Take Note World: Rab is Awesome

Last weekend whilst discussing work with my friend Alex, I was surprised to hear that he had never heard of the brand Rab. This was very surprising to me, because of the 50+ brands we sell at Webtogs, Rab ranks second only to The North Face in terms of sales – and even then it’s a close-run thing. It’s also very much the ‘it’ brand in the market at the moment, with a rapidly expanding fan-base and amazing sell-through, not to mention the fact that it’s been around as a flag bearer of the British outdoor kit industry since the 1980s. (more…)

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The North Face Zephyrus Optimus Hoodie: Review

The week before last I said that I would be taking a closer look at some of my favourite Winter 2013 The North Face products over the following weeks, to share in my excitement over the arrival of the new TNF stock in the Webtogs/SWMS warehouse. Although I dived straight in with the Point Five NG Jacket, I’ve not had chance to do another post since as I keep getting sidetracked with other things. As promised though here’s my next one, and in my opinion it’s a cracker: The North Face Zephyrus Optimus Hoodie. It’s also available in both Men‘s and Women‘s versions, which is obviously great. (more…)

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Scarp Charmoz GTX Review

Charmoz GTX – Scarpa
I was fortunate enough to spend my alpine summer with a pair of Scarpa Charmoz GTX Mountaineering Boots to try out and pass my humble opinion on, and I have to say it was an experience I’d be only too happy to repeat. Aimed squarely at the mixed ground climber the boots take a B2 rated crampon, working particularly well with the Grivel Air Tech for mixed routes up to Grade 5. The midsole provides good support whilst the ¾ shank gives just enough flex to keep the approach comfortable. The Charmoz uses the recently introduced FT last, giving a good, precise, feel both when scrambling and climbing and the Vibram Mulaz sole with its plastic inserts for better traction on snow.

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Where the Charmoz really excels is on true mixed ground, with constant switches between snow, rock and ice proving no problem. When you’ve got a snow slope followed by a rocky scramble then an ice pitch or two you need something that gives support, grip and traction reliably throughout, and inspires confidence. The waterproof breathable Gore-Tex membrane somehow managed to keep my feet dry even when post holing to knee deep on the ascent of Mont Blanc. Long hard walking on rocky paths felt comfortable which I attributed to the ¾-length shanks, and when it came to steeper icy routes it was simple to fit a pair of Newmatic crampons. The rigid soles and flexible uppers gave excellent support and the shape and fit gave all the precision needed for grade 5 ice and hard mixed climbing. I believe if you want one boot that does it all – or at least Alpine summer or Scottish winter, then look no further. When the mountain terrain changes every few hundred feet, take it all on with the versatile Charmoz GTX Mountaineering Boots.

Nick Parks – Mountain Guide

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First steps in the Alps – An introduction by Mountain Guide Nick Parks. Part 2

Glacier Travel
Glacier travel is not something that is possible to replicate easily in the UK and as many alpine excursions involve tackling glaciers, understanding the dangers of crevasses and falling ice cliffs and how to minimize the risk is essential. Crevasse rescue skills and prussiking can be simulated to a degree on rocky crags but there is no substitute for practicing on a glacier itself and this is highly recommended at the beginning of your first alpine visit.
Top tip: Understand the hazards and get to grips with all these new skills by undertaking an alpine course with a qualified mountain guide http://www.mountaintracks.co.uk/summer/introduction/alpine_101

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Weather and clothing

Alpine weather is often extreme and can change very rapidly; in summer you can have snowfalls, dramatic thunderstorms and sweltering temperatures all in the same day even at moderate heights. This means you have to be well equipped to cope with all eventualities not only with the skills but also with the right kit. In recent years there have been significant advances in outdoor clothing technology and my recommended solution to coping with Alpine weather is to use a layering system.

Starry skies as you leave the hut often belie the afternoon realities of alpine climbing, take climbing Mont Blanc du Tacul for instance. Absorbed in the colossal North facing glacial approach you don’t see the thunderheads rolling in from Italy until it’s too late. The early start means you may have to cope with a bone chilling wind, your efforts in the mid-morning sun have you sweating and then bang you have to try to out-race the showers. So lightweight layering is the only way to cope with the absurdity of it all.

It’s a three-hour uphill grind to the summit so you need effective base layers to evaporate your sweat the whole way. When the wind kicks up your Wind Jacket’s hanging mesh liner adds warmth and facilitates wicking, while its shell blocks wind and sheds moisture. The entire time, light, hard-working Simple Guide Pants breathe, protect, and dry in a snap. When the afternoon storm hits you find shelter, that’s when the down jacket becomes a reassuring heater. If afternoon showers catch you a back-up hard shell stashed in your rucksack keeps you dry.

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Summary

Certainly for climbers it is a jump up in lots of ways and there’s a learning curve everyone must follow. A sense of urgency is vital and at all times you must remain alert and aware of the potential pitfalls. For most of us alpine trips have a tendency to throw up the odd hiccup, mercifully not too serious, and dealing with hardships; caught out in a storm; benighted high up; sun burn; dehydration and exhaustion are weirdly in retrospect all part of why we do it. Remember the Alps are daunting and rightly so but they are awesome too and worth taking those steps for.

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Nick Parks is a leading British Ski and Mountain Guide who has been guiding parties for 25 years in mountain ranges across the globe. Particularly well known in the ski industry Nick is also a highly regarded safety expert to the adventure film industry. A keen photographer he contributes regularly to outdoor magazines and professional publications.

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First steps in the Alps – An introduction by Mountain Guide Nick Parks.

For most hillwalkers and climbers from the British Isles leaving our shores and tackling the mountains of our nearest neighbours for the first time, the barriers to success and enjoyment often seem overwhelming and a bigger challenge than they are wishing to tackle.

In this short series of articles we explore the differences between the UK mountain experience and the Alpine one and show you how these barriers can be surmounted safely to allow you to enjoy even more rewarding mountain adventures.

Its never been easier to access the Alps, with low cost flights and fast trains its as quick to get from London to Chamonix as it is to Capel Curig. They have beauty and wilderness in common but that’s where the differences between Tryfan and the Triolet end. First off is quite simply the huge difference in scale. Add altitude acclimatization difficulties to overcome and the glacial environment to safely negotiate and it’s easy to appreciate why tackling the Alps can be so daunting.

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Tryfan….impressive but not Triolet

Scale What are we talking about and how to adapt?

In the UK 300-400 metre long routes are rare, in contrast many Alpine routes can be 1500 or even 2000 metres long. Four times the size means that successful climbing in the Alps requires you to plan thoroughly, work to a timetable and use every part of your day productively, thereby avoiding epics like night-time descents. Gaining information, be it online, or from guidebooks is essential in helping you make correct route choices so that you don’t take on more than you can tackle. Seeking up to date information is critical too as the Alps are constantly changing, especially in these times of accelerating climate change. Glacial recession and rockfall can create drastic change even over the course of one season.

Top tip: Start off on alpine routes that are similar in length to those you are used to in Britain.

Preparation

Many of the skills necessary for safe success in the Alps are the same as those needed in the British hills; sound navigation; rock climbing; scrambling and in winter snow and ice techniques. All of these are directly transferable from our crags and mountains. Learning to move safely together on alpine ground is a key skill. Many alpine routes, like the Hornli ridge on the Matterhorn, although exposed are technically straightforward. However their length is such that climbing it in pitches aka British rock climbing style you would need a week to climb the route. Moving together using running belay techniques, gives a sufficient measure of protection whilst allowing you to get down in time to celebrate.

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The Matterhorn – an Alpine icon

Top tip: Practice moving together techniques like short ropeing, on long scrambling routes in the British hills e.g North ridge of Tryfan

Nick Parks is a leading British Ski and Mountain Guide who has been guiding parties for 25 years in mountain ranges across the globe. Particularly well known in the ski industry Nick is also a highly regarded safety expert to the adventure film industry. A keen photographer he contributes regularly to outdoor magazines and professional publications.

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Nick Parks – Ski and Mountain Guide

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Chmonix Trip – the lowdown

Well it’s been a while in the writing but I’ve finally managed to get around writing the story of our trip to Chamonix. The weekend started less than auspiciously with damp, inclement weather gathering overhead. We packed like there was no tomorrow to enable us to shut up shop at 12 to give us enough time to get to Heathrow. Leaving Matt and James in charge to pick the final orders, the Webtogs convoy churned up the A303 and in to Terminal 5’s car park. Things didn’t get much better for Jenny, our warehouse manager,as the Bus that took us to the terminal passed in front of her car. There was a yelp of “noooooooooooo” that reverberated around the bus as Jen realised she had left her sunroof open. Suffice to say, we were all incredibly sympathetic and we queued up to console her, just after we had all stopped laughing.

The flight was instantly forgettable and we soon made our way along the motorway to Chamonix with the mountains rearing up ahead of us. Mont Blanc was hidden behind some meaty wisps of cloud and so we found ourselves in town without a good glimpse of it. The night passed swiftly after a couple of sherbets and we gathered the following morning ready for the main event, the traverse of the Vallee Blanche. For those of us who had never been to the Alps before and only been walking / scrambling in Blighty, it was like having your Lego Duplo set taken away before being handed the latest Technics box instead. You know that there will be snow on the peaks, but the sight of it really hammers home that you are no longer in Kansas.

We all kitted ourselves out with the relevant boots, crampons and Ice axes. For a lot of the team, this was the first time they had used any of these and we spent a good 40 mins at the hotel fitting and trying everything on. We then headed to the cable car at the Aiguille du Midi and headed up the Mountain. Taking the cable car itself is not the most comfortable as it heads up very quickly and those with a delicate stomach were left looking inwards. There was a stop half way up where we changed cars and it was then up to the top where we got the first view of what we were about to undertake.

Simply put, it was awe inspiring with sheen of cloud underpinning the Aiguille, views across to Mont Blanc and to Switzerland. We also got our first view of the narrow ridge leading down to the Glacier below with a 1500 drop to one side and 300m on the other. Without further ado, Matt our guide got us locked and loaded with harnesses, ropes, crampons and axes and away we went down the ridge. Jenny and Richard our Tech director had already walked down so Tom and I came down with Matt. Matt cheerfully regaled us with the fact that he and Nick had seen a couple of climbers fall down the glacier side of the ridge the week before at which point Tom who had never been in crampons before was heard to mutter “Perhaps you could mention this at another point, maybe in a couple of years….”

The route down from Aiguille du Midi

We're laughing now we're down....

Making it down safely to the glacier, we struck out for the Italian side of the Alps all roped up. Starting off in jackets, we were soon in shirt sleeves and feeling the sun burning through the thin sky. We passed underneath the cable car that would bring us home later that day that crosses from the Glacier de Geant to Point Helbronner on the Italian side. What struck me having never been on a glacier before were the crevasses that we came across and in some areas had to journey across. The glacier was not the smooth unbroken snowy landscape I had anticipated but more a living, moving animal. We passed a few Italian groups coming from the other side before stopping for lunch. I could describe the journey as a whole, but I think the pictures will tell a better story than I ever will!


Mid way across the Valley

Looking up at the cable car home!

Views across to Mont Blanc

Looking out to Switzerland

Suffice to say we finished the day exhausted but with a smile on our faces. Now where’s that Mont Blanc ascent info…. You can view the rest of the photos on Facebook and the video is on you tube

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