Erik Thatcher

Let me start by saying I’m a bit of a gear geek. I love knowing my gear, learning about new gear and what makes certain items better. Additionally, as with many people, there is immense satisfaction settling on a piece of gear that makes you happy when previous iterations have left you wanting more. I ordered the Mammut Togir Click harness this summer and have put it through many a trial over the last 6+ months climbing about 5 days a week for work and pleasure. I have been thrilled with the harness, and being the gear geek that I am, revel in the little things that make it unique.

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My friends and I have had many a discussion on how to manage harnesses. Some like ultra lightweight harnesses for sport and more tricked out ones for trad and ice. Others like a simple trimmed down design for ice in particular. Many have two harnesses to cover all of their needs. For my purposes, I like the simplicity of one harness. This makes it easier on me, and harder on the harness, as it has more roles in which it has to please me. The Togir Click appeared to fit the bill, and thus far has proven its self worthy. I’ll break the review down by section from here on out to make it easier for me to organize my thoughts, and for you to follow them!

The Harness

   All of the standard features we’ve come to expect in high end harnesses are present in the Togir Click. Adequate padding, wider waist belt and leg loops for comfort. Four stiff, supported gear loops, and 4 well placed ice clipper locations as well as “speed” buckles, the kind that cinch down and are automatically doubled back. In addition this harness has 3 little quirks that are big plusses to me.

1.) Belay loop protection: Every harness I’ve worn out has worn out in the belay loop/ tie in area. This happens from the tie in points moving back and forth over the belay loop as you climb, and even more so as you walk. Mammut has developed an ingenious little plastic protector that eliminates that nylon on nylon rubbing, thereby virtually eliminating the most common way of waring out a harness. They have patented this, and no other harness companies have come up with an alternative. Before I had a Mammut harness I use to pad these areas with Ducktape to prolong them. Not only did this look pretty gheto, but the chemicals on the tape probably didn’t do the nylon any favors. In case your harness does wear out here, Mammut has put in an indicator strip, so you see that you a contrasting red layer of fabric under the worn out layer, to warn you (Identified by tabs with red exclamation mark on them).

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2.) “5th gear loop” in the back: Many ice climbers will tie some accessory cord between their back two gear loops to add an additional gear loop. A good place to clip things you don’t need quite as quickly. It’s a great spot to clip your belay gloves and/ or puffy, V thread tool, off belay knife, or spare cordalette. Mammut must’ve caught on to this as they put two holes in the bottom outside corner of the back two gear loops. This allows you to attach the accessory cord for your 5th gear loop, while keeping that cord out of the way of carabiners you’re clipping into your back two gear loops. there’s also a sewn in tag line type loop in the back of the harness, a great place for your prussic to take up permanent residence.

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3.) “Click” buckles: Alright, the main event. What really sets this harness apart is the “click” buckles. In short, these allow you to quickly pull the buckle apart, opening the leg loops and waist loops completely. This is invaluable for winter climbing when you might put a harness on after crampons, or take it off before your crampons. Gents, it also makes peeing in the winter much easier. Unclick one leg loop, pull the harness to the side and you’ve removed one of far too many obstacle to relief! Some might find this a little gimmicky, thinking about how most harnesses can do this to an extant. What sets it apart in my mind is how versatile this makes the harness as a whole. Basic harnesses, where every buckle has to be threaded and doubled back come apart completely like this, but then are a pain to double back every time, and add one more thing to forget when looking to put a harness on quickly and easily while sport cragging. Even the speed style buckles can be completely taken apart, and re threaded as needed, but its a little to finicky in my experience because of the auto double back buckle. The click buckle is easy to remove and put back on, I’ve been doing it with mittens all winter long, and in the summer it goes on quickly and smoothly with the buckles acting like a normal “speed” buckle. To me this is what makes the harness such a great all around harness.

In Use

      Over the past six months I’ve obsessively, hang dogged sport projects, spent all day hanging from multi pitch cliffs and worked 5 days a week coaching ice climbing in this harness (+ personal and guiding days). Throughout these experiences it has proven its self worthy, comfortable, durable and versatile. I never felt discomfort in this harness taking short hard falls or longer airy whippers at Rumney.

     The true test of comfort came in trying the Prow multiple times this summer. To me, this climb had become infamous for its 5 kidney crunching hanging and semi hanging belays. In former harnesses my discomfort from hanging in my harness rivaled that of cramming my toes into tight shoes and my fingers into tiny cracks by the end of the day. This harness proved to be so comfortable that that internal discomfort was an afterthought. A very welcome change.

   Finally, I’ve found this harness to be perfectly tricked out for ice climbing. As I stated before, the click buckles make it a cinch to put on after crampons and take off before. The 5th gear loop, with its out of the way accessory cord adds racking space, often eliminating the need to carry a backpack, and the ice clipper loops are sturdy enough to hold the clippers in place, but not so tight that you can’t easily remove them for a mid winter gym session. It’s the perfect jack of all trades.

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5.13 featherweight.

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Grade V comfort

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NEI 5 versatility

Erik Thatcher

MMG Guide

Thanks to: Keyan Pishdadian, Geoff Wilson and Andy Neuman for photos, in descending order

Harness photos from Mammut: http://www.mammut.com/en/productDetail/211000891_v_7237/Togir-Click.html

Last week I was lucky enough to get out with a large portion of the Egger family, Rod and 3 of his sons, Sean Keith and Evan. The boys came with no ice climbing experience, varying levels of experience rock climbing, but a generally adventurous background. They were well prepared for the challenges both of weather, and of pushing ones self physically and mentally. It was great to see all four of them attack this new expereince with lots of determination and a fair amount of natural ability. Within a couple of laps they were on the steeps and running up lower angle ice without tools, building confidence in their footwork. By the end of the day many of them were running laps on the steepest ice Kinsman had to offer. Lucky for me, impending darkness called an end to our day. I don’t think I would’ve been able to tire them out to the point of quitting otherwise!

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A family affair, and a not so rare, Art Mooney sighting at Kinsman Notch

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Never enough steeps for the Egger Family

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Some of them even decided to run laps on this steep pillar to finish the day!

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Thanks for the visit guys! I hope to see you again soon, hear of your adventures and share another!

MMG Guide

Erik Thatcher

 

 

Brothers Nick and Zack joined me last week for an intro to winter travel. We had three days over the weekend to get them into the mountains and experience and array of their offerings. On day 1 we sampled some low angle ice climbing in Kinsman Notch. Nick and Zack got to learn the power of front pointing in crampons and pulling on ice axes, as well as experience the beauty of the White Mountains in winter.  On day 2 we did an intro to mountaineering on Welch and Dickey Mountains, learning various techniques for ascending snow slopes of differing angles. The brothers got to dial in their layers and get practice in keeping their hydration and calorie stores where we wanted them. Day 3 was the main event, an ascent of Mt Washington. The boys where apprehensive of this plan at first, but gained excitement throughout the weekend.  We were greeted with rather favorable conditions on our summit day. Wind chills in the teens and winds in the 40’s allowed us to get to the summit with minimal suffering!

Ascending, with Mt. Madison in the background

Ascending, with Mt. Madison in the background

On the Summit Cone

On the Summit Cone

Pushing up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

Pushing up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

Training day on Welch & Dickey

Training day on Welch & Dickey

Summit Cone!

Summit Cone!

Kinsman Notch

Kinsman Notch

Kinsman Notch

Kinsman Notch

Thanks for joining us Nick and Zack. Best to both of you in the New year!

Erik Thatcher

 

November is the month many Northeastern climbers travel south trying to extend the last couple of weeks of rock season, and pass the time until the ice comes in good back home. Along with the Chattanooga area of Tennessee (see T is for T-wall, below) the Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky is a popular season needing location. In the hills around Slade Kentucky lies a lifetimes work of climbing. While there is both trad and sport, the Red is known for it’s radically overhanging sandstone sport climbs. The style is almost pure endurance, where the main challenge is getting to the top. With prime climber accommodations throughout the Gorge ($2 camping), this area makes it easy to come and hard to leave. It’s no wonder many traveling climbers live here for months at a time!

Seth Cohen warms up on Oompa 5.10a at The Chocolate Factory. The steep wall of Pure Imagination 5.14c is in the foreground

Seth Cohen warms up on Oompa 5.10a at The Chocolate Factory. The steep wall of Pure Imagination 5.14c is in the foreground

Mike Mastanduno resting on Tissue Tiger, 5.12b at Military Wall

Mike Mastanduno resting on Tissue Tiger, 5.12b at Military Wall

There are two main strategies to learn in order to climb hard on the Red’s overhanging cliffs. One is to climb fast and efficiently, the other is to train to be good at recovering when you come to a good rest, as in the photo above.

Mike Mastanduno off Tuna Town, 5.12d at The Motherlode

Mike Mastanduno off Tuna Town, 5.12d at The Motherlode

Aside from the pump, the steep walls and rather run out climbs lead to some of the biggest whippers you’ll ever take. The “Red River Belay” involves a large loop of slack and a generous hop when your climber falls. Most of these falls are as clean as possible, and we frequently jumped from the chains to get some of that fun air time.

Chelsea Kendrick on Fuzzy Undercling, 5.11b at the Military Wall

Chelsea Kendrick on Fuzzy Undercling, 5.11b at the Military Wall

The Red is known for having the biggest holds you’ll ever fall off of. After climbing 80 feet of overhanging rock, sometimes it just doesn’t matter how big the holds are, you’re too pumped too hold on to anything! One of our friends melted off the top of this climb on massive jugs.

Erik Thatcher on Steel Worker, 5.12c at Torrent Falls

Erik Thatcher on Steel Worker, 5.12c at Torrent Falls

At the end of the day, The Red offers some of the most enjoyable, stress free climbing around. No frustrating cruxes or micro beta, no scary falls, and a large percentage of climbable days. I suggest every one find the opportunity to head down to Ole Kentucky and check their grip on the Red’s awesome Sandstone buckets!

Erik Thatcher

 

 

Climbing is largely about progression, and one of the most significant progressions many climbers will make is taking their climbing from indoor gyms to outside cliffs. Gyms are often closer to would be new climbers. They’re more accessible and offer a safe, easy to access learning environment to experience the thrills of climbing in a digestible format. Folks who catch the bug in the gym eventually want to take their passions to outdoor playgrounds. This is a serious step. It is a less controlled environment, requiring a greater level of knowledge to climb safely, and a corresponding increase in the required personal responsibility. New techniques, ethics and systems must be learned, and trusted. The best way to do this is to ease into it with a guide/ teacher, showing you the ways, being their to reassure, and helping you wade through the ethics of climbing at outside cliffs.

In the past couple of days I had two opportunities to help groups begin this progression. This post is to demonstrate some of the ways to take your gym skills to outdoor cliffs in a safe controlled manner, as well as to highlight what these folks did.

First up were David and Caitlin Lewis. They started climbing this winter at Evolution Rock Gym and quickly progressed through the grades and into leading on the sport walls at the gym.

David on Blustery Day

David on Blustery Day

David On Blustery Day

Having the full day, David, Caitlin and I started by hiking up to Upper Darth Vader crag. This location is fairly shaded and cool on summer mornings, and offers a handful of fun moderates to warm up on. One of the bigger cruxes of the gym to crag progression is learning to look for holds in the rock, as opposed to fluorescent colored shapes on a wall. This can be a serious challenge as holds outside often don’t look like holds at first. The presence of climbing chalk can help out times to identify a hold, but how to use it, and whether it is a good one or not, still needs to be determined. Additionally, it is a new environment, and climbing outside for the first time can often be a little scary because of the new unknowns. This area provided us an opportunity to get use to this new environment, and start reading the rock for how to climb it.

Caitlin on Dirtigo

Caitlin on Dirtigo

Caitlin on Dirtigo

For the afternoon we moved to the now shaded Dirtigo area. This part of main cliff offers some very safely bolted easy climbs. When learning a new system, usb as leading, it is good to strip away all other challenges in order to focus on the one that you are trying to learn. There are three easy climbs here that are great for learning to lead, as the main challenge becomes leading, instead of the difficulty of the climbing. Caitlin had lead regularly in the gym prior to this, but never outside. We went over how to clip the draws to the rock, and then the rope to the draws, and how to manage the lead rope so that it was in a safe location. Caitlin then put this new knowledge to use rope gunning to great climbs for her Dad!

If you’re coming to the outdoor realm with no indoor leading skills, then a great way to learn is by mock leading. This is were you are on top rope, for safety, but clipping bolts and managing a lead rope for practice. A group of four friends from Windham High joined me for a half day of learning to lead at Rumney, and this is the approach we took.

Mock Leading

Mock Leading

Mock Leading

These guys were coming from Vertical Dreams with varying degrees of experience and skill. We worked through out our day to get them all on a climb where they were able to practice leading skills safely, as well as a climb or two where they could challenge themselves on real rock, as this was all of their first times outside.

Going for the clip

Going for the clip

Going for the clip

As a guide, my best days are when my guests are able to progress. Both of these groups were genuinely excited to improve their game and learn new skills, and form my perspective they were able to do both. Thanks to all for two great days, and I hope to see you out on the cliffs soon!

MMG Guide

Erik Thatcher