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
About a month ago I ran into Melissa and Steve Alcorn at the Ouray Ice Park. They had recently just climbed Stairway to Heaven in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon with Mark Miller. When I saw them I thought it would be a cool idea to have them write an account of the day with Mark. After all, both Steve and Melissa had climbed loads with Mark over the years and my idea was for her to place the day on Stairway with him in the context of all the year’s of guiding and instruction that they had previously experienced with Mark. I thought it would make for a compelling story about one of our finest guides and ice climbing instructors.
Melissa was happy to write the post and share some great pictures of the day. For whatever reason, I held onto the post for a period of time so that I could share it when the time felt right given the overall flow of the winter season.
The time to do so is now. Mark’s recent passing has affected all of us in the most profound way possible. This story tells that of Mark on one his best days – a Great Day in the Mountains with friends.
A Great Day in the Mountains
by Melissa Alcorn
I was raised Baptist — instructed on the subject of Heaven and schooled on the routes to get there. I once commented that I was confident my heaven would have mountains and waterfalls, but was corrected that the Bible says nothing about things other than streets of gold. I remain a believer of the notion that paradise is found in earthbound heights and sometimes just beyond the gold mine.
The other lesson I bring from Sunday school is that listening to the disciples can expedite your pursuits. So it was that our disciple of ice, the man that ignited our fervor and fanned the flames for these past nine years was taking us up a Stairway to Heaven on a warm December day. Seven pitches of ice provides an abundance of time to reminisce on the unique bonds that form between guides, clients, and shared experiences.
The Approach – We came to Ouray for the first time at Christmas in 2005 and walked into San Juan Mountain Guides, or really the breakfast room of the Vic, for our intro to ice climbing with a randomly selected guide. Mark Miller strolled in, claimed us with his faintest Minnesota accent, and ultimately changed our life. Hiking into Eureka on our way to the base of Stairway to Heaven, I was remembering that first day—rental gear, reluctant swings, and some bloodletting.
Pitch One – We have heard about Stairway to Heaven for a lot of years, but our timing was always off to climb it before avalanche danger shut it down for the season. This year has been lean on snow but fat on ice-forming cold. The three of us stood at the base and grinned like kids on an unexpected snow day. Ropes were stacked, harnesses secured, and Mark was off with a shout over his shoulder that he would try to keep an eye on us to see what bad habits we had developed. He knows my history and sordid predilection to hook. He spent hours with me that first day trying to get me to swing with a modicum of form and accuracy, and then he’d spent subsequent ice seasons listening from afar as my tools hit ice. He knows I can swing.
Pitch Two – Of course as soon as the three of us arrived at the first bolts we had our first “tune up” and, admittedly, we both knew we were overdue. Our second day with Mark in 2005 he handed me a pair of leashless tools and “released me” to be a rock climber on ice. That did it. A few moves up Pick of the Vic with those axes and my ice grin permanently set. I’d spend inheritance money that fall to get a pair of Nomics to bring back to the ice park. Mark drilled proper swings into me. Yet, before we could climb the second pitch of Stairway to Heaven, Mark needed me to experiment with my grip and try, just try, loosening my pinkies. “Like holding tea cups?” “Sure” he said with a “why hadn’t I come up with that” grin. With that slight modification pitch two was a really delightful climb, although Stephen was on the steeper right side of the ice and may have found more work and less delight especially with his fresh out of the packaging ice tools. We arrived to a “better” from Mark but were gently reminded that we had more tuning up to do with our footwork—no “x-man” stances allowed.
Pitch Three – The day was warm but the sun was sulking behind a thin cloud layer, which gave us time to get past the narrow icy crux of the third pitch without fear of it melting out. With our tune up corrections we were moving more efficiently, without sacrificing any of the joyfulness of climbing ice. As I watched Mark climb I was thinking back on a very snowy December day in 2006 when we returned to Mark and SJMG for a day of Camp Bird Road adventures.
He took us to Choppo’s and Skylight that day, and we got to play on freshly bolted dry-tool route. If there had been any lingering doubt that we had found a sport we were passionate about, that day eliminated it. Ice was our thing, and backcountry ice was our goal. On the Stairway, pitch three was sustained time to ponder why we had set such a crazy goal? This thing was steep and I was grateful for a little bit of hooking along the way. It was also intoxicatingly beautiful.
Pitch Four and Five – These two sections of ice blur together in my memory. They are lower angle and the kind of blue ice that puts you in a punch drunk trance. You smile with each dance move up the frozen sculpture, and you hesitate on occasion to allow yourself time to stare into the soul of the waterfall that flows beneath the playground. Somewhere in there my mind wandered to another day we had spent on backcountry ice with Mark. After a couple of years of migrating from Oklahoma to Ouray for Christmas week to play in the park, we had decided to climb something bigger. On the last day of 2008 we climbed Ames Ice Hose with Mark. It was cold. I was nervous. Mark was reassuring. And the climb was amazing—full of those mystifying moments where the art of the ice or the grandeur of the view you are gaining leave you sure you have transcended into that paradise. I remembered that as I topped out of the ice and found Mark standing in a snowfield above the fifth pitch–a guide who became a guru, and evolved into one of our true friends.
Pitch Six – The last two pitches of ice on Stairway to Heaven are less often climbed, a combination of low angle and less formation prior to the snow deluge that stops all climbing to heaven. We took a peak at the ice and realized you don’t turn down a chance to climb such things. Taking a chance was the reason we were even standing there nearly at the top of the Stairway. Mark had been such a good guide, and created such devoted followers of the cult of frozen waterfalls that we had quit our careers, left Oklahoma, and moved into the midst of our paradise. No longer did we have to gulp in a year’s worth of ice in one week with a long haul drive on either end. Now we can make it out when conditions are right. The gods have smiled on us. And on that last stretch of ice I saw into heaven – as I suspected all along, there are mountains and waterfalls. And Mark Miller.
Descent – Typical of Mark, our descent was as instructive as the climb was blissful. First, none of us wanted to walk off from where we stopped so we had an impromptu refresher on the perfect v-thread technique. Then we stole freely from his treasure chest of tricks to improve multi-pitch rappelling efficiency. A week later, on our own, we’d practice the lessons on the gully across the valley and whisper gratitude to the clouds that we had been lucky enough to have Mark Miller approach us in 2005 as we nervously sat in that room wondering what would happen when we took to the ice.
It was a fantastic day, just another one in a string of such for the three of us. I am confident there are more ahead. The truck ride back to Ouray may have involved some plotting. I am equally confident that I will hear Mark shouting to me in the ice park the rest of the season that I need to drink more tea and keep those pinkies out.
“All of our guides go through a rigorous process of training and certification and are certified with the American Mountain Guide Association. What clients get out of that as a result, is a framework of experience and instruction that allows them to learn and progress quickly. This range (the San Juan Mountains) presents incredible opportunity for training and climbing and getting better at your craft. The range offers lifetime worth of pursuits, you don’t have to go anywhere else for this type of experience.”
If you are interested in discovering Ice Climbing routes within the San Juan Mountains or improving your techniques – consider booking a trip with one of our many AMGA qualified guides.
When it comes to Ice Climbing, the San Juan Mountains can be hard to beat. With Classic Routes located in our backyard and with the Ouray Ice Park essentially located in our front yard, its hard to justify traveling to climb in other renown areas. There are far and few areas that are worth the hassle and one of those is Cody, Wyoming. Our AMGA Guide, Jeff Witt has been guiding since 2002 . Jeff has climbed and guided on mountains all around the world, including four of the Seven Summits, prominent peaks throughout the European Alps, and challenging routes in Patagonia and Alaska. He is also an avid motorcyclist and adventurer, having toured much of the Americas and Europe by motorcycle, and visited more than 30 countries. He is an Ice Climbing enthusiast who enjoys guiding clients on Colorado classics just as much as he enjoys discovering new climbing areas. He’s been to Cody multiple times and knows all the sweet spots around this particular region. He will be leading our trip to Cody and here are a few reasons why you should join him this February.
For a full list of events check out the Official Ouray Ice Festival Site!
– Visit Ouray’s Brewery
Arguably the best way to celebrate a successful day in the park – we suggest checking out our local brewery for a cold one. Ouray Brewery is a huge supporter of the Ouray Ice Festival by donating over 30 kegs to ensure a good time and they have great food and atmosphere – be sure to swing by!
– The Ouray Ice Festival Kick-Off Party
Ouray Ice Festival Kick-off Party sponsored by the American Alpine Club and Rab, beer from Upslope Brewing Company, food, prizes and live music by One Roof Blues. A special showing of The North Face film “Always Above Us” with special guest Conrad Anker. $10 gets you in the door. Let’s kick this party off right! Plus, beat the rush and pick up your gear demo card.
– Prom night with Petzl On Saturday
Do you have a date for The Prom? Bust out that old suit or dress for a night of fun as Petzl brings back their Party on Saturday night Petzl Party at the Ouray Community Center! Giveaways, booze, dance-parties and much more you won’t want to miss!
– Visit Sponsor’s Booths for Awesome Giveaways
A no brainer! Make sure you visit each booth as sponsors will be giving away small to big prizes – anything from climbing gear to small ‘swag’ essentials such as coozies and chapstick! Be there early on Friday to check each of them out before attending your clinic!
Be sure to to stop by all of their booths as we over 40 attending sponsors! The Ouray Ice Park title sponsors will have some great giveaways and demos so stop by to thank them for making the 20th Annual Ouray Ice Festival happen!
Still need to fill up your schedule? – Check out these clinics still available
Sash DiGulian is well known in the “Rock” Climbing world for some of the establishing First (Female) Ascents everywhere she goes. She’s currently the World Ranking leader, has climbed dozens of 5.14s and is the first and only North American woman, and the youngest woman in the world, to climb the difficulty grade of 5.14d (9a); the hardest climb achieved by a Female Worldwide. She is also the first North American Woman to onsight 5.14a (8b+). Now she wants to bring her skills to the ice as she competes for the first time in the Ouray Ice Festival as well as holds her first clinic. If you are considering Ice Climbing, this is the clinic for you!
The only journey is the journey within” (-Rainer Maria Rilke) – words that Olivia lives by. Olivia began her climbing journey when she was attending University in Brisbane, Australia. What started out as an attempt to meet new, cool people turned into “pseudo” career (as she puts it) because she loves climbing and yoga, equally. Stretch out, relax, learn balance and mental focus. Exercises to help you improve your overall strength and conditioning for climbing.
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.
Trip & Condition Reports
from SJMG Senior Guide Mark Miller
Recently, SJMG Senior Guide Mark Miller got a few days off of guiding locally here in Ouray & the San Juans. He took the opportunity to see how things were forming up and grab some conditions reports on a few of our local area hardman classics like The Talisman in Ouray and Bridalveil Falls in Telluride.
Matt and I climbed Talisman on Sunday.
The first pitch was in good condition. We climbed to the left side of the ledge to belay and then moved the belay to the right, below the start of the pitch 2 traverse, due to a lack of ice leading directly to the belay stance.
The second pitch was excellent. I placed two pieces of rock gear and the rest was completely reasonable with good screws, a few 16cm and a couple stubbies. Yesterday a party placed a couple V-threads, making a really nice belay.
The third pitch turned out to be the best of the bunch. Right above the belay there was enough ice to place one cam and protect the rest on ice as I climbed out of the roof toward the column on the left side of the upper curtain. After a couple very pumpy to place screws, I turned the corner. It was solid, but very steep for a short section, which then backed off to grade 4 ice and a nice belay from screws in good ice.
We then finished the last 40 feet of grade 3 in a continuous spindrift, since we were no longer under the overhangs for protection. A quick rappel back to the ground, a little more snow slogging and a balance beam act across a log to get back across the river rapped up a fine day.
On Saturday Dave and I went to Telluride to see if Bridalveil was in, since word on it’s conditions were scarce. It looked a little narrower than last year and the cauliflowers looked a little bigger as we got up closer.
The cone at the bottom was pretty much like usual, maybe grade 3, but protection was rather poor until very near the top. At the top of the cone my plan had been to head straight up a groove that looked the most promising from the ground. As I arrived I could see that it had a steady shower pouring into it from a dagger directly above it. By stepping left into an ice chimney I could see a reasonable path, if I could clear out the crazy hanging shafts of ice that barred the path without them taking me out, or getting too worked from the cleaning. At the top of the chimney I was able to quickly cross the raining dagger back to the right and into a nice rest, before continuing back left to a semi-hanging belay from very good ice in a well protected alcove.
Dave then led a short rising traverse to the right with a step down at the end, which put him on a large well protected ledge, that has been the belay station for pitch one the last few years.
From there the upper section of the climb was blocked by a 6-8 foot ice roof that had to be traversed around all the way to the left. Near the center I saw a line that might go if I could stem up a pillars left side, get on top of it under the roof without getting too off-balance and then pull a smaller 2-3 foot roof. The more direct line just looked to aesthetic to pass, so up I went. After a serious workout cleaning off some more ice daggers and other bizarre ice shapes that were barring the way, I down climbed back to a rest near Dave. With a good shake out and some gear already placed I gave it a run. Luckily I found an arm bar rest just below the roof, gave Dave a heads up and went for it. A few fatigued swings later I had a good belay station in sight and made a comfortable belay stance, while Dave got his turn at getting pumped stupid.
From there it was a nice long grade 4 stemming session to the upper ramp where it backs off to the snow gully and eventually the anchors. Dave arrived a little later for a couple quick raps and laughter the rest of the hike back to the truck for a mondo burrito and a casual drive home from a truly excellent day.
San Juan Mountain Guides will be adding the Ortler Traverse, a prominent ski tour in Italy’s South Tyrol, a mountain range straddling the Italian-Austrian border. Despite the 4000+ meter peaks and the luxurious hut systems – this expedition is a experience of fused cultures: that of the Austria ancestry that resides in the Northern Italian territory. Check out these three interesting facts about this unique opportunity as we plan this Ortler Ski Circuit for this spring are March 30 – April 9, 2016.
1. Northern Italy doesn’t always mean Italian
The Ortler region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it was ceded to Italy at the end of the First World War. As a result, a dual identity is reflected within the culture of the Ortler Region, hence the Ortler Region being known as known as Südtirol (German) or Alto Adige (Italian). German is increasingly predominate in areas close to the Austrian border and its not unsual to see signs written in German instead of Italian.
2. Monumental Crosses erected on top of the Summits
On top most of the summits there are metal and wood crosses grounded with large metal cables. Some pay homage to the Pope, others, like the one atop the 3,594-meter Monte Giumella, memorialize those who fought for the “Fatherland,” of Austria, the country that formerly held this sea of mountains prior to WWI.
3. Best of both Worlds: Italian Cuisine & German Gourmet
Prepare to have some of the best four course meals of your life! This includes Italian wine, cappuccinos and traditional dishes but also – Austrian Apfelstrudel and tasty beers after a great day of touring.
Meet your Guide, Pat Ormond
Pat is a fully certified IFMGA Mountain Guide, having completed his AMGA Rock, Alpine Guide, and Ski Mountaineering Certifications. This will be his second trip on the Ortler Traverse.
Also, the Ortler region is in the South Tyrol, which is an autonomous region in Italy, near the border of Austria. There are many relics left from WWI and WWII when Italy and Austria were fighting for control of the area. As we ski around, we cross over old borders marked with barbed wire, stone fortifications, old cannons, all up at altitude and on glaciers. Think of the effort it took to fight wars in the mountains. Amazing!”
Also, the Ortler region is in the South Tyrol, which is an autonomous region in Italy, near the border of Austria. There are many relics left from WWI and WWII when Italy and Austria were fighting for control of the area. As we ski around, we cross over old borders marked with barbed wire, stone fortifications, old cannons, all up at altitude and on glaciers. Think of the effort it took to fight wars in the mountains. Amazing!“
How would you describe the snow-pack, weather conditions and over-all skiing of the Ortler Traverse?
“The good time to be skiing there is in the spring, mid march to late April. March can bring more storms and powder skiing, while April is time to ski from the summits. Stability varies, but tends to be like an inter-mountain snow-pack as opposed to a weaker continental snowpack. So as spring rolls around, more stable conditions tend to prevail. The skiing is mostly in the alpine, above treeline, and we are up in the mountains, ranging from about 9-12,500’. We travel on glaciers that are well filled in, allowing for everything from wide open runs to steep and narrow couloirs.”
What is the Ski skill-set to do the Ortler Traverse?
“If you can ski the mountain at your home resort, then you’re good to go. While we can keep the terrain fairly mellow, there are times that we are boot packing up couloirs, climbing along exposed ridge lines, using ice axe and crampons, ski crampons, scrambling over rock, skinning up steep slopes with kick turns, skiing steeps. So you want to be comfortable on all terrain. That said, we can be roped up for any and all of this if needed. We start out mellow, and build into the more exposed terrain, and we can always go back to mellow. But a great gauge is skiing all the terrain at the ski area. At Telluride Ski Resort, for instance, that would include hiking Gold Hill and Palmyra Peak. Skiing down doesn’t mean skiing fast and straight lining. In ski mountaineering, a lot of terrain is taken one turn at a time, and control is the name of the game.“
What was one of the most memorable days on the Ortler Traverse?
“Most memorable day was skiing the Grand Zebru (pictured below) above the Pizzini Hut. It’s the highest peak we can ski, and it has it all: a steep couloir, 40 degree open face, knife edge summit ridge, and we’re back to the hut in time for lunch and then an afternoon tour if we’re up for it.”
We invite you to join us for this 2015 expedition that is guaranteed to be the highlight of your season! As always, don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule your next trip, course, or expedition with The Local Experts!