The Amazon of Climbing Ropes Sterling’s Nano IX

There’s nothing better than a rope that invokes a legendary race of female warriors when you’re going for it. Karen Bockel on the ultra-classic Corrugation Corner (5.7) Lover's Leap, CA. ©Angela Hawse

There’s nothing better than a rope that invokes a legendary race of female warriors when you’re going for it. Karen Bockel on the ultra-classic Corrugation Corner (5.7) Lover’s Leap, CA. ©Angela Hawse

I just got back from a climbing trip to the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains where I spent most of my days climbing at Lover’s Leap, Lake Tahoe.

The rock climbing at The Leap is characterized by long cracks up vertical, smooth, granite walls, intersected with a plethora of horizontal dikes. Together the cracks and dikes make the coolest climbing features.

Luckily for me I had 2 brand new, 60 m, Sterling Nano IX ropes along for the ride.

Deep purple. Bright orange.

Strong and light. The Nano IX is the best, skinny (9.0mm), lead climbing rope!

On long pitches, the weight of a climbing rope gets more noticeable. The higher you go, the more the rope pulls against you. This weight gets increasingly unwieldy and cumbersome making it harder to pull up and balance.

Pitches at The Leap often exceed 150 feet!

Yet, with the Nano IX, I didn’t spend a single moment worrying about the rope. In fact, I barely felt the rope at all. This super charged the climbing fun factor for me. Not feeling the rope, I balanced and pulled myself up tenuous moves, confidently pushing myself on higher grades.

It also helps that the Nano IX has a tight sheath. Friction between a running rope and gear causes “rope drag.” The Nano IX’s tight sheath allows it to run extra smoothly thru intermediate protection.

Lastly, I find most skinny ropes feel too slippery and don’t handle well for belaying. Not the Nano IX! It’s subtle hand has just the right balance between a tight, smooth sheath and a secure grip.

Thank you Sterling!

Important Tips for Climbing with Skinny Ropes:

Take extra care on sharp edges and/or protruding features. The small rope diameter increases the force concentration at points of contact. Manage this by extending protection with shoulder-length slings and placing gear in places that strategically directs the rope to run where desired.

Also, it’s important to take good care of your rope.

Lightweight ropes are a bit less durable than their thicker counterparts due to a reduction in material. Keep your rope away from mud and dirt. Use a rope bag at the base of climbs. Store ropes in a cool, dry place out of the sun, and avoid placing them near chemicals.

Most of all, though, enjoy the feeling!

There’s nothing better than having a strong, yet barely noticeable rope, when you’re going for it!

Patagonia Vengas: Kitty’s new favorite pants

Kitty in her rolled-up Vengas on Dead Men Tell No Tales, 5.12, Kauai. ©Jay Smith


Why I love my Vengas

My son, who suddenly became a fashion expert upon entering Middle School, remarked that I did not fit in with other moms. He then told me that you have to look good to feel good.  If you feel good you will climb well. I told him that in fact, I set the standards since I am a Patagonia Ambassador.  He laughed and rolled his eyes.


I was just teasing him, knowing full well that I am slow to adopt new clothing trends because I become loyal to a product that performs well, even after it is discontinued.  For example, my favorite pants were the Patagonia Serenity tights because they were supple enough to wear while running, climbing, and doing yoga.  When the knees wore out, I made them into shorts.  When the seam wore out in the butt, I sewed it back.  When they stopped making them in any color except black, I decided I needed to try something else.


Enter the Venga climbing pants.  Now my son no longer pretends that I am someone else’s mom.  These pants are stylish and comfortable enough to wear at the airport as well as the crags.  They are made of lightweight organic cotton/polyester so they feel soft and stretch as well. They have a DWR finish to shed moisture – and they are more durable than my old Serenity tights.


The real test for the Vengas came when I went to Kauai and was encouraged to send in photos while climbing in long pants. I normally climb in shorts in the summer because I thought pants were too hot and constricting when I am sweating already.  But I was surprised to find that I forgot all about the pants when I got on my climbing project and sent it.  Indeed, maybe it was all due to the Vengas.

The new Osprey Mutant 38

Sleek black Osprey Mutant waits patiently for its owner. ©Karen Bockel

In the recent months I’ve observed a few of my friends sporting a new Osprey Mutant backpack out in the hills. I could recognize it from afar: trademark Osprey style with a tight package, slim design, a few attachment options, but no frills and no oversized hip belt. Hmm, I thought, that would be a nice upgrade to my well-loved original Mutant 38L which is starting to show signs of wear after many adventures in the crags and the high alpine the past few years.

So, I called up Sam Mix at Osprey and talked him into sending me the coveted new Mutant (thanks, Sam!). Straight out of the box, I took it to our Chicks Mount Baker clinic, a 4-day alpine backcountry trip with technical and overnight gear, meaning tents, sleeping bags, ropes, and more. I’ll give you an actual list below of everything that I crammed into the backpack.

I had asked for a S/M size, which fits great for a shorter torso, even when using a harness for climbing.  With the smaller size, I never catch the back of my climbing helmet on the backpack lid, which is key whether you’re looking up to scout the route ahead or leading an ice route and looking for the next swing. The smaller size does have a reduced volume, though.

My original S/M Mutant 38 had a pretty voluminous body despite its sleek appearance. The new version’s shape seems a little narrower, which caught me by surprise when it came time to pack my overnight gear for Mount Baker. On a good note, though, there are a few simple attachment points on the outside to carry extra gear.

Most importantly, the new Osprey Mutant has two separate side straps, simplifying the old zigzag system that was a bit cumbersome to use. Now you can simply unclip the buckles, tuck in your tent poles, snow pickets, or butterfly rope coils, reclip the buckle and you’re good to go. The straps can also be used to compress the pack when you’ve dropped your extra gear at the base of the route.

On the outside panel, there are two Toollocks with bungee tie-offs, convenient and easy to use ice axe storage. The lid of the pack is removable for when you’re really trying to go light.

There are a few more noteworthy features such as a helmet carry and an internal hydration sleeve– I don’t typically use them, but both can be very practical.

Overall, this pack stays true to Osprey’s mission of providing well-designed, functional packs. This new Mutant is definitely my new go-to for 1-day alpine missions, cragging, and other medium-sized adventures. And now that I know that the Mutant 38 has a bigger sister, the Mutant 52, I might choose that for my overnight climbing trips 😉

Mount Baker Gear:

Tent Poles (my co-guide Lindsey Hamm carried the body and fly)

Lightweight sleeping pad

Superlight sleeping bag

60 m rope


Snow picket

Crevasse rescue kit and climbing hardware

Ice axe

Lunch and snacks for 4 days

Long underwear, extra socks, hat and gloves

Compressible water bottle

Emergency locator device

Map, Compass and notebook

Sunscreen and phone


Yep, I had all that. Thanks, Osprey!


Zim’s Crack Creme

Just the thing for rock-worn hands

Zim’s Crack Creme is just what the doctor ordered.

Rock climbing takes its toll on your skin, especially your hands and feet. It’s a constant battle between keeping them dry when climbing and hydrated when not. It’s a fine line that is made more complicated by living in the desert. I basically can’t hydrate my skin enough and I’m prone to cracked heels and sensitive cuticles as it is.

Enter Zim’s Crack Creme.

The texture is light, it’s more of a liquid than a cream, which allows your skin to suck it up like a sponge. Every evening I apply it to my torn cuticles and to the cracks on my heels but you can use it on any troubled skin areas.

The combination of aloe vera and arnica ingredients helps to alleviate the pain of damaged skin. The scent is of a spicy clove-like mixture but it isn’t too overpowering.

It’s widely available at most major grocery stores and pharmacies so it’s easy to find and sample.

– Elaina Arenz

Smarter not Harder

Thanks to this little guy, I learned about the new Black Diamond Pilot, which is brake-assisted, with the bonus of having no moving parts. To belay a leader, the hand motion is easy and intuitive, effortless to give slack to the leader, and easy to catch a fall. It’s also lightweight so I can justify bringing it along on longer multi-pitch climbs. ©Dawn Glanc.

Smarter Not Harder

I am a cragger at heart. Yes, it is true. I truly enjoy single-pitch climbing. I love to push myself on trad gear in places like Indian Creek. If I am clipping bolts, I take on the mantra, “if I’m not flying, I’m not trying.” This attitude of trying hard and pushing myself is why I like staying close to the ground.

With trying hard comes hanging on the rope. Yelling take and falling are everyday occurrences. Taking significant falls, bumping, and boinking become part of the day.  Because of all the climber’s shenanigans, the belayer has to work extra hard, often putting in overtime hours.  This is why I recommend that every belayer becomes familiar with and uses a brake-assisted device. In my opinion, a standard ATC is no longer safe enough for a day of serious belaying.

Just this year alone, I know of two accidents where the brake-assisted belay device saved the life of the climber. Belayers are often in vulnerable positions, unable to run from rockfall or other dangers. This assisted brake can make all the difference if the belayer becomes injured or incapacitated. By using the modern brake-assisted devices, you simply stack the odds in your favor.

There are many brake-assisted belay devices on the market these days. Many companies are seeing the safety benefits of brake-assisted belay devices, and coming up with their versions on the theme. Just make sure you know the details of YOUR device.

No matter what equipment you choose, the belayer should be both diligent and familiar with techniques to belay a leader and a top rope climber. Advanced belay skills such as pulling up and boinking will be much easier as well with a lock-assisted device. Belaying is serious business, but with the correct device and the attention to match, we can work smarter not harder, which leaves more energy for sending!

– Dawn Glanc

Dawn is a certified rock and alpine guide. Her hobbies include climbing and long belays at the crag.



The Petzl Sarken: Quiver of One Crampons

Ask any mountain guide about their crampons, and they’ll have a quiver of models, much like they have a quiver of skis. I was no different. Now, that idea is mostly a thing of the past! Today, I rely on one pair of crampons for almost everything that involves slippery surfaces like ice and snow: the Petzl Sarken.

I am climbing in Chamonix this month, so I have been out on quite a few of the classic objectives that surround this epicenter of alpine climbing. The routes have included all the ingredients of good alpine climbing; glacier crossings, rock ridges, ice-choked gullies, and bergschrunds. On my feet: the Petzl Sarken, at home on snow, ice, and even rock.

The Sarken is made of slim but robust steel and comes with 12 sharp points. The 2 front points combine a flat and vertical serrated style, in effect forming a T-shape – good for every demand. They work great for kicking steps into ice thanks to good penetration, and they also march along with solid purchase on snow.

A close look reveals Karen’s Petzl Sarken crampons on the ultra-classic Cosmiques Arete on the Aiguille de Midi, up above Chamonix, France. Photo credit Mary White

Petzl’s Leverlock system is part of what makes them so user friendly: you can switch out both the heel and the toe bindings, making them match up with any style of mountaineering or ski boot. I often use the semi-automatic version, with a welt-compatible heel piece and a strap for the toe. Great for boots like the Scarpa Ribelle or the La Sportiva Trango.

It’s really important that the crampons fit well when you abuse them on rocky sections of your climb. Tweaking the front points onto small rock ledges or cracks will show you in a heartbeat whether your crampons have a tight fit or not… I am always happy having the Sarken on my boot with their solid connection from boot to steel to rock.

In addition to great performance, the weight of the Sarken also fits the bill. At 870 g, they are light enough to go for an easy ride in the backpack when I’m climbing rock walls with glacier approaches.

Yay for the Sarken: a ‘quiverkiller’ of crampons that comes along on all my big alpine adventures. But don’t hear it just from me: The Chicks will be using the Petzl Sarken crampons for our mountaineering program on Mount Baker, Washington at the end of July. We’ll tell you how it goes!


An Ode to Ultralight Cams: Best Diet Ever

Dear Black Diamond,


When I was a teenager growing up in Ohio, I thought I was fat. I wasn’t, but thanks to social pressures and teen angst, I tsure thought so. I tried every fad diet that I found to lose weight. I used every ounce of willpower I had for dieting before the age of 18.


Now in my adult life, I can accept who I am.  Fad diets are no longer of interest to me. However, I still like to lose weight where I can. Thanks to the new Black Diamond Ultralight Cams, I have been able to shed ounces and pounds off of my climbing rack. Today I am lighter but necessarily faster.


The New Black Diamond Ultralight Camalots have been a game changer for me. I used to be weighed down by my old rack of Camalots. I had the power to carry the extra weight, but I wanted to save my guns for the climbing moves themselves. I would use this big bulky rack as one of my excuses for not sending.


The new BD Ultralights helped me shed pounds quickly and efficiently, with no additional exercise or restrictive dieting. Now I carry a double rack of Ultralights, and it feels like an old single set. Projects are going down like never before.  Thanks, Black Diamond, for making the best gear out there!



Dawn Glanc

Lindsay R placing a .75 BD ultralight cam at Indian Creek
@K. Calhoun

Wheels and Wings, My Favorite Things!

Karen Bockel, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, packs her rope-axe-picket-boots-rock shoes—everything any woman could possibly need! ©Karen Bockel

Karen Bockel, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, packs her rope-axe-picket-boots-rock shoes—everything any woman could possibly need! ©Karen Bockel


The Osprey Shuttle 130L is my favorite travel companion for overseas trips.

The Osprey Shuttle is the perfect wheeled luggage for mountain climbers and backcountry skiers.


A couple weeks ago, I was returning from a sailing and skiing trip to Iceland.

Lindsey and I were at the Reykjavik airport frantically packing several pairs of skis, skins, ropes, crampons and ice axes.

Three pairs of skis went into my ski bag.

All the group gear and my personal gear went into the Shuttle.

Without complaint, the Shuttle’s straight-jacket like compression straps contained the monstrous pile.

I picked up the ski bag, grabbed the Shuttle by the handle and wheeled it up to the counter, smiling like it and the ski bag were light… the result: no weighing of the bags and no charges!

Seriously, the Shuttle is the duffel of choice for me when I travel to faraway places.

It is quite lightweight in spite of the wheels (9.13 lbs), allowing me to max out the large volume with climbing and skiing gear.

There are a few different compartments, allowing discrete storage of important items: my passport and wallet fit neatly in the small zippered pocket at the top, the computer goes into the inside sleeve in the main compartment, and my washbag is at the ready in another zippered outside pocket.

The handle extends just a few inches beyond the duffel edges, but can be compressed and stowed away.

The wheels are of the 4-wheel drive variety, making gravel paths (and even stairs!) passable.

The duffel is well-constructed and true to Osprey’s legacy: padded sidewalls and external bumpers keep my gear safe inside bombproof ballistic nylon.

When I travel for skiing, I can strap my ski bag on top of the Shuttle and drag the whole enchilada behind me, leaving a hand free to carry other important things, like a cup of coffee.

So, whether you’re trying to sneak through the oversized gear check or simply transporting your gear to another continent, the Shuttle is highly recommended!

Voluntary Simplicity and the Art of Packing

From the ocean to the mountains in one pair of pants! Kitty Calhoun working a new route in Kauai, Hawaii.

From the ocean to the mountains in one pair of pants! Kitty Calhoun working a new route in Kauai, Hawaii.

“No. No, you don’t need that either.” I said to my son, Grady, as he packed for a multi-day, rock climbing trip.

“You mean you only take one pair of pants, one T-shirt, one long sleeve, a sweater and a rain jacket?” he asked.

“Yep, and a toothbrush.” I said. “Just make sure your clothes are synthetic so they dry faster. Don’t bring more than you need. Your focus should be on your experience, not your excess baggage.”

I learned the tenets of voluntary simplicity from my dad. Now I’m passing them on to my boy.

I look for multi-functionality in most of my clothing. I keep things basic.

The first time I wore my RPS pants, I was on my way to Kauai, Hawaii with Grady and Jay, my husband. It was snowing in SLC when I boarded the plane.

On Kauai, we found some rock and began working a new route. Ordinarily it would’ve been too hot to climb in long pants but I needed protection from the sharp limestone for a crucial knee bar. I wore my RPS pants as I climbed out over the ocean.

The fabric on the RPS pants is light and has a modest stretch, which allowed me to focus on the task at hand.

A couple of weeks ago, true to my dad, I packed ONLY my RPS pants, my Capilene Daily T, my Capilene long-sleeve, my Micro-puff, and my Alpine Houdini jacket to teach a climbing clinic in Bishop, California.

As I drove through the desert, a friend called and asked if I would like to go skiing the next morning.

“That would be fun, but I don’t have any ski gear or clothes,” I said. My mind raced through everything I would need and I quipped, “I mean you have to look good to play good. At least that’s the advice on Friday Night Lights.”

There was silence on the other end of the line.

The next morning, my friend announced that the temps would be in the single digits as he handed me his worn-out ski clothes.

“Thanks, but all I need is your long johns. I’ve got pants.” I held up my RPS pants.

I got boots, skis and a free lift ticket and we were off.

I was looking good and skiing pretty good too. I suggested we ski in the trees so that my friend could get photos of me ripping it up.

He obliged and positioned himself just behind a small sapling.

The problem was that I had to make a tight turn between him and the tree. Despite appearances, I didn’t have the skills. I plowed straight into him with full speed. His iphone, gloves and poles went flying. After picking up our “yard sale,” I brushed the snow off my RPS pants—no harm done except a bruised ego.

I probably won’t tell Grady about the crash;

But, I won’t miss the opportunity to tell him he doesn’t need me to buy him the ski pants he’s been coveting because his RPS rock pants will work just fine.

Everything I needed for my trip to Bishop.

Belay Gloves: From Fashion Faux Pas to Fashion Forward

Belay Gloves

“Save yourself from a lifetime of climbing goo exposure by wearing belay gloves.“ 
Dawn Glanc, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, avid glove-wearer, member of the fashion police.

Be smart, be hip, be cool! Protect your hands by wearing belay gloves

I started climbing in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1996. Back then, “the Hills” were not particularly known as fashion forward. However, we had our standards. For example, if you wore belay gloves, you got the suspicious side-eye.

Work gloves signalled, “rookie.” They meant that the person could not belay. And, this fashion faux pas was considered common knowledge.

Perhaps it was the movie Cliffhanger that made leather, half-finger gloves cool for climbing and rope work.

I’m not sure how it happened. But somewhere, somehow, something changed and a few companies like Black Diamond began making leather gloves with a keeper-loop. This loop, a small hole in the Velcro cuff, allowed climbers to store the gloves on their harness by clipping them on with a carabiner.

This caribiner keeper-loop was a game-changer for the reputation of gloves.

Today, gloves are the sign of a competent and knowledgeable belayer.

I wear gloves when I belay (both indoors and outdoors) because I find that when my hands are protected, I can control the rope more smoothly. I also wear gloves every time I rappel and coil the ropes.

I’m a big fan of Black Diamond’s Transition Gloves, preferring the full finger version to the half-finger one.

  • Full finger gloves protect my hands as well as my fingers.
  • Full finger gloves add warmth on cold days, which further improves the performance of my belay.
  • And, I especially prefer full finger gloves when I’m using a gri gri.


I fit my belay gloves to be worn over tape gloves. If you never wear tape gloves you can fit them a bit smaller.

However, tape gloves are standard issue for crack climbing, especially desert crack climbing.

Sandstone is as abrasive as sandpaper. To get purchase you need to jam the backs of your hands against the rock. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, but it sounds fun, check out one of our Indian Creek clinics.

In the desert, ropes get particularly trashed. There’s coarse dirt, cactus spikes and other prickly things that want stick to it. This is especially true when pulling and coiling the rope.

Wearing gloves protects my hands from the environment and the climbing goo.

If I don’t wear gloves, my hands turn black with a mix of pulverized sand and ground aluminium. I call this black substance climbing goo. When I wear gloves this goo ends up in my gloves instead of my skin.

Over a lifetime of climbing, nasty goo embedded into our hands cannot be good for anyone’s health!

So, be smart, be hip, be cool, and goo-free. Protect your hands by wearing belay gloves!