Black Diamond Fuel vs Cobra Ice Climbing Tools

Black Diamond Fuel Ice Tool

Black Diamond Fuel Ice Tool

I love my Black Diamond Fuel Ice Tools.

This reflects a change of heart.

Recently, I dumped my Cobra tools and took up with a pair of Fuels.

For years the Cobra and I were in a solid and trusting relationship. They were my favorite ice climbing and technical alpine climbing tools.

I loved the Cobra for its intuitive swing—similar to a tennis serve or throwing a ball. With the Cobra much power and momentum comes with little effort. I also appreciated the Cobra for its exaggerated arc and clearance when climbing over bulges.

However, one day while climbing with my Cobras, I got extremely pumped on a strenuous lead. I lost all the strength to raise my elbow and drop my tool back. I could not execute a “proper” swing.  Instead, I found myself moving with an abbreviated and more downward motion. After this, I started looking for another tool.

What I found is that the proper swing of a Fuel is more abbreviated and downward.

The Fuel’s swing fits perfectly with the only kind of swing I have left when I’m totally gassed.

Since then, the Fuels and I have been tight.

But there is another reason why the Fuel has become my favorite ice climbing tool.

When I climbed with my Cobras, I was afraid to use the upper grip. I found the Cobra easily popped out of the ice if I exerted the least bit of outward pull.

Since, I was scared that my tools would pop, I climbed with an outdated technique. I glued my hands to my ice tools. Meanwhile, the newer, or more evolved ice climbing technique is to freely move ones hands, both between tools and up and down the shaft, as the terrain and climbing moves dictate.

The shape of the Fuel’s upper grip and shaft, on the other hand, are more forgiving of an accidental outward pull.

This means the Fuel has the potential to transform my ice climbing. Using the upper grip on an ice tool is extremely useful for maximizing reach. Also, the upper grip is useful for getting into an extended repertoire of body positions.

Thank You, Black Diamond Fuel, for giving me the confidence to continue to learn and grow my climbing.

A Love letter to my Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew

Kitty Calhoun shows of her new retro-stripe Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew

Function AND fashion. Kitty dressed for skiing in Patagonia’s retro stripe Midweight Capilene Crew. ©Kitty Calhoun Collection

Dear Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew,

Who Says You Can’t Improve on Mother Nature?

I live in my baselayers, which means I live in you!

It doesn’t matter if I’m ice climbing, skiing or need a long-sleeve shirt for cool-weather-rock-climbing. Patagonia Midweight Crew, I wear you to the grocery store, to yoga and just lounging around the house.

I know that many people prefer Merino wool because it’s soft, warm-even-when-wet and naturally controls odor. I like Merino too, but I love Capilene and you, Patagonia Capiline Midweight Crew, are my number one choice.

Some people ask me why I choose Capilene over Merino when wool is all-natural and has an exceptional feel.

Capilene Midweight Crew, I choose you because you EXCEL!

You are the best at wicking moisture away from my body.

You dry the fastest.

You breathe the most efficiently.

(This is why Patagonia blends their Merino wool line with Capilene—to increase durability, wicking and drying time.)

Capilene Midweight Crew, I choose you and I love you even more for your special “techy” features.

Your odor control is permanent—stopping the growth of smelly bacteria dead in its tracks.

Your smooth face makes layering comfortable–you don’t bind and bunch.

On the inside, your brushed-back-grid helps wick moisture away from my body even better. It also increases your warmth without adding weight.

And, to top it off, Patagoinia Capilene Midweight Crew, I’m crazy about your new Retro-Stripe color option.

Thank you Capilene Midweight Crew for keeping me comfortable, warm, dry and also very fashionable!

A Love Letter to My Scarpa Phantom Techs

So sexy! Scarpa's Phantom Tech Ice Climbing Boot

So sexy! Scarpa’s Phantom Tech Ice Climbing Boot

Dear Scarpa Phantom Techs,

It’s that time of year again when I have more time for you and we can pick up where we left off last season on some of our favorite frozen waterfalls. Although I have terribly cold toes 365 days a year (poor circulation), you manage to keep me warm out on the ice where suffering used to be the norm.

What I love most about you is your svelt, tech look and feel. Not only do I look good with you on my feet, I climb better than ever. It’s remarkable what your lightweight nature has done to make all that fancy footwork a breeze.

Your integrated gator is super sexy and super functional and as we all know, the old days of gators have come to an end in the world of fashion and function.

I also appreciate how comfy you are on the approach and descent. Just loosening you up a bit makes a world of difference when we’re walking. Yet, even with gloves on, you’re quick and easy to tighten at the base of a cold climb. And you keep my heel locked in place exactly where I need it.

I promise to bring you in out of the cold, warm you up when we’re done, and take good care of you again this season, just like you do for me. 

 Thank you,


Stealth RECCO — Grivel Helmet Review

Grivel's Stealth RECCO in Yellow. It also comes in Titanium, Carbon and White.©Grivel stock photo

Grivel’s Stealth RECCO in Yellow. It also comes in Titanium, Carbon and White.©Grivel stock photo

As Chicks approaches its 20th anniversary, we stand on the shoulders of a giant, a company that has been in the business of making the tools we use to climb for centuries.

 This year Grivel celebrates their 200th anniversary.

 And Grivel just launched the first-ever helmet with a RECCO reflector.

 RECCO reflectors bounce back signals to RECCO detectors. A rescuer with a RECCO detector can follow the signal back to the reflector; in this case the helmet and the climber wearing the helmet.

 The RECCO reflector only adds 3 grams to the already uber-light Stealth and Stealth HS. These unique looking helmets are barely noticeable to the wearer but pack great protection.

 Historically, ice climbers haven’t worn transceivers or carried avalanche rescue equipment.  Although a RECCO does not replace a transceiver, it adds a considerable safety margin for search and rescue.  Ski areas, helicopters and mountain rescue teams are typically equipped with the RECCO system.

 If you backcountry ice climb and/or alpine climb, this new piece of equipment from Grivel could help stack the odds in your favor. It’s a small additional investment for your safety kit.

 Chicks could not be more proud to partner with such a longstanding and innovative company. 

 Our partners at Liberty Mountain are the sole distributors of Grivel in the U.S. Liberty Mountains lists the suggested retail price of the Stealth RECCO as a mere $119. Well worth the investment for this new tech brain bucket.

Petzl’s Passion 

Petzl's Ergonomic, Nomic and Quark ice climbing tools. ©Petzl stock photo

Petzl’s Ergonomic, Nomic and Quark ice climbing tools. ©Petzl stock photo

Since the early 1900’s Petzl’s passion for exploration has led to many innovations transcending from the caving world up into the rock, ice, and ski mountaineering world.

Petzl’s mission is to “continue to invent products and provide solutions that allow sports enthusiasts and professionals to access some of the most inaccessible places, both day and night.”

This summer, Petzl introduced a new tool called the Ergonomic. They also brought out redesigns of the Nomic and the Quark. Exerts from their press release follow:


The Ergonomic functions as well on steep ice as it does on overhanging dry tool and mixed routes. The Ergonomic comes with a redesigned DRY pick, which has more aggressive teeth that taper from 4mm at the top to 3.2mm at the tip. A new over-molded, glass-filled, nylon handle makes the upper grip more durable. The unique lower grip is larger in diameter and it has flat sides. This design creates a higher volume contact area, which gives a more secure grip.


The Nomic has long been the preferred tool for ice climbers. Now, this classic has been redesigned to be more durable and lighter. The Nomic comes with an enhanced PUR’ICE pick, glass-filled nylon, over molded, upper grip and lighter lower grip – shedding 20 grams from its predecessor.  It also has an all-new, wider griprest. This griprest is also over molded with rubber and has a stainless-steel pick at the base.


The Quark is Petzl’s most versatile ice tool—good for ice climbing and technical mountaineering. The lower handle is over molded with high friction rubber, and it’s designed to be flatter on both sides and front for better indexing and grip. At the base of the tool are a single stainless steel pick and a brand new, foldable grip rest.

Birthday Backpack Osprey Sirrius 50

Happy Birthday Backpack! Osprey Sirrius 50 in ruska purple. © Roxanne DiSanto

Happy Birthday Backpack, Osprey Sirrius 50 in ruska purple. © Roxanne DiSanto

For my birthday this year my husband gave me an Osprey Women’s Sirrus 50 backpack. This was to replace a beloved pack he had given me 20 years prior.

Initially I was reluctant. I was dubious about the Sirrus 50, especially when trying to determine my size. I’m 5’2” with a short torso. I loved my previous pack because it fit my small frame so well.

After a lengthy time comparing the Women’s Sirrus small & extra small, I finally settled on the XS.

Hands down, the Sirrus is the best fitting pack I’ve ever owned. Not only does it fit my torso perfectly, the internal frame is integrated into the hip suspension, which cups & contours my hips & arcs at my back. These innovative designs are my favorite features. The hip contour helps to distribute & stabilize the load. The arc allows air to flow between my back and the pack, keeping me cooler overall when carrying a load. I also like the pocket upfront. This pocket is specifically designed for a helmet and allows more room for gear in the main compartment.

After a 20-year relationship with my old pack, now my new love is Osprey’s Sirrus 50.

Hollablock Girl  A Shout Out to Sterling’s Hollow Block

Elaina Arenz, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, rappelling with an auto-block tied with a Sterling Hollow Block. ©Elaina Arenz 

Elaina Arenz, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, rappelling with an auto-block tied with a Sterling Hollow Block. ©Elaina Arenz

Dear Hollow Block, or as I prefer to call you, my “Hollablock.

Gwen Stefani made your name synonymous in my mind with being ultra-useful—you’re the one piece of gear I never take off my harness—and all my friction hitches are going to happen like that! Safe and secure.

Your braided aramid fibers are the perfect heat resistant material to make my friction hitch of choice.

For example, when I rappel, the auto-block is my friction hitch go-to. I quickly wrap you around my climbing rope 3 times. Then I clip both of your ends into a small locking carabiner attached to my belay loop. Et Voila, I’m ready to rappel with no fuss and no muss of having to dress you tidy.

You dress yourself, which is why I love you so. I never have to make sure your wraps are nice and smooth. You always lay flat and grip the rope with the perfect amount of friction.

Hollow Block, you save me time and time counts when the sun is setting on the horizon and the shadows of night are chasing me down the wall.

The folks at Sterling thought of everything when they designed you: high melting point; hollow braided construction that allows you to grip the rope like a Chinese finger trap; two lengths: 13.5” and 19”; Oh!, and how strong you are! At 14kn I can use you as a sling and feel totally secure knowing you have my back.

Hollow Block, with you on my harness, “I’m ready to attack, gonna lead the pack.”

Yours truly,

Elaina aka Hollablock Girl

New, Easy, Lightweight, Assisted Belay Device!  Black Diamond’s ATC Pilot

The BD Pilot in action ©Kitty Calhoun

The BD Pilot in action ©Kitty Calhoun

New, easy, lightweight, assisted belay device!

Wait! What?

Sounds like an oxymoron, right?

Assisted braking brings to mind devices like the Grigri, Click-up, and Mega-jul. While all these are really great options (Don’t get me wrong, I use a Grigri all the time!), they’re either on the heavy side or can be difficult to use.

Now, Black Diamond is on the scene with a really cool, light and simple device.

The ATC Pilot is aimed at single-pitch gym or crag climbing. It’s an easy to use, lightweight (86g) assisted belay device.

Belaying is tiring particularly when the climber is working a route or projecting. A projecting climber often takes repeated falls and spends lots of time hanging on the rope.

With standard belay devices, the belayer has to grip the brake strand tightly to hold the climber.

With the Pilot the brake strand still needs to be controlled, but the device pinches the rope against the locking carabiner. This pinching action makes both holding the rope and catching falls more secure.

Better yet, use of the Pilot is quite intuitive.

The rope pays out smoothly when belaying. This is a bonus for your projecting partner! Just hook your brake thumb underneath the lip of the device to keep it from catching as you pull the rope thru with your non-brake hand.

Lowering takes a little practice, but adjusting the lowering speed and keeping your climber descending smoothly is easily accomplished by rotating the device towards you as you slide the rope through your brake hand.

Overall, the Pilot gets my thumbs-up for single-pitch climbing. Whether in the gym or outside, I most like it for belaying my climbing partner on her “proj,” or for those just learning to climb.

Bonus Tip:

Always remember friends: No matter what belay device you are using, don’t ever let go of the brake strand when belaying.

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.