When Skyler and I began this blog I think we kind of discussed doing some gear reviews but then figured that it wasn’t really about that and that we wanted to focus more on telling tall tales and sharing stories from the back of beyond. So with that in mind consider this gear review as being less of a gear review and more of a story.
Erica in her jacket celebrating sending Snowpatch Spire, Bugaboozlies, 2012
It was a sunny summer day and I was riding through downtown Vancouver on my way back from doing something – I forget exactly what. Maybe I just went for a bike ride. Anyways on the way back I happened to wander through Urban Outfitters. I should probably just admit that. I’m not proud of it, but it happened. Anyways I was wandering through the sweatshop detritus when I happened on these synthetic puffy jackets that had been marked down from close to $250 to $9. I bought 3 because although they didn’t look like much they did have real primaloft inside, and I thought maybe they could be cut up repurposed into a bivy-bag. This ignominious fate was not to be and they remained belay jackets to be used and abused in the mountains. Turns out they only ended up costing $7 each, and the proceeds from the sale of the third jacket paid for the other two (meaning they were free). True story.
These bad boys are the mullet of belay jackets – they are reversible with one side being a reasonable colour and the other a sort of patchwork of ridiculous ones. Mine is white on one side and ‘party’ colours on the other, Erica’s is a sort of silver grey with what I call ‘autumnal’ or ‘turkey season’ on the other side. If this was a review I would say that frankly the cut of the jacket is terrible, there’s nothing to cinch down the bottom, there’s no zipper guard so I am constantly losing beard in the zipper, and trying to get a helmet under the hood makes you look like an idiot. While it has a ‘Wild Things’ label, it turns out the climbing brand also has a Japanese wing which makes ‘urban’ clothes for those who like to pretend they are on their way to a climbing trip instead of just to school- I think that’s where these jackets came from, and I think it explains why they ended up on the sale rack at Urban Outfitters. All of this is redeemed however by the colours (of course!) and by the fact that synthetic insulation is, in my opinion, brilliant for many of the cold and wet places I find myself.
This happened. That there is photographic evidence is the fault/foresight of Charlie Beard.
But this isn’t a review, it’s a story. I love my jacket. The party colours are ridiculous and turn any ski-trip into a dance-fiasco while the white side clearly means business. This jacket has been on trips throughout BC’s coast mountains, and has now survived three trips to Baffin Island. It has kept me warm during cold evenings on summer alpine trips, winter backcountry shenanigans, on spring char fishing trips and during winter blizzards on the sea-ice. It has been discoloured by sweat, coffee, tea, motor oil, soup, my blood as well as the blood and fluids of at least three other species (notably caribou, char and seal).
On a beautiful spring day I was learning to fish char with an Inuit elder, with Inuktitut flowing through my ears and the smell of brewing tea in my nose. I was killing our char by hitting them on the runner of the qamutiq when I happened to splatter fish brains all over the jacket sleeve. Memories are triggered by small things, smells, sounds, and colours. The brown stains on the sleeve speak to me of food that comes straight from the land. When I notice it, I can taste tea and char-soup brewed on the ice, feel the warmth of spring breezes off the land, hear geese honk overhead and see the mountains of the Meta Incognita Peninsula drift away to a far horizon. To some these battle scars might make the jacket disgusting but frankly the smell and the stains just make me miss ski trips in the mountains and hunting expeditions on the land with friends and family.
Feeling absolutely fried in Iqaluit, nursing a brutal sun/wind burn combination after several days out hunting and fishing on southern Baffin Island. Note the lack of zipper-garage, a design omission that makes one occasionally regret facial hair.