Mammut Base Jump Advanced Pant – First Impressions

 

The Mammouth

Facewest was once again victorious with its Advent offer series, and with free shipping to France and a reward scheme discount, it made sense, especially as I am just about to enter a busy winter period of climbing, walking and assisting with a winter skills groups.

Initial Verdict [for the impatient!]

A seasoned, classic pair of mountain trousers, which excels through its combination of Schoeller softshell fabric and wide range of waist and leg measurements.

Neat detailing from the Mammut mark

Preamble

After many years of sterling service, my ‘go-to’ trousers, Rohan Uplanders, used for all-year round, mountaineering, climbing and hillwalking finally came to their demise. Their replacement is the classic Mammut Base Jump Advanced Pant in its most recent incarnation, hence the ‘Advanced’.

There are several approaches to mountain trousers, which are ultimately rather a mundane necessity, unless you opt for the high contrast, high visibility, brightly coloured, European approach. Most of us would rather not have to spend too much time, effort and cash on what is the ‘work horse’ of the outdoor wardrobe. One approach is to specialise, having a purpose-built item for each specific activity, i.e., winter and summer garments for their respective activities. Winter trousers might be thicker, warmer and have braces, for example. The second approach is the middle way – a garment that does everything pretty well, and with a bit of help, can be modified (for winter purposes mainly). For example, layering a summer pair of walking trousers with a merino baselayer.

The first method is probably more attractive, but for its cost, yet lacks the efficiency and versatility of the second approach. Since outdoor gear costs such a lot, but makes a big difference when chosen carefully and utilised properly, the ‘holy grail’ are the bits of kit that do everything, weigh little and are tough. Therefore, for that reason I chose the Base Jump Pants, feeling on balance that they go a long way towards this goal.

Waistbelt and brace loops

Fit

There is no magic formula for finding well-fitting outdoor kit, and often a good fitting item wins the day over a more technical one. And this is why I would recommend that you try the Base Jump first. This is not least so that you stand a chance of understanding the confusing and ambiguous European sizing numbers. If you look at the Mammut sizing chart under EU converter, there are three options to each waist size, so EU 48/23/98 equates to UK 32 inch waist (regular leg)/32 (short leg)/32 (long leg). At first this seems bizarre and unnecessarily complicated, but it gives a far wider range of fit than you might otherwise find with another trouser. The fit is regular, so is comfortable, without baggy material, and gives the option for layering a baselayer underneath in winter. The stretch of the schoeller fabric allows dynamic movement for climbing, or when you trip over a boulder.

Instep reinforcement

Aesthetics

Mammut have thankfully avoided the pitfall of highly contrasting reinforced areas on the Base Jump (the Montane Terra Pant is particularly bad for this). It has reinforced panels to combat abrasion and stress, but these are mercifully the same colour as the rest of the trouser, apart from the seat of the pant and instep of the bottom of the leg, which are grey, inconspicuous and not too garish. I found the leg to be slightly flared, but do not see this as a problem, and it should help with the fit of the trouser over big boots. The velcro patches can also help with cinching it down, if required. The overall look is pretty sleek, and the red detailing of the logos adds extra flair.

Velcro fastenings

Technical

The bottoms of the legs have a short zipped gusset with velcro fastening, which helps with fit over big boots, and there is the reinforced crampon patch as mentioned. I am not entirely sure how useful both of these features will be, which is partly because my previous trousers had neither. It is unlikely that you would be able to pull the trousers over boots, or even crampons, but I cannot imagine why you would want to do that, and crampon points will go through pretty much any fabric, so I will have to reserve judgement on these two features until I test the trousers in anger.

The knee areas are nicely articulated, which I have found to be helpful on other garments, so with the stretch of the fabric, this should make for good freedom of movement. The pants have three pockets, one on the thigh, which appear to tick the right boxes, but as I avoid putting anything in pockets, this does not matter overly to me. However, I am impressed that the bags of the pockets are made with mesh, which is a neat trick to allow venting when unzipped. Lastly, you can add a belt or webbing, if you like, but I will definitely be buying a pair of braces to utilise the loops for winter. To me this is a good technical feature, which will keep undergarments tucked in, draughts out, and allow thrutching and squirming when climbing.

The stand-out quality of the Base Jump Pants, though, is the fabric itself, Schoeller FTC, a softshell, which is lightweight, stretchy, breathable and fast-drying. Schoeller avoids incorporating a membrane within the fabric, which although adds windproofing, decreases the breathability of a garment. I have read much about the fabric, and seen the Base Jump reappear year on year, so am eager to see how it measures up to its reputation in reality.

Reinforcement on the seat of the pant

Verdict

In the same way as the Rab Baseline Hoodie, the Mammut Base Jump combines an excellent technical fabric with just the right number of technical features, so as not to make it unwieldy or irrelevant. I have a feeling that this pair of trousers will more than live up to my old Rohan Uplanders.

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Live for the Day, but Live to Fight Another One too

Two years ago today climber and mountaineer, Will Wilkinson, died in an avalanche on Ben Nevis. This is the second year I have chosen to mark the occasion, and I explained my reasons for doing so last year.

Sometimes this time of year becomes bogged down with self-reflection and analysis. I found a fellow-blogger’s take on it refreshing: ‘No analysis. No predictions. No resolutions.’ McAlisterium

However, as a father with a small family set to increase, I increasingly find myself reflecting on the consequences of danger and risk on the mountain. Also, as it is more difficult to find time to get out with more responsibility, but when I do, I really savour it. Surprisingly enough, I also find myself missing my little family fairly quickly! This is nothing new, but a healthy way to approach mountain activities.

Live for the day, but live to fight another one too.

When I was writing a recent post about Remembrance Day, I came across an article in The Guardian. An interview of children left fatherless by the First World War. One young boy, now an old man, was thrust forward to become the head of the household after his father was killed, but it left him emotionally scarred. Standing at his father’s grave in 2007, he said:

‘I’m an old man, I am supposed to be tough. I thought I was hard, but I’m not. He’s my dad. I miss him. I missed him as a boy and I miss him as an old man. It is very important that I have come back. I feel closer now than I have ever been. That time he carried me to bed was the last time and this is the next time.’

This is more a note to myself than anything. Have fun, enjoy the wide, open spaces, especially when they are wild, and your time has been hard fought. Also, stay safe and remember the ones who you leave behind. Little girls and boys need their fathers.

 

Will Wilkinson’s Tales from the Hills

Scottish avalanche victim named

Last year’s post

McAlisterium post

Guardian article

Lessons Learned in the Atlas

One of the highlights of my recent trip to the High Atlas was the chance to learn new skills, put into practice old ones and in general continue to grow in experience as a mountaineer.

On ice in a borrowed pair of Grivel G14s

1. Always fit borrowed crampons beforehand

I had brought my Grivel G10s, but the temptation to climb was too strong, so I ended up borrowing a pair of G12s. I only acted on the nagging reminder to test them the morning of the first day, when I realised that the metal adjustment bar was too short. What ensued was a 30minute delay of grunting, grimacing and fiddling, ultimately ending with me wearing G14s for the remainder of the week. Crampon fitting is a ever-present minefield, waiting to catch the unwary, and I vowed never to be caught out again in future. Lesson: be very careful if you borrow crampons!

It might look clever or practical to do this, but inevitably you will end up losing it - probably when you most need it

2. Secure your kit to yourself

More than once did I pay the penalty for failing to keep tabs on kit: sunglasses which I knocked off head unwittingly when removing my hat; another day I stuffed my hat down my top, later believing it to be lost – in fact it had worked its way round the back of my top. The results in both cases were unnecessary and tiring ascents to search for the items. In the second case, totally wasted, as the hat was still on me! The principal is the same for most small items of kit, especially gloves. Gloves that have a lanyard which attaches to your wrist will save much anxiety, or worse, should you drop them. Lesson: never put things on the ground in winter or in a place where they will get lost.

Hand over hand on easier terrain for swift progress

3. Old school ropework saves time and effort

Many times James and I resorted to the humble body belay and braced stance, especially on snow slopes and when we had to move fast on the climb of Tête d’Ouanoums. In the right place and with the correct judgement, a simple technique such as the body belay, belovedly learned by all MLs, saves time and effort, which can be wasted by pitching sections as climbs. Note that I mentioned judgement above, which is especially true for choosing anchors and when to deploy the ropework in the first place. Lesson: a through working knowledge of the basics is the foundation of a mountaineer’s repertoire.

I was pretty proud of this until I got bombarded by snow and ice...

4. Choose a sheltered belay

This will be pretty obvious for seasoned winter climbers, but I learned the hard way. Wanting to practise an ice screw belay, I chose a stance directly below the fall line of the pitch above. As such, I spent the 20 or 30 minutes dodging falling ice and nevé. A fairly sizeable chunk hit me on my head, making me even more thankful for a helmet in winter. It would have been much better to have built the belay out right and out of harm’s way. Added to this is the sheer value of presence of mind, even when tired, to consider the second leading through. The resulting ropework will prevent the compounding of any falling snow and ice with, for example, a cramped breaking hand and tangles. Lesson: be smart and keep the belay out of harm’s way.

Rab Baseline Hoodie – Verdict

Not the most flattering of photos, but on a very long day of extremes, I was glad to have a flexible and reliable midlayer

Having just worn the Rab Baseline Hoodie for pretty much a week solid in the High Atlas, I feel that I said most of what I wanted in my initial review with first impressions.

You might wonder how that might be, and I put it down to the sheer brilliance of the original design by Patagonia, the R1 Hoody, which Rab have made their own in the form of the Baseline Hoodie. The fact that I knew it would be excellent just by looking at it, and then wearing it for a week and having my convictions justified, is a simple and elegant testimony to the concept of a close fitting middle layer in Polartec Powerdry with a deep chest zip and helmet compatible hood.

That is all.

The Baseline coped well with the extreme fluctuations in temperature in the High Atlas (-8°C to +8°C on one day), wicking away perspiration, providing the correct amount of insulation when needed, and layering nicely under further insulation. The hood was a good fit for my noggin, but that was a bit of a gamble on my part – probably worth trying out in a shop. It also went nicely under a helmet.

Poor stitching on the right sleeve

My only criticisms of the Baseline are that the stitching on the right sleeve began to unravel in less than a week and that there was a bit of wear showing on the forearm. The stitching issue might be an anomaly, but I am inclined to think not, and I think that this sort of problem is a concern to many. A British company gets bought out (by Equip in this case) and then quality control goes awry. The Baseline may be a good design, but Rab/Equip need to back this up with continued excellence in manufacture. Is now an appropriate time to mention a return  to British manufacture?!

Anyway, you can’t have everything, but the Baseline almost does. Great product, thoroughly recommended. Expect to see this out a lot with me.

High Atlas Winter Mountaineering

Hanging out at 14,671 ft. on my birthday

The High Atlas is a special place, and I knew I was in for a good week, glimpsing the mountains from the air. What a foretaste I had:

[Photos of the trip can be found here on Facebook]

As the plan flew along the coast of Morocco, the distinction between land and sea became uncertain, a winter mist clinging to the ground. At last, the flight path turned east, and the setting sun flooded through the windows, blood-red shafts of light lancing over the upper cloud layer. The mountains appeared in series, with the familiar black-white contrast of buttress and gully marking the presence of winter.

My eye was inevitably drawn to the highest peak – Toubkal, surely? However, a significant col interrupted the sequence. The plane was steadily descended into Marrakech. And then the mountains reared up again, higher and grander, with Toubkal now clear.

The ground beneath looked cold and colourless, devoid of any of the sun’s warmth, and the plane continued to drop into the enveloping winter mist. Soon Toubkal and the setting sun were no longer visible. We left the mountain kingdom of the sky, and instead entered the jostling world of Marrakech.

The village of Aremd on the walk-in to the refuge

After than entry to the gateway to the High Atlas, I was keen for my first taste of winter mountaineering in Morocco. Based out of the Mouflons hut at 3,207m, James and I got stuck into a number of objectives, which included mountain days for my IML (International Mountain Leader) logbook, an introduction to winter mixed and ice climbing and familiarisation of the area for a future group, with which I will be assisting.

It was cold.

Ice forming rapidly in a valley below the refuge

Temperatures inside the dormitory at night were a cool 3°C and on our first day, the thermometer on my watch plunged to -8°C in the upper reaches of the North Cwm of Toubkal. I longed for the sun, as my toes steadily lost feeling in the Scarpa Manta M3s. Thankfully, the weather was very settled, and in the sun the temperature would easily jump 10°C, although with such cold and calm conditions, we were routinely wading through deep powder, often with a weak crust.

Overlooking the North Cwm of Toubkal

I have commented in previous posts that the sheer scale of mountaineering in the High Atlas should encourage exploration, and mountaineers not be content to remain in the confines of Toubkal. And I know this to be true, but wanted to lay down a good basis for further expeditions in the Atlas, so with my small handful of days, I played my hand.

Approaching the top of the NE Couloir, Ras n'Ouanoukrim

We took on Ras n’ Ouanoukrim, the third highest peak in the Atlas, to gain a vantage point to the south and east of the range. Even with the benefit of the guidebook and a blue sky day, we had to rely on basic skills to stay safe and sound. Having taken a ‘short cut’ to gain the central gully, we found ourselves on some precarious steep ground, not aided by loose powder snow on slab. ML ropework was called for – a body belay and braced stance aided James with some insecure mixed climbing up a step rock.

Leading up the North West face of Tête d'Ouanoums

Surprised by the amount of ice forming at all levels in the valley, we moved up a gear and took on a multipitch mixed and ice route on the North West face of Tête d’Ouanoums, Difficile. This was an adventure into the unknown, especially for me, with only a couple of Grade Is and one Grade III under my belt. The climbing was fun in a grand setting, but the sheer length of the route, over 800m, and large amounts of powder meant we started in the dark and finished by the light of headtorch. I could barely stand by the end, exhausted by the effort expended, altitude and focussed mental effort throughout the day.

Muhammed on ice (abseiling off after his top-rope ascent!)

After a rest day, during which we had fun introducing our cook, Muhammed, to the delights of ice climbing, we finished off the week with a dawn ascent of Toubkal West via the South Cwm. Typically, we were now fully acclimatised on our last day, and made quick, steady progress up and down. The dawn was reminiscent of my arrival, beautiful shades of red light from the East, and we sat on a ledge out of the icy wind, savouring the views of the land below for a few minutes.

Enjoying being alive, up a mountain - summit of Toubkal West

Alpine-style ridges stood out, flanked by deep, snow-filled gullies, leading at length to unknown peaks, perhaps unconsciously noted when flicking through the guidebooks. The allure of future adventure and exploration was beckoning us, but also the comforts of normal life left behind and families waiting at home. As I left a day later, I looked back up to the Atlas, but thick, white cloud all but obscured them from view. Here and there peaks stood out, but the mountain kingdom was closed for the moment, its magic contained, ready for the next foray.

Rab Baseline Hoodie – First Impressions

Nice deep chest zip for venting

My Rab Baseline Hoodie just arrived, courtesy of a bargain from Facewest.co.uk: advent calendar voucher discount, plus free Rab beanie, plus free delivery to France!

INITIAL VERDICT [for the impatient!]

A good copy of the classic Patagonia R1 Hoody, retaining all the important features and Polartec Powerdry fabric. Although lacking the same cult status, the Baseline is excellent value for money, at £75.00, and will probably be the most versatile of your layers.

[My final verdict can be found here]

Neat and elegant Rab embroidery

Like the rest of the climbing population, my eye had been on the Patagonia R1 Hoody for a long time. Partly, this was pure visceral desire (although this seasons colours are truly awful – lime green and bright orange) and partly because I recognised my need for a mid layer – the intense, sunny, yet cold, conditions in the High Atlas in August were beguiling, and necessitated the need for a thin, versatile layer over a t-shirt or baselayer. As soon as the wind picked up, it was distinctly chilly.

Until recently, the Patagonia R1 Hoody has been the best on the market – designed by mountaineers, tested by mountaineers, and universally liked for its versatility, breathability and minimal, yet useful, technical features. Interestingly, it was almost ditched by Patagonia, had it not been for cries of outrage from its sponsored athletes (see Andy Kirkpatrick’s article here).

However, it costs an arm and a leg, at £140.00.

In the last year, competition has appeared in the form of the Berghaus Smoulder Hoodie, Montane Fury Jacket (I think) and Rab Shadow Hoodie, which are essentially copies of a classic design. Since the price of the R1 Hoody was ultimately prohibitive for me, I took my chances with Facewest.co.uk and went for the Rab version, and here are some first thoughts before it goes to North Africa with me.

Thumb loop

FIT

Rab fit can be a bit weird, since it aims at the small niche market of (generally) slim and athletic mountaineers. So, if Paramo is your fit, you may well not do so well with Rab. I plumped for the medium, wanting a snug fit without excess baggy material, and for my tall, slim frame the Baseline hugs the stomach and is not too tight over the chest and armpits.

Like most Rab products, the arm length is generous for reachy moves when climbing, but also gives added wrist protection when combined with the thumb loops. The hood was good on first try – close fitting without restricting vision or leaving any gaping holes around the neck. It also differs from the R1 Hoodie in that the zip is straight down the middle of the chest, rather than veering to one side at the top. The beardguard though on the Baseline seems to sidestep that particular feature.

Beard guard

AESTHETICS

Looks aren’t everything, but the dark lead of the Baseline is definitely an improvement on the R1 Hoody lemon lime and mango (and black, to be fair). I try to avoid black these days, as I find all my kit is black, which is just a bit monotonous and boring, and I feel reflects the lack of daring of British manufacturers, who play it safe. In any case, the dark grey or graphite of the Baseline is demure and understated without completely losing all its character. The zip detailing, Polartec tabs and Rab-Polartec embroidery also provide a little bit extra to look at, if you are really bored.

TECHNICAL

The beauty of the design is that it strips back all the unnecessary features without losing the best or most important ones.

Predominantly, this is to do with the choice of fabric, Polartec Powerdry, and its particular utilisation. The back of the fabric is woven with a grid pattern (on the Baseline, only on the reverse, but can be seen on the interior and exterior of the R1 Hoody). This essentially wicks away moisture more effectively and the insulating properties of the fleece material give warmth at the same time. So, you can see that the grid Powerdry provides quite a versatile mix of properties.

The integrated hoodie is thin enough to be layered beneath a helmet and thumb loops against ingress of snow and cold air to the wrists. As mentioned above, the long sleeves aid with stretchy climbing arm movements above the head etc.

On zips, the main zip is nice and deep to allow for venting and the Napoleon zip to its left is quaint, but is not really big enough for much apart from keys or an A6 mapcase – I would never carry my keys there, but a small mapcase would definitely be deposited in that pocket for quick access.

VERDICT

As I have yet to deploy the Baseline in anger, the full verdict will be postponed. However, on first impressions it looks very promising. More to follow.

Facewest.co.uk were kind enough to throw in a free beanie as well!

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