I'm hopeless at pull-ups. I mean really hopeless – normally kind and caring dear friends will mercilessly mock me, pointing and laughing at my utter lack of strength. So to get anywhere in climbing, I have to use my feet and for winter climbing that means I need to trust my crampons. A couple of winters ago I actually broke the frame on my Terminators – something I remain rather proud of, in the sense it was simply 8 years of hard use that did for them: no design flaw, no real weak point, I just climbed them into the ground. The good folk at DMM actually apologized for their product ONLY lasting 9 years of me repeatedly kicking them weekend after weekend, season after season, into a hard substance and offered to replace them – but while my 'T2s' trekked across Europe, I still wanted to go ice climbing. This meant having to use my 'mountaineering crampons'.
I was expecting them to feel tenuous and sketchy, but it was a revelation: fortunately the temperatures were only a little under freezing and this helps – monos do better in cold dense ice – but my old school 12 point crampons worked a treat, feeling almost as secure as my Terminators do. This was reassuring – that day I was climbing what would be Scottish technical 5 or 6 grade ice in the classic crampons and quickly forgot that I didn't have my ice climbing-specific prongs on. So the first point is not to underestimate what the classic style of crampons like the CT Nuptses can do, most of the hard Scottish VIIIs of the 1980s and early 90s would have been climbed in crampons of a very similar design. This isn't to say that the Nuptses are the perfect crampon for hard ice – there are clearly better models for the top grades. I did one ice fall in them with a short vertical section and they were OK, but the lack of support from the secondary points was noticeable. On vertical you can't drop your heels far enough for the secondary points to engage. But rather, if you are a beginner or mid-grade climber looking for all-round crampons, the Nuptses are worthy of consideration and will happily serve you well up to about grade IV or V.
Toby ice climbing in the Nuptse Crampons
The crampon itself is a classic 12 point design available in the now normal three binding systems: full step in; semi-step in with a plastic toe cage; and modern plastic full strap design that will attach to boots without either toe or heel welts. They come painted in an odd creamy colour that would make them hard to spot in the snow if it wasn't for the nearly luminous orange anti-balling plates that come pre-attached. Adjustment for a wide range of boots is possible by the now familiar tool-less sprung pin adjuster, and CT also provide a bolt that allows them to be fitted easily to the smallest of boots. The supplied anti-balling plates seem to work well on top of looking very jolly, although being a hard plastic I think they might be slightly more slippy on neve if you haven't really kicked in the points in – for example using a preexisting step in the snow.
"...in the last couple of years the prices of many competing models has gone up to well over £100..."
The only thing that I noticed, as did a friend who tried them out, is that the webbing strap that goes from the heel bail to the toe piece tends to spin as you try to tighten it – sliding through the plastic heel piece. This is easily rectified by holding the other side and could probably be dealt with permanently by wrapping some duct tape around the webbing just before the heel bail, stopping the strap from being pulled through. That, and that the nice creamy paintwork chips off, are really the only downsides to them that I can see. I met a chap on Snowdon with the same model and asked him how old his were and how they were doing – he had had them two seasons, used them quite a lot and had no problems with them at all. Mine seem sturdy and strong, so his experience supports that impression nicely.
These are all-round mountaineering crampons and hence the secondary points are more downward pointing than some. This means on steeper ice (or mixed) you have to make sure you drop your heels low to engage and gain support from those secondary points. Having said that this is really only an issue if you are climbing relatively hard ice at angles of about 70 degrees or more, they worked perfectly well on the steeper sections of Cautley Spout (III).
So, the Climbing Technology Nuptse is a perfectly good middle-of-the-road crampon that will work fine for all sorts of things from winter walking to classic grade V gullies. But is there anything that sets them apart from various other perfectly good middle-of-the-road 12 point crampons made by more well known brands? In a word, yes – price. The RRP for the semi automatic model I've been using is 85 quid. Shop around and you might find them for even a bit less than that. In that sense, the Nuptse are a total bargain – for your £85 you don't just get a pair of crampons; oh no, ladies and gentlemen (falling into market trader/infomercial mode)! You also get anti-balling plates, bolts should you wish to replace the tool-less adjustment system, and even a velcro-closure crampon bag to put them in!
Only a few years ago, £80 would have been about the price you would expect to pay for such crampons, and indeed only a tenner more than many crampons have been for about 15 years. But in the last couple of years the prices of many competing models has gone up to well over a hundred pounds. Perhaps those models are very slightly better, slightly more refined, but as some are at least as much as half the price again of the Nuptse, you would expect them to be! So over all, the Nuptse is a competent all-round crampon that is simply superb value for money. If this age of austerity brings cold winds, then these are prongs for its frozen uplands. Get some before CT work out how much they could be charging for them!
The classic mountaineering ice axe is one of the few items of climbing equipment that hasn't developed very much in recent times. In the 60s picks were drooped a little and gained teeth to bite into ice better. By the 1980s, most axe shafts were made of metal as opposed to wood and in the last decade, many manufacturers have put a slight curve in the shaft - but beyond that, axes for walking and easier mountaineering haven't changed an awful lot. Hence it's hard to say a lot about the CT Alpine Tour Ice Axe - beyond it's a walking/mountaineers axe and it does this job well for a very reasonable price.
"...For walkers who climb the occasional gully, or for a climber looking for a relatively light all-round mountaineering axe..."
A classic full strength ice axe for mountaineering. It has a hardened steel pick with a light alloy handle and non-slip grip that won't get trashed by your crampons. The axe is T rated so suitable for belaying. Available in 50cm, 60cm and 70cm. Available at all Cotswold and Tiso stores throughout the UK.
To give a bit more detail, Alpine Tour has a bent alloy shaft. It's the first bent shaft mountaineering axe I have used - and it had a few advantages and seemingly no real disadvantages over a straight shaft. One argument is that it is easier to place the shaft over a cornice when topping out of a slope or gully. I'm not completely convinced by this, but it definitely gives a good hand position when daggering up a slope. You can comfortably hold the top of the shaft at the bend and not get a cold hand against the snow. This gives a nice alternative when daggering to the normal on-top-of the-head position.
The head itself is an adze and pick welded together rather than forged as one piece, a slightly cheaper way of building a tool. The tool still swings adequately and will bite into ice, although if you expect to do a lot of ice, as opposed to snow, you would probably do better getting a tool with a forged, heavier head. But for general mountaineering (I used it on grade IIs) as well as walking, it is perfectly adequate. There is no rubber handle on the shaft, rather just a strip of skateboard deck tape that is very grippy, but being minimal, it is still very easy to push the shaft into snow. The axe comes with a perfectly functional wrist loop as well.
At 590g for the 50cm version, it isn't the lightest axe available, but had I not checked the weight of the Alpine Tour on CT's website, I would have guessed lighter – it definitely doesn't feel significantly heavier than my old Grivel Airtech Racing. And at a recommended retail price of £60, it is cheaper than most of the competition. For walkers who climb the occasional gully, or for a climber looking for a relatively light all-round mountaineering axe, the Alpine Tour is well worth considering. It does exactly what it should do and will leave you with few quid to spare for a couple of pints to celebrate your ascent of the Ledge Route or traverse of Crib Goch.
He describes himself as an "international politics think-tanker, perennial PhD student, hopeless but enthusiastic climber, part-time gear reviewer, often angry cyclist, idealist, cynic."
Climbing keeps him from getting too depressed about politics. He blogs about both at:
See this product at the Joe Brown - Snowdonia shop