Family Rock Climbing (8/21/16)

This past Saturday I had the privilege of taking the New Jersey based Schenck family out rock climbing at Whitehorse and Cathedral Ledge. Having spent the previous day kayaking the Saco River they were ready for some vertical fun.

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

On our way to the cliff

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Alexa was dying to go first!

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Coming down took some getting used to but we got there!

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Ricky takes on the challenge. Heights isn’t Ricky’s thing, but he gave it a solid shot and I hope he tries it again!

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Alexa liked belay duty as much as climbing!

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Hanging out at the base of Thin Air in the afternoon

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Alexa took multiple laps on the route

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Definitely hooked on climbing!

Super fun day with this outdoorsy family! I think a multi-pitch climbing day with Alexa & her dad may be in-store for the near future!

Hope everyone is enjoying this spectacular climbing weather!

See you in the mountains,

-Northeast Alpine Start

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Wilderness Navigation Course (8/20/16)

This past Saturday I led an 8 hour Wilderness Navigation Course for EMS Schools North Conway. A few guides from a NYC outdoor adventure company and mountain enthusiasts from around New England met at 8:30am for some classroom discussion and exercises before we traveled to a field location to practice our newly acquired skills.

Wilderness Navigation Course

Bushwhacking our way to Hurricane Mountain

This is a great area to explore off trail. It is a fairly active site for rock collectors, or “rockhounding“, and we came across a lot of fresh piles of crushed rock and sand where intrepid collectors had found veins of rock in search of semi-precious stones. There is also some type of tree research nearby as we traveled through a stand of younger trees all tagged with metal numbered tags. I’m curious to their meaning.

After plotting a course back to our starting point we embarked on the well traveled Black Cap Trail. Before reaching the ledges we found a nice specimen of the edible and easy to recognize “Chicken of the Woods“. It was clear someone had foraged a bit of this specimen but there was plenty left for those inclined to gather some to cook later.

Wilderness Navigation Course

Chicken of the Woods

One we reached the first view point we stopped and practiced some terrain association, peak identification, and single point resection.

Wilderness Navigation Course

Taking a bearing

Wilderness Navigation Course

Using resection to pinpoint our location

Wilderness Navigation Course

Playing with my new Olloclip lens

After looking at some glacial striations and some classic “flagging” in the trees (both can help with finding direction) we reached the small summit and made our way down to the Black Cap Connector Trail. We then looped back towards the Cranmore Trail.

Wilderness Navigation Course

I enjoy both hi-tech and low-tech navigational aids- Theodolite app on iPhone

Wilderness Navigation Course

Looping back on the connector trail

With a little bit of time left we decided to squeeze in one more bushwhack so we headed a short ways down the Red Tail Trail before plotting a course off trail with the goal of hitting the Black Cap Trail right at the info kiosk about .3 miles from the parking lot.

Wilderness Navigation Course

Getting ready to go off trail

Everyone followed their own route and hit the Black Cap trail within sight of the kiosk. We returned to the parking lot for a quick debrief.

Wilderness Navigation Course

Our GPS track, made with the Garmin Fenix 3 HR

I really enjoy teaching this course. It’s especially fun to challenge yourself by not always following the beaten path and when you go off trail you’re much more likely to have wildlife encounters. By the end of the course most everyone was sold on the model of compass I’ve been using for almost 2 decades so I will plug it here for those shopping for a great quality compass.

Suunto Navigator MC-2DLIN Compass

While I might take the time to give this compass a full review soon for now I’ll briefly state the sighting mirror and long straight edge make taking and plotting bearings fast and intuitive. The clinometer is a great feature for winter/avalanche terrain but is also useful for determining if you are actually higher than that nearby peak. Unfortunately this model isn’t currently in-stock at EMS but is available on Amazon here.

Do you have a favorite compass model? Let me know in the comments below!

This was the last Wilderness Navigation Course we had planned at EMS Schools this summer but I think there might be interest in running another one this Fall. I will update this post if we put another one on the calendar and send out a quick post if one is scheduled. As always you can follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

See you in the mountains,

-Northeast Alpine Start

This post contains affiliate links.


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Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody protects against wind and light rain and is so ultra-light and pack-able that there are few reasons why you should not pack this little piece of insurance on every outing.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review- photo from

Last summer my long time friend and climbing partner Tom turned me onto this piece which coincidentally shares its namesake with my own website. We were exploring a back-country cliff during the peak of black-fly season and despite it being a rather warm & humid early summer day he donned this jacket to provide some protection from the onslaught of blood-suckers.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Black flies attempt to carry Tom away

I remarked that he must be sweating like crazy wearing a hoody like this in such warm weather and he re-assured me the piece was so light & breathable that he was actually quite comfortable. He took the majority of the leads that day while I donated a pint or two of blood to the insect world.

With that history in mind I was quite enthusiastic when Black Diamond provided a sample for review.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Fresh out of the plastic

At home impressions were quite positive. For starters this jacket is ridiculously light-weight weighing in at 7 3/4 ounces on my home scale!

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

That’s light!

Black Diamond lists 7.1 ounces (202 grams) in their Technical Specs.

In addition to being one of the lightest soft shell hoodies on the market the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody is also super pack-able and easily stuffs inside its reversible zippered chest pocket!

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review


When crushed into a ball its the size of a youth softball. It also has a convenient sewn loop to allow attaching it to the back of your harness just in case the clouds get a little darker.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Extra protection when you decide to leave your pack at the base of the climb

My first real test of the jacket this July on an ascent of that classic east coast alpine climb, The Whitney Gilman Ridge. Dry cool air and a 15-20mph breeze led to quite comfortable climbing conditions, until we got held up by a slow moving party on the notorious “pipe pitch”. We weren’t going anywhere for awhile so out came the hoody’s while we waited for the traffic to clear.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

It was serendipitous that I was climbing with Tom, the guy who preached about this jacket to me last summer. He had upgraded to a new color of the same jacket!

So what is this thing made of? Well technically it is “Schoeller® stretch-woven with NanoSphere® Technology (80 g/m2, 93% nylon, 7% elastane)”.

Since most people probably don’t know what exactly that means let me break it down. First off, this Schoeller® fabric is super thin. The 7% elastane gives the fabric a noticeable stretchy feel.

Second, the NanoSphere® Technology is a high end Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment that also boasts a “self-cleaning” property. You can read more on this technology here. This jacket is clearly not intended to be water-proof but it certainly has shed light rain and mist on a few blustery days while climbing in Huntington Ravine and on Cathedral Ledge. At 7 ounces I consider this a fair trade off and when the forecast calls for a significant chance of rain I will pack a more substantial shell like the waterproof Eastern Mountain Sports Storm Front Jacket.

But the breath-ability! This is the most breath-able wind shell I have tested. So breath-able that it is wearable on hot & humid days as a bug protection layer! This feature makes it ideal for high output activity in blustery conditions. Trail running, fast-hiking, XC skiing, peak-bagging, or any time you want to go fast & light! And the weight! Even if the forecast looks like this:

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Not the North East

When it only weighs 7 ounces, and packs into the size of a softball, there’s really no question in my mind like “should I bring this?” It’s been living in my summer climbing pack all season and I’ve been surprised at the amount of times I’ve actually dug it out to be more comfortable, rain or shine!

Ok, let’s finish looking at some of the smaller but important features and move on to our summary shall we?

The Hood

It fits over a helmet as shown in the photo above, but also thanks to a one-hand-adjustable shock cord & cord lock on the back it can be cinched down to conform to your melon without a helmet on as well. This tightening option also helps the hood turn with your gaze so you don’t get blind-sided by a wild moose on the loose.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Well fitted hood

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Adjustable helmet compatible hood

The only pocket on this ultralight piece is the reversible chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack when turned inside out. A reversible zipper and sewn nylon loop add utility and convenience.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Chest pocket reverses for easy storage

My first concern with this jacket was the lack of an adjustable cuff at the wrist. I’m sure this saved a small amount of weight but when climbing I really like a snug wrist cuff.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Elastic wrist bands

I have a pretty small to medium sized wrist and I found this cuff to be a bit too loose. My solution is to just slide it up my forearm until it feels snug. It’s definitely a utilitarian type look, and I’d prefer a traditional velcro adjuster in future models.

I measured the back length at 28 inches, and given the stretchy characteristic of the Schoeller® fabric it is sufficiently long enough to stay tucked into my harness even when making long over the head reaches.

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Back length of size large = 28 inches

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Topping out Whitney Gilman Ridge on Cannon Cliff, Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire


Tom was right. This is an ingenious piece and it will be a part of my kit for as long as it’s produced. It’s not waterproof, but that’s ok, it’s not meant to be. Think of it as a highly breathable wind shirt with a hood. Able to shed light precipitation. Able to cut cold breezes when you thought August on Cannon would be t-shirt weather. Able to pack up into a a neat little package and live on the back of your harness for those “just in case” type days. From cool weather running & cycling to fast & light alpine climbing this is a well designed piece of gear. You should check it out for yourself!

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

If you do check it out you can order from Amazon here. Doing so will help support this blog and my efforts at providing fair and accurate reviews of clothing and gear designed for adventure in the mountains.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this review please like, share, subscribe, comment, or just send me some positive karma.

See you in the mountains,


Disclosure: Black Diamond provided this sample for the purposes of this review and this post contains affiliate links.

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Mt. Forist, Berlin NH

I’ve been hearing about the climbing out at Mt. Forist for a couple years now. One can’t drive through Berlin and not notice the prominent looking 500 foot cliff on its northern outskirt. I only had time to today to jump on 5 of the 20+ routes listed in the new mini-guide published by Matt Bowman “” but I will definitely be heading back there soon to explore some more. I’ll keep this post super short and share a video I threw together, largely with the help of some cool new cell phone tech I am reviewing for The Gear Institute (and will also publish here).

See you in the mountains!


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Family Rock Climbing 8/7/16

Really fun day today climbing with this family from Austin, Texas! The Weaver’s are adventurers extraordinaire and were wrapping up a 3 week trip in New England before heading back south. Fresh off some intense downhill mountain biking the day before they were ready to rock. We started out day over at Whitehorse Ledge under the giant Echo Roof.

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Kids first

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

No hands

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Echo Roof looms above mom & daughter

Rock Climbing New Hampshire


Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Belay practice

Rock Climbing New Hampshire


After climbing “Holy Land” 5.6 and “Relic Hunter” 5.7 we had some lunch then headed over to the North End of Cathedral Ledge.

Rock Climbing New Hampshire


Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Afternoon light

Everyone took a spin on Child’s Play, then we headed for the top for some rappelling to round out our day.

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Family pic before going over the edge

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Over the edge

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

And down we go

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Still got energy

Rock Climbing New Hampshire

Hooked on climbing

Rock Climbing New Hampshire


Thank you guys for another fun day in the mountains! See you next time for another adventure!

Plenty of great climbing days ahead and the forecast looks great! Come climb with EMS Schools before the summer slips away!

See you in the mountains,




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Rock Climbing Summer So Far…

It’s been a great summer so far with lots of families & camp groups climbing with EMS Schools. I haven’t done as many individual trip reports as most of my free computer time has been spent on reviewing some of the coolest new packs & gear on the market. Hope everyone has been enjoying the summer!

Congrats to Ed. S. for winning the Friendly Foot giveaway on the LaSportiva TX2 Approach Shoe Review and Taylor for winning the Colonial Knife giveaway on the Petzl Bug Backpack Review! I have a quite a few more product reviews & giveaways planned this season so if you’re into that sort of thing be sure to subscribe to the blog.

Here’s our pics from yesterday as I introduced Maya and Seth to multi-pitch rock climbing!


See you in the mountains!

You can also follow NEAlpineStart on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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Patagonia Cragsmith Pack 35L Review

The Patagonia Cragsmith Pack 35L is a thoughtfully designed gear hauler well suited for “cragging”. Cragging simply means rock climbing on smaller cliffs, usually single pitch in nature. Compared to multi-pitch climbing cragging implies less commitment, frequent returns back to the ground, social environments, and well… fun. To that end it can be nice to use a more voluminous backpack than one that you might wish to take up a long multi-pitch route.


Let’s start with the features that are the most noticeable.


The “35L” in the model name stands for 35 liters (volume). Patagonia also lists this as 2,130 cubic inches on their product page. There is no industry standard for determining pack volume, so it can sometimes be difficult to compare volume across brands. To me this pack feels to have a significantly greater amount of volume than listed. It absolutely swallows a 60 meter rope, full traditional rack, clothing, water, first aid, harness, helmet, shoes, and lunch with plenty of room to spare!

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review

Monster capacity for 35 liters!

You can see how much more space is unused by looking at the top of the pack in the above photo. I would easily say this pack is closer to what other companies might list as 40L or even 45L.


Compared to lightweight alpine climbing packs this style of pack is not “streamlined” to wear while climbing like the Ortovox Trad 25. It’s designed to be super convenient moving about from route to route, whether it be clipping bolts at Rumney Rocks or working on your crack skills at the North End of Cathedral Ledge this pack will make life easy.

First, there’s the two loading options, top-loading, and back-panel. Both have merits. The top-loading access is what I use to pack the bag before heading out to the cliff. I love how I can open it up like a giant trash can and just drop a rope & all associated climbing gear inside without having to micro manage my available space. Then, when I get to the base of our objective, I open up the full size back panel and can easily grab the gear I need in the order I need it.

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review

Ready to rack

Harness on, rack up, flake the rope, shoes on… it’s definitely better than dumping everything in the dirt and sorting it there. Finally, when the climbing is over, it’s back to top-load mode so I can rip off my harness (probably with a less than perfectly organized rack hanging off it) and just shove it in back in the back. Forget minute organization when everyone is thinking of post climb beers. This pack certainly helps with being first ready to start the hike back to the car!


There’s quite a bit to mention here. I like the side zippered compartment that easily holds a full size guidebook.

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review

Dedicated guidebook pocket

Roomy top pocket easily fits my lunch, snacks, headlamp, and car keys.

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review

Roomy top pocket with key clip

There’s a rope attachment system on the top of the pack:

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review

External rope attachment

While this is a nice thought I’m unlikely to use it. First, there is plenty of room to store a rope inside this pack with a full double rack. Second, without side compression straps you’ll need to carry some extra bungies or something to really secure the rope. Better to carry the rope inside this pack, there’s plenty of room! If you are carrying a heavier load and need to carry the rope externally you’re going to want to consider the only real criticism I have for the pack:


There’s no easy way around this so I’ll just come out and say it. This pack is not super comfortable. While personal comfort is quite subjective, and the hard climbers of the day can schlep 70lb loads in Black Diamond Haul Bags with virtually no “comfort” features this pack fell short in my book in the comfort category, and here’s why;

Support. There really isn’t any. The back panel access design that worked so well in the Patagonia Snow Drifter lacks any significant support for carrying heavier loads. The real difference here is the Snow Drifter is optimized for back-country ski loads (15-20lbs maybe). A more rigid internal frame is not needed because the carrying loads are so light. This pack however is designed to swallow a lot of heavy climbing gear. A rope and double rack can quickly approach and exceed 30 pounds. The back panel is just too flimsy to be able to transfer any of this weight to the wide padded waist belt. The “load lifters” are attached directly at the end of the shoulder straps, eliminating any chance of actually “lifting” the load when properly used.

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L

Load lifters that can’t lift

And finally, the “Airflow Mesh” used in the back panel and shoulder straps, which I found excellent for winter use with the SnowDrifter pack, felt too insulating and warm for hot sweaty climbing days. I prefer closed cell foam back panels that don’t seem to absorb a gallon of sweat when I am working hard.

That being said this pack was very well designed for cragging! Not multi-pitch rock climbing, not alpine climbing, not hiking or backpacking. When judged on that specific use alone this pack really shows some promise. A quick summary of my pros/cons:


Space galore!

Amazing accessibility!

Features designed for convenience!



Doesn’t carry heavy loads well

A bit “warm” on the back

What I would like to see:

If there is another incarnation of this pack I think it would be a good idea to add some support to that back panel. A removable aluminum stay or two that could direct some of the load to the padded waist-belt would be nice. A light-weight compression strap system would greatly increase the versatility of this pack. While acknowledging this is designed for cragging it would carry better if we could cinch it down a bit when it isn’t fully loaded.


When looked at objectively for the intended use “cragging” this is a fantastic pack despite a couple short comings. If you find yourself schlepping gear from parking lot to cliff in less than a mile on a regular basis this is a contender to make your life easier. Check it out at your local Patagonia store or online here.

Did you like this review? Have you tried this pack? What’s your favorite climbing pack? Let me know in the comments below and you’ll be entered to win a “Tat Cutter Neck Knife” from Colonial Knives. Drawing 8/28/16 Winner notified via email 8/29/16 and announced here.

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review

Patagonia Cragsmith 35L Review

Disclosure: Patagonia provided the author with a sample of this pack for review. This post contains affiliate links which help to fund this website. 

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