Julbo Chamonix Sunglasses Review

Last month I received a pair of Julbo Chamonix glasses through the post to review.

Julbo was created by Jules Baud in 1888 and founded in the Jura Alps just North of Geneva in a response to requests by the Chamonix crystal hunters need for optical protection from the harsh radiation at altitude.

To this day Julbo has continued to design wicked sunglasses to protect mountain users while branching out into other sports such as sailing and mountain biking which have their own unique demands for protecting your priceless eyesight.

In the 1950s Julbo produced the Vermont glacier glasses and the design went on to become a classic adopted by rockstars and climbers, and a collectors item.

1970s heralded the dawn of professional mountaineers and by that I mean athletes doing routes rather than mountain guides. Yannick Seigneur was an engineer and a product of the grand ecoles. His parents disapproved of mountaineering and it wasnt until his mid 30s that he went full time into mountaineering with an incredible resume of 8000 m peaks in the Himalaya as well as a legacy of new routes around Chamonix.

To this day Julbo continues to be a small family run business with a big heart and passion for what they do. On any given day I might end up rubbing shoulders, ski a line or working with many of the Chamonix stars that are supported by this brand. Vivian Bruchez, Sam Favret, Valentine Favre, Glen Plake to name but a few. World Champions to powder whores like myself.

So when I opened the package I wasn’t surprised to find a timeless classic design glacier glass that has evolved from the original Vermont 1950 edition. Construction quality is to Julbo’s highest standards with metal frames and category 4 glass mirrored lenses to combat radiation up high. White leather baffles stop anything getting around the side.  Rubber nose pads and temple tip/earpieces so these babies will never slide down sweaty noses when you look down and spot your feet.

I took mine guiding to the roof of Europe, Mont Blanc. These sunnies are light despite the glass and I had no issues with soreness on the arch of the nose and after a long day on the mountain my eyes were free from the ache of overexposure to the sun. They are robust too, a wildly gesticulating Italian guide knocked mine for six straight off my head in the refuge – no problem!

So they do what they are supposed to but the thing I like the most is strip off the leather baffles and you basically have, dare I say it, a Ray Ban Aviator for looking cool round town or driving your car. I’ve fallen in love with these in a world where plastic frames and glasses have dominated for so long.

Sale Athee – The Dirty Amythist and Exped HL M Mat Test

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The line of Sale Athee on the Charpoura side of the Aiguille du Moine

 

If you are looking for the lightest airmat for bivis and the fast and light approach, read on as this will be of interest to you.

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Time for a mountaineers snack of cheese and sausage at the bivi

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Will soaking up the rays at our bivi spot in the Charpoura

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Bouldering in the evening light

 

When I received the Exped Airmat HL M through the post I was impressed by the small pack size which similar to the size of Thermorest’s popular NeoAir. However when I opened the stuff sac I realised about 1/3 of the volume was due to the ingenious pump that is supplied to keep moisture out of the mat, although Exped claim the mat is impervious to hydrolysis. Leaving the pump at home will save a few precious grams and more importantly reduce your pack size.

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Small pack length of around 7 inches

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The inflation pump that fits into the stuff sac with the mat

 

This is a very comfortable mat with a shoulder width of 52 cm, length of 183 cm and thickness of 7 cm. The mat boasts next-to-skin comfort and anti-slip GripSkin honeycomb-pattern coating. I put the mat to the test in the Charpoura basin for an open bivi this summer on route to climb the mega Sale Athee 7a+ on the Aiguille du Moine – a contender for the best rock routes I have done in the Alps. Despite our bivi location being on rock I had a great nights sleep with no cold spots from the ground or dead arms from pressure points when lying on my side. The mats is full length so you avoid cold feet problems with ¾ length mats.

The low packsize to comfort ration means I’ve also taken to chucking the mat in overnight bags when I am away guiding in other places of the Alps and if I get the chance to ride the mountain bike tour of Mt Blanc this autumn it will be coming with me for a remote bivi.

Full metric specification can be found below along with a short video from Exped taking you through all the design features.

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Will putting into Yosemite style back foot/knee cams on the pod section

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Will heading off on a gorgeous 6C pitch

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Will further up the pitch with stunning views to the Dru and Sans Nom

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The crux 7A+ fist sized crack

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Will coming up another amazing 6C+ pitch

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Will nearly the belay

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Myself and Will on the summit

 

SPECIFICATION

 

Temperature: 

4 °C

R-Value: 

1.90

Thickness: 

7 cm

Length: 

183 cm

Shoulder Width: 

52 cm

Foot Width: 

35 cm

Weight Mat: 

310 g

Weight Pump: 

45 g

Weight Packsack: 

10 g

Packed height: 

18 cm

Packed diameter: 

7 cm

Pack volume: 

0.8 l

Product contents: 

Mat

Mini Pump

Packsack

Repair kit

instruction sheet

Repair manual

Warranty: 

2 years

 

VIDEO

http://www.exped.com/switzerland/en/product-category/mats/airmat-hl-m – prettyPhoto[node-nid-13015-field_video]/0/

Orb Freebird Review

The Orb Freebird has been in the line up at Black Crows since the conception of the Freebird touring range and is instantly recognisable by its iconic fluro yellow topsheet and matching sidewalls.

My initial ski test of the Orb Freebird back in spring 2014 was on a loaned pair. Back then the ski was traditional camber construction which provided plenty of pop and power but wasn’t the easiest thing to pilot on soft snow. I used them to ski Whymper Couloir during a traverse of La Verte from Couturier Couloir.  That day a cruel southerly wind stopped things softening but the Orb’s edge grip did the necessary.

This year the ski has undergone some changes and it’s designer Julien Regnier added a front rocker to the ski to bring it in line with the now well established Navis and Corvus Freebird skis. The Orb FB 178 has put 1 mm on its waist line bringing it to 91 mm and the pair weigh in at 2.99kg. I mounted mine with the 2017 PLUM race 170 bindings with the additional bolt on ski crampon mounts to give me a light but very strong ski for steep skiing above 4000 m, long days and expedition skiing.  The addition of the rocker has been a necessary revolutionary work over for the Orb and made it easy to ski while maintaining its founding characteristics.

Orb freebird evaluation

 

 

 

Black Crows Corvus Freebird Review

Black Crows Skis is the Cult  brand in France, conceived by Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet and born in Chamonix. The name derives from the friendly mountain crow the Choucas,  the legend being each bird is the soul of a dead alpinist or skier. Treat them with affection next time one pays you a visit on a airy ridgeline. Chamonix lays claim to be ‘the World Capital for Skiing and Mountaineering’ and whether you love or hate it, there is no denying that its the ultimate testing ground for high performance, big mountain skiing. The guys in the ski films like Glen Plake, Scott Schmidt, Andreas Fransson, JP Auclair, Seth Morrison, Sam Favret, Aurelian Ducroz, Oli Herren, Nate Wallace, Alex Pittin have all served time perfecting their arts in many different disciplines of skiing before coming to Chamonix and undertaking a long apprenticeship in the unforgiving big mountains  before they could turn on the style on the big test piece routes. This ain’t Alaska where you throw caution to the wind and tomahawk a line and walk away unscathed, make a mistake here and the next second will probably be your last. Its the perfect testing ground, equipment has to perform and withstand abuse (dry skiing, morraines rock, roots) or it gets left in the cellar.

The Corvus has been Black Crows Sovereign ski since the brands conception, and with each year they have added some extra width to drive the market trend. The Freebird version landed in 2016 and won many awards. It is a backcountry orientated ski, lightened to help you get up the hills,  and for a 109 underfoot ski at around the 3.6 kg mark, its boasts a lot of performance.

Like its full weight brother, this is a ski that likes to charge, and the harder you push the more impressed would will be with its stability as it shows its calibre. You can ski pow with dustbin lids but when its variable, crusty or firm then you start to appreciate the all round abilities. I’ve skied this on heavy touring boots but the combination of stability, ease of pivot and dampening has meant I’m happy to go out on this in the mountains with my Scarpa Evo F1.

Photos by Michelle Blaydon on the Shoulder of Aiguille du Tacul above the Mer de Glace.

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Black Crows Skis is the Cult  brand in France, conceived by Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet and born in Chamonix. The name derives from the friendly mountain crow the Choucas,  the legend being each bird is the soul of a dead alpinist or skier. Treat them with affection next time one pays you a visit on a airy ridgeline. Chamonix lays claim to be ‘the World Capital for Skiing and Mountaineering’ and whether you love or hate it, there is no denying that its the ultimate testing ground for high performance, big mountain skiing. The guys in the ski films like Glen Plake, Scott Schmidt, Andreas Fransson, JP Auclair, Seth Morrison, Sam Favret, Aurelian Ducroz, Oli Herren, Nate Wallace, Alex Pittin have all served time perfecting their arts in many different disciplines of skiing before coming to Chamonix and undertaking a long apprenticeship in the unforgiving big mountains  before they could turn on the style on the big test piece routes. This ain’t Alaska where you throw caution to the wind and tomahawk a line and walk away unscathed, make a mistake here and the next second will probably be your last. Its the perfect testing ground, equipment has to perform and withstand abuse (dry skiing, morraines rock, roots) or it gets left in the cellar.

The Corvus has been Black Crows Sovereign ski since the brands conception, and with each year they have added some extra width to drive the market trend. The Freebird version is touring orientated ski  that has been lightened to help you get up the hills and for a 109 underfoot ski at around the 3.6 kg mark, its boasts a lot of performance.

Like its full weight brother, this is a ski that likes to charge, and the harder you push the more impressed would will be with it stability as it shows its calibre. You can ski pow with dustbin lids but when its variable, crusty or firm then you start to appreciate the all round abilities. I’ve skied this on heavy touring boots but the combination of stability, ease of pivot and dampening has meant I’m happy to go out on this in the mountains with my Scarpa Evo F1.

I rated the ski on the 10 qualities I look for in a ski:

corvus-freebird-2016-evaluation

Petzl Laser Speed Light Ice Screw Review

In the mountaineering and ski touring World weight means everything. Its simple physics that the amount of energy to elevate an object is equal to mass x gravity x height raised, hence why we are all obsessed with shaving a 100 grams off one bit of kit or another. For example, in theory to raise 1 kg 1000 m in elevation take 1 x 9.81 x 1000 = 9801 J or 9.81 kJ and that does not account for significant the additional frictional losses from walking or skinning or wind. So it can be seen that carrying one kilogram less will easily result in the energy from an extra bar or two being saved, plus the added benefit of moving faster and more easily and saving the accumulated strain on your neck, shoulders and spine.

In the last 2-3 years we have seen big advances in ski touring boots and skis. Right now a pair of boots weighing 2.4 kgs skis 90% as well as a 4 kg pair of boots did 3 years ago and the same is true with freeride touring skis loosing 1 kg/pair over the last few years – thats a 25% weight reduction.

Our attention to our kit should not stop there, every item of your gear clothing, hardnesses and equipment should be scrutinised for pack size, weight, is it overkill, can I make do with something lighter? This goes for clothing, harnesses, backpacks, crampons, axes, ropes, etc. As an engineer the downside of reducing the weight of an item is the fatigue life is reduced, and for the majority of us fatigue from every day use is the governing factor in the design life of an object. For those of you who are heavy on kit then the overall strength of an item will be the governing factor and maybe going light is not right for you.

Petzl have done an amazing job with their  Laser Speed Light ice screws reducing the weight from 192 g for a steel 17 cm screw to 101 g for the ‘light’ version, thats a weight saving of 91 g per screw. Thats 1.1 kg saving for 12 screws in a cascade rack! So how is this possible?  Ice screws have been around in the steel form for decades with the main innovation being the introduction of winder handles for quick placement and removal. About 20 years ago there was a short period where titanium made and entry on the scene with larger diameter tubes but these were difficult to sharpen and poor quality control of materials from Russia often meant these were unreliable. Petzl have taken a step back and have engineered a screw with an aluminium hanger and tube with hard steel teeth bonded to the tube to cut through glacial ice. Petzl technical spec states there is unlimited lifetime on laser speed light so there are extremely  confident in the new design.

So far I have used mine for climbing alpine faces where neve and ice are present or for ski touring where I’m most likely to use them for an anchor on glacial ice or for creating an abalakov v-thread anchor to abseil from. For ski touring its brilliant as 99% of the ice screw is just a precaution for glacial travel and rarely used in anger and I have not noticed any difference in performance between the ‘light’ and the steel versions.

Price wise they are only a few euro more than the steel version so make sure you check them out.

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17 cm with bue winder handle and 21 cm with the green handle. 13 cm are also available

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The steel teeth on the laser speed light

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17 cm laser speed light on the scales at 101 g

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17 cm steel laser speed on the scales at 192 g. Thats 91 g heavier than the light.

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Equalised double abolokov in the shaded cooler ice backed up by the ice screw.

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Skiing in wild places with exposure after coming through an icy mixed section

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September 2015. Me racking up under the Grandes Jorasses photo : Ben Tibbetts

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Heading up the initial ice field on Michto – Polish, Grandes Jorasses. Photo Ben Tibbetts

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Its starting to get steeper now. Photo Ben Tibbetts

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Shacking out on a small bulge. Photo Ben Tibbetts

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Ben Tibbetts enjoying the sunshine on the summit ridge

Lenz Heat Sock Preliminary Review

During this winter I am preparing for a spring ski mountaineering expedition to the north east fiords of Baffin Island. Situated deep within the Canadian Arctic, this area has granite walls that soar up to 1500 m out of the frozen fiords. Where there are diagonal weaknesses between the walls is where you find the couloir skiing. The team will be dropped into the fiords by snow machine and from that point onwards we will operate on our own for 3 weeks; skiing, eating and sleeping from a tent on the ice. With temperatures there regularly in the -20C range and dipping as low as -40C, its important to test all equipment thoroughly beforehand. I have been to this area before and found that the sea ice acts like a heat sink sucking the heat out of your feet and legs, which became a constant worry to stop my toes freezing. The nearest helicopter is 3000 miles away in Halifax so rescue is not straightforward or fast. For this year’s trip I have chosen the Lenz heat sock combined with the rcb1800 lithium battery to help keep my feet warm, using solar charging systems to recharge the battery at night.

When I received the socks I wanted to test them with my ski touring boots and get used to operating them. The product is well made with the high quality you would expect. Out of the box the batteries were partially charged and only took a few hours to fully charge.

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Marcus Waring and Michelle Blaydon in Gibbs Fiord, Baffin

 

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Michelle Blaydon in Crosshairs Couloir, Baffin Island

 

When I received the socks I wanted to test them with my ski touring boots and get used to operating them. The product is well made with the high quality you would expect. Out of the box the batteries were partially charged and only took a few hours to fully charge before being ready to go.

Before Christmas there was only 50 cm snow in the Alps, just enough to get around on the glaciers in the high mountain. With low avalanche risk we were ski touring a lot and managed a trip to the beautiful old Couvercle refuge in the Talefre Basin. This coincided with the full moon so the night skies were due to be spectacular.

 

It usually takes 3 hours to go from Aiguille du Midi to the Couvercle refuge but the lack of snow and the need to rope through the Salle a Manger on the Mer de Glace meant slow progress and in the end it took 6 hours. I was happy the sock felt the same as other merino socks and didn’t cause any problems such as heal rub. The heating element runs under the foot and although you initially feel it when you put the socks on, you soon get used to it and completely forget its there. The socks have 3 heat levels and I set them on the lowest during the tour and then went to level 2 later in the hut when the outside temperature dropped. The battery clips in place to stud fasteners on the top of the sock. The sock cuff then wraps over the top of the battery. Its worth taking the time to ensure the sock cuff is fully wrapped down over the battery as I found in the lift queue its quite easy for people to graze the outside of your leg and knock the battery. Once you are aware of this it’s easy to avoid. In comparison, other ski boot heaters I have used with batteries at the rear of the boot tend to get damaged/knocked off on chairlifts so it’s a better system.

 

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Michelle Blaydon on the Leschaux Glacier with the Chamonix Aiguilles behind

 

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Full moon over the Vallee Blanche

 

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Ross Hewitt on the ‘roof’ of the Couvercle getting ready to ski down.

 

The next test planned was more onerous with an alpine climbing trip to the classic 700 m, TD- Fil a Plomb ice route (700 m, TD-) on the north side of the Rognan du Plan near Aiguille du Midi. I teamed up with Andy Houseman for this and as always, in the shady north faces, its pretty cold in the short December days. With the benefit of heated socks I chose my lighter, less insulated Scarpa Phantom boots to enable me to climb quicker. The test here was those periods standing belaying where you usually get cold feet pretty quickly. I set the battery to level 2 and was really pleased to find my feet stayed confortable throughout the day. Without the heat socks this was definitely a day I would have used more insulated bigger boots which are less fun to climb in. We reached the cable car around 3 pm and after 7 hours on setting 2 my batteries were starting to fade but they had done the job brilliantly.

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A thin, fragile initial pitch

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Crux pitch of Fil a Plomb

 

Since then I have used the socks for the 3 days ski technique course that forms part of the training on the British Mountain Guides scheme. Training days tend to have some time discussing topics when you can get cold and I was pleased to keep my feet warm with the Lenz socks.

These tests have confirmed the socks are brilliant in ski touring and climbing boots and the element under the foot does not affect performance and is not felt after a few minutes.

Note : If you have world cup fitted race boots then the sock may be too thick to fit in the boot and you should check the fit with the boot.

 

 

 

 

 

Navis Freebird Review

New Zealand skiing Ross Hewitt Tom Grant-1-2

The Navis has been in the Black Crows line up since the early days and became a cult ski amongst the Chamonix steep skiers. In 2015 Black Crows introduced the lightened Freebird range for the back country.

Initially I was suspicious that the ride quality and dampening was going to be compromised by the lightened poplar / carbon / glass fibre core and I was slow to get out on them – how wrong could I be!  I mounted mine with PLUM guides for the 2015 winter and was really surprised by how dampened the ski is. It skis similarly to the classic 2012 Volkl Mantra but without the weight of the metal sheets.  My skis are the 179.4 / 133-102-118 / 19.

After the European winter I took my Navis Freebird to ski mountaineer in New Zealand where big walks carrying kit are the order of the day. They make the perfect compromise of weight, float with 102 under foot and edge holding.

Since then I have remounted them with a PLUM 170 race binding and the set up weighs 4120 g. The 2016 version has been lightened by 400 g so with any type of low tech binding it would give you a 4 kg set up. These are still my go to ski and the 102 under foot makes them much better for edging on firm or spring snow.

Navis freebird evaluation