Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Skin Thicke

The skin on your fingers is what keeps you attached whilst rock climbing. The muscles and ligaments in your arms, and the rubber on your shoes, do a lot of work too, but without the skin on your finger tips then you would never be able to make and reasonable upwards progress. With this in mind it is very important that you keep it in good condition if you want to climb regularly.
This summer I have been extremely active on rock and I have had to develop a bit of a skin regime as a result. In general this isn't my sort of thing. I know some "modern men" have a beautifying regime, which probably includes things like brushing their hair, but you don't need to go that far to secure the longevity of your skin.
"Modern Man" (IRD Collection)
I also used to think that I climbed a lot but my skin was never really very bad so it wasn't really necessary to look after it that much. This summer has shown me a different side. To cut a long story, which I have told in other blog posts (hint), short I climbed a lot and lost a lot of skin. It was so bad that I was forced to take rest days, which is very much unlike me.
This lack of skin led me to test 3 types of climbing orientated moisturizer. These were the classic ClimbOn, Tip Juice and ProBalm. They all seemed to work in largely the same way. If I was going to go out and buy them again though I think I would go for ClimbOn, closely followed by Tip Juice. I liked the bar style of ClimbOn more than the tub based Tip Juice, but it did work well.
My climbing related skin management guidelines are what works for me. Every individual is different so tailor this to work for yourself.
Wash Your Hands: After climbing wash all the chalk off your hands. Whilst climbing however try not to wash them or get them too wet. Granted this isn't always possible and if you have to then make sure they are completely dry, maybe bring a towel or something. If I get my skin wet in the middle of a session it often feels quite sore to pull on holds.
Moisturize: Use some sort of moisturizer after climbing. This will help skin regenerate and hopefully stop it from hurting the next day. Make sure to wash your hands first. I find ClimbOn to be very good but as long as it moisturizes I don't think it matters too much.
Rock Types: Different rock types affect your skin in different ways. It is all to do with the grains within them. The small rounded grains found in Northumberland sandstone work like sand paper removing skin from your tips. This hurts a lot after a while. The large sharp crystals found in rocks like Gneiss don't abrade like sandstone but I find that they nick the skin more easily forming flappers. Climbing on sandstone will benefit more from the use of the procedure outlined above more than Gneiss, and others like it.
A flapper, not so Gneiss
I hope this helps anyone who has come up against this sort of climbing related hurdle. There is loads of other information about it. Dave Macleod has a good section on this in his book "9 out of 10 Climbers". 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Petzl Adjama Harness Review

I acquired a Petzl Adjama harness a while ago to test. I have since clocked up a good number of hours in the harness in a trip to the alps and a my usual central belt cragging and here are my thoughts on it.
Comfort: The Adjama is made with what Petzl call an "EndoFrame Constuction". The prefix Endo, in the instance, means to absorb. I'm not sure exactly what it absorbs, but it does sound cool. The designs gives an extra wide waist belt around the sides and doubled straps on both the leg and waist loops. After studying the harness I can't really work out what the doubled straps are, but rest assured they are there. This design seems to have worked as the harness is very comfortable to hang in for extended periods of time. I usually get very uncomfortable pressure points on my hips, but the Adjama seems to have eliminated this. The Adjama is also fine to walk in, as I found out after a long walk around the Vallee Blanche and Mer de Glace.
Gearing up at Refuge de Sele
Gear Loops: The Adjama features 4 fabric gear loops. There are two different types of gear loop on the harness. The front two are rigid and have a slightly asymmetrical shape, with the rear two being flexible and symmetrical. The shape of the front gear loops is important as I find I put most of my important gear on them. The front gear loops slope slightly towards the front of the harness so that when you remove a piece of gear then the rest of the gear slides forward. The rear ones are flexible to prevent pressure points when wearing a back pack. The gear loops seem plenty big enough even for a big alpine rock route rack. There are 2 caritool attachment points and a haul loop at the back of the harness too.
Adjama in the Alps
Adjustment: There is one buckle on each of the major weight bearing straps on the harness; the waist loop and 2 legs loops. These allow maximum adjustment for a minimum weight. The buckles are pre-double backed saving time and the possibly the dangerous scenario of forgetting to double them back yourself. The buckles are all easy to use, even with gloves on. The straps tuck neatly away once tightened. The leg loops expand enough to allow you to put it on over crampons and big boots, although maybe for speeds sake put it on before your crampons.
Looks: It comes in a sort of purple-grey colour. It looks a bit dull but it won't clash with whatever garish shirt/trousers combo you may be sporting. It also wont show up in photo's very well, as you may be able to tell from the pictures.
Weight: Mine is a M-L which weighs in at 420g. The small is lighter and large is heavier. Its not really a featherweight but its hardly extra bulky either.
Conclusions: I honestly can't fault this harness. Petzl are good at what they do and have made a very good, well thought out harness. Its comfy, not too heavy and has nice features. You won't be disappointed with this harness. It gets a healthy 2 thumbs up from me.
The Petzl Adjama harness is available from outdoorkit.co.uk with 10% off.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Thermarest Ridge Rest Review

The Thermarest Ridge Rest is a foam sleeping mat made by Thermarest. Thermarest are big players in the self inflating sleeping mats market so I expected this to work well.
I got the mat for a trip to the Alps, where I used it for both campsite and high mountain bivi use. It performed well in all scenarios.
Why would anyone buy a foam mat instead of a self inflating one? Self inflating mats are the in thing in camping comfort, and with the introduction of the Thermarest Neo Air some are feather weight too. The main advantage of a foam mat is that putting a hole in it doesn't damage it. It is quite easy to accidentally stand on you sleeping mat in crampons, or maybe that sort of thing on happens on student mountaineering club meets. Either way accidents happen and if your mat doesn't inflate then it wont be comfy, and more importantly it won't insulate you from whatever surface you happen to be sleeping on.
This is where foam mats come in. The ridge rest isn't just any foam mat however. One side is silvery and reflective, preventing heat loss to the ground, the other side is green. The ridge rest gets its name from the ridges which are found covering both sides of the mat. These trap air further reducing heat loss to the ground. The air cells are too small to allow effective convection and air is a good insulator. It works in roughly the same way as double glazing or cavity wall insulation.
Ridges and the silvery coating
I am glad to report that the mat worked well. I was comfortably warm, although it never really got too cold. Most importantly I was comfortable. I went for the regular version, which is plenty long enough to accommodate my extended frame.
It is possible to cut down foam mats too without effecting their insulating properties. I previously had a ridge rest which I cut down and used as an inbuilt bivi mat inside my rucksack.
The downside of foam mats is that they have quite a large pack size, and the ridge rest is no exception. As I have said before though you can cut them down. Why not cut it down to as small as you think you can get away with?
If you had to take one mat with you on an alpine trip I would take a foam mat, and why not the ridge rest. It has been well designed to provide maximum comfort and insulation.
I give the ridge rest 1 thumb up.
The Thermarest Ridge Rest is available from outdoorkit.co.uk in 2 different weights of foam, both with 10% off. The mat reviewed here is the more beefy "Solar" version. 

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Les Alpes

Last week I went to the Alps with Cassim Ladha. It was quite an impromptu trip as Cass called me about a week before setting off as his partner had dropped out. After a bit of thought I decided it was a good idea and agreed to go with him. We took Cass's new car from my house in Yorkshire to France via the Ferry at Dover. Our first destination were the Ecrins, thanks to a slightly more favorable forecast. We arrived in mid afternoon on Saturday and thanks to the long drive we decided to take most of Sunday off before walking up to the mountains in the evening. Our target was Jour de Colere, a 15 pitch ED1 on the Aiguille de Sialouze.
On Sunday I bouldered in the valley while Cass did some work. I didn't climb anything very hard but it was useful to get me used to the rock I'd be climbing on the next day.
Ailefroide Bouldering
We met up later on, had tea and got ready for our walk up to the Refuge du Sele. The walk was quite long and monotonous, with a couple of via ferrata sections, but nothing too hard. 4 or so hours after leaving the valley I was in my bivi bag outside the higher winter hut trying to psyche myself up for next days climb.
I woke at 5am when my alarm went off and sat in my sleeping bag making coffee and eating breakfast. It was still very dark and cold but we could see lights heading up the valley. We didn't want to hang around too much as we didn't want to get stuck behind another team and the weather was due to change in the afternoon.
Jour de Colere (Photo Credit: Cassim Ladha)
Jour de Colere (Photo Credit: Cassim Ladha)
As we walked to the bottom of the route it started to get light and I could see the length of the climb. As you can tell from my blog I mostly just boulder with the odd bit of single pitch trad in there. This thing was 15 pitches long. I could just about make out the line, and the location of the Crux F7a pitch.
Cass had the first lead, which after the initial snow climb in rock boots wasn't all that bad. We alt lead from here. I could give a break down of each pitch but this would be very dull. Things started to get a bit more interesting when I got to the bottom of the crux pitch. I had just led the previous F6b pitch so I expected Cass to have this one, but he wasn't feeling it, so I took it again. Up until this point on the route I didn't think we would do it. The weather was supposed to change soon and bring some bad rain and we were going quite slow, but after this pitch there were only 4 more easy pitches to the top. Easy.
This pitch went without too much trouble, although I did cover the crux foot holds in blood after cutting my ankle. I have to be honest I did the pitch "French Free", meaning I aided the crux moves, but its the alps and that's allowed.
Cass seemed to struggle with this pitch and looked quite tired when he got to the top. He set off up the next pitch but it wasn't long before he couldn't go any further and made a belay below an off width. I took over the reigns again and linked the rest of the pitch together with the next. We were now just 2 short pitches from the top, which we would be able to link together. Cass set off up this final link up but didn't get far before he didn't want to do any more. After a look at the topo I worked out that we could get to the abb line with a diagonal abseil. I lowered cass off and followed myself. It seemed to take an age to get to the valley floor thanks to the huge number of abbs needed but we managed it and walk out to bivi next to the hut again.
The next day saw us drive to Chamonix, via Italy. I wasn't feeling too psyched in Chamonix to try anything hard. I didn't want to commit to a big route seeing how close we got to the top of Jour de Colere then had to back off. I was psyched for something short and hard, but Cass didn't want to do this. In the end we settled for a walk from the Aiguille do Midi, across the Vallee Blanche and down the Mer De Glace. I quite enjoyed this although it wasn't too hard. We saw a lot of the Alps this way at least.
Vallee Blanche (Photo Credit: Cassim Ladha)
(Photo Credit: Cassim Ladha)

(Photo Credit: Cassim Ladha)

(Photo Credit: Cassim Ladha)

Requein Hut
On the way back we stopped at Font for a quick boulder. This was the first time ive been here and im pretty keen to get back.
After a day off at home I drove back to Edinburgh, stopping at Bowden on my way past. I managed to send Sprung, my first font 7c. It went down without too much trouble on the day. Im really psyched to get some more hard boulders done now!