Thursday, June 28, 2012


This week has been a light week as far as climbing and running goes. A few bruised ribs, as a result of a big fall (too big for comfort) last week have slowed me down a bit.

After seeing this link, Breathe, avoid McDonalds, a few times on my Facebook feed I decided to check it out. I left halfway through reading it to go for a slow run, sore ribs and all. I finished reading Will's post when I returned from the run.

Check out the post if you haven't already. The more you move the easier it is to stay moving.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Classic Grovel

I traverse left along the big horizontal crack. Crunchy brown lichen covers the footholds, making everything feel insecure. I grab a 4" rib of rock sandwiched in the crack. As I set both hands on the juggy rib it begins to tip out of the crack. I let go and immediately plummet down the near vertical face. After coming to a stop I take stock of my situation. I'd just taken a huge fall on a traverse. I'd had time to fully scream three times before I stopped falling. Some bruised ribs? Yup. Small cut on elbow? Yup. No major injuries? Also, yup. Wow.

Doug was over 150' away, we were using a brand new rope, and the slack between each piece of protection along the traverse contributed to me taking an enormous whipper. I climbed to the belay, slightly shaken but ready to move forward. This was only pitch two, there were 65 more ahead.

The Great Wall of China

Doug Ferguson, one of the local Shawangunk climbing guides, likes alpine climbing. Recently, he's been taking the alpine mentality to the Gunks. Last year he climbed most of The Great Wall of China, a 9000' girdle traverse of the Trapps, over several days with different partners.

I decided to give the Great Wall a go with Doug yesterday. Despite the forecast for extreme heat and humidity, we decided to try it anyway. Doug lead throughout the day. I wanted nothing to do with leading after my big fall on pitch two, and Doug had already climb much of the traverse. After 10 pitches, as we sat on a ledge near the edge of the Slime Wall, we decided to bail instead of heading out into the baking sun again. The traverse has more challenging climbing in the section ahead. I stood up on the ledge to thread the rappel and noticed the soreness in my ribs a little more. It was a good time to go down.

Today, looking back at the photos I realize how spectacular and scenic the position is along the traverse. Much of the climbing is dirty, loose and runout. However, there are brilliant sections of rock and great ledges too. Without a doubt, we'll be trying this again, in hopes of doing a single-push effort sometime soon.

Here is a link to more photos from our day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Purcell Prusik

As a guide and climbing instructor I frequently get asked how climbers should attach themselves to the anchor at belays and between rappels during descents. There are lots of options for anchoring, from daisy chains and slings to Purcell Prusiks and premade rope lanyards. Not all of them are good, and many are misused by uninformed climbers.

Reading these three articles and watching the associated videos will go a long way in explaining why tether choice is important. Here are the links to look at:
While climbing, the simplest and best answer is to use the climbing rope. At belays I tie a clove hitch using the climbing rope The clove hitch is easy to adjust and testing has shown it doesn't slip, even under high loads. For tethering during rappels and random anchoring while building anchors I use a Purcell Prusik.

Overview of Tether Options

The Purcell Prusik is both strong and capable of absorbing loads well. Most climber tethering configurations, excluding the climbing rope, are either strong enough, but could hurt you in a factor 2 fall scenario at an anchor, or incapable of holding high loads at all. Let's look at a list of tools climbers commonly use for anchoring during rappels, and also at belays if they choose not to tie in with the climbing rope.
  • The Daisy Chain -  Daisy chains gained popularity because aid climbers used them and enjoyed how adjustable they were. Unfortunately, they are easy to misuse and poorly understood by most climbers who use them. If you inadvertently clip the loops incorrectly (this is easy to do) and the bar-tacking between loops fails under load there's a chance you won't be clipped into the daisy at all. For this reason they're a poor choice for tethering.
  • Adjustable Daisy Chains - Most adjustable daisy chains are convenient but are only meant for body weight. They lack the strength necessary for any real anchoring purposes
  • 120 cm (4') dyneema runners - Dyneema is strong, lightweight and has exceptional abrasion resistance. This makes it ideal for many climbing applications. It does not stretch very much meaning that any fall onto a dyneema runner attached directly to your harness can have disastrous consequences. The loads generated are enough to cause bodily harm (greater than 10kn). Place a knot in the runner and the same sorts of falls have caused dyneema runners to break.
  • 120 cm (4') nylon runners - Nylon runners fared better than dyneema in DMM's drop tests, but still place very large loads on a climber's body and still fail when knotted and exposed to fall factor 2 scenarios
  • Metolius PAS - A good, strong anchoring option. However, a fall onto a PAS could hurt you, as large loads in short falls can cause internal injuries.
  • Purcell Prusik - A surprisingly strong and absorbent lanyard - it dissipates loads well. Drop testing has helped convince me that this adjustable tether is a good option.


I began using a Purcell Prusik last fall, and have been using it most days now for random anchoring. It stays neatly wrapped in a knot with a locking carabiner on one of my harness gear loops until I need it. Only then will I attach it to my harness for anchoring. Too many things around the belay loop bother me.

When tied correctly the Purcell prusik can be shortened to as little as 60cm (shoulder length runner) or extended to 120 cm (double length runner). One can easily adjust it's length.

The Purcell prusik next to a 120 cm Dyneema runner

In the event of a fall while anchored, the prusik will slip, absorbing load. This means that the force exerted on the anchor is less, and the force transmitted to your body is less. These are both good things. Obviously your anchor should be able to hold large loads, but human bodies don't seem capable of tolerating much more than 10kN in a fall scenario. Ask anyone who's taken an unexpected, jarring fall and they'll tell you a day later that it feels like their insides were shaken violently.

The process of making a Purcell prusik is pretty simple. You'll need about 11' (3.5m) of 6mm cord. The first step is situating the knot near, but not at the end of the loop. Many diagrams show the eight knot joining the ends overlapping (like a flemish bend, but with a third strand in the knot). Alternately, tie the cord into a loop using a double fisherman's bend. At the end without the knot, tie a 3-wrap prusik around your finger. Remove your finger and place the other end of the looped cord through the prusik. This should give you the approximate set up. Attach it to your harness and make micro-adjustments accordingly.

Here is a great guide on how to make the Purcell Prusik

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Climbing Footwear for Big Feet

This post is also published here.

All my life I've had “large” feet. Mine are long but narrow size 15's. When I started rock climbing in 1996 I didn't feel like there were too many good rock shoe options. Yes, I could choose from a few different models of entry-level FiveTen shoes, but on the whole I didn't feel like there were many choices.

For years I crammed my feet into any too-small shoe, thinking that a tight fit would help my climbing. Some tight-fitting shoes actually fit my long feet and helped me climb better. Others made me focus solely on the pain associated with edging and smearing, and I wanted nothing more than to throw those shoes away and go back to flopping my way up routes.

When I began ice climbing in 1998 I immediately hit a brick wall with boots. There was one option I knew about – the Lowa Civetta. They make the Civetta up to size 16. Whew. I was good to go. The Civettas carried me up many a route, albeit sloppily. They weren't the best boots for using you feet, even with good crampons. I suppose some of the slop was due to my lack of experience. The Civetta, however just didn't compare favorably to today's high-tech single and double boots.

I've been climbing for sixteen years now and my footwear situation doesn't seem quite so grim any longer. Over the years I've discovered what shoes come in large sizes, and what models fit best. In order to make other big-footed individual's lives easier I've compiled a list of the best footwear available. The quest to accommodate your Sasquatch-sized feet doesn't have to be as difficult as mine was.

Below I'm going to outline good footwear options for people who's feet are larger than size 13. If you have size 13 feet or smaller nearly all climbing footwear is readily available. If you have size 14 feet there are still many options. If you're feet are size 16 or larger you may just want to try barefoot waterskiing or basketball. Climbing footwear may be hard to find.

As someone who has big feet, there are several keys to finding the right footwear and keeping it in good shape. A good climbing shop will have some larger sizes in stock. An even better shop will have stock and be willing to order products too. Try on everything that's even remotely close to your size. You'll be surprised by what fits and what doesn't. Once you've found the right footwear take care of it. I resole nearly all my climbing shoes twice and my approach shoes once before retirement. It's important to resole shoes before they're in need of real T.L.C. If you blow a hole in the rand it might be too late. When the rubber gets thin send them in to be resoled.

Rock Shoes

Nearly all shoe manufacturers make some shoes to size 15. Most now make multiple models. After repeatedly trying FiveTen shoes I've given up. The Italians make damn fine footwear, and their rock climbing shoes are no exception. If you're trying to fit shoes, most American climbing shoe manufacturers run a bit truer to size. I wear a 14 in most Five Ten, Mad Rock and Evolv shoes. I wear anywhere from a 12-14 in Scarpa and La Sportiva shoes (meaning many models fit me).

Here are the top picks from the current 2012 offerings:

La Sportiva Nago – My very long size 15.5 feet fit tightly into size 46 Nago's. Sized more comfortably, I would wear size 47. They're made to size 48. Made in Italy. I'm not interested in any of the shoes produced by Sportiva outside of Europe. These entry level shoes still climb reasonably well when sized properly.

La Sportiva Cobra, Miura, Katana, TC Pro – Believe it or not, size 46 (the largest size offered) in all of these shoes fit my feet and climb unbelievably well. The TC Pro's don't quite fit the way they're meant to fit, but they're still the most amazing edging shoes I've worn and they last a while. The others listed fit tightly, as they should, but not uncomfortably tightly.

La Sportiva Mythos – These stretch a ton and are made to size 48. I wear a 46 in these too.

Scarpa Techno – Scarpa might discontinue these. I like them and wear a size 47. These have been good trad shoes

Scarpa Helix, Reflex – One is a laceup, the other a slipper. These entry level shoes are nice as all-around shoes for moderate climbing and will stretch over time. I wear size 46 and they're tight. I guess someone with 17's could wear the 50 in the Helix and be comfy.

Scarpa Force – Another velcro offering from Scarpa, made to size 47. I tried these on and felt like a 47 would be adequate.

Mad Rock Flash – I've had three pairs of these cheap shoes and they climb really well. Once they stretch out they are comfortable enough. For gym climbing I like them. I wear size 14 and they are tight at first.

Evolv Defy – Another decent, cheap gym shoe. I wear a size 14 in these too. They're a bit softer than the Mad Rock Flash.

Approach Shoes

Lots of options here to size 48. Again, La Sportiva and Scarpa seem to take the cake for quality design and durable construction. Five Ten has a few models in large sizes too if you're into their products. Here are my choices from the 2012 offerings from these companies:

La Sportiva Boulder X – Size 48 fits my feet tightly at first. Some slight initial discomfort leads to a good fit for climbing and approaching without any foot slop inside the shoe. These shoes are durable and climb reasonably well.

Scarpa Geko Guide – Size 47 fits like a climbing shoe and eventually becomes comfortable for extended approaches. The Geko's are aggressive “climbing” style approach shoes. When sized tightly they'll actually climb as well as most entry-level climbing shoes. During a guided ascent of the 900' Community Pillar (III 5.9) in Red Rocks last fall I wore them the whole time and my feet thanked me later in the day.

Scarpa Zen, Mystic, Dharma Pro – All of these shoes are built on a similar last and should fit similarly. They're all built to size 48. These stiff shoes require a bit of breaking in but outlast most others. They won't climb the same way that the Geko or Boulder X will.

Scarpa Crux – Also made to size 48, I've worn several older versions of this shoe, and despite a lining that accumulates an awful stench (a theme I've noticed across many Scarpa shoes), these shoes climb well, hike reasonably and are affordable. They'll probably hold a resole just fine too.

Mountain Boots

Well, options abound for rock shoes. Approach shoes to a lesser degree. Large-footed individuals have far fewer options when it comes to mountain boots. Most boots are made to size 13 or 14. My feet hate me. I spent too many years in size 48 Nepal Extreme and Nepal EVO. Just this past year I did a complete upgrade to size 49 Nepal Extreme and size 49 Baruntse mountain boots.

When searching for boots in large sizes it's best to search a company's full website. Many internet search engines will redirect you to a company's North America site, but to find the most accurate sizing information you'll have to look on the European websites. In addition, most boots larger than size 48 are going to come from Europe and may take a long time to order and ship.

Scarpa Phantom 6000 – These boots are made up to size 49 in Europe but only offered to size 48 in the U.S. I haven't used them but I'm curious about them - they're a lightweight double boot with a built in gaiter.

La Sportiva Nepal Extreme - Most of us haven't seen a Nepal Extreme on a store shelf in several years. They're still made in Europe but the more popular Nepal EVO GTX is the only Nepal offering in the states. These incredibly well made boots come in sizes up to 50 and need to be special ordered from Europe. The build quality actually seems better than that of EVO GTX.

La Sportiva Baruntse - These boots are made to size 50 and stocked in the United States, meaning you can order them and have them delivered in less than a week. These boots climb well and are very warm. They're going to work for just about any mountain region below 8000m and are suitable for cold weather winter use. They're like a double boot version of the Nepal, meaning they're durable and functional.

Lowa Civetta - These boots have traditionally been made to U.S. size 16. They're warm and have stood the test of time in the greater ranges of the world. The addition of an Intuition liner makes these boots warmer and easier to maintain. However, in my opinion they won't compare favorably to newer models double boot models like the Baruntse and Phantom 6000, which have flexible outer shells and come with a stock thermoform liner.

Do you have suggestions or other good large footwear options for climbers? Post a comment below and I'll be sure to add the information to this post, which will also become a page on my site so that it's easier to find.