Petestack Blog

9 January 2011

Lurcher’s Crag and Kahtoola KTS Steel review

Filed under: Climbing,Running — admin @ 11:56 pm

Sometimes when you want to go climbing and most of your traditional playgrounds are laden with unstable snow, it pays to think outside the box. Which is why (attracted by the prospect of carefree ice climbing on a sunny west face) Jamie B, Jay, Isi, Lorraine and I headed east on Friday to Lurcher’s Crag at the northern end of the Lairig Ghru. Now of course we weren’t the only ones to think of that, meaning that the starting pitches of the most obvious lines were already occupied by the time we got there. So Jamie and Jay joined the queue for ‘Central Gully’ (which I thought was North Gully), Isi, Lorraine and I backtracked to ‘North Gully’ (which I thought was an unnamed icefall), and we all went climbing. And our ‘gully’ was good, with an opening pitch at quite a meaty III followed by a pitch of I (if that) and another of II/III (avoidable at approx. I/II if you wanted) before turning into a walk to the top and quick diversion for me to bag the Munro Top of Creag an Leth-Choin. So the girls might tell you (in jest) that I was hogging the lead (what, with all that brittle, ‘dinner-plating’ ice?), but I swear I spent the whole climb trying to give it away! And we still weren’t sure what we’d climbed despite a positive ID (which should have put the issue beyond doubt) for the neighbouring line of The Shepherd until we belatedly discovered this wee paragraph hiding at the start of the route list in the guide:

Two fine icefalls of about Grade III standard have been climbed at the northern end of the cliff. These form in shallow gullies which can bank out under heavy snow. They are left of the following route [The Shepherd].

So we climbed one of the ‘fine icefalls’, Jamie and Jay did North Gully and a good time was had by all! With thanks to Isi for these photos (all slightly adjusted/cropped by me)…

And so to the Kahtoola KTS Steel crampons, which I’ve had my eye on since last year’s running crampon review, finally ordered last week, got yesterday and took out to play on a round of the Meall a’ Bhuiridh/Creise group today. Now, while I still find MICROspikes great on ground where you can place your feet relatively flat, they’re simply not so happy when pushed on steeper gradients where you can’t. Which isn’t totally surprising when things are going to move on slopes with anything that doesn’t locate positively to the sides of the shoes, although the Canadian Hillsound Trail Crampons (which I’m also keen to try when I can get hold of some) look like stretching the elastomer harness concept a little further by grouping their spikes onto two main plates rather than splitting them into five separate pairs.

So do the KTS crampons outperform the MICROspikes on true hill ground? Well, in a word (while maybe still not perfect), yes. They’re more of a true crampon (albeit a very light 10-point design), locate properly to the sides of your shoes and don’t move about on your feet. The strap system might seem fiddly for one-off adjustment to your shoes, but looks really quite quick and simple once that’s done… although you might need (as I did) to knock out any ice getting into the quick release buckles for the ankle straps before you can clip them up and it’s probably worth hot-knifing away any excessive lengths of spare strap (plenty provided for a range of footwear types and sizes) instead of fiddling with the rubber keepers once you’re sure you’ve got enough for your chunkiest shoes. They’re obviously not front-pointing crampons for front-pointing footwear, but flat-foot well even on icy gradients (NB I still cut a few steps in the steepest places) and still really let you run while feeling considerably more secure than MICROspikes on the hill. While the toe straps and front plates stayed really secure all day (counter-intuitive tip for those used to more conventional crampons = raise your toes and pull the crampons down onto them!), I managed to knock the right heel plate sideways a couple of times on my final descent and maybe still need to experiment some more with the fitting there (guessing it must be secure enough if Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa wore Kahtoola KTS for his 10:56:46 speed climb of Everest!). And that’s pretty well all I’ve got to say about them right now, although I should just add that 1. I’ve got the anti-balling plates but purposefully didn’t fit them for my first test and 2. (re. map below) I backtracked from Sron na Creise after some prospecting of scary situations suggested I wasn’t going to find a sensible route down this steep, rocky ridge (a pleasant ascent in summer but graded ground in winter) in trail shoes with 10-point crampons.


  1. I got my Kahtoola KTS Steel crampons four years ago and have been using the microspikes for the last two.
    On steep ground the crampons are much more secure due to less movement on your shoe and the longer spikes, I sometimes feel you need two ice axes to do them justice.

    The reason I got the microspikes is that for most running in winter they’re overkill. The longer spikes throw your foot about more while running on mixed rocky ground and they’re slow to get on and off compared to the microspikes.

    But if I’m going to combine a run with a more technical scramble then I’ll carry the crampons.

    Comment by Bill — 10 January 2011 @ 12:20 pm

  2. Hey Bill, assuming you also use yours with shoes, so any thoughts/tips about the ankle straps and security of the heel bindings? Difficult to get the straps pulling upwards with shoes (Lhakpa Gelu used boots on Everest), but they’re designed to fit and I’m thinking I maybe made a mistake clipping them to the middle of my laces when taking them to the top’s looking better if they don’t chafe where they cross the ankle cut-outs.

    Had been considering hot-knifing the excess strap length with those keepers obstructing on-the-hoof adjustment and being far too fiddly for a cold day, but have now found a non-destructive way of pre-shortening the ankle straps and think I can just tuck those long toe strap ends back through these at the shoe tongues. So going to try all this next time out as well as maybe fitting the anti-ball plates (didn’t find the crampons prone to balling yesterday, but then even the deepest snow was dry).

    Comment by admin — 10 January 2011 @ 6:05 pm

  3. I use them with Montrail highlanders, the back of these shoes protrudes quite a bit and the heel clip of the crampons are a very tight fit (feels like putting a clip in crampon on a plastic boot, it snaps into place) I hook the straps to the furthest point on the laces, plus I wear two pairs of socks, one of which is a mountaineering sock and a gaiter so have no problems with rubbing.

    Comment by Bill — 15 January 2011 @ 9:10 pm

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