Matt Van Biene self portrait, high on the Cassarotto Route, North Pillar of Fitz Roy during his ascent of the Care Bear Traverse
Usually clothing is… well, simply clothing. Even when we are talking about garments made for activities such as alpine climbing. A jacket might have waterproof characteristics, breathe well, fit over your helmet, but essentially you just wear it and do your thing. Pants are the same deal. Sure you’ll probably want soft shells over jeans when romping through the hills, for obvious reasons, but whatever dri-stretch-neo-tex-fabric company A uses over company B will likely have no bearing on whether you make it to the top. In fact, I can’t recall really ever wearing an article of clothing that “did” anything for me while climbing, other than be there and keep my dry and warm, but everything does that. That is until I donned NW Alpine’s Salopette down in Patagonia this past season.
Like a form fitting stretchy suit of armor, the Salopette hugged my core snug and provided a force field from the elements. The combination of upper body warmth and lower body durability made for an ideal combo while climbing gritty granite and bivying at night. During high output moments the whole piece breathed extremely well and I was easily able to regulate temperature with the full-length zipper that runs down the front and through to the back. Hiking ten miles in on a good weather day? Drop the front zip and let it breathe. For extra high output with a heavy pack, open up the crotch area for a nice draft to keep you cool. Being in the backcountry, nobody cares that you’re exposing your underwear that you’ve been wearing for three days. But, as my mini rant stated above, these are all qualities we’ve come to expect in well-made outdoor gear, and the NW Alpine Salopette is no exception. Handcrafted in Portland, OR by climbers, for climbers, this piece stands out with its build quality alone. But how did it help me get to the top? It’s not a long story, but let me explain…
So there I was, on lead, hundreds of feet off the deck and few thousand more to go. Blissfully enjoying stellar crack climbing on near perfect rock in an unbelievably sublime setting. I was bordering on an out of body experience when all of a sudden I had a very internal body experience. My stomach dropped and the dehydrated mountain cuisine that I had feasted on earlier began to wreak havoc and make a mad dash for the exit. With the end of the pitch near I sprinted to the ledge. Frantically slamming two cams and clipping them, my mind screamed “fuck equalization!”, and I called “TAKE!” to my belayer 150 feet below. A perplexed response, “Dude, are you OK?” echoed back. I panted out, “Hold on!” This was happening NOW and my bowels rumbled. Normally, with any other pants I wear I would have been up shit creek, literally. But realizing all I had to do was unzip through the back and lean back I relaxed a little. That was a bad idea all things considered, but thankfully the seamless transition from glory hand jams to hanging bowel movement went cleanly, to say the least. Naturally, if it hadn’t we very well might have been forced down and that is how the NW Alpine Salopette helped us send that day.