Classic Ice Primer- Chouinard Catalog 1968


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Trad climber
Iss WA
Jan 3, 2009 - 03:58am PT
What an awesome thread and so much fun to read. Man, what great memories of adventures for a gear freak like me.

I been lucky enough to use most of the tools mentioned at one time or another. Gotta say ice climbing is so much easier now with the new gear available. But the new tools just don't touch me like the the older ones still do. Hard to beat a bamboo axe or a Terro adze for simple, effective and beautiful designs.

Used a 55cm Piolet and alpine hammer on Snivleing Gully and Weeping Wall in '74. Couple of weeks later I borrowed a pair of Terro's from some guys thrashing about on Cirus Gully. Climbed Louise Falls with those tools. Hard to get me back on difficult ice after that without a Terro in at least one hand.

Even if you couldn't keep the picks straight on cold days. That problem never seemed to improved over the years. At least you could hammer them flat again easily enough.

But using a Terro didn't stop us from taking a torch to everything possible with a curve but a Chouinard axe.

We later did Cirus gully ourselves. One trip with a Curver and a custom "torched" NW hammer up to the last tier, then Terros on that last bit of slush. Then I decided a set of Clog Vultures were the "sheet" for some unknown reason having never used them and did the second ascent of Slipstream with them with no spare. A bit later popped the head off the hammer soloing Louise in front of students while hanging a top rope. (almost filled my trousers while begging for a second tool to be sent up). Always carried at last one full size spare and sometimes two after that. Polar Circus again that spring and cut our time in half with a set of Forest Lifetime tools with my first reverse curve picks.

Takkakaw with a Zero axe and a Chacal and the second solo of Cavel with a Terro hammer and a Curver axe. Chacal and Barracuda on Borgeau Left, Weeping Pilar and Pilsner.

What a grand ride over the years. Salewa hinged, Chouinard rigids, SMC rigids, Chouinard hinged, clip on Chouinard rigids, then BD Sabertooths and finally Darts and Rambos. Have yet to break any crampon. Who ever thought leashless would be easier? But a set of Quarks or Nomics quickly point that out.

Galibers, Trappeurs, Haderers, Koflachs, Scarpa, Sportiva. I'd rather have the Haderers back to tell the truth. Kept the metal around but the leather went by the way side when plastic came along. Too bad and to think only a plastic boot has ever broken in half on me.

Screws and ice pins? Have you guys tried the newest stuff....simply amazing. Bigger change than the invention of Friends.

But back on topic. This from Mike Chessler's web site..
"And if the climbers ice climbed, they used Chouinard Ice Axes and Crampons. Chouinard copied the steep drooping pick of European hand made axes, that planted firmly in hard ice or Neve, and made balance and esthetics primary."

I had thought I'd seen pictures of what was supposed to be Heckmair's Eiger axe with a distinctly curved pic years back. Maybe some one else has as well. Not all that hard to bend a axe pic with a gas torch, hammer and anvil. Taking nothing away from Chouinard and company but can't see why the local Chamonix smiths hadn't played with the idea earlier. Not like I'd be telling everyone about my "custom axe" if I was running up the local ice. Tight community in Chamonix but anyone ever seen one of the custom axes from before '69?

As we all now know a guy can get a lot done with stiff pair of boots, a tightly laced set of 12 point 'pons and a curved axe or two :)

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 3, 2009 - 12:15pm PT
Above all, be drink whatever!

Just in case you can't get enough! From Mountain 20, March 1972.

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 3, 2009 - 12:49pm PT
Wild to see Scottish ice climbing and be reminded of the evolving style that followed, and then pushed, the gear. I love the bit about temporarily setting an ice screw, mantling on it, pull and repeat. Brings to mind Harding's then-new aid ploy of drilling a shallow hole and hanging a hook in it. Then it became a specially modified hook, ground to fit...

Staring at that Scottish ice, plastered improbably on rock as rime blown in off the North Sea. A wringing wet, freezing wind. Brrr, reach for the Dachstein sweater and wooly mitts.

It reminds me suddenly of the Chugach Range, Alaska panhandle, and a recent (last 20 years) flowering of steep skiing. (I mean, we were just enjoying a fine thread about backcountry skiing. There too the campfire burned down to nearly just Tar and me.) Similar relationship of peaks just inland, beaten upon by arctic winds off a cold sea. Same result: rime sticking to improbably steep mountainsides. In the Chugach the stuff can look like powder in ski footage, but the fact that it's sticking, somehow, beyond the normal constraints of avalanche steepness gives it away.

right here, right now
Jan 3, 2009 - 01:10pm PT
Yes nice to see this thread still has legs.

And a first post from Dane Burns,
That's a very tasty recapitulation you served up for us.
Welcome to the Forum Dane!!!
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 3, 2009 - 01:55pm PT
Tis madness, but it's a fine kind of madness.....

Doug Thompkins on Hell's Lum Crag, Cairngorms, Scotland. From Climbing Ice, 1978.

It's fun and he's having it!

right here, right now
Jan 3, 2009 - 02:00pm PT
In Fall 1981 I sold my Galibier Super Guides to a nice guy from Washington named Steve Massioli. (I had climbed Rainier that summer in a pair of used Koflachs which I picked up at the Seattle REI, and just “knew” I was never going back to leather). I remember Steve eagerly scampering around on slabs around Camp 4 testing the Galibier out on rock. That boot rock climbs fairly well with such a narrow last. You can still buy them new! Sadly Steve died a few years down the line on something like Moonflower Buttress in Alaska.

I never owned them, but once borrowed a pair of Trappeur Rebufatt for an ascent of a rock route on Clyde Palisade: “Thunderbird Wall”, Robinson I think that’s your line?
We stayed left of that nasty V slot at mid height and got into a 5.8 hand crack. Those were very well-made boots: they seemed to have a high craftsmanship quotient.

Mollitor was another very nicely crafted boot I had a chance to borrow and climb both ice and rock in: they did very well on both counts. Both Mollitor & Trappeur were higher volume than the Superguide, so noticeably warmer.

That was one of the nice things about leather; more versatile. My mistake was not popping for a double boot, or getting into Supergators early enough…

I think a pair of Habeler Superlights with the Aveolite liner and non-steel shank (wood/fiberglass?) would’ve been nice to try.

Now both my hands and feet get really cold (wait: so does my nose, crotch, face and everything else) so what little dabbling I still do with ice climbing, I use a Lowa plastic boot from the late 80s, the second-generation Civetta (remember the earlier Civetta were leather?) and on top of that it is augmented with a thermoform liner, I also use an overboot and heat packs as well!!!

Of all the earlier full bore plastic boots I think that one climbed rock the best; not nearly as clunky as Koflach. It had a narrow toe box; I’m told that is called a “French Toe”


Trad climber
Iss WA
Jan 3, 2009 - 02:30pm PT
Thanks Tar, glad to be here!

Tar sez..
"Who made the first bent-shaft tools?"

This thread brings up all sorts of stuff I have been thinking about lately. One source, Grivel's web site, gives credit to the bent shaft to the EBOC.

Boots? Where in hell can you still buy new Super Guides?!
Your teasing us aren't you.

My first look at Koflachs was at the bottoms of Gary Silver's soles while he was breaking trail between the ice falls on Slipstream. Gary was always really fit but man he was trucking that day. He'd soloed the Swiss route on Le Courtes that fall and bought his Koflachs in Cham before they were available in the US or Canada. I was still climbing in my Haderers with a insulated Supergaiter. The system was warm but must have weighted in at 7# a boot. Gary's less than 6 for the pair. I had a serious case of lust.

Bought mine at REI. Made the 600 mile rt drive to Seattle just to get them. Broke the first pair of shells 5 years later but have my second pair (white) I have on on right now :) Just checking, you know.

I have just about every current ice boot Sportiva makes and still none of them fit as well as the Haderer. And few of them are as warm or climb as well for me as the Haderer or the original Koflachs, boats they were.

Heat pacs are the "hot" ticket. Seems loosing circulation isn't something that we just read about anymore. Some of the the newest fast and light boots really do climb well (sticky rubber and all) but my feet need a little more insulation. Big boots these days really are BIG. The Spantik has just about dbl the exterior volume as my original Koflachs do. The Koflachs with a foam liner is lighter. The Spantik is a good bit warmer but they are pretty clunky as well.

Crampons? Read above that by 1972 they had crampon bindings out and "working". MTN Magazine was one of the few connections for us to modern euro gear. (still have my collection as well) I remember seeing the cable system and buying a a pair at some point. But in the fall of '78 Gwain and I found a single Stubia with a binding on it between the Wet Cave and the base of the Difficult Crack. That discovery ended my need for crampon bindings for years.

I finally did buy a set of the last "Chouinard" rigids with a clip on system by Salewa in '85. They worked extremely well. Took a while before the plastic boots caught up with what was needed for welts though. The first white Koflachs I cut the toe groove in myself with a dremel. Bit thin but seemed to work OK.

Played with a bunch of new and old crampons last winter on a modern boot. ( Batura in this case) Pretty hard to beat the original Chouinard design on steep hard ice. It still out performs just about anything out there on pure ice. Plus it is lighter.

I'm sure Doug and others would really appreciate the super soft tops in most of the newest rigid alpine boots for French technique. Myself, I still like all the support I can get and a some what rigid ankle. Newest boots sure do a nice job of stretching your calves out though.

Funny rereading all the old stuff on the beginning of "modern ice climbing". Much the same is being said again now about "modern mixed." One more time, man the tool maker, has made climbing a whole lot easier and safer for the next bunch of us.


Trad climber
Upper Leftish
Jan 3, 2009 - 02:30pm PT
Gotta say this thread is one of the coolest reads on ST. I don't have time to read all the article reprints and recollections right now...bookmarking for posterity.

Thanks to all. Makes me wish I had more than 30 years of memories to call up. From when climbing was more adventure and less sport.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 3, 2009 - 03:04pm PT
Don Jensen. Friend, mentor, creative gear designer, and the driving force of Palisades climbing in the Sixties. Which, now that I think of it, made him the dominant High Sierra climber of that era, the era that ushered in a flowering of new technical routes that peaked in the Seventies.

When I met him, '66 or '67, he already had an odd puffy spot on one lip where it was torn in an Alaskan crevasse fall far beyond the help of stitching, and sometimes a little mustache. It didn't detract, though, from that boyish enthusiasm. Unlike Dave Roberts, I recall Don as more small and wiry. Powerful with big shoulders, sure, and he always seemed to be bursting out of his knickers with sheer physical energy. Something innocent about that energy too. Coming from Yosemite, it seemed distinctly different from the Camp 4 mainstream -- barely emerged sufficiently from provincialism at that point to even be seen as a mainstream. It wasn't until '69, after all, that Mountain 4 published a Yosemite issue.

It's odd, maybe, that I don't recall Don ever going to the Valley. Grew up in Walnut Creek, and I know he got as close as Fresno, because it was after he gave a slide show there about Alaska that Joan came up to talk to him. They were married in the Palisades and had a wedding feast on the Banquet Boulder, a fine block of erratic granite just off the trail in the idyllic meadow of Cienega Mirth just below Lon Chaney's old stone cabin.

But then again avoiding the Valley had been something of a pattern among Eastside alpinists. Clyde did it, kind of gruffly disdaining the place, and so had Smoke Blanchard.

On the other hand, climbers who started out in the Valley had always come up to the high country, beginning with John Muir and the boys from the Whitney Survey, and notably the crew in 1931 who first wielded the rope in California: Eichorn and Dawson and Brower and Richard Leonard. When they stormed into the Palisades that August it was obvious what peaks had been bugging them, like Thunderbolt, just beyond what they might solo. Later Harding broke out of the Gulch to climb Conness and the epic 8000 vertical of NE ridge on Williamson.

Further out on this tangent, I notice strong skiers in that progression too, from David Brower to Allen Steck. Don Jensen had skis in the Palisades too, though his rig was far out of the mainstream. Three feet long, a crampon-style binding I think, and permanent skins. Pretty utilitarian, but they gave him full freedom of the place when he roamed the range during the late spring, quite alone.

Yes, on one level he was just training for Alaska. But it was quickly obvious that he loved the Palisades for themselves. Built paper-mache relief models of both the Palisades and the Alaska Range. And he made up a second pair of those unique skis to take clients in for big climbs like the Twilight Pillar on Clyde Peak -- probably the most outstanding climb in the entire South Fork -- and even bigger traverses. He had spotted several bivouac caches just down off the backside of the crest in Kings Canyon NP. It's more than a day's stout travel just to get to those spots, and here he was setting them up with a pair of sleeping bags to be able to drop off the ridge with a client. No one since has done that level of guiding, let alone climbing, in the remote South Fork, and the location of his caches vanished with a lot of his lore of the climbs themselves when Don lost it on black ice on his bicycle and slid headfirst into a stone wall while a Postdoc in Mathematics in Scotland in the early 70s.

If Don had survived, I venture to say that the tone of that Golden Age of High Sierra development that flowered from his Palisades era into the Seventies would have ended up with more of an alpine flavor than the mood of more pure rock climbing in an alpine setting that actually developed. More winter ascents of the hard climbs, just for starters.

Don set a vigorous tone at the Palisades School of Mountaineering. He put up many of the FAs of the Celestial Aretes on Temple Crag, for instance, with a hand-picked client out of the weekly classes. And the Celestial Aretes -- his name, his vision -- have to stand out as the most prominent centerpiece of the Sierra part of his legacy.

Now that Bob Swift -- Swifty -- has joined our campfire, I hope he will fill in some of the transition at the Palisades climbing school, then known by its original name Mountaineering Guide Service. Larry Williams started it in I think the late 50s, and it was the first, and for over a decade the only, commercial climbing school in California. The Sierra Club's Rock Climbing Section, where I learned to tie-in in 1958, was the other big venue. I missed by two weeks the chance to meet Larry before he augered in off the Bishop runway, trying to bump start the second engine of his twin-engine plane. Bob Swift was the bridge from Larry Williams to Don Jensen. He was Chief Guide when I showed up, and I vividly recall leading a second rope behind Bob in my apprenticeship, including the East Face of Whitney.

It would be interesting to hear more about the early tone set by Larry Williams. Swift himself, who had been on the FA with Harding of the East Buttress of Middle in 1954 and of YPB with Steck in '52 -- not to mention the first American FA of an 8000-meter peak, Hidden Peak in 1958 -- was a classically calm and steadying influence to balance Don Jensen's energy and enthusiasm, as he burned onto new ground.

Winding down for now...


right here, right now
Jan 3, 2009 - 03:28pm PT
Dane Burns said:

"Boots? Where in hell can you still buy new Super Guides?!"

This link appeared in a thread a while ago:

I had a better one; an actual ordering page in English.
Sadly I didn't keep the better link as I thought I had (not that I would actually order a pair, but for anecdote’s sake...).

So just now I found the current French catalog, in some sort of Euro/PDF format:

Terre > Produits > Chassures > Alpinisme > Alpinisme et Technique > 4 page turns right…


And they give the weight in my size: 42
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 3, 2009 - 03:30pm PT
Thanks for the reflections on Don. Definitely a brilliant but tragically short life. His bizarre demise was another twist in the Huntington-Harvard Route saga. Who knows what he would have bitten off?

I went looking in Mountain of My Fear for a shot of Don only to find that he was the cameraman, hence nothing. I believe there is a photo of him in slings wearing one of his frameless packs in the 1972 Chouinard catalog. Can't find mine.

Don't leave out Keeler's on Batso's backcountry hitlist.

Pretty hard to imagine Norman Clyde having a great time in the Valley! LOL
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 3, 2009 - 03:38pm PT
Quick note, as I see lots of new activity.

Welcome Dane! I love the way the sweep of your experience fills us in all the way to the present. I'd been wondering how the latest generations of ice tools perform compared to our mouldering recollections, so thanks for that. It would be fun to get back on ice at least enough to feel that new gear. Monopoint crampons? They seem intriguing in a similar way to the action of a Hummingbird, which would swivel effortlessly if you sidestepped. I have had my hands on the new BD screws, which bite like razors compared to even their earlier ones. Amazing to set them without having to use your axe like a brace and bit for leverage.

YC took that ballsy shot of Tompkins soloing through spindrift (I think he said that was the tail-end of a small avalanche, which accounts for the hunkered-down posture) on their 1970 trip to Scotland noted by Alan Fyffe. He had a tiny point-and-shoot camera, and I've always thought that was his finest photo with it. There was a 3' x 4' blowup of it right in your face as you walked into the first GPIW store in Ventura.

looking again at all those classic shots of Scots at play, Yvon's image of Tompkins stands out in several ways. Starting with obvious water ice instead of rime. In spite of that, Tompkins looks rock-steady on those fine Chouinard crampons. I can't quite believe the locals persisted in making do with Salewas. Maybe they couldn't get Chouinard iron? They certainly don't seem to be using YC's axes or alpine hammers either.

right here, right now
Jan 3, 2009 - 03:39pm PT
DR wrote of Don Jensen:

"Built paper-mache relief models of both the Palisades and the Alaska Range."

Most excellent histories you're penning for us here Doug!!!
I trust you save this stuff in a notebook, or file somewhere, being the consummate writer that you are...
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 3, 2009 - 03:53pm PT
Save it? (gulp...)

I love that this stuff is all archived here. Feels so right for us to be jointly working the history. I know I'm learning a lot from the way our different points-of-view are coming together. But just in case, I guess I should back it up. Everything else on my computer is, including The Alchemy of Action book as it rolls out, which is my hot project these days. After years of dormancy and even fear of it, I'm actually writing on it almost aggressively. I look forward to sharing that too.

I wonder if C-Mac has this Forum backed up somehow? Don't know anything about servers, but collectively this place has become the best history and commentary on a lot of people, times, events.

When I was editing my articles for A Night on the Ground... my publisher Gilberto d'Urso of Mountain N' Air books came up with the wonderful idea of amplifying the sketches of people I had encountered. From Chuck Pratt to Tim Harrison to Don Jensen and Galen Rowell I did a lot of that, stalling the appearance of the book for a year or two in the process. Anyway, Gilberto's point has become a theme with me now that all these times are slipping into history. So I have written pieces about Pratt when he died (think I posted it up here, or I will again), and a long piece about Galen that got hacked short to fit into the Sierra Club's retrospective. I could put up the full version of that. And I think of the portrait of Steve McKinney. I have a down-the-road intention of putting all those into another selected works, along with such recent low points of my perspective on this life as becoming an unrepentant rap-bolter. But for the immediate future I'm excited about getting The Alchemy of Action to see daylight.

So thanks for the thought. I'll scoop the Don Jensen fragments off this thread right now, file em on my new, oversized hard drive, then back it all up.

And I'll return with more Don Jensen, I hope (you've got me thinking about where to find photos of him), although right now I'm packing to head to Kirkwood to get in some sliding. Some of us have to commute to our snow these days (sigh...) and my kids have new skis. Not sure if I'll have connectivity up there.

right here, right now
Jan 3, 2009 - 04:02pm PT
No doubt.
I just burn through memories and pictures here at a rapacious pace.

I scan old slides and photos and only resize them for use here on the forum. They are in my photo bucket. But if I want anything truly archival I'll just have to scan it all over again!

And although I've saved a few things I've written here (in Word document) most of it just sits in the giant newspaper pile that is SuperTalko™

One word of warning (*warning Will Robinson warning*)
If you're creating your contributions solely in this reply window, every now and then when you press "post this reply" you will lose everything.

It has happened enough to me that I always either work in Word document fresh, or copy what I've written in this window to a Word document before I post it.

Another problem we face, is that things are not so easy to search here. So it is in here somewhere, but where?

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 3, 2009 - 04:47pm PT
Warning well taken. Just because I haven't lost a post yet, I sometimes feel like "the innocent, the ignorant, and the insecure..."

When I get back I get a tutorial on Photoshop and maybe a copy of the program. Not only resizing shots for here, but also squiggling red lines onto walls. Got a TR on a FA for you guys hanging since September...
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 3, 2009 - 07:03pm PT
This is all great stuff - thanks! I started climbing in 1971, with a ash-shafted 1950s style ice axe which I bought at REI in Seattle. In 1972 I went on a trip to the Adamant Range with Leif Patterson and others, and was exposed there to the first version of Chouinard rigid crampons - Leif had had to get them rewelded once or twice. Plus the first Chouinard ice hammer, and the hammer-axe. The thing with a head that looked like an axe, but with a hammer handle.

Leif did a great deal of ice climbing and technical mountaineering, and so tended to be well equipped. His Chouinard ice axe is a classic.

The less said about 1970s era ice screws and such, the better. The Salewas were fine, but hell to place and remove. I can't remember how many times I carefully chipped out a tiny hole, gingerly placed the screw in it, tapped it a few times, and started cranking it in - only to have it fail to bite, or worse still blow out after a few turns. Wart hogs were at least a bit easier to get in.

And then all that fun with double leather boots, over boots, super gaiters, and so on.

Trad climber
Iss WA
Jan 3, 2009 - 09:29pm PT
Thanks again for such a warm welcome here Doug!

I suspect there are a lot of us in the same situation on this thread. I was very influenced by the first three Chouinard catalogs and their articles. Having a discussion and getting to read Doug's and other's posts here on ST is a real treat. I've never gone through a talus slope since without thinking about that article...and how Doug's feet survived running through them in EBs.

David Robert's early writings (and Don Jensen's actions) lead me to my first Alaska trips, to the North side of Deborah in '76 and Huntington in '78.

Hearing about Don Jensen's back ground is really fun and enlightening. I had always figured that he was from the East Coast for some reason. But coming from such a long back ground on the east side of the Sierra kinda blew me away. Huntington makes a lot more sense now even though it was years ahead for its time. As does the problems on Deborah and the choss.

That Jensen owned and used a Terro, brings a smile to my face.
Only place I knew to find them (or Helly Hensen pile) was Swallow's nest in the U District in that tiny little hole in the wall shop. What a great time to be climbing! There was a time if you climbed hard ice or alpine in the NW, good chance you either knew them or knew someone they climbed with.

Fun to again reread the different perspectives on curved and drop gear. With reverse curved tools taking over the technical ground I read somewhere that the "curved" pick was the answer to technical ice. In reality it was hooking that won that race not the angle of the picks.

For an old guy like me using the new leashless tools was a eye opener. Biggest adversion I had was using them on rock. I'd have hissy fits every time I smacked one of my piolets into rock on thin ice. Now you go looking for it and the tools actually can take it all in stride.

Only took me 20 years to get over that adversion and finally actually want to put a tool on rock! Never thought I'd ever get excited about winter climbing again. Last winter one of my old partners hauled me out for a week of water ice. Sketchy first couple of days just following. But by the end of the week I was leading comfortably again..all with less effort, more safety while being much more comfortable physically. I was dumb founded.

That a good leashless tool made climbing easier, warmer and truely just more fun was really hard to believe.

This thread just gets me even more excited about getting out again next week!

Now I just need to hunt down those Super Guides :)

Thanks GUYS!

english link


Thanks for starting a great thread Steve and noting Michael Kennedy's post. Geezus, then I took a look around the forum and saw some of the guys posting here. What an amazing historical archive.

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 3, 2009 - 09:45pm PT
On another thread, Michael Kennedy posted fond memories of thawing Salewa tubes inside of his clothing in order to clear them!
Captain...or Skully

Trad climber
North of the Owyhees
Jan 3, 2009 - 10:49pm PT
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