This year I managed to get a fair few days in wearing crampons, weeks actually. As the years have past, the spikes in my hair have fallen by the wayside, only to be replaced by woolly hats.I bought the daughter an Indianna Jones replica hat once, to go with a replica knife my mate Matty found in Torture Garden. Anyway, I digress…
I now own three pairs of the things, seemingly a little greedy on this wet isle we call home. In my defence however, the Petzl Vasaks did need resharpening this year after the mixed climbing abuses they received in the Atlas and the Hillsounds where a surprise addition from stage right.
I have some Grivel G10s and what’s to say about them? They work well, have a flexible bar that enables them to be used on flexible boots but it would be remiss of me not to mention – you shouldn’t be doing that folks. Anyway, I have and it worked fine for me on both Meindl Borneos and Asolo Flames. Put them on my B3 boots however, strap them tight and they are rock solid. I’ve happily gone up Grade 2 winter stuff in them and have heard tales told of people using them on tougher technical terrain. Grivel surpassed themselves with the anti-balling plates and snow clumped underfoot has never been an issue. Whilst they’ve not been used much this year, I can’t see me ever getting rid of them. They’ll be loaned to friends, kept as a back up and used when ice and steep snow isn’t in contention for the day’s route. Top kit.
The Vasaks were bought as my winter ambitions increased, leaving the G10s behind. In hindsight, I should have bought a shiny new pair of G12s to start with but that just seemed overkill back then, one never knows where one’s path may take one’s self to use a cliche. I was a fair bit more of a canny lad this time and bought secondhand from someone who had outgrown them himself and purchased something suitable for ice. Just the £40 and I was now a winter warrior, ready in my spikes to battle with mixed Scottish terrain and snow gullies. Hang on… didn’t I do that in my G10s? Aye, I did. The big benefit is the front points being nearer to the horizontal, all the better for kicking people in the shins. Ignore that, I’d forgotten it was climbing post and had sidetracked to a midfield maestro’s footballing nirvana. There were times this year when I was glad to have made the change, tiny cracks that the G10s just couldn’t have found purchase on and there I was, delicately balanced on a few millimeters of Petzl’s finest steel. It could only be referred to as delicate until the disco leg cut in and then all style went out of the proverbial window quite smartly. The trousers are no longer smart, full of holes from when I was daft enough to think I didn’t need a gaiter. A good buy, proof that secondhand can work and work well, provided you do your research and know that the fit will be right for your boots. All hail the interweb!
There’s plenty of folks in the hills that wear those seriously flexible crampons when it’s winter, those a bit like a big rubber band that you step into, with spikes on chains below your sole. ‘Not for me’ I’ve said more than once and heard much the same from people who’s opinions and experience I respect. I’ve also watched as other mates who garner the self same respect from me, head off into the High Andes with homemade, high altitude, insulated gaiters fitted to Inov8s, that were settled on top of baby spikes with that giant rubber band for attachment. Strange how we all differ as to what’s suitable, I reckon we’re all right and wrong as well.
I was given some of the Hillsound Trail Crampons to test in February whilst up in Scotland and can’t say I was thrilled at the idea. Trying to give the appearance of a rebel, I strode upwards on snowy paths with them slung on the pick of my ice axe. No pack for me, just a few Werther’s Originals in my pockets and with the aim of finding some icy rocks to put the Hillsounds past their limits. How could crampons provide security when they are attached by elastic? I had pictures of them squirming around and me taking a tumble. Fitting them was simple, step in and then secure with the velcro strap. Done. Some people find God and become born again, for once there was no such gore and amniotic fluid in this revelation but I had surely seen the light! No movement, no squirreling about and I was happy to stroll around in them. Happy to stand on an iced up edge, the photo is by ptc* by the way and there’s a link to his site at the side. It best illustrates the complete change in opinion I had over the Hillsounds.
They do have limits, a lack of points at the very rear of the heel being the main one for me. We were scrambling down some shallow chimney-like depression and at times there was no grip where both my Vasaks and G10s would have had plenty but then we were well outside the design profile. What can I say? I ended up buying them. They certainly have a place, maybe not in the High Andes but for walks were there may be an icy path, as a ‘throw in the bag’ solution to the usual spills and thrills that sub zero temperatures and a damp atmosphere provide – they’ve got me hooked. By a spike or twenty.
So I was wrong about crampons with elastic bands. Or was that right? I’d have died if I’d tried to use them on some of the routes I did this year but certainly, they would have gotten me to the top of Toubkal, by the South Cwm on the days I ascended it. Not that I’d suggest you do that, you’d limit your options when it comes to going off track and we all know that’s where the fun starts.
Crampons. Spikes for the feet, not the head.