2014 RRR Staff

The AAI staff greets the day at the 2014 Red Rock Rendezvous.

The American Alpine Institute (AAI) has partnered with Mountain Gear at the Red Rock Rendezvous since 2005. Over the last ten years, the Institute’s world-class guides have provided affordable introductory classes to beginners at the event. Indeed, one thing that any Red Rock Rendezvous participant can look forward to is the high level of instructional skill that AAI guides bring to their programs.

The Institute is first and foremost a climbing school. AAI guides have been offering training to beginning level climbers for forty years. Every guide is trained—not just in the art of guide technique—but in the art of teaching. AAI guides understand the needs of a beginning level climber, from their educational requirements to their understandable fears. This is part of the reason that Jon Krakauer writing for Outside magazine called the American Alpine Institute, “the best all around climbing school and guide service in North America.”

I have personally worked with Mountain Gear at the Red Rock Rendezvous the entire time that AAI has been involved with the event. I am proud to work at the Rendezvous every year. It is easily the best climbing event in North America and I can’t wait for this year’s festival. Every year the event just gets better!

Come join us– American Alpine Institute guides, professional climbing athletes, climbing sponsors and vendors, and all the great folks from Mountain Gear – for spectacular climbing, beautiful vistas, great food, games, parties and fun, in the Red Rocks of southern Nevada!

Jason ColchuckPeak

Jason D. Martin
Director of Operations and Guide
American Alpine Institute


The ARCTERYX Acrux FL features an inner liner and a separate, one-piece outer.

Article by Lila Parlin
Photos courtesy ARCTERYX

ARCTERYX, long known for quality climbing gear and outdoor apparel, has just entered the technical footwear arena with a two-part design based on a slip-on internal liner with a seamless, one-piece polyurethane upper. I recently received a pre-production sample of their new approach shoe, the Acrux FL.

The slipper that forms the liner has big loops both fore and aft to pull on easily. Its one-piece design has no tongue and is designed to keep out debris much like the KSO of Vibram fame.  I only had these shoes briefly before my summer climbing schedule ended, but fall is when one’s feet encounter more dried seeds than any other time of year.  I found these were able to live up to that expectation.  I didn’t wander through a field full of cheat grass for testing, however.

Aero Liner Low Breathability

The breathable liner at the heart of the ARCTERYX Acrux FL Approach Shoe

If you are picturing the one piece polyurethane upper like your father’s galoshes, you are way off base.  The nylon is coated with PU before it is woven, so the upper breathes well.  My feet seemed to be well ventilated even on warm days.  I have not tried them on a cold, wet day, or in dew-heavy grasses, so I can’t speak to that aspect.

The shoe appears to have a narrow toe box, but because of the nature of the lacing, the Acrux FL accommodates my wide foot comfortably.  If you have a narrow foot, you can still lace up nice and tight.   The sole is very stiff, with a rugged sticky rubber rand around the toe.  If you had an approach that involved some technical scrambling, the construction of the rand allows for some edging ability.  I stepped on a small boulder that rocked and tipped my foot outward.  The rubber was sticky enough that the shoe never slipped and this allowed me to catch my balance without rolling my ankle over. It was nice to see that kind of support in a low-top.   If you end up on a long approach like you find at Red Rock Canyon, Nev., you need a good supportive shoe. If your planned climb means that you’re going to have to carry that shoe up and over for an exit hike, it can be a pain to drag a pair of high tops.  I think these approach shoes fit that bill nicely: supportive, but low top, not too heavy or bulky in the pack.

Outer Layer

The one-piece laminated outer shell.

The one drawback for this shoe is that I always felt that the outer shell was sliding along my heel.  The height of the liner meant that the shell was sliding material on material, rather than on my skin, so I never got any blisters.   But I could feel that slide with every step.

Sole Shoe

The ARCTERYX Acrux FL Approach Shoe has a grippy Vibram sole with climbing zone and “Y” Groove spit heel technology for better breaking on the descent.

Let’s talk sizing.  I have a pretty solid 8.5 US women’s foot.  These shoes have UK sizing.  I got a UK6.5, which is supposed to be a US8.  These shoes fit me quite nicely.  I like to wear a medium hiking sock since my feet like cushioning and usually run cold.   I was comfortable with the size 8.  There’s that heel sliding issue, but since I got a prototype, I couldn’t try a half size smaller.  It would be nice to know whether a different size would have fixed the issue without cramping my toes.  My overall thought is that you might want to buy a half size smaller than your norm, unless ARCTERYX has addressed the sizing in the production series.

Overall, this is a nice approach shoe.  The trend has been for the light trail running shoe lately and I am a big fan of minimalist shoes, since I have no problems with my feet or arches.  There are those people who have been longing for a good supportive approach shoe and I think ARCTERYX has got a shoe that fits that niche.

Editor’s note: Lila tested a pre-production version of the Acrux FL. Earlier versions of her review referred to it as the Alpha FL but ARCTERYX has revised the name to Acrux FL since. The full line of ARCTERYX footwear will be available for sale shortly. Check back for updates.


Lila Parlin is a Mountain Gear customer service representative. Her 15-year climbing career spans the northwest and beyond with notable trips to Red Rock, Greece and Yosemite.

Hold position A

Photo A

by Jared Vagy, The Climbing Doctor

The Cause:

Have you ever felt weakness in your hand and numbness in your thumb, index and middle finger after a long session of climbing? You go back home and try to choke down an energy drink but it’s difficult to hold the can. You lie in bed but the only part of you that falls asleep is your hand. It is likely that you’re suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome used to occur in office workers who spent hours compressing their wrists while typing at the computer. Now it is becoming common in climbers because of the repetitive use of the muscles in the front of our wrists to grip holds.These muscles are called our wrist flexors. Underneath the wrist flexors runs an important nerve named the median nerve.  Often times when the wrist is in a flexed position repetitively, such as working a climbing project with a lot of slopers, the median nerve can become compressed underneath the muscles in an area called the carpal tunnel. This can cause numbness, pain and weakness in the hand.

Hold position B

Photo B

Hold position C

Photo C

Hold position D

Photo D

What to look for:

Watch out for underclings (A:) and slopers (B:) which place your wrist in extreme flexed positions. You may also be in trouble if you notice your wrist flexes forward (C:) each time you grab a climbing hold.  This places greater than normal pressure on the carpal tunnel. The position of your wrist must be neutral (D:) to minimize stress over the carpal tunnel.

Change how you move:

The next challenge is to apply the skills while climbing. Regardless of the style of hold you are grabbing always make sure to keep your wrist in a neutral position. The less time you spend hanging on slopers or gripping underclings the less stress you will have on your carpal tunnel.

About the author:

Dr. Jared Vagy “The Climbing Doctor” is a Physical Therapist and an authority on climbing related injuries. He has over ten years of climbing experience and has climbed all over the world. Climbing and injury prevention are his passions and he is committed to combining the two.

Learn more:

Prevent injuries and take your climbing to the next level.  Check out The Climbing Doctor’s website for more injury prevention information. To understand more about carpal tunnel syndrome and inner elbow pain you can see a full article written by Dr. Vagy in DPM magazine on pages 40-41.



Mary M. Werremeyer and Kelly J. Cole, Wrist Action Affects Precision Grip Force. Department of Exercise Science, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242, 30 January 1996.

Flanagan J. R., Tresilian J. R. (1994) Grip-load force coupling: a general control strategy for transporting objects. J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 20:944–957.

Johansson R. S., Riso R., Häger C., Bäkström L. (1992) Somatosensory control of precision grip during unpredictable loads. I. Changes in load force amplitude. Exp. Brain Res. 89:181–189.

Koshland G. F., Hasan Z. (1994) Selection of muscles for initiation of planar, 3-joint arm movements with different final orientations of the hand. Exp. Brain Res. 98:157–16.

O’Driscoll S. W., Horii E., Ness R., Cahalan T. D., Richards R. R., An K. N. (1992) The relationship between wrist position, grasp size, and grip strength. J. Hand Surg. St. Louis 17:169–177.

1200x627 FBShare a photo of your greatest epic and you can win a trip to Switzerland where you’ll climb the Balmhorn (3698m) to commemorate Lucy Walker’s 1864 first ascent. Join us on Facebook to learn more and to enter.

The author scouts his next line from atop Thompson Pass near Valdez, Alaska in April 2014.

The author scouts his next line from atop Thompson Pass near Valdez, Alaska during Tailgate Alaska, held every April.

Photos and review by J.P. Russo

Last season I struggled to find a boot to replace my four-year-old Vans when they finally gave out. I was searching for something with a backcountry focus when I settled on the Deeluxe Independent BC. I have been on these boots for a year and couldn’t be happier. Deeluxe targeted the backcountry rider who cares about dependability over flashy colors and complicated lacing systems. Their design is simple, solid, and dependable. Black boots with regular laces don’t sound like anything to write home about, but the Independent BCs are built for backcountry reliability with plenty of tech once you dive deeper.

Read the rest of JP’s review here!

Nichols K2 2

By Travis Nichols

Photos by the author and courtesy of K2

A ski touring trip into Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountain Range back in May gave me a chance to spend extended testing time on the entirely new K2 Wayback 96 177cm and the redesigned K2 Coomback 104 177cm. For 2014/2015, each ski sees a significant redesign with new shapes, rocker profiles, core constructions and finished weights. In each case, K2 not only meets the market’s benchmark products but also exceeds their performance. These are not the lightest, stiffest, boldest, or the craziest-shaped skis out there. And that’s a great thing.

The new Wayback 96 is a svelte touring ski that’s perfectly suited for running up volcanoes and then milking the turns on the way242227 YYY 1 out. While the weight is competitive in its category, it’s a stand-out choice because it allows any skier to feel comfortable on a hairy descent. Unlike competing models with similar or even lighter weight specs, it does not ski like a plank of carbon fiber or a foam noodle. Rather, it’s a smooth, round flex that makes for predictable turns on ice, mank, slush, corn, and soft snow. I certainly noticed the quick tip engagement and medium-length turn radius in the ski. As long as I respected the character of the ski and did not try to draw out the turn, it was super poppy in and out of the carvy turns.

all terrain rocker profile b

A closer look at K2′s All-Terrain Rocker.

The most impressive thing to me was the tip. The rocker profile is low and continuous so the ski never acts like a barge in mixed snow; rather it keeps its buoyancy without bashing into inconsistent variables.  At 200 pounds and 5 feet 11 inches, I was concerned that the 177 cm length was a bit short.  Over a few runs, I learned to trust the tip not to sink despite strong forward pressure in the turn.  The no-drama, less-apparent rocker profile never disappointed and I’m shocked to consider that this may be the appropriate length for a spring volcano option. In the nearly isothermal snow we were working through at the bottom of our laps, I really appreciated the ski’s reliability and predictability, especially for a ski with a thinner width and smaller platform to stand on.

For anyone who is looking for a medium-radius touring ski capable of enjoying any condition, I would highly recommend this as a do-it-all option that will maximize spring turns as much as winter pow.  If I were headed to Europe for a Haute Route or similar traverse, it would be hard to pass up the Wayback 96.

  • Sizes: 170, 177, 184
  • Dimensions: 128/96/118
  • Radius: 21m @ 177
  • Construction: Torsion Box, Hybritech Sidewall
  • Weight: 1550g @ 177cm
  • Features: Skin Grommet, Carbon Web, SnoPhobic Topsheet, Tapered Tip And Tail

Nichols K2 1The redesigned Coomback 104 is, once again, a benchmark ski. Once a clear category leader, the Coomback saw stiff competition in the past few years. Thankfully K2 brought it back to the center of the bull’s eye.  Still a classic, round K2 flex with a huge sweet spot, the ski now has an updated 241805 YYY 1contact point at the tip and an updated rocker profile that allow it to engage quickly when needed for tight turns and yet vary the turn shape to the skier’s needs in a variety of conditions.  I was able to open the turn radius up as much as needed and it never became hooky or unstable.  The elevated rocker on this ski made the 177 cm running length feel a little short for this tester so I can’t wait to bump up to the 184 cm to get the most out of the ski at speed.  I would say the ability to carve from the center of the ski or from the tail was fantastic; the engagement was smooth and predicable despite the shorter-than-desired length.  I would suggest this ski be purchased true to size; don’t hesitate to bump up in length if you are on the cusp.

  • Sizes: 170, 177, 184
  • Dimensions: 136/104/122
  • Radius: 23m @ 177
  • Construction: Torsion Box, Hybritech Sidewall
  • Weight: 1650g @177cm
  • Features: Skin Grommets, Carbon Web, SnoPhobic Topsheet, Tapered Tip And Tail, Powder Tip
Nichols K2 5

Decisions, decisions…

The decreased weight on both models will be immediately apparent to anyone on the up-track or in the swing weight of the descent.  For me, the best improvement went beyond the weight and into the character of the ski. To elaborate, K2 has always made reliable and predictable skis that you can learn on as a beginner, feel confident on as intermediate, or push to your limit as an expert; skis that work in all conditions and skis that truly are tools in the backcountry.

This type of design often sets the benchmark for the category, the product against which other designs are judged.  Sometimes being at the center of things can feel a little vanilla.  Vanilla is one of the best flavors but it’s not a flavor we think of as exciting.  It’s not a spicy curry or exotic saffron; rather it’s the smooth and sultry option that balances your palate.  It should be the smooth vanilla gelato that after one spoonful turns into the whole pint because we can’t help ourselves.

Sadly, vanilla can also be diminished into something like white sheetcake we can’t wait to skip.  For the past few years the predictable nature of the Coomback has left me wanting more.  Although it has been the first ski I would recommend to many users from diverse backgrounds, I was never eager to jump on it personally.

The changes for 2014/2015 go past the specs of shape, rocker profile and weight changes.  It’s still the benchmark ski in the category, and still has a reliable vanilla aspect to it (as any reliable tool should) but this version seems to be spiced up with a little bit of Fireball at the end of the experience to keep things interesting. After the first taste this spring, I’m eager to go back for seconds.

Staff Review: Osprey Rev 18

Editor —  November 13, 2014 — Leave a comment
Mike White trail running in the Adirondack Mountains New York. Fall 2013.

Mike White trail running in the Adirondack Mountains New York. Fall 2013.

By Travis Nichols

Photos courtesy Osprey

An 18 liter running pack?  An ultralight pack vest? What is the Osprey Rev 18 and what’s it good for? Every once in a while a product arrives that fails to land neatly in a defined space and forces us outside our box to see its true intention and purpose.

The Osprey Rev 18 is part of a larger family of packs targeted at efficient movement through the mountains.  The smaller sizes (Rev  1.5, 3, and 6) are clearly trail running masters designed to carry the essentials quickly.  The 24 is more of a nimble day hiker.  The Kode Race borrows from the Rev but is clearly the ski pack.  So where does the Rev 18 land?

Read more about the Osprey Rev 18 here!

by Dr. Jared Vagy


When you look up at your partner while belaying, the muscles in the back of your neck are constantly overworking. Over time, these muscles get strong and tight while the muscles in the front of your neck become weak, creating an imbalance. This imbalance leads to compression of your joints and can lead to pain. Lucky for you, the pain can be avoided by following some simple physical therapy exercises.

What to look for

Poor belaying postures repeated over time can lead to belayer’s neck. The three characteristics that lead to poor posture are a backward tilted neck, slumped spine and forward shoulders. Imagine there is a plumb-line running from the center of your ear, through the middle of your shoulder and torso.

photo a

When you get lazy belaying you tend to slump, causing your neck and shoulders to fall in front of the plumb-line



photo b

To achieve proper posture, you need to keep your head, neck and shoulders on the plumb-line

Change how you move: 

Use correct posture while belaying. After each quick draw that your leader clips or every ten feet they move on top-rope, perform a chin tuck, straighten your spine and pull your shoulder blades back for ten seconds. Safety comes first, so perform while still giving an attentive belay. You can also try Belay Glasses, which are prism glasses that allow you to see your climbing partner above while looking straight ahead.  Or better yet, stay on the sharp end and give belayer’s neck to your climbing partner!

About the author:

Dr. Jared Vagy “The Climbing Doctor” is a Physical Therapist and an authority on climbing related injuries. He has over ten years of climbing experience and has climbed all over the world. Climbing and injury prevention are his passions and he is committed to combining the two.

Learn more:

Prevent injuries and take your climbing to the next level.  Check out The Climbing Doctor’s website for more injury prevention information.

To understand more about Belayer’s Neck you can see a full article written by Dr. Vagy in DPM magazine on page 53.


Aker PD, Gross AR, Goldsmith CH, Peloso P. Conservative management of mechanical neck pain: systematic overview and meta-analysis. BMJ. 1996; 313:1291–1296.

Uhlig Y, Weber BR, Grob D, Muntener M. Fiber composition and fiber transformations in neck muscles of patients with dysfunction of the cervical spine. J Orthop Res. 1995;13:240–249.

Harris KD, Heer DM, Roy TC, et al. Measurement characteristics of a test of deep neck flexor muscle endurance in individuals with and without neck pain. Phys Ther. 2005;85:1349–1355.

Silverman JL, Rodriquez AA, Agre JC. Quantitative cervical flexor strength in healthy subjects and in subjects with mechanical neck pain. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1991;72:679–681.

Johansson H, Sojka P. Pathophysiological mechanisms involved in genesis and spread of muscular tension in occupational muscle pain and in chronic musculoskeletal pain syndromes: a hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. 1991;35:196–203.

Norlander S, Nordgren B. Clinical symptoms related to musculoskeletal neck-shoulder pain and mobility in the cervico-thoracic spine. Scand J Rehabil Med. 1998;30:243–251.

Panjabi MM. The stabilizing system of the spine. Part I. Function, dysfunction, adaptation, and enhancement. J Spinal Disord. 1992;5:383–389.

The Motley Crux

Editor —  October 20, 2014 — Leave a comment
Zak Stoked!

Zak Silver celebrates just minutes after getting Motley Crux (5.14a) at Deep Creek, Washington. At 15 years-of-age, he is the youngest person to have climbed Motley. That’s Reggie in the background with the rabbit hat.

by Zak Silver

My first American Bouldering Series National Championships was an amazing time. It was 2013 and I placed 8th in the country. Going into 2014 I thought, “If I did that good the first year why can’t I do better?”

I thought it would come easy. I had put in the same amount of training hours at an even greater intensity. So why wouldn’t I crush? I didn’t know that Youth A was the hardest age group of them all. I realized this in Isolation on Day One but it was already too late. BOOM! I just took a nuclear weapon to my mental game. I basically told myself I wasn’t strong and that was the end of that.

With that vivid and horrible memory already sunk deep in my brain, taking a break from competing sounded nice. Climbing outside became my main objective. My buddy Billy Ward was just getting stoked and it was contagious. I wanted to send everything. My mom called it the “send fever”. Diagnosis: over-thinking every route you want to try and send in a specific season. Symptoms: clammy hands, day dreaming, inability to explain psych. It was even worse in my case because the previous spring and summer, I had tried a lot of the routes I wanted to try and send this year.

All-the-time training was now swapped with climbing outside at Deep Creek and I loved it. Deep Creek is just 25 minutes outside of my hometown, Spokane, Washington. It’s a place that’s known for its trail-running and mountain-biking. You pull up in the parking lot and after the dust settles, you’re surrounded by blocky basalt walls, most of which are not developed and for good reason.

There are two main climbing areas – the Main Wall and The Pit. The area is intimidating when you first get there. The floor is littered with boulders and small rocks and the wall itself is huge. This is the place to climb in Spokane if you want to test your fitness.

Photo by Jon Jonckers

Brett Jessen climbs Deep Creek. Photo by Jon Jonckers.

At The Pit there’s a route on the main pillar called Motley Crux. You walk up and it’s the first thing you see. I learned of Motley when I overheard some guys talk about the few people who had done it including JStar, Paige Claassen, Brian Raymond, Johnny Goicoechea, and Alex Rice. This route has been around for almost 20 years and fewer than ten people have climbed it.

My good friend Bryan Franklin started working Motley before me in March. I had just got Masochist (13b) and was in the middle of working a new project called Pit Boss Indirect (13b). Pit Boss is one of those routes where everything has to be perfect! The temperature can only be between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and it can’t be in the sun because the rock is black and absorbs so much heat so quickly.

After trying Pit Boss for the seventh time, Bryan told me I should give Motley a go. I was already so pissed, I said, “What the heck, why not?” I ended up falling twice but I made it to the old anchors. I was speechless. I couldn’t comprehend what actually just happened.  I had always pictured Motley to be a climb that only the super strong could do. One of my heroes, Alex Rice, climbed it about 3 years earlier. That only made the route seem further and further out of reach. I had climbed with Alex before and he seemed way above me. He was also the youngest to climb Motley at 19. If I got the route, I would be the youngest by four years. In my mind that was an impossible task.

My best friend Billy is a sport climber who LOVES to project. He taught me that once you get to touch every hold, you can start to link the sections of a route together. Then and only then will you know if the project is worth the time and energy. Billy would get on a climb for the first time and touch every hold then come down psyched out of his brains! He just clicked the self-motivation button in his mind and from that point forward, Billy knew he would send the route. I took this knowledge and funneled it into my mind set on Motley. I also realized quickly that I was stronger than I was giving myself credit for.

“Mr.Silver?” said my geometry teacher.

“What?” I said.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Why do you have a piece of paper with scribbles on it? Along with drool coming out of your mouth?” he asked.

“It’s something for climbing, sir.”

“Well, throw it away, and have your textbook out to page 354.”

“Yes, Mr.Kugler.”

This very thing happened more than once. I wanted to throw up from embarrassment. My friends outside the climbing scene asked what I was thinking when I had these moments in class. I often had to tell them lies. That sounds selfish, but for me it was necessary. I would try to explain how this route really made me feel but I didn’t have the vocabulary. The honest answer was that I was thinking about an inanimate object that I truly loved.

Before you think I have already lost my mind at 16, hold on to your drawers while I explain. I was thinking about the pure joy the route gave me and about the amount of time that I had devoted to this route. I was thinking about how my fingers felt on the first rest crimps, how little feeling I had in them and the way my heart was racing ONE MILLION miles an hour in my chest. I was thinking of myself climbing the route and thinking about how every hold made my whole body feel, how my feet felt compared to the sequence of hand holds. Last, I was thinking about the complete and utter hatred and anger that I was feeling about the crux position.

I have never devoted so much time thinking about any one thing. I found myself re-climbing Motley in my head every night before I went to bed. It got so bad that I knew every foot hold, too. I usually can never remember my sequences. It got to the point where I fell at the same spot for a solid ten goes. This spot was my crux. Everyone knows the Adam Ondra scream, followed by the uncontrollable crying. That was how I felt after falling there so many times. I wanted this route more than I wanted to eat. I love food, so this is a HUGE deal.

Deep Creek at its pumpy best.

The Thursday before I sent Motley, I tried it once and fell at the same place as usual. I decided then and there I was too weak to climb the route. I have never to this day been as motivated to train in my life. I did six laps on Flip a Bitch Bear (12d) which has the very bottom crux of Motley. The route is about 85 feet; I did three laps in less than 20 minutes. Then I did four laps on The Masochist (13b). This route has the last piece of the crux on Motley.

The night before I sent, I went over to a friend’s house, watched climbing movies, and ate too much food. I didn’t get to bed until early in the morning. I woke up around 7 a.m. feeling less than prime. I went to the crag with Billy bumping to Common Market. To our surprise there were tons of people. We walked down the mighty steep hill and crossed the river bed like I had done a thousand times. Walking up and seeing everybody was a nice warm welcome to a not-so-nice morning.

I belayed Billy on his warm-up – Pit Lizard (5.11a). I followed him to clean the quickdraws off the route. I got pumped out of my mind and came down thinking, “Well… that sucked.” I now had no expectations. I knew that all I could do was try my best and see what came of it. I believe that is what enabled me to send. I waited and watched people climb and felt relaxed.

When I decided it was time to go, I was feeling good. Not pumped, but not too cold. I had blood pumping. I walked up and asked for a catch. My friend Reggie answered. He was shirtless and wore a rabbit skin hat; he was the man of the hour. With his manly chest hair, everyone was cracking Russian jokes. It was a fun atmosphere.

I walked up, took my shirt off and tied in like normal. Right before I went, Reggie pulled me close. It was almost silent. He came in close and said, “You’re going to send”! That was the one and only thing I needed to hear. To know that all my buddies were behind me was a great thing to think about. Then I climbed.

When I sent, everything clicked. I hit every foot perfectly, every handhold in just the right spot, and I didn’t spend a millisecond too long on any given hold. I got done with the first crux; the rest hold is a decent crimp just big enough for me to match. I set the ring lock on my right hand and set up for my rest. After hitting it and resting I knew this was going to be good. I hadn’t felt this rested at this hold on any previous attempt. Going through the next 10-15 moves was nothing different than any other time. I had never fallen in that section.

Then I hit the only jug on the whole route. I was pumped but it wasn’t the normal, nauseating pump. I got the sense this was going to be a different burn. I spent about 2 minutes there – much shorter than normal but that was okay. I was feeling good and confident. I found that on this route resting is almost all mental. If you can convince yourself that you are not as pumped, tired, or beat down as you think, then your rest is more effective.

After the jug there’s a tiny left hand two-finger crimp, pulling through to a really bad three-finger slopey pinch. Then you bump up to a good gaston. You’re looking at the last good hold for the rest of the route. It’s a flat slopey bill-shaped hold I clip my last bolt with. Getting high feet, I do the huge full arm stretch move to a two-finger pinch and pulled through to a triangle shaped ½-pad masterpiece.

There were four holds left. They’re horridly polished with thousands of hour’s worth of chalk. I did the moves like nothing. After I made the big move to the jug, it was done. Let me repeat that. The route was DONE! I screamed my head off. There were two easy clips to chains. As I called to Reggie, everyone was cheering me on and congratulating me. Billy came over and gave me a huge hug. I couldn’t have been happier. After I gave the hugs and the fist bumps, I started texting people. First, my coach and Bryan Raymond. They helped me deal with the psychological stuff. Getting texts back from family and friends was awesome.

The glory was great for a few seconds. Then it was over. Just like that it was over. Because in reality it’s a rock climb. Yes, climbing is my life but I can’t make a living out of climbing. The accomplishment of Motley Crux wasn’t going to be the gateway to scholarships or anything for that matter. It was purely for me and it was worth the time and devotion I gave it. I found out more about myself through projecting Motley than through any other activity – what I was willing to give up and how that affected my life.

I want to give a big thanks to Billy Ward. The long days after school and the many hours spent going over and refining beta on our projects is unforgettable. He was a huge piece of this process and I will always strive to be as good a climber as he is. His psych is something that can’t be copied but I will try my hardest. In other words, thank you, Billy.

Photos and review by Jen Uchida, Adventure T&E

Ski season is right around the corner, you guys!  Skis have a fresh tune on them, ridiculous season pass photos have been uploaded, and backcountry huts have been reserved.  While you’re diving into the topo maps and route planning for your backcountry adventures, consider taking a look at the Backcountry Access (BCA) Backcountry Assessor App to compliment your planning.  This app was released by BCA in the summer of 2013 and after a season of use, it has earned a place on my backcountry checklist.  Not nearly as high on the list as the beacon, shovel, and probe, but it’s on there nonetheless.

The app offers seven “tools” to aid you in winter backcountry travel: Tour Planner, 3-in-1 Measuring Tool, Avalanche Forecasts, AIARE Tools, Rescue Guides, Float Pack Refill Locations, and BCA Products.  My favorites and most useful tools are the Tour Planner, Avalanche Forecasts, AIARE Tools, and Rescue Guides.

The Tour Planner tool represents the majority of the active functions within the app for use while touring.  BCA solicits a warning that the app should not be used as a primary source of navigation in the backcountry.  With this in mind, I planned my routes via traditional map and compass before transferring the route to the app.  The fidelity of the maps and ease of route planning left me a bit disappointed at first.  I also questioned the source and publication currency of the topo maps.  The tool offers three map viewing options (satellite, road, and topo). The topo map available on the app is not the same as the USGS topo maps, so using all three viewing options was required to get my bearings and enter in my route information accurately.  There is, however, a steep learning curve when using this method of planning your route by hand first before transferring it to the app, and it became quick and intuitive by the second route I created.  It would have been nice if there were some sort of link between devices so planning could take place on a larger screen (iPad) and transfer to a portable size screen (iPhone).

Out in the backcountry, I did not have the app and GPS on all the time.  In addition to some concerns regarding cellular interference with my beacon, the app demonstrated some deficiencies that prompted me to turn it off and put it in my pocket:

  • The timer used for timing individual legs would freeze when the phone was locked.  Locking my phone to put it in my pocket was necessary for battery life and to make sure the route or another app wasn’t inadvertently altered.
  • The Tour Planner used straight lines between route markers and the timer would only work between successive route markers, versus a group of markers.  This drove up the workload to time legs that had any curves or switchbacks.
  • The GPS on/off indication was vague and on one occasion I ended up draining my battery because the GPS was on and I thought it was indicating off.

However, the Tour Planner tool was especially helpful to spot check location during rest stops or when I lost track of how many switchbacks we passed.  A quick pause to compare the phone to my map and compass was all we needed to stay on track.

The 3-in-1 Measuring Tool was not the most useful tool in the app.  Designed to measure the aspect, elevation, and slope angle of suspicious faces, this module can compare that measured data to the avalanche forecast for that zone.  While this aspect of the app, in my opinion, promises to revolutionize backcountry travel, I found this first generation version to be too cumbersome to use.  By nature of the phone, the tool requires the user to remove gloves (unless you have tech gloves), mess with the phone to get to the Measuring Tool, and making sure the phone was held correctly and not bumped when tapping the screen to capture the measurement.  Without necessary precision of measurement its utility was limited, and I found myself going for the convenience of my traditional slope meter.

The Avalanche Forecasts tool was by far my favorite.  In the weeks and days leading up to a backcountry trip, I would frequently check the avalanche forecasts to stay on top of trends.  It was great to have the most recent forecast digitally while en route, as I hate to mess with tons of loose papers in the backcountry.  I made sure to update it just before leaving town and occasionally checked for service throughout a trip for a chance to update it again.  It was a great tool to reference and converse over with hut-mates in the evenings.  I could use the information and combine it with observations from the day to assess the risk for the next day.

Last, but certainly not least, the AIARE Tools and Rescue Guide were awesome to get your head in the game.  I imagine this is what BCA had in mind for their initiative on human factors and communication in the backcountry.  My team and I reviewed the AIARE Decision Making Framework and Observation References within the AIARE Tools and Rescue Guide tools the night before our departure and during the drive to the trailhead.  The consistency between the information on the app was seamless with the AIARE avalanche coursework and made it very easy to review.  My favorite part was using the Communication Checklist for our pre-departure brief at the trailhead.  It was thorough and succinct, and I wasn’t worried about missing anything important.  The Rescue Guides were also great for the night before our departure and during the drive.  We made a bit of a game out of it as we quizzed each other on the various parts of an avalanche rescue.

As a pre-tour planning tool, this app rocks because of the easily accessible avalanche forecasts and the encouragement of communication and skills review.  Once you leave the trailhead, however, the app has some major shortcomings; some software related and others due to its host, the iPhone.  I’m excited to use this app again this coming season, and can’t wait to see what BCA has in store for us next!

StairwaytoHeaven Ruth 1


Article and photos by Ryan Jennings and Kevin Cooper

After receiving support for our trip through the Mugs Stump Award, Kevin Cooper and I were on our way back to the Ruth Gorge of Alaska to again attempt our long standing objective: the North Face of Mt. Johnson. On April 20, 2014, we landed in Anchorage and drove to the small town of Talkeetna.  The next day we boarded a Talkeetna Air Taxi plane and headed into the Ruth.  The following two weeks culminated in a successful ascent of the most beautiful line we have laid eyes on: The Stairway to Heaven ascending the most direct line up the North Face of Mt. Johnson.

Eleven years earlier we were here for the same line but were quickly sent home. A fixed rappel anchor failed as we descended Shaken, Not Stirred on the Moose’s Tooth, our warm up route, sending us for a tumbling 1000 foot ride to its base.  We returned home with nothing more than a broken ankle and a bruised knee.

Years passed, marriages were made and children were born but we managed to continue to sneak in training.  Link-ups of big ice lines, big wall El Cap routes and small mixed lines on the dirty crags of Redstone, Colo. , led us to believe we were finally ready.  Unfortunately, financial responsibilities and the crushing floods of 2013 all but shut down our dream until we were granted the Mugs Stump Award. The trip was on.

Mount Johnson Ruth Gorge Denali National Park and Preserve. colorAfter landing in the Ruth, we set up camp, traveled down-glacier to the wall, assessed an approach and eventually found access pitches to get us past the main obstacle, a giant roof guarding the entire base of the wall.  We found a line out its left side and eventually to what we would later dub the Nèvè Highway.  The Highway would give us access to a large left-facing corner high on the face we hoped would hold protectable mixed climbing to the summit ridge.   From the base, the wall looked slabby. We would soon find out looks can be deceiving.

After establishing the two pitches and fixing lines, we were ready for our ascent.  We had been in the Gorge over a week.  After an aborted attempt a few days earlier, we finally headed out on May 1, 2014, with full packs and a large rack.

We bypassed the threatening serac approach, climbing a 60 degree snow face to the left. We ascended the lines to the hanging snowfield over the roof, organized the rack, and set off.  Kevin led a long traverse right to the base of the Highway but when we arrived, the morning sun was sending massive amounts of debris down.  We deemed it suicidal to continue and had serious thoughts of our sanity.

Fortunately, a cave at its base provided shelter where we sat for hours, waiting until the face finally calmed.  I then set out for what would be the lead of my life.  Within 100 feet, I gave up hope of finding protection but with an average angle of 85 degrees and solid half-sunk picks in good nèvè , I continued on.  Soon Kevin would be forced to break the anchor and follow me onward.   Seven hundred feet later, I finally found solid gear and belayed.  Mentally crushed after this long simu-solo I wanted nothing more than to bail but we were now committed.

Another 500 foot pitch of the same, only steeper, brought us to a scary belay under a hanging mushroom as darkness set in.  Kevin took the lead into the night. After another 500 feet, he reached the base of the corner we had held so much wonder for.  We dug two platforms in the snow and settled in for a couple hours sleep.  As the sun rose, we set off with high hopes thankful to finally have some protection.  A tight squeeze chimney forced removal of all my gear but eventually we were established in the corner.  Kevin led an impressive rotten offwidth which got us into the beautiful line of nèvè and ice we had scoped from camp and we felt hope.

Stairway to Heaven Ruth 3Two pitches later and with darkness approaching again, Kevin thankfully stumbled upon an opening  to a cave of sorts.  After some digging we had a platform large enough to lay side-by-side and crashed out for another short night.  The sun quickly hit though and ice hanging over the cave began to drip.  We ate breakfast and geared up, debating whether to go in the morning sun or wait for cooler temps.  With the minimal ice melting before our eyes, we opted to continue.

I led the Nèvè’s Nightmare pitch up and over many slushy bulges packed in the amazing corner.  Finally at the top of the corner, it was decision time.  We had hoped to continue up and right to the diamond shaped summit snowfield but quickly learned this was not an option as the rock was absolutely horrible and much bigger than expected.  Instead we headed up and left, keeping with the system that we hoped would eventually lead to the ridge.  A few near showstopper sections were surmounted and the final pitch to the ridge gave better rock and truly fun climbing.  I aided one 30 foot section which Kevin followed free on Micro Traxion at likely M7 as I hauled.   As darkness fell once again we gained the ridge and continued out onto the East Face then back to the ridge for a ride to the summit.  The Northern Lights greeted us mid-way through this section and raised our spirits for the summit push.  We reached the summit around 4 a.m., high-fived, snapped photos, and quickly headed down as a storm approached from the west.

The descent, while involved and dangerous, went quickly and we were back at the base and safe around 10:00 a.m.  Paul Roderick from Talkeetna Air Taxi, who had been checking in on us, flew overhead tipping his wings in support.  The gesture was grand to us and I think we both shed a tear.

We had both dreamed of this line since seeing a photo of the face in Jack Tackle and Doug Chabot’s 1995 American Alpine Journal trip report for the Elevator Shaft.   We met a few years later, learned we had the same goals and grew an incredible partnership over the years which would eventually allow us the trust required to climb unprotectable terrain together and ascend steep mixed climbing on often rotten rock into the unknown.   We were proud to have held to Mugs and our ideals of fast, light and clean climbing leaving only one impossible to remove piton high on the face but nothing more of our passing.  We would like to thank the Mugs Stump Award committee and all of the gracious sponsors for allowing us this wonderful opportunity to reach for our dreams and come home safe and successful.  It was, and will likely remain, the climb of our lives.

Black Diamond’s B.D.V. Hoody

Editor —  September 29, 2014 — Leave a comment


Barlow BDV Hoody 4

The author gets ready to rap in before attempting Teddy Bear’s Picnic (5.13a) in Squamish.

By Chris Barlow
All photos by Becca Schild

I live in Colorado, and despite all the buzz about the importance of layering systems for adventures in the Rockies, the reality is that we have it pretty easy. There’s the cliché that if you don’t like the weather in Colorado, just wait five minutes, which mostly works in the outdoor enthusiast’s favor. Generally, the weather is dry and pretty warm, and honestly, carrying any old rain jacket, sometimes a lightweight puffy, will get you through most jaunts into the mountains.

I just got back from two weeks climbing in Squamish, which has, suffice it to say, a different climate. Literally rising out of Howe Sound, nearly every day on the Chief follows a similar pattern: gray clouds and thick humidity in the morning, a hot midday, and a breezy afternoon. Sometimes it rains, sometimes not, but to be sure, getting wet (from sweat, temperate rainforest ooze, rain, or a combination) is part of the experience. I took the B.D.V. Hoody with me because it is in these environments that this kind of technical softshell layer is truly put to the test.

Barlow BDV Hoody 1

Barlow cragging in Squamish.

I climbed in the B.D.V. all summer in Colorado and knew I liked it. I’m generally a skeptic about whatever hot new item a company produces, but that skepticism dissipated within seconds of putting the hoody on. The cut is outstanding: wide in the shoulders and tapering to the waist with a trim cuff that keeps the sleeve comfortably snug and fitted so that it never gets in the way of movement. The hood is large enough to fit over a helmet, yet the half zipper and drawstring allow for micro-adjustments to keep the hood out of your face. Combine this with the stretchy and soft Schoeller stretch-woven fabric, and you get one heck of a comfortable, highly functional, and very durable top. Even after numerous hours of scraping the B.D.V. up granite cracks and stuffing it around a rack of cams in my pack, it shows exactly zero signs of wear.

To me, it is the Shoeller fabric that really sets the Hoody apart. I’m not typically a fan of softshell tops because they’re relatively heavy, bulky, and don’t provide much in wind/water protection. In basically every way, the hoody is a huge step up from other softshell layers I’ve worn. It is lightweight and svelte, feeling more like a long-sleeved shirt than a shell. Furthermore, it easily stuffs into the chest pocket (about softball size) and is almost unnoticeable hanging off my harness. On one of the first days I wore the hoody, I was chased out of Eldorado Canyon by a rainstorm and couldn’t help but be impressed to see water beading on the fabric. Sure, it isn’t quite that waterproof at this point, but it’s pretty close and far surpasses other softshell jackets I have for its protection against rain and wind.

Barlow BDV Hoody 2So, the B.D.V. kept impressing me throughout my summer adventures in the Rockies, even in its breathability. I’d work up a sweat on the approach or a tough pitch but would quickly dry off once I slowed down. But that was in Colorado. Squamish, then, was the perfect final exam for the hoody, and it performed admirably. Through each long day of humidity, jungle ooze, and wind, it kept me fairly dry and protected. I did have a few moments of yarding the hoody off in an overheated fit, but I’m not sure any top would have faired better. On many of Squamish’s long layback corners, where shoulder scumming is the key to out-running the pump, I further appreciated the tough – and grippy – Schoeller fabric.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I pretty much love the B.D.V. Hoody. It’s a high performing softshell top that thrives in technically demanding scenarios. It’s the layer that you’ll wear all day in comfort – for many days to come, and it’s even snazzy enough to wear to dinner afterward.



Barlow BDV Hoody 3

 by Dr. Jared Vagy

Shoulder Impingement

The cause: The tendons in the shoulder slide through a very narrow passageway and attach to the shoulder bone. Impingement occurs when the space between the bones in this passageway is reduced. This can occur from repetitively moving the shoulder into a stressful position such as rotating it inward. When this occurs, the bones in the shoulder pinch down on the tendons and can cause inflammation and pain.

What to look for:  A: The rotator cuff tendons are impinged when your shoulder rotates in and the elbow deviates outwards from the hand. B: The rotator cuff tendons avoid impingement when you extend your elbow straight, pull into the wall with your shoulder blade muscles and hips.


Photo A


Photo B

Change how you move:  Make sure to keep your elbows extended as often as possible while climbing.  Bend your knees and push your hips into the wall.  If you need to flex your elbows, pay careful attention to your positioning and don’t let them rise above your shoulders.

About the author: Dr. Jared Vagy “The Climbing Doctor” is a Physical Therapist and an authority on climbing related injuries. He has over ten years of climbing experience and has climbed all over the world. Climbing and injury prevention are his passions and he is committed to combining the two.

Learn more: Prevent injuries and take your climbing to the next level.  Check out The Climbing Doctor’s website for more injury prevention information.

To understand more about shoulder impingement you can see a full article written by Dr. Vagy in DPM magazine  on page 14: http://www.mydigitalpublication.com/publication/index.php?i=161897


Michener LA, McClure PW, Karduna AR. Anatomical and biomechanical mechanisms of subacromial impingement syndrome. Clin Biomech. 2003;18:369–379.

Flatow EL, Soslowsky LJ, Ticker JB, et al. Excursion of the rotator cuff under the acromion. Patterns of subacromial contact. Am J Sports Med. 1994;22: 779–788.

Petersson CJ, Redlund-Johnell I. The subacromial space in normal shoulder radiographs. Acta Orthop Scand. 1984;55:57–58.

Karduna AR, Kerner PJ, Lazarus MD. Contact forces of the subacromial space: effects of scapular orientation. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2005;14:393–399.

By Paul Schenkenberger

No, that isn’t a misspelling of elementary…I meant alimentary because I am going to talk about the final stage of taking nutrition and the associated processes. Do I seem to be beating around the bush a little?  I’m talking about poop, doo-doo, number 2, the taper-tail brown trout, crap. It’s not exactly a savory subject but it’s important to keep some things in mind because nobody likes to visit a backcountry camp that’s been ruined by poor elimination practices.

Everyone should know how to handle their own excrement in the backcountry. As the backcountry becomes more popular and visits rise, human waste has become a topic on many folk’s minds. Human waste can, and has, spoiled many popular spots in the backcountry. Even in remote areas a couple of careless individuals can ruin the next party’s experience, if not the whole trip, by failing to take care of things properly.

I recall the story of a visiting climber to a popular crag which had unimproved camping nearby. The foreign visitor was walking in with a friend and the trail goes downhill on the last approach to the camping area. They were about 100 yards from camp when the visitor exclaimed “Oh, look at the wonderful white lilies in that field, you Americans have such a beautiful land!”

Lilies??? It was toilet paper and the visitor went from impressed to appalled in 50 yards flat.

So….the intention with this post is not to lecture folks on how to handle poop, but rather to keep the topic on your radar. Leave No Trace is a great organization which has widely accepted guidelines on all aspects of reducing, or eliminating, the impact from our visits to the backcountry.

So, thank you for checking this out and please keep the information you find at Leave No Trace in mind when you’re out there having fun. Nothing ruins a day faster than stepping in someone’s poorly handled poop.

OR Helium II

The Outdoor Research Helium II men’s jacket packs small for backcountry insurance against unexpected precip and wind.

by Mike Green

Rain gear may have missed the final cut on the Mountaineer’s list of Ten Essentials, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t always carry some with you. I never venture out into the wild without at least a rain jacket. I’ve been down misery road too many times before. I remember once in the Blue Mountains trying to sleep in a wet sleeping bag. I tossed and turned and shivered. I prayed for morning to hurry its arrival. Another time backpacking in Glacier National Park I skipped the rain pants to save a little weight. Sure enough an arctic storm blew in, and for three days straight I was dumped on. My rain jacket kept my upper body dry, but my legs were constantly soaked. I learned the hard way that staying dry is important even if it means carrying a little bit extra.

That’s where the Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket comes in. With the Helium II, there is no trade-off. Weighing in at a measly 6.4 ounces, and packing down to near wallet-size, stuffing this jacket into my pack is a no-brainer. Even when the forecast calls for clear blue skies, this jacket is packed. I might only use it on less than 5% of the trips I take, but it doesn’t matter. The Helium II is so small and light that its presence is insignificant… until it rains.

Read more about the OR Helium Jacket here!

Metolius Freeride 4 D

The author unpacks the Metolius Freeride before a day at the crag.

By Chris Barlow

For a long time now, folks have been using mini-haulbags as their climbing daypacks. There are some valid reasons for this: durability, simplicity, and versatility (in case you inadvertently end up needing to haul a pack up a single-pitch sport cliff?!). But let’s be honest, haulbags are great for, well, hauling and are phenomenally uncomfortable and annoying in most every other use. It only takes a few slogs to the base of walls to know the spine-compressing lack of internal stability, the gummy feel of sweat on vinyl, or the abyss of storage that gobbles up any object smaller than a basketball. It’s for these reasons that I’ve always been a little perplexed at people using these as crag bags.

Metolius’s Freerider Climbing Pack, on the other hand, has all the benefits that we want out of haulbags combined with the right backpack features to make for a sturdy, simple, and approach-friendly pack for a typical day at the crag. Made out of a lighter version of the highly durable Durathane found on Metolius haulbags, the Freerider strikes a nice balance to minimize weight (right at 3 pounds) and maximize usability and lifespan. Let my accidental driving over the Freerider in my car early one morning in Yosemite (I really shouldn’t operate machinery before coffee) be submitted as evidence of how bomber the outer construction really is. It also has a semi-rigid back support and a cushy suspension system that makes even lengthy approaches comfortable. Furthermore, the nylon fabric of the hip belt, shoulder straps, and back cushion effectively absorbs moisture and breathes adequately.

Read the rest of Chris’ review here!

photo 5

The Altra Lone Peak 1.5

Review by Ammi Midstokke

Photos by Fiona Hicks

The trend of minimalist running shoes has me tempting fate on far too many trail runs.  I ran up shale in the Minimus.  I ran the Patagonian Marathon in Vibrams.  I occasionally tried to sneak out barefoot for morning runs.  It was all going quite well and I determined my feet were bad ass, like some Neanderthal nomad crossing mountain ranges, impervious to prickly pears and pine cones.

Then one day I stubbed my toe and stepped on a rock.  Actually, I broke my toe (nearly off) and I landed poorly on a pebble that left a blood blister on my heel requiring major bathroom surgery with a pocket knife and months to heal.  Something had to be done.  These longer mountain runs were becoming treacherous, and sandal season would soon be upon us.  My feet were far from socially acceptable.

Then a box with the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 showed up on my doorstep.  I’d never heard of Altra or the Lone Peak and I wasn’t sure if the Velcro flap in back was for gaiters (in which case this shoe was rad) or a mud flap (in which case it needed one of those naked lady trucker logos).  Either way, it felt like a shoe with a stiff sole and serious tread.  I resisted it because minimalists are elitist about their running gear and wearing a shoe is an embarrassing regression.  Kind of like taking a walk break.

Read the rest of Ammi’s review here!

OR Clairvoyant Jacket 3

By Tami Mittan

“This hard shell is much too hard.  This soft shell is much too soft. “  What’s an Adventurer Goldilocks to do?  How about trying the Outdoor Research (OR) Clairvoyant Jacket… which is just right.

If you know anything about Outdoor Research, you know that they take the technical construction and design of their products very seriously.    So when they set about to solve the dilemma of the typical hard shell being too stiff, board-like, and uncomfortable – they put a team of accomplished women mountaineer designers on the task.

In building a counterpart to OR’s award winning men’s Axiom Jacket, they already had a great fabric to work with:  GORE-TEX Active.   A new type of waterproof fabric, GORE-TEX Active balances  being extremely breathable, waterproof and incredibly lightweight.

Read the rest of Tami’s review here!


The Salewa Firetail EVO GTX

Photos and Review By Chris Weidner I’m wary of gear that looks too high-tech for what it is. Like ergonomic water bottles with tricked out lids or something. The techy stuff just adds bulk and weight to an otherwise functional piece. And at the end of the day, it’s just a water bottle.

So it’s no wonder my hackles were raised when I first saw the Firetail EVO GORE-TEX approach shoe (even the name sounds technical). They’re attractive kicks, but I was thrown off by the thin, steel cables that wrap around the heel, through the top lacing eyelet, and back down under the arch — the so-called 3F EVO system.

I felt like I should read a user’s manual before wearing them.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned about gear in over 30 years of outdoor adventures, it’s that looks aren’t everything. In this case, despite its gimmicky façade, the Firetail EVO GORE-TEX surprised me with outstanding performance and durability.

In Colorado’s Flatirons in February they offered stiffness and support as I boulder-hopped between patches of ice on trails. Yet they were flexible enough in the toe for primo smearing on the Atalanta, a 5.3 slab on the First Flatiron. I immediately liked the Firetail.

Firetail 005Out of the box they had much better traction and edging on rock than shoes with standard dotted soles. Salewa augmented their dotted sole by adding a flat rim of sticky rubber around the toe. This Vibram Tech Approach sole eliminates the annoying need for dots to wear down before they smear well. The laces extend almost down to the toe so you can tweak the fit for precise footwork while climbing.

By early spring I put the GORE-TEX lining to the test. I kicked steps in snow to approach Eldorado Canyon’s walls, hiked through three inches of wet slush in a Flatirons storm and submerged my feet in mud at the edge of South Boulder Creek. Throughout all these my socks and feet stayed dry. Seriously, I couldn’t believe it.

The only times my feet got damp were when snow spilled over the low-cut rim of the ankle, and when I hiked in the heat of Red Rock, Nevada, and Indian Creek, Utah, where the GORE-TEX lining didn’t breathe as quickly as my feet sweat.

The prickly, desert environment was an excellent test of the aramid material used in the uppers. Composed of strong, synthetic fibers, it’s the same stuff used in body armor fabric. Not once did a cactus poke me through the material as often happens with mesh or leather uppers.

At 415 grams (14.6 ounces) per shoe, the Firetail is on the lighter side of burly approach shoes. However, their bulk — and to some extent their weight — prevents them from being ideal for clipping to your harness on long climbs. They feel light in a pack, which is how I carried them up routes in the Flatirons and Red Rock.

A unique feature of Salewa’s recent shoe models is the Multi-Fit Footbed (MFF). It consists of two insoles: a thin, foam base that fills out the shoe and a slightly thicker insole that slides on top of the first and attaches with Velcro. It’s a simple and effective design that allows you to remove the top insole for a higher-volume fit if, for example, you’re wearing thick socks.

I didn’t take advantage of the MFF very often though. What I found instead is that the shoe, over time, conformed enough to my feet (and typical sock thickness) that I didn’t have to adjust anything. This proved especially nice because the Firetail’s last is on the narrow side while my feet are wider than average. This wasn’t an issue after several days of wear.

After more than two months of heavy use the uppers are slightly fuzzed and the soles are a bit worn. Overall they’ve held up incredibly well. And I’m no longer put off by the steel cables — even if all they do is make the shoes look technical.

But hey — looks aren’t everything.

Alpha FL 1

The Arc’teryx Alpha FL features tough three-layer GORE-TEX Pro fabric technology.


by Chris Weidner

A climbing partner once told me I have a rib cage “like a horse.” My shoulders are broad too, which means that every time I swing tools or jam cracks above my head, my jacket creeps above the waistbelt of my harness. It’s so annoying that I often just cinch the jacket over my harness. This isn’t ideal because it’s colder and harder to see the gear on my harness, but at least I can freely move my arms. Maybe I’m too picky, but I’m surprised more companies don’t get this right.

The Alpha FL (Fast, Light) from Arc’teryx is different. The ergonomic design and stretchy material allow total freedom of movement without the jacket moving up and down. Even for this barrel-chested guy, a size Medium fit me perfectly yet still offered smooth movement, especially when skiing and climbing. Needless to say, I tuck this baby under my harness. The Alpha FL also comes with removable foam HemLock inserts that protect even further against the jacket coming untucked.

With one chest pocket, a large hood, Velcro cuffs, and minimal seams, the Alpha FL looks like a simple jacket. What you can’t see are the high-tech ideas behind the design that make it the lightest, most breathable hardshell in the Arc’teryx line.
For starters, the three-layer GORE-TEX Pro material is the most effective waterproof, breathable and highly durable material around. Most waterproof shells that are lighter than the Alpha FL’s 325 grams (11.5 ounces) rip to shreds in a few pitches of alpine granite or grovelly mixed. Simply put, the Alpha FL is a slightly heavier but much burlier than any jacket in its weight category.


A second feature that surprisingly few companies get right is the hood. A hood should be large enough to cover a helmet without restricting neck movement, yet easily cinch down without a helmet, allowing full range of motion and vision. Sounds simple, right? Apparently it’s not. I’ve had to remove some jackets just to figure out how to adjust the hood. Arc’teryx nailed their hood with three simple toggles: one on either side, and one in the back. It’s easy, quick and intuitive — just like it should be.
In fact, every feature of the Alpha FL is quick and intuitive.

Thin, Velcro straps seal the cuffs and are somewhat stiff for easy maneuverability while wearing gloves. Two drawcords cinch the

Alpha FL 004

The Arc’teryx Alpha FL in its natural environment.

waist, one above each hip. Four reflective blazes are easy to spot in the flash of a headlamp.

Perhaps the Alpha’s best feature is the absence of pit zips, which add frivolous weight and happen to be my third jacket-related pet peeve. If you’re sweating enough to need pit zips then you’re wearing too many clothes. And if a “breathable” jacket doesn’t compensate for mild perspiration without them, it’s useless.

The Alpha FL comes with a small stuff sack with an attachment loop for clipping to a harness. Stuffed, it’s about the size of a large burrito and the weight of a couple hand-sized cams — barely noticeable on the harness.

While geared toward fast and light alpinism, this hardshell is perfect for pretty much everything outdoors, from the Eiger North Face to gardening on a wet, spring day in your back yard.

At $399 the Alpha FL sells for a middle-of-the-road price compared with similar jackets from other brands. There are no extraneous features, yet nothing’s lacking.

Bottom line? The Alpha FL is a simple, lightweight hardshell that really works. Even if you’re as picky as I am.