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Colin "distilled"?


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Colin Haley was in town on Sunday doing a presentation for the Mountaineers. Colin and the Mountaineers were gracious enough to allow me to invite myself.


Colin did a great presentation on winter climbing. Equally as good was he answered questions through out his presentation and stayed long afterwards taking questions from the audience.


I took written notes, learned a few things (no surprise) and hope that I am relaying what Colin said and not just what I heard...but as always, "caveat emptor!"


Colin's climbing resume' will detail where he came up with the opinions.


In no particular order. What is listed below is just how it came out of the conversation last night. I intentionally duplicated my "short hand" notes here. Adding anything now is just going to be me adding my own commentary which I did not want to do. Call it, 2 hrs of "Colin distilled" :) Hope you find something useful!


"The Cascades Can have some of the best "winter" climbing in the world...certainly better than Colorado :)


Always take a good foam pad...

Always take a tent even solo (Bibler, ID or First Light from comments and his pictures)

Always cook inside your tent

Always use a cartridge stove

Warm weather use a Jet Boil

Cold weather use a MSR Reactor


No need for a heat exchanger because he cooks inside his tent on a foam pad.


Don't be afraid of taking jumars on winter routes, it might be faster overall.


Lots of rope options to choose from in winter. Use what is best for your project :



single and a tat


a dbl and a tat


Skinny rap rings can be a good thing to carry and use on occasion.


April and May are the best alpine "ice" months in the Cascades.


Alaska climbing in winter is really cold

Climbing in the "real" winter season is tough

Climb at night, it is character building

Learn how to dig through cornices...it is character building

Carry 2 ice screws for winter routes in the Cascades...might as well take titanium, they are lighter and you'll never use them anyway


Cascade approaches that are complicated (aren't they all) might get snowshoes, a mtn bike and feet

Simple approaches get skis

Alpinists need to know how to downhill ski...well.

Big advocate of approach skis...100cm to 160cm

Water is carried in MSR bladders, up to 3 liters

He doesn't mind intentionally getting dehydrated if it will get him to a brew stop earlier


His hardest mixed line in the Cascades is "Intravenous"


If you are plunging curved tools in snow for support always face the tool picks up hill


Climbing clothing on two, back to back, ascents of the north face of Hunter.

long john bottoms

pile lined soft shell pants..no zips

wool first layer on top

R1 layer

hard shell

belay jacket...a synthetic

Puff pants with zippers


Boots on Hunter were Spantik, which Colin REALLY likes for various reasons. Laces and how they climb technical ground being the two he mentioned specifically.


(I tried to turn him on the the Baruntse but he wasn't having any of it ;)


He is sponsored by Patagonia, Black Diamond and Sportiva among others so easy enough to figure out what he is wearing.


Crampons...always dual points..the advantage of support and not working all the time to be stable as you would on a mono point.


Vertical front points for "hard" as in physically hard ice, like concrete hard, not technically hard like WI7.


Horizontal front points most every where else.


He likes the Euro death knot, raps a lot on mixed sized ropes and has seen the tests on them all.


Favorite glove at the moment is the BD Punisher, doesn't generally remove his gloves for climbing, doesn't like to carry a spare set of gloves, but will carry one extra pair on occasion, doesn't use hard warmers


Down bags are good for a two bivy climb... past that go synthetic

Belay jackets he suggests being "conservative", his word not mine, and uses synthetic... the DAS of course.


Meals are freeze dried on long climbs for weight and nutrition. Mtn House got the endorsement for easiest on your digestive system. Gu and energy bars on the other climbs up to a 48 hrs push.


Sit up in the tent while cooking with a stove inside...limits the chance of carbon dioxide poisoning by being lower in the tent, like laying down would.


Snow pickets have a limited use in steep snow...and he has climbed a LOT of steep snow.

Pickets probably are best used buried as a deadman. Best belay on steep snow is a deep seated belay, set up directionally"


Well worth the effort if you get a chance to see one of Colin's presentations.

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Thanks D-


Belay jackets he suggests being "conservative", his word not mine, and uses synthetic... the DAS of course.


...coservative meaning no down because of moisture concerns?


Also - no soft shell jacket, eh?


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DAS? or a synthetic...exactly... no moisture issues with the newest Primaloft DAS or the older synthetics.


Also my take though not mentioned by Colin....tear a hole in a synthetic and no big deal..you don't loose much...down it is a disaster till you tape it up. Another Patagonia sponsored climber, Kelly Cordes, mentions that issue as well in his blog discussion of belay jackets. Worth the read.


Hard shell tops on the jackets, at least for Hunter. I was asking specific questions on just those two climbs. Take a look at his blog and see what else he is using and where. Funny after a half a dozen winter seasons in soft shells I went back to a hardshell (combo really) just this winter to reduce weight, up wind protection and hopefully improve breathability. I accomplished all my goals by doing so and am extremely happy with the end results.


Worth checking out Steve House's gear video on You-tube as well. Houdini shell comes to mind but both guys are sponsored by Patagonia so worth a look there to see what they offer.


More here..on my use.. but big fan of the light weight, hard shell/soft shell combo idea.




2nd layer:


(red ones are $99 on sale right now 3/23/10)


"Eddie Bauer Front Point jacket..it is a combo hard shell and soft shell . Very water resistant (my top was dry in a soaking waterfall that went straight through my pants and filled my boots to the brim) and very breathable. I am highly impressed with the details of this garment and the combo of materials used. A surprising and almost immediate favorite for cold technical climbing."


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Regarding down vs. synthetic belay jackets, another thing to consider is the spindrift factor...steep and sustained routes- like all of the routes on Hunter's north buttress- tend to dump even during good weather. Synthetics are a much better choice on such routes for this reason, in my opinion.


Also, things like gloves definitely vary from person to person, speaking for myself, anyway. I've never gotten full-on frostbite but after many Alaska seasons my fingers don't work so well anymore and get cold even in mild conditions. I always carry a spare set and on a multi day climb I might even carry 2 extra, depending on the type of climbing and likelihood of them getting soaked (like, spindrifty routes...) as well as whether I have a tent and therefore if it's likely the wet pair could be dried out. Long ago I never used hand warmers but these days they are standard equipment for me.


Thanks for posting this. I've benefitted significantly from climbing with Colin. Something to note also is that his lack of "epics", especially considering the scale of the objectives he is taking on, is not accidental. Another skill is his willingness to wait for the right weather, conditions, and psyche. He does nothing out of impulse. This trait is as important as any piece of gear.

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Had you in mind Mark when I asked Colin about gloves;) Wish I had you around to quizz as well. Seriously, you should write out something similar with your own suggestions. We'd all benefit. I have a list I'd love to see answered by you.


I'd be hard pressed to get up Chair with just one pair of gloves.

I like the challenge though to expand my own comfort level, Twight did the same to me. Colin has gone farther imo, as is required of each new generation.


No spare gloves or picks is a good example.

But they did take two pair of gloves each on Hunter.

Obviously Colin has his string tied tight. But he and guys like you are out there a long ways on the big routes.


I've benefited from your insights as well as from Colin, Twight, House and others. All you guys have done some amazing climbs...good on ya!

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Thanks so much for posting!!!!!


I also like Mark's comment “Another skill is his willingness to wait for the right weather, conditions, and psyche. He does nothing out of impulse. This trait is as important as any piece of gear.” That’s a great point and something I like to remember.


I haven't had any trouble with my down FF jacket or sleeping bag around the cascades. They use a solid fabric. But I haven't taken them to Alaska yet.





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My apologies but I missed a section of my notes..


Gerber-Sink is a better route than Triple Couliors


There is no suicide pact-no pro means no rope

climb snowed up rock you learn more than on fat ice

He uses 13cm and 19cm scews..13s in good ice will hold the same as a 22cm

uses a lot of pins



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the only thing that makes me paranoid is the CO factor when using the reactor in the tent.


When quizzed on that Colin said the trick was to keep the tent vents/doors open ;) And always sit up in the tent while the stove was on.


He went on to tell us about using on in a 3 man bivy sack on the Torre travese and wondering why the stove was failing until they opened the bag to get more snow and the stove flared back to life from the rush of fresh oxygen. No question to everyone some CO2 poisoning happening there. Another good one was his partner Jeb Brown brewing up with a Reactor inside his sleeping bag on an open bivy on Moffit.



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You misses another one, dream BIG!


I don't know Colin but my gut feeling from our conversations was he doesn't think he is dreaming big at all.


But there is no question in my mind that he looks at the sport differently from almost everyone else. I just think he doesn't see/have the limitations most of us do.


He gives credit to the majority of his climbing ability as simply starting in the Cascades. When asked I found it interesting his reply was, "most guys my age started sport climbing and get into mountains. I started on and like the mountains and am just now getting into sport climbing"...15 years into his climbing carrer.

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Always cook inside your tent

Always use a cartridge stove

Warm weather use a Jet Boil

Cold weather use a MSR Reactor

. . .

Sit up in the tent while cooking with a stove inside...limits the chance of carbon dioxide poisoning by being lower in the tent, like laying down would.

Or just use a stove that doesn't put out 10-100 times the CO of other stoves. I am sure you've seen the test results on backpackinglight.com but if you haven't... The Reactor doesn't come with the huge CO warning tags for kicks. Be careful.
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Or just use a stove that doesn't put out 10-100 times the CO


You know...argueing with Colin's success rate and his choice of gear is like pissing in the wind as far as I am concerned. I suspect Colin knows more about every decision he makes climbing and with gear than most climbers know about the most informed decision they make.


Colin's presentation was for the Mountaineers. To his credit he didn't dumbie down what he had to say for the audience. Most everything he said wouldn't fly in any mountainering school or guided program. It doesn't have to. Using a 5mm tag line and 8mm 1/2 rope when required for his main rope for instance. Or cooking inside a tent with any stove let alone the Reactor.


What obviously works for Colin and his partners may well get YOU or me killed in short order. The info I posted is for educational purposes only so you get a glimpse into what it takes to get up the kinds of climbs Colin, Mark and their partners get done year in and year out, year after year.


While we might disagree with some of Colin's choices or decisions I understand (or think i do) the context under which he makes those choices.

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Hey Guys,

A few thoughts after reading through all this:


-Dane makes a great point in mentioning that some of these tactics and gear choices are not *necessarily* recommended. Reading through Dane's notes on Colin's lecture, I would have to say that my views on the items mentioned are largely similar to Colin's; while I certainly credit my partnership with Colin with having influenced many of my values, overall I've come to the point I am at through many years of careful experimentation, and yes, a few mistakes. I'm a cautious and calculating person by nature so thankfully the mistakes I have made have had enough backup built in to not have been catastrophic, and probably a few times I just got lucky. The point being, it is important for climbers who aspire to the big routes to dare to venture outside of their comfort zone and find out what works and what doesn't, but at the same time one must be pragmatic at all times and be WILLING TO FAIL on the climb and try again some other time with a better tactic. You cannot simply copy someone else's tactics and gear list; the apprenticeship is a long, step by step process, and if you look at Colin's progression in the sport closely you will see that he as much as anyone has adhered to the concept of apprenticeship. People assume that because he is young that he was "going for it", but the fact is he started climbing (alpine!) at age 10. He wasn't doing big routes until his late teens/early 20's, and up to that time he logged more time in the mountains than many do in their lifetime. He and I got our starts similarly in that I also started climbing by going alpine climbing- that's all I did for the first 8 or so years, before I realized the limitations my lack of technical skill were imposing on what routes I could do, and so I started working more on those aspects. I only wished that like him I had started climbing at a much earlier age (I started at age 22, though with a entire childhood of backpacking and class-2-3 scrambling beforehand). These days I spend far more time during the year working technical skills, in preparation for a relatively few, serious alpine missions.

There has to be insight with each decision you make. I have done things where I felt uncertainty and fear, but insight is the inner voice that separates phantom fear versus a clear and present hazard. It's a fine line, but this voice is what you need to listen to above all else. It took me a long time to recognize much of my fear as a simple fear of being uncomfortable, one which caused me to take far more stuff than I actually needed and in fact made the effort much more arduous. In fact you might say it actually increased the discomfort, prolonging the climb's duration and increasing fatigue due to the heavier packs.

Having said all that, a few stories and points worth mentioning:


-Bivis: If you're going to bring bivi gear, make sure it allows you to sleep. Half-assed 'bivi' setups that result in a long night of cold shivering are a waste of weight as they are not fulfilling their function, and will sabotage your climb by making you doubly-tired. If you're going to set yourself up to suffer, might as well go light and single push it instead. Or, plan on sleeping during the day.


-Be diligent and disciplined about taking brew stops, especially on single push efforts. Also, do not brew up for too long- keep it to 2 hours or less. Sitting around for four hours will only build up lactic acid and instead of feeling refreshed and recharged, you'll be sluggish and lethargic. Keep the flow going.


-Cooking in your tent: While I don't "recommend" it, I've done this for a very long time. Colin's suggestions are exactly right. You have to be on it, sitting up, paying attention at all times. If you do this, it works. I like to stick my nose out the tent door and breathe periodically, keep the flap open, etc. Long ago, I thought cooking inside was forbidden; I was watching my friend Jeff Benowitz pack for a trip and the subject came up...said I, "you cook in your tent?" Jeff, already a vet of many Alaska climbs, replied quizzically, "like...you'd...cook anywhere else?!?" Unlike Colin, I do use white gas stoves occasionally and these are definitely a LOT more hazardous used inside, mainly for reasons of fire. Best to light them outside first for this reason. But they sure warm up the tent! :)One further problem to keep in mind, when the weather is bad outside, and it's cold as in Alaska, cooking in your tent will often result in the tent's interior becoming coated in ice. While acclimatizing on Denali's south buttress prior to an ascent of the Isis Face in 2008, this happened to us the first night. The tent became a frozen mess and not very useful. Thereafter, we dug snow caves the rest of this portion of the trip, which actually worked out nicely since the weather was very cold and unsettled. On that note, I really like snowcaves. If you put in the effort to make one, put in the extra time to make it large, build shelves and get comfy. They are quiet, warmer (but never really 'warm', either), and a lot better than a frozen, wet tent flapping violently in the wind. If I know I'm going to be caving it and not bringing a tent, I might bring along a 5' x 8' Integral Designs Guide's Tarp (very light parachute material) and I use it to close off the door of the cave to keep out spindrift. If it's an emergency cave and you have a tent, use the tent for the same purpose. The Guide's Tarp is a nice thing to have on steep routes where a tent isn't practical, like the north buttress of Hunter. We chopped a long ledge, laid head to head, and stretched the tarp over our upper bodies to keep the spindrift out of our faces and sleeping bags (though the angled rock corner above our ledge kind of sabotaged this, the principle remains sound...).

Ropes: Colin and I used an 8.8 mm half rope and no tag line for the Denali Diamond. I have to admit it felt a bit 'out there' starting up this route, very committing. On the other hand, at some point on a route this big, even with a tag line you are pretty committed either way. In retrospect, it was really nice to not be carrying a second rope, our packs were quite manageable. As for using a half rope...I don't recommend this, it was just our choice. I might not even choose to do that again, but when doing this you pretty much aren't taking undue chances for whippers. Colin yarded on gear on the very difficult crux pitch, and we ensured the use of long runners on wandering pitches. I used a much thicker single line on both the Cassin and the Moonflower and chopped it both times. All experimentation aside, if a route involves much rock climbing my recommendation is a sturdy single line in the low to mid 9's, especially if the descent involves a lot of rappels. I think for the Diamond as we anticipated walking off the west buttress, this factored into our decision, but again I don't recommend this to others. Do what makes sense for you.


-Shovels: I *almost* always take an old chouinard spade, without the handle, on climbs. I've dug entire snow caves with this little gem and it doesn't weigh much. I say almost, as Colin and I didn't take a shovel on the Diamond. It seemed at first unwise, but the more I thought about it, there really isn't any place on the route we could have dug a cave- the lower half is steep mixed climbing, the upper half shallow snow over ice. the only place might have been on the summit plateau area if we got marooned in a cloud cap. But even then, we felt we could make do with our adzes on our axes. On that note, I like having an adze in the alpine. In 2005, Eamonn Walsh and I did a new route on Mt. Grosvenor, in the Ruth, a 4400' route we called Once Were Warriors. We brought only belay jackets; no stove, no shovel, no tent, no bags. The lack of a shovel (and everything else!) we nearly came to regret, as we were caught on the summit at 8 PM (end of March, still gets totally dark for 10 hours) in a major whiteout. We were forced to descend the Johnson-Grosvenor couloir in the dark in a storm, barely locating the top of it and then being hit by continuous avalanches in the gully. It was gripping and I think if we had had a shovel we might have chosen to dig a cave up high and wait it out. It cleared in the middle of the night as it turned out, but we felt forced to descend into a very bad place due to a total lack of options. I vowed I would never go without a shovel again in the Alaska Range, but the Diamond was one exception I could justify.


-Revisiting the glove issue: basically, my take on it, fed by my own bias from my poorly functioning fingers, is that an extra set of gloves simply does not weigh enough to slow you down and jeopardize the climb. Conversely, soaking your only pair of gloves on a big rig (or even a smaller route)- a very real possibility on most winter routes- and freezing your fingers, is a clear and present hazard that not only jeopardizes the climb and the team's safety, but losing your fingers and not being able to go rock climbing anymore would really suck. It's not worth it to me. I will always take a spare.


-Other clothing thoughts- the main thing is, how much do you REALLY need? When Colin and I climbed Fitzroy, he talked me out of bringing a fat belay jacket and instead bringing a normal, unhooded Patagonia puffball as my only insulated jacket. Given that I wore it all day while climbing, I was a little apprehensive of what it would be like if the weather turned bad, but fortunately it never did. Looking back, it was nice having a lighter setup and it allowed us to get up and down in an efficient, controlled, day climb. Earlier, when we attempted the Supercouloir, I convinced Colin to bring a spare set of gloves, given the significant amount of snow climbing at the start and the reasonable likelihood of the weather turning poor being in Patagonia. The route was in poor shape and we eventually switched routes to climb the Franco-Argentine, and for this we only took one set of gloves each, as the type of climbing was different, almost all rock. So there's no hard and fast rule, every climb is custom decisions, and you and your partner should feel obligated to evaluate each other's system, and be in synch. Almost always, you can do with much less than you think, but it doesn't mean you never, or always, leave yourself some room for backup. Often, one's confidence in the weather, or lack thereof, will help make that decision for you.

Dane if you have any more questions, fire away.

Happy climbing, dudes

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Thanks for jumping back in Mark.


Hard to imagine for most folks where you guys have been climbing wise. But awesome to get a personal insight and easy to adapt some of it to any alpine climb, at any level, if you look at the details you guys have been offering.


How about a detailed run down of what you and Colin wore for clothes on the Denali Diamond? And what you used on the Moonflower if you have time?

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For the Diamond, I wore Patagonia Stretch Element pants and expedition weight capilene bottoms. On top, I wore 2 midweight capilene tops and an ultralight Montbell shell jacket (can't recall the model, really light but also not very durable, it's full of holes now). For insulation, I brought a hoodless puffball jacket and a Cloudveil hooded Serendipity (or Synchronicity? something like that) belay jacket which is quite a bit heavier than the puffball. Both of those are synthetic. I brought two pairs of BD Verglas gloves, which I pre-seam gripped to increase water proofing (I've since switched to the Punisher and the Glissade, which are BDry'd and officially 'waterproof') and I brought a pair of overmitts made by RBH Designs that I borrowed from Jedi at 14K- I had brought some old, ghetto, heavy OR overmitts originally; these not only did not pass the Colin weight test, they were beat up and over 10 years old. I also brought an R1 balaclava and a pair of Bugz goggles as a sunglasses/bad weather backup.

The bivi gear was a prototype Feathered Friends two person bag that Colin designed (<2lbs), 1 1/2 pre-cut Evozote pads that fit inside the bag, a BD Firstlight tent, and a jetboil w about 3 days of fuel supply.


The Moonflower clothes were essentially the same thing, except that instead of the expedition weight bottoms I think I wore a Feathered Friends "husky suit", which is a one piece fleece salopette with no sleeves. It was generally MUCH colder on Hunter being it is north facing and that it was early May.

The bivi gear here was two 10F sleeping bags, two ultralight bivi sacks, two pads, an XGK stove, small titaneum pot, the shovel blade, and the guide's tarp. We only bivied once, but to tell you the truth, if I did it again I would single push- the bivi was REALLY cold and uncomfortable. I think it definitely made us more tired overall for the upper part of the route than if we'd just been lighter and continued climbing. And while the packs weren't that heavy, on terrain that steep, you really notice every ounce.

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I might add that the shovel blade on Hunter saved our life: we were caught on the final ice face in a full on blizzard with high winds and heavy snow, and spent all night climbing upward into the storm in the dim twilight, gunning for the top and the hope of digging snowcave behind the cornice, which we thankfully were able to do.

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I've been using Sportiva Nupstes for the past five years- they are warm and climb technical ground well. They are worn out though and I just got a pair of Spantiks for this season. Every seems to love theirs; I'll find out.


For the Ruth in June-July, something like Trango ice or Trango Extreme would be more than adequate.

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Awesome stuff Mark.

Count me as not a fan of the Spantik...just could not get them to fit right and lacing system made it worse. Love the Baruntse though and think it has some advantages on technical ground and a better inner boot.


Had a fun day out in the weather this week.

Spindrift reminding us why a synthetic belay jacket is a good thing.



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