The summer alpine season is upon us and if you are in the process of making final decisions about what gear to take, and what to leave behind, the chances are you are wondering what crampons to take (if any). Image: Approaching the Dente Della Vecchia Should your objectives be mainly rock, as opposed to long classic snow routes, you will certainly be looking to minimize any extra snow and ice gear that you might require. One way to do this would be to opt for one of the Kahtoola crampon systems and leave your Scottish winter crampons at home. On a trip to the Val Masino area of Italy earlier this month I had the opportunity to try some Kahtoola Aluminum Crampons whilst my climbing partner took a pair of Kahtoola Micro Spikes.
Val Masino is a fantastic granite rock climbing area which has some non glacial snow approach depending on seasonal conditions. This spring many of the classic routes required some snow and ice gear to approach or descend from them. The snow was partially frozen in the morning but very soft and unstable in the afternoon. The slope angle was never more than 45’ but there was one tricky gap between the top of a long slope and the rock which caused us some problems. Image: Micro Spikes dealing with old frozen snow. My partner had the Micro Spikes on a pair of La Sportiva Trango boots. You could argue that this is a bit of a mismatch and that Micro Spikes would more suitable for approach shoes but he developed some ankle problems and had to opt for more supportive footwear. Micro Spikes are tiny steel triangles arranged on a chain lattice which is in turn attached to a thick rubber band-like binding. The rubber binding fits tightly around the upper of your boots or shoes (assuming you buy the correct size). The Micro Spikes were quick to fit and secure once in place. On unstable wet snow the tiny spikes didn’t seem to make much difference over a regular Vibram sole. However, on frozen snow the spikes offered enough purchase to make a significant difference. Image: Micro Spikes - a neat fit. These crampons resemble something approaching what you would normally expect in a crampon. The spikes are still relatively short at around 10 mm and the crampon is in two parts with a leaf spring connecting bar. The webbing straps have a side release buckle at the ankle and a ladder lock buckle for the front. Length adjustment is quickly achieved via a sprung pin. The front and back sections of the crampons slide together when not in use and pack up neatly together. The longer points meant that these crampons did provide reasonable purchase on soft snow and acceptable grip on frozen snow as well. Being aluminum these crampons are very light (240g lighter than the steel version), but the down side is that as soon as you touch rock the points round off very quickly. For example; stepping off snow onto a granite slab, arranging a belay and bringing up the second was enough to require re-sharpening. Image: Kahtoola KTS Aluminum Crampons fitted to approach shoes.
You are definitely in an area of finely balanced compromise with light weight crampons. Micro Spikes may work to an acceptable level on low angled névé and I can image them working well in the California Sierra where you get iron hard banks of old snow below routes (known locally as Sun Cups). If you envisage any conditions where you might encounter soft unstable snow you would be much better opting for Aluminum Crampons. For extended trips and all day glacier travel where durability would be an issue the Kahtoola Steel Crampons would be a better bet. Important Note: We strongly recommend the use of an ice axe with any crampons in the mountains.