of the rock as you reach for the next hand hold.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more “natural” feel on the rock while you climb, many brands have developed no-edge technology shoes. In this case, the rubber has a rounded, rather than defined, edge on the shoe’s sides and toes. The technology mirrors your foot more naturally. So, picture it like the way your foot naturally curves with your skin covering it; technology basically recreates this, just with a shoe. This allows for optimal edging, as the technology maximizes the amount of contact your foot has with the rock. However, these shoes tend to be on the higher-performance scale, thus costing more.

EMS-SP-17-CLIMB-002291

Shoe Materials and Fit

It’s important to consider the materials that make up your climbing shoe, as they ultimately help you determine the best size. Unlike regular shoes, climbing shoes are supposed to be tight and a little uncomfortable.

Unlined Leather

Unlined leather shoes expand quite a bit as you break them in—sometimes, up to a full shoe size. When trying on a pair, you’ll want your toes right up against the end of the shoe, with your toes knuckled upward against the leather. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but as you break them in, your shoes will fit like a glove around your foot.

Lined Leather

Lined leather shoes tend to have minimal expansion when they are broken in—usually less than half a shoe size. The fit should be snug but not too uncomfortable, to the point your toes are curling in. This material also ensures the shoes do not stretch too much in crucial areas, like the toe box and heel.

Synthetic Materials

Synthetic shoes have very minimal stretching. You want the fit to be comfortable from the day you try them on. Synthetic materials also benefit from breathability and moisture-wicking technology, keeping your feet dry and comfortable as you climb.

GO: All-Around Shoes | Bouldering Shoes | Slab Shoes | Steep Shoes

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So, Which Shoes Should I Get?

Big wall/multi-pitch climbing: Comfort is key with long multi-pitch climbs. So, pick a shoe with a neutral stance that utilizes a harder rubber outsole with good thickness. This ensures the shoe not only lasts longer but also performs consistently as you scale 1,000-plus feet over multiple hours.

Bouldering: Get aggressive! Bouldering calls for a Velcro shoe that has a large downturned stance with defined edges to pinpoint small holds and overhung ledges. You’ll want a thick rubber outsole and a shoe made from lined leather or synthetic material. This ensures the shoe doesn’t stretch much and focuses the power where you need it most while also allowing you to strap in and out quicker.

Gym climbing: Look into either a lace-up or slip-on shoe to help build foot muscles. A neutral stance, unlined leather shoe with a softer rubber outsole will help you practice smearing the wall and deliver ample comfort for long periods of time, helping you improve endurance.

Single pitch/sport climbing: Select either a moderate downturned shoe or an aggressive stance Velcro shoe. These help you focus all your foot power and weight on the smallest of holds and let you adjust tightness on the fly. As well, go with a thinner yet harder rubber outsole with no-edge technology. This allows you to really feel every part of the wall, giving you a boost of confidence with every move upward.

Purchasing your first pair of climbing shoes is an exciting time. It’s the beginning of a bond among your feet, mind, and the rock. Stop at your local Eastern Mountain Sports and let the experts walk you through the process of choosing the right shoe for your climbing career. Happy climbing!


Video: The First Descent of K2 on Skis

It turns out, the hardest big mountain in the world to climb is not all that simple to ski, either.


Alpha Guide: Mount Greylock's Thunderbolt Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Steep, short, and scenic—a hike to Mount Greylock’s summit via the Thunderbolt Trail is the most direct way to the highest point in Massachusetts.

Hiking to the summit of Mount Greylock via the Thunderbolt Trail takes you through some of the East Coast’s most hallowed ski terrain and across the rugged Appalachian Trail, and is the steepest and shortest route to the highest point in Massachusetts.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4.8 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: None.
Contact: https://www.mass.gov/locations/mount-greylock-state-reservation

Download

Turn-By-Turn

To access the Thunderbolt trailhead, hikers can park in nearly adjacent lots on Thiel Road and Gould Road in Adams, Massachusetts. To get there from North Adams, the major jumping-off point for anybody heading to Greylock, take Route 8 south for about two miles, and then, make a right onto Friend Street at a rotary. After a mile, Friend Street merges into Notch Road. About 0.5 miles later, turn right onto Gould Street, and then, either continue straight for side-of-the-road parking on Thiel Road or make a quick left into the signed hiker parking lot on Gould Road.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

From either lot, finding the right trail is tricky. There’s a maze of intersecting trails in and around the parking lots, and the way to Thunderbolt is not always clearly marked.

For the easiest route, hike for roughly 10 minutes up the closed (to vehicles) section of Thiel Road, first on pavement and then on a gravel path, until you come to a sign (42.627598, -73.137497) directing hikers to Thunderbolt.

From the sign, navigation is still a bit strenuous, with the narrow trail winding through thick woods and dense ferns. Enjoy this short section, as it easily picks up elevation. You’ll soon approach the ski trail proper, (42.636150, -73.137497) where the trail opens up and the grade intensifies.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Ski Trail

The Thunderbolt foot trail ascends along the side of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, and it’s easy to know when you’ve reached its base. Here, the dense forest immediately transitions into a wide, open swath of green running straight up the mountain. The Thunderbolt Ski Trail climbs consistently, with few interruptions—among them, the juncture with the Bellows Pipe Trail (42.637295, -73.154152) and the intersection with the Appalachian Trail (42.642410, -73.161797).

That said, the footing is good, the path is easy to follow, and there are a good number of rest spots where the trail briefly levels out. When you need to catch your breath, make sure to turn around and enjoy the view back east, with Adams in the foreground and the Hoosac Range on the horizon.

Pro Tip: Although lots of trails intersect with the Thunderbolt trail and many of the junctions aren’t signed, knowing that you should be hugging the ski trail makes it harder to get off route.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Joining the AT

After one final steep section, Thunderbolt levels out briefly before intersecting with the Appalachian Trail. Before ascending to the junction, make sure to pause to appreciate the spectacular view to the northeast. You’ll know you’re there when you see the first aid cache in the woods to climber’s right.

At the junction, follow the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes south another half-mile to the summit. The going is easy and relaxed, with only a slight incline. After a few minutes, hikers will cross the auto road, and then, spill into one of Greylock’s tourist parking lots.

Upon entering the lot, look to the right for the Thunderbolt shelter (42.638737, -73.0145218), an impressive stone warming hut built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1934. Originally intended as a place for ski racers to warm up and prepare for their run—remember, back then, racers had to get to the top of the run via their own power—the hut is dedicated to Rudolph Konieczny, a soldier killed in action while fighting with the 10th Mountain Division’s ski troop in northern Italy in 1945. Although, today, the shelter is primarily a tourist attraction and an emergency shelter for winter travelers, it is one of the summit’s several somber memorials.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

From the hut, the actual summit is only a short jaunt away. Simply rejoin the Appalachian Trail and follow the gravel, and then paved, path a bit farther south. Pretty soon, you’ll be on the summit proper (42.636898, -73.165527), which, in 1898, became the centerpiece of the first state park in Massachusetts.

As you approach the summit, Greylock’s 93-foot granite memorial to the Commonwealth’s war veterans—built by the CCC in the 1930s—looms overhead. If it’s open, make sure to go in to pay your respects. Then, climb the tower’s spiral staircase to a viewing observatory, which offers 360-degree views of the region. To the north, look for North Adams in the foreground and New York’s Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green Mountains in the distance. Looking east, mountains and hills are everywhere; try to pick out Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. Turning south and west, you’ll see the Berkshires, the Catskills, and the Hudson River Valley.

There are a lot of other things to do on the summit. In addition to the Thunderbolt Ski Hut, there’s the Bascom Lodge. Perched nearly on Greylock’s summit, the lodge is another minute south on the AT. Made using local schist and red spruce, the lodge was built in the 1930s by the CCC to offer shelter to summit visitors. Today, it features a restaurant and cafe, provides seasonal accommodations, and is even available for weddings and private events. Whether you’re grabbing a meal inside or having a snack at the nearby picnic tables, the Bascom Lodge is the perfect place to linger on the summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Return

To return to your car from the summit, simply retrace your steps back down the way you came. Of course, as you pass by signs noting iconic sections of the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, such as Big Bend, Big Schuss, and The Bumps, try not to get too distracted thinking about how much more fun (and faster) it would be on skis.

If you didn’t know, the Thunderbolt Trail was originally built as a ski trail (also by the CCC) and is rich with New England ski history. For example, Dick Durrance, the 17-time national champion ski racer who won the first race held on the Thunderbolt Trail in 1935, descended in just two minutes and 48 seconds—a time that feels especially fast to hikers anxious to get back to their cars.

It’s also worth noting that, while the Thunderbolt Trail is open to hikers all year, winter hikers are encouraged to ascend where others already have to preserve the snow for skiers.

The Cheat Route

If you have someone who would like to experience Mount Greylock’s summit with you but is unable to ascend the approximately 2,200 feet of elevation over roughly 2.5 miles, have them meet you at the top. The Greylock auto road allows cars to drive to the summit from May through October. Just know there’s a small fee to park at the summit.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Saying the Thunderbolt Trail is steep feels like an understatement, especially considering that, at its steepest, the trail pitches to 38 degrees. Make ascending and descending a little bit easier by bringing a pair of trekking poles.
  • Plan for your trip up and ensure you stay on track with the Mount Greylock Reservation Map. Mount Greylock State Reservation has over 12,000 acres and is home to roughly 50 miles of trails, so there’s plenty left to do after your successful summit.
  • While the origins of the Greylock name are up for debate, one popular theory is, it refers to the mountain’s appearance. Often, it has a gray cloud—or lock of gray mist—overhead. This has certainly been our experience, so don’t forget to pack a raincoat (men’s/women’s) for the summit.
  • 360-degree views and plenty of places to avoid inclement weather make for an unrushed experience on the summit. Treat yourself by bringing something warm to eat in the winter, or cool for the summer with a Hydro Flask Food Flask.
  • With so many steep pitches ahead of you, having a good-fitting pair of performance socks is critical for avoiding blisters. Pick a pair made from a wicking material, such as merino wool, to keep your feet happy.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Before heading to the mountain, get some local knowledge at the staffed Visitors Center in Lanesborough, which is open all year.
  • Spend the night at one of Mount Greylock’s 18 tent sites, or in one of the five lean-tos found on the mountain. Learn more here.
  • Looking to grab a pint and absorb a little culture? Bright Ideas Brewing serves delicious brews and is located in the courtyard of the Mass Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA).
  • Dogs are welcome to hike Mount Greylock’s trails, as long as they’re leashed and attended. However, if you had to leave Fido home and are missing man’s best friend, stop by the Museum of Dog (M.O.D.). Located just down the street from Mass MoCA, M.O.D. features more than 180 pieces from roughly 50 notable, dog-loving artists. Ironically, dogs are not allowed inside M.O.D.
  • Visit the Thunderbolt Ski Museum in the Adams Visitor Center to learn more about the history of this storied ski run.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Greylock recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!