Brando wore his OrcInd PCU Level 5 pants and jacket which he bought
just before Orc replaced them with the new MCU, and Merrell Sawtooth
Time for Crampons
I had called the ranger station a few weeks before, and they had told
me that crampons were required. They weren't kidding. Not owning a
set, I did some research, and finally decided on a pair of Kahtoola
steel KTS (Kahtoola Traction System). Kahtoola makes two versions
- an aluminum version and a steel one. The aluminum ones are lighter,
but I wanted more durability, as I knew we'd probably be walking on
some rocks as well. The steel points are also sharper, which turned
out to be very useful later on. The KTS has 10 1-inch points, which
are a bit shorter than full-blown mountaineering crampons. The KTS
are meant to be used for most general hiking in the snow/ice instead
of technical mountaineering. I also purchased the SRS (Snow Release
Skins), which are Hypalon (I think) cutouts that install under the
crampons and prevent buildup of ice and snow under the boot. The KTS
are fully adjustable to fit most shoes and boots securely, and I had
no problems pre-adjusting them to fit my Hanwag Mtn Lights. The PCU
L5 pants have stirrup loops in the cuffs and I made my own 550 cord
straps to keep the pants cuffs from riding up and letting snow or
water in the top of my boot.
As it got steeper, the snow made the going more difficult.
We'd occasionally put a foot down and sink knee or thigh deep in the
snow. In the shade, it was icy, and we then decided to break out the
crampons. Since I had pre-adjusted all the straps on the KTS when
I got them, installation was easy on the Hanwag boots. Two straps
and that was it. Brando had bought a set of crampons the day before,
just in case, and was glad he did as continuing would have been extremely
difficult or next to impossible without them. The crampons made a
huge difference with the additional traction. I'll never go without
them in the snow and ice again. I didn't have to adjust my stride
or gait, and they were practically unnoticeable except for the traction.
Putting on the crampons
Brando installing crampons
Since we had left the trail and were finding our own way, we sometimes
decided on the most direct routes. Although the direct routes were
a bit shorter, they were also steeper. I fell into my 'zombie zone
of pain' - moving at a pace just below my anaerobic threshold. When
the lactic acid started to build up in my thighs, I'd take a 10 second
breather, which made a huge difference. Brando had forgotten to bring
along his gloves, so his hands were in his pockets most of the hike.
That made him look like he was taking a relaxed, nonchalant stroll
in the park and this climb was effortless. Looking around while catching
my breath was an instant reminder of why I love to be in the mountains
- the view, the crispness of the air, and the absence of crowds. It
was getting colder as we climbed, and the wind was now making its
presence felt in small gusts. We donned our L5 jackets and switched
our caps to fleece beanies, and continued in relative comfort.
Looking down on the clouds
Phew - this is steep
Where we'd come from
Where we're going
Are we there yet?
We took a few moments to rest on an outcropping of rocks and much
energy bars. When Brando sat down, I noticed that the L5 suit blended
very well into the rocks so I snapped the pic below. The 'Alpha Green'
colour is actually a light-medium gray - very neutral, and not too
'military looking'. Actually worked well against the rocks. The new
MCU from OrcInd is made of a different fabric than the Epic used in
their PCU line, which they no longer offer. From my initial impression
and my limited experience with the MCU so far, I feel that the new
fabric is at least equivalent in performance and characteristics to
the Epic material. Brando was also impressed with the performance
of the PCU items he was using and wide range of temperatures he was
comfortable in. This particular mountain has two peaks within 100'
of each other in elevation. Because we had left the trail, it was
also a bit confusing as to where the main peak was, as we couldn't
see past ridges. So, we just made our way to the tallest point we
could see. This turned out to be the slightly lower peak. This one
is much less traveled, and I've often wanted to go there on my hikes,
but since it's out of the way, no one is usually game on adding distance
to the hike.
Almost to the top
When we got to the summit of the first peak, we unshouldered our packs
and took a much needed rest. The view was spectacular - we were looking
down on an ocean of clouds. Looking back towards the way we had come
up, we could see a cloud bank start to move in. It wouldn't be sunny
for much longer. It was very windy, and we sought a bit of shelter
behind some rocks. Even while I wolfed down my MRE while Brando looked
on in disgust (it was Meatloaf and gravy), the sun would be interrupted
by the clouds moving rapidly overhead. I had brought along my Level
3 pullover to wear under my MCU jacket just in case, but hadn't needed
it. Seeing that the weather was about to change for the worse, I decided
to try out the TADgear stealth hoodie instead of just adding the L3
under my MCU jacket. Bear in mind that I still had my Zensah mock
as my base layer. I also donned the Zensah neck gaiter, which I pulled
over my mouth. The second peak was about a quarter mile away, and
we'd have to climb it to rejoin the trail down, so we made our way
Looking out over the clouds
TADgear soft shell
Shitty weather and a Scare
As we summited the higher peak, the cloud bank finally engulfed us
and visibility was reduced to about 30-40 yards. The the wind was
blowing HARD. Temperature was around freezing and probably in the
low 20s with wind chill. Brando's hands were cold and he was reluctant
to take them out of his pockets, but I coaxed him into giving me 'thumbs
up' for a pic. As we made our way down, we picked up the trail, which
runs along a ridge - first follwing the side of the mountain, then
later right on the top. The trail was alternating loose rock (as seen
below), snow, and mud. This was my least favourite part of the hike
as we couldn't enjoy the view, and the conditions were pretty miserable.
Even so, our garments performed admirably well, and I was actually
quite comfortable, given the circumstances. The Sawfly glasses also
helped keep the wind out of my eyes somewhat, and the Zensah gaiter
kept my nose warm.
There's one part of the trail that is tricky, even during the summer
when it's sunny and dry. It crosses a rock slide area that's steep,
and drops off. There are large rocks on each side of the smaller,
loose stuff, but how solid they are is unknown. The trail is usually
a foot and a half wide here, and scares my wife every time we've been
up there. When we rounded the corner, I saw that the trail had disappeared.
It had slid away. Crap, I thought, this would require some care. I
took one step gingerly on the rock and it gave way. I started sliding
on my chest, as the loose rocks slid beneath me, towards a chute.
Where it went, I didn't know, but I couldn't see past the edge. Things
were not going well and that they could end up getting very serious.
As I reached out to grab what I thought were solid rocks, and have
them start sliding with me or break off in my hands, I had the brief
thought that I could probably be dead or at least badly injured if
I went off a cliff or bounced my way down off the rocks. The fingertips
of my lightweight knit gloves completely wore through in my attempts
to gain a hand hold. I managed to roll over on to my side to see where
I was going and tried to aim my boot, hoping it'd catch on to the
solid rocks I was heading towards. I saw a place to aim my boot, stuck
it out, and my crampon caught. I grabbed a hand hold and waited until
the rest of the rocks had stopped sliding. In the meantime, I'd lost
one of my trekking poles, but the other was still attached to my wrist.
Shaken, I took a few moments to sit back, removed the pole, and stick
it through my pack shoulder strap to get it out of my hand as I knew
I'd need both to climb back up. Brando yelled from above 'Are you
ok?' and I replied 'Yeah, I'm allright'. I could imagine his sigh
of relief. (Later he told me that he had been thinking 'Shit - he's
going to break his leg or something and I'll have to carry him all
the way back.') I asked him 'Can you see my other pole?' and he looked
for it, but couldn't see it. I decided to forget the lousy pole and
figure out how I was going to get back up to the trail.
I had slid down about 30 feet and could see where I needed to get
back to, where the trail continued. I saw a route comprised of what
looked outcroppings of solid rock amongst the loose stuff. My instinct
was to get back to safety as fast as possible, but if what I thought
was a solid hand or foothold gave way, I'd be in even more trouble
so I said to myself 'there's no rush - take your time'. I started
to make my way up and across the slide area, trying to stick to what
appeared to be solid rock. I tentatively tested each hold to see if
it'd break off. Sometimes the piece of rock broke loose, and that
didn't do much to comfort me. I tried to make sure I had 3 limbs on
something solid at any given time before making a move with one. The
Kahtoola crampons let me place my boots on the nooks and crannies
of the jagged rocks and gave me the foothold my boots would not have
otherwise gotten. Thankfully, I made it up to the other side of the
trail, where Brando had been able to get to.
Needless to say, I was in no mood for taking any more photos after
that, so these below are the last ones I took before the slide. I
wish I'd taken photos of the rest of the way down as it was pretty
freaky. The trail literally runs along the top of a ridge which is
normally narrow when dry, but the snow had built up on top of it in
a peak, making it even narrower. How packed it was, we didn't know.
If it had been soft, I'm not sure if we could have negotiated it.
It was about a foot or two across at times, with extremely steep snow-covered
dropoffs on either side and the wind was strong. Nothing to hold onto
if you fell - just a long slide down the mountain. We just put our
boots in other footprints, hoping that the snow wouldn't collapse
under our weight. No wonder all the hiking guides recommended against
this taking this route in winter.
Clouds rolling in
Reluctant thumbs up
The good parts of the trail looked like this
Can't even stand up straight
Ice on branches
Back down to the car
Thankfully, we completed the hike along the ridge without incident,
and then we had another mile or so back down. You know that feeling
when you get back to your car after a hike? That little bit of familiarity
that's like a little piece of home that gives you comfort? Boy, were
we glad to get back down to it. We were both tired and famished, but
had a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. When we got back into
town, we rewarded ourselves with a kick-ass meal - thanks Brando.
We'd earned it.
Sum up/Lessons learned
Other than a few cuts and bruises from my rock slide, I was fine.
The L5 pants were unscathed - I was very surprised. I had expected
to see a few rips or abrasions on it, since I had been cut on my shins
through the fabric (possible from my crampons), but there were none.
The 550 cord stirrups which I connected to the loops at the bottom
of my PCU L5 pants then routed under my boots worked very well. They
kept the cuffs from riding up past the tops of my boots and prevented
any water or snow from entering. The MCU pants don't have those loops,
so I asked them to add them back in for such circumstances. In overall
performance characteristics, I think the MCU L5 is pretty much identical
to the PCU L5 items. Brando was happy with his PCU suit - he was able
to make the entire hike without any insulating garments underneath.
The MCU and PCU items were windproof, as far as we could tell, as
was the TADgear stealth hoodie. Other than some dust on the hoodie,
it survived my slide on sharp rocks without a mark.
My lightweight knit gloves were now fingerless gloves from getting
cut on rocks that I tried to grab as I slid past. Next time I might
wear something more durable.
The Zensah base layers performed extremely well. Absorbed sweat when
I was too hot, and kept me warm when it was cold. I was never uncomfortable
during the hike from overheating or cold. They're stretchy and unrestrictive
and probably my top choice in base layers I have now.
I believe having the Kahtoola crampons on saved me from what could
have been certain injury or death. Without them, I don't know if my
boot would have caught the rock and stopped my slide, nor would I
have been able to climb back up without greater difficulty. They also
made this hike possible - without them and the traction on snow and
ice they provided, I wouldn't have attempted to continue past a certain
point. The crampons never loosened up and stayed stable on the boots.
The steel crampons WILL rust, though. I noticed bits of rust forming
where the coating had worn off. I washed them in fresh water and gave
them a thin coat of WD40 the next day. Kahtoola recommends drying
them with a towel as soon as possible after use.
The Kifaru Express carried everything well as expected - I noticed
the weight on my back, but not the pack.
Again, the Hanwag Mtn Lights performed admirably. My feet were warm
and dry - not a drop of water soaked through to my socks. The Lathrop
and Sons foot bed continued to keep them comfortable - I can truthfully
say that my feet didn't concern me once during the entire hike. No
foot fatigue or aches whatsoever.
Brando and I were downing energy gels every so often. I find that
they help keep me going until I get some solid food in me. Convenient
and easy to use. Kind of like super-concentrated Gatorade. I kept
mine in a prototype EMDOM 'baby-shingle' on my Express waistbelt.
I stupidly forgot to bring sunscreen and I've a nice racoon-eye face
burn. The hat didn't help much with sunlight reflected off the snow.
Hurts when I smile now. Ouch.
My wife and I went up again, and of course we stuck to the trail.
I took a couple of pics of where I had my slide. In the pic on the
left, you can see a hiker coming round the bend at the top (for scale),
and how narrow the trail is at this point and all that loose rock
just waiting to slide down. When Brando and I were up there, the trail
was obliterated in points, as it was covered in snow. The pic on the
right shows the chute where I slid down to, and the rock which on
the right where I was able to stick my foot out and catch. I had to
climb back up on the rocks to the left of it. None of the surrounding
terrain was visible during our snow hike, and all I saw beyond the
chute was fog with no idea where it went. Can't wait to do it again
Place I slipped
Where I was headed