Monday, November 21, 2011

Gear Review: Petzl Meteor III + Helmet

Photo Samantha Goff

I am the type of climber to almost always wear my helmet. I wear it while sport climbing, following trad climbs, on climbs I’ve done many times and especially in the alpine. It just helps me feel more confident when climbing out of my comfort zone. So it is very important for me to have a comfortable, functional and non-dorky helmet.

I still am able to look up even when carrying a backpack. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Last spring, I got a petzl meteor III+ helmet. At first glance, I was pretty impressed with the stylish purple and white graphics. I have used it for a variety of different types of climbing from sport climbing to alpine climbing. It is very lightweight, weighing at 235 g. I can’t even notice the additional weight in my pack during long approaches to climbs. It sits very comfortably on my head and fits my smaller sized head perfectly. It is a little difficult to adjust the buckles in the back since they are on the smaller size but that doesn’t compromise the fit. Under a hat or with a pony tail, the helmet remains centered on my head even through the cruxes. And now finally I am no longer the dorky climber with the crooked helmet!

Fits great with sunglasses too. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

The ergonomic design of the helmet protects really well against rock and ice fall, allowing me to feel confident while pushing myself in sketchier climbing conditions. It is designed so that the front, back and sides of the head are all equally protected, while still allowing visibility and mobility to look upwards. I have been impressed with the helmet’s durability as well. It has traveled with me to many crags and mountains and has been on several airplanes, without showing any sign of significant wear and tear. A couple other great features are its compatibility with a headlamp and the removable and washable inside foam.

Protects the lower half of the head well. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

This is the helmet for you if you want a durable, lightweight and comfortable helmet. For more information go to petzl's website.

Photo Kate Rutherford

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Europe - Part 3 - Highlights from Northern Italy

The Sella Group

When Jonathon and I were planning our trip to Italy, we had visions of climbing alpine rock on the famous limestone towers in the Dolomites. We decided to stop at a few of Italy’s classic sport climbing areas en route to get a couple final training days in on the steep rock. We first spent a day in Machaby for a day ofslab climbing on the metamorphosed, granitic rock. The rock is composed of minerals like biotite and mica, making it extra sparkly in the sunlight. We did a little cragging and did some multi-pitch climbing on one of the big domes. The climbs overlook the vineyards, wineries and the river that runs through town. It was a great introduction to small-town Northern Italy with good pizza, views of castles and plenty of sunshine.

Hanging out on the dome a couple pitches off the ground

Following pitch 3 (?)

Next stop was Arco, a touristy town on the northern tip of Lake Garda. Small and large limestone cliffs,ranging in height up to 300 meters and hosting well over 3000 routes, surround this area of Italy. We checked out the classic crags of Nago and Massone, while trying to avoid the sun since Arco is known for its heat and sunny weather. With a weather forecast that looked hopeful in the mountains, we decided to head to the Dolomites after the heat and the overhanging sport climbs had tired us out.

Narrow roads leading into the Dolemites

The character of Italy changes dramatically upon arrival to the small mountain villages within the Dolomites. The towns feel much more Bavarian-esk and there is a strong German and Austrian influence from the architecture to the languages spoken. The roads into the Dolomites are winding and narrow but they literally put you right at the base of these huge limestone towers. We decided we would first climb around the Sella group, in the western part of the park, and work our way east to the famous Tre Cime. We found a spot to set up our tent for the night and prepared our packs and racks for a small, warm-up objective for the next day on “The Thumb” on Punta Delle Cinque Dita.

Following a pitch on the Thumb

The next morning, we woke up to cloudy skis and a light drizzle. Since it didn’t look too bad, we decided we would still try to climb our attempted objective and just see what happens. Europe is all about taking lifts/trams to the base of climbs and this area was no different, except this lift looked like it might fall apart at any moment. Boarding the lift, was quite exciting. The lift does not stop or slow down and one-person runs and jumps into it and then the second person runs and jumps into it. The lift operator closed the door and then Jonathon and I were squished in this tiny, rickety cart and on our way up to the base of our route.

The rickety lift that brought us up to the base of the Thumb (center formation)

We picked a very moderate objective since we had heard that ratings are sandbagged, routefinding is challenging and that the leader must be comfortable climbing well above marginal gear. Jonathon led the first several pitches and for most of the time we weren’t entirely sure if we were on route. As predicted, gear was sparse and route finding was difficult. The climbing was easy, however, it was quite steep for 5.5. The clouds and wind continued and the rock got looser. After several pitches we decided to bail. Later, the hut guardian told us that people don’t climb this route anymore because it is too loose. It didn’t seem like it would fit the definition of a classic Dolomite climb, despite being included in the Dolomite Classics book.

Not wanting to waste the day, we thought we might try a different route that we had read about in the guidebook. Jonathon ran back to the hut and took a picture of the topo. We decided to go up the normal route (the north east face). We climbed 4 more steep pitches, still not entirely sure if we were on route but at least the rock wasn’t as loose. Then the wind started to blow and it started to sprinkle a bit. We decided to rappel the route. The rappel anchors are one glued in piton with a large metal ring. That seems to be the standard here in the Dolomites. Once on the ground, the skies opened up and it began to pour. At that point, it didn’t quite look like our high pressure forecast was going to be accurate.

Sad :(

After three days of rain, we decided that it didn’t seem too likely that we were going to get to climb anything in the Dolomites. The weather wasn’t going to cooperate with our time-restricted schedule and we were not psyched to sit around and wait for a possible sunny day. Fortunately, Arco is known for its year round sunshine and mild climate. We left the Dolomites on a rainy morning and returned to Arco that afternoon to sunshine and sport climbs.

Views from the top of Nago crag

We checked out some more great limestone crags with views of lakes and castles. We also did some adventurous multi-pitch climbs in the valley. On our final day in Italy, we climbed the lower and upper walls of Monte Colt, a large limestone formation just north of Arco. Monte Colt hosts 100s of routes of all levels and lengths and we went up Ape Mania to Nemisis. It was 12 pitches of climbing over 300 meters, mostly in the 5.10 range, with pitches up to 5.11c. The rock was typically solid, with just an occasional loose rock here and there. It was not so polished like many of the popular cragging areas in Arco, so the friction was pretty good. And the yellow and grey colors of the limestone beautifully contrasted the blue and green colors of the landscape below us. The climbing was entertaining and engaging, consisting of stemming up dihedrals, positive edges, and some great exposure on some pitches!

Leading up a very exposed pitch!

Topping out on Nemisis

Even though we got rained out in the Dolomites, it was still a great trip to Italy. Climbing continues to remind me to be flexible, have patience, and take in the whole experience. I have learned that climbing internationally is not always about the climbing necessarily; there are many more adventures beyond the actual climbing from sampling the local food, deciphering a new language and navigating the foreign lands. It was a grand adventure! Big thanks goes to Jonathon for making the trip happen and to Petzl for providing the gear!

Bolted chimney on diedre lamasone

One of the many castles we saw

The first place we stayed at

More narrow roads

Jonathon following the exposed 3rd pitch on Nemesis

On top of Monte Colt

Partying with the locals

My boyfriend :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Europe - Part 2 - More Highlights from Chamonix

My week in Chamonix consisted of many more days of climbing from sport cragging to alpine routes! One of the highlights included an ascent of the Frendo Spur on the Augille du Midi with my friend Todd Passey, aka "The Toddfather."

The line ascends the buttress just to the left of the center one

Todd is super mountain-man/mountian-guide and I climbed as fast as could as he lead the way.

It was a super awesome and classic line. The rock is solid and clean and there are many steep 5.8/5.9 sections interspersed between lower 5th class sections.

Photo Todd Passey

After the rock section, the route traverses on this very narrow snow arete to the base of the final 700 feet of alpine ice up to AI 3/4.

Heading towards the very exposed snow arete

Towards the end of the ice pitches, the route parallels the rock buttress making it possible to place rock gear.

One of the final pitches

In typical Europe style, the route tops out right near the tram deck, making for an easy descent. Except this time, the tram remained stuck mid-air for about 45 minutes. Not so fun when you are starving!

On the next sunny day, I climbed the classic South Face of the Augille du midi. I teamed up with Nick Pope and we climbed the standard route, aka the Ray-Bouffat with some variations at the finish.


Its about 7 pitches of amazing golden granite up to 5.10a. The rock was a little polished and there is a mix of face and crack climbing where you are either clipping old pins or placing gear.

The second pitch

Nick enjoying the amazing alpine granite, despite the snow!

Again, the descent was about as easy as it gets; 1 rappel to the tram deck. This time the tram didn't get stuck!

Rappelling down to the throngs of tourists

On our final day in Chamonix, Jonathon and I headed to the L'Arve Valley, about a 20 minute drive south from Chamonix. We climbed an 8 pitch route called Indian Jones on the large limestone buttress of La Maladiere. The cliff is severely overhanging and most of routes go at 7a or harder, but Indian Jones is a moderate 6b+ for most of the way. The route is accessed by doing about 5 overhanging, double rope rappels. That might have been the most exciting part!

Extreme rappelling. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

It was super classic and steep line but with pretty good holds and edges. There were some techy face moves through traverses and a funky limestone chimney that Jonathon got stuck in! It was bolted well at the cruxes but otherwise they were a little sparse and there was the potential to take a 30 footer. Fortunately, that didn't happen! It was a great way to end the trip!

Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Following pitch 3. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Jonathon and my shadow about mid-way up the route

Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

The famous limestone chimney. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Finishing the final pitch. Photo Jonathon Spitzer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Gear Review: Petzl Hirundos Harness

The hirundos harness is my new, favorite all-around harness. It is both very light weight (280 grams, size M) and versatile. I have used it for sport climbing, trad climbing and alpine climbing and have not been disappointed in it. Since it is so light weight, it fits easily in a pack and doesn’t add too much additional weight to heavy loads. This was especially nice on a recent trip to the Bugaboos in Canada where heavy packs are the norm for the brutal approach. It also dries very quickly since it is made of lightweight mesh material, which is also nice for snowy alpine routes.

The harness has two gear loops that are large and stiff enough for the heavy racks associated with trad and alpine rock climbing. The belay loop is super skinny but just as strong as a thicker belay loop. A small piece of improvement would be to add a skinny haul loop to the back of the harness.

The leg loops are not adjustable but are designed with stretchy material so that they do not add any bulk to the harness. This is especially nice feature for the athletic movements associated with steep sport climbing. The harness ‘double-backs’ automatically. I did notice that the leg loops are sized a little smaller than other harnesses and I had to order a bigger size than I have with other brands. Although it fits women fairly well, it would be nice to see a women’s model in bright pink or purple! I would not necessarily recommend this harness for routes or climbs that require a lot of hanging in the harness, as it is not very comfortable. But aside from that this is my go-to harness for everything else. It has worked great on alpine routes in the French Alps, to trad climbs at Index, WA to sport climbs in Italy!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Europe - Part 1 - Climbing in Chamonix

Views of Mt. Blanc from the climb

My first night in Chamonix began with an amazing meal. We began the meal with a warm, goat cheese salad, which consisted of greens and tomatoes topped with a light creamy dressing, ham and goat cheese wrapped in puffed pastry. I ordered Raclette for the main course, which is a local cuisine that includes cheese, meets and potatoes. Its not just any cheese, the cheese comes with a Raclette, which is an electronic machine that melts the cheese making it all gooey and drippy and perfect to top on potatoes and meats. After that meal, I knew I was in for a good vacation!

The next morning Jonathon and I awoke to bluebird weather and warm temperatures. We packed our little backpacks for a day of climbing on Le Brevent, a multi-pitch and cragging venue on the north side of the valley. We climbed Le fin de Babylon, which is 8 pitches and rated 6c, 5.11-. It was a great introduction to the area. We took the trams up and down so walking was very limited, which I like a lot! The climb was entirely bolted. It was bolted very well during the cruxes and then a bit run out on the “easier terrain.” Jonathon had climbed the route the year prior and the first thing he said to me during my first lead was, “Remember if there aren’t a lot of bolts, its supposed to be easy.” I tried to remember that as I headed into the forty foot runouts between the cruxes!

Following the 3rd pitch

Its been awhile since I’ve been sport climbing and its quite nice to have such a light rack on my harness. You do need to carry a pack with shoes, a layer and some water. We each took bullet packs. The climbing had lots of positive and sloping holds. If you looked around long enough, you usually could find fairly positive holds all the time. The most exciting pitch was a traversing pitch under a huge roof. It was rather airy. Fortunately I didn’t fall!

The traversing 6c crux

After we got to the top, we took in the views of Mt. Blanc and the French Alps. We finished up our croissants from breakfast and completed the five minute hike back to the tram deck. It was a great introduction to the area and I can’t wait to do some more exploring.

Views from the tram deck