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The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
Anyone who has exited from the top of the Aiguille du Midi ice cave to descend the narrow ridge leading into the Vallee Blanche above Chamonix will agree: it has your full attention. To the left, the ridge drops away down the famous Frendo Spur, somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,500 vertical feet. To the right, 800 feet of 50-degree snow will drop you to the base of the Midi's south face. So as I guide two guests down the steep and exposed arete, the last thing I need is my crampons balling up. Holding the rope tight between us, I wait for just the right moment, when all's steady, to whack my boots with my axe and knock the snow from them. That's it. I am buying new crampons, I tell myself. Tying yourself to people who are seemingly trying to pull you off of your feet every other step can make the cost of a new pair of spikes seem like chump change.
I've burned through a number of different belay devices, as my climbing obsession (and job) lead to unremitting use of these tools from March to November. I chose to test the Wild Country VC Pro because of its seemingly simple but effective design. This piece is an update from the VC belay device that has been on the shelves since the late 1980s. The classic version was a long-standing, standard device; the new VC Pro has big pitbull teeth on one side that allow for better bite with thin ropes. More importantly, it has all four hallmarks I insist on: smooth handling, effortless rappelling, secure holding and a simple design.
Guided clients demand a higher level of safety and preparation than you might find in a recreational group. Part of being safe is keeping your packs lean without skimping on necessary safety gear. While guiding I often need a satellite or cell phone to schedule pick-ups with my bush pilot, check weather, or communicate in emergencies. Over the years, I have started to use a small solar panel to charge my phone, allowing me to get through a long trip with a single lightweight battery.
The newly designed Black Diamond nForce ascenders were a crucial piece of gear for my main climbing project this summer. Using static and dynamic fixed lines from 8-11 millimeters, my partner and I spent about ten days working on a first ascent, free, on the east face of Snowpatch Spire in the Bugaboos. Although the face itself rises 2,000 feet, we ascended an estimated 3,000' of fixed lines, equipping belay stations, scrubbing cracks, and rehearsing the crux pitches that, unfortunately, are still resisting our redpoint attempts.
The search for the perfect multi-season jacket is exasperating—it has to perform well in various temperatures and conditions yet pack well, weigh nothing and (most importantly) look good. So you can imagine my excitement when I found a lightweight, durable shell that lived up to all my expectations. I found Mountain Hardwear's Women's Typhoon Jacket to be the perfect merger of fashion, function, and price. Weighing in at thirteen ounces and sporting a reasonable retail price of $199, its design and color options add a sense of style that rounds out this performance garment.
Sometimes first impressions are hard to shake, and I tried not to let my first impression of the Rab Neutrino Endurance jacket influence this review. No luck. The jacket wowed me at first appearance. Made from a water-resistant Pertex Endurance outer fabric and packed with 850+ goose down fill, it's an alpinist's dream come true: maximum warmth to weight ratio in a lightweight, weatherproof package.
I'll admit it: I've got a small head. As a result, I've spent the past few years bouncing between glasses that slide down the bridge of my nose, frames that feel like a loose, dead handshake, and cheapos bought shamefully from the children's aisle. So, when Julbo asked me to pick one pair of mountaineering glasses to test, I chose the Neve, a pair of glasses designed with Alti-Spectron X6 lenses for small heads, and, yes, women.