If you're going to test the quality of what many consider the best outdoor gear on the market, you might as well take it as far away from civilization as possible—somewhere like Squamish, British Columbia. Just under two hours north of Vancouver in the southwest corner of Canada, the area not only has challenging hiking terrain, but also a capricious high-altitude climate close to the ocean that can and will snarl from sunshine to rainy cold at a moment's notice. (I'd be remiss not to mention the breathtaking views; see below.)
With a reputation for taming these sorts of conditions, it was only fitting that Gore-Tex chose Squamish to show us its new Surround technology, a years-in-the-making improvement to its already excellent waterproof footwear that La Sportiva is adopting in 2015. After all that, it was hard to go back to New York.
La Sportiva and Gore-Tex, I could tell right away, decided to take this author and a few media cohorts on the roads less traveled. Our guides arrived at the chopper in a Mitsubishi Delica Chamonix Edition, perhaps one of the greatest vehicles of all-time. On the side it reads proudly: "Specifically designed for the all season outdoor player."
In the same way it's used for heli-skiing, a Bell Jet Ranger III or an A-Star helicopter can take one to trails that only a few boots a year touch. Of course, the flip-side is that there might be quotation marks around the word "trail." They have a rating system for bushwhacking (clearing the path ahead), with level four "guaranteed to make you bleed." One of our guides added that level five was "purely theoretical."
"Oh, ya, if the door comes open when we're in the air, just, well, close it," said our helicopter pilot, who was obviously named Steve. Surprisingly this casual attitude did not mitigate anxiety. At least there wasn't a music radio on the helicopter. I bet he would have played some Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Loading up the grills, booze, and other provisions into the "boot."
The Bell Jet Ranger III isn't as fast ascending as an A-Star, so Steve expertly harnessed the bird to a nearby thermal.
You have to have visibility in a helicopter, so we had to wait for the right moment when there was a gap in the clouds at the bottom of the mountain.
If there's something better than riding in a helicopter, I'd love to know. Maybe flying a helicopter?
Arriving at our hiking base, we set up shop at Tantalus Hut on the unbelievably Canadian-named "Lake Lovely Water."
After dropping us off, Steve got some speed and used the wind to launch his 206 (that's slang for a Jet Ranger III they use) screaming down the mountainside, buzzing the treetops.
Grabbing the fuel and booze lugged by the helicopter, we put it straight into the lake. Because when nature gives you a fridge, you might as well keep it fully stocked.
Quick but vital tangent: the Canadians kept referring to the rowboat and canoes as "yachts." It was unclear whether this was humor or a Canadianism. Since the northern politeness was infectious, I didn't dare ask.
Shimming up a little via ferrata, we made our way up the the side of Tantalus peaks that reach 8,540 feet above sea level. La Sportiva's sticky rubber had no problem giving us traction.
The new Gore-Tex Surround running shoes and hiking boots will be available in the spring, and feature a complete Gore-Tex barrier all around the shoe—including the bottom. Previously the Achilles' heel of Gore-Tex footwear, the breathability of the sole was made possible by a piece of foam between sole and foot, allowing for evaporation of sweat, after it passes through the vapor-permeable material.
The Gore-Tex engineers were on hand to show us in detail how it worked. That white foam below the blue sole is where the vapor can escape—it seeps out pores in the sides of the shoe, made possible by the web that covers it, holding the shoe together like a frame. Looking at the data, this is something that might permanently kill swampy trenchfoot in sweaty, wet-weather hikers.
Do you know how to read a topographical map?
Blueberries lined the slopes of the mountains. Two benefits: 1) constant snacks, 2) something to hang onto when it became steep.
The views weren't bad above the treeline.
I usually prefer hiking in running shoes, but when the trail is just a bunch of rocks, it's nice to have a hiking boot with a little more heft. La Sportiva is debuting Gore-Tex Surround tech in the Core High GTX and the Primer Low GTX, covering both running and hiking.
It became glacial the higher we went. Apparently the stacks of ice used to be 30 feet higher...
At this height, with the ocean so close, the weather is constantly changing with different systems moving in and out. If you live in a continuously changing climate, like the Pacific Northwest or New England, a breathable waterproof layer like Gore-Tex, Polartech NeoShell, or Mountain Hardwear's Dry.Q Elite is essential.
Ropes, helmets, and harnesses, just in case. It's a long way down.