Ortovox Haute Route Backpack Gear Review

121217_PackReviewActionBack01_WEB

All in all, the 35L Ortovox Haute Route pack, with its versatile equipment carry options and great detailed features, is a solid choice for the day touring backcountry skier or splitboarder.

This review is from a splitboarders perspective – which means that this pack has been put through its paces.  We splitboarders use the heck out of our packs.  Every lap we are taking it on and off, taking things in and out, strapping on and off poles, placing our board in ride mode and/or ski mode, so it has to hold up and it has to be versatile.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:
My main first impression of this pack was not good… I told Jess: “this thing just looks too small for even a day pack.”  Other than that, this pack is well put together with rugged reinforced nylon throughout.  The pack is clean looking too, with waterproof zippers and sturdy zipper pulls.  Overall, it’s a nice looking pack but just does not LOOK like it would fit everything I would need for a day of backcountry splitboard touring.

130104_PackReviewStaticAvyPocket01WEB

FEATURES:
The Haute Route line from Ortovox comes in 3 sizes including a women’s pack, a 35L and 45L option.  I have the 35L version and it really has everything you could ask for in a ski/ride pack*

  • Dedicated – easy to access avalanche rescue gear compartment
  • Board and ski carry modes
  • Gear and ice axe loops
  • Handy hip belt pockets
  • Hydration Bladder sleeve and hose routing
  • Rear Access to the main compartment
  • Helmet attachment system

121217_PackRevewActionSide01_WEB

THE FINAL WORD:
Overall, the Haute Route has impressed me in use.  It looks small and it feels small on your back but it has held everything I have needed for a day tour.  The helmet attachment and ski and board carry options are pretty sweet too.  The only negative so far is that there is ONLY rear access to the main compartment which makes it hard to get to gear when you just want to sling it off one shoulder.  Also the rear access zipper has a tendency to catch and can be a pain to open up- especially with gloves on.

All in all, the 35L Haute Route pack, with its versatile equipment carry options and great detailed features, is a solid choice for the day touring skiier or splitboarder.

*Detailed specs can be found at ortovox’s website.

First Day Out: Jones Pass/Butler Gulch

Watching the snow fly this last week, I had determined that I HAD to go get out and at least see it, feel it, touch it (yeah, it’s like that).  I decided to check out a new area and decided on the Jones Pass/Butler Gulch area.  Not knowing how much snow was really out there, I optimistically packed my splitboard in the car hoping against hope that there would be enough to slide on.
Well, pulling up to the trailhead was not promising:

Not too promising out of the gate at the Jones Pass TH

Almost immediately after leaving the trailhead though, things started to gradually improve into a skinable 4-6 inches on the trail.

Skinning in, things are improving

After climbing to about 11,000′ things got a bit deaper and I actually made a few (very cautious) light turns.

Splitboard and Tracks – Like Pees and Carrots

All in all, I was not optimistic that I would even be able to skin up there, but it turns out it was much better than I thought.  About 12-18″ more up there and it should open up quite a bit.

Snow + Me = Smiles

Early Season Snow… blessing or curse?

I get pretty excited when temps start to drop, leaves start to fall and talk of snowflakes picks up.  After all, this is one of the prettiest times of the year in the high country:

Dogs enjoying the fall colors.. oh wait, they’re color blind

I used to spend hours watching satellite loops, anticipating when snow would start falling on my fave Mammoth Mountain.  That attitude didn’t change when I moved here to Colorado, but should it?

Last season I took my AIARE Level I avalanche class and I have shifted my focus to the backcountry.  In terms of avalanche safety and backcountry snowboarding, early season snow is typically a BAD thing… WHAT!!!!  “How can that be?” you ask.  Well, let’s talk snow science:

Snow is good, but snow doesn’t just fall from the sky lay on the ground and stay there.  It is constantly changing (snow geeks call this metamorphism).  Those little flakes that you see in a snowstorm are great, they typically bond well together and make for a pretty good snow layer, but what tends to happen early season is that they begin to “facet.” These facets do not bond well to each other or other layers and become little ball bearings for avalanches to slide on.

Facets!

If you’ve been in the game long enough, you’ve heard the term facets before, but what causes them and why is it so bad with an early season snowpack?

1.  Facets are caused by temperature differences between lower and upper layers of the snowpack (geek speak = temperature gradient).   Check out this site for a cool video and a ton more info.

Temperature Gradients that cause facets.

2.  These gradients are especially bad with a thin snowpack (like early season).

3.  Facets forming from this temperature gradient in the lower snowpack is called depth hoar.  It sticks around and causes problems for a long time through the season (persistent) and is one of the major causes of injury/fatality causing avalanches

“Never trust a depth hoar snowpack, no matter how deep you bury her”
-Unknown Smart Dude

Overall, for resort riders, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!  For the backcountry types out there, let’s be a little more patient, if it’s going to snow, let it snow hard and keep snowing for months, otherwise lets hold off until it’s ready to dump.
So, in conclusion:  Am I going to stop obsessing over early season snow? Probably not.  Am I going to pay attention to what it does to the avalanche hazard in the backcountry… hell yes and so should you.

A Weekend To Save Your Life: Avalanche Level I Training

I have been told that learning to backcountry snowboard in Colorado is like learning to swim in shark infested waters, or learning to hike on everest.  Basically, we’re in expert territory as noobs.  It IS the most deadly state in the US for backcountry enthusiasts.

Basically, we don’t want to see this and then decide its time to learn something:

Not where you want to get your experience about avalanches

With that in mind we decided we really have to do this “right.”  What is “Right” you ask? Well from our research it goes something like this:

1. Read, read, read as much as you can on avalanche safety.  This book is awesome, if not a little advanced.
2. Attend a few free Avalanche Awareness courses and Backcountry/Winter education classes.  (Lots of shops have these like REI, check your local shop)
3. Buy the gear you plan to use in the field so you can practice with what you will be playing with.
2. Take a multiday avalanche course – (This is the step we’re talking about now!)
3. Find, travel and learn with experienced mentors
3. Start in low consequence, low danger terrain
4. Continue to progress in your avalanche knowledge and education

Jess and I made a rule that we would not go into the backcountry until we had our level I class done and we stuck to it.

First you have to find a reputable course.  That’s where AIARE comes in.  They are the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, and they set the curriculum for avy education throughout the nation.  If you are interested in a course go to their website and find a provider near you.  They do one just about every week somewhere in CO.

After some research we decided to go with the fine folks at Colorado Mountain School.  They were very professional and highly knowledgeable, plus they were just cool guys to spend a day in the backcountry with AND the course is set in beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park… win-win-win!

Jess Outside CMS Estes Park

Day 1 started with some classroom time followed by a little companion rescue practice.

Our fearless guides showing us how its done.

"How does this thing work again?"

Day 2 started via classroom but by the afternoon we were out in the field digging pits and observing conditions.

Jess in the Pit

Day 3 was the culmination of everything we had learned and began with reading the avy bulletin and doing some trip planning.  After that we headed back to Rocky Mountain National Park to do a full day tour with the objective of assessing and possibly riding some terrain west of Bear Lake.

Our group touring in RMNP

Overall, an awesome weekend out in RMNP and on top of that we got a ton of really useful info on making decisions in avalanche terrain.  Thanks to Mike and Nate (our guides) for the awesome experience.

Nate making some earned turns

Now, the snow is flying, time to plan some backcountry tours! …safely of course.

Going Off the Grid

First off, Rogue and I went backpacking last weekend.  Just the two of us.  (Blurry pic, I know, but it was the best I could do with a wild dog wanting to see everything)It wasn’t exactly planned and we probably could have done a better job at the whole telling someone where your going thing (right Jess?) but we didn’t and we did.  Jess went out of town for the past week, out to California to visit a bunch of family that was coming into town and that left just Rogue and me to fend for ourselves and keep ourselves entertained.  So with the weekend coming up we didn’t really think about making plans (Jess is the planner of the family anyway). 

The day on Saturday actually started at the beach.  I went surfing for a couple hours that morning and Rogue got to play on her favorite dog beach.  It was an incredibly nice day… actually sunny in Philadelphia after all the rain we had all week, so I pretty much decided that I did NOT want to sleep inside that night.  So in last minute fashion, Rogue and I raced home gathered some gear in our packs and ran out the door.  Jess wasn’t there so of course, the food issue was a problem… I had no dinner to pack, but that won’t stop us, a quick trip to REI on the way solved it with a freeze dried dinner, a power bar and pack of powerbar protein ball thingies. 

We drove about 2:20 up to the Lackawanna state forest where a fun little trail system called the “Pinchot” is located and hit the trail.  It was about 1700 by the time we got started with just over an hour or so of good light.  We hiked about 1.5miles and found a nice little spot off the trail to call home for the night. 

From here Rogue went exploring the area and I set up to boil some water for dinner:  Yum Chilli mac with beef from Mountain House.  Not exactly trail gourmet like Jess makes but it worked and it was easy. 

As the sun set, we tied up our bear bag and started to head toward the tent for the night.  (Of course, Rogue didn’t want to go in at all, she could have pounced around all night if I let her.

It was actually a much colder night than we expected so I put Rogue’s softshell on her for the night and we did alright until about 0100, then she came walking over and curled up right next to me.  I felt her ears and they were pretty cold so I did my best to get her in the sleeping bag with me… that was something.  She just let me flip her around and move her paws wherever in order to fit her in my mummy bag but it was pretty tight with the two of us in there.  She seemed to sleep just fine after that while I just layed there waiting for the sun to rise.  That’s the problem sometimes when you go camping out in the backcountry, you end up going to sleep so early that you wake up before the sunrise and just have to wait for what feels like forever.

So the next morning we packed up camp, ate my powerbar breakfast and headed out on the trail for a nice 7 mile hike looping around back to the car.  The day turned out to be absolutely perfect, just a nice crisp coolness that makes for perfect hiking.  We had to take a few breaks for Rogue to go chase sticks since she would get all crazy hiking and start trying to bite my shoe laces so I would play with her. 

 

Jess and I are planning a multi-day thru hike of a couple sections of the Applachian Trail that we are going to do in a couple weeks, so this was a good warm up for Rogue and I think I figured out a few issues with gear (like bring Rogue her own blanket) that will help for our trip.

Backpacking the Pinchot

Rundown of our trip to the Lackawanna State Forrest for an overnight backpacking trip along the Pinchot Trail.
The decision was between the Jersey Shore and going camping. Jess made the call last week and it was “camping.” So the natural question was well “Car Camping” or Backpacking. Backpacking it was. Now came the distribution of responsibilities. I immediately started going through a mental checklist of our gear and what we had and what we would need. Also, I took on the “Where” question. Jess rogered up to figure out how to feed us three which led to the challenge of what to feed a pup that eats a raw diet when you are miles from a refrigerator and hunting season is closed.
That’s when jess found this stuff from natures kitchen. It’s dehydrated raw dog food… just add water and voila! Who would have thought.
I started looking at where these east coast types go backpacking and lucky enough for me there are quite a few places. Of course the appalachian trail (AT) goes through Pennsylvania and that was an option. I bought a book called Backpacking Pennsylvania. I found a great hike that looked like it would fit my needs perfectly. It is called the Pinchot Trail. It was a fairly easy trail with plenty of scenery and low crowds. We couldn’t take our pup on a crazy trail not knowing how she would do. More info on the trail can be found here.
Gear prep began. We pulled the packs out of storage, dusted them off and set off to check off the list of necessities.
Here is Jess trying on her pack the night before. We weighed them out and I don’t remember exactly but Jess weighed like 35lb and mine was maybe 45 or so. Jess said that these weights were way dispraportionate to our body weights but when I offered to take some of hers of course she said “no way… I can handle it”

DAY 1:
Day one started just as every other Saturday has started here: RUN Drills. Jess ran well getting another sub 8/mi run and some fast sprints. After a shower, breakfast, grabbing everything and a sandwich for the road we took off for the trailhead. A couple hours later we arrive at a beautiful spot in a shaded tree filled area of greenness. Living in the city makes you forget the beauty of trees and green nature. We ate the rest of our sandwiches put Rogue on her leash and took off.
It was a bit of a learning curve on how best to handle the rogue pup on the trail. She would run up ahead, find something to sniff, stop (in the middle of the trail of course), we would pass her and then she would come zooming up around us back up to the front. She was waaaay too excited… “I love nature!”

We started with a gently uphill until we hit the trail register, signed in and continued on until we came to the junction of the Powder Magazine Trail (which we were on) and the Big Pine Hill Trail (which we would come back on). Jess and I both kept figiting with our straps and belts trying to find that sweet spot for our packs (it has been a while).

Rogue finally started to settle down and we picked up some momentum. The trail itself is fairly level with a few rocky sections and creek crossings. Eventually we made it to a big meadow and decided to take a break and let Rogue do some running around. Of course she went crazy. Jess and I snacked on some of J’s homemade trail mix and then we set off again.

Our camp area for the night was supposed to be around Painter Creek which was about halfway around the loop. We crossed a pretty soggy area and saw some running water at around the 4-5 mile mark and figured that it must be Painter Creek so we looked for a campsite found one and started to settle in. We found a nice area with some piled up rocks next to a tree and decided that would be our cooking/eating area

We then went about 100′ away and set up our sleeping area where we set up the tent and stored our packs. There were really no people around so we let Rogue roam free and skip around like a deer from the cook site and the campsite.
We started cooking up some dinner (i.e. boiling water to put into J’s premade dehydro dinner) with our headlamps on and the last of the natural light fading away. Rogue was pretty pooped so she found a nice cozy place next to us and layed down. As it got darker and a little colder you could tell Jess was starting to get on edge. To make matters worse, at one point, out of nowhere, Rogue stands up looking intently into the darkness, the fur on her back stood up and she starts growling. Of course this freaks Jess out and she is pointing her headlamp everywhere to try and see what’s out there. Let’s just say that that was about it for the being outside time that night. We took all of our scented items, double bagged them in trashbags and hung them up in a tree then called it a night (so we thought).
NOTE TO SELF: Don’t expect to sleep well with a big o’ puppy in your tent. We tried every spot possible but she just kept figeting and waking us up. Luckily we went to bed at like 1900 so we had plenty of sleep by the time morning rolled around, even if it was 20 minutes at a time.
Next thing, it’s morning wake up get some breakfast break camp and head back on the trail. We move along and about half a mile in we come across… Painters Creek (the real one). Oh well, we had a good site and there was another set of backpackers there anyway.

We cruised along with great weather and a fairly cooperative pup until we got to the Big Pine Hill Overlook and lunchtime. There is a tower built on top of the hill at the overlook where you can get 360 degree views of the surrounding hills of the Poconos. We took in the view and decided to grab some lunch so we pulled out the pocket rocket our new cookset and our homemade dehydro chilli mac and chowed down while taking in the view.
From there we descended the hill and made our way back to the trailhead.

Overall, it was a great intro trip. Nice mellow terrain, low crowds and some pretty scenery. The pup did well and we only had to pull a few ticks off of her.