With all the buzz about the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of Mt. Everest, we picked up a copy of Jim Wittaker’s A Life on the Edge (published in 1999). If you haven’t read Whittaker’s memoirs, it’s a must-read mountaineering tale. While it doesn’t have the gravity of Herzog’s Annapurna, or the mirth of Patey’s One Man’s Mountains, it stands out as a fascinating, insightful, and honest portrayal of the life of one of the U.S.’s most successful mountaineers, who was also successful in business and social life. In addition to being the first American on Everest in 1963, Whittaker was REI’s first employee and later, CEO. Due to his Everest exploits, he met President John F Kennedy, and after the President’s assassination, led Bobby Kennedy on the first ascent of what is now Canada’s Mt. Kennedy. An assignment to write about the expedition for Sports Illustrated led to a friendship between the two men and their families, which culminated with Whittaker heading up Senator Kenney’s presidential bid for Washington. After RFK’s assassination in 1968, Whittaker remained a confident of the Kennedy family, as well as one of America’s foremost alpine climbers. Whittaker’s book chronicles his childhood, with his twin brother, Lou, starting their climbing career in the Washington Cascades. In addition to fascinating stories about their early experiences on Mt. Ranier, and training for the Cold Weather Command during the Korean War, some of the most delightful tales involve Whittaker’s 1963 American Mt. Everest Expedition, and ensuing trip of Canada’s Mt. Kennedy with Bobby Kennedy in 1965. As climbers know, mountains help forge unbreakable bonds, and the book recounts Jim’s intimate interaction with the Kennedy family, including classic stories of skiing with the clan in Sun Valley. The book is a mixture of fascinating insight and great story telling.
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Serious mountaineering and winter camping often calls for serious footwear like hard-plastic, crampon-friendly boots. But when you finally reach the end of the day, the feeling of freedom from those boots beats out even shedding a World Cup-tight ski boot. But unlike hanging by the fire in a warm lodge, après in the backcountry means colder temps as the evening fades into night. That’s where the Radler Trail Camp Boots excel. They zip together at the soles when not in use, which means they take a fraction of pack space that would otherwise be swallowed by another pair of kicks. When you’re ready, unzip ‘em and nestle your feet in more than 14 ounces of water-resistant, breathable Thermolite insulation. The outsoles are made of twin rubbers that give you the perfect degree of protection and traction, and the next day you can zip ‘em closed and stash them in your pack, where they’ll be waiting.
Bonus: we’re seeing clearance sales of up to 50 percent off these shoes!
www.mammut.ch, nine ounces
We talk a lot here at Gearzilla about one’s relationship to gear. How one item in our arsenal suddenly becomes our go-to must-have, the one that you describe to anyone who will listen. For one intrepid, snow-obsessed tester that had been his pair of Mammut ski gloves, which were stolen last year (or…left behind after après). This season we arranged for him to test a pair of the Extreme Siams, and all of his prior allegiance is like dust in the wind. These two-chamber gloves are a worthy partner for all high-alpine applications. The “upper” chamber (read: wearing the glove with the full use of insulation) provides hearty protection against the cold, cold winter. Then, in warmer conditions or when more dexterity is needed, you slip into the lower chamber, which pushes the insulation to the back of the hand and gives you solid tactility. The palms are lined with tough sheep leather, while the outer shell keeps things dry thanks to a Gore-Tex XCR three-layer waterproof/breathable insert. The glove has been pre-curved for optimal fit, with reinforced knuckles, a wicking liner, Velcro straps at the wrist, and easy pull cords on the gauntlet-style cuffs. Pull loops make it easy to get ‘em on (even if your hand is wet), but we do wish they also had interior wrist leashes. That would make us feel safer about yanking them off while on the lift—or keep us from leaving ‘em behind after one too many.
This March, Princeton Tec will unveil a new outdoor/all-purpose headlamp that should hit the sweet spot for weekend warriors and backpackers looking to light up the backcountry (or brave a power outage). The design of the Vizz itself is nearly idiot-proof, with one big button—and that’s about it. Press the button once and you illuminate two ultra-bright red LEDs, press it twice and get dual ultra-bright white LEDs. You can also hold the button down to cycle through the modes, which includes a 150-lumin max-bright LED that can illuminate up to 90 feet. The Vizz is waterproof down to one meter for up to half an hour, and runs on three AAA batteries—with a built-in power meter to let you how much juice you’ve got left in the estimated 160-hour run time; a low-battery indicator also triggers when you’re down to 20 percent.
This fall Arc’Teryx will introduce down-insulated pieces into their line of high-quality apparel. And, as with everything this boutique brand does, they’re doing it in a new, interesting way. The down they’ll use in pieces like the 850-fill Cerium AR ($259, pictured right) and Cerium LT ($350, pictured left) jackets is “food-grade,” which means that the feathers are sourced from fully grown birds from Europe used in the production of foie gras. The feathers are consequently larger than those found in other brands. Other innovations in their new down line include a durable shell construction, with “core loft” synthetic insulation in high-compression areas like the shoulders and cuffs to eliminate cold spots. We also love the reconfigured hood design, which carries the down baffles vertically over your head/helmet, and lets the crown of the hood nestle comfortably over your head and ears. There will be a total of 11 products in this line, along with hybrid products that boast the new Gore Tex Pro Shell.