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Ice and alpine climbers are the most diehard among us. Yes, the experience of being on a silent mountainside, high above the furrowed crevasses of some distant glacier, or in the thick of it on a multi-pitch, blue-white, vertical ice runnel, are otherworldly and amazing. But the barriers to entry are high: You need to be patient for those endless cold belays, courageous for those long runouts on chandeliered ice or wafer-thin verglas, and technically savvy about your gear and proper layering to stave off hypothermia.
Not surprisingly, ice and alpine climbers are passionate folk, and as soon as temps drop below freezing, snow starts flying in the high country, and the ice firms up, the Mountain Project forums go gangbusters: “Is All Mixed Up in yet?” “Any idea when The Last Gentleman gets good?” “Re. Lake Superior—when should I plan a road trip?” You could not find a more stoked group of people, except maybe skiers on the first powder day of the year.
The good news is, the winter season of 2020/2021 is already here, so you need not wait any longer. And we’ve got the gear you need for a safe, warm, stylish outing. (For more ice and alpine gear, visit Backcountry.com.)
Mountain Equipment Xeros Jacket
The UK brand Mountain Equipment has been quietly producing some of the best, hardest-wearing core alpine apparel and packs on the market. In 2020, they came out with the Xeros, an 800-fill down shell made with 10D Gore-Tex Infinium, an ultra-lightweight fabric built to be windproof and water-resistant—meaning it will withstand both wet snow in the Rockies and lashing desert wind in Red Rock Canyon. You get the standard alpine-shell must-haves like elastic cuffs, an ample, helmet-compatible hood, and adjustable hem, as well as a two-way YKK zipper that lets you unzip the jacket bottom for unobstructed belaying. But the Xeros’s biggest selling point is the remarkable warmth for its weight (18 oz) and compressibility—the jacket, which comes with a stuff sack, packs down to the size of a half-gallon jug in your pack, but yields amazing insulation up on the wall.
Outdoor Research Mixalot Glove
For leashless climbing and dry-tooling, and on warmer, shoulder-season days, you want a light sensitive, sticky glove that adheres to your tools like Spiderman to a brick wall. Outdoor Research has refined their popular, single-layer Mixalots with a few key tweaks: a sculpted neoprene wrist cuff to hold warmth in; overlaid seams to keep moisture out; and, most importantly, a Pittards Gripster Sheep Leather palm (think golfing gloves) for enhanced grip on your tools, even in wet conditions. Rounding all this out is a Gore-Tex Windstopper soft shell comprising the back of the glove, to block wind on breezy nordwands and at exposed belays.
Ortovox Peak Light 30 S
The best, most memorable alpine routes are those deep within the backcountry, such as the Ames Ice Hose in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. You’ll want an alpine touring pack that holds all your gear, be it ski-mo or ice, for the approach and the climb. At a roomy 30 liters, the Peak Light S (for short—sized for shorter male torsos or for women) is perfect for epic day trips. The pack is made of bomber 420D Oxford nylon with PU water-resistant treatment and weighs only 2 lbs, 6 oz (or 1 lb, 8 oz stripped). It carries snug and smooth thanks to the Swisswool-Tec-Knit Back System, which marries foam backing with heat-pressed Swiss wool pads to buffer the load and soak up moisture. There are plenty of alpinist-friendly bells-and-whistles, too, from a rope fastener to ice-axe loops to a helmet net to a map compartment.
Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic Pant
Whether your game is frozen waterfalls, thrasher gullies, or gymnastic, bolt-protected dry tooling, you need a moisture-resistant, insulating, and above all stretchy pair of pants that moves with you, accommodating wicked highsteps, figure-fours, and the inevitable “alpine knee.” The Ozonic offers killer flexibility with its four-way stretch 40D fabric and has a built-in webbing belt—perfect for ratcheting the waist down for aggressive leads. The pants comprise a 2.5-layer shell made with Dry Q Active technology and feature a DWR coating to keep out moisture, as well as full-length side zippers to let sweat out during exertion. These are light pants (10 oz size M), so pair with a base layer or puffy pants as needed.
Black Diamond 7.9 Dry Climbing Rope
Half ropes (clipping each rope into alternating, independent protection points) or twin ropes (using two ropes as one) are de rigeur on large alpine objectives, both to reduce the risk of having a single rope cut from abrasion or ice- or rock-fall, and so you have two full-length ropes to rappel with. At 7.9mm in diameter, this dry rope is BD’s skinniest half/twin, and it’s been woven with a burly, 2×2 dry-treated sheathe, as well as a dry-treated core, to withstand the rigors and moisture of the alpine environment. The rope comes with a middle marker and weighs a light 1.38 oz per meter; available in 30m, 60m, and 70m lengths.
Ready to get “tech-9” with one of most ergonomic, versatile, space-age axes on the market? The curved-shaft Nomics feature double handrests that facilitate multiple grip positions, with the lower handrest adjusting to accommodate various hand sizes or gloves, and with a serrated steel spike for piolet-canne mode. The Nomics’ Pur-Ice pick tapers down to 3mm at the tip; coupled with the Masselotte weights, this ensures a solid swing and stick, even in the hardest ice. You also get a Mini Marteau hammer on the head for pounding in pins. And if overhanging dry-tooling is your bag, you can strip away the accessories for an axe that weighs a mere 18 oz.