Friday, 27 January 2017

Ritualistic Coping with Abandoned Trip

Deja vu strikes - once again, I'm not in Japan skiing.

Thanks to some still undefined stomach bug, I had to bail.

Barely able to eat, diarrhea-affected, listless and malnourished, I wasn't going to make it through the trip to NZ with my partner, much less long days touring in Japan. All told, I've shed about 9kg, and I wasn't a big guy to start with.

Step one is going to be getting some nutrients into my body, and then resuming training for skimo activities later in the year. I guess a benefit of this process has been that I've become leaner, and I won't have any extra mass to drag up the hills anymore. I'll be doing a post or two on trail running for now...when I can resume running. I've lost a significant amount of strength and aerobic conditioning - more so than I've ever lost before.

There's been a fair bit of anguish with this illness too, and I can see me processing much of what has happened to me in an emotional sense for some time to come.

Anyway, on the gear loadout front, I decided to buy some nice things to play with when I do get back on the snow to make life more efficient in the alpine world.

Embracing Skimo Race Gear

I've reduced the mass of my ski/boot/binding/skin system to what seems to be a healthy minimum (will know more when I get to ski the new toothpicks...but even if they are sub-optimal for what I do, it isn't all that much more weight - as in 500g - to put a pair of Zero G85s or Atomic Backland UL 85s under my feet).

The under 4kg setup

I've turned my attention once again to my clothing system and daypack. Gone are the days of 40 or 50 liter climbing/touring packs for me. Basically, there's now two configurations in my mind - walking in to the hills to establish a base camp with the big pack and all my gear (70 liter Black Diamond Mission has done this well) and ski mountaineering (light and fast with small packs).

What about bivying? I could if I wanted to (and may do so at some point), but I think I'd rather a super long day than a crappy night in a snow hole. I'm happy to just keep on moving, especially with the efficiency that skis bring.

Beyond containing the gear I need, my ideal skimo pack should:

- have diagonal race-style ski carry (meaning that skis can go on the pack without removing the pack)
- include a 'safety box' - an accessible spot to put crampons (and maybe other odds and ends if they fit)
- have the provision to carry two ice axes
- be comfortable, simple and lightweight (around 600g)

The pack that I used most over the winter was the Dynafit Broad Peak 28. Can't really give enough praise to this thing - very light, durable enough, good range of features and enough storage for Australian BC shenanigans  (740g).

The topic of enough storage is also in my in, what did I actually end up with in my pack last season, and how much space do I really need? Below is the contents of my BP28 at the start of last season, as I discussed in the April post.

How much of the above needs to be there, or are there lighter-weight options that can be used? All up, the above weighed about 5.1kg, and would almost completely fill the capacity of the BP28.

Experience is a dear teacher, and fools will heed no other - so by the end of the season I was no longer carrying:

- Beanie (used hoods instead)
- Heavy gloves (only needed at the start of the day, looking at using heat pads if needed)
- Probe
- Snow saw
- Ski crampons (never used them or felt the desire for them)
- Arcteryx pants with bib (stayed in the pack the whole time)
- Nalgene bottle

Now it looks something like this:

From upper left going cloak-wise:

- 2x soft flasks, one of which has a filter that can purify water
- Lip balm and sunscreen
- Puffy jacket (down or synthetic)
- Repair/Emergency kit (contents at the end)
- Dynafit Mercury gloves
- Outdoor Research shell mitts
- Goggles
- CAMP Nanotech crampons
- CAMP Flash overpants
- Buff and headband
- 2x ski straps
- ARVA shovel
- Princeton Tech headlamp
- CAMP Norsa ice axe

In the repair/emergency kit is the following (in the white Dynafit bag):

- Multitool
- Map
- Compass
- Pole basket
- Carabiner
- Clear plastic pouch with whistle, screw tightening heads, cordage, cable ties, waterproof matches, spare batteries for head torch and GPS, Goretex patches, pain killers and spare insert screws.

All up my pack now weighs in at 3.6kg (minus food and water). That's pretty good! There's also plenty of spare room in the pack, proving that I can drop down to a smaller (and hence lighter) daypack.

Doing so will drop a little more weight - I had a look at the Ultimate Direction 28, but felt that it wasn't quite what I was after and I wasn't a fan of how it fit. I've decided to go with the Salomon S-Lab X Alp 20, as it pretty much fulfills my above needs with enough capacity to carry a standard touring loadout, with a weight of 625g.

Salomon Alp-X 20

I'll keep the Broad Peak 28 until it dies, and the RC35 will stay around for those times I need more capacity than the Salomon or BP 28. Below is a bit of a visual comparison of the three packs - Broad Peak, RC35 and X-Alp 20.

BP 28 - a nice compact daysack - helmet storage is fine despite appearances

6ish liters of storage still available after being fully packed. Shovel handle sleeve is useful

Some wear and tear. Mesh side pocket and adjustable ski loop in view. Both are excellent features

Safety box has room for crampons plus more (I put gloves and goggles in here too)

RC35 with mesh helmet storage on front. Notably taller pack than the BP 28 and Alp-X 20

 Side access zip - handy but not essential given the back panel access. Significantly more space than either of the other two packs

Much worse ski loop on the RC35 - if your tail is over 110mm, you will not get your skis through the loop. The adjustable loop on the BP 28 is much better, and the X-Alp has a loop that can fit pretty much any ski

Zippered top pocket for more secure storage than the mesh pockets on the BP

X-Alp 20 - only access is through the full length zip on the back. Has about 5 liters extra storage not used by my typical loadout. Can fit extra layer or ascent plates with ease

Dual ice axe storage is excellent and secure. Elastic toggles on side are for helmet storage

Zippered safety box with protective lining inside - more durable and secure than the Dynafit system. Additional storage with the hip belt pouch (in view) and a drink bottle holder on the left shoulder strap

The other question is around a suitable airbag pack. The Black Diamond Saga 40 was good last year in Japan, and has many advantages over cylinder-based systems: easy to fly with, can be repacked if triggered, self-deflates and easy to practise with.

The biggest problem is the weight - almost 3.7kg for the pack by itself. That can lead to a daypack that can get up to 8 or 9kg, depending on the other gear taken. And that is definitely not a fast and light setup.

On the other hand, the Mammut Light Removable Airbag pack just touches on 2kg for the pack, airbag and carbon cylinder. And the pack itself is a quality bit of kit - 30 liters and only 1050g without the airbag and cylinder, making it useable when my smaller packs don't have the room for more gear. 

Dropping down to the Ultralight version is even more enticing - it weighs in at just over 1.5kg for the pack, airbag and cylinder...less than half the mass of the Saga (but with much less storage capacity for gear).

 Mammut RAS packs - and the first time I've borrowed an image from Wildsnow

CAMP Pants and Jacket

In spring, I often end up leaving my Goretex shell in my pack the whole day. It's more a case of needing just a bit of moisture/snow protection and more emphasis on wind resistance on the tops and ridges. Enter the CAMP Flash pants and jacket, offering pretty solid protection from the elements at about 300g total for both items.

The material is clearly not as durable or weather resistant as Goretex, but that makes it perfect for dealing with some gusty wind and light snow - and why the hell would you be touring in crapped out weather like rain anyway?

The top may only get use in spring, but the pants will most likely be a fixture throughout next southern season, as I rarely have to add a layer to my legs once I'm underway. The jacket is also notable for being able to be put on and taken off without even removing your pack!
CAMP Flash jacket and pants

Soft shells and Skimo race attire

I'm also embracing skimo race gear when it comes to clothing too. I've got some Millet pants and a soft shell jacket to try out next time I hit the skintrack, along with a Dynafit race top. Hopefully they'll help alleviate a tendency of mine to sweat too much at times, requiring more water than I would otherwise need.

The integrated gaiters of skimo-style pants are also a revelation. Lighter boots often compromise on water resistance, and it has not been uncommon for me to get to the end of a day in the Syborgs with a not insubstantial amount of moisture in the boot.

Dynafit DNA training top
Millet Pierra Menta jacket

New Petzl Ice Axes

Dane over at Cold Thistle did a post on two new ice axes coming out this year from Petzl - a new version of the Sumtec and an entirely new model called the Gully. I was already starting to contemplate selling my old Charlets and getting a set of Sumtecs, but the weight savings didn't seem to be worth the effort. That's changing with these two new offerings.

Petzl Charlet - 630g for each tool

My trusty Charlets have been great axes. They don't look as fancy as Nomics, but for general mountaineering and ice climbing up to WI 4, I've found them to be excellent and reliable...but they be heavy for skimo shenanigans.

New Sumtec - about 480g for each tool

 These look like a very solid axe, but are still about the same weight as the current Sumtec. Nice minimalist design.

Gully - 280g for each tool

These things look like the business - if they climb well. They lack the replaceable pick of the Sumtec, and will probably make some sacrifices in terms of performance. I'll be waiting on reviews before I commit one way or the other.

Team Weasel

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