Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ice Climbing Failure - Crampons end the day

I'm OK - I'll get that out first. In fact, I never set foot on the ice in Lilydale Park.

I was to go ice climbing with a friend today. I have a little climbing background to know (slightly) what I'm doing. But that is on a wall. In the summer. This was a little different. The only boots I have that would possibly work for a pair of crampons are an old pair of hiking boots that still keep water out after all these years. They don't breath particularly well (al beit GoreTex lined), but they do work. I currently use them for biking to work. They are not meant to be used with crampons.

We had two pairs of crampons at our disposal - a pair of Grivels and a pair of FootFangs (these were old). We tested the crampons on my boots indoors. The Grivels did not fit, but the Footfangs did. At least indoors. Both crampons were step-in style and depended on grooves in the boots to lock the two together. Needless to say, my boots lacked these all-important grooves.

Had we used a pair of non-step-in crampons, I would have been able to climb with the boots. The winter camp I work at has sets of crampons that will work with my boot. Alas, we lacked these. Without crampons, we were left with nothing to climb. Hike out we did, and enjoyed the sunshine in the early portion of the afternoon. Noting the failure, I'll get a pair of boots that work for ice climbing. Perhaps next year or sometime in the summer when winter is far away.

On another note, St. Paul requires a $25 use permit per season. This we found out when a city park employee walked up the trail to inform us of this fact. My friend will now be getting a permit.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Prelimary winter report after two warm weekends

Since purchasing my my R1 Hoody and reading more and more about CLO and ideal hiking clothing, I have gone into the remainder of winter with a simple task - wear as little clothing as possible to keep me warm in all conditions and take the lightest sleeping bag I can.

My winter layering system involves (almost) never taking a later off to add another layer - or take a second layer off to remove a first layer. The layering system on the torso goes like this: Capilene shirt -> R1 Hoody -> hooded windshirt -> softshell jacket -> insulated jacket. At least one or two of these layers could be dropped (probably the Capilene shirt and either windshirt or softshell jacket) and still meet all of your winter needs - lightweight and breathable base layer, wind layer that doubles as a softshell/storm shell and insulated jacket that is highly breathable, compressible and has a highly water resistant or waterproof shell.

My first weekend, Jan 16-18, exertion was minimal for walking - the campsite was not that far. I was wearing the R1, windshirt and my gloves on my torso. The Hoody excelled as a multifunctional piece of clothing. It served as three pieces of clothing in one - balaclava, base layer and wrist warmers/tubes. I also tucked the hoody's low bottom hem into my pants to seal off drafts. While my Ion is not very breathable, it does block wind effectively and has a tight hood. Later in the afternoon when the wind picked up in an open frozen swamp, I threw on the Capilene shirt (underneath the hoody) and softshell jacket, the SD Frenzy. However, I eventually dropped the windshirt because the wrist cuffs were too tight and cutting off superficial blood flow - I felt a ring of cold around each of my wrists, a ring that corresponded with the cuffs. (I since have replaced my Marmot Ion with a GoLite Ether - a big upgrade I will report on later).

Nighttime brought out the BTU jacket over everything else. I did not, however, put the hood up until I went to bed. It snowed lightly throughout the last two hours of the evening before bed and the jacket shrugged off the precip. Snow bounced off the jacket much like it would on a softshell jacket. Temps were about 15 degrees F and it was not warm enough of the surface of the jacket for snow to accumulate and melt.

To bed I went - temps were projected to hit about 10 degrees F and I was carrying my 30 degree down bag, a shortie Ridgerest and was sleeping in my MK1. I needed to wear my insulating clothes to bed and use one of the closed cell foam sit pads for my feet. Off came my softshell pants and on went my Thermawrap pants. The softshell pants were dry, but I did not want to layer over them because they would put excess pressure on the insulation in the pants from the interior. I also removed my softshell jacket and put on my hat and neck gaiter. I put the hood up and closed down the hood of the sleeping bag and slept.

I slept surprisingly well and woke up three times to urinate - once shortly after I sent to sleep, once at about 2:30 a.m. and a third time around 6 a.m. shortly before I needed to get up. I have previously pushed my Hydrogen bag to 10 and 11 degrees, but each time I had more insulation underneath me - a full length Ridgerest and a full length ProLite 3. This time the insulation was obviously less significant. Despite these differences

This was the first wilderness test for the R1 Hoody, Capilene shirt, and the SD pieces - Frezy Jacket and BTU Jacket. I am currently working on finding out the amount of down will in the BTU jacket. This will help me determine how much margin for error I had in my sleeping system.


My second weekend out, Jan 30- Feb 1 was a different story. Temps were projected to hit 35 in the daytime and drop to the high teens at night. Once again, I brought out similar clothing and rarely needed all of it. I brought my Capilene shirt to the indoor basecamp, but did not use it in the field.

It was a good weekend - the high temp ended up being 45 degrees sometime Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally high daytime temperature for late January. The meteorologists around the metro area were all gaga about how we were going to make it through the entire month of January without a thaw. Well, they got it. Woopie.

The temps made the weekend different. It was can be more difficult to manage layers and control perspiration. Mukluks are also lose their appeal in such wet weather. The moosehide soaked up the melting snow and eventually soaked a portion of my wool socks. Thankfully I was not trudging through unpacked snow for a significant portion of the day. Had I been on a serious trek, I would have opted for a different pair of boots. My VB socks also were wet inside and out. Although the temps did not warrant the VB socks, I wore them more to protect my feet from direct moisture and as a test.

Temps dropped over night to a low temp from about 15-20 F. The boots froze up, but started to dry out as I wore them for the few hours the next morning. This of course shows promise for the boots in serious long-term trekking in varying temps.

I slept in my Marmot Hydrogen again, despite temps below the rated temp. I went to bed wearing only base layers and wool socks. A few hours into the night I woke up slightly cold - I trudged out to relieve myself and put Thermawrap pants and SD BTU jacket. I slept through the rest of the night until about 6:15 a.m. when the morning chill woke me up just a few minutes before I had to get up and wake the scouts up. Once again, I used only a single shortie Ridgerest with some old closed-cell foam chunks under my feet. I slept inside my MK1, this time with another staff member. Everyone else who looked at the tent declined to share it with me. After sleeping in there and getting dressed in the morning and I was quite pleased. There was no condensation on the walls and minimal condensation on the poles. The door was closed and the vents were open, as usual. If I was going to do some serious trips with the tent with a partner, I think a vestibule would be in order. This would allow easier pack storage, food storage and cooking.

Once I got home from the weekend, I received a new windshirt in the mail that I bought from a another BPL member. It is a GoLite Ether, men's small and has a full zip. It weighs in at 90 g (3.2 ounces), a full 20 grams below spec. The fabric is very wispy and the hood draws down well. My only issue is that the pocket (for self-stowage) is on the lower right side, almost where a hipbelt would be. At first glance, the pocket does not appear functional - this will be an important part of testing.

I got the windshirt to replace my Marmot Ion, which I am not terribly happy with. I want to start using a poncho-tarp and the windshirt will serve as a water-resistant layer to be worn in misting conditions and to setup and take down the poncho-tarp when it is raining. By taking a rain jacket out of my gear equation, I cut my packweight by about 14 ounces.

Initial testing results of the Ether are great. I have worn it biking 7.5 miles into work, and while running in it. Both times I wore a midweight base layer underneath it and not much else on the rest of my body. Temps for both tests were in the 20s. I was shocked to find that I did not sweat out the windshirt in those conditions - with my Ion I would have been roasting in a sauna. When running, I had a little bit of sweat accumulation on the insides of my elbow. I attribute that to having the fabric clustered up around the angle and air not being able to flow effectively.

Temps this weekend are supposed to be warm. I am taking a similar clothing combination but am leaving the BTU jacket at home - I do not think the temps will warrant it, and I want to test my Thermawrap Parka in light winter conditions.

Finally, I have started running again. I think my ankle is healed up enough now to get some new shoes and put on the miles. I hate taking four weeks off of training, but it is necessary to prevent further injury. More on my training program later.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gear reviews from SHT

The high temps (mid 20s) and the hard work overwhelmed my clothing system while hiking the first day. I sweated out my base layer and softshell clothing in my hiking - the snow coming down did not help. With these conditions in mind, I offer the following reviews.

Starting from my feet, my sock combination kept my feet warm - I wore X-static socks, ID VBL socks and then Smartwool Mountaineering socks as warmth socks. All of these were inside my Steger Mukluks. There was little moisture inside my VBL socks when I took them off when I went to bed on night zero. There was a little moisture in my liner socks, but these dried out overnight in my bag.

The mukluks performed well but not flawlessly. The leather laces, moosehide I think, stretched and absorbed water as they sat in my tent overnight. Temps in the tent were high and melted the snow that was attached to them - the laces absorbed it right up. The next morning when I went to my boots on, I pulled one of the laces too hard and it snapped! I lost about a 5 inch chunk of leather. This was not a huge deal because the laces are about three feet long and stretched, but it did prevent my from getting an optimum snug fit on my other foot because I did not want to repeat the breaking. Also, when I was at the cafe in Hovland, the snow on my mukluks melted and soaked the canvas and the leather - this in turn got my warmth sock wet and made my feet cold. I changed into dry socks and wore a pair of boots that were in the car for the ride home. This would not be a problem had I stayed outside, however on the trip I would have needed to go indoors at least twice to get resupply packages. On colder trips, this obviously would not have been a problem.

My softshell pants, a pair of Marmot Scree softshell pants performed well. They repelled snow and exterior moisture beaded up on the outside - however, they did wet out from sweat from my hard hiking on day zero. I did not have this problem on day 1 (Sunday), so I belief this was caused by the warm temps. Each day I was wearing a pair of trusty thin base layer bottoms (Theramar poly pro) underneath. At night, I wore the pants over my VBL pants in a successful effort to dry them out. The fabric is sufficiently stretchy to accommodate a wide range of temps and they are great pants. For $99, they are highly recommended (and not, I did not pay that much). I currently use these pants when I bike to work on a twice and soon-to-be thrice weekly basis and they do a good job breathing and cutting moderate wind.

My softshell jacket, an REI Mistral with PowerShield fabric performed well but is flawed in that it does not have a hood. (related: my rant on rain hats and how useless they are.) Like the pants, they wetted out from sweat but generally, snow bounced off the jacket. Snow that did land melted and the jacket dried quickly. If it had a hood, it would be great - the jacket is very lightweight for a softshell jacket, uses quality materials the construction is decent. The jacket would be excellent if the cut were narrower and if it had pit zips. (Note: You can get all of this and more at Beyond Clothing, where you can customize your own clothing, including softshells.) At night, the jacket was soaked through and through and I put it between my pads to keep it from freezing. I needed to take it off because when I was in camp, I could not dry it out underneath my down jacket without compromising the insulation. More on that later, but I eventually brought the jacket into the sleeping bag and it moderately dried out overnight and was wearable the next day. It dried out completely while I walking out.

That all said, I am now convinced of the value of softshell clothing in temps respectfully below freezing (below about 20F, to use a semi-arbitrary temp). Any more and a hardshell might be preferred. For those of who have read my doubting of softshell clothing, consider this an apology - you were right, I was wrong, now lets all going hiking and forget about it. A softshell may not even be necessary, however, if one goes with a light hooded base layer and a breathable windshirt with a decent DWR - more on this in a later post.

My VBL clothes really had no use in the high temps I experienced. I wore them overnight next to my skin and underneath my softshell pants because they would keep exterior water from getting to my skin. I also tried to wear the jacket briefly on the first day of planned hiking (Sunday), but took it off after getting too hot. I think now that VBL best used when the body is in low metabolic states (i.e. not hiking). I did wear the shirt successfully in 0F degree weather at winter camp training while walking around, but I did not have a pack on and the walking was not strenuous. VBL is still necessary to keep insulation dry - much has been written on this and will not be repeated here.

I made a balaclava out of Epic fabric (which I goofed on and generally did a poor job constructing) but it worked well as a hood substitute. The fabric was moderately breathable and showed good potential for wider uses as a windshirt-on-'roids, a la Wind Things.

My snowshoes, a pair of 25" MSR Lightning Ascents, did me little good on the snow. Many people have suggested to me that I should have used bigger shoes, and I think they are right. I should have gone with a pair of 30" shoes or an even bigger pair. Atlas makes shoes that are 35" long, Crescent Moon makes a 37" pair and of course there are the old military surplus-style ones. That all said, I don't think any pair of snowshoes would have allowed me to wade through that snow effectively. It was just too deep to make any progress and it was light and powdery. The problem was that there was a lot of it and that made it heavy. I could have used two or three feet less snow, and the fresh snow that fell on night zero did not help.

My ID MK1 performed the best of any gear I brought along. I failed to get a solid pitch on night zero but the tent help up to winds without budging and shed snow with ease. The fabric was incredibly breathable and there was minimal condensation on the interior of the tent fabric (or the poles for that matter, a testament to how warm it was in the tent i.e. above the dew point) in the morning. The tent is small, but it is built for climbers. One nitpick - the bag supplied is too small so I brought a larger stuff sack. I also like to roll my tents (not stuff) which further complicates the matter.

I took a TNF Nupste as my sole puffy insulating garment for my torso. In hindsight, the jacket needs some serious DWR on its exterior shell fabric. I refused to cook in the tent, so I was outside waiting for snow to melt and water to boil and had to wear the down jacket (because every other torso layer except my VBL shirt) was soaked. This got the shell wet and probably compromised the insulation. It is a warm jacket, but the weather was too warm and snow melted on contact. This jacket shall be relegated to around-town usage. Without a better DWR, my older version does not below in serious conditions. That said, I will be testing the Sierra Designs BTU jacket, which is really a parka, this winter. It is hooded, has a wp/b shell and so far has kept me warm in some extremely cold conditions around town.

For water bottles, I used 48 oz collapsible Nalgene Canteens. I took two - one as a backup because failure would be catastrophic. I rested the bottle underneath my softshell jacket but on top of my hipbelt while I was walking and the combination worked perfectly. The canteen was easy to pour into and drink out of and the collapsing was nice. For purification, I took chlorine dioxide tablets. These presumably worked well (I did not get sick as a result of poor water quality) but left an chlorine smell to the water and the bottle. The tabs did not affect taste once the water was in your mouth - the smell was not terribly pleasant, however.

A few items I did not extensively use and do not warrant reviews here - my neck gaiter, balaclava, insulated mitts and everything else.

Here's the whole list. It is not all quite accurate, notably the stove weight. I never did get a chance to weigh my fuel bottle without fuel in it.

Pack Carried Worn
Granite Gear Vapor Trail 36.16
Shelter Carried Worn
MK1 XL 77.00
SMC Sno Stake x8 8.47
Sleeping Carried Worn
GG Comp. Sack (XL) 3.84
Blue foamer (57") 7.65
Ridgerest (57") 8.08
Marmot Col, -20 (long) 74.00
Clothes worn Carried Worn
OR Sonic Balaclava
NW Hat (100 weight fleece)
Stephenson's VBL shirt
Base layer bottom (Theramar)
Marmot Scree
BD Jetstream gloves
Base layer top (Theramar)
Neck Gaiter
Footwear Carried Worn
Steger Mukluks, Arctic
MSR Lightning Ascents (25")
Integral Designs VBL socks
Smartwool Mountaineer socks
Fox River X-Static socks
Clothes carried Carried Worn
Fox River X-Static socks 0.85
Smartwool Mountaineer socks 4.62
TNF Nupste 24.83
Stephensons VBL Pants 4.69
Montbell UL Thermawrap pants 9.77
REI Ridgecrest Mitts
S2S stuff sack 1.16
MLD eVent mitts (in pocket)
Softshell hood (Epic), MYOG
Kitchen Carried Worn
DragonFly 15.77
30 oz fuel can

REI 1.3L Ti Pot 4.97
Hot Spark (on ribbon)
Lexan Fork 0.39
30 matches

Hydration Carried Worn
48oz Nalgene Canteen 2.22 2.22
Chlorine Dioxide x20

Emergency Carried Worn
FAK; repair kit 3.70
ACR Microfix
Emergency Fire Kit

Misc Carried Worn
Tikka Plus
CF poles
Cell phone
$20 Cash; ID; 2x key; Credit; Ins
Triptease 1.31
Notebook and pencil 2.22
Toiletries Carried Worn
Toothbrush 0.42
Toothpaste (baking soda)

TP and wet wipes (4x day, 5 days)
Handsanitizer (1 oz)

Sandwich bag (toiletries) 0.07
Navigation Carried Worn
Map(s), average (2)
Silva Polaris compass
Aloksak for phone
Aloksak for maps
Comsumables, trailhead max Carried Worn
Food, 5 days

30 oz White gas

Water, 56 oz
BASE Carried Worn
OZ 292.20 268.37
LB 18.26 16.77
Totals 18.26 35.04