In a last minute gear scramble, some of my friends and favorite brands came seriously to the rescue to help equip me for my Mountain Skills Training last weekend.
I’m excited to talk more down the road about some preview gear I got to test from Duofold and Champion as part of their Expedition Hanesbrand project. I know it sounds weird to get excited about underwear, but the Duofold synthetics I tested were leaps and bounds ahead of other synthetics I’ve tried — they wicked moisture like a charm, kept me nice and warm, and smelled better after four days on than any other synthetic I’ve worn. I’m typically a thick-wool-sock girl, but the Champion thin socks I tested, paired with an Injinji sock liner lead to perfectly fit boots, and no blisters even though I spent the whole four days in boots borrowed from my climbing partner, Shawn.
I also tested out a not-yet-released Black Diamond Equipment 4-season harness that performed great. More on that, closer to its release date.
Osprey and Deuter Packs
A huge thank you to Osprey Packs, who provided a sample Aura 65 womens’ pack on very short notice for me to use for the training (that’s it, fully loaded, for the trip back home). The pack performed BRILLIANTLY, especially once I learned some of Evan’s packing tricks and tips. The removable lid doubled as a day bag for some of our trips, and its large amount of adjustability meant increased comfort even under a load that probably exceeded the bag’s rated capacity.
Thanks also to Deuter USA, who provided a Aircontact 60+10 SL for my testing, also. This pack had an increased carrying capacity (60 lbs!) and fit like a glove. I’m a huge fan of Deuter’s Aircontact Back System — when packing heavy loads, it carries very comfortably with a different weight distribution, so that I have less discomfort around my shoulders.
I chose the Aura over the Aircontact for this particular trip because my weight carried was lighter, and because the Aura gave me a little bit more “head clearance” with a helmet on. When I’m carrying weights in excess of 50 lbs, or need a tough-as-nails pack, the Aircontact would be my choice.
My OR GORE-TEX Enigma Jacket and Pants, Aria Down Hoody, Arete Modular Gloves, and Exped DownMat kept me warm and dry all weekend. I didn’t understand why the OR guys were so excited about pit zips until this weekend… and now I know. Oh, how I love thee, pit zips. My biggest worry before the training was that I would be cold… I was shocked at how well my gear actually worked to keep me warm and dry.
Petzl Summit Axe and VASAK Crampons
I opted for the 59 centimeter Petzl Charlet Summit ice axe. In retrospect, I do wish I’d gone with a 65 or 66 centimeter axe, since that extra length would give me a bit more security when using the axe in “walking mode” on steep slopes. I’ll appreciate the 59 cm when I get more confidence and am traveling steeper slopes, but for starting out, I think I’ll pick up an additional, longer axe. And, I’m only 5 foot 6 inches. So — when you’re shopping axes, get a lot of good advice, and then be prepared to have some “gear learning experiences” if you don’t pick right the very first time.
My Petzl VASAK crampons performed fantastically. I went with the SPIRLOCK attachment system, since over the course of the next few months I’ll be using a variety of boots, not all compatible with step-ins. I found the adjustment and attachment system (for my first ever pair of crampons) to be extremely easy to use, and I was able to get my crampons off and on quickly and easily — even with my gloves on.
Mountain Hardwear Clouds Rest: a little bit of heaven
I also got to finally put my Mountain Hardwear Womens’ Clouds Rest down bag to a real test, and holy crap, did it pass with flying colors. I already had an inexplicably emotional attachment to it, given that it’s an inanimate object… when I unrolled it in the tent I got all warm and fuzzy inside and just wanted to give it a big hug. Yes, I’m gear crazy. When I nestled in for the night, and tucked the face and neck gasket around my neck, and nestled in to its big fluffy hood, with room inside for all of my soggy gear to warm up and dry out overnight, that was it. It’s all over. I’m afraid I’m going to be settling down, for good, with this sleeping bag. I’m off the sleeping bag market. The guys were cold on the cooler nights; I was stripped down to base layers and so comfy, toasty warm I had to vent the bag every single night.
Glacier Glasses and Bad Eyesight 101
For the first time, I brought along a pair of prescription glacier glasses from Opticus in addition to my standard climbing fare of Julbo sunglasses and my contact lenses. I made it the first two days in my contacts, then my eyes needed a break so I took them out overnight. The next morning we awoke to bright sun, so I tried out my Opticus glasses (a pair of Julbo Dolgans with prescription McKinley lenses). I found that they’re ideal for around camp, but that I’m going to have to stick to contacts and non-RX glacier glasses when I need technical accuracy. It’s no fault of Opticus or the glasses — I have very bad eyesight, so doing any kind of wrap frame carries with it a certain amount of distortion. Some folks aren’t as sensitive to it, but I’m one of the lucky few who’s sensitive to that distortion.
Couple that with being accustomed to wearing contact lenses nearly 100% of the time, and I felt that with the prescription glasses I lost enough depth perception compared to my contacts and non-RX glacier glasses that I didn’t feel like I could move over high-consequences terrain confidently (neither with my regular glasses, nor the glacier glasses).
The service I received from Opticus was phenomenal — I’d highly recommend them f
or prescription action glasses. They also provided me some tips this morning on contact lens use at altitude, and this resource from Base Camp MD about eye health at altitude. I’ll have a chance for my eyes to get used to glasses again when I’m actually in the mountains, and will report back.
A girl’s gotta eat sometime
On the food front, we relied HEAVILY on my Jetboil PCS (and on Evan’s). We had two older Jetboil PCSs for four people, and we boiled a LOT of water over the course of the weekend and the stoves simply sipped fuel. I don’t think we killed a canister all weekend. We did both have igniter issues with them, but that was easily remedied by the use of a lighter. Dan and Justin were impressed with the speed and ease of use with the stoves, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they both stop off at MEC and pick up their very own for their next mountain adventures.
When I wasn’t eating mix-with-water, I was chowing down on ProBars. I’m not a big bar girl… they’re usually too sweet, or too heavy, or too … whatever. But these are now permanently on my camping / climbing shopping list… they’re real food, smooshed together, and there’s not a “too _____” about them. I like that they’re non-dairy (since I am too), and they didn’t freeze solid the way some other bars I’ve had out in cold temps did. I typically ate a half a bar then stashed the rest in a pocket for a snack, and had no bar-melt in my pockets or other mess, and I never ran out of fuel.
And, friends with gear save the day
Finally — a huge thanks to Shawn for loaning me his precious mountain boots (which fit perfectly and performed fantastically), OR Gaitors and Mitts. They all came back safe and sound, as did all of my toes and fingers.
Sara Lobkovich Newsletter
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