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Gear: An Ode

Oh, joy of joys!  Oh, magical marvel of marvels!  What fortune has entered my life!  What life has replaced that which I thought to be life before…

My new crampons got here last week, and they sure are pretty rad.

The rope goes on forever, and the party never ends.

The rope goes on forever, and the party never ends.

Some of you may remember that I left a pair on the painful descent from the Sphinx at the beginning of the season.  All things considered, it wasn’t a huge loss; they were broken, anyway – functional yet frustrating – and I was forced from then on to climb in my mountaineering crampons which, in turn, forced me to focus more intently on my footwork.  Without a doubt, this has made me a better climber, and I’m grateful for the improvement.  Still, it was only a matter of time before my capacity to appreciate the extra challenge gave way to lust, and I made sure to point out the newest, shiniest, baddest vertical ice ‘pons on the market when Michelle inquired about potential Christmas gifts.  I think she was a little frightened when I hugged the spiky steel plates like a teddy bear upon receipt, but there was no doubt about my excitement.

They're like sparkling unicorns: beautiful but deadly.

They're like sparkling unicorns: beautiful but deadly.

And, man, have they ever delivered…  The few pitches I’ve climbed in them so far have felt a half- to a full-grade easier than they did earlier in the season, and the drastic difference is due to more than just my gradual gains as a climber.  The simple fact is that I’ve traded equipment that’s marginally suited to an activity for equipment that’s built for it, and the difference has been immediate and substantial.  It’s like I’ve skied a full powder season on cross country skis and finally upgraded to the latest composite-core fatties: yeah, I was getting the job done before, but now I’m getting it done with style.

The new crampons make my climbing more efficient, and that’s really the highest compliment you can give a piece of gear.  Energy is precious in the mountains, and every decision I make regarding my gear is (hopefully) in effort to better conserve that commodity.  These new crampons are outfitted with a single vertical point in the front, and the efficiency gains from this monopoint (industry term) are several: the single point displaces less ice than the dual points on mountaineering crampons; the vertical point corresponds to the vertically-oriented ice formation, so the ice is less likely to shear out beneath me; and I can slot the single point into the placements I’ve already made with my ice tools instead of having to kick new steps each time.  Make no mistake, there are people who climb way harder than I do on dual horizontal points, so it’s not like these new crampons will instantly transform me into the climber I want to be.  What they do, though, is make every move on the ice a noticeable fraction more efficient, and that adds up over the course of a climb.

The ice is still abundant in Montana -- from right, "Mummy Cooler II" (WI 3+) and "The Scepter" (WI 5)

The ice is still abundant in Montana -- from right, "Mummy Cooler II" (WI 3+) and "The Scepter" (WI 5)

Gear’s fun.  It’s fun to buy, it’s fun to play with, it’s fun to master, and, eventually, it’s fun to replace.  I’ve got plenty of it, and, to the untrained eye, a lot of it probably looks redundant.  Why do I need three puffy jackets?  Why do I need three pairs of crampons?  Why do I need eight backpacks and four belay devices?  The obvious answer is that I don’t need all of that stuff.  It’s just that, over time, I begin to notice places were my gear options are compromising my efficiency potential, and I fill in the gaps.  When I started climbing longer routes that required several rappels, my standard single rope became a liability; I got a pair of double ropes to facilitate full-length raps.  When I started climbing a lot of ice and alpine routes that put my ultralight down puffy in regular danger of getting wet, I got a synthetic-fill jacket to guarantee warm belays.  Now, I can take into account variables like weather, route conditions, and overall objective and tailor my gear choices for optimal efficiency.

There are very few things in the mountains that we can truly control, but gear selection is one of them.  Take the time to do it right.  Style is serious business.

1 comment to Gear: An Ode

  • Snake Leather

    I’m certainly thankful for your many gear options…..

    Great last two posts, except for the jersey shore link. Your TV predilections are the only thing more ridiculous than your hair style.

    Keep after it in the twilight of this season.