Going green is not a new phenomenon in the world of outdoors gear. But today's eco-friendly gear is a far cry from the hemp hoodies and low-tech "earth gear" of yore. Take these four products as examples. . .
Sierra Design Cyclone Eco
This mid-weight shell -- which can be used as a rain jacket or a cool-weather top -- is touted to be the most sustainable jacket on the market. It is made of a recycled PET face fabric with PVC-free seam tape and a solvent-free waterproof-breathable laminate. $149.95, www.sierradesigns.com (Available starting this summer.)
REI Organic Cotton Cadet Cap
Touting an eco ethos with a Cuban flair, the Cadet Cap is an organic cotton alternative to the workaday baseball bill. Bonus: The cap comes with a worn look and feel that requires no break-in time. $16, .rei.com
Aquapac Hard Lens Camera Case
This plastic waterproof camera case is now 100 percent PVC-free, meaning the case employs no polyvinyl chloride, a chemical cited in some studies as a pollutant and a carcinogen. Made for tiny digital cameras, the case has a polycarbonate hard lens for clear images and a watertight seal to keep moisture out. $45, www.aquapac.net
Teko Ingeo Light Hiking socks
Made of a biodegradable corn-based fiber, these socks have extra reinforcement in the heels and toes for durability. The fabric transfers moisture and sweat to keep feet dry and prevent blisters. $13.95, www.tekosocks.com
Unbeknownst to many American mountaineers, the highest point of elevation east of the Rocky Mountains is not in New Hampshire. That title belongs to Harney Peak in South Dakota, a 7,242-foot stone-topped summit that towers over the pine and granite of the Black Elk Wilderness area west of Rapid City.
Indeed, you have to cross the Atlantic Ocean to find a taller peak, as Harney is the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the French Pyrenees. The summit is accessed via a 3- to 4-mile hike, and an abandoned fire lookout tower built by the CCC is on the summit.
Last weekend, I hiked Harney with my friend, the photographer TC Worley. It was early May, though the mountain didn’t seem to realize the season: Just two days before we arrived parts of the Black Hills got dumped on with up to four feet of new snow.
Our hike—in waterproof trail runners, though sans gaiters—was a post-holing extravaganza, with miles of plodding on a footprint-less path. We hiked from Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, leaving the parking lot at about 1p.m. Within an hour, we were lost, searching for blazes or trail markers, attempting to decipher minute detail on a 1:50,000 scale topo map in an area spiked with granite spires and scarred with deep valleys and reentrants.
TC Worley in view of the Cathedral Spires.
But after 20 minutes or so of searching TC and I regained the trail. The rest of the hike went better, and three-fourths of the way up—at a trail junction—we found footprints to lead us to the top.
The summit—an exposed granite ridge equipped with one of the coolest mountaintop fire hunts ever made—is a jaw-dropping place, with the Black Hills rolling away to all points of the compass. You can see three or four states from the perch and the inklings of the Badlands to the east.
In the summer, when millions of people head to the area to see Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument, and other tourist attractions of the Black Hills, Harney can be a zoo. TC and I, by contrast, saw no other soul on the hike up.
Just got back from Mato Tipila. Or Bear's Lodge. Or, most commonly, Devils Tower.
The 1,000-foot-high thumb of rock in northeastern Wyoming goes by a few names. But all refer to this geologic masterpiece, a monolith of pillars and cracks and six-sided columns. As I wrote in the blog last week, Devils Tower was a waypoint for wagon trains heading west in the 1800s. It's a sacred place to Native Americans. In pop culture the Tower has long been associated with the strange and the otherworldly, its vestige forever burned into the American consciousness via Steven Spielberg's classic 1977 movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
For me, stretching back to the days when I edited Vertical Jones magazine (www.verticaljones.com) this has always been my favorite climbing area, with finger and fist cracks streaming hundreds of feet from the talus. I have climbed a dozen routes, up to 5.10 in difficulty. Once I took a 40-foot whipper here -- my longest climbing fall so far (and hopefully ever).
This past weekend, I retuned to the Tower with photographer TC Worley (www.studiobluempls.com) for one day. We climbed just one route, as we were on a time crunch and had another assignment in the Black Hills. But "El Cracko Diablo" -- as the climb is called -- was a good line to get me to jump back into the saddle.
The climb, which goes at 5.8, involves an approach pitch, two long fist-crack pitches, then a couple hundred feet of fourth class to the top. The main climbing involves sink-your-hands-in-and-pull cracks, just gorgeous and safe expressway routes into the sky.
Stephen Regenold topping out pitch No. 2 on "El Cracko Diablo." photo by TC Worley.
We climbed with Frank Sanders, owner of Devils Tower Lodge (www.devilstowerlodge.com) and head guide of his eponymous business. I am rusty right now in the climbing department, so Frank led the two meaty pitches on El Cracko. He led with just two or three placements of gear on each pitch. Basically, he'd climb 40 to 50 feet between cam placements, solid and calm. (He's free-soloed the route several times.)
We climbed on Monday evening, leaving the trail around 5:30 p.m. It was a sunset cruise, and night fell right as we made the top. We watched the last rays from the "island in the sky" summit and then rappelled off in the dark, a halo of LED glow our only illumination on the moonless night.
Here are a few pics of the ascent as well as a couple close-ups of the Tower. Watch for gear reviews on the equipment employed during the climb in the coming weeks as well as a full narrative on the ascent later this year. . .
"El Cracko Diablo," a 600-foot route
Stephen Regenold interviewing Frank Sanders on pitch No. 1 of "El Cracko Diablo"; photo by TC Worley.
As America’s first National Monument—and a top destination for American climbers—the sheer-sided, 1,000-foot-high monolith of Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming is among the most stunning geologic displays in the West. It was a waypoint for wagon trains heading west in the 1800s. It’s a sacred place to Native Americans. In pop culture the Tower has long been associated with the strange and the otherworldly, its vestige forever burned into the American consciousness via Steven Spielberg’s classic 1977 movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
For climbers, Devils Tower stands among the most unique summits on the continent. The formation, which is the hard basalt core of an eons-old volcano, attracts thousands of rock climbers each year to shimmy up its skyscraper-proportion routes. All sides of the tower are sheer, making the summit unobtainable by hikers. But climbing routes as moderate as 5.6 (intermediate level) provide passage to the top.
The summit—a unique “island in the sky”—is an acre-size chunk of desert, flat with scrub brush and some wildlife, though rung with dizzying vertical drops hundreds of feet down all around its sequestered circumference.
This weekend I’m heading west to climb the Tower. A photographer and I will climb with local guide Frank Sanders, a veteran who has ascended the Tower hundreds of times.
Our climb will start late in the day in the parking lot, hiking in, roping up, then climbing cracks and corners, reaching and pulling on the ancient and strange rock for hours as we ascend into the sky. We plan to summit at sunset and rap off in the dark.
If all goes well, this will be my 10th time up the Tower. But it’s been several years since my last visit, and my forearms are not what they were.
I’ll be testing a full arsenal of new climbing equipment, including cams from Black Diamond, Scarpa shoes, a rope from Metolius, and an Arc’teryx harness—among several other pieces of equipment.
Watch for the full trip report—and gear dissection—upon my return late next week.