2 Day Private Rock Climbing

Dillan and Cole have been putting in time in the climbing gym and chomping at the bit to get climbing outside. To that end they joined me for a 2 Day Private Rock Climbing course that ended today. It was my first rock guiding days of the season and the motivation was high all around. We covered a ton of info in just two days and I could tell they were hungry for more when they left. Here’s a brief recap of our two days:

Yesterday, 8:30AM

We met at EMS North Conway and after getting acquainted headed out to Cathedral Ledge. We drove to the top and spent a little time at “The Classroom” learning about traditional protection, anchoring, and rappelling.

Cole's first rappel

Cole’s first rappel

Dillan's first rappel

Dillan’s first rappel

After a short practice rappel we made our way down to the Barber Wall and rappelled down Laytons Ascent/Chicken Delight.

Layton's Ascent being descended

Layton’s Ascent being descended

Cole rappels

Cole rappels

We then short-roped over to the classic Upper Refuse.

Top of the first pitch of Upper Refuse

Top of the first pitch of Upper Refuse

Dillan finishing Upper Refuse

Dillan finishing Upper Refuse

Cole looking physced

Cole looking relaxed

4 short pitches up that had us on top at noon, where we enjoyed lunch on top of Airation Buttress.

Family shot

Family shot

We then headed down to The North End and learned a little about threading a sport anchor in preparation for lowering or cleaning a sport lead. We then worked on our crack climbing skills on Child’s Play and Kiddy Crack.

Working on crack climbing skills on Kiddy Crack

Working on crack climbing skills on Kiddy Crack

Back at the shop we reviewed some of the skills we had covered before calling it a day.

Today:

We drove up to Pinkham Notch and hiked up to Square Ledge. The focus was on building quality top-rope anchors but we also wanted to get some climbing in.

Learning the bowline

Learning the bowline

Still snow on that hill

Still snow on that hill

Contemplating

Contemplating “The Brain”

Attentive belaying

Attentive belaying

Working

Working “The Nose”

West Face multi-pitch practice

West Face multi-pitch practice

Dillan closing in on the anchor

Dillan closing in on the anchor

Chillin' with a view

Chillin’ with a view

Couldn’t have asked for a better start to the rock season. These guys were 100% engaged in the learning process, asking questions, practicing skills, buying helmets! Seriously days like this remind me how lucky I am to be a climbing guide. I look forward to working with Cole and Dillan again… it’s obvious they have the climbing bug and I am sure I’ll see them in the mountains again!

BTW, 4 more days left to enter to win a sweet climbing knife! Details here!

See you in the mountains!

NEAlpineStart

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Colonial Knife Product Review and Giveaway!

Read on for a chance to win one of these great knives!

BC102-2013-w670

A fellow guide introduced me to this knife early this past winter and while I was originally from the “a knife is a knife” camp I have come to see that not all knives are created equal, and in fact this one stands out above the rest by quite a margin. The one-handed operation of this blade needs to be seen to be understood and for that reason I put together this short product video:

Pros:

Super Lightweight

Bombproof/Durable

Convenient one-handed lock-ability

Lifetime Warranty/Made in USA

Cons:

A bit bulky for inside pocket carry; not a real issue considering it is either on my harness or in the top pocket of my pack. It does fit well in the coin pocket of my jeans.

You can order through their website here, but check back here soon as I have been told a discount code might set up for my readers.

PRODUCT GIVEAWAY (Drawing on May 26th, 2015)

There are multiple ways to get an entry in the drawing for one of these knives ($69.99 value). You can get up to four entries into the contest!

1) Like this post through WordPress below

2) Comment on the post below (what knife do you use?)

3) Like or share the post on Facebook here

4) Like the video on YouTube here

Entries must be in by 11:59PM EST on May 25th, 2015. We will draw the winner from all entries on May 26th.

Thanks for reading and see you in the mountains!

-NEAlpineStart

Disclaimer: While this knife was provided to me at no cost my opinion on its features and performance are certainly my own formed after 20+ days ice climbing and back-country skiing with this in my kit.

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AIARE 1 Avalanche Course on the Summit of Mount Washington!

Yesterday we concluded the first ever American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education Course on the summit of Mount Washington! The idea of holding an AIARE 1 Course in partnership with the Mount Washington Observatory has been brewing in my mind for years, and it finally turned into a reality!

Early in the morning this past Friday 8 participants met at Eastern Mountain Sports in North Conway to meet fellow AIARE Instructor Keith Moon and I to prepare for our 3 day adventure. After organizing our gear we made our way to the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road where Director of Education for the MWOBS, Michelle Cruz, welcomed the group and gave a short orientation.

Michelle welcomes and briefs the group

Michelle welcomes and briefs the group

Long time snow-cat operator and charismatic local Slim Bryant meets the group and gives them some last minute information about the snow-cat operating procedures.

099

During our ascent EMS Schools Guide Keith Moon took advantage of the improving visibility to point out various landmarks and explain some of the reasons Mount Washington has such interesting topography, weather, and flora.

Conversations about this unique trip made the first part of the ascent go by fast!

Conversations about this unique trip made the first part of the ascent go by fast!

Five miles up the road deep snow drifts required quite a bit of plowing so Slim suggested we take advantage of the warm comfortable weather and stretch our legs while he assaulted the drifts with a lot of back & forth plowing.

Walking beats motion sickness!

Walking beats motion sickness!

Great weather!

Great weather!

We arrived at the summit just before 11am and started class after a quick safety tour and lunch. Class was held in the conference room until a 6pm social hour followed by a delicious turkey dinner prepared by the Observatory volunteers, John & Gates.

Thank you John & Gates!

Thank you John & Gates!

The next morning the Higher Summits forecast called for sustained winds over 70, with gusts up to 110mph (it actually hit 118mph). Despite being “house-bound” the extra time to cover topics & info in greater detail was welcome, as the group stayed engaged and inquisitive through-out the demanding classroom day. I think the highlight for many was when we stepped out onto the observation deck after lunch to see what all the hype was about:

iPhone video uploaded to PC “upside down”. Will need to find a fix before I embed it. :(

That evening we enjoyed a tour of the Weather Room from the very accommodating and informative Education Specialist Kaitlyn O’Brian. Despite having attended this tour in one form or another a dozen times over the last 10 years I still had questions and Kaitlyn was quick to answer and increase my understanding of what makes Mt. Washington such a remarkable place!

Weather Room tour after dinner on Day 2

Weather Room tour after dinner on Day 2

After the tour we all suited up and climbed the observation tower to visit the parapet, technically 30+ feet above the summit of Mount Washington, participants reveled in the opportunity to climb up and hold on while they felt the incoming high pressure system from Canada challenge their grip (Winds were 60-70mph at this time, down from 90mph during our Observation Deck venture)

(Asking participants for a photo or video from this time as I was busy using participants camera’s to catch anything with mine)

The next morning volunteers John & Gates treated us to a hearty breakfast of ham, eggs, and hashed potatoes before we packed our gear and met in the conference room for a trip planning session.

Gather info, form an opinion, converse, make a plan, execute!

Gather info, form an opinion, converse, make a plan, execute!

We settled on a descent of the East Snowfields followed by a long traverse over to the Gulf of Slides.

My Trip Plan

My Trip Plan

Around 0930 we bid farewell and thanks to the summit crew and volunteers who had been so accommodating to us during our stay and ventured out into 60+ mph northwest winds. The short distance we needed to travel to make it to the more sheltered East Snowfields will definitely be a memorable moment (especially for those who had snowboards in our group). Once we dropped 200 feet onto the East Snowfields though conditions were quite appealing.

Pavan ready to put some turns in near the top of the East Snowfields

Pavan ready to put some turns in near the top of the East Snowfields

The group discusses some terrain options

The group discusses some terrain options

Looking back up the East Snowfields with Allyson & Tod taking a quick break. Slope info is captured thanks to Theodolite iPhone App!

Looking back up the East Snowfields with Allyson & Tod taking a quick break. Slope info is captured thanks to Theodolite iPhone App!

At the bottom of the East Snowfields we intersected with the Lionshead Trail and switched back to touring mode to make our way towards Boot Spur & Gulf of Slides.

Long contouring traverse (2 of these words are not snowboarders favorite things)

Long contouring traverse (2 of these words are not snowboarders favorite things)

Brendan crosses above Tuckerman Ravine

Brendan crosses above Tuckerman Ravine

Patrick is all smiles!

Patrick is all smiles!

We got a great view looking back at our home for the last couple days… see all the ants climbing up Lobster Claw Gully?

Nice view of the summit cone I don't often experience

Nice view of the summit cone I don’t often experience

A zoomed in shot of Lobster Claw Gully

A zoomed in shot of Lobster Claw Gully

While we crossed Bigelow Lawn the views on all sides were amazing. I especially liked looking over at Franconia Ridge:

Franconia Ridge and Mount Lafeyette

Franconia Ridge and Mount Lafeyette

Visibility was over 120 miles as we could make out Mount Mansfield in Vermont! A nice wind-roll above Gulf of Slides offered a quick photo op for the Swanson father & son team!

Bluebird

Bluebird

#familyadventure!

#familyadventure!

We dropped into the snowfields of Gulf of Slides and had some great turns before stopping to learn a bit more about snow-pack observations.

After checking how deep the recent rain & warmth had penetrated we practiced layer ID, Hand Hardness, and Compression Tests, then traversed our way into the Main GoS gully. A fun run down brought us to a busy Pinkham Notch parking lot, and we gathered at a picnic table to debrief our experience and figure out how to move forward with our new found knowledge.

Ultimately this course was a huge success and a great wrap up to an amazing winter.

To the 8 participants in this first of its kind AIARE course… Thank you!  Your contributions through-out the course were much appreciated, and we look forward to implementing changes for next season based on your forthcoming feedback!

To the gracious staff of the Mount Washington Observatory… THANK YOU! Your support allowed us to provide one of the most experiential and educational experiences in avalanche education I have ever been a part of. We could not have done it without your help and are incredibly grateful!

And to my regular readers, thank you for following this blog. I plan to fill the next few “quiet” weeks with quite a bit gear reviews of extensively tested gear from this season. Over the next couple weeks there will be detailed reviews on;

Ortovox Avalanche Beacons (3 different models)

Black Diamond Snow Saws

BCA Beacons (2 models)

EMS & Black Diamond higher-end clothing

And much more… so… if you’ve read this far why not subscribe? It’s right up there at the top right… or like NEAlpineStart on Facebook.

To winter 2014/15, thank you! That was awesome. To Spring/Summer/Fall rock climbing season…. LET’S DO THIS!

-NEAlpineStart

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Mount Washington Ascent, and a scary snow-pack still lurks…

Today I had the pleasure of accompanying George from Pennsylvania on a Mount Washington Climb. A retiree who has been seeking out cool experiences (summited Kilimanjaro with his 27 year old son last year), he was great company on our climb today. Despite a crazy bluebird weekend with tons of people in the ravines we had this Monday to ourselves and only 1 other EMS guided party. Low visibility from blowing snow and colder temps seemed to keep most people away, and other than one party that was finishing a Northern Presidential Traverse we were the only party to summit today. The alone-ness up there was refreshing after the crazy weekend that just transpired, especially considering a close friend and avalanche professional was caught and carried by a size-able avalanche, luckily escaping anything more than a bruised ego. I’ll link to some info on the 6 avalanches that occurred yesterday but first let’s recap today’s climb:

George tackles the first steeper bit of Lion's Head Winter Route and learns about the efficiency of "French Technique"

George tackles the first steeper bit of Lion’s Head Winter Route and learns about the efficiency of “French Technique”

Selfie just below tree-line...

Selfie just below tree-line…

George breaking above tree-line

George breaking above tree-line

George just below Lion's Head

George just below Lion’s Head

As we approached the summit cone visibility sank. I regretted not grabbing a half-dozen “route wands” to mark our way up to Split Rock, as that stretch is quite devoid of landmarks in the 50-100 foot visibility we were entering. I decided to improvise and used our trekking poles to mark our route. Essentially I climbed as high I could and still see the entrance of the trail through the Krumholtz. There I placed a trekking pole, basket up. I then did the same enroute to the cairn half up that slope, and twice more before Split Rock.

Almost to Split Rock

Almost to Split Rock

George mentioned he would never be able to describe what climbing in a true white-out felt like. There is no sense of direction or angle as the sky blends with the snow perfectly. Dozens of ascents in similar conditions helped and we nailed Split Rock in good time.

The frozen stache' of George at Split Rock...

The frozen stache’ of George at Split Rock…

At this point we were about 50/50 as to making the summit but decided to see what the next corner would bring. Steady 50mph winds from the west were manageable, and 40 minutes later we gained the summit.

Obligatory Summit photo

Obligatory Summit photo

After a quick breather we made our way back down to Split Rock. The impromptu route wands came in clutch;

There is another pole in this photo, but I could not find it in the picture...

There is another pole in this photo, but I could not find it in the picture…

Back in North Conway we shared some of our adventure with George’s wife and parted ways. George is quite the adventurous guy and I hope to cross paths with him again!

I’ll end this trip report with a very brief word of caution. The end of March and beginning of April brings a dangerous mix of “Spring mind-set” mountain enthusiasts when Mount Washington is not quite ready to admit it is Spring. Yesterday, one year ago, brought one of the most historic avalanches on Mount Washington ever. This year, yesterday caught a seasoned Snow Ranger off guard who went for a long ride, along with 5 other avalanches! His personal account of the incident is here, and well worth a read.

I’d caution anyone entering avalanche terrain over the next couple of weeks to read both these accounts carefully and use due caution. Winter doesn’t end on Mount Washington until well into April (or maybe May).

Be safe, and see you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart

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AIARE 2 Avalanche Course

Yesterday wrapped up the 2nd AIARE 2 Avalanche Course of the season. Six Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing Guides, 3 from North Conway, 2 from The Gunks, and 1 from our Lake Placid location spent the last four days furthering their understanding of the avalanche phenomenon by improving their weather and snow-pack observation skills along with their rescue skills.

After reviewing AIARE 1 information we spend the rest of our first day upgrading our rescue skills with focuses on deep burials, multiple burials, close proximity burials, and rescue leadership. The deep burial scenario required a full effort from everyone as our “debris” had set up like concrete and our target was a life size stuffed Gore-tex full suit!

Digging through 2 meters of concrete

Digging through 2 meters of concrete

It took another 20 minutes of hard work to excavate the victim after reaching the "airway".

It took another 20 minutes of hard work to excavate the victim after reaching the “airway”.

One of our multiple burial scenarios unfolding...

One of our multiple burial scenarios unfolding…

Searching in Parallel, Micro-strip Search, Pro’s and Con’s of Marking, and Triage were all topics of that afternoon.

The next day was a heavy classroom day with lots of discussion on Mountain Weather, Online Resources, Metamorphism, and recording observations at the national standard in accordance with the “SWAG”.

We spent the 3rd morning covering the “how’s and why’s” of doing a Full Profile.

Mike Lackman was shadowing the course and offers up some advice during grain identification

Mike Lackman was shadowing the course and offers up some advice during grain identification

Despite increasing Spring like weather the snow pack was not iso-thermal, and a very distinct layer of 3-4mm advanced facets about 50cm down made for some impressive CT & ECT scores. (CT12 & 18, Q2 and ECTP 14)

My Full Profile

My Full Profile

From there we went on a short tour up to just above tree-line via the Cog.

Stopping for Chicken Fingers and a quick Weather Observation at Waumbek Tank

Stopping for Chicken Fingers and a quick Weather Observation at Waumbek Tank

Mike searches for the deeper faceted layer in a small pocket just to the right of Jacob's Ladder

Mike searches for the deeper faceted layer in a small pocket just to the right of Jacob’s Ladder

Gaining our high point with the incoming warm front right on our heels

Gaining our high point with the incoming warm front right on our heels

After some poking around in the snow and previewing terrain in the Ammonoosuc Ravine we descending the Cog in fairly good conditions. Right before the base the snow that had started falling around noon turned to rain and we wrapped up our day back at the Highland Center.

For the last day of the course we met at Pinkham Notch and planned a tour into Tuckerman Ravine. We zipped up to Hermit lake in short order and had a quick birthday celebration for Ryan before updating our travel plans.

Good skiing that requires very heads up attention!

Good skiing that requires very heads up attention!

We skinned up a very stable Little Headwall and gathered at the floor of the ravine to make a plan. Our climbers headed up into Lobster Claw and our skiers moved across and up into Left Gully.

Dustin and crew crossing the run out and starting the boot pack up climbers right side of Left Gully.

Dustin and crew crossing the run out and starting the boot pack up climbers right side of Left Gully.

With lots of probing and hand-shears we worked our way up below the ice fall to the left of Left Gully and after a brief group discussion decided we could push higher up to the “choke” of the gully.

We could see our other group just to the right of the mouth of Lobster Claw making observations

We could see our other group just to the right of the mouth of Lobster Claw making observations

Looking down the run I use the "Theodolite" iPhone App to capture some slope info

Looking down the run I use the “Theodolite” iPhone App to capture some slope info (Location/Altitude not reported as phone was on Airplane mode to conserve battery; i.e. No GPS Data)

Looking up into the start zone I capture incline and aspect (180 math needed)

Looking up into the start zone I capture incline and aspect (180 math needed)

Just below the choke we get some fairly positive hand shear results but the slab that is failing is quite thin, only about 20-25 cms or so. Two of our group wish to push a bit higher, which seemed reasonable, so the rest of us de-skinned and spotted their last 100 foot climb to just above the choke. From here we all descended, one-at-a-time at first, then with good spacing down below. Turns were pretty soft in most spots with occasional sections of hard scoured surface. The flat light made it a bit tricky to really let it rip.

Pretty decent turns and quite a few groups were appreciated the boot pack we had put in. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many without backpacks on... Where is your shovel & probe?

Pretty decent turns and quite a few groups were appreciated the boot pack we had put in. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many without backpacks on… Where is your shovel & probe? It is still winter up there.

We gathered at the floor then descended Little Headwall to the Cutler River. The Upper Cutler was great. One of our group had skied the Lower Cutler (below the bridge) a week prior and the majority vote was to continue down it. It was the first I had skied below the bridge so with a smidgen of hesitation I followed the group down. I can’t say it was great skiing, a bit to heavy mashed potatoes made for a few of those “must turn now” moments. One actively collapsing snow bridge with quite a bit of water right at the end made me glad to be exiting out along the Huntington Ravine trail to cut back over to the John Sherburne Ski Trail. I would suggest bailing at the bridge for the rest of the season… unless you are into that type of stuff!

Our run out...

Our run out…

The rest of the Sherbi skied great though the warm snow was a bit slow as we got to the bottom. No complaints though, all it all a great run!

Back at the parking lot we spent almost an hour and a half debriefing the day and the course in general. Feedback on the course was solicited and shared, and an honest look at what’s next was provided by recent AIARE 3 Graduate Keith Moon. Many of our guides are on tracks for AMGA certifications that will require an AIARE 3 Certificate, so links & suggestions for future learning were provided.

This was a really fun course for me. Getting to work each day with many co-workers who I don’t often cross paths with was a great boon. I feel like I know each of them quite a bit better. Their feedback will definitely help the AIARE 2 courses I lead next year improve. And despite a bit of rain the weather through out the course was fantastic. While I have the rest of the weekend off I’ll be heading back up the hill on Monday, and again on Friday. Then a short vacation before our first ever Mount Washington Observatory AIARE 1 Course!

Then, and only then, will I let myself start focusing on the upcoming rock season. Winter ain’t over till it’s over!

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Spring is here (Not Really)

The equinox has come and gone and other than a bit more daylight to play in I haven’t noticed much of a difference! Yesterday was one of the coldest days I’ve had this season as we concluded another AIARE 1 Avalanche Course but first lets talk about how awesome the ice climbing conditions are!

Last Thursday, March 19th, I took former AIARE 1 student Kurt out for a day of Private Ice Climbing instruction. Kurt had a couple seasons under his belt (or harness) but wanted to get a jump start on his skill set. We headed out to Frankenstein and covered quite a bit of ground and information in a very fun filled day!

We started with a very big & blue Standard Route (Grade 3, 350 feet).

Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs

Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs

Despite it being a little bit of a PITA stopping in the cave I choose to do so as I think every first timer should see this cool feature. Experienced climbers who have seen it can greatly increase communication by skipping this feature and combining pitch 1 & 2 in a long 190 foot pitch.

Being first on route we see other climbers queuing up for a busy day

Being first on route we see other climbers queuing up for a busy day

Wrapping up pitch 2 of Standard

Wrapping up pitch 2 of Standard

We topped out around 11:30 and made our way back down to the tracks for some lunch, then headed over to the Amphitheater. There Bob’s Delight, (Grade 3+ 100 feet) was still in great shape, though a little soft. After I led the route I lowered off and Kurt took a top-rope lap on it so we could focus on efficiency & technique.

Bob's Delight

Bob’s Delight

One more run up it to clean the anchor and I grabbed a shot of Kurt finishing the route.

Bluebird day!

Bluebird day!

We had just enough time to squeeze in one more route so we hopped over to Cave Route, and finished on that 75 foot Grade 3. Definitely a fun day out I look forward to climbing with Kurt again soon!

The next day began a full AIARE 1 Avalanche Course that ended yesterday. As is becoming custom this winter we had perfect conditions for the course, despite yesterday’s field day being quite arctic we still learned a lot and enjoyed some fresh powder in the Cutler River!

Making some snow pack observations below Hillmans Highway

Making some snow pack observations below Hillmans Highway

Debriefing our Tour Day

Debriefing our Tour Day

My field notes from the day

My field notes from the day

Despite air temps far below 0 and even colder wind chills we had a really good day up there. Today I’ve spent catching up on errands while preparing for an AIARE 2 Course that starts tomorrow.

While the calendar may say Spring I am certainly still in a winter mindset!

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Saint Patrick’s Day fun an Kinsman Notch, and Colonial Knife Ameba Review

I’m a big fan of holidays and wanted to do more than just cook up some corned beef and cabbage this year (though that is still happening thanks to my slow cooker). When I connected with long time local climber and recent friend Matty B our sights were set on an ambitious gully on Mt. Webster, The Green Chasm. A questionable higher summits forecast had me second guessing our ambition, and realizing there were some even more suitably named climbs in the protected Kinsman Notch area that I had yet to visit we adjusted our plans last minute and headed out to the west side of NH Route 112, 5 miles west of Woodstock, to see what Irish luck might bring us.

We started off with Pot O’ Gold, a short but steep Grade 4 right where the approach trail ends. This is a short 50ft route but quite fun. A solid fixed anchor on a tree at the top allowed a quick lower before Matty cleaned and lowered off.

Matty cleans Pot O' Gold

Matty cleans Pot O’ Gold

We moved left to Shamrock, listed in the guidebook at 3+/4- in the guidebook. Matty made short work of a nice plastic line up the left side.

Matty on Shamrock

Matty on Shamrock

We moved left again to what I believe was Leprechaun’s Lament, grade 2+/3 in the guidebook. I took a mellow line up the left side then traversed right to a fixed anchor on a tree an dropped a top-rope over an attractive piece of vertical ice on the far right of this flow.

Enjoying the great late season conditions

Enjoying the great late season conditions

Matty not lamenting on a steep variation of Leprechaun's Lament

Matty not lamenting on a steep variation of Leprechaun’s Lament

After these 3 warm ups we set our sights on The Beast, grade 4+, referred to in a previous guidebook as “Luck O’ The Irish“. The guidebooks said this route was about 400 yards left of Leprechaun’s Lament. After only 200 yards we passed a route we suspected might be The Beast, but given how close it was, and that it didn’t quite look like 2 pitches, we kept post-holing our way though actively sluffing slopes until we reached a bit of a knoll and realized we must have passed it. When we returned we confirmed The Beast was a bit sunbaked and much fatter than the guidebook photo. We opted for “The Ramp Route“, a very mellow Grade 3 up the left side that merges with the Beast.

Leading up Ramp Route

Leading up Ramp Route

Since we had a 60 meter rope I stopped just short of the top and belayed Matty up. The last 20 feet looked meh so we V-threaded off and called it a day.

Rapping off The Beast

Rapping off The Beast

A quick glissade down and short hike brought us to the cars where we enjoyed a quick “Green Head IPA” before hitting the road. I’d like to check out some of the stuff higher up the notch next time. I’ll also be posting a gear review shortly of a sweet new knife that has found a home on the back of my harness.

Colonial Knife Ameba in rescue orange.

Colonial Knife Ameba in rescue orange.

Stay tuned for a review of the Colonial Ameba Knife Review and Happy Saint Patricks Day!

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