Gary and Matthew are doing excellent in the Ruth Gorge. Yesterday (4/28) they climb the West Ridge of Mt. Dickey. Today (4/29) they had a skills training day around base camp. They are potentially looking towards a climb of Mt. Barille soon. We will keep you posted as we get word. Glad they are having a wonderful time in the Alaska Range.
Gear Review: OR Trailbreaker Pants
I’ve put in a solid season in the updated Trailbreaker pants, and they’ve become my go to ski pants, whether touring or inbounds riding lifts. There are some good improvements over the original version, and as we get towards spring and transition to the ski mountaineering season in the San Juans, I imagine I’ll be living in these pants. They’ve held up well through the winter, still looking new and clean, which is hard for technical layers to do on a full time Mountain Guide.
The first thing I looked at on the Trailbreaker pants were the zippers. Before even wearing the pants I checked out the feel of these, as one of the issues with the old version was the zippers falling down, especially the thigh vents while skiing. While I run hot, I don’t need to be skiing down with snow filling my pants up. The zippers on the new version are much more robust with a stiffer action, and they have done their job, just like a zipper should.
Along with the improved zippers go the change in pocket design. Right off the bat, I noticed the large pocket on the right thigh. First thoughts were that I would feel everything that was in it, and would end up sitting on anything in there. Wrong! I keep my bulging George Costanza style guide notebook in the thigh pocket, and I can’t even tell it’s there. No problem with sitting uncomfortably on it, either.
My favorite change with this is the zipper orientation, from vertical to horizontal. No more worrying about dropping things out of the pocket.
The left side thigh pocket is smaller with a vertical zipper. With the improved zipper, I’m not worried about this opening, and have been keeping my phone in here, opposite and well spaced from the right hand beacon pocket.
Next major improvement is the fit. The new Trailbreaker pants are roomier and seem slightly longer in the leg. Being 6’4” with a 32” waist can be tricky to fit, but the size Large is spot on. The length is great, and I can cinch down the waist with the Velcro adjustments without having the pants bulge out from extra material.
The roomier fit gives these pants better freedom of movement than the original version, and I don’t look like such a skinny legged guide nerd, either. My old favorite Valhalla pants are still baggier than these, and I found that wearing crampons was a problem. The Trailbreaker pants work great with crampons on, and I haven’t had any issues with catching my spikes on the pants. They’re comfy with a harness on, as well, having a gusseted crotch that doesn’t bunch up.
The material feels different than the original version. It seems to stretch more and feels more burly. After a multi sport day of biking up a closed road to ski the local fourteener, Mt. Sneffels, we then biked back down the road in the afternoon. What had been frozen in the AM had become a sloppy mudfest and I quickly gave up on trying to stay clean and dry. The pants took the mud and wet like a champ, with most of the slop beading up and rolling off. When I got home I rinsed them off and threw them in the wash. Out they came looking and performing like new.
OR’s ski pants have a nice detail in the built-in gaiter, with the Power Strap Slot. This allows one to run the boot power strap outside the gaiter, and makes up and down transitions quicker and easier, since you don’t have to pull the gaiter on and off the boot. I tend not to use it, though, because my socks are ‘quitters,’ as in they fall down around my skinny ankles, so I have to get in and pull them up throughout the day. Hey, OR, all your gear is so dialed, why don’t you start making socks so I can have some that don’t fall down!
IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide
Rarely formed Route in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon
by Mark Miller, SJMG Senior Guide
Today Dave and I headed to Dukes of Hazzard in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon. Having never been on it before, I was pretty excited to get a good look at it. It ends up being two very nice, but distinctly different pitches.
Pitch 1 begins with a nice grade 3 warm-up to a ledge. Above the ledge there are two bolts that protect an M6 looking mixed line that leads up to the obvious curtain of ice. This year the curtain comes down to a chandeliered pillar that touches, though I can’t say it is getting any support from below, as the 1-2 inch wide pencil of ice that contacts the ledge is cracked.
Being more of an ice than a mixed climber, I clipped the bolts and made the rather long step onto the pillar. A few feet up I could make 1 stem to the rock near the first bolt and a little later I could stem to the curtain. While the line looked a bit intimidating, it turned out very reasonable. After that it was a long grade 2 ramp to the next column, which has a really cool cave behind it. I thought the setting was cool and it left me completely protected from anything falling from above, so in I went.
Dave led pitch 2, a really nice, solid column of ice that led to another ramp. From there as the ice ran out he had a few more steps above in snow led to a 3 pin anchor that a party a few days before left, that made a quick and efficient exit back to our cave. From the cave it was a full length rappel back to our packs and a descent down snow covered small talus that challenged our ankles, but did nothing to diminish another great outing with a good friend.
A Guide’s Perspective
by Lindsay Fixmer
AMGA Certified Rock Guide & Assistant Alpine Guide
Upon arriving in Ouray, CO early this December for the winter ice climbing season, I have lived in the OR Conviction Pant. Equally suited for approaches through knee-deep snow, drippy backcountry ice climbs or sunny dry tooling routes, the Conviction pant excels in variable conditions. Having only worn these pants twelve days, I am extremely impressed with their comfort and versatility.
I love them already and here’s why:
Perfection. The cut is ideal. At first glance I was skeptical about the integrated waist band. Upon testing however, I found this feature is excellent for tucking in a base layer for warmth and keeping the elements out of your pants. This same band prevents the annoying bulge and the requirement of a belt (often an issue with women’s pants). The inseam length is perfectly compatible with climbing boots during the approach and on technical routes. And, well it has to be mentioned, they are slimming. Women want technical pants to fit and move well, not be too tight or too bulky, and to look sleek. The wrap-around cut of the Conviction pant is a perfect fit.
It wicks away rain, sleet, and snow. It is thick enough to be warm in winter with a thin fleece lining but thin enough not to feel hot when the sun comes out. The scuff guard on the inside ankle is perfect: durable enough to withstand the potential crampon stab.
Ventilation zips and pocket:
For the warm, sunny days walking to a backcountry ice route, the side vent zips are ideal for allowing air flow. As we all know, our feet start sweating without ventilation leading to cold toes once we begin climbing. The two-way zipper leads diagonally from the knee to upper thigh allowing minimal or maximum ventilation.
The positioning of the side vent zips prevents front pockets, so the design of a large backside pocket is ideal. The horizontal pocket zips just below where a harness leg loop sits, allowing quick access to extra goo packets or energy chews on the climb.
Over the past few seasons I have tried numerous women’s climbing specific alpine pants from various companies. To find the ideal ice climbing pant for women is like finding a rack of ice screws at the base of The Ribbon. With different body types aside, practicality and functionality are difficult to find in women’s pants. The market is improving which is noticeable from the cut and style of a few pants. With the Conviction Pant, OR is leading the way.
Congratulations Andrés and Christel! ¡Felicidades!
The team started climbing from High Camp around midnight last night and were the first on route. After climbing through the night they were rewarded with a beautiful summit. Andrés checked in this morning from High Camp. They had an awesome climb and are now resting.
Andrés phoned in this afternoon. Christel and him are doing terrific, both are feeling great. Christel is super strong and positive, so together they are an outstanding team. They are at Moraine Camp (4,900m/16,075ft) tonight and hope to advance to high camp tomorrow (5,490m/18,011 ft.). We are cheering them on from the San Juans, wishing them a safe and fun journey as they go higher.
Classic Couloirs of the San Juans
Gilpin Peak’s North Face Couloir
The San Juan Mountains are blessed with a lifetime’s worth of climbing and mountaineering challenges in all seasons. One of the most overlooked times of year to climb in the San Juans are the months of May and June. Ample winter and spring snow is an excellent recipe for spring climbing conditions – especially on some of the area’s classic couloirs. One such classic climb is the North Face Couloir on Gilpin Peak.
Gilpin Peak is situated high in Yankee Boy Basin, directly across from the massively popular Mount Sneffels. The North Face Couloir is unmistakable, as it splits the steep North Face of Gilpin Peak directly down it’s center. Timing is a very important consideration on this climb, as at this time of year, the couloir comes into the sun at first light – so start early. For the climb on this day, we left Ouray at 0430.
The couloir gradually steepens as you climb, eventually reaching a sustained 55 – 60 degrees in steepness during the last 3rd of the climb. There is a choice towards the top to climb either the left finish or the right finish to the couloir. The left finish typically sports an overhanging cornice which makes that finish more difficult and much steeper at the crest of the ridge. The right finish is narrower and also steep, but doesn’t typically have much of a cornice at the top. We opted for the right finish on this day, and found excellent climbing conditions in that part of the couloir.
We brought a few pickets to protect some of the long steeper sections of snow, and then a few cams for protection in the narrower section of the couloir. I found a good spot to belay the steepest section of snow right where the rock that splits the upper part of the couloir meets the lower part of the couloir. A .75 Black Diamond Camalot offered excellent protection in that section.
After you crest the ridge, the last 100 vertical feet to the summit are quite easy, and end on the huge, flat summit of Gilpin Peak. As with most peaks in the San Juans, there are fantastic panoramic views of the entire range, with the Telluride Ski Area seemingly only a stone’s throw away. The descent heads down the ridge towards Blue Lakes Pass, then loops back into upper Yankee Boy Basin and basically involves class 2 walking.
Overall, this is one of my favorite couloir climbs in the range because of it’s steepness, aesthetics, positioning, and time-friendliness (we summited at 0800 and were down by 10am).
Dropped Belay Device?
Use the Munter Hitch!
If you’re a rock climber, chances are you’ve done some multi-pitch rock climbing or are at least thinking/planning to do so in the near future. On multi-pitch climbs, you carry a lot of gear with you – cams, nuts, draws, slings, carabiners – and of course your trusted belay/rappel device. Over the years, I’ve seen people drop gear on climbs more often than you might imagine. The reality is, you’re going to drop some combination of your gear at some point in your climbing career so it pays to be prepared when you do. To be sure, dropping your #2 Camalot is a big deal as well, especially if your route offers up plenty of hand crack, but in most cases you can make do with other gear and plan your protection strategy for each pitch accordingly (if you’re climbing a trad route that is). Dropping gear like a cam, nut, or quickdraw does not normally require a higher level of technical knowledge or expertise. Conversely, dropping your belay device is a whole other matter. Your belay/rappel device is arguably the most critical piece of gear on your harness. So what happens if you drop it 3 pitches up the climb?
You can easily imagine a number of scenarios where dropping your belay could occur at the top of whatever pitch you may have finished or somewhere else along your climb. If this happens, you’ll need to be able to improvise another way to belay your partner up the pitch you’ve just finished.
Perhaps the best way to do this is with the Munter Hitch. I often use the Munter Hitch exclusively in alpine terrain because it is fast, and requires only a locking pear-shaped carabiner to build and use properly. It’s less desirable to utilize the Munter Hitch systematically for multi-pitch rock climbing, the reasons for which I’ll get into later in this article. But if you are unfortunate enough to drop your belay device 3 pitches up, it makes for an excellent solution for both you and your partner.
Building the Munter Hitch
The Munter Hitch is best created using a large pear-shaped carabiner like a Petzle Attache or a Black Diamond Rock Lock. This gives the hitch plenty of room to set itself properly on the carabiner and insures maximum efficiency for both belaying and lowering or rappelling. For belaying your partner up the pitch (standard top down belaying) it’s important to clip your Munter Hitch carabiner directly to the master point/equalization point/hot point on the anchor, and when doing so make sure that the gate of the carabiner is facing down and out (towards the climber). Orienting the carabiner in this fashion is an important step in using the Munter Hitch properly and will insure you have the best ergonomics for your belay.
Next, simply clip the rope running to your climber through the carabiner. If you’re at a ledge, you can actually do this right away without the need to pull up any additional slack in the rope like you normally would when using your traditional belay device. The pear shaped carabiner makes for a handy little ratchet the as you pull up the rope it will stack itself very neatly on the ledge – something that’s advantageous if you’re continuing up or heading down (organized ropes are important!!). After you’ve pulled up all the slack, what will become your brake strand will either be coming out of the left or the right side of the carabiner depending on how you are oriented at the belay. It doesn’t really matter which way you’ve set this up, just realized that if it’s coming out of the left side you will be using your left hand as the brake hand, and vice versa.
Next, you need to create the twist in the rope to create the loop which will then go on the carabiner to make the Munter Hitch. The written word can be difficult to explain this, so see the attached picture and/or video to get a better feel for what this looks like. In essence, using what will become the brake strand, simply make a loop/twist in the rope where the rope lays on top of itself and then rolls on to the carabiner. Once you’ve done this, you have created the Munter Hitch are are ready to belay your partner. Always remember to lock your carabiner before you start to belay!!
A Few Important Considerations about the Munter Hitch
A critical piece of information to consider when using the Munter Hitch to belay or lower your partner is that it is NOT a hands free belay device. Devices such as the Black Diamond ATC or Petzl Reverso are very common self-locking belay devices that many climbers use on multi-pitch climbs for good reason, as they allow you to operate the belay and perform other tasks all at the same time. Not so with the Munter Hitch. Never let your hand leave the brake strand while using the Munter Hitch to belay!
Another disadvantage of the Munter Hitch is that it will introduce twists into the rope – especially when you place it under a load such as a rappel or lower. Used systematically, you’ll definitely start to notice that your climbing rope will start to twist and generally be more difficult to deal with over time.
Dropping your belay device 3 pitches up a multi-pitch rock climbing can and probably will happen to you at some point in your climbing career. Practicing and mastering the use of the Munter Hitch can make the difference between successfully completing your climb, or figuring out a convoluted solution in a potentially stressful situation. In that case, you’ll also be glad you brought your cell phone and a headlamp. You’ll need them!
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide
Ham n Eggs Success!
SJMG Guide Andres Marin called in yesterday evening and reported that everyone was doing great and that they had successfully climbed the Ham n Eggs route the previous day/night! Their new plan is for 1 of the climbers, John McIntire to head home and then Andres and our other climber – Brian Quinif, are headed over to Mt. Huntington to give the West Face Couloir route a go.
We’ll give another quick update once they’re installed at their new basecamp!
Current Snow Levels in the San Juans
A few of us have been out and about in the San Juan Mountains during the last week – including Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness. Recently the area has experienced a few significant storms that had a decidedly winter component to them. Below average temperatures and above average precipitation has been the general weather pattern for the past few weeks and the mountains are really starting to show it.
Based on the current forecast and amount of snow already on the ground, I would suspect that the majority of the snow of shaded aspects will remain there for the rest of the season – eventually being buried by subsequent snow storms that are sure to effect the area in the month of October. This can be good on a number of levels, including the potential for an excellent early season ice cycle. The ice climbs around Silverton and Ouray above 10,000 feet are dependent on ground water and robust melt/freeze cycles. With all the recent snow above those altitudes it’s setting up to be a banner November/December for early season backcountry ice climbs.
The recent new snow however can become “old snow” – but at this point in the season likely only on aspects and areas where the snow has blown in deep enough to eventually be buried by subsequent storms. This old snow, especially from the first few larger storms in October and November, can become problematic later in the winter as the faceting process starts to take over, helping to hasten the creation of the all-to-familiar depth hoar we commonly see at the base of our snowpack – the cause of many early season avalanche cycles here in the San Juans.
Below are a few photos taken of the Chicago Basin area, Engineer Mountain, and views of the Sneffels Range and Ice Lakes Basin from a distance. All photos were taken between 9/24/13 and 9/27/13. As always, watch the forecast, plan accordingly, and travel safe in the mountains. Late fall/early winter storms are nothing to be trifled with in the San Juan Mountains.
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide