April 21st, 2013
My new bike finally arrived!
A Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 2 29er. Stock build with tubeless conversion: 25 lbs. Excellent review, nice photos, and full specs here.
After a half dozen rides I can say without reservation that I love this bike. I have a few very small issues, but none of them are with the ride or performance. The bike is very responsive, feeling every bit as nimble as my old Giant Anthem, while delivering all of the performance advantages of a 29er; amazing climbing traction, smooth obstacle-clearance, and surprising speed.
The few issues I have are with the cable-routing up front (it’s a mess of crossed cables and unavoidable frame-rub) and the unreliable tubeless wheel equipment: Stan’s Arch X rims with Schwalbe EVO TLR Racing Ralphs.
I can’t wait to ride and race this remarkable machine more this season!
January 10th, 2013
Tags: ice climbing
July 12th, 2012
Since I had my wisdom teeth out this week and can’t do anything, I figured it was the perfect time to finally write-up a report of the fantastic event put on by Chio Racing two weeks ago.
The race was Ontario’s annual quintessential Mountain Biking festival and was held as usual at Toronto Conservation’s Albion Hills Conservation Area, near Bolton, ON. This year there was a little something extra in the air though since Chico was celebrating the 15th consecutive year for the event. With thousands of racers, hundreds of teams, and some of North America’s biggest brands supporting, the whole weekend is deffinetly one I haven’t missed in 8 years.
If you’ve never heard of 24 hour racing, it is essentially a long-endurance mountain bike race. A course is set up that is anywhere from 15 to 20 km long with a timing tent and ‘transition area’ somewhere along the way. Depending on the type of event and the team you’re a part of, your race takes the form of a relay race or a solo deathmarch. For 24 hours (usually noon to noon) you and your teammates (if any) continuously move a magnetic timing chip around the course and get a lap counted each time you come through the transition area. At the end of 24 hours, whatever team or individual has the most laps in the least amount of time wins.
Having raced (and won) the event in teams of 5 and having given solo racing a solid try last year, this year was something new again: I teamed up with veteran Elite and Master’s powerhouse Mike Dennis for a Men’s Tag Team. Going in I knew this would be hard: Mike has won many 24 hour solo races and as the current leader in the Ontario Marathon Series, is widely regarded as an indomitable monster of an enduro athlete. I don’t sell myself short though and knew we were both there to win and capable of pulling it off.
Typical of Albion Hills, the course was flowy and fun. The wide variety of biomes gives the promoters lots to work with in terms of trail types (grassy double track, twisty pine plantation, punchy hardwood, etc.). Also typical of Albion courses was the relative ease of the course. Naturally this is rider-specific, but after racing the course at Palmer Park last year at the USA 24 Hour Solo National Championships, few Ontario courses compare!
This year’s course was 17.5 km long. Individual and average lap times range very widely among riders, but to give you an idea, the fastest lap was done in 0:42:12 by one of the big team riders (Two Wheel Express). The fastest soloist lap was done in 0:52:45 by that category’s winner Robert Pilato. I had the fastest Tag-team lap time at 0:46:23, and I would ballpark the average laptime for the whole event at 1:12:00 or so.
We lucked out on weather too. No rain, only a bit too hot the first few hours in (which I personally thrive in and love watching others fall apart on account of), cool over night, and a pleasant overcast glow to finish and drink beer under.
With Mike and mine’s experience solo riding in hand, we were well prepared on all accounts. Tag-team riding is a lot like solo riding actually because since one of you is always out on a lap, you wind up doing pretty much everything alone anyway. While Mike prefers a 100% unsupported effort, I did and do enjoy the loving care of my partner Lara. Her comfort and food prep through the night is always what gets me through the witching hours.
We decided on a pyramid scheme for our laps that would maximize riding speed and recovery time. This amounted to a series of 1 to 1 laps during light hours with doubles through the dark to allow more rest. While triples were down on paper for sleep if needed, we never did more than doubles since neither of us wanted much sleep when it came down to it. We both know about the energy surge you get with the rising sun, so we just wanted to focus on staying charged through the night, knowing that the sun would pipe us home in strong form. On the food front, we’d both worked out long ago what we want and need in an event like this. I’ve written a bit about this before.
Having not started a 24 hour in some years, I volluntold Mike he could have the start lap. After the obligatory five-minutes of cheering that is watching the start wave pass, I retired to our tent to discover the timing chip on our food table! In all our race-plate affixing excitement we’d forgot the timing chip! This is disastrous since if Mike arrived at the end of the lap without the chip, the lap wouldn’t count. Immediately I was off bushwhacking through the course to a place where I could pass Mike the chip on-lap. Luckily the fist lap has an added 3 km of double-track to help space out the 1500 starting riders before the first stretch of singletrack, so I was able to get into position just before the leader came through; with Mike a mere 15 riders behind. After a smooth hand-off and some words about “you only get one”, we could concentrate on winning.
Right from that first lap we put a lead on second place. I think it was 6 minutes. The neat thing about enduro racing is that rarely see your opponents. Even though we would end up battling this other team for 24 straight hours, we only saw them on the podium – but I’m getting ahead on myself. When Mike came round and gave the chip, I was off. While I was shooting for a 0:50:00 lap, the course was pretty clear of traffic and my desire to put a physiological hurt on 2nd place drop me to dig on every climb. The result was my 0:46:23 time of which I’m probably a little too proud. Mike and I continued to pass off well for several hours with the only hiccough being Mike rebuilding his XTR rear derailleur after his first lap (during my fast lap… boy what a mechanic!) which was caused some sort of jam in the main pivot.
By the time night fell we had 20 minutes on second and had found our pace. Laps between 0:53 and 0:58 were going down well and our camp was chugging along with no issues. An unplanned but very helpful addition was Lara creating a formulaic Excel spreadsheet (she’s an accountant and knows her Excel functions) which allowed us to track laps and times on Mike’s laptop. I will try to get a template of this available for download for anyone interested.
Night is when our hammer dropped. Mike and I are both accomplished night riders and didn’t really need to slow down with the loss of light. Between my lights from a former sponsor (Ay-Up Lighting Systems) and Mike’s Seca 1700, we were bright and fast. The great thing about nighttime is that the few folks out there at night are typically pretty slagged by the 12 hour mark and will just move over for you to pass with no delay. Owing to our skills, lights, and luck, we put over an hour into second place before the sun showed itself around 5am.
As expected, the sun brought energy and drive back into the race. With the total individual laps to complete dwindling, Mike and I had only to stay the course. While it looked like second place might have been making an attack around 8am, we realized that they were just putting a coffin-nail in third place and we needn’t worry too much. After some sleep-deprived calculations, we realized that our lead was big enough to stop early if we wanted, so we did. When I finished my 12th lap at 11:30am, we cracked beers in celebration of a hard-earned win.
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A Big thanks to our shop for all their support!
Tags: 24, 24hr race, AyUp, bike racing, bikes, chico, event report, GoPro, Speed River
April 16th, 2012
As scientific as this article is on the surface, and while I don’t doubt that all the testing they claim did in fact transpire, I still find it incredibly petty that BD is blaming the scandalous shortcomings of their stainless Sabretooth on flex in modern climbing boots.
The idea that a SS crampon (which was initially marketed as being MORE durable to offset the price and weight increases) is in fact weaker when the real issue, IMHO, is poor design; its just petty. The estimated lifespans in the article are almost insulting; I’m glad Dane already lambasted them for it over on CT. Moreover, who is using this glacier crampon for comp-level mixed? Sounds like using a screwdriver as a chisel.
Anyway, while I don’t really care if they admit to a bungle, I’d like to see BD go back to the drawing board with their SS equipment and stop doing shit like this.
Tags: climbing, equipment
January 12th, 2012
Looking up at the thick bulk of the fat ice pillar, excitement courses through me. This is why we’re here. This is why we’ve hiked, bushwhacked, and rappelled. The whole reason for the day away from normal life and the adventure of being outdoors in the cold with a mate. This 3m cylinder of ice that will provide four moves of excitement. “Oh well, at least the drive was only 45 minutes.”
Serious Routes ... Not In Ontario!
This is a familiar thought. Living in Southwestern Ontario, it’s tough to say that we’re lost in a sea of climbable ice routes. There are decent craggs, such that they are, and even a few undiscovered gems that skirt the line of ‘appropriate access’, but let’s be honest, the reality and intricacy of alpine grades are pretty lost on us. Reading magazines, watching videos, that precursory roman numeral that signifies some mysterious combination of commitment and objective danger (the most of which we get here is the conservation authority) is rendered meaningless enough that in Ontario, you can climb ice for years and never need to learn what it means.
From Pont Rouge to Thunder Bay, from Madawaska to Keene Valley, we use the pure ice scales, WI and NEI, exclusively out of necessity. Well I am here today to announce a new grade scale; one I feel is far over due. If you’ve climbed in the “North East” (or in the “Southwest”, depending on the province/ state you’re in) you know all about dirty top outs. You know about scrambling on all fours, about beating back undergrowth, and about hooking trees to gain good footing. You know about ‘climbing’ much higher that the ice you can see and feel by sinking your tools into low-angled snow-covered god-knows-what in order to get to the ‘top’ of a route. It is in honour and in mockery of this bold tradition that I present “The Ontario Brown Grade Scale of Climbs”.
A Classic Southwestern Ontario Topout
This scale is meant to compliment existing grades by indicating how heinous the topout is. The more discomfort, probability of ruining clothing, and general cussing there will be, the higher the grade. While technically the entire concept is based around hyperbole and therefore should defy a reasonably sequential framework, the following graduation has been provided to which climbers can individually assign whatever number, letter, or symbol they fancy.
||Up to a body-length of low-angle scrambling over non-iced surfaces required to topout. Being relatively brush free, there still must be some concern about tools/ crampons and a general feeling of degradation.
||Steeper, longer, or more undergrowth-ridden low-angle scramble to topout. Essentially a Class 1 with a greater chance of effing up tools/crampons or tearing/ muddying clothes.
||Steep to the point that one must continue to actually climb above ice/rock to topout. Surfaces being hooked are a sketchy combination of mud, grass, and moss. Underbrush is heinous and causes cussing. Climber is sure points are being ruined. May include hooking/ bodywallowing tees and rocks.
||Fall danger requires that climber damage points by swinging hard into Class 3 surfaces to get to topout. Tree or rock bodywallowing required to progress. Sense that one is actually Gollum’s little brother is present.
||Total clowncollege. Treeclimbing, crawling, and cussing required. Climber vows to move to actual mountains ASAP.
N.B. Unlike a mixed rating, the Ontario Brown scale is designed to describe the difficulty of reaching a safe stance once the actual climb is over, it does not describe the climb itself; unless you’re in an area so
poor rad that treeclimbing is part of ‘progressive’ ice climbing.
Comments? Suggestions? Grades are a constant work in progress, what do you think? Be sure to include your breadth of regional experience.
Tags: grade, ice climbing, ontario
January 8th, 2012
With the warmest Winter in Southern Ontario that I’ve ever known well underway, Morgan and I were really hungry for some proper Winter climbing. Online videos from all over the world come through the internet and feed our hunger for a decent day out. As many times before, a list of backcountry crags in Central Ontario is produced and whittled at, speculation piling optimism over heresay and rumor. We finally settle on Kluke Lookout/ Bear Mountain as the objective of a mid-week day-long epic.
A site-report on the ACC website was consulted (here), but it had the ring of a place people visit infrequently or are trying to keep quiet on purpose. On the other hand, a well-done Google Map is also available. Either way we’re up at 4:30am for the 5 hour drive to Madawaska: “Alpinestarten“. The drive was uneventful and full of our usual banter. We dissect gear, outdoor brands, climbing technique/ style. I take Morgan through my lastest webdev project and he tells me exactly what we should be doing instead of cragging in Ontario. Together we go over the details of the gear/bike/coffee shop we dream about but know we’ll never start for the 100th time.
By 10am we arrived in Madawaska and find the trail described on the Alpine Club website. From there though, their approach beta was rubbish. For the record, there is no path leading off the snowmobile track at 700m. There IS a yellow blaze before a steep uphill, but nothing but Central Ontario boreal forest all around. We followed half-snow-covered footsteps in the right direction(“off right”, which was roughly South), but the bushwhacking might as well have been blind.
My suggestion for getting to the lake is to follow the snowmobile track from the road to the yellow blaze and then strike out on a bearing 10 degrees West of dead South. If you encounter steep terrain to the left, stay below it – it becomes Bear Mtn – if you encounter a creek, stay East of it. The creek drains into Bear Lake.
Our etherial guide wandered back a forth, adding probably 5m to every 1m of bearing distance. 30 minutes plowing through underbrush did eventually bring us to Bear Lake however, out of which Bear Mountain/ Kluke Lookout rose steeply to the North-East.
Bear Mountain rises in the Northeast
For Ontario it was actually pretty impressive: 70 vertical metres of featured Canadian Shield granite. Crack systems, 10m slabs, and promontories indicated that this would be a righteous trad destination in Summertime. We scoped several routes with single sweep. A juniper-strewn hardwood glade on top promised pleasant camping and the water of the lake would no doubt be quite inviting after the blackfly season. Hiking out over the bean-shaped frozen Lake, we circled the massif looking for ice. Drips and chandeliers hung everywhere and it looked like in a thicker year it would actually be a lot of ice. The ACC page identified 4 routes from WI3 to WI4, 2 of which I’m pretty sure we identified correctly. None were fully developed, but with my mini thermometer reading -8 C, what we found was plastic and beckoning.
From the midpoint of the lake, we dove into the woods towards the East end of the face, winding up at the base of what I’m pretty sure is ‘Quercus, WI4 25m’ in fatter conditions. The pencil we found was tenuous, and despite our attempts to setup a redpoint, ultimately proved unprotectable for leading. We traversed the base of the Eastern face looking for contiguous ice, making do with two 40m ‘routes’ that were more like alpine scrambles with short ice and mixed sections.
The final scramble of Morgan's lead.
Morgan led the first in bold style, with a particularly hairy Scottish-styled mixed crux protected by only a nut placed 1.5m above a ledge. Predictably my ginger companion didn’t blink. A class 4 Ontario brown wallow followed (complete with sapling-hook) in order to gain the final scramble. After following him up, we looked around for a good place to rap. Locating a well-placed tree, we tied some cordelette with a ring and came down directly over Quercus. Travelling a bit right, we found another outcropping of steep ice for my lead. But first it was time for lunch.
After eating I racked up for a the lead. I’d been having problems with headgame since a slip over a year ago so I was apprehensive. I hadn’t completed a lead I’d started in 13 months. I desperately wanted something to show for the day, however, and so promised myself that I wouldn’t back down. Getting a successful lead felt like all the kick in the pants I would need to get my game back; such that it is. Even though the flow was probably only 2m, I panicked as soon as my feet past my first screw. Freaking, I backtracked to the safety of the quickdraw and breathed slowly. Trying to get my head around of the sillines of my fear, Morgan told me (more sensitively than it comes off) to sack-up and climb the damn thing. So I did. Three moves and I was up over the bulge. Even though I’d taken the shallower line to the right, I instantly felt better. All of a sudden, the insecurities of leading fell away and I knew that I still knew how to play this game. Eagerly wanting more, I called down that I was going to proceed up the sloping step to the next section of rock and ice. Slinging a tree along the way, I arrived at a rock outcropping with a smear of ice on a small slab up left, a boulder lying right, and a high angle dirt chimney up the middle. Spying a chockstone at chest height, I slung it and started up. After some stemming moves I got a nut in the boulder to the right and started stacking tools in the chimney, slotting my picks into crevices and swinging hard into frozen moss and soil. When I could reach the ice, I sunk a stubby in the bulge and clipped it with a screamer for good measure before moving my left side out onto the ice. Three hopeful moves later, I was up and wallowing in juniper to reach a tree for belaying.
Happy with my first lead in a year.
Morgan tops out.
The sun came out as Morgan finished cleaning the route. We returned to the tat we’d left on the tree above Quercus and decided that a redpoint attempt with gear placed on rappel would be a good way for Morgan to scare the shit out of himself. From below, there had been several constrictions for nuts (we hoped) and the ice was thick enough in several places for a screw. Morgan being the climber, he rapped first with all the pro we had between us. 10 minutes later: “It won’t go, man” floated back up. The crack we thought would take a #7 to protect the lower pillar wasn’t deep enough. Bummer. I had been excited to see Morgan put out a WI5 redpoint. As a consolation, we both had energy left for some TR laps. Cleaning the unclipped gear on the way down, I saw that indeed the climb would have been a sketchfest. TRing the pilar proved hilarious fun though as we screamed with pump and tried things on ice and rock that we’d never do on lead.
After about an hour of clowncollege, we pulled the rope and packed up for the hike out while the sun set gracefully across the lake. Taking a compass bearing from it’s frozen surface, we determined the most direct path. By happenstance, we met the snowmobile track as it met the road; putting us at back at the car about 45 minutes after we left the lake.
The final scramble of Morgan’s lead.
Happy with my first lead in a year.
Morgan tops out.
Bear Mountain rises in the Northeast
Tags: adventure, ice climbing, ontario, trip