Posts in Category: Climbing

And so it begins

Mountain tops and goat tracks. Bluebird days with friends. Divide Peak, Gallatins.

Mountain tops and goat tracks. Bluebird days with friends. Divide Peak, Gallatins.


Once again. The snow has laid down just enough cover in the mountains, and the ice has come in quite nicely so far. Vert is being logged on skis and with ice tools. While winter proper is still about a month away, it has started all the same…let the games begin!
Mark McAlpine leading the way. November in Hyalite.

Mark McAlpine leading the way. November in Hyalite.


Early season powder. Before the requisite early season thrash of an exit. (Photo: Adam Pohl)

Early season powder. Before the requisite early season thrash of an exit. (Photo: Adam Pohl)

Perseverance on the Sphinx

Mark getting into the Lowe Route

Mark getting into the Lowe Route


Oh, alpine climbing. As with most things that are worth achieving in life, they often require a bit of hard work and perseverance. In this case, between a climbing partner and myself we collectively totaled over 60 miles of walking our ice tools around this fall in unsuccessful attempts to snag the Lowe Direct on the north face of Sphinx Mountain (10876’/3315m) here in the Northern Madison. And this doesn’t count last year’s attempts. Some could think that this was born of gross oversight or ill-preparedness but the main component of our story is timing. They say it is of the essence.
Myself on the upper traverse in October 2013

Myself on the upper traverse in October 2013


Fickle early season melt-freeze conditions that are precluded by a storm are the main part of this equation. Too much snow, and the approach becomes impassable due to loading. Too little, and the climbs don’t form. Climbers have been avalanched off of this face, so conditions are nothing to be taken lightly. The country is also prime elk hunting country and thick with grizzlies, which adds another twist to the five mile approach. On our last attempt, we finally saw a grizzly (running away from us below the north face) as opposed to just huge tracks on the trail. Better there than in the first mile or so of ‘bone-alley’, a narrow canyon corridor often adorned with fresh bones where a bear encounter would likely be less fun.
Bone Alley - Late Oct '13

Bone Alley – Late Oct ’13


This last weekend yielded a successful romp on the Lowe Route, with the Direct not being in. Although we gave it another look, the bottom pitches weren’t formed and we didn’t feel up to that sort of adventure climbing so we once again retreated from the base of the Sphinx’s north face. This time, though, the upper pitches looked to be mostly in and we rallied back to the Helmet/Sphinx saddle and up to the traverse into the upper routes. The Earl-Trimble had plentiful ice, with a party on it and everything but the dagger WI5 pitch of the Lowe was formed.
On route

On route


Despite not getting the classic pillar, by this time I was ok with it and happy to be finally swinging tools on some ice. We were two of over a dozen folks seen on the face that day and were lucky to have climbed, as at least one party was turned away. I can relate from waiting last year on that face while multiple parties queued up for perfect October conditions. A bit later and a bit thinner this year, but climbable all the same.
Topping out on the Lowe (p: McAlpine)

Topping out on the Lowe (p: McAlpine)


Mark approaching the Sphinx summit accompanied by lenticular

Mark approaching the Sphinx summit accompanied by lenticular


As I sit here with a lingering sense of accomplishment and an eye/ear towards the next, temperatures have dropped over 50 degrees F from a high of 62°, to one of single digits over the last few days. I just snuck in my first powder turns of the season and look forward to the coming of winter. Our amazing Montana autumn has finally come to an unofficial close and its now time to sharpen tools, wax skis, and pray for snow. Last season was one for the books; let us sneak in another…
Tetons (far) and S.Madison (near) from the top

Tetons (far) and S.Madison (near) from the top


Self-timer on the summit of the Sphinx. Happy climbers

Self-timer on the summit of the Sphinx. Happy climbers

Grivel G20 – a field report

 Upward with the G20

Upward with the G20

I’m now onto my second pair of these crampons and overall, they have been great. But as is with most gear they are not without fault and/or critique. So given a few seasons of use I thought I’d chime in and share my two cents on the Grivel G20 crampon.

G20 profile from below, Hyalite wanderings winter 13/14

G20 profile from below, Hyalite wanderings winter 13/14

This little yellow number is reminiscent of Grivel’s classic ice slayer the Rambo 4, but without the full rigidity and the heft of the Rambo. A Rambo 4 on a strict diet, if I may. I can attest to this as the Rambo was my first vertical ice crampon and I loved every minute of them when on the ice.

Grivel Rambo 4 above, G20 below

Grivel Rambo 4 above, G20 below

Despite their excellence on ice, the Rambo’s full rigid frame and relatively porky weight (41 oz/1162g per pair) left them lacking for versatility in the alpine and I eventually ended up finding myself in a decision between the Petzl Dart and the Grivel G20. These two crampons still stand out as among the lightest, and most technical crampons on the market. Here’s three of the lightest, industry leading monos that come to mind:

33oz/936g BD Stinger

Black Diamond Stinger

Black Diamond Stinger

29oz/824g Petzl Dart

Petzl Dart

Petzl Dart

28oz/794g Grivel G20

Grivel G-20

Grivel G-20

Each of these has its attributes but the Grivel is the lightest of the bunch. Performance amongst the three is comparable with both subtleties and some greater differences between brands standing out. One such difference on the G20 is a secondary horizontal 1/2 point that sits up front on the inside of the vertical mono.

Secondary horizontal front point on the G20

Secondary horizontal front point on the G20

This assists in stability for any snow encountered between pitches and also in very aerated or slushy water ice. Both the light weight and the secondary front point shoved me in the G20 direction, as well as prior familiarity with the trusted Rambo. G20 praises you ask?
Excels at climbing ice…check! An excellent mixed climbing crampon…check! So what are the nitpicks?

There are three downward facing points that under each foot on the G20. One of these points lies up front and two of these are located along the middle connecting rail of the crampon – all equally spaced. These points are meant to help engage the crampon with both convex and concave ice features that lie under the middle of the boot/crampon when standing.

G20 points of contact (courtesy of Grivel)

G20 points of contact (courtesy of Grivel)

The two points in the middle of the rail I have found to be often problematic and unstable when not climbing. Worrisome when traction matters and even more so when your equipment may cause undue harm. This always had bothered me on my first pair and so I finally took a pair of bolt cutters to them and am now completely enthused with the results. The crampons continue to climb mixed and ice with aplomb while now allowing me flat-footed stability between pitches. Easy fix but one that took me awhile to pull the trigger on.

Trimming the fat

Trimming the fat

One other critique of the crampon is the fairly wide front bail which doesn’t fit the best on many of the new narrow front-welted boots (eg the latest Scarpa Phantom and Rebel line). It seems that only the BD Stinger has addressed this with a stock narrow profile front bail that seats nicely with these newer style boots. Unfortunately, they don’t interchange with the Grivel G20 due to the wider nature of the G20’s front piece. Believe me, I tried. Despite the minor lateral slop in the front crampon/boot interface (I currently climb in the Phantom Ultra for reference), I have not found this to be problematic thus far.

Overview of gap as seen on rhs of front welt - G20 paired with a Phantom Ultra

Overview of gap as seen on rhs of front welt – G20 paired with a Phantom Ultra

So all in all I’d give the Grivel G20 high marks for their overall performance and weight. A couple of minor issues could be addressed in future iterations of this crampon but the good outweighs the bad for my use. Until I wear through these ones, I’m content for the time being. As I’ve said previously, the Grivel brand has consistently impressed throughout the years. The G20 follows suit in the Grivel tradition of quality and high performance alpine products.

Enjoy the climb!

Enjoy the climb!

Making the most of fall

Julia following goat tracks high in the Bridger Mountains

Julia following goat tracks high in the Bridger Mountains


Panorama of Bridger Mountain ridge looking south and west (click thru for full image)

Panorama of Bridger Mountain ridge looking south and west (click thru for full image)


I am very thankful to live in such a wonderful valley, surrounded by mountain ranges on nearly all sides. The possibilities often seem endless and that is because, quite likely, they are. Some months epitomize this, and November did not let down. This month has been a mixed bag for weather, with a few fronts that dropped early snow in the Bridgers and surrounding hills, and then a good mix of freeze/thaw in Hyalite that has brought some great early season ice.

Making my way up Twin Falls WI3, Hyalite

Making my way up Twin Falls WI3, Hyalite


Climber on Twin Falls, Hyalite

Climber on Twin Falls, Hyalite

These fluctuations in weather have allowed for a mix of skiing, ice climbing, and even some high mountain running. It has been absolutely great. November has yielded a few hundred meters of water ice, over 13K vertical feet of human-powered skiing and over 20K vert of trail running so far. Julia and I have even managed to put in some miles on the XC skis! It’s been a productive month and an awesome transition into what may soon be winter here in Montana. Words often don’t describe…

Morning skin up the Apron at Bridger Bowl

Morning skin up the Apron at Bridger Bowl


Cold smoke and bluebird (!!), Northern Bridger Mountains

Cold smoke and bluebird (!!), Northern Bridger Mountains


Julia XC ski testing with Ross Peak behind

Julia XC ski testing with Ross Peak behind

Don't forget the headlamps! Sunset over Tobacco Root Mountains

Don’t forget the headlamps! Sunset over Tobacco Root Mountains

An Ode to October

October grass colors on a long trail run

October grass colors on a trail run

October has been quite varied in terms of weather and also choosing what to do outside in the changing seasonal conditions. It is not surprising for this time of year here in the Northern Rockies, so I went out whenever I could this month in search of fun. And that, I found. October yielded many miles and many vertical feet of trail running, skiing, and even some ice climbing, all within the greater Bozeman area.

Crypt Orchid WI3, October ice climbing in Hyalite

Crypt Orchid WI3, October ice climbing in Hyalite

October powder skiing in the Bridgers

October powder skiing in the Bridgers

I managed a good amount of quality runs this month, including another 20+ miler on October 10th. Fast forward to Halloween and it was pleasantly snowing above 6000′ on my 10K run today.

South Cottonwood trail colors and snowfall

South Cottonwood trail colors and snowfall

We encountered snowfall early this year and I managed a couple of October ski outings in the middle of the month, including the best of both worlds – nasty mank and also some pre-season October powder. Completely a blast!

The ridge looking toward Hardscrabble. October skiing in MT

The ridge looking toward Hardscrabble. October skiing in MT

The last week has led to two ice climbing romps, with one being bigger than our party had expected. So, the Lowe Route on The Sphinx awaits while I was able to solo a Hyalite route in thin conditions. The north face of the Sphinx is absolutely stunning btw, and also in magnificent shape ice-wise. So thank you October, and welcome November.

Myself approaching on the Sphinx. Earl-Trimble WI4 in foreground and Lowe Route WI5 behind

Myself approaching on the Sphinx. Earl-Trimble WI4 in foreground and Lowe Route WI5 behind

The north face of the Sphinx in excellent October shape

The north face of the Sphinx in excellent October shape (click for detail)

Grizzly print on Sphinx approach. Size EU43 for reference.

Grizzly print on Sphinx approach. Size EU43.5 for reference.

Rapping the upper flow of Crypt Orchid WI3

Rapping the upper flow of Crypt Orchid WI3

Mountain goat silhouette on the Sphinx approach

Mountain goat silhouette on the Sphinx approach