The Apex and Switch – DMM Ice Tool Review

DMM is not well known in the US. When you think of ice tools, you think Petzl, Black Diamond , Grivel and most recently Cassin, not DMM. Well once you have a look at these tools, you will start thinking about DMM.

In mid February, DMM gave NEice some of their newest ice tools to review. Since then we have tested them at Lake Willoughby, Cannon Cliff, Crawford Notch and Frankenstein cliff. We have climbed ice from 3+ to 5+ in temperatures ranging from  -5  to 45 degrees F. In all, we logged over 100 hours of climbing with these tools and they are fantastic!

The first thing you will notice about the tools is the quality. The manufacturing of these tools is some of the best I have seen. DMM has been around since 1981 and it shows in the construction and design of these fine tools.

Apex: After a few swings, the Apex felt like they had been mine for years.  – Chris Thomas 

Switch: In my 35 years of ice climbing, the Switch is the best ice tool I have ever used!  – Doug Millen

The Apex ($239)

I was lucky enough to demo pair of DMM Apex tools (thanks NEice.com). From the first time I held them I could tell that they were my next gear purchase. I’m not going to spend time on specifications, that’s what Google is for, I’m not technical enough to know why they matter. What I do know is these tools are perfect for the climbing I do and affordable enough that I’ll have new tools and enough left over to pay the tolls between me and the ice.

The first climb on the DMMs was a moderately steep pitch of 4 ice. A few swings of the Apex and I felt like they had been mine for years. The grip fit my hand well and the tool felt balanced, a little less top heavy than the Cobra. Although the shaft is straighter clearance between my hand and the ice was more than enough. The Apex felt more like the Petzl Quark then the Cobra having a different pull which you could feel in the angel of the wrist.

Bottom line… If you’ve been climbing on Vipers, Cobras. Quarks. etc. and dreaming about a more technical tool that climbs and canes even better, the DMM Apex is your next set of tools. When you consider price and performance of this tool there is no better for the majority of mere human climbers.

The Full Report .

Features

  • Hot forged, ergonomic handle
  • T Rated Integrity Construction
  • Dual hand rests for leashless climbing
  • High clearance shaft
  • Pick weights for bullet hard ice and customized balance
  • Supplied with grip tape for handle/shaft customization
  • Supplied with T Rated Ice picks as standard
  • Can be used with leashes in traditional climbing mode, but excels without leashes
  • Mixed and Ice specific picks available separately. Compact Hammer, Compact Adze, Mountain Adze (Large)

http://dmmclimbing.com/products/apex/

~Chris Thomas

 The Switch ($279)

I have used Nomics for years and I was curious about these tools.

They are slightly heavier than the Nomic but the extra weight feels good and requires less swings in hard ice. The Pick weights are included but I found I did not need them. At about 1 inch longer than the Nomic it was easier to reach for better holds. The tool is fully T rated and you will not be able to break any part of this sturdy tool. The hand grips of the Nomic feel fragile and weak in comparison to the Switch. The handle is glove friendly, hot forged ergonomic with full strength upper and lower rests. If you use different gloves in different conditions you will like this grip and big hands fit well. The coating on the handle is great, I never felt like I was slipping out, even on overhanging ice. The swing of the tool is perfect too and so natural. I am a carpenter and I know a good swinging tool when I feel it. The picks come with the perfect shape for ice or mixed climbing and are pre-tuned. I never touched the picks with a file.  The Picks go right in, and come right out, no problem,  yet they feel really sticky and secure in the ice. The Switch as it’s name implies remains in balance when switching hands on the rests.

The only concern of mine is how the coating on the handle will hold up over time. So far, so good, not even a nick.

Bottom Line…I have switched from Nomics to the Switch, and I have loved every moment of the last 6 weeks climbing with this tool. The Switch is now my tool of choice.

Features

  • Glove friendly, hot forged ergonomic handle with full strength upper and lower rests and supreme stability
  • T Rated Integrity Construction
  • Full strength clip-in point accessible from either rest
  • High clearance shaft
  • Inboard eyelet allows threading of cord for use with freedom leashes
  • Pick weights for bullet hard ice and customized balance
  • Supplied with grip tape for handle/shaft customization
  • Supplied with T Rated Ice picks as standard
  • Mixed and Ice specific picks available separately. Compact Hammer, Compact Adze, Mountain Adze (Large)

http://dmmclimbing.com/products/switch/

 A few photos of the tools

You can get them at The Mountaineer 

http://store.mountaineer.com/product_p/dmmapex.htm

http://store.mountaineer.com/product_p/dmmswitch.htm

~Doug Millen

 

Four Rings of Saturn

A new climb on Gothics East Face

Four Rings of Saturn – NEI 4 / 235′

Adirondacks NY   Location – Satellite Image

FA: Kevin MacKenzie & Matt Dobbs – March 7, 2015

Though everything in the backcountry is alluring, a few places and features intrigue me more than others. Most of the upper Great Range holds a special place in my heart. While climbing Gothics via Pyramid in the early 2000’s I was taken by a stone sculpture, a cliff, on the far side of the cirque. The four tiers of the cliff were striped with moss, lichen, water and algae. I snapped several photos and looked at them every now and again. I thought it unfathomable to observe it more closely, however—go off-trail—heck no!

That changed in 2011 when I climbed a portion of the East Face/Rainbow Slide for the first time. The lowest slab, perhaps 25-30 degrees in slope provided the perfect vantage point to study the feature. Being so close was humbling and I felt small and insignificant.

A view of them in 2012 again captured my attention during a winter ascent of the Rainbow Slide with Anthony Seidita. This time they were partially covered with a continuous, but delicate looking line of ice. It never crossed my mind that they could be climbed—ice climbing was something that my cousin Ed Tuttle mastered, but one that I feared at the time. Over the summer of 2014, I studied the ice line repeatedly. A note began to resonate until it became a constant hum in the back of my mind. I thought, “What if…?” The thought turned into a dream that unfolded on March 7, 2015.four-rings-of-saturn_mosaic_mudrat_dobbs_FA

I re-considered the recommended approach over Pyramid to the Pyramid/Gothics col. It served me well in the past with a supportive snowpack, but I couldn’t bear the thought of climbing Pyramid with a 45 pound winter climbing pack with rope, axes, protection etc. then descending-climbing-and re-climbing the cirque. I also knew that Cascade Brook hosted considerable storm damage. Thus I studied the terrain and plotted a direct line from 3,200 feet in elevation. The line left the Weld Trail just after the last stream crossing (about 10 feet wide) before the steep climb up to the Pyramid/Sawteeth col.

A heading of 345 degrees magnetic led up a gentle slope to the crest of Pyramid’s east ridge before moderately ascending to the bottom of the East Face. In all the bushwhack ascended a mere 400 vertical feet over ½ mile as opposed to the 1,200 foot gain to Pyramid. The refined approach would save about a mile in distance and 1,000 feet of elevation gain—or tank the day… To me, an adventure is all about exploring and trying new things—this seemed a worthy addition to a day with many variables.

Partner Matt Dobbs picked me up at 6:00 a.m. Our trek began at 6:45 a.m. from the AMR trailhead. Our pace was steady yet comfortable on a well-packed trail and, at 9:20 a.m., we began the bushwhack along the proposed approach.
Switching leads every 100 paces or so kept us fresh though it was a relief to finally reach more level ground atop the ridge. As a bonus, we could see our climb on opposing side of Gothics’ cirque through the trees—my heart quickened. I found myself enjoying the exertion as a way to burn off a growing anxiety about what we’d find at the route. Gentle side sloping defined the rest of the trek.

Gothics’ East Face and the New Route
We walked onto the lower slab of the East Face after only an hour and one-half’s bushwhack feeling refreshed and inspired. The semi supportive crust on the face was a change from the ice I’d found in previous years. Gothics’ summit loomed far overhead as snow flurries drifted across a pastel blue sky. I looked north across the face at our proposed line. I felt a pang of fear rise and wondered what I’d gotten myself this time.

The upper tier looked ok; the bottom was thin and delaminating. A snowfield led to another smear of ice with a dubious looking curtain touching at the bottom. What was on the snowfield; was it snow over ice or would it be powder over smooth rock? The question concerned us both. The third step sported a thick looking curtain of ice on an overhanging cliff. It touched down on the snow/ice slope below. We studied the lines and approached.

four-rings-of-saturn - CruxTier 1: I scooted up the snow slope and crept under the roof. Matt noted that it looked like an amazing bivy site; it was a very cool area. I tucked myself behind a meager patch of ice attached from above. I touched the back of it lightly with a foot and it detached with a crash. With good ice this would add another 10 vertical feet of ice and about 75 feet to the length of the route, but not this day.

Tier 2: We climbed the snow slope on the left, stomped some platforms for the packs and changed gear. We traversed out to assess the thin ice column touching the base and contemplated what was above. There are enough cracks at the base that some cams up to about 2” would have been nice, but I set up a belay anchor from a nearby tree.

The first 10 feet was vertical and good, if not a bit delicate. Another question was whether the smear would be thick enough for screws. Matt climbed up and disappeared placing several ice screws along the way. Meanwhile, the snowfall got heavier and began to obscure the Ausable Valley. I could no longer hear Matt, only the sounds of the breeze and occasional pieces of ice falling from above. I felt the remoteness of the setting deep in my soul. This is what I sought—peace and solitude.
Matt eventually yelled, “Anchored!” His voice sounded like it was coming far away from Pyramid, but it was merely echoing off the cliffs. I began the climb and realized this was the real deal—a notch far above my beloved slide climbing and harder than anything I’d previously attempted—not the normal place to test limits. Ten feet of vertical ice led to a slight decline; my left foot hit the ice. It answered with a loud hollow thud. Safer ice was on the right side.

The snow slope was a welcome respite and firm under foot. It was icy underneath—exactly what we wanted. I climbed to Matt who was anchored from the curtain on the third tier. It was far thicker (around 2 feet) than I thought. Since the cliff was overhanging, there were several feet of space between the back of the ice and the anorthosite. To the south were various hanging pillars, some broken off; in the background was Pyramid. The slope on the right led to the woods and more cliffs. The slope below dropped off into the void. It was sublime regardless of the fear compartmentalized deep inside. Being new to technical ice climbing, I was working outside my comfort zone. I leaned back in my harness and thought, “This moment will last forever in my memories.”

Tier 3: This was the crux ; a sustained wall of vertical ice some 50 feet tall. The curtain was rock hard and safe (I can hear some of you laughing at the oxymoron). Matt led it and disappeared above. The first 10 feet overhung slightly and made the vertical section seem comparatively comfortable to climb. By the time I’d removed the screws and climbed 40 or so feet, my arms were tired.

Tier 4: The final 20 foot pitch passed quickly and I found Matt anchored in a grove of spruce. The route was done, but the trip was far from over.

Exit: A short bushwhack through waist deep snow led to a cliff band and gully. We easily down-climbed while hoping the huge daggers of ice above would stay attached while we passed below. The gully was icy underneath the snow, but easy to downclimb. The cliff offered another good if not longer and harder climb for a future year. This too was an inspirational area, one that merits a future trip. Another climb down a gully to the left led to the base of our route. The time stood at 4:20 p.m.

Our exit was already broken out—we simply retraced the approach. Our footsteps had hardened and most of the walk was downhill. Thus we made it back to the Weld Trail in 45 minutes. It was hard to shake the excitement I felt from exploring another area of Gothics, an area that I’d never seen nor dreamed of climbing. The Adirondacks has so many untouched jewels to offer if you know where to look…

~Kevin MacKenzie

Photos:

Details of Our Climb:

  • Duration: 12.5 hours; 6:15 a.m. – 6:45 p.m.
  • Benchmarks: Begin Bushwhack: 9:20 a.m., Rainbow Slide Base: 10:50 a.m., Route Base: 11:00 a.m., Done putting up route: 4:15 p.m., Weld Trail: 5:00 p.m.
  • Route: 13 miles/~3,600 feet elevation gain. St. Huberts – Ausable Lakes via Lake Road – Alfred W. Weld Trail – 3,200 Feet elevation – bushwhack 1/2 mile at heading of 345 magnetic to East Face – Climb route – Exit along same route.

Axe Cam!

The helmet cam?  That’s old news!

NEice brings you video from Lake Willoughby… like you’ve never seen before!

 

Ax Cam - Prototype 2. We destroyed this mount so it's back to the shop to make it stronger and better.

Ax Cam – Prototype 2. We destroyed this mount so it’s back to the shop to make it stronger and better.

Many thanks to Chris Thomas for the idea of the Axe Cam and the first prototypes

The Climb: Float Like A Butterfly (Land Like A Tomato). Lake Willoughby VT.

Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest 2015

This Weekend!

The 22nd Annual

MWV Ice Fest 2015

Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest 2015

Feb. 6th-8th, 2015, North Conway, NH

Some highlights:

  • Ice climbing, mixed climbing, and mountaineering clinics with IMCS & Guest Guides (room still available!)
  • Climbing demos from 12+ sponsors
  • Morning coffee sponsored by Frontside Grind at the American Alpine Club Table
  • Beer sponsor, Tuckerman Brewing Company
  • FOOD! Gusto’s Food Truck will be at IME during Apres and at the evening events

Evening events held at Theater In The Wood, Intervale, NH

Friday Evening Events, 7pm, $10, at Theater In The Wood, Intervale, NH

  • Featured Presenter: Sarah Hueniken
  • American Alpine Club Silent Auction to benefit the Live Your Dream Grant

Saturday Evening Events, 7pm, $10, at Theater In The Wood, Intervale, NH

  • 15 Minute Opener: Miron Chlebosz
  • Featured Presenter: Jonathan Griffith

NEice and The Soup Kitchen Return with delicious homemade soup during the Apres Climbing Hour at IME Friday & Saturday, 3:30-5:30.  NEice has been bringing hot soup to ice climbers for over a decade and contributes to all the major Ice Festivals in the Northeast. The soup is alway a hit after a day out in the cold! Doug will also have his latest drones and some awesome footage from the UP project.

See more details at www.mwv-icefest.com/blog/

and at  www.iceclimbingforums.com

MWV Ice Fest Poster 2015

2015_IceFest_sticker

 

Catskill Ice Festival 2015

AlpineEndeavors

The 17th Annual Catskill Ice Festival

January 30, 31, February 1, 2, 2015

This year again they will have multiple clinics on all the skills and techniques you need to get out on ice – from basic skills, to dry-tooling, to glacier travel techniques.

Demo ice climbing gear from Black Diamond, Petzl, La Sportiva, Outdoor Research and Rab.

Slide show will be held  Saturday at Rock and Snow at 8pm.

Saturday Slideshow:

NEice’s Doug Millen – Oh What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been!

Doug Millen reflects on the last 15 years at the helm of of NEice.com. Doug takes us on a journey of the ups, downs and glory days of NEice “A journey beyond my wildest dreams”. The Best of the Best from NEice.com. Including never seen photos and video from the Northeast. And a look at the UP project. Drones are fast becoming common place and Doug is on the leading edge. Have a look at his latest machines and where he is headed.

The demo gear will be located at Rock and Snow – so you can try out the latest Harnesses, Ice Tools, Crampons, and clothing from the best companies. You know them – Black Diamond, Petzl, La Sportiva, Outdoor Research & Rab.

Rates are $150 per person per event – Slideshows are free!

As an added bonus – Rock and Snow will offer 15% off for ice gear and apparel for all icefest registrants from the time they sign up through the end of the ice fest. All you need is to print out and show them the confirmation email we send when you register for it.

NEice will be at the Devils Kitchen on Saturday handing out hot soup and flying the drones. Hope to see you there!

More Information Here…

Catskill Ice Fest Cover Image


The Monster at Lake Champlain

Kevin Mahoney on " The Lake Champlain Monster".

Kevin Mahoney on ” The Lake Champlain Monster”. Alden Pellett keeping one eye on Kevin and the other for the Lake Monster.

Kevin Mahoney and Alden Pellett having fun escaping from “The Monster” during a midday break from their gear demo responsibilities at The 19 annual Adirondack Mountainfest.

* Click photos to enlarge
Photos by Doug Millen

Kevin Mahoney – Mahoney Alpine Adventures
The Mountaineer – Keene Valley NY


Adirondack International Mountainfest 2015

Mountainfest2015-web-poster

The 19th annual Adirondack International Mountainfest

January 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

Mountainfest is an annual celebration of ice climbing and mountaineering, featuring guest athletes who entertain us with tales of climbing adventures, instructional clinics taught by visiting climbers and local guides, demo gear, and a chance to gather with the climbing community for an exciting winter weekend.

Mountainfest 2015 boasts an excellent lineup of speakers, including Marmot and CAMP/Cassin athlete Fabrizio Zangrilli and Patagonia Alpine Climbing Ambassador Kitty Calhoun. Their slide shows on Saturday and Sunday evenings promise to be entertaining and also offer a chance to win raffle gear and free giveaways.

We’re offering more clinics than ever this year, including tons of ice climbing courses, snow and alpine climbing, snowshoe mountaineering, avalanche safety, and wilderness first aid. Many of the event sponsors will be here with the latest gear for you to take and climb with on both Saturday and Sunday.

Whether you come for the clinics or just climb on your own and check out the evening entertainment, Mountainfest is the place to be this Martin Luther King weekend.

More information on the event can be found here….

 


A message from Don Mellor

Greetings to ice climbers near and far:

Mountainfest is coming to Adirondacks for the 19th consecutive season. Most folks are really psyched – about the clinics, the demos, the presentations, the camaraderie, and the opportunity to meet some of the world’s best.

But we are also VERY aware that our presence can put a serious snag in your own climbing plans. We don’t own the local ice. We often wonder if it’s even right to get up early and drape a crag with ropes. But what we hear over and over from you is that Mountainfest is a good thing, and as for the crowds – well, most of you are happy to adjust. Thanks!

Our plan, so that you can plan:

Mellor’s Steep and Chicken-hearted course will be at the Pitchoff Quarry.

Visitor Fabrizio will do his advanced thing in Chapel Pond Canyon.

James and Andrea will be at Rock and River’s private property ice park.

Ian O. usually scouts out some ridiculously thin things around Chapel Pond, probably starting at Laceration.

Horner and McCormick are waiting to see how things set up.

Whether or not you are in a clinic, there’ll be a friendly welcome to hang out, listen, maybe even share a rope. The ice ain’t ours (except for the ice park!), that’s for sure, and we’ll do our best to make it a happy, jazzed weekend. See ya.

Things could change – we’ll keep you posted. Check in at the Mountaineer for the latest.


Poke-O Access

Please respect the owners property rights and don’t trespass. Use the standard trails from the campground to access the cliff. Please see the information below and tell all your climbing friends. Thank You! – Doug Millen

Poko-Featured-Photo

Positive Thinking – Poke-O-Moonshine NY

 

Climbers should be aware that the land in front of the Main Face at Poke-O is private. Climbers need to use the main trail that runs from the [now closed] campground to the Main Face near Discord. Under no circumstances should climbers approach directly from the road. Of course it’s totally fine to scope out your routes from the shoulder of the road.

There have been several incidents where ice climbers have inadvertently wandered into the private property in front of the cliff. The local land owners have no tolerance for this and will close access should climbers continue to trespass. The Access Fund, with funds raised by The Mountaineer, have added signs to help delineate the boundaries and instruct climbers to stay on the cliff-base trail. Please be extra vigilant and stay on the trail that runs along the base of the cliff. -Jim Lawyer

Poko-Map

Poke-O-Moonshine NY

More Power!


WooKong 3.0

Meet WooKong 3.0

The Beast of the NEice Fleet – Built to meet the demands of flying, photographing and filming in the winter weather of the Northeast.

After two winters of  building, flying and filming with RC helicopters, I have learned a lot and had a ton of fun.  But, it wasn’t enough, I needed more. I needed a better machine to complete my dream. I realized first I needed a better camera. The Gopros are light and very durable and have served us well, but they have many shortfalls. The lens is too wide. It leaves climbers looking like they are a mile away unless the drone is right on top of them. The camera is also not good in variable lighting conditions.  It can’t handle fast changing or low light, where the only settings you have for creativity and enhancement is ‘ON!’  Here is where the Sony NEX-5N is far better.

“I needed a better machine to complete my dream”
Wookong-Camara

 

The Sony NEX-5N 16.1 MP

This new camera is great. It gives DSLR quality still images up to 10 fps. When it comes to video, it pulls in full AVCHD at 60p with a 16.1 MP Exmor APS HD CMOS image sensor.  A Sony E-mount 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 lens rounds out this camera set-up providing NEIce with the lightest DSLR quality camera you can put in the air.  I can now point the camera up or down, rotate it, take a photo and turn on and off the video, seeing it all from my radio controller. Finally, I feel like I can properly film the action I have been dreaming of. The difference in quality still amazes me!

Last year we just turned the GoPro on, sent it up and hoped for the best. Courtney Ley, who edits footage for us, will be excited this year. With the remote I can activate video recording whenever I want to start and end, eliminating all the takeoffs, landings and other useless footage, saving her hours of editing time in front of the computer.

The still images are just as exciting, with the cameras’ ability to shoot RAW and  JPEG Fine files simultaneously. Plus, good photos require good glass. I now have many options with the wide variety of Sony E-mount lenses available.

But, getting the new camera also meant I now needed a bigger helicopter to lift it.  Putting all I have learned into this new build, I considered many factors in the new design – wind, power, reliability and flight time. The machine is a dream to fly and fulfills everything I have been looking for, lifting the Sony Nex5N with ease. In the past, wind was one of the biggest problems we encountered at the crags while filming.  I have flown the new WooKong in 25+ mph winds without a problem. You can see this was not the case with early models as this footage in Huntington Ravine reveals.

With eight motors spread out above the Sony, I now have reliability and lift. I can lose an engine without crashing dramatically into the ice and hemlock.  As entertaining as it might be to watch,  it’s usually not ideal footage. Many pilots flying Octocopters report not knowing that an engine was out till they land. As the gear and cameras get more costly, redundancy and backup of critical components becomes more important.

Now that I had the increased power I wanted, came the need for bigger batteries. I decided to invest in three 16,000 mAh batteries ($250 ea) that will give our bird 10 minutes of flight per power pack – twice as long as Wookong 2.0.  That’s plenty of time to film what I want and …believe me, when flying in the cold and snow, 10 minutes can seem like an eternity.

Wookong---Monitor

The Black Pearl 7″ High Definition LCD Screen

Last year, I found the goggles were too restrictive and hindered my ability to keep the helicopter safe and out of trouble. So, with the new rig on the flight pad, a new way of keeping connected with what was going on in the air was needed.  A new high definition monitor is my dashboard and the OSD (on screen display) system gives me vital feed back, such as height, speed, rate of rise and descent.  That’s right, now I can compose the photos and video from the ground, and still keep an eye on the conditions around me. I can also double-check the camera information to make sure I am shooting with the right settings.

Since it first lifted off early this summer, I have logged over 100 flights with WooKong 3.0. Posted below are a few photos I have taken during tuning and testing.  The photos and video just keep getting better with more training flights. I am light years ahead of where I started two years ago with smoother video and sharper stills.  I can’t wait to start filming winter and ice climbing  in the Northeast and bringing it to you here at NEIce.com.  UP!

Octo Twin Mt Alden

Testing at Twin Mt. – Photo by Alden Pellett

Work in progress: I am configuring a new gimbal that will have different settings for different lenses and a finer resolution. New Gimbal


WooKong 3.0 – Some Test Photos

*Click photos to enlarge.

~Doug Millen


Orange is the New Rack

NEIce_gearreview_wide655x440

NEice Gear Review for 2014/2015

The cool gusts of Autumn are blowing in, scattering a kaleidoscope of leaves. The first snow flurries of a new season sift down through the mountain air.  Rock climbing seems a mere distraction now as the cold seeps into numb fingertips trickling down to chilled toes, hinting at what will soon arrive – the ice is coming. Eagerly, we await that first good thunk of our favorite ice tool sinking into soft early season ice. The thought of it, harkens up a familiar sensation of security and the satisfaction that comes from knowing you couldn’t fall from the steep blue ice at that moment.

“We await that first good thunk of our favorite ice tool sinking into soft early season ice.”

As memories like these bring on the promise of new adventure, we pull dusty gear out of the dark closet depths and sort and re-sort it all. Tool picks are sharpened. Ice screws inspected in a pre-season ritual.

simond chacal ice climbing tool

An earlier straight-shaft model ice climbing tool.

Our minds wander back over the years of ice climbing, maybe to our earliest terror-filled winters bashing a line up a route too hard for us, almost certain that death lay just a little higher. So, illogically, we just swung harder and gripped tighter.

Over 20 years ago, on one of my first stout leads at Lake Willoughby in northern Vermont, I nearly lost an arm placing a screw.  Untested ambition had put me there, high on the grade 5 crux, my stomach flipping with a lurch from the fear and overexertion. I tightened the twist leash on my left hand one more turn, cutting off more vital circulation, and using a tool pick in my right, turn the tube threads further into the ice. The fearful sound of that screw screeched in my ears as it resisted the effort. Burning up too much energy, I quit before it was even close to safe. I clipped the hanger and sucked in a frigid measured breath of partial relief and leaned my forehead against the ice, still too proud and scared to take on the rope.  There I was, filled with aching terror when fresh powder lay on the easy slopes in the next town over, just a cozy lift ride away. But, I kept going back for more of that fear. Exactly why, I can’t tell you. But, with experience, it improves. With time, the joy overtakes the fear. Things change. Life changes.

 

Huntington Ravine ice climbing photo

NEice member Rockytop in the mid-90’s on Mt. Washington, running around Huntington Ravine with straight-shaft tools, twist-leashes, plastic boots…and yes, that’s a mullet hairdo.

Along with us, the gear changes too. It was nearly 20 years ago, Grivel purposefully bent the shaft of their latest ice tools – giving us the Machine and essentially taking one whole grade of difficulty off the routes. A few years later, Beal gave us lighter, skinnier ropes – their Ice Lines. Our clothes got lighter, warmer, better. Ice screws actually went in like rock gear – fast. Leashes got quicker, then disappeared with Petzl’s Ergo tool, and have sort of come back again as tethers. This sport is now much easier and safer. Even without our training harder, technology has made us faster. Yes, death is still waiting, only a fool would deny it, but now I can smile at yesterday’s memories and fear no longer fills me while I’m walking up to that same steep route at Willoughby.

“Even without our training harder, technology has made us faster.”

As this season arrives, and you finish another set of pull-ups… maybe you’re dragging a file across the worn pick of your old ice tool, and perhaps you can’t help but wonder – will a new change in gear eclipse all that hard training? Only you will know really…all your training and preparation could take a back seat to that new piece of equipment that just clicks with your climbing style. Now you flow with it, as you start up a steep column, swinging smoothly. The tool thunking firmly in soft ice, again and again, and suddenly you’re at the top of that serious line you always dreamt of leading and you smile clipping into the anchor. The game has just changed for you…and life is even better.

 

THE GEAR

There’s nothing worse than bad gear –  It’s too heavy, it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t do what you want it to, or worse yet, it breaks and leaves you stranded.  There’s a lot of really good gear out there nowadays so it’s tough to pick out the best of the best.  Starting out on our first real gear review, we decided to mostly look at what’s new or nearly new this season.  We gave up some precious climbing time to delve into the real meat and potatoes items of the sport, checking out the latest in tools, crampons, ice screws, jackets, harnesses and gloves. The more we looked, the more we realized, a lot of it is orange (or most of it is available in caution-type colors anyway) Thus our headline, a play on the TV series, Orange is the New Black.  So, go forth with the colors of caution, maybe whether you like it or not.

 

TOOLS

CAMP X-Light Alpine Tool

The new CAMP X-Light Alpine Tool

 

CAMP X-Light  (new)  –  $199.99   A superlight and versatile tool for the technical alpinist, with a hot-forged aluminum alloy head that allows for multiple set-ups.  The removable X-Alp grip has a soft hand for good grip and can be swapped out with the X-Dry grip.

Petzl Summit EVO – Due out January 2015.   This tool should find a similar niche to the CAMP X-Light.

Black Diamond Fuel Ice Tool (new) – $259.99  A high-performance, all-around cragging tool that’s at home on steep ice and overhanging rock. BD says the Fuel is the quiver of one for the modern winter climber.

Grivel Tech Machine (new) – $249.95   A nice technical tool for mixed and big steep ice. The new round clip hole in the head makes it easy to clip on and off your harness. The Tech Machine comes with their Ice Blade (3mm tip) but it also takes an optional mixed pick for more extreme drytooling.

 

 

TECHNICAL CRAMPONS

There are some great standby ‘poons’ that hardmen and hardwomen of the Northeast have been crushing with over the past few years (Grivel C4, Petzl Lynx &  Dart, BD’s Stinger) so not too much has changed recently or dramatically other than CAMP’s new setup.

Camp Blade Runner Crampon

The business end of CAMP’s new Blade Runner crampon.

 

CAMP Blade Runner – $349.95  Not really new to start this season but when these crampons came out late last season, they were making quite a splash during the ice festivals in the Northeast.  CAMP athlete Ian Osteyee put up a new severe test-piece at Poke-O Moonshine with them last winter. Yup, they’re pricey, but hey, so is a good single-malt.

 

 

 

 

ICE SCREWS

Petzl Laser Speed Light Ice Screws

Petzl’s new Laser Speed Light ice screw. Be careful where you point your lasers.

 

Petzl Laser Speed Light – $74.95  If light is right, these just might be the screws for you. The speed light is an ultra-light screw with aluminum tube, an ideal weight-cutting tool for mountaineering. These screws seem to start as easy as the BD Express screws that are very popular.   The folding crank works well and folds away reasonably quickly, perhaps not as easy as one might prefer. Hey, we’re spoiled compared to 20 years ago.  Durability over the long-haul of hard climbing use through multiple seasons remains to be seen. They’re pricier than regular weight screws but several long-time NEIcers admit they’re going to add at least a handful of these to their racks.

 

 

 

 

 

JACKETS

New materials continue to improve the outerwear available for ice climbers on the move. A number of companies have come out with softshell tops that work great for keeping the sweat from building up too much and keep you cruising with one of the new wool-blend layers underneath and a belay jacket over them in harsher conditions.

Black Diamond Dawn Patrol Shell – $349.00  A minimalistic softshell jacket, the Dawn Patrol LT Shell uses Schoeller® stretch-woven softshell fabric to handle the demands of fast-and-light alpine climbs.

Mammut Nordpfeiler (men’s and women’s) – $350    This has a new WINDSTOPPER® fabric. more breathable and stretchier with pit zips for added cooling.  This is a prime GORE® WINDSTOPPER® jacket for high alpine use, offering high abrasion resistance and good stretch, ideal for colder conditions and as a second layer. This is not an insulative jacket so you’ll want to choose the right layer to go underneath depending on conditions.

Mammut Morangun Jacket (new features)- $425    Mammut has given this a more durable surface fabric than before with the combination of a 2-layer GORE-TEX® face fabric and the proven OTI™ Element synthetic fiber filling. It is waterproof and excellent in cold temperatures.

Outdoor Research Clairvoyant (women’s model) – $324.95  Streamlined, durable and functional, the Clairvoyant is built for high-alpine climbing epics and aerobic backcountry tours. And unlike many waterproof shells, the polyester face fabric is soft, supple and quiet, yet easily repels unpleasant weather during all-out adventures.

Mountain Hardware Quasar Jacket – $400  A waterproof 3-layer shell is designed to be as compact and efficient as it is hardworking. Dry.Q™ Elite technology starts expelling excess heat and vapor right away for nearly instant breathability. A sleeker fit than most jackets.

 

GLOVES

Caution Man Climbs Again! Special thanks to Julbo, Mammut, Petzl, CAMP, and the Outdoor Gear Exchange for helping bring together gear and lots of orange stuff for the review and a fun NEIce photo shoot. Thanks to AMGA guide Tim Farr for his modeling services.

Caution Man Climbs Again! Special thanks to Julbo, Mammut, Petzl, CAMP, and the Outdoor Gear Exchange for helping bring together gear and lots of orange stuff for the review and a fun NEIce photo shoot. Thanks to AMGA guide Tim Farr for his modeling services.

For some of us, this is the business end of modern ice climbing. If your hands are frozen or you can’t feel the tool, you’re already half-finished. Most experienced climbers bring two or three pairs in their craggin’ packs. These are a few of what’s new on the scene.

Black Diamond Torque Glove $59.95  A performance softshell glove with a tricot lining. BD says this model was built for high-end mixed climbing and drytooling, featuring a super-sticky palm and low-profile construction for unmatched grip and dexterity.

Black Diamond Punisher (women’s version) – $99.95  The company’s classic ice climbing glove but with a different fit for women. Maintains the  pre-curved construction with articulated fingers with a waterproof breathable BDry™ insert and EVA padded knuckles so you can still wrap your hand around a cold beer at the end of the day.

CAMP GeKO Light $99.95  A nice leather-palmed technical glove for mixed climbing and warmer days on the ice.  The model forgoes insulation in the palm for better grip but offers a thin 4 oz Primaloft® insulation on the main body combined with box construction using durable and water resistant polyester fabrics for a precise and snug fit.

CAMP GeKO Hot Dry – $109.95   This medium-weight glove is a new upgraded version of their best selling G Hot featuring a Hipora® waterproof/breathable membrane for extra protection in wet conditions.  The palm and fingers feature their Grip’R technology to help with holding power and durability.

 

 

HARNESSES

CAMP Air CR – $84.95   If you’re looking to slim down, CAMP says it used the same lightweight design on the AIR CR model as the Air harness but added adjustable leg loops. Constructed from 2mm perforated EVA foam attached using edge-load construction to soft polyester mesh on the interior and durable nylon mesh on the exterior. The Air CR seems a good bet for any kind of fast and light climbing endeavors including advanced alpinism and ice climbing with two slots to accommodate clippers or carabiners for racking your tools.

Petzl Hirundos – Due out January 2015.  A lightweight high-end model, which the company says is ideal for sport and alpine climbing. Also features two slots for the Petzl Caritool holders for racking your ice tools.

REVIEW

First Impressions – Camp Air CR Harness:  October 13, 2014. AMGA member and guide Tim Farr – “The Camp Air CR Harness is light, real light. Previous experience with past harnesses in this category had me expecting an uncomfortable and hip-bruising fit for anything but an un-weighted stance. But the Camp Air CR Harness is comfy. Proving that an ultra-light harness doesn’t need to sacrifice comfort for weight. On long rock routes with hanging belays and lots of rappelling, I haven’t even thought twice about the fit except for in amazement for the surprising level of comfort. While this harness obviously doesn’t have the comforts of a marketed big wall harness, I still found myself grabbing for the Camp Air CR over my beefier all-a-rounder for just about everything. The three auto locking buckles, comfortable leg-loops and four good-sized gear loops on the Camp Air CR offer plenty of climb-ability and durability for everyone from the crag dweller to the weight conscious alpinist. Its light, packs small, has enough room for a large traditional rack and doesn’t restrict your freedom of movement.  From long rock routes on Cannon Cliff to cragging 5 minutes from the car, the Camp Air CR delivers. While the ice and mixed season hasn’t quit started here in the Northeast, I’m expecting the Camp Air CR harness to shine simply based on my experience testing it this summer.”

BOOTS

So many good boots out there to choose from! We should all feel lucky.  But, sometimes there’s always room for improvement.  We felt adding a custom liner, like Superfeet, could help improve the performance fit of all these boots.  Hey, they’re your feet, do what feels good!

LaSportiva Nepal Cube GTX – $575     LaSportiva says it’s a technical, warm, lightweight mountaineering boot with state of the art technology for mixed climbing terrain. If you’re a fan of their Nepal Tops, these are lighter but with a more flexible ankle. meaning less support but more mobility for technical climbing. It also comes with removable additional tongue padding for an adjustable fit under the upper lacing.

Mammut Nordwand High GTX – $595    Mammut says this double-insulated carbon insole full-gaiter boot is the lightest in it’s category. A double GORE-TEX construction in the inner shoe and on the gaiter provides plenty of protection for moisture regulation and water resistance. We found the built-in gaiter has more room to go over pants than the Scarpa Phantom Guide, if that’s how you roll.

Scarpa Phantom Guide – $599.00   Scarpa says it’s got the same materials and construction as their Himalayan boot, the Phantom 8000, for more warmth for extreme environments, but with the added sensitivity of a slimmed-down full-gaiter boot. One of our testers said this had a bit more room toward the front for wider feet.

Trango Extreme EVO Light GTX – $420   All synthetic, waterproof and insulated. The silver lining, so to speak, of this boot is a lightweight, warm technical mountain boot for ice climbing, plus the performance for mixed climbing and cold weather alpine goals.

 

ROPES

Stay tuned for a gear review on ropes. Get the skinny on the phattest alpine cords – Coming soon!

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Do you like your ropes fat or skinny?

 

BITS & PIECES (Some new and some favorites)

Black Diamond Peter Beanie (new) – $25   No, it’s not for your Johnson but we can’t help but snicker at the name a little. This double-layer beanie is for super-cold days. and ‘Yes’, it’s available in orange.

Mammut Nano 8 (new) – $14   Not for your everyday ice climbing outing but a very lightweight (and orange) rappel device that pairs well with their new 60M 6mm static rap line for going light on that solo climb and descent or for getting down past that gnarly section while ski mountaineering.

CAMP X-Dream Ice Tool– $279.99

Petzl Nomic Ice Tool – $299.99

Black Diamond Arc glove – $69.99 This is one sticky palmed light-to-mid-weight glove that performs great. Like a lot of grippy gloves, don’t rappel down with them, you’ll wear them out too fast.

Mammut Guide Work Glove – $109.99  A warmer leather glove for use when that light grippy glove doesn’t cut it but the big bulky ones are too much. The company says it’s ideally suited for mountain guides, patrollers, lift staff and everyone who works regularly outdoors.

Julbo Cortina sunglasses– $70.00 If you’re looking for a rad pair of orange retro 80’s-style sunglasses like on our model – they have Matte Orange.