This article by eveningsends.com is a good introduction to choosing a climbing rope. I found the article because I need to pick up a fresh rope with my upcoming REI dividend and was searching for opinions. I think I am going to pick up a Mammut Tusk 9.8mm 70m because it seems like a general purpose rope that will stand up to plenty of top-roping but is still light enough to take on the irregular alpine outing. I have also had good experiences with Mammut ropes and they’ve built trust in my book. I wasn’t planning on getting a 70m but the article made the good point that as the rope wears I’ll most likely chop off the ends to maximize its lifetime. With a 70m there is more room to chop which is a plus.
One important point that I feel I must reiterate here is that you never want to use a sharpie to mark the middle of your rope. The article says it best.
The North Face recently asked me if I wanted to review a pre-release pair of their new Verto S4K GTX boots. Without hesitation I said yes because everything I had read about the Verto S4K GTX’s sounded fantastic. The boots did not disappoint. My one sentence review of these boots is that I will never be a good enough climber to use them to their full potential. These boots were designed to climb, and they were designed well.
The first thing I noticed about the S4K’s was the aggressiveness of them. These boots were made for alpine climbing. They are most definitely not a general mountaineering boot that was tweaked to improve climbing performance. The S4K’s were designed from the ground up as a mixed terrain boot.
When I laced them up for their first adventure I was taken aback by the fit of the boots because they didn’t feel like any boot that I had ever tried on. I was truly surprised by how securely my heel locked in place. Every boot I have owned in the past has resulted in gnarly blisters from that little bit of friction from my heel rubbing with every step. My heel in the Verto S4K’s was locked and going nowhere. The North Face calls this healCradle, I call it awesome.
The other thing that stood out on the Verto S4K’s was the toe box. This boot was made for climbing and as a result the toe box is more akin to a climbing shoe than it is to a traditional mountaineering boot. I took a picture comparing the toe box of the Verto S4K to the toe box of La Sportiva’s Trango Alp. As you can see the S4K’s is much more form fitting. My foot fits fine in both boots while wearing a liner with a beefy wool sock, but with the S4K’s there isn’t a lot of wiggle room. Personally I liked it. I have average width feet so if you have wider than average feet you might be SOL. Also if you’re prone to getting cold feet then I’d be aware that these might reduce circulation and be problematic for you.
So far I have only done a few snow slogs and a bit of ice climbing in these boots. The snow slogs were in the heavy, wet PNW snow and my feet stayed completely dry. It wasn’t particularly cold so I cannot attest to the warmth of these boots but I would imagine that they’d be able to handle almost everything but the burliest weather in the lower 48.
Ice climbing with these bad boys was straight up phenomenal. I have a pair of Grivel G-12’s and the heel welt on the S4K’s was more than sufficient to hold my crampon securely in place. What made these boots phenomenal while ice climbing was the slight down turn in the toe. It was not obvious while I was hiking but when I was front pointing on some moderate water ice I definitely noticed a little something. The actual sole of the boot is not turned down like a climbing shoe but rather the insole is. It is the little things like this that really wow’ed me. Also while I was front pointing my heel was still solidly in place. For a half-shank boot the S4K’s are impressive. My foot was secure in the boot, which was locked to the crampon, which was glued to the ice. It was a really wicked combination that brought a smile to my face.
These boots are not perfect though. In my limited testing of them the one thing that was less than ideal was the pressure in the toe box while I was traversing long, moderate snow slopes. While I was traversing the outside of my down hill foot would get a bit achy. I think this was a combination of the tight toe box and the fact that they were brand new. As I continue to break them in I am pretty sure it will go away but only time will tell.
This is a review in progress of the Verto S4K GTX boot. As I get to know them better I’ll post more. I have yet to take them scrambling or rock climbing but I am sure they’ll perform superbly. All things considered this boot is fantastic. It fits my foot well, it is thoughtfully designed, and it is built to climb harder than I will ever be able to.
Last weekend I cooked up the idea to go climb The Tooth’s south face. I say cooked up the idea because the weather didn’t cooperate sufficiently to actually do any climbing. This outing though provided me with my first experience with snowshoes and I have to say I feel silly for not owning a pair yet.
The snow on the hike to The Tooth was all around manky. It was wet, heavy and deep enough to post-hole to mid-thigh. To combat this mankiness I rented a pair of MSR EVO snowshoes from REI. The snowshoes were only 22″ and with a pack I was pushing 200 lbs. REI gave me a pair of tails that added 6″ but even with those I was a little worried about sinking into the mush.
My worries proved to be unfounded. In general I sank only a few inches and when the snow really gave out, and I sunk deep, the EVO’s didn’t bind up and get caught in the snow. I was very impressed that the wet heavy snow didn’t ball up and stick to the snowshoe. I don’t know how MSR did it but I expected to be carrying a few extra pounds of snow on the bottom of the snowshoe and I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.
There were a few places that the snow got steep on the hike to The Tooth. The toe crampon did its job fairly well and the snowshoe felt solid enough when I had to kick steps. It wasn’t the most natural thing to kick steps in snowshoes but it wasn’t that awkward either. The simple system of two rails of metal teeth on the bottom gave me sufficient bite when the snow was icier but I couldn’t really evaluate how well they’d do going up something steep and icy.
I wan’t particularly impressed with the EVO’s ability to transverse steeper slopes or their ability to go downhill. In both situations the snowshoe would slip right out from under me. I don’t know if this is problematic of all snowshoes or just these but for a little over $100 retail I don’t expect perfection. In general the EVO’s seem to be at a sweet spot between performance and price.
I feel silly for not having a pair of snowshoes now. They made the hike so much more energy efficient and really make climbing in the winter feasible. Without them I would have been post-holing with every step and I wouldn’t have had the energy to climb if I was able to get there at all.
Despite being all around good performers I think I am going to buy a pair of the MSR Lightning Ascent’s. I like the idea of having crampon like teeth all around the snowshoe. I think the teeth all around would dramatically improve traversing and downhill performance. They also have heel risers which seem like they would be amazing on sustained steep terrain. While they are more expensive the extra features seem worth it to me.