I’ll admit it, I’m a guy.
The type of guy who receives a new pair of Petzl Sarken crampons in the mail and instantly tears open the box, runs to find his climbing boots, buried in a pile of camping gear since last Spring, and begins playing. I show the crampons to my daughter, the black and orange design and sharp points eliciting an awestruck, “Cool. Those are a lot nicer than your old crampons. What are the orange thingies for?” “Uhhh, I’m not sure,” I reply while figuring out how to adjust the pair to fit my boots.
I’m not the type of guy who reads instructions, much. These are crampons after all! It doesn’t take me long to figure out the sizing, front to back, is adjusted by a pin that is set with a piece of spring metal, holding it in place securely. Adjustment is straight forward even without the instructions, begging me to take a look from their holding cell inside the product box. The large hoop at the front of the crampon fits my older, largish double plastics boots well with no need to precisely align the front welt with a thin piece of metal. My old pair, broken and left behind in Nepal, had that front wire. I despised that front wire when my hands were cold and it would move the slightest bit out of true.
With the front set, the heel of my boot fit snugly between two small stanchions on the rear section of the crampon. I’m guessing these little nubs are in place to hold the boot from sliding side to side, making the connection to ice all the better. This set of Sarkens uses Petzl’s Leverlock attachment, the heart of which is a lever set on a thick wire which locks onto the rear welt of a climbing boot. I have used this type of system before and enjoy the easy of use, especially with gloves on.
After the heel is clipped in, a leash runs from the lever, through the front attachment point and back to a buckle. Done! (normally, at this point, I would trim the extra leash, but as this pair is going back to the factory, I tucked in the extra length). And now it’s time to wait until…
…six weeks later when the ice is finally in in Washington state! No, I still haven’t read the instructions. Genevieve Hathaway and I head over the snowy Cascade Mountains to a small, 30′ waterfall known as Umptanum Falls, rated at WI2. I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to test these crampons for glacier travel, but a quick jaunt up some easy ice should give me a quick reading on their usefulness.
Reaching the ice fall and finding it gushing with water, we decide to rappel into the pool below via another obvious looking piece of ice (we later come to find out is named Austin Eats It and is WI3). To get there from here, I slap on the crampons, this time in the cold with snow caked boots. Everything goes easily enough, although I still wonder what the orange dial on the back of the lever is for.
My first impression while walking up a small hill, over a creek, side hilling just a bit and then down? These crampons do an amazing job of bailing. Snow balled up on the underside of crampons can be a serious hazard as it turns the once useful devices into big, clunky mini-skis. (At one point, when home, I read the instructions. I’ll admit it. I then found out the orange plates on the bottom, the ones my daughter asked about, are specifically there to help keep snow from balling up under the crampon.) While this was not a day long trek up the Deming Glacier, I was impressed with how well these crampons kept out balling snow during the test.
Rope’s in place and we rap down to the pool at the bottom of the ice. “It’s a small puddle, at least.” Genevieve tries to look at the bright side as it is my rope, not hers, that is trying to snake its way from the pool into the creek. I tie in and start swinging ice tools, chipping into the semi-brittle ice. Part way up Genevieve notices my boot moving in the crampon just a bit. When I get down, sure enough, I didn’t tighten the strap enough, nor kick my foot into the front basket enough.
That is one difference between these type of crampons and the style with a wire on the front that hooks into a welt; proper fit is more important before starting out as there is more give in this design. Yet it is easier to fit when done properly.
Overall, I found the Sarkens decent on vertical ice. If the ice was anything less than vertical, I was able to get ample grab from the hooked design of the mid-front points. On my foot they felt solid when strapped properly and moving over rocks, roots, snow. I also like how small they pack when not on a boot. And the anti-balling ability of those funky orange plastic pieces I couldn’t explain to my daughter are a nice improvement for snow travel.
When I returned home, I read the instructions. And the box. Right there on the box is a grid with various models and activities. Sure enough, the Sarkens are rated one star out of three for ice, while garnering three stars for technical mountaineering environments. I would love a chance this summer to take these crampons out on a glacier then up a mixed route. I have a feeling their solid feel would be well received after a long day on glaciers.
Oh yeah, that orange dial. It helps make micro up and down adjustments to the Leverlock to fit a boot properly. The instructions told me that, too.
Peter West Carey is a world traveling photographer living on Whidbey Island in Washington state who loves sharing his experiences and knowledge at photography workshops, through photo presentations and photo tours. He’s most at home in the mountains or near the ocean and can be found hiking, climbing, wandering, staring up at tall trees or into a passing river for hours. Oh sure, he has a Facebook page, blog and a Twitter account as well.