Saturday, 16 July 2011

Blue Ice Choucas Harness Review

Blue Ice Choucas Harness

I received a Blue Ice Choucas Harness just a few days before I was due to fly out to Kathmandu to lead an expedition on the North Ridge of Everest. At 170grams this harness is spookily light but the Dyneema webbing is incredibly strong and having had a quick play with it I felt able to leave my old heavyweight Bod at home (495gr)

In action it was very similar to the Bod with a number of advantages, the obvious one being the weight or lack of. There was plenty of adjustability in the medium/large size which fitted comfortably over my down suit but also clinched down tight over a pair of soft shell trousers lower on the mountain.

One great feature is the red belay loop which makes it very obvious even when peering down through goggles and an oxygen mask past a bulky down suit. I now extend my abseil device on a cows tail to remove the potential for error but if you chose to clip into your belay loop then this feature is a life saver.

The buckle was very easy to use even with big gloves on and it never froze, a problem I’ve experienced several times with other harnesses. Toilet stops at altitude are an interesting challenge usually occurring at the most inconvenient times but the spacing of the rear elastics meant that, without being too graphic, nothing restricted access and you were able to stay clipped in, an important safety consideration. Tried and tested at 8700m!

If you’re competent on Scottish style mixed ground then there’s not many opportunities to abseil on the North Ridge but on the couple of occasions I did the harness was surprisingly comfortable providing plenty of support to the legs. Some lightweight harnesses can ride up and restrict your breathing but in this case I think I can blame it on the altitude!

For me this is unarguably the best harness I’ve used for climbing at altitude. Like all Dyneema products it would be vulnerable to friction but after two months use of Everest it still looks as good as new. It would be ideal for many commercial trips such as Cho Oyu, Island Peak, Muztag Ata, Denali, Vinson etc but you would probably need a slightly more supportive harness for technical peaks such as Ama Dablam. It would also work great for easy alpine routes and ski mountaineering where weight is key. Overall a superb harness and one which I'll be wearing for scrambling, ski touring and general mountaineering in the next few months.

The Blue Ice range is currently stocked at Lakes Climber in Ambleside

The Choucas in action on the North Col of Everest