10/18/2017

Gear Review: Beal Phantom Harness


Photo: Gustav Janse van Rensburg

Beal harnesses have yet to become a common sight at US crags, however, with some new additions to the line and easy availability, Beal is poised to be a major player in the harness arena. The newly designed for 2016 Phantom harness falls into the category of lightweight, top of the line sport climbing harnesses. As I packed for my recent sport climbing trip to South Africa, I took a gamble on the Phantom having received a new harness just days before leaving. I yanked the tags off and threw the harness in my pack hoping I wouldn’t regret shelving my old harness without ever roping up in the Phantom. And the result? This thing is not only a solid option in the market, but hands down takes the win as my new favorite harness and my recommendation to anyone looking for the best performance harness out there. Let’s take a closer look at why this harness demands not to be overlooked stacked up against the best of the best. 

Roping up 
I slipped the Phantom on, easily adjusted the stetchy ‘butt straps’ to hold the leg loops where I wanted them and went about my pre-climbing stretching and prepping routine. My turn to rope up came, and I went looking for my harness. A moment of ‘shoot I forgot my harness’ flashed through my mind before I realized ‘wait a minute, I’m already wearing it. Duh.’ That’s how minimalistic and perfectly fitted this harness is. But ultimately the comfort of a harness for ground walking is trumped by taking it into the vertical realm. 

Pitch one 
Love at first climb! As I moved up the rock I tried to pay attention to my sweet new harness to analyze whether I had made the right choice in ditching the harness I previously swore by. Well I had a lot of trouble doing so because I could hardly tell I was wearing a harness at all. At the top of the pitch I called take and weighted the harness for the first time. Perfection. The leg loops and waist belt stayed snug distributing the pressure evenly without digging in or pinching my… family jewels. But fortunately, I did not fall on my warm up so testing was left to be done. 

Photo: Aimee Belt

Catching big air 
The line I was working on my trip was not for the faint of heart as the crux demanded skipping two clips in a row and facing a 40 footer if I blew the final fierce move to clip the next bolt. I blew it. Over and over and over. Guess what? I’m writing this review now, so the harness did its job. The whips were so buttery smooth and comfy that I could just about get away with chalking up my redpoint failures to simply wanting to build up frequent flyer miles in the Phantom. Just about. 

Day in, day out 
For better or worse, I spent an awful lot of time putting the Phantom through the ringer with big whips and lots of hanging on bolts. I never once complained about my hips hurting. Even shirtless I could go all day without experiencing any of the dreaded chaffing or looking like I was wearing a red skin belt at the end of the day. Near the end of the trip when the temperatures started to rise, I got to check out the breathability of the harness and was mega impressed. I didn’t even get the sexy sweat ring on my t-shirt I’ve experienced in many harnesses. 


FACTS, FIGURES AND COMPARISONS 
For comparisons I will stack the Phantom up against the lightest performance harnesses from Petzl (Sitta and Hirundos) and Black Diamond (Zone). 

Price 
I list this first as some readers may have heard enough about how awesome the Phantom is already and this final factor will put them over the edge and on the way to the gear shop. The Phantom comes in at a killer pricepoint of 69.95! The Black Diamond Zone or the Petzl Hirundos will set you back 99.95 And the Petzl Sitta costs a baffling 169.95. 

Weight 
The Phantom comes in at 325 grams (size medium) compared to 298 g for the Black Diamond Zone, 280 g for the Petzl Hirundos and 270 g for the Petzl Sitta. This makes the Phantom the heaviest of the bunch by 25-55 grams. If less than an ounce of weight makes the difference between sending or falling, take one less sip of water or snip a few strands of hair off before you leave the ground. Practically speaking, the Phantom is right on par with the lightest of the light. 

Photo: Dirk Smith

Sizing 
This has always been a downfall of Petzl harnesses for me. The leg loops on a small are way too tight but the waist belt of a medium cinches to the buckle and could stand to be tighter. Keep in mind I’ve got the standard rock climber’s chicken legs so I’ve never quite understood this. The Beal Phantom, however, allows me to wear a size small and the leg loops fit perfect. I find the same with Black Diamond harnesses and looking at the spec sheets of each harness shows the same. Size the Phantom as you would for a BD harness and as you wish you could for a Petzl. 

Comfort 
Best in class, hands down. Beal attributes the comfort to ‘Web-Core’ technology meaning the loops of the harness are each a single structural component (as best as I understand). I call it the first night at home in your comfy bed after sleeping on a camping pad in the dirt. 

Gear loops 
The gear loops are the perfect blend of rigid and flexible. A plastic piece fits over a webbing loop meaning the four gear loops stay open perfectly. This is similar to the BD design but the key difference is that the plastic part stops farther from the waist belt so the loops are free to move with your body. I find the BD design good but a little clunky compared to the Beal. The Petzl loops are stiff, not as accessible and the rear loops are too small. 

Durability 
To some extent durability is always going to be reduced if you want the lightest gear out there. The Phantom is right on point with the durability of the lightweight options from Petzl and Black Diamond, having worn each of those brands extensively. With this said, I do not find any of the lightweight harness to scream durable. If you are a weekend climber, this harness will last you years. Full time climbers, not as long as you might like, but again, on par with the other leading brands. 

Looks 
The most important consideration, right? The Phantom is the perfect blend flashy and subtle. The gear loops are neon green for the flash factor and the belt and loops are a flat black with subtle green highlights so you don’t feel like you’re blinding people with neon but still have a touch of flare.

Wrap up 
I would list a pros and cons of the harness, but frankly, there are no cons, only pros. The Beal Phantom is the best lightweight, high performance harness on the market. Go buy one now. Enough said. 


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8/24/2017

What Goes Into a Speed Attempt?



 Grivel and Beal Athlete Andy Dorais shares some of the planning and preparation that go into a speed attempt with a trip report of his and Jason's recent FKT on Mount Rainier's Liberty Ridge.
At the end of May a team comprised of Eric Carter, Nick Elson, and Colin Haley set the standard for Liberty Ridge with a time of 9:11 car to car. This included the approach and climb of Liberty Ridge, topping out Liberty Cap, traversing a mile over to the true summit of Tahoma (Mount Rainier), and then skiing the Emmons Glacier back to the Trailhead. We had already been planning on going to Tahoma to ski Liberty Ridge when we heard of the fast time. Initially reluctant to go for their newly established speed record, we rationalized that good conditions trump reason and that we should just go for it.

We've had a long friendly rivalry with Nick and Eric. Years ago, we wanted to set the FKT on Tahoma. We only had 48 hours free, so we drove to Washington, skied as fast was we could, and ended up summiting and accidentally skiing past Paradise into the Nisqually River Basin, confused by white out conditions. We did so in about 5 hours and were convinced that with better navigation and conditions we could ski Tahoma much faster. The following year a few weeks before we could return for a proper effort, Nick and Eric set the FKT with a time of 4:19 car to car. A couple weeks later we tried again and managed to lower that time to 3:57. The following year, Eric and Nick got the last laugh, making the journey to the summit and back in 3:51. We have yet to go back to try again on the faster Disappointment Cleaver route but were excited to continue the friendly competition on the more engaging and technical Liberty Ridge.
As part of our preparation for the speed attempt, we needed to pare down our gear to only the necessary items, and then choose the lightest functional version of those items. Fortunately, climbing and ski mountaineering equipment has evolved greatly in the last few years and we now have some of the most thoughtfully engineered gear ever.

We knew the climb would be mostly on snow, but that we might need technical tools and crampons capable of short sections of steep glacial ice, especially to cross the upper bergschrund. We both chose Grivel North Machine ice tools given their svelte weight and Grivel Skitour crampons with a hybrid steel toe and aluminum heel. This is actually a design that we tried to make a few years ago, but our franken-crampons malfunctioned in practice. The Skitour crampon is specifically designed to be used with ski boots as the camming mechanism is on the toe rather than the heel so as to not interfere with the ski/walk mechanism of a ski boot. That might not seem all that important, but in practice it actually saves a few seconds with each transition.
We also used skimo race skis and bindings, mohair skins, ski crampons, lightweight ski mountaineering harnesses, and full carbon ski mountaineering boots. When attention is paid to each piece of gear, the overall effect is massive. I suspect our packs and overall gear weighed half of that of our standard mountaineering cousins, even though we carried a light rope and glacier gear as well.  
Moving on to nutrition, we believe that the only thing about which one should be dogmatic is to never be dogmatic. The following recommendations are simply what works for us. It's always good practice to test your nutrition and gear choices prior to any race or serious day in the mountains. 
Leading up to a big event, we've found it important to have the body firing on clean energy. Driving up to Washington from Salt Lake, we stopped at a grocery store and bought dried fruit, cherries, kale salad, tomatoes and so forth to snack on. This is a big improvement over our historically bad choices of fast food. We both felt that our bowel health and energy levels were better for it. 

In the planning phase, another consideration is the amount of liquid to carry. Trying to find the right balance between weight and speed, it seems that weather and the duration of the effort are the most important factors. It was hot during our speed attempt and we elected to carry a little more than we normally would; about two liters. While humping the water weight up a mountain is important, it does little good if it goes unconsumed in the pack. To facilitate easier ingestion, we taped a soft flask with liquid to the shoulder strap of our packs. Such configured, we were able to take sips easily on the move rather than having to stop to get a bottle out of our packs. A bladder with tubing would suffice as well but we tend to eschew that system when there is potential for it to freeze.  

Calories are also essential for sustained performance, but eating while going fast can be tricky. On any hard effort over an hour and a half we prefer at least 100 calories an hour. For the Liberty Ridge speed attempt, we optimistically planned for around seven hours. Based on previous experience, we both knew we could tolerate this rate and perhaps even a little more. We packed over 1000 calories in the form of gel mixed into our bottles with sports drink. Some people may not tolerate such a syrupy concoction, but it's the fastest way we've discovered to consume calories and liquid. Plus, all the mess and potential litter is dealt with the night before. 

Once again, carrying calories and actually consuming calories are very different. For both of us, it's really easy to focus on the task at hand and never actually eat or drink. Having cratered hard in the past, we've learned our lesson. Not only is becoming hypoglycemic uncomfortable, it can also be terribly dangerous in technical terrain. We now have a rule that we have to eat and drink something at least every hour when going hard. We both wear a watch and are pretty good about reminding one another to take a drink or eat something.

One further tip is that moderate caffeine ingestion has been shown to improve endurance exercise performance. Most of the studies have shown this improvement in much shorter and more intense efforts but anecdotally, we enjoy the extra stimulus, particularly in the predawn hours when most of these foolish efforts begin.

Thus prepared, we were anxious to actually get started. On Friday afternoon, we reconnoitered the start and made the decision to start in running shoes as the first couple miles of trail were a mess of snow patches, mud, and dry trail. That may run against some people's ethos, but we've always felt that the best practice is the one that is the most efficient.

Saturday morning, we awoke easily before the alarm at 4:00 AM. We were fast walking/shuffling in the faint predawn light, trying to avoid breaking out in a run as we knew we needed to pace our effort. Everything went according to plan until about one hour into the effort. We felt strong, the conditions were fast, albeit slightly warm, and we were ahead of pace. That is until a ski snapped while while skinning through a small depression just before tree line. The day was over. The broken ski reflected our broken ambitions. St. Elmo's pass looked just minutes away but we were done before we could even really get started. 

Immediately, we got on the phone and started frantically calling Lars Kjerengtroen and Brian Harder, both of whom were en route to the mountain and with whom we hoped to ski the next day. Neither had extra race skis or access. We skied/limped out and started texting everyone we knew in the PNW. Eric Carter gave me Colin Haley's number and he very generously offered his personal skis but they wouldn't be available till Monday. Patrick Fink put me in touch with Ethan Linck, who did some leg work to find Todd Kilcup, who also very generously offered to let us borrow his race skis. In another stroke of luck, the bindings were mounted perfectly to Andy's boots. 

Four hours later, we had obtained the skis and were back in the White River area trying to rest for a second attempt. Unfortunately, we wouldn't be able to ski with our friends but fortunately, they were starting much earlier and we were hoping for a boot track for much of the route. That was practically a given as the rangers reported a number of parties already high on the route.

The next morning, around 4:40, we were off. It was hard to control the pace early but we knew we would struggle with cramps due to the high cadence throughout the day. We didn't ask for them, but had been given the splits by friends who had talked with Carter et al. We could tell early on that we were making good time and the motivation was high as we chatted throughout the wooded section. 

We topped out St. Elmo's pass in just over 1:30, looked out over the Winthrop Glacier, and got really excited. The whole route was in view and the day had dawned clear and still. We raced across the glacier, hopping small crevasses, and fortunately found the way onto the Carbon Glacier around the low point of Curtis Ridge. 


We contemplated roping up as we carried standard gear but the route was clear as other parties had found the best way. There was only one fairly sketchy snow bridge to cross right at the base of the ridge where we stopped for a moment to drink and eat. 2:45 had elapsed and we were still feeling strong. Further, our friends were visible, heading for Thumb Rock and we were looking forward to the distraction of chatting with them for a bit.

Catching up, Brian and Tyler stepped aside and offered encouragement. Lars put in a dig to stay ahead to make sure the booter was well groomed. We tried to get him to rally the rest with us as he is clearly stronger than an ox but he's a good friend and partner and stayed with the other guys.

Out on the east side of the ridge, the sun was boiling and we started to really slow down. Both of us thought our hip flexors and adductors were going to betray us as we were starting to feel twinges of cramps. Never feeling aerobically taxed, we still agreed that a steady pace, even if slow, was the best strategy. We kept moving....barely.

We hit the bergschrund, and even though we knew to climb it at the high point, all the tracks heading that way had been erased by a slight stream of spindrift. There were some fresh tracks heading climber's left that we explored before coming to our senses and committing to action. 

Over the schrund, a gentle breeze picked up and so did our pace. We hit the summit ridge, transitioned from crampons to skis, and hit the top of Liberty Cap in 5:27. Another race transition led to some of the worst skiing of the day on very fatigued legs that were quivering with the threat of cramps. 
Somehow, the governor began to release it's choke hold and we were able to actually skin to the true summit at a more reasonable pace. We hit Columbia Crest in 5:57 and found about a dozen people on the summit. The mood was festive and we were quickly outed as two dorks on skinny skis, carbon boots, and tight pants are obviously up to something stupid. The folks on the summit were kind and friendly, offering encouragement as we transitioned to skiing for the final time.

Neither of us had skied the Emmon's previously and so we skied with some caution until down to Camp Sherman. From there's we traversed skier's right onto the Interglacier and rallied with absolutely zero grace through some truly horrific isothermic snow. Back in the woods, we followed the up track, dodging the Memorial day crowds, until we reached our shoes.

Jason was interested in pushing for a sub seven hour time but that ship had sailed with other inefficiencies higher up. We had two miles to run and ten minutes to do it. Even without the skis, boots, ice tools, etc we would be hard pressed to pull that off with specific training. Regardless, we pushed harder and harder the closer we got and made one last mad dash through the sloppy snow patch guarding the trailhead.

Stopping the watch at 7:07, we sat on the road for a few minutes, pleased with the effort and how the day had gone, before making some food and waiting for the other guys to finish. As they walked in like more sane people, we cheered them on and slapped high fives for the successful mission all around.


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6/26/2017

Gearing Up for Alaska


Grivel and Beal athlete Alan Rousseau shares his thoughts on the gear necessary for a successful climbing trip to Alaska.

This spring over the course of seven weeks I did three trips into the Alaska Range.  Two of these trips I was working as a mountain guide, and one was a personal trip.  Starting in mid April I guided the Ham and Eggs route on the Moose’s Tooth in the Ruth Gorge.  Late April I had a second client for another trip up Ham and Eggs followed by an ascent of the SW ridge of peak 11,300 (a mountain named by its elevation located in the West Fork of the Ruth Gorge).  


A look up the Moonflower


In May I met a friend of mine from Salt Lake and we made several attempts on the North buttress of Mount Hunter.  With this much climbing planned on a diversity of objectives my gear quiver was quite extensive.  For which I am thankful for Liberty Mountain’s support.  The focus of the following article will be on equipment I used for these various objectives and why they are suited well for climbing in the Alaska Range.  

Scoping the Mooses Tooth

Mid April in Alaska can be a pretty cold time, however, with spring arriving earlier and earlier I advised my clients that although it can be cold; it’s better to be cold on an ice climb than show up and have it melted out! I used warm double boots for all my trips into the range this year.  The boots I used fit well to both the Grivel G20 and G22 crampons.  For the Moose’s Tooth and Peak 11,300 I used the G22 crampon.  For long moderate routes the dual front-point reduces calf and ankle fatigue while providing a more solid platform.  


Rapelling Ham and Eggs

The North Machines made for an excellent ice tool on “Ham and Eggs” and Peak 11,300.  The swing weight is spot on, and the pick angle works really well on the lower angle ice (60-75 degrees) encountered on both of these routes.  The Hammer and adze are also both the “real deal”. There has been a trend lately with tools to make the adze and hammer smaller and smaller.  I feel on most tools out there the hammer is too small to actually place a piton or picket, and the adze is not large enough to really move some snow or chop a good bollard.  For big alpine routes it’s a huge advantage to not have to carry an actual wall hammer to place a solid piton.  Grivel tools are the only ones I feel like I can actually hammer with. 

Sorting ropes on Peak 11,300

Using ropes as insulation

When it comes to ropes there are endless options for routes like these, all have their merits.  For the Moose’s tooth, I used two, Beal Gullys (7.3mmx70m).  They are super light weight, and ultra water resistant.  It is important to have two ropes for the descent, and I feel fine about going with such a thin line since there is little rock encountered on the route and therefore few sharp edges.  Most of the pitches are full rope lengths on this route so it’s nice to have less rope weight.  For the SW ridge of 11,300 I opted to carry a Beal Gully on my back and for simplicity of handling the rope I used a single Beal Opera (8.5mm).  Guiding a route like the SW ridge the rope technique is changed often from long pitches, to simul climbing, to short roping, and short pitching.  Being able to have one rope instead of two can shave hours off your time at the end of guiding a big route.  For the descent it was nice to have a light twin rope to use on the rappels.  Some people prefer to use a 6mm cord for a tag line rappelling, however in cold windy places I find the 6mm tangles up a bit too much.  Although the 7.3 Gully is a little heavier it tangles less, and if a rope gets stuck it’s nice to know both ropes in your system are designed to take falls (should you have to lead up to retrieve a stuck line). 


Bollard on Ham and Eggs

Cornice at the top of peak 11,300

For the North buttress of Hunter, which has more difficult technical climbing a “sendier” set up is nice.  I changed my tools up to the Tech Machines, which was nice to have a solid match point for the harder mixed sections.  The tool’s pick angle is designed more for vertical to overhanging terrain.  The G20 crampon was my choice for this objective.  This lightweight crampon helps reduce fatigue, and using a mono point in rock terrain is much more comfortable for me.  A mono point allows the climber to pivot ones foot on small edges without levering off the hold.  I was happy to have it while freeing the Prow pitch, which used to have an A2 rating, and is now generally referred to as M7-.  


Moonflower pitch 9

For the Moonflower our rope set up also changed to a Beal joker (9.1mm) and a Beal gully.  For the harder pitches and pendulums on the route I prefer to have a rope over 9mm.  The last thing I want to be thinking about in the crux is if my rope is on a sharp edge.  I like climbing on skinny ropes, but there is a time and place for it.  Ask yourself what benefits you will gain by using a real skinny cord, and see if any apply to the climb you have at hand.  If its likely the leader or second will fall in rock terrain, or if jugging lines is a possibility think hard about if the skinniest rope is the right choice. 


The pieces of gear that I used for all of these objectives were the Grivel Stealth helmet, Grivel Sigma K8g and plume twin gate carabiners, Beal Mirage Harness, Cypher mydas draws and dyneema slings, and a Cilo Gear 34B pack.  The stealth helmet is super light and surprisingly durable.  The adjustment systems are simple and unlike most helmets with a “turn knob adjustment” the stealth’s adjustments will not freeze on you.  The Grivel twin gate carabiners have been a game changer for me, especially in cold environments.  I was so tired of having lockers freeze on me I began belaying with non-lockers on big cold alpine routes.  These twin gates have little surface area to freeze and once you get the hang of them they are easy to operate one handed with gloves on.  


Bivy on the descent of Peak 11,300

The Beal Mirage harness packs small, is lightweight, and has enough surface area to help keep circulation to your legs.  Weight savings is key with all the gear you have to bring up on these routes, the cypher mydas carabiners helped out a lot in this department.  I used four mydas sport draws and 6 mydas alpine draws with dyneema slings on the moonflower.  The last piece of gear I‘ll talk about is the Cilo gear 34B pack.  This bag has been with me for several years, hundreds of days of use, and the dyneema keeps on givin’ er.  It is small enough to still climb well, but if you go light you can fit a few days of kit in it.  Check out Cilo gear’s line of packs all handmade in the USA.


Cook tent at the base of Mooses Tooth

Ham and Eggs

I hope this has been helpful to see what equipment allows me to work and climb personal objectives in Alaska.  Now it’s time to pack for the next two months of guiding in the Alps, immediately followed by a personal climbing expedition on the India Pakistan border supported by the Mugs Stump Grant.  See you in October North America!     

-Alan Rousseau





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