A Guides Summer in Durango

Guide Carl Schnitker’s Summer in Durango.
 

I had a fantastic summer, living in Durango and experiencing everything that this awesome town has to offer. I was also fortunate enough to spend much of my time doing the greatest job on earth: guiding guests into spectacular wild places in Southwest Colorado and beyond.

This will be a recap of my guiding highlights from the summer, with a quick trip report from each of the cool places that I was privileged enough to work.

. . .

In May and June, I split my time between guiding rock climbing for KMG and guiding rafting on Durango’s Lower Animas River with Mountain Waters Rafting. I took climbers to some of our most popular destinations: X Rock and East Animas. The sandstone climbing in Durango is awesome because of how close it is to town; X Rock is actually directly adjacent to a city park! This allows us to run a super cool package trip in which guests go climbing in the morning and rafting in the afternoon. The climbers on these trips are typically novices, and we focus on facing fears, learning some basic skills, and just having fun on the cliff.

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Climbing at X Rock

I also got lucky enough to guide both the climbing and the boating portion of a few Rock n’ Raft packages; this is super fun because I get to establish a deeper relationship with my clients, and show them my two favorite outdoor activities.

I am super grateful to work at the two best guiding outfits in town. Although KMG and MWR work in different mediums, they both share a commitment to quality and guide training. I spent almost ten days during the beginning of my summer on guide training on the rock and on the river, and I think this training directly translated to the quality of the experiences I was able to provide for guests.

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Training trip on the Upper Animas with Mountain Waters Rafting

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Rock rescue practice with the KMG crew

I also took a few more experienced climbers to East Animas, which is the best crag around Durango for intermediate to advanced climbers. I love East Animas, or “East A” as the locals call it, because of the stellar climbing but also because of the views down towards town. What’s more, I can leave my house and be climbing a multipitch trad climb in less than an hour. Needless to say, it is a very fun place to guide.

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A very excited father and son duo at East Animas

. . .

In July, I continued to guide day trips at X Rock and East Animas, but I also had a few bigger objectives on my guiding schedule.

My month started with guiding a five-day Desolation Canyon trip, in eastern Utah. “Deso” was as beautiful as ever, and I met some really awesome folks. I feel that river guiding and climbing guiding are super complimentary: both require a high level of systems knowledge, technical skill, risk management, and client care. But river trips demand an increased focus on logistics and guide teamwork, while climbing trips require a greater focus on technical skill and one-on-one client care. I certainly feel that my work as a river guide has made me a better climbing guide, and vice versa.

Next, I guided a client on Maiden Voyage, a Grade III 5.9 in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Maiden Voyage is an awesome climb: all six pitches contain great climbing, with the middle four being stellar from top to bottom. There is very little of the loose rock that the Black is infamous for, but the adventure factor still remains because of the committing nature of climbing out of the canyon, and the local route development ethic that discourages the use of bolts.

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Descending into the canyon

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High on the Checkerboard Wall, with the Gunnison River almost 1000 feet below

The Black Canyon is a truly spectacular place. Although it is not as deep or wide as the Grand Canyon, and not as steep as some of Utah’s sandstone slots, the Black is the most impressive canyon that I have experienced. The steep walls, massive vertical relief, and striking bands of light-colored pegmatite cutting through the dark rock combine to create a canyon that is utterly breathtaking. And those very same cliffs also provide world-class rock climbing.

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On top of Maiden Voyage

A week later, after some more guiding in town, it was off to the Weminuche Wilderness to climb Jagged Mountain, Colorado’s most remote 13,000 foot peak. With a crew of three other guides, we hiked out to Jagged Basin to meet our clients. The next day we guided 6 individuals to the summit, and returned to our base camp. Then, on day three, we guided another 6 people to the summit. Our entire group of 12 summited over two days, and everybody was extremely happy to have climbed a bucket-list peak.

Although the regular route on Jagged is rated 5.2 (making it one of the most difficult 13’ers), the majority of the climbing is 3rd and 4th class scrambling. This means that guiding the peak involves a significant amount of short roping and short pitching. On the first day we climbed, I led the charge up the mountain; I really appreciated looking back and seeing our other three rope teams all keeping pace, moving safely but efficiently to get everybody on the summit. I spend a lot of time working by myself, with one or two clients. On remote alpine peaks like Jagged you are often the only people for miles and miles. It made for a fun atmosphere to be on the mountain with a stellar crew of guides! 16 people on the summit in a 2-day period is pretty special.

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The crew on the summit of Jagged

And for the icing on the cake: On our second day, while resting after an alpine start and climb, a mountain goat wandered right into our camp! It was jaw-dropping to be so close to such a majestic animal.

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Sharing the sunset with our friend Brick, the mountain goat

August was a more mellow month for me. I kicked off the month with a week in California, visiting some family and feeling like a tourist in San Francisco. It was nice to spend some time in the city, but I was glad to return to Durango and escape back into the mountains.

I went on a few longer backpacking trips in the Weminuche Wilderness, and guided a few day trips at X Rock and East Animas. I also did some informal guide training with a few colleagues. Mostly, though, I took some time to climb, hike, raft, and kayak with friends. As Stephen Covey notes in his classic Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it is critically important to “sharpen the saw”: to take the time to hone one’s skills and stay at the top of your game. While I strive to always be improving as a climber, an outdoorsman, and a guide, it is nice to be able to dedicate a few weeks to personal growth.

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Five pitches up on a Silverton classic

. . .

To finish off the summer, I guided an ambitious five-day itinerary in the Weminuche. With two clients, I hiked a twenty-six(ish) mile point-to-point route through Colorado’s most rugged and remote mountains. We climbed Jagged Mountain and Vestal Peak, both by 5th class routes, and enjoyed some spectacular alpine camping. In between the camps and the climbs, we tackled some long, challenging, but rewarding days of hiking.

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Day 3, overlooking Balsam Lake

I really enjoyed this trip for a few reasons. First and foremost, the Weminuche Wilderness is one of my favorite places on Earth. Deep gorges cut through steep volcanic mountains that rise like daggers thrust into the sky. In the canyons, the misty forests feel magical in the early morning light, with woodpeckers, deer, beaver, moose, and squirrels all familiar sights. Above treeline, endless fields of strewn boulders are filled with the marmots and pika who feast on the alpine grasses and wildflowers that sprout from the scree and talus. High-altitude lakes shimmer like jewels embedded in the rock: deep, mysterious, and cerulean blue. And higher still, presiding over it all, mountains rising into the clouds, their steep slopes carved into complex and fascinating geologic sculptures. To travel through this terrain is challenging, but the beauty and serenity, a powerful force that seems to emanate from the landscape itself, is more than worth it.

On top of traversing one of the most incredible parts of Colorado, we also experienced the exhilaration of overlooking it all from the sides of two iconic mountains, and the challenge of ascending fifth-class routes to our their summits.

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On the ultra-classic Wham Ridge (5.4 III) on Vestal Peak

Finally, we had plenty of opportunities during our five days for deep conversation, allowing my two guests, old friends who had not seen each other for a while, to reconnect while sharing with me some of their most fascinating life experiences. Witnessing the bond between two friends strengthen is a truly special thing, and the deep relationships that are forged in wilderness are life-long. I feel grateful to witness and facilitate these relationships, and count myself lucky to have made new friends in the places where it truly means something.

Despite the challenging itinerary, the trip was a great success. My guests rose to the challenge, digging deep when the hiking got hard and embodying the adventurer’s spirit of mental and physical toughness. We summitted both Jagged and Vestal, made camp in incredible locations, and were graced with five days of completely dry weather, a rarity in late summer in Southwest Colorado. Another trip for the books!

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Enjoying the fall colors on the hike out

. . .

Now, the colors are starting to change, and a thin blanket of white is settling over the peaks. It’s time to sharpen the ice tools, wax the skis, and dig deep in the closet for those extra-puffy down layers. Another season of adventure lies ahead. Winter is almost here!

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Looking forward to winter! Molas Pass, February 2018

Written and photographed by Carl Schnitker – AMGA Certified SPI

 

Posted in Alpine Climbing, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, San Juan College | Comments Off

Black Diamond Helio jacket, Fordge down jacket, and Mission ski pants review

Last winter I was stoked to be issued a Black Diamond uniform, consisting of a Helio shell, a Forge down hoody, and Mission Pro pants. I taught 12 avalanche education courses, guided and even found time for some recreational outings, totaling about 60 days of use. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on these pieces, here are my thoughts.

Helio Alpine Shell:

This flagship Gore-Tex with C-knit backer shell is perhaps the best crafted Black Diamond clothing I’ve ever seen. The fit and finish are comparable to any other top-tier brand. This is a lightweight waterproof shell that is light enough (around 13oz) to stuff in your pack and forget about it until you need it, but burley enough to handle rock and ice climbing (and climbing trees to hide beacons). The fit is a little bit baggy, which I prefer for skiing, with a long hem length for full coverage in deep powder. Features are minimal in order to keep weight down: this jacket has two Napolean style chest pockets that are very useful when wearing a pack or harness, and pit zips. The zippers are a little sticky at first but wear in after a short while. The hood has only one rear pull cord, which works quite well. But I rarely wanted more features (personally I would trade pit zips for hand pockets, but many would disagree). The fabric is soft, quiet, and more breathable than Gore-Tex Pro, allowing me to comfortably skin with the jacket on, a rarity for me and  waterproof/breathable fabrics. There doesn’t seem to be a durability trade-off, as the jacket still looks and works as good as new, even the DWR coating. All in all, this has become my favorite ski shell; it hits the features I need without weighing much, and has the durability to withstand daily use and abuse.

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The crew skinning uphill in the Black Diamond Helio Jacket and Mission ski pants. Both provide enough breathability to be worn on the up.

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KMG owner and lead guide Josh Kling sporting the Black Diamond Mission ski pants and Helio hard shell on the down. While the pants are slightly more baggy then ideal, they are easily tuff enough for the 100+ day season.


Forge Down Hoody:

This is a warm and relatively light down jacket, warm enough to be a great mid-layer in San Juan winters or a lightweight outer layer/belay jacket for warmer climates or the other three seasons. The fit is relatively close, which I appreciate for climbing, and layers well under other clothes. Features include hand pockets, a chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack with carabiner clip-in loop, awesome drop-in interior pockets (all jackets should have these), 700-fill DWR down and a light but durable 20 denier DWR shell, all in a 15oz package. The close fit means this jacket moves well and feels extra cozy, the only downside being the cuffs are a little tight if you wear a watch. This is a common problem for me, I just cut a notch into the left wrist of most of my coats. The jacket is plenty warm down to the teens F, and breathable enough to skin or climb in at those temps, and the DWR fabric and down never wetted out, even in driving snow and sleet. The hood is well designed to fit over a helmet or tighten up enough to keep the weather out without a helmet on, and the low hem adds extra coverage and warmth. If you prefer a baggier fit, consider sizing up. I look forward to using this light puffy as an alpine jacket this summer.

 

Mission Ski Pants:

These are real ski pants, built to withstand years of use in the backcountry and the resort. They are particularly warm and durable, with Gore-Tex 3L and a brushed interior. The most unique feature is a built-in, padded, beacon harness on the right leg, including a tether and interior clip.. I initially thought the placement of this beacon pocket, low on the leg, would be annoying, but it turns out it’s perfect. I can barely notice the beacon while skinning or skiing, it’s easy to remove the beacon even with heavy gloves on, and the low placement makes a fine search easy. It’s a great feature I hope to see in all touring pants in the future. There’s also a “secret” stash pocket on the left leg that’s the perfect size for an AIARE field book, another thoughtful feature. A wallet pocket rounds out the storage. The cuffs feature Keprotec cuff patches, elastic inner gaiters and cuff zippers that allow you to deal with buckles without having to pull up the cuffs. The fit is quite baggy, kind of the opposite of rando-race lycra. You’ll actually look like you enjoy skiing downhill, and there’s nothing that will limit your range of motion, even with the side venting zips closed. The legs are a bit long, but the integrated belt helps keep the waist in place. What really strikes me is the durability of these pants; I tend to shred pants over the course of a season, but these still look mostly new. If you’re looking for pants that can last for hundreds of ski days, these are the ones.

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KMG spliboard guide and AIARE avalanche instructor Jack Klim sporting the Black Diamond Helio jacket and Mission ski pants while working in the pits taking snow observations.

Tico Allulee

IFMGA Ski and Mountain Guide

DarkStarMoutainGuide

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Guiding in a super-continental snowpack: How to keep guests happy in the San Juan Mountains.

This is a repost from a Backcountry Access Blog post that Josh wrote in December 2017.

The San Juan Mountains around Red Mountain Pass and Silverton, CO are known to have the most avalanche prone and finicky snow pack in the lower 48 states (some would say the world). Terms like Radiation Crystallization for near surface faceting were coined in the San Juan Mountains (Karl Birkland 1998 Terminology and Predominant Process Associated with the Formation of Weak Layers of Near-Surface Faceted Crystals in the Mountain Snowpack). Backcountry skiing here can be a dubious process, especially for the novice backcountry traveler. Finding stable snow is easy. Finding untracked snow is easy. However, the crux is finding the combination of both that is also fun to ski. Now add on top of that paying customers who are expecting to be shown the goods, guiding in San Juan Mountains is no easy process! So let’s take a look at a few steps KMG takes to make sure guests are staying happy. These steps can be applied to any snowpack, but are especially applicable in our super continental snow pack.

Forecasts:

Our days always begin by looking at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) forecast for the Northern and Southern San Juan Mountains.

KMG-avy-forecast-laptop-940x705

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learn to read the avalanche center forecast first, before choosing a tour location. So many backcountry users (skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers) choose the location first and then look at the forecast to decide how to mitigate the risk. IE they decide they are going to ski on the East side of Red Mountain Pass, forcing the forecast to their specific location and terrain. They then proceed there regardless of conditions. It may be great skiing? It may be horrible. It may be safe and stable? It may be sketchy and unstable. Looking at the forecast first can help tailor a tour specifically to the conditions.

In addition to the CAIC forecast, our guides also look over a variety of other weather stations, such as NOA, for more info. We have a pinpoint forecast for Red Mountain Pass and other weather stations saved as bookmarks making it pretty efficient to check the weather.

Some of these additional weather stations we like are listed here:

http://www.klingmountainguides.com/weather-info/

On top of direct weather sites like the ones listed above and the CAIC, we typically will look at the CDOT (www.CoTrip.org) as well as the Purgatory Resort, Telluride, and Wolf Creek snow reports. This gives us as much possible info as we can get from a variety of sources. Our links are saved as bookmarks, so it really does not take that long.

CalTopo, Google Earth, and Terrain Photos:

There are advantages and disadvantages to everything, including maps versus actual pictures of terrain. Ideally you are using a mixture of everything. At KMG, we have an extensive terrain atlas of pictures and named runs. Our guides go through this list and picture atlas prior to heading out in the morning. The guides are intimately familiar with our terrain around Silverton and Red Mountain Pass. However, spending time going over maps and terrain photos prior to heading out helps us deliver that much of a better product to our clients. The general public should check out the Silverton Off Piste Ski Atlas which I co-authored. The Silverton Ski Atlas is filled with many of the same aerial photos that our guides use.

Screen Shot 2017-12-09 at 6.01.27 AM All of our pictures are well labeled and on a Google Drive. This allows our guides to view them on a computer as well as on their phones for viewing off line while in the field.

UP Trees Blackjack 3 Picture 1. Some of our favorite terrain off Red Mountain Pass.

 

Shot of CanadaPic 2. Prospect Gulch. Pic 1 is the left side of Pic 2. The tree runs are visible in both pictures

Sam's The Chattanooga Curve zone just south of Red Mountain Pass

Having detailed photos, along with a map, along with Google Earth really allows for the guides to dial in their specific tour.

In addition to the terrain photos, our guides utilize www.CalTopo.com, Google Earth Pro, and the app GAIA GPS. Utilizing CalTopo, KMG has an extensive map our terrain, complete with labeled runs. Nobody thinks twice about how rock climbing routes are named, but for some reason ski runs (especially backcountry runs) tend to be much more vague. By having a detailed map with named runs our guides can be extremely specific when setting up a tour by opening and closing certain terrain or runs.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 4.40.26 PMScreen shot of runs in CalTopo utilizing slope shading to show steepness. This map is of the terrain in Picture 1 & 2

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 4.45.07 PMTerrain from Picture 1 & 2 shown in Google Earth
It’s often much easier to use Google Earth in conjunction with a topo map, rather than just trying to visualize a topo map by itself. Regardless, once the guides have read the forecast, we open up these programs. We then begin to scour the map & Google Earth in the general zone for that day. CalTopo has some amazing features such as slope shading and graded relief (as shown above). This can help us get an idea of how steep certain terrain is. This does take some time and commitment. We may spend 10 – 20 minutes looking over terrain trying to find runs that meet what we am looking for in regards to terrain for the day. This can be vastly expedited by having a named run list (see below).

Build a Run List and photo atlas:

At KMG we utilize an extensively built run list. These are named ski runs all over our terrain. The terrain boundariesa are Coal Bank Pass on the southern end to Red Mountain Pass on the north, Ophir Pass on the west over towards Handies Peak and American Basin on the east.

KMG RMP Run list - KMG RMP Run list A sample run list of some of our terrain around Silverton and Red Mountain Pass

This is likely a new concept to most recreational backcountry travelers however it’s relatively simple. Naming runs helps with tour planning but also with risk management. It cleans up communication before a trip and while in the field. It allows guides to be very specific about what terrain they will ski as well as what runs are to be avoided.   If an incident occurs, a run last can help Flight for Life or Search and Rescue locate the you as well.

 Fat powder gear: This one sounds silly. When you think about it though, it really isn’t. Powder oriented gear allows you to float more. It used to be that if you wanted any float with 80 mm under foot skis, you needed to ski steep (IE more avalanche prone and aggressive) lines. Today, skis like the Black Diamond Helio 106 or Helio 116 is a great powder ski. Fat skis allow you to float and have tons of fun in 25-35 degree powder, no problem! I find that most if not all of our clients have a ton of fun skiing 32 degree untracked boot top pow.

 

External Training: All of our guides go through external training outside of KMG. This includes organizations like the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) for ski guide training and the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) for avalanche training. These organizations tend to be technically oriented (IE the skills they teach are more hard skills such as snow science and risk mitigation rather than soft skills such as coaching). However, when a guide is technically proficient due to extensive training and examination, they are able to put 100% of their energy into client satisfaction. These organizations also work on skills such as client care and professionalism.

Float Packs: You may ask how does a Float Pack like the BCA Speed 27 help somebody have more fun? Well, I’ve found that many folks are nervous or even apprehensive about skiing in the backcountry (especially the San Juan Mountains around Silverton). This is can be especially true without a guide. Folk’s nerves seem to ease slightly with a guide making the risk management calls. For the past several years however we’ve provided BCA Float 22 packs to clients free of charge. When a Float pack comes at no additional cost, people seem to use them without hesitation. When they ski with a Float Pack they seem to feel that much more relaxed. It’s entirely a mental thing. We would ski the same terrain and make the same risk management calls with or without a Float Pack. However, anything to make folks more comfortable

 

FLOAT 22 A couple of psyched KMG clients sporting BCA Float 22 packs, walking back along the infamous US 550 after linking some classic San Juan ski lines.

These are just some of the techniques we use to help find good snow and ensure that our clients have a great time. If you feel like seeing for yourself what the ski terrain around Silverton, CO and the San Juan Mountains have to offer, please give us a shout! Until then, happy skiing.

Josh Kling is an American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Certified Alpine Guide, Certified Rock Guide, and Assistant Ski Guide as well as an AIARE Course Leader.  He is a Backcountry Access Brand Ambassador.

Posted in American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Training, Avalanche Courses, LEKI, Skiing, Uncategorized | Comments Off

San Juan Mountains Ice / Ski Conditions Report November 10, 2017

Every year the guides at Kling Mountain Guides are routinely the first ones out on the ice and snow. Here is a full conditions report from November 10, 2017.  This covers conditions in South Mineral Creek, Cement Creek, and the Eureka Valley.

South Mineral Creek:

The road down South Mineral Creek was mostly dry. There were a few snowy  spots in the shade where you have to slow down, but was otherwise dry to the campground.  North Facing climbs (DNF, Snowblind, and Campground Couloir, Cataract Creek) that have water flow were doing well.  They appeared wet from the road, but did have climbable lines (if done early in the day).  Cataract Creek and Snowblind appeared to be in the best condition. South facing/ sunny climbs such as Sundance still have a long way to go.

Campground 1st pitch Campground Couloir Upper Campground zoomed out Cataract Creek DNF Snowblind Sundance

 

Cement Creek:

This is the road that goes up to Velocity Basin and towards Silverton Mountain ski area.  While there is really popular ice in this valley, there is popular early season skiing in Velocity Basin.  The road up Cement Creek was similar to South Mineral Creek.  It was primarily dry except for a few snowy spots.  The final stretch of road actually into Velocity Basin was fully snow packed.   The road had anywhere from about 6 CM to drifting over 20 CM+ There were recent tire tracks from somebody driving all the way into Velocity Lake, but I elected to not drive further (due to time constraints).  Velocity Basin and the Grande couloir did appear to have enough snow to ski.  However the coverage looked spotty at best.  I would recommend some good evaluations and observations prior to skiing anything in there.Grande Couloir Velocity Basin

 

Eureka:

The road up to Eureka was dry the entire way. You can still drive most of the way to Animas Forks.  You can drive directly to the base of First and Second Gully, Stairway to Heaven, and the Fat City area.  Anything with sun was not in.   Stairway to Heaven was forming but has a long way to go.  The upper Pitches of Highway to Hell (climbers right of Stairway to Heaven) actually looked pretty good.  I spoke with some climbers that had just done the first pitch of Second Gully.  They said it was wet, thin, and not super worth it.  But it / they are forming quickly.   The Turkey Chute is not a Eureka climb, but rather an Arasta Gulch ski.  However, it is visible (barely) from the Eureka area.  It did have snow, but was hard to tell coverage given I was using a 20x zoom to get a close shot of it.  I suspect it to be similar to the Grande Couloir in Velocity Basin.  Both likely “skiable” depending on how much you like your bases and your femurs.

Goldrush highway to hell upper HIgway to Hell Second Gully Stairway 3rd pitch up Stairway to heaven lower Stairway to Heaven Sundance Turkey Chute

 

We’ll be posting more reports as we get out.  In the mean time, please let forming climbs form up so as not to ruin them for the season.  If you have other questions, comments, or concerns please do not hesitate to get in touch. KMG guides programs in all of these places.  Additionally, if you’re in the Front Range area on December 7th, come to Bent Gate Mountaineering in Golden.  We’ll be doing a presentation on the Silverton Off Piste Ski Atlas that I co-authoered.  Free beer is going to be provided by New Belgium brewing and we’ll be doing a ski give away from Romp Skis.  We’ll be talking about how the first two editions came to be, some avalanche safety stuff and taking a sneak peak at what will be in the 3rd edition of the Atlas that will be coming out next fall.

In the mean time keep the waxy side down and the pump up!

Cheers

Josh Kling, 

AMGA Certified Alpine and Rock Guide, Assistant Ski Guide,

Owner/ Lead Guide

Kling Mountain Guides

Posted in Alpine Climbing, Avalanche Courses, Mountaineering, Skiing, Uncategorized | Comments Off

San Juan Mountains Condition Report (Snake Couloir, Mt. Sneffels Ski Beta) May 27, 2017

The conditions in the San Juan Mountains and southwest CO are ripe right now! From skiing big lines to climbing fun and warm sandstone, there is something for everybody.

This past week I had the chance to ski the Snake Couloir, a classic line on Mt. Sneffels 14,150 ft.   There is still PLENTY of snow up high for weeks of great skiing.

Picture by Grady James.  Sven Brunso (up close in orange) and Josh Kling pictured.

Picture by Grady James. Sven Brunso (up close in orange) and Josh Kling pictured.

Camp athlete and AMGA Certified Alpine Guide Josh Kling nearing the top of Lavender Col. Picture by Sven Brunso

Camp athlete and AMGA Certified Alpine Guide Josh Kling nearing the top of Lavender Col. Picture by Sven Brunso

The approach to Mt. Sneffels and the Snake Couloir via Yankee Boy Basin. The approach in proved easy skiing on a supportable crust.

While we brought ski crampons they were never needed. Conditions allowed us to skin the entire way to the col and part way up the to the summit.

Camp Athlete and AMGA Certified Alpine Guide Josh Kling nearing the summit of Mt. Sneffels. Picture by Sven Brunso

Camp Athlete and AMGA Certified Alpine Guide Josh Kling nearing the summit of Mt. Sneffels. Picture by Sven Brunso

Do NOT climb all the way up the couloir to the col/ top of the couloir.  About 1/3 -1/2 way up the couloir you can exit on the climbers left side of the couloir on a snow ramp.  This puts you on a very mellow ridge the rest of the way to the summit.  By doing this you avoid the rock step at the top of the couloir.  It also gets you out quick, which lessons the chance of getting hit by rock fall from above.

Sven Brunso kicking steps towards the summit.  Picture by Grady James

Sven Brunso kicking steps towards the summit. Picture by Grady James

Skis were put on the packs for the final push to the summit. At high elevations and north aspects, the snow provided a great boot pen and easy step kicking.

The crew (L-R) Grady James, Josh Kling, and Sven Brunso on the summit of Mt. Sneffels just before  the rappel into the Snake Couloir.  picture by LEKI selfe stick ski pole.

The crew (L-R) Grady James, Josh Kling, and Sven Brunso on the summit of Mt. Sneffels just before the rappel into the Snake Couloir. picture by LEKI selfe stick ski pole.

 

The rap into the Snake

The rap into the Snake

There are two rappel options to get into the Snake. The common one is directly on the summit.  There is a buried picket and a bunch of tat.  If you rappel off the summit, you  will require a 60 M rope (for most skiers). If you are comfortable doing some legit scrambling it is doable with a 40 M.  You can also rappel in off a rock feature just prior/ east of the summit. You will need some nuts to leave in the rock. This rappel spot is great! You can rap from here with just a 20M rope! It also provides an easier egress back out of you get into the snake and decide it’s no good.  This makes the line substantially less committing (IMO).  This also means you can do the rappel into the ski the Snake Couloir with only a 20 M rope!  (I have done this and it will take you from the ridge all the way to snow with now scary scrambling).  IMO, a 30 M Rad line or something similar would be ideal.

Sven Brunso making it look good on the top 1/3 of the Snake Couloir.  Picture by Grady James

Sven Brunso making it look good on the top 1/3 of the Snake Couloir. Picture by Grady James

 

Skier: Sven Brunso, Location: Mt Sneffles (14,157' ), San Juan Mountains, CO

Sven Brunso making it look good on the top 1/3 of the Snake Couloir. Picture by Grady James

Skier: Sven Brunso, Location: Mt Sneffles (14,157' ), San Juan Mountains, CO

Sven Brunso making the bottom third of the Snake Couloir Look good just before the choke.Kling skin Blayne Basin

The downside of something like the Snake is that after the ski you have to skin an other couple thousand feet back up to Lavender Col to ski out. Here Camp athlete and AMGA Certified Alpine Guide skinning towards Lavender Col one last time. Picture by Sven Brunso.

The quad anchor utilizing the CAMP USA 240  Dyneema sling, two CAMPS USA Photon wire gates, two CAMP HMS Compact carabiners , two CAMP USA HMS Nitro carabiners, CAMP USA OVO belay device

The quad anchor utilizing the CAMP USA 240 Dyneema sling, two CAMPS USA Photon wire gates, two CAMP HMS Compact carabiners , two CAMP USA HMS Nitro carabiners, CAMP USA OVO belay device

Down low though, summer is in full swing! It’s prime rock season back in Durango with temperatures in the 70’s. The quad style anchor with all Camp gear is my go to anchor setup for Durango guiding. The Camp 240 CM quad length dyneema runner, two photon non locking carabiners, two HMS Nitro carabiners, two HMS Compacts, and a Ovo belay device. From in town two pitch guiding to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, this is a great system and always on my harness.

A Boy Scout group from AZ enjoying rock climbing, rappelling, and our custom Tyrollean Traverse, all under the supervision of American Mountain Guides Association Certified Instructors and Guides.

A Boy Scout group from AZ enjoying rock climbing, rappelling, and our custom Tyrollean Traverse, all under the supervision of American Mountain Guides Association Certified Instructors and Guides.

Topping out Dogs of Doom (5.8) at East Animas climbing area in Durango.

Topping out Dogs of Doom (5.8) at East Animas climbing area in Durango.

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A climber hanging around at the base of the Direct Start Travel’s With Charlie (5.9). East Animas Climbing Area, Durango, CO.

It’s also Black Canyon season! We’ve ran three trips in the past three weeks! The temperatures there have been perfect this week! So far this year KMG has ran trips on Maiden Voyage (5.9 6 pitches) King Me (5.10, 3 pitches), and the Russian Arete (5.9, 1800 ft).

 

The north rim and the SOB gully pictured on the left.   The north rim campground would be visible on the left if it were more zoomed in.

 

The top of the Russian Crete (5.9, 1800 ft, grade IV) Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Picture by AMGA Certified Rock guide Gary Newmeyer

The top of the Russian Crete (5.9, 1800 ft, grade IV) Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Picture by AMGA Certified Rock guide Gary Newmeyer

The Russian Arete (5.9 1800 ft grade IV) in the middle of the picture.

The Russian Arete (5.9 1800 ft grade IV) in the middle of the picture.

It’s a little early to get into the remote San Juan high country for peaks such as Jagged and Wham Ridge on Vestal however.

Mid June 2016 looking at Jagged Mountain from Jagged Pass

Mid June 2016 looking at Jagged Mountain from Jagged Pass

Jagged Mountain with the full route visible w/o snow from Sunlight Basin.

Jagged Mountain with the full route visible w/o snow from Sunlight Basin.

Overall it’s been a great spring though!  Never hesitate to get in touch with the the AMGA Certified Guides of KMG for up to date conditions and route beta.

Josh Kling

AMGA Certified Alpine & Rock Guide

Camp USA Athlete Ambassador

LEKI Ski Team Ambassador

Posted in Alpine Climbing, CAMP USA climbing, LEKI, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Skiing, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Smith IO/7 Google Review

Skiing and snowboarding is possibly one of the moroe gear intensive outdoor activities, and the quality of certain pieces of gear can directly impact the quality of experience (for better or for worse).  Goggles are one of these items.  Having good clear vision with good depth perception can not only make a drastic difference to your comfort level (and therefore riding security and movement skills) it can also impact the amount of fun you have!  

Coming from CO and the sunny San Juan Mountains, I used to be a fan of skiing in sunglasses.  I have changed my tune.  I have been ski patrolling, ski guiding, and teaching avalanche courses using with the Smith IO/7 goggles with the ChromaPop lenses for two seasons now for a total of roughly 170 days combined.  These goggles stand out as exceptional eye wear for several reasons. 

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    1. They’re LARGE!  I have an average size face/ head and am a big fan of big lenses.  Small goggles can inhibit your peripheral vision.  Peripheral vision is important in all aspects of skiing, but especially important when I’m ski patrolling and skiing inbounds.  I want to be able to the skiers and boarders that come flying from all directions.  The large lenses of the IO/7 are as large as comfortably possible without being too big.  IMG_6589
    2. The lenses are super easy to change.  Having a variety of lease options and being able to switch them is only a benefit if you actually change them. The IO/7 lenses are extremely easy to switch.  There is only one small flip tab (compared with several tabs on the IO/X).  Typically I have two lenses in my ski patrol pack.  A low light lense and a bright light lense. The dark lense I use is the ChromaPop Sun.  I ski in contacts and seem to be light sensitive, so I prefer an extra dark.  This lense has a 9% visible light transmission (VLT). The lense is a layered green mirror over a gray base.  This helps ease the harsh glare of high elevation sun.  For super flat light days and evening sweeps when patrolling I use the Red Sensor Mirrored lense. This lense is a 55% VLT, so the other end of the spectrum for light transmission. When I’m skiing down in the dark, which often happens ski patrolling, this is my lense of choice.  It still cuts down on glare while helping features stand out. This is what one wants when skiing in flat light and dark conditions.  The third lense I use, primarily for ski guiding on overnight hut trips where weight is an issue, is the Photochromic Red Sensor lense (20% – 50% VLT).  While these do not get as dark as I would prefer, carrying one lense is a great benefit.  It’s also a great benefit to not deal with switching the lenses out as the lighting conditions of the day change.
  • They don’t fog.  Goggles that fog are more of a hindrance than they are a help.  I still would not hike in these.  However, the IO/7 seem to fog less than comparable and less expensive goggles.  This goes for both hard skiing as well as when it’s snowing heavily.

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Overall, these goggles are awesome!   I find the optics good enough that I have two pairs, a patrol pair that lives with my patrol gear at the resort and a guiding pair that stays with my guiding gear.  With all the storms and snow this winter in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, I’m psyched to have them and put another couple hundred days of use on them!

Happy pow pow!

-Josh Kling

AMGA Certified Alpine Guide, Certified Rock Guide, Assistant Ski Guide
AMGA/ IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide 

Owner / Lead Guide
Kling Mountain Guides, LLC
Posted in Avalanche Courses, Skiing, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Ice Condition Report, San Juan Mountains 11/15/16

Every year, KMG guides are routinely the first ones getting turns skiing and getting sticks ice climbing.  The San Juan Mountains are filled with some of the largest and best ice climbing in the lower 48 states.  Here is a conditions report form yesterday.  There is certainly ice out there to be climbed.  That being said, please refrain from climbing anything that is not ready yet.  This helps preserve it for the season.

The below pictures, while not designed to highlight ski conditions, can also give an idea of what snow (or lack there of) is available to ski right now.

Thanks and enjoy!

-Josh Kling

AMGA Certified Alpine Guide, Certified Rock Guide, Assistant Ski Guide
AMGA/ IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide 

Owner / Lead Guide
Kling Mountain Guides, LLC

direct-north-face dnf-lower-pitches dnf-upper-pitches fat-city-area glazed-bullion gold-rush goofy highway-to-hell mickey-minnie mickey-mouse middle-minnie minnie-mouse-2 minnie-mouse second-gully stairway-to-heaven

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LEKI GLOVE REVIEW – ELEMENTS KRYPTON S

When you live in gloves, for both work and play, virtually seven days a week all winter long, you learn what you like and more importantly what works.  Last winter I had the chance to use, abuse, and review the LEKI Elements Krypton S Gloves.   They were used ski patrolling at Purgatory Mountain Resort, ski guiding on Red Mountain Pass and in Alaska, and leading Level 1 and Level 2 AIARE avalanche courses also on Red Mountain Pass.

Testing conditions:

  • 70+ days skiing
  • 60 days in a continental snow pack, primarily on Red Mountain Pass, CO
  • 10 days on Thompson Pass, Valdez, AK
  • 9,318 – 14,150 ft
  • Mix of ski patrolling, ski guiding, instructing AIARE avalanche courses, recreational skiing
AIARE Level 2 course leader and IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide Josh Kling discussing terrain options on Red Mountain Pass with an AIARE Level 2 avalanche course.

IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide Josh Kling pointing out terrain options on Red Mountain Pass with his LEKI Elements Krypton S gloves and LEKI Blue Bird Carbon poles

The Elements Krypton S is a great all around workhorse ski glove.  Typically when I’m working (patrolling/ guiding/ instructing avalanche courses) I always have at least two if not three pairs of gloves with me.  These were my mid-heavy weight  glove that were always with me.

Specifications:

Retail: $129.95

Series Unisex 
eleMents | Freeski 
Construction Trigger S 
Fit Cozy Fit 
Warmth Level Warm 
Main Material Softshell 87 
Premium Goatskin 
Palm Material Premium Goatskin 
Digital Nash 
Insulation Hyperloft 
Lining Makes Dry 
Length/Size 7.0 – 11.0

 

There are really only a few reasons to like (or dislike) any glove:

1) General construction:  These are a seam heavy glove.  IE lots of stitching.  While seams can be weak points they were not in these gloves.  The stitching allowed for an articulated curve manufactured into the glove.  This manufactured curve gives the glove and incredibly comfortable fit right out of the package.  Many less expensive leather gloves feel very stiff and tight until significantly broken in.  The Elements felt comfortable and broken in immediately.  IE there was no “wear in” period.   This made them warm immediately.  The same less expensive gloves that require a break in period, are often cold for the first significant period due to being very tight until broken in.

2)Warmth: If you are a skier or rider that runs cold, this could be a great glove for you.  I tend to run hot.  That meant these were my go gloves for days when; the mercury dipped below 20F / -6 C,  I was expecting a lot of standing around such as when instructing avalanche courses or digging snow pits, I was hauling a ski patrol toboggan which have metal handles and can get very cold.  I actually did not get quit as much use out of these gloves as I originally expected due to how warm they were.  They are not a Denali guide glove, but for lower 48 skiing, especially at Colorado’s high elevation, they are plenty warm.  Some of this warmth likely comes from the backside padding (pictured below)

The backside of the Elements’ fingers and back of the palm are padded.  I am not sure the original reasoning of the padding.  Regardless, this extra padding did add wartime to the glove.  Additionally, I use the back of gloved hand when working in snow pits to help clean up the observation wall and test wall of the pit.  This allows a better visual of the different layers in the snow.  If I can better see the layers in the snow, I can better understand what is going on with their bonding characteristics.  This padding added one more insulating layer between my digits and the snow.

leki-element-krypton-s-w-aarows

The arrows highlighting the extra padding on the backside of the Elements Krypton S gloves.

snow-layers-copy

The light shinning through the less dense layers of the San Juan sand which of a snowpack during an AIARE level 2 course.

In addition to the back of the fingers and palm being padded, the back of the thumb is soft as well.  This provides a great snot rag (yup booger covered thumbs) when out and about.  Anybody that has worn gloves even a little in the cold knows that a soft back to the thumb is essential and leads to a less runny nose.

I am normally not a big fan of cuffs or Velcro synch straps on my ski gloves.  This is due to me taking them on and off repeatedly.  The cuff on the Elements was not overbearing or a pain to deal with.  This helped with quick transitions on the when getting ready to ski down.  If a glove is a pain to put on I am less likely to want to switch from my skinning glove to my skiing glove.

IFMGA Guide Jed Porter highlighting terrain with IFMGA aspirant mountain guide Josh Kling

IFMGA Guide Jed Porter highlighting terrain with IFMGA aspirant mountain guide Josh Kling wearing the Elements Krypton S gloves and Blue Bird carbon poles.

For somebody that takes off and puts on gloves repeatedly, the glove lining must be stitched to the shell of the glove.  Anybody that has ever had glove lining turn inside-out knows exactly what I am talking about.  The lining of the Elements is stitched securely to the shell of the glove.  This means when I would pull my hand out, the lining of the glove would come with it.  Rather the lining of the glove would stay securely inside.  This makes it easier to pull my hand out as well as put it back in the glove.

Ok….the down side.  It seems as though there are two general limits of gloves these days.  Some that do ok with moist hands and some that do not.  The lining of the Elements is unfortunately the later of the two options.  If your hand is dry it will slide into the glove with ease and comfort.  However, if your hand is at all moist from the snow (as if you were just doing your hardness tests in a snow pit or taking somebody’s pulse lying in the snow on the ski hill) the lining material would tend to get stuck and “grab” at my hand, making it kind of tricky to get the glove on.  Additionally, this would lead to bunching of the lining material.  “Keep your hands dry” you say.  “Don’t stick them in the snow without gloves on” you add. Well, when working as a ski guide, ski patroller, and avalanche course instructor the gloves are off and on over and over.

Worth mentioning is the Trigger S system that LEKI uses in many of their gloves and poles.  The Trigger S in the Elements Krypton gloves works seamlessly with my LEKI Blue Bird Carbon S  Poles ( see attached review).  However, as I state in the pole review, I am not one that typically likes to attach myself to my poles regardless of the release mechanism.  This is because when skiing in the backcountry, being attached to poles can act like an anchor in the even of an avalanche.  That being said, there are times when being connected to the poles may be conducive.  IE skiing a steep couloir (such as the Turkey Chute or Elevator shaft – see the new Off Piste Ski Atlas Silverton edition for more details on both of those) where falling and tumbling down the couloir is actually the greater concern, not an avalanche.  That might be a good time to be connect to my poles so I can’t drop them.

Other the minor lining issue, these are great all around solid ski gloves for a continental snow climate.  And for most folks that put their gloves on and leave them on for the duration of the day, this is likely not going to be an issue.

Full disclosure, I am a LEKI athlete and did not pay for these gloves.  That being said, I would gladly pay the Elements Krypton S gloves as an addition to my guiding and patrolling kits.

Josh Kling, 
AMGA Certified Alpine Guide & Rock Guide, Assistant Ski Guide
AMGA/ IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide 
AIARE Level 1 & 2 Course Leader
Wilderness Medical Associates Instructor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Avalanche Courses, LEKI, Mountaineering, Skiing, Uncategorized | Comments Off

How to Sharpen Ice Tools

It is that time of year again. The Colorado Ice Conditions page on Facebook is a flurry with posts of who’s climbed Pikes Peak? Is Martha’s in yet?? Who knows where’s there is ice to climb!?!? By early November the Internet is a flurry and ice climbers are anxious, swinging their tools into the neighborhood hockey rink just to feel something. Typically by early November there is climbable ice if you know where to go. By the end of November certainly seasonal classics are in, and by early December it’s game on.

IFMGA ski and mountain guide Chris Marshal leading Stairway to Heaven, WI4 Grade IV, 1200 ft 7 pitches, Eureka, CO

This time of year the ice tools come out of the crawl space and get dusted off. I stare at the picks deciding if they are in need of replacement or can they make it a little bit longer with some love? These picks aren’t that bad I tell myself…. Until compared with a new set of picks is.

Version 2

Climbers beginning the early season climb Second Gully (WI3 800 ft 6 pitches) outside of Silverton, CO

A comparison of old used picks up top, brand new sharpened picks in the middle, and brand new picks on the bottom.

That being said, sharpening these old blunt picks can make them perform and hold on for a little bit longer.

A zoomed out view of the classic climb, Stairway to Heaven outside of Silverton, CO.

A zoomed out view of the classic climb, Stairway to Heaven outside of Silverton, CO.

stairway-to-heaven-zoomed-in

 

  • The Pick: The pick has to be able to go into the ice, at the same time displacing or braking off as little as possible.
  • The Stick: The jagged teeth located on the underside of the ice pick keep the tool from popping out. These are what give you security. That being said, if the teeth are too pronounce, the tool will be hard to get out.
  • The Pull: Removing a toll from the ice is 50% skill and 50% having a good pick. The last thing you want is to either A) burn extra energy removing your tool. B) break a pick trying to remove it. C) have the pick pop out and whack you in the nose. A thin and sharp edge on top of the pick can help you dislodge it from sticky placements.

So how do we breath some life back into last seasons picks? You’ll need a plain old mill bastard file. Bastard files have a two way or cross pattern in the file. This allows you to file in any direction, where as a straight cut file only goes one way.

All picks need some consistent love and maintenance, even when brand new. While it is possible to use a bench grinder, the bastard file will do the trick and is typically preferred. A bench grinder can over heat a pick and ruin its temper.

A comparison of old used picks up top, brand new sharpened picks in the middle, and brand new picks on the bottom.

a comparison of a blunt pick, a sharpened pick nearing the end of it’s life, and a brand new pick

Step 1 The Pick: You will want to follow the general bevel of the manufacture. Do not just file back and forth. You will get a better file if you file and repeat in the same direction over and over. Make sure your strokes are ok either side of the picks tip. File until the beveled edge is as sharp as a knife.

pick-sharpening-1

 

pick-charpening-2

 

Step 2 The Stick: The teeth of your pick are what give the pick bite and stick. This is what keeps you hanging on to steep ice. This is what keeps you from popping out of the ice and allows you to trust your placements. However, everything in moderation, including moderation. Too much bite and you will not be able to remove your picks from the ice.

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Step 3 The Pull: Pulling out is always important. The last thing you want is an overly secure stick that you can’t remove from the ice just as you’re pumping out. A difficult pull can “pop” out, whacking you in the nose or cheek. Not ideal. Make sure to have a sharpened and beveled edge on the top of the pick.

So go sharpen those picks, get amped, spend some time on Google Earth and find that early season ice. It’s there.

goldrush

Climbers enjoying some San Juan ice with sharp picks

Josh is the owner and lead guide for Kling Mountain Guides, a small ski and mountain guide service based in Durango, CO. He is a Camp-USA athlete, an AMGA certified alpine guide, rock guide, assistant ski guide, and IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide. His tools get their most use in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern CO.

 

Posted in Alpine Climbing, CAMP USA climbing, Mountaineering | Comments Off

LEKI Ski Pole Review – Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon, Blue Bird Carbon S, Aergonlite 2 Carbon

As winter begins to approach, I start to reorganize my different “kits,” seeing what gear needs to be replaced and what still works. This past season I had the opportunity to work and ski with three different sets of LEKI poles. These included the LEKI Blue Bird Carbon S (my all-time favorite poles to date), the LEKI Aergonlite 2 Carbon, and the Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon.  These three sets of poles would cover everything and anything you might ever need a trekking or ski pole for.

IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide and AIARE Level 2 course leader Josh Kling demonstrating how to take field weather observations during a hut based AIARE 2 on Red Mountain Pass, San Juan Mountains, CO.  Pic by IFMGA Guide Jed Porter.

IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide and AIARE Level 2 course leader Josh Kling demonstrating how to take field weather observations during a hut based AIARE 2 on Red Mountain Pass, San Juan Mountains, CO. Pic by IFMGA Guide Jed Porter.

LEKI Aergonlite 2 Carbon $159/ pair

  • Length/ Size                        110 – 145 Continuously adjustable
  • Adjustment area                 110 – 145 CM
  • Weight                                   16.9 oz
LEKI AERGONLITE 2 CARBON

LEKI AERGONLITE 2 CARBON

These are a great workhorse adjustable ski pole. This could be your single set of poles. LEKI’s version of the locking adjustment mechanism, what they call the Speed Lock 2, worked great. All season long the locking mechanism worked flawlessly regardless of conditions (variations in temperatures, wet or dry). The lever seemed to be larger than some of the comparable ski poles on the market from other companies.  This larger lever seemed to be easier to work with gloves on then others.  I also liked the huge head on the handle. This extra large head worked great for grabbing the tip of my tech bindings to lock them. Now the handle of the Aergonlite are definitely not designed for doing this.  I did eventually break the head of the handle after a full season of locking tech bindings.  However, I would assume that if I used the poles in the manor they were designed, this would not have happened.

Often times when guiding I will use my poles to whack snow off branches on the ski up so my clients do not get nailed with tree-bombs (client care “pass”). The Aergonlite worked well and held up to significant tree beatings. They also showed durability for whacking the snow off the top of my skis when it balled up.

These were my go to poles for many tours in the San Juan Mountains that involved long skate outs on road cuts and high millage tours in intermixed with big ski descents. Perfect examples of tours where they performed great would be the Kendal Mountain & Turkey Chute link up or the Grand Turk & Sultan link up. The huge adjustment made these poles perform the same on steep and deep as they did skating out of a tour as they did skiing low angle fun powder.  I chose to take off the ski strap, as skiing with a strap in avalanche terrain is typically not advised.  This was easy to do with just popping the connecting pin out. Overall I would give this pole a solid B.

kendal-turkey-link-up

The Kendal & Turkey Chute link up. Having an adjustable pole for a tour like this makes the approach and final exit more enjoyable.

dropping-the-turkey-chute

Dropping into the Turkey Chute, an 1,800 ft couloir. The top 1,000 ft is in the chute, the bottom 800 feet opens to a great apron.

  • Plusses:
    • Performed great in all conditions.
    • Was durable for normal*  use. * I put ski poles through more use and abuse then a typically backcountry skier. If you are a 30-50 day a season backcountry skier, you should have no problem with these poles.
    • Huge adjustability for large variety of tours.
  • Minuses:
    • Broke tip of handle head off after using it repeatedly for locking tech bindings. While this is not at all what the handles are designed for, many backcountry skiers do use their poles to lock tech bindings. There is an other method of locking tech bindings with poles that does not use the head of the handle.
AMGA Certified Alpine and Rock guide Josh Kling discussing terrain options with Britt on Thompson Pass outside of Valdez, AK.

AMGA Certified Alpine and Rock guide Josh Kling discussing terrain options with Britt on Thompson Pass outside of Valdez, AK.

LEKI Blue Bird Carbon S $149.95

  • Length/ Size                                          110 – 135 CM in 5 CM steps
  • Weight                                                     17.6 oz at a length of 120 cm
LEKI BLUE BIRD CARBON S

LEKI BLUE BIRD CARBON S

Ok, so you ski in the backcountry, you hate lifts, your shred powder. You need an adjustable pole, right? WRONG. The past few years, more often than not I have found myself not adjusting my poles when touring.  I set the height I prefer, and pretty much stick with that length the entire tour.  The LEKI Blue Bird Carbon are my fixed pole of choice, and my favorite of the three poles I used.  If I do need to do any micro adjustment of the pole length, the 9” foam handle of the Blue Bird offers more than enough to keep me touring. What kept bringing me back to these tour after tour was actually that it did not adjust.  Less moving parts meant less to break.  The poles come with patented Triger S and Trigger S Vario straps.  These straps automatically release under enough pressure, as in an avalanche or when clipping a tree. However, I still prefer, and advocate, backcountry skiing without pole straps on.  This releasable strap did make it much easier to toss the straps in my pack and not use them VS other poles where the strap has to be unscrewed and disassembled.  So while I don’t use the Trigger S in the manner in which it was designed (go figure) I certainly loved the quick release.

Typically when I tour, I have two sets of gloves.  I skin in with a lightweight pair of leather gloves and then bring a heavier and warmer pair of gloves for the ski down. (Different blog post on the LEKI Elements Krypton S to come shortly).  The Blue Bird Carbon S poles have the Trigger S system as well. This allows for my LEKI gloves to lock into the poles, similar to the releasable straps.   Similar to the releasable Trigger S Vario Straps,  I typically do not use the locking mechanism.  However, at times it was a great addition that came at no additional cost.

mountain-guides-pointing

IFMGA Ski and Mountain Guide Joey Thompson scoping out terrain with IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide Josh Kling during a hut based AIARE Level 2 avalanche course.

One could argue that a ski guides primary jobs is to risk management.  When ski guiding this often comes in the form of snow and terrain analysis.  A very effective and quick snow bonding test is the hand shear test (different blog post about on the fly tests).  This test involves using the handle end of the ski pole to isolate a small column of snow.  The low profile and sturdy one piece construction of the Blue Bird Carbon S do this flawlessly.  If the pole handle is too large or high profile, it makes column isolation in stiffer snow difficult. The one piece pole also whacks snow off branches better than a sectional pole, purely due to nothing to break and no moving parts.

kling-valdez-pointing

AMGA certified Alpine and Rock Guide Josh Kling pointing to something somewhere. He likely saw some coffee and wanted to head that direction.

Overall I would give the LEKI Blue Bird Carbon S pole a solid an A.   Overall I had to hunt for things I did not like about this pole. In other words, this pole was a homerun for me. I’m psyched to ski with the same set again this year.

  • Plusses:
    • Performed great in all conditions.
    • Was durable for guiding Guiding typically puts more stress on gear than recreational use. This is both due to the significant more time the gear is used over recreational use as well as being used harder than a typical recreation. These poles held up great.
    • The Trigger S system straps come off easily allowing for me to tour without dangling straps while in the backcountry.
    • No moving parts means there is less to break.
    • The carbon provided a great light swing weight, making them a blast to ski and turn with (I’m a turner, not a straight-liner).
  • Minuses:
    • The Trigger S system releases very easily. This is ideal for being caught in an avalanche or clipping a tree.  However, they seemed to release more than preferred.  The release mechanism is a lever/ button on the top of the pole handle.  On numerous occasions I would bump this and release the strap.  If I had been wearing the strap, it would not have been an issue.  As I stated before though I tend to not tour with any straps on.  So when the strap would release unexpectedly, it would fall in the snow.  Not system critical, but kind of a pain. I just leave the straps at home meow.
    • The pole is not adjustable.  Yes, this is one of the plusses, but there were times I wished I had more adjustability in the pole.  This was more a problem of operator error.  On tours with either a long skate in or out such as the Sultan Mountain or North Twilight Peak, a pole with significant adjustment is preferred.  With proper prior planning though, I should have taken the Aergonlite poles, so not really a pole problem but rather a user planning issue.
Participants approaching their objective during an American Mountain Guides Association  Alpine Guide Exam.

Participants approaching their objective during an American Mountain Guides Association Alpine Guide Exam.

MICRO TOURSTICK VARIO Carbon $199

  • Length                        115 – 135 CM continuously adjustable
  • Adjustment area       115 – 135 CM
  • Weight                        8.9 oz/ pole    253 grams/ pole
  • Pack Size                    39 CM
LEKI Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon

LEKI Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon

The Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon became my absolute favorite for alpine approaches over the past couple seasons.  From approaching big ice climbs in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern, CO to alpine rock routes on Washington Pass, to glaciated ascents of Mt. Rainier, these poles rocked it.

My favorite feature of these poles was that they packed down tiny. This is critical for an alpine climbing.  I want a pole that can get small enough to fit in my pack, as opposed to strapped on the outside.  When I am alpine climbing I do not want anything dangling on the outside of the pack.  These attributes would also ring true for backcountry split boarding, and these poles would excel at that application.

Many tri-section poles do not have any adjustment once they are assembled.  The Micro Toursticks have 20 CM of adjustment (that’s 8” to us ‘Merican’s).  That’s more than enough of adjustment for virtually any approach.   This proved to be a huge plus in both soft snow where the pole penetrates the surface, as well as in talus fields where sometimes the pole goes between the rocks while you are actually standing on top of them.   I did end up breaking both poles eventually. However, this came from extended use and abuse in talus fields from CO to WA.

These poles were also extremely light weight for how durable they were.  They weigh in at 506 grams / pair. The equivalent pole from Black Diamond weighs in at 640 grams / pair. That makes the Black Diamond poles over 4 ounces or ¼ LBS heavier than the equivalent LEKI! For the weight weenies out there, that’s substantial!  Overall, I would give these poles an A without question.

Particpants on the approach to an objective in the North Cascades during and American Mountain Guides Association Alpine Guide Exam.  Having a tri- section pole, such as the LEKI Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon, that packs tiny is essential for travel in the alpine.

Particpants on the approach to an objective in the North Cascades during and American Mountain Guides Association Alpine Guide Exam. Having a tri- section pole, such as the LEKI Micro Tourstick Vario Carbon, that packs tiny is essential for travel in the alpine.

  • Plusses: Overal given their weight and versatility in length, there really is no reason not to bring them.
    • Performed great in all conditions (snow – dirt – talus).
    • Packed down super tiny. With a pole that packs down this tiny, there really is no reason to not bring them. The Micro Tourstick pack down to 39 CM while the equivalent pole from Black Diamond packs to 41.5 CM (close to an inch longer). While this does not seem like much, if you have ambitions of fitting your poles into your pack, this extra 3 CMs can make a huge difference.
    • Super light weight.
  • Minuses:
    • Everything light weight has it’s limitations, and I found the limitations of the Micro Toursticks. Similar to other items though, I used and abused these poles likely more than a standard recreationalist would.

Full disclousre, I am a LEKI athlete and did not pay for any of these poles.  That being said, I would gladly pay for any of the poles.  And yes, I do like to point things out.

Josh Kling, 
AMGA Certified Alpine Guide & Rock Guide, Assistant Ski Guide
AMGA/ IFMGA Aspirant Mountain Guide 
AIARE Level 1 & 2 Course Leader
Wilderness Medical Associates Instructor
Posted in Alpine Climbing, American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Training, Avalanche Courses, LEKI, Mountaineering, Skiing, Uncategorized | Comments Off