For the Greater Good: Whippet Recall

Pretty stoked to learn that Black Diamond has issued a voluntary recall for the (stainless steel pick) Whippet ski pole as of yesterday, November 18th, 2014. Briefly summing up the recall notice: “…recall announced because of the possibility that the pick could break during normal use. Recall is a result of a small quantity of picks receiving an incorrect heat treatment. ..All potentially affected units are subject to the recall.”

Check the recall link for fuller details, but the short answer is that the affected poles are the ones whose pick is made of stainless steel. If you’re riding with Black Diamond Whippets that have stainless steel (shiny) picks, take the time to trade them in for safer gear. As reported here on t&w last spring (the previous post, actually), the stainless picks aren’t safe, even for ‘ordinary’ use. Glad to see Black Diamond admit the truth and make it right.

Can’t tell for certain, but during a quick look on BD’s site at this year’s Whippets for sale, it appears the picks aren’t so shiny and that they’ve switched back to the formerly used, unproblematic chromoly. A glance at the REI site definitely shows the current batch of Whippets for sale being labeled as being constructed with chromoly picks. ‘Incorrect heat treatment’ or not, glad to see BD getting back to producing gear I can recommend again.

So, before you start hitting the steeps again this season, get rid of your stainless steel Whippets, and get some safe versions in your hands!

One very well used, reliable, custom painted in Chipped Red, Whippet with the old, safe chromoly pick.

One very well used, warranty-violatingly-sharpened, reliable, custom painted in Chipped Red, Whippet with the old, safe chromoly pick. Even old and beat up, this is safer than a shiny new stainless steel pick.





Black Diamond Whippet Ski Pole Defects?

You know I love this most essential of ski mountaineering tools, the Whippet, manufactured by Black Diamond Equipment. Long ago, I penned two different homages, with such creative titles as, A Dozen Uses for the Black Diamond Whippet Self-Arrest Ski Pole, as well as, Another Dozen Uses

I don’t bring them out on low-angle, high avalanche danger days, but I do use them on any sort of steep ski missions, including steep powder days. That’s because the scope of their utilization is infinitely wider than mere self-arresting. Check the links above for 24 other simple uses.

Not only do I ski with these tools regularly, but I’ve recommended them to many ski partners as well, partners who’ve paid heed and picked up one or two for their own good. And they still ski with them; once you get used to having a Whippet in hand, it’s hard to go steep skiing without them. In fact, so many partners ski with them that I’ve taken to painting mine, both because I appreciate a different color, and because it makes it easier to grab my own out of the group gear pile.

Hooking rock with the Whippet in hand during my recent descent of Tora Bora. Ski mountaineering isn't the same without this tool in one's hand.

Hooking rock with my custom painted, and very chipped, Whippet in hand while deciding whether to not to bail during my recent descent of Tora Bora. Ski mountaineering isn’t the same without this tool in one’s hand.

The point is, this is gear I use. It’s gear I usually trust, from a brand, Black Diamond Equipment, who usually manufactures bomber gear. This ski pole is gear I recommend to friends. But the new batch of Whippets (with stainless steel picks) appears to be plagued with a manufacturing defect, or the stainless in use is not as durable as other metal options. For all of my use, as well as that of my partners and friends, I’ve never seen (nor heard about) a Whippet pick failure.

That changed recently when Continue reading ‘Black Diamond Whippet Ski Pole Defects?’

Tora Bora, Monte Cristo

Tora Bora. The name conjures up memories of caves in Afghanistan housing militants, and other less wonderful parts of American history. But that’s only for one meaning attached to this name. Another version of Tora Bora exists right here in the Wasatch. It’s another one of those relatively uncelebrated Wasatch ski descents. Here comes a little celebration, with some details on the history supplied by ½ the team who skied it first!

Tora Bora, the ramp just looker's right of center.

Tora Bora, the ramp just looker’s right of center. The one with ski tracks coming out of it.

I read about the first descent of Monte Cristo’s Tora Bora on, shortly after Derek Weiss skied it with Tom MacFarlane in April of 2010 or 2011. Neither of us is certain of the year, though my guess would be 2011, the big snow year.

Reason for the uncertainty? The aforementioned Continue reading ‘Tora Bora, Monte Cristo’

Things that Happen in Just a few Days in Alaska

When one rides their home mountain range with regularity all season, it’s wise to expect a few oddball things to happen every once in a while. Maybe once a week. On the other hand, go on an expedition to the middle of nowhere, and you can expect any of these formerly infrequent scenarios to rear its head on a near-daily basis. Or you might even see a few on a single outing. Maybe it’s related to the groove we get into by repeating familiar patterns, but it seems when I ski away from home, the quirks come pouring down the mountainsides in abundance…

Case(s) in point:

  • Sunglasses fog up and you’re blind just when it gets zesty. Like 60° couloir top-out in hollow névé spicy.
  • Skins freeze over with snow on the sticky side and cause double skin ejects. Resulting in person-sawing-their-planks-with-skins syndrome. Works like a charm.
Double eject!

The rare, simultaneous, double skin eject!

  • Tech binding toepiece pops off while skinning steep firm snow. Ski then begins slide downslope.. Multiple outcomes may result, depending on the speed of all involved.
  • Water lid freezes to the bottle. Never mind bottle straws. They’re frozen solid within mere minutes of being in contact with liquids. Actually, before you’ve even begun your tour in Alaska, expect your straw to be frozen solid, despite all your tricks.
  • Someone forgets real gloves, leaves camp with light gloves meant for skinning, yet unsuitable for booting/crawling up couloirs. Glove shopping amongst partners results.
  • Water runs out or completely freezes. A solid chunk of water-bottle ice thawing for a few hours next to your baselayer, inside your coat, will provide a much needed sip of water just minutes before camp is back in sight at the end of the day. Plus it will assist in cooling you down, aiding your toes (see below).
  • Falling ice chunks disguised as snow will hit your party. This game stings anyone who involuntarily plays a game of catch.
  • The day’s food ration runs out. Long before the tour is over. Because you wouldn’t want to overeat in the early days of touring around amongst a billion tons of ice, now would you?
  • Toes will go numb for two hours at a time inside boots causing days worth of wondering whether you’ve landed some level of frostbite. Typically, the extent of this parlor trick begins creeping onto your feet a few minutes after you’ve exited the warmth of your sleeping bag, continues to worsen during breakfast and the general ‘get ready’ phase, and reaches maximum pain/cold level during the first minutes of your tour. From there, over the course of an hour or so, some semblance of feeling and normalcy returns to your lower digits. The cold toes syndrome gets worse/more prolonged with each day’s outing. Which is nice, because it really helps moderate body temperature and prevent excessive sweating. Once you’ve returned to camp, the process reverses until you’ve been in your sleeping bag for some time…
The Numb Toe Brigade...

The Numb Toe Brigade…

  • Monumentally large cornices will hang overhead during your couloir ascent. Enough said. With any luck, these will be getting blasted with sunlight on the windward side, increasing the odds of finding some cornice chunks atop your backpack later in the day.
Ascending beneath the Lost Cornice Formations of You'll Be Smashed To Bits Couloir.

Ascending beneath the Lost Cornice Formations of You’ll Be Smashed To Bits Couloir.

  • Some sort of snow offering up completely borderline stability characteristics will present itself, usually after you’ve committed some time and effort to find yourself where you are.
Waist deep sugar overlaid with ice, always a nice afternoon treat!

Marginal, steep, waist deep sugar overlaid with ice, always a nice afternoon treat! It helps add a bit of mystique if a tumble would send you over a cliff.

These are a sampling of the extraneous joys easily relished while touring Alaska in beautiful, sunny, and comparatively warm weather. To experience a more comprehensive, lengthier list (all in one day, even!), simply tour there in inclement weather.

Got any favorites that pop up on your own tours?



PSA: Skis lost in Coalpit Headwall Zone

Received this (edited) note via t&w during my Alaskan absence:

Was the unfortunate victim of a huge slide today 3/29/14 on the Coalpit Headwall. I lost my skis up there somewhere in the avy debris. Luckily not hurt. Thought I’d put it out there: If anyone heads up to Coalpit and finds my skis, I would be much obliged to have them returned! They are a pair of Dynafit Manaslu’s.

So, help a brother out when you’re up that way this Spring/Summer/Fallingbackintowinter. Keep your eyes peeled and maybe you’ll spot a pair of sticks poking out of the snow. If you see or retrieve one or both skis, drop a line to Spencer at:

You know, the Coalpit Headwall. Smack dab in the  center of the photo, veering out to looker's right..

You know, the Coalpit Headwall. Smack dab in the center of the photo, veering out to looker’s right..

Dreamlines in the Neacola Mountains, Alaska

The Chugach. The Alaska Range. The Coast Mountains. The Wrangells, or, more formally, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The Talkeetnas. I’ve heard of all these Alaskan mountain ranges, even seen pictures & videos, and checked out stories of skiers and boarders getting rad in them.

The Neacola Mountains? I heard of this zone for the first time exactly seven days before Joe from the Anchorage-based Sportsman’s Air Service dropped Jason, John, and myself off on the Pitchfork glacier. Agreeing to make this range home for two weeks took me about .003 seconds. Merely from a (dryland) Google Earth image, it was obvious: the Neacolas held what we were looking for. Couloirs. Not couloirs for days, though. Couloirs for weeks. Maybe months. Probably, like any decent range, couloirs for years. As we would soon find out, the Neacolas are many, many steps up from a ‘decent range.’

A Google Earth Image led us here. Way to go, Sergey and Larry!

A Google Earth image led us here, to heaven. Way to go, (Google founders) Sergey Brin and Larry Page!

Arranging this trip was not without struggle, as Continue reading ‘Dreamlines in the Neacola Mountains, Alaska’