Simond Fox Carving review

Besides the new shoes I’m really psyched about my new axes. This spring I bought one of these for testing and now I’ve bought a second one to make them a pair.

The axe in question is Simond Fox Carving. It’s a small and very lightweight ice axe with a technical steel pick. The axe weights only 290 grams each which is about half of your proper axe. Simond says it’s ideal for ski-touring, mixed and high altitude routes but I use it for summer alpine. It’s, of course, not the best axe for pure ice routes but it’s a very good tool for mixed routes with some moderate ice climbing. During the summer I used it on both the Traverse of the Meije and the Traverse of the Jorasses.


Simond Fox Carving product picture.

Compared to a proper axe the Fox is much lighter and a little bit shorter (43cm vs. 50cm). Both are very good qualities if you have to carry it in the pack on harder rock pitches. On ice it’s good enough for anything up to WI4 maximum. On harder pitches or if the ice is really hard you’ll notice the lightness since the penetration is not as good. In real life this translates to hitting a couple of times more to get good purchase. Since the axe is very light this is easy work and no problem, though.

I’ve modified my ices with a fang. They don’t have it out of the box but it’s easily installed. Simond sells the trigger kit as an accessory. The kit has self drilling screws but if you want to make it really professional you’ll need a drill and some rivets. The fang is slightly too wide out of the box but a gentle tap with a hammer will make it more narrow. I used 4mm rivets on mine and the installing took less than half an hour.


Detail on the installed trigger. The cord is for clipping in the harness leash.

In the future I plan on using these axes a lot on certain type of routes. I’ve bought the second axe for routes with more easy ice climbing. Such routes are, for example, the Frendo Spur and the Peuterey Integrale. With these axes I’ll shave off 600 grams of weight compared to a pair of my regular ice axes but I don’t loose any climbing ability. My regular axes, Simond Anacondas, weight 610 grams each with a hammer. For comparison, a Petzl Quark weights 550 grams each and a Black Diamond Viper weights 620 grams each.

Pros:
– Lightweight and compact.
– Technical steel pick.
– Price (79 euros each).

Cons:
– No hammer head for hammering in pitons.
– There’s no trigger out of the box.

Further information:
Simond Fox Carving product page
Simond Trigger kit


Crossing the bergschrund on La Meije with the Fox. If this is about as hard as it gets the Fox is a very good choice.

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Scarpa Rebel Carbon GTX review

I’ve decided on running a short series on gear. During the past year I’ve been shaving off weight quite a lot. I’ve bought new boots, new crampons, new axes, new pack and a new jacket. The best of all this is that it didn’t cost too much but the weight savings have been dramatic.

I’ll start the series with alpine boots:

While visiting Chamonix this year I bought new shoes. I bought them after trying on every pair of similar shoes at Snell’s. The shoe had the best fit of all shoes I tried. They had one big defect, though. They were the most expensive. Usually I’m quite price sensitive with gear and I was hesitating for a moment but after a second thought I remembered that with shoes you should always buy what fits best. The price differences are not so important since mountain shoes last for many years if not decades you’ll use them for countless hours. If they don’t fit well you’ll be reminded of your bad decision.

I decided on buying Scarpa Rebel Carbon GTX. It’s a high end alpine boot with semi-automatic crampon compatibility. The shoe is designed by Ueli Steck and it’s best intended for technical alpine climbing. It’s an alpine climbing boot that walks and climbs better than most alpine climbing boots. The shoe weights a mere 650 grams each. It’s only marginally more than the typical approach shoe. For comparison: The Five Ten Guide Tennie weights 410 grams and the La Sportiva Boulder X 480 grams.


Scarpa Rebel Carbon GTX product picture.

The fit of the shoe was perfect out of the box. The lacing system is really tight but still comfortable. I haven’t experienced any ankle movement so far. The shoe is very much like the La Sportiva Trango S but it weights less, the sole is stiffer and the toe box is more wide. In Trango my pinky toe was rubbing against the outer edge of the shoe (very uncomfortable) but in Scarpa Rebel it wasn’t so there is definitely more room in the toe box. The sole of the boot is very stiff but it’s more than ok for approaches and descents since the lacing system is supportive and the ankle is very flexible.

The next day after buying the shoes I took them to a real life test. I went to climb the Traverse of the Grandes Jorasses with them. The traverse is a big two and a half day route in the Mont Blanc Massif. The route is a mixed route with a little bit of everything and, thus, a very good testing ground for new shoes. If there are no problems with this route it’s very likely there will be no problems at all.

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The type of terrain where Scarpa Rebel Carbon GTX excels.

Since the first moment of walking with them I was totally surprised how well they performed. They ankle stayed put always and climbing with crampons on was a bliss since the boot was so stiff. On rock I could climb anything one could imagine climbing with big boots. On moderate angled ice my calves weren’t burning like they did with my previous boots. I didn’t notice the boots at all while walking down from Boccalatte hut so they are very nice for walking, too. I was more or less running down the hill with them.

On the route I used the boot with Camp XLC Nanotech crampons. I’ll review the crampons in depth later but with this shoe it’s probably the lightest combination with this kind of climbing ability. The XLC Nanotech is with aluminium frame and steel front points and it weights 650 grams per pair. The crampon fits perfectly this boot.


Camp XLC Nanotech product picture.

There was a problem with the shoes, too. The water was getting inside if the snow was slushy. The regular route of the Grandes Jorasses is facing south and the snow gets sun all the day so the snow was just about as watery as snow can get in the afternoon. After I got home I did some testing in kids bath tub and found out the problem was with the Goretex lining. I reclaimed Scarpa and they gave me a new pair which I’ve now tested waterproof in the tub.

Overall, I would say the shoe is by far the best mountain boot I’ve ever used during my 10 years of alpine climbing. There was some kind of manufacturing defect with my first pair but the customer service worked ok so it was no big problem. The price is a bit steep but the shoes are well worth it in my opinion.

Pros:
– The shoe weights only 650 grams each.
– The shoe has low volume and it packs small.
– Fits like a climbing shoe. The ankle fit is superb.
– Can climb 5.9 and above.
– Great customer service.

Cons:
– Price, but you get a great design.
– Manufacturing defect with the first pair.

Further information:
http://www.scarpa.co.uk/mountain/tech-mountain/rebel-carbon-gtx/

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Climbing the crux pitch with both shoes inside a 20 liter pack. You’ll be loving the low weight and the low volume design on moments like this.

 

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Wadi Rum part 3: Hammad’s route

After having failed on loads of technical climbing we turned our heads on the Beduin routes. In my opinion the Beduin routes are the most special thing in Wadi Rum. Every climber should do a couple of these routes during his trip in Wadi Rum.

I might be biased because of failing on the proper routes but I think the Wadi Rum is not about climbing splitter sandstone. After having climbed the Beauty I though the crack climbing is not that bad but not really special either. At that point I was still more or less in the ascending rhythm and I hadn’t failed yet. But I felt the rhythm was sorts of out of tune.

The puzzles didn’t fit together for some reason. The Beauty was a supposed to be a three star route and one of the best routes but I figured in Yosemite there are probably more splitters on the Nose alone than in all of Wadi Rum combined. The brittle climbing with big jugs and poor pro is also not that bad but it’s way better in the Dolomites. But the overall desert experience in Wadi Rum is something special. And I really think the Beduin routes and the approaches through the ravines are something spectacular which you won’t find anywhere else on this planet.

Jebel Rum: Hammad’s route (5, AD+) – October 18th, 2012

The Beduin routes in Wadi Rum are great adventures with a little bit of climbing in between loads of scrambling. They are the most logical way to the summit though the maze of ravines.


The Jebel Rum looks like your normal round hill once you look it from below. One might think there is no challenge but from below you can’t see that the top part of the mountain is split by huge big cracks. Most of the cracks are very deep and just about too wide to cross with jumping. They create a big labyrinth on the top of the mountain with loads of dead ends.

The climbing is not technically hard but it’s very easy to get lost on the upper part. Very good world class alpinists have gotten lost on the route. There’s a interesting story about Hammad’s Route in Mick Fowler’s book, for example. He traversed the mountain with his wife and they got lost numerous times descending the Hammad’s Route.

Most of the easy scrambling is very exposed and this is true especially on the descent. I really enjoyed the trip up to Jebel Rum. It’s very much like climbing a long alpine route except for the snow. The route is highly recommended!

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Wadi Rum part 2: The Beauty & L’autre Dimension

During the past few years I’ve been using the ascending rhythm system for choosing the climbs during a trip. The system is not very structured and it has many not measurable variables like the mood and the feeling but the basic concept is climbing the easy routes first and then progressing towards the hard ones. The main idea is to get into the rhythm of the local rock type with an ascending row of success.

On the Wadi Rum trip our first route was the 5+ on Abu Maileh Tower and the second one The Beauty 6a on the Jebel um Ejil. The first route was 100 meters high and the second one 200 meters. This was ascending rhythm as it’s supposed to be.

Jebel um Ejil: The Beauty (6a, 200m) – October 15th, 2012

According to all the books I read the Beauty was highly recommended and it’s western face with a shady corner was spot on with the current conditions. Climbing in the sun was no fun and climbing in the shade was what we were looking for. According to the books the climbing was supposed to be as good as on any of the best routes in Utah.


The Beauty certainly was beautiful climbing but in my opinion it was not as spectacular as advertised. The route was certainly not bad but I didn’t really enjoy the actual climbing too much. But what I loved was what came on top of the the proper pitches. Running up and down the dome hills was like being in the candy shop as I was five years old. Hanging out on the summit was a superb experience with the endless desert in the horizon.

What I really loved, too, was the approach hike through the canyons with the route finding challenge. Most of the hiking was easy but there was the odd scrambling move every now and then to spice it up. The canyons are something most mountains have but I’ve never seen them to this extent before.

Jebel Kharazeh: The Cat Fish Corner (6c, 100m) – October 16th, 2012

On the morning of the third day I was not thinking about climbing anything hard and I wanted to do some beduin routes which went all the way to the summit. Most of our gang wanted proper climbing, though.


The Cat Fish Corner was supposed to be three superb pitches of splitter finger crack at 6a+/6c/6b. It was a very good plan B although it was not what I really wanted. But I didn’t mind belaying it since top roping is always nice.

As you can see in the pictures there wasn’t much proper climbing that day, though. We woke up way too late and we got a bit lost on the approach. Once we reached the bottom of the route proper it was getting into the sun already and nobody wanted to climb it. Teppo and I decided to take a little nap in the shade and Matti went for a canyoning adventure into the ravines.

Later in the day we asked our host Mohammed if he wanted to take us out on the desert with his jeep. He kindly replied ‘yes’ and he dropped us on the desert.


Of course I forgot to pack any water with me. It was a fairly surreal experience being way out on the desert with no water. It was getting into the evening, though, so the sun was not that bad. But I felt pretty hard core. I felt like Clint Eastwood who was left out on the desert in his movie the Eiger Sanction.

In the evening of our third day Jonni and Lauri were not back before it was pitch black. They were having a minor epic on the Hiker’s Road on Jebel Nassrani (5c, 500m). It was nothing serious but they turned back too late and we saw their one head lamp about 100m up the face as the dark caught them. The light was moving, though, so we asked Mohammed if he would like to pick them up later in the evening. He replied positive which was highly appreciated by the two warriors once they were back down on the surface.

The next day the two epic warriors and Teppo, who is a fish by his second nature, decided to go for a swim into the Red Sea. They say there are fairly nice spots for snorkeling near Aqaba which is less than an hours drive from Wadi Rum. Matti and I, who are not that much of swimmers, decided to go climbing.

Jebel Nassrani: L’autre Dimension (6b, 500m) 

We browsed through the guide book during the late evening hours and found a route which was supposed to be in the shade until the afternoon. Although the sleep was getting short we decided on alpine start before the sun rises. We wanted to get the most out of the mild and shady part of the day.


The first money pitch was graded 6b but I would call it a sandbag. Matti who regularly leads 7b with marginal gear was having some big trouble on it. The first couple of pitches went inside a sorts of flaring corner which was very spectacular climbing but way too physical for our ability in +28C.

After the corner I led a couple of adventurous pitches with bad rock and marginal pro and we decided to call it quits. The sun was already in.

The L’autre Dimension was a tat too hard for us. We did the hard pitches and we had plenty of daylight left so it was not like we couldn’t have climbed it if we had pushed. But we were not in the rhythm. If you pick a climb which is too hard you’ll screw up the ascending rhythm and it’s not fun anymore.

For our next adventure we decided to lower the bar and go for the beduin routes.

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