Roads Rivers and Trails

Dream. Plan. Live.

Tag Archives: Down


A Gateway to Mountaineering

Ohio to Colorado
by: Kayla “Clover” McKinney

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

– John Muir

One often turns to John Muir for inspiration when planning for any mountaineering trip. As an avid explorer and lover of the hills, he paved the way for many, giving new inspiration and wonder for the wild. This blog is an introduction on how to train and outfit you to summit a Colorado fourteener in the winter, from the perspective of someone who lives in Cincinnati, OH. It does not include overnight trips, technical skills, or altitude training, but is meant as an overview for beginners.

Fourteener:  “In mountaineering terminology in the United States, a fourteener is a mountain that meets or exceeds an elevation of 14,000 feet (4,270 m) above mean sea level.”

Fourteen thousand feet is the highest elevation of any summit in the lower 48. Colorado is blessed with 53 fourteeners (though the tallest fourteener is in California) with the tallest mountain in the state being Mt. Elbert at 14,440 ft. To summit one (or more) of these bad boys in the dead of the winter is no easy feat. There’s snow, lots of snow, blizzards, wind, ice, exposed sun, and harsh terrain to consider.

So how does one train for a winter mountaineering expedition, especially when they live only approximately 480 feet above sea level?

As far as physical training goes for one who lives in an Midwestern urban environment like I do, you’ve got to think a little out of the box. We don’t have mountains in Cincinnati; our tallest “peak” in the city is the Rumpke Landfill, aka Mt. Rumpke, at 1,075 feet (328 m). You have to take advantage of your urban environment. While we don’t have mountains , we have miles of stairs, and some of the steepest roads around. Repeated runs of Straight Street, Ravine Street and Vine Street can give your muscles and lungs a taste of the uphill. Run stairs at Carew Tower, Crosley Tower on UC’s campus (there’s 17 flights!), Paul Brown Stadium and  many old stairways on the streets and in the parks of Cincinnati. This interactive map shows all of the stairs throughout the city: http://www.communitywalk.com/cincinnatisteps

In order to train for a mountaineering expedition you need a proper blend of aerobic and anaerobic cardiovascular training, strength training, flexibility training, and skill development in addition to cross training and adequate rest and recovery. Training should be taken with a consistent approach, steadily increasing the regimen, adhering to set goals and maintaining a good diversity. Don’t just run stairs. Do some distance and trail running, yoga, strength training, biking, rock climbing, etc.

For more information about physical conditioning, check out Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, the best book you’ll find for planning and preparing for a mountaineering trip.

1525402_10202364516969571_486418870_n“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,”
-Alfred Wainwright
 

How do you outfit yourself for sub-freezing temperatures, strong winds and even stronger wind chill, without being overheated and sweaty while essentially working out in the intense cold? You don’t want to carry too much, but you want to have enough to suit your needs. You’ll start your climb in the dark, when it’s the coldest, and be climbing down in the afternoon, with all sorts of possible weather curve balls thrown in between. So what do you bring?

You need above all windproof, waterproof, insulated, and breathable clothing which can be accomplished with multiple layers. The first thing you put on the morning of your expedition is your insulating base layer. You want to go for either wool or synthetic. Absolutely no cotton (“cotton kills” because cotton retains moisture, leeching heat from your body when wet and cold). I personally recommend the Ibex Woolies 150 gram, as they are super insulating, form fitting and odor resistant.

Second, you’ll need warm, insulating mid-layers. This would be a fleece and a down jacket or equivalent.

Third, you need your wind and water protection: your rain shell. You can either go for more breathable, and less insulated, or you can go for more insulated and less breathable. This is all about personal preference and how your body reacts to physical exertion. If you sweat a lot, I would consider going for a lighter shell in order to promote breathability to let out sweat.

Any more layers than this is optional, but realize that the more you wear, the heavier and bulkier you will feel going up the mountain. In summation, layering adds versatility to your outfit and the ability to remove/add on warmth when needed.

There are a variety of additions and preferences to be considered based on what works best for you individually. These could include more/less layers and insulation, synthetic or down insulation, hoods or no hoods, etc. If you don’t know you’re personal preferences, stop by the store and we can help you narrow down the options!

Here is a personal gear list for reference:

layering

Head, Necks & Hands

Warm hat and/or balaclava 
A balaclava can replace the hat.  Balaclavas provide versatility and cover areas of the face that can be susceptible to cold injuries.
 
Sun hat *  
A baseball cap or light hat with a brim can be useful around camp or on warm climb days to protect face and eyes from the intense sun.
 
Sunglasses      
High quality UV protective eye wear is a must.  The sun rays are especially intense at high altitude, especially reflected off the snow.  Glasses must fit sufficiently tight to prevent rays from reflecting under the glasses from the ground.  Ski goggles can be used in lieu of glasses.  They do have the advantage of wind and reflective protection, but can become hot and foggy on a warm climbing day.
 
Liner gloves 
A pair of well fitting liner gloves or light running gloves that fit under your insulated gloves/mittens are essential in preventing cold injuries when removing outer insulated gloves to perform tasks requiring more finger dexterity.
 
Insulated gloves or mittens
Warm hands are key to winter comfort.  Mittens provide greater warmth and are preferable for those that tend to experience cold fingers easily.  Gloves provide greater dexterity, but it can be harder to keep fingers warm.  Either gloves or mittens must provide room to wiggle fingers and be water/wind proof.

 

Upper Body

Mid-weight top
A mid weight wool or synthetic top such as Ibex Woolies or Patagonia Capilene 3 should be used as a base layer in winter.
 
Expedition-weight top   
Keeping the core warm is essential to keeping hands and feet warm.  On cold nights, this can improve warmth in a sleeping bag.  If you tend to be cold while standing in a lift line or waiting for the bus, you should consider adding this to your gear list.
 
Vest *
A vest is a lightweight option to aid in keeping the core warm without adding bulk.  It is good middle ground if you think an expedition-weight top is overkill, but still tend to run cold at the bus stop.
 
Fleece Jacket  
A thick fleece layer that that fits under your weatherproof outer jacket.
 
Down / Synthetic Parka 
The parka should be sized to fit under your weatherproof outer jacket so that warmth can easily be added when hanging around camp or on the summit posing for a pic.
 
Outer Jacket 
Windproof top.  Can be Gore-tex, eVent, Pertex Shield or simply have a DWR finish.  The goal is wind protection and high breathability. Hard shells or soft shells both work based on preference.
 
Sports bra
Women should bring a synthetic or wool sports bra or tank top.
 

1609570_10202364558570611_639271010_nLower Body

Mid-weight bottoms 
A mid weight synthetic or wool bottom such as Ibex/Smartwool/Patagonia Capilene should be used as a base layer in winter.
 
Expedition-weight bottoms *  
Similar to the Expedition-weight top, this layer is best for those that run cold.  Legs generate a ton of heat when climbing often making this layer hot for some even on the coldest days.
 
Outer Pants   
Windproof, soft or hard shell.  Can be Gore-tex, eVent, Pertex Shield or simply have a DWR finish. The goal is wind protection, high breathability and limited snow cling.
 
Underwear 
Guys and gals should bring synthetic underwear. Avoid cotton due to moisture absorption and chaffing.
 

Feet

Liner socks     
Liner socks help to provide rapid moisture transport and reduce blister-causing friction.
 
Insulating socks 
Expedition weight wool or poly socks.  Socks should be long enough to extend well past the tops of boots and overlap with long underwear bottoms.
 
Gaiters   
Expedition style gaiters such as Outdoor Research Crocodiles to keep snow out of boots.
 
Boots 
Boots are perhaps your most critical piece of winter gear.  A poor fitting boot cannot only cause blisters and discomfort, but also cold injuries such as frostbite.  Boots should be plastic style or leather mountaineering with a ridged sole for use with crampons.  Plastic boots can be rented at many quality outfitters.  If you plan to rent, you should determine what boots are available and attempt to get fit for and test the boots locally.  You should have enough room to wiggle toes, but not so much your foot moves around to help keep blood flowing to your feet.  The fit should be slightly roomier than summer hiking boots.
 
Booties*
Camp booties can help to keep your feet warm around camp and in your sleeping bag if your feet tend to run cold.  An extra pair of socks can also do the trick in your sleeping bag.

*indicates optional/weather specific item

 General Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog are from personal experience and research and is based on mountain’s around 14,000ft in the winter and does not apply to all winter excursions. Please do further research before embarking on a winter mountaineering trip. For more information on mountaineering, check out Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills and 14ers.com for more information on Colorado’s fourteeners.

 

 

Previous     More RRT Adventures?     Next

“Down” Gear Clinic

Who Wants to get “Down”?
Gear Clinic: Education and Implementation of Down
Written by: Bryan Wolf

A Gear Clinic is the day that everyone shows up to work in the outdoors world. Why? Well that is simple, because we are gear junkies. A gear clinic means two things to a gear junkie: First, we are about to be exposed to the newest and best information in that particular product category. Second, we are going to be offered a sick crazy deal on the clinic of the day.

A sales representative comes in the store and spends anywhere from 1-3 hours reviewing everything about the products, and in this case it would be down. RRT has had clinics over down sleeping bags, jackets, and down treatments.

Here is Your Down Clinic
Behind the Numbers

Like most anything, not all down is created equal. Down, which is typically a byproduct of the meat industry, can be either goose or duck. We’ll discuss the difference between goose or duck, the fill power of down, the contents of down fill, down maturity, and what’s new in down technology.

Think of the feathers around the exterior of a goose, these are tough with large stems. A goose or duck will actually derive its warmth from what is under them, the down feathers or down plumes. Down plumes are the lightest insulation available. The more loft, the greater the barrier between you and the harsh cold. Loft is going to be dependent on both fill power and how many grams of that fill power are being used?

“Fill Power” is the number of cubic inches that are displaced with a single ounce of down. So if we use 700 fill down, it will displace 700 cubic inches of space with just one ounce! That is why the outdoor world loves it! When you compare the additional weight that you can save with higher fill power, it can really add up.

It’s best to look at the fill power and the grams of down used. 100 grams of 700 fill will be warmer than 75 grams of 700 fill. Also, equal grams in a 500 fill jacket will not be as warm as that in a 700 fill jacket. If information is not available on grams or fill power, it’s likely to be of poor quality. In the outdoor industry, most down products will be 500-900 fill.

A typical down sweater may be 650 fill and 100+ grams. The Rab Microlight is 750 fill and 140 grams of fill. The Montane Nitro is 800 fill and 150 grams of fill. A competitors down sweater at the same price uses a 600 fill and a unspecified weight (But it does have a more trendy name sewn on the front).

What Down Is It?
Some Quality Assurance

About a year ago, the adventurous crew at RRT finally fell in love with what we feel to be the best sleeping bags on the market. There are a slew of factors that make Sea to Summit sleeping bags so awesome, but our favorite part is how they test each batch of down product.

This is the IDFL test report. The test details the percentage of down clusters, fibers, feathers, and other impurities. This report also verifies the ratings of fill power promised to the consumer. Most times, the test brings back over qualified ratings! Hopefully, most consumers like me are done buying cheap, unaccountable, and short-lived pieces of gear. You can understand how awesome that each Sea to Summit sleeping bag comes with its own report.

With the cost of goose down on the rise, you can find many companies switching to duck which has been thought of as lower quality down. While goose has its benefits, duck down is not much different. Duck down has more natural oils adding extra weight. The oils also can cause the down to have a slight odor when wet.

Another great aspect of going with a creditable down supplier and manufacturer is knowing the maturity of the down. Each fiber of the down cluster has hundreds of smaller fibers on it, and beyond that even tinier fibers on those fibers. A mature goose or duck plume will develop more and more of those tiny offshoots which act as tiny hooks that keep the down fibers from separating and creating cold spots. Basically, the more mature the bird, the less chance of cold spots through the down. When you apply this knowledge to sleeping bags, lower quality, less mature down will not cling to itself as well as more mature down. The down fill will separate sooner and you will be left with a cold spot in its absence. A cold spot in a sleeping bag that is meant to keep you safe and warm is unacceptable. Mature down will be more dependable and will also have a greater life span.

Using Down, Even When It’s Wet
Where modern technology is taking us.

The buzz is out and everyone is wondering if the technology is ready and real. Through a few innovative processes, down can be treated to become hydrophobic. Down has notoriously been the perfect solution for insulation except for when it comes to a cold kid in a wet down bag. Down naturally becomes very matted down and loses its loft (the only thing that matters) when it is wet. Enter Down Tek.

Down-Tek, besides being a Cincinnati company is also the most environmentally friendly of all down treatment providers. Down Tek treats down to become anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and biggest of all water repellent. Its water repellency is best described as the “Lotus Effect” where water molecules do not adhere to the down feathers. The treatment doesn’t add any weight to the bag either.

I’ve attached a picture for a fun look at this effect, or you can visit Down-Tek for a demo video. Despite being sloshed around in a jar of water the down retains its loft after being strained out which is truly amazing. There is a lot more detail to this as you could imagine, and the truth is, you should take care of your bag and keep it dry anyway with or with-out dry down.

Currently both Sea to Summit and Big Agnes are using down from Down-Tek. This spring unveils all of their respective sleeping bag lines utilizing this technology. Today in-store we have the Talus from Sea to Summit showcasing the Down-Tek. The Talus3 is 700 grams of 750+ fill power goose down, guaranteed to be 90% or higher in full down clusters only. The Talus uses only mature down fibers and has an EN rating of 16/1/-35 degrees.

Now you know what all that means and about the wonderful world of down. Come by the store and speak with a clinic specialist and as always, a product user.

20130203-224229.jpg