Words by: Katy Whittaker | Photos by: Colin Scotchford & Klemen Gricar
I would define the best people in the mountains as: those who have the ability to not just to take care of number 1 but also 2,3 and 4 as well in the toughest of conditions, those with the knowledge to make the best decisions under pressure, and those who are out day after day, year after year doing their thing. Those who are Mountain Guides. IFMGA Certified Mountains Guides hold highest qualification in the world for leading people in the mountains, whether skiing, climbing or mountaineering.
I decided to speak to the IFMGA guides when Arc’teryx launched the new Arc’teryx Acrux AR GTX Alpine Boot to get some alpine advice and find out what they really want from their boots. With 21 years of guiding experience and current director of the International School of Mountaineering Adrian Nelhams certainly knows his stuff. I spoke to Ade whilst he was out on an icefall climbing trip in the Canadian Rockies and his passion for climbing, what ever it is, where ever it is, really shone through.
“What I love about climbing is the travel, people, the different cultures and the changing seasons…. that’s what keeps it fresh and exciting. In winter I love climbing the frozen waterfalls or the Scottish/Lakes mixed routes that form. In the spring I boulder and get out on the ropes ‘trad climbing’ and when the summer alpine season kicks off I really enjoy the mixed high alpine summits and long rock routes”
When asked what key features the guides looked for in an all round alpine boot, they all came back with one resounding word – fit. Fit was manifested through broad feet, cold feet, lifting heels and volume. Everyone’s feet are different so how does one address all of these problems and design something for everyone?
The Acrux AR is a low volume double boot with a removable, adaptive fit liner. This exclusive design feature cushions impact, conforms to any shaped foot and does not absorb moisture. This design does away with the need for a tongue in the boot, which reduces pressure and heat build up on top of the foot. The stretch textile and minimal amount of seams create an instant, no-pressure fit, which makes for great fit and comfort all day long.
Graham Frost, a super experienced guide who is based in the beautiful town of Evolene in the Swiss Alps, says “Fit is everything. I have a broad foot, so I usually choose boots on fit rather than features. A good fit is vital for warmth too – tight boots are usually cold.”. Warmth, as mentioned by Graham, is obviously another major factor and goes hand-in-hand with waterproofness and breathability.
Removable liners provide insulation options for different conditions, making the boot super adaptable. The GORE-TEX® liners will also keep your feet dry whilst offering optimum breathability and climate control. The ability to remove them helps them dry quickly overnight and they also act as a great hut slipper! The outer gaiter is a laminated watertight construction that offers total weather protection and a maximum level of breathability.
Rocio Siemens is one of only a few female British Guides and her enthusiasm and passion for climbing is second to none. After a 3-day epic in the mountains a few years back, I asked her what she had learned from the experience and she said, “I think I learned a lot on those 3 days: that even when you feel terrible you can still carry on, that sometimes your survival in the mountains is in the lap of the Gods, and that even a severe injury hasn’t waned my desire to go back. If anything, it has made me stronger.”
Rocio also mentioned that a technical boot with excellent, grippy rubber would be a key feature for her in an alpine boot. The Acrux AR features a VIBRAM® AR outsole offering great support and confidence when walking through alpine terrain. The semi-blocked toe has anti-slip grooves and the heel has a sharp brake and durable edge.
The final request from the guides was for a lightweight boot. Is it possible to offer durability when materials are slimmed down? The boots weigh just 940g but their construction offers durability. The gaiter is a 0.6mm high abrasion TPU film lamented to lightweight, durable GORE TEX fabric. This offers high abrasion and puncture resistance for crampons and rock protection. Fewer seams in the construction of the boot makes for fewer areas to fail and, as a result, increases durability.
I think I can safely say we have all had a bit of an epic in the mountains at some point. Getting benighted, forgetting an essential piece of kit or a close call. I asked our 3 guides “what has been your biggest learning curve?”
Ade: That we’re all human and no matter how experienced or qualified we are, we can all suffer from falling into ‘Heuristic Traps’. It’s the continual learning and ability to be always mindful of these human traits no matter how tired or long the day is, or how many times you’ve done the particular route or summit before and as a professional doing the best I can to safeguard against such human traits.
Graham: Learning to fail! It’s better to be down here wishing you were up there , than up there wishing you were down here! We all learn from our own mistakes. But if there was one piece of advice you would give to someone heading off for an alpine adventure what would it be?
Rocio: I’m a member of my local rescue team in North Wales. Many of the people we rescue have lost their way, whether coming off the path or on a face. So if you’re heading off into the mountains, learn how to navigate and route-find your way through a sea of rock. These are difficult skills to hone, but the UK is a great training ground.
Graham: Start small and low, and build up.
Katy Whittaker is an Arc’teryx climbing athlete. Check out her blog or follow her on Instagram.