Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Grivel Monte Rosa: first impressions
The new Grivel Monte Rosa crampon (RRP £80, weight 804g per pair) seems to have been released as a response to the general increase in price across Grivel's crampon range. With G10s now costing over a hundred pounds--previously the standard walking crampons used by most--it makes sense to introduce a new basic model. The Monte Rosa is a flexible, 10-point, lightweight crampon intended for glacier travel, trekking, and non-technical snow climbs. It uses a full strap-on attachment system which theoretically allows it to be fitted to any boot capable of taking a crampon.
I purchased a pair of Monte Rosas in order to compliment the B1 boots I will be using on a backpacking / mountaineering excursion to Norway this summer. My requirements for the setup are simple:
1. A good, supportive boot that I can walk in comfortably all day, yet can still climb in and kick steps in hard snow.
2. A lightweight and basic pair of crampons for added security on glaciers and steep snow slopes.
I think these requirements closely resemble those of the average 3-4 season Scottish mountain walker, who rarely ventures onto graded winter ground yet still requires a footwear setup that can cope with moderately steep snow and lots of walking below the snowline.
I purchased my crampons on special offer for £65 from Field and Trek, which is in my opinion an absolute bargain. The box contains the crampons, a set of Antibott plates (already fitted), some instruction leaflets, and bolts for permanently fixing the regulation bars to a certain length. There is no crampon bag included in the price.
From initial observations, the Monte Rosa crampon differs from the old established G10 in the following ways:
1. Most obviously, the Antibott plates and straps are black instead of yellow.
2. The next thing you notice is that the metalwork has a matt instead of gloss finish.
3. The straps are slightly thinner and made of a more lightweight (cheaper?) material.
4. Only the front points have 3D stamping for added strength, as opposed to the G10 which has extensive 3D stamping throughout.
So far, so good. The crampons certainly felt lightweight and were easy to adjust to my boots, with the fast and easy adjustment bar Grivel owners have come to expect. I managed to achieve a near-perfect fit on my Mammut Mt. Envy boots within about a minute of adjustment.
My opportunity to test the crampons out came with a late-season cold snap. I climbed an easy couloir just right of Church Door Buttress on Bidean. I think this route is a good example of the terrain these crampons were made for: steep snow for about a thousand feet, not quite Grade I but steep enough that you need to be sure of where you're putting your feet.
When putting the crampons on, my impressions were that they were if anything slightly easier to put on than the old G10s. I think this is due to the new straps, which are more flexible and handle more easily. It was also easier to 'lock' the straps down by rethreading them through the split ring after the straps had been tightened. This made them feel more secure, although I wondered if they would be more difficult to untie later on.
Walking in the crampons on flat hard snow felt very comfortable, thanks I suspect to the flexible regulation bar. Rigid crampons can sometimes suffer in this respect (although they have other advantages!) When the going got steeper, I found the best way was to zigzag up the slope; flexible boots and crampons are simply not made for front-pointing over long distances, but this is a price you pay for the increased comfort, versatility, and light weight.
As I'm used to 12-point crampons, it took me a while to remember the best way of walking in 10-pointers. The loss of two extra points makes it doubly important to walk with feet flat to the snow on steep ground, rolling the heel to ensure all points are engaged with the snow. Flexible boots make this a lot easier; with B3s the temptation is simply to front-point up everything.
When I got to the top of the route and took the crampons off, I did indeed find that the knots I had tied to secure the straps had frozen and were more difficult to untie than usual. I blame the thinner, more flexible straps, although I suspect a different tactic for securing the straps might solve this problem. Further experimentation is due here.
In conclusion, the Grivel Monte Rosa crampon is a no-nonsense piece of kit. The low price is appealing, and despite the lack of frills these crampons have all the essential features for safe travel on steep snow slopes. They are, in my opinion, ideal for winter walkers in the UK. When used correctly and in combination with the right boots, I think they will also be capable of much more: lightweight Alpine climbing, normal routes up Himalayan peaks, extended mountaineering tours in remote regions. The only disadvantage that I have been able to discover so far is the strap which is more difficult to untie and more prone to icing.