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Vertical Life (#1 Autumn 2012). The Review.

Every now and then something happens and the world slightly shifts. Afterwards, nothing is ever quite the same. Over the last few years the publishing industry has been going through a monumental upheaval, one not seen since 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg perfected the printing press. The internet has taken us to places most of us could barely have imagined just a few short years ago. Sales of traditional magazine and books are plunging and the industry is clawing desperately to find ways to create new business models that are both workable and profitable.

Which brings me to Vertical Life, Australia’s first online climbing magazine. Vertical Life will be published quarterly and is to be accompanied with what the publishers call a “once-a-year, high-end printed tome”. A limited release printed magazine is a great idea and is welcome news to all of us who feel a little sheepish carrying our iPads into the toilet. The two editors have a long pedigree in adventure publishing and it shows. Ross Taylor is a talented writer who started here at Open Spaces in 2005 before moving on to Wild Publications, where he ended up editing both Rock and Wild magazines. After Wild Publications were acquired by Prime Creative Media in 2009 Ross continued on as editor before leaving in 2011 to start his own business. Simon Madden’s prolific and often witty writing skills will be familiar to readers of Wild, Rock and Outer Edge magazines.

So what do I think about Vertical Life? Put simply it’s a very welcome addition to a marketplace where most other outdoor magazines are becoming increasingly less relevant. Vertical Life looks and feels fresh. Many of the key images are evocative, the online medium allowing for larger and more vivid presentations. I was also pleased to see a broad range of feature stories. My fear of wall to wall tribes of beanie-wearing, half naked ‘mattress backs’ didn’t eventuate and instead I was treated to a very fattening slice of the climbing gamut. One thing that I did notice though, was a distinct lack of photographs showing easier climbs. Apart from the wonderful Mike Meadows historic piece Climbing for Climbing’s Sake, you have to turn to page 110 to see a route graded under 22 (okay, Titan in Ross Taylor’s Titan Free is supposed to be only 19 but I figure anything on Mount Geryon’s massive East Face has got to be harder than your average grade 19 at the You Yangs). The other thing which I found mildly annoying was the overuse of the (mainly triangular) opacities used as overlays across too many stories and photographs. This is only a minor design issue though and it certainly won’t bother most readers. My favourite articles? To be honest I enjoyed then all, but I did get a belly laugh out of Steve Kelly’s RAD BAD or Just Plain Sad. I also loved the interview with Mayan Smith-Gobat, and reading Beginnings by Andrea Hah. As a photographer myself I found the interview and video with Australia’s (and possibly the world’s) most accomplished climbing photographer, Simon Carter, especially interesting.

My only real criticisms tend to be technical ones. Vertical Life is created as a PDF, but for some reason it isn’t formatted like a normal PDF for use as an online magazine. This means that it opens using a browser such as Firefox, Internet Explorer 9 or Safari (all of which I tested with no apparent issues) and in Adobe Acrobat. What I really wanted to do was to save the PDF to my desktop and then open it in a digital ebook reader such Adobe Digital Editions. It’s a real inconvenience to not be able to save Vertical Life into my personal book and magazine collection for later reading. When I did finally open it in Adobe Digital Editions it appeared with no cover thumbnail on the Table of Contents, nor was there an interactive contents list. I also found that navigating through the magazine to be cumbersome. The contents page was not interactive and there was no obvious way of moving easily from one story to another (other than page by page). The other thing that slightly annoyed me (when using a browser) was that when I did click on a link (video, link or whatever) I lost my place in the magazine. I’d much rather the link opened in a new tab. All this sounds like nitpicking and to some extent it is as I’m sure that all of these issues will be ironed out in the second edition. Perhaps the editors will eventually look at releasing Vertical Life in both PDF and ePub versions.

Overall the first issue of Vertical Life is an impressive debut and both Ross and Simon should be very proud of what they have achieved. Australian climbers now have a new and vibrant magazine to look forward to. For the Australian climbing community I’d like to think that Vertical Life has slightly shifted our world. Surely climbing magazines will not be the same again.

Vertical Life is available as a free download from and is published by Adventure Types.


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Jetboil Sol Ti Stove Review

Cooking with gas. Jetboil Sol Ti.

For the last six years or so I’ve been using the Jetboil cooking system and I have to say it has performed flawlessly (except for the piezoelectric push-button igniter, which has never really worked for me). Lately though I’ve been shaving the weight I carry and when I heard about the Jetboil Sol Ti I decided to upgrade. First issue was that it wasn’t available for sale in Australia. I always try to buy local (even if it works our a few dollars more), mainly for peace of mind when it comes to warranties. In this case it simply wasn’t available and even as I write this review (three months after purchasing it) I’m still amazed that I can’t find it for sale in Australia. I ended up buying mine from the REI store in Fresno, California, for about $120. The Aussie dollar was pretty strong at the time and I considered this a bargain.

So how does the Sol Ti differ to the original Jetboil. Well for starters the Sol Ti’s cup is made of titanium. The original weighed 200g and the new Ti weighs in at 115g. A substantial saving but you have to take into consideration that the Sol Ti cup is also a tad smaller (by about 200ml). I didn’t find this a big deal and ended up preferring the smaller size. The Sol Ti also comes with a thinner (some might say ‘flimsier’) neoprene cozy. There has been some criticism about this cozy but I found it worked really well in the field and I never felt the heat through it as some people claim. As for the piezoelectric push-button igniter, well lets just say it has its good and bad days. I simply don’t use it any more and wish that Jetboil would just get rid of this ‘feature’ and save a few extra grams. The stove unit itself is also lighter and has what I think a more refined heat control and a better wire flame control handle. Definitely easier to use.

In a practical sense the Jetboil was designed to mainly boil water or other liquid foods (such as soup). It was never designed to cook thick stodgy meals (such as risotto) as the heat control doesn’t allow for effective simmering. The pot is also completely the wrong shape, although the addition of a pot support means that you can buy the larger group-sized cooking pot. For me the Jetboil works great since I almost entirely use the Jetboil to boil water to reconstitute pre-cooked dried meals. Overall the Sol Ti is fast and more importantly it’s reliable.

Original Jetboil weight (cup, lid, cozy, pot support and stove unit): 495g

Jetboil Sol Ti (cup, lid, cozy, pot support and stove unit): 340g

The difference in price between the Original Jetboil (or the current Jetboil Sol Advanced) and the Jetboil Sol Ti is about $30 – $40. That translates as about $10 for ever 40g in weight saved. Pretty expensive when you think about it but shaving those vital grams comes at a premium. All up the Jetboil Sol Ti gets a two-thumbs-up from me.

Visit Jetboil

• Jetboil Thermo-Regulate™ technology – consistent heat down to -6?C
• 0.8 Liter Titanium FluxRing® cup
• Insulating Cozy
• Convenient, reliable push-button igniter
• Pot support and Stabiliser tripod included
• Drink-through lid with pour spout & strainer
• Bottom cover doubles as a bowl and measuring cup
• Compatible with all Jetboil accessories


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Food For Thought


One of the things that surprised me during our recent 24-day walk along California’s John Muir Trail was how popular the instant (dehydrated or freeze-dried) food pouches are in the United States. We saw a lot of people at various campsites along the way and I can’t think of seeing anyone cooking in a billy or lightweight frying pan. Even those out in the mountains for just a couple of days all seemed to be going down the dehydrated path. Considering how cheap these dehydrated foods are, and the fact that they taste pretty damn good, you can understand their popularity. Add to this the convenience of not having to carry a bowl or billy. You simply pour a cup or two of boiling water into the pouch, let it sit for five minutes and then eat. No more washing up. I like it.


Normally Karen and I dry our own meals. Unfortunately bringing our own dried food through US customs was not going to be straightforward. Buying the food pouches in Australia was also not an option as the variety is very limited and the prices the outdoor retailers charge here are well over double that in the United States. In the end Karen ordered the bulk of our main meals from a place called Mary Janes Farm, a sort of hippyish organic farm produce place in Moscow, Idaho. We also bought a bunch of Enertia breakfast and desert food pouches from Wilderness Dining. The guys at both Mary Janes Farm and Wilderness Dining were really helpful and organised to post our order directly to our hotel in Yosemite Valley. This worked out really well.

So how did it taste? Considering we usually dry our own foods (which are cooked exactly to how we like them) I was pleasantly surprised. Just about all of these commercial dehydrated meals were delicious. Perhaps the only minor point is that some of the Mary Janes Farm main meals were a tad bland, but we carried a bunch of small hot chilli packets which we used to fire them up a bit. The Mary Janes Farm products were organic (a good selling point to us) and the packaging had the added advantage of being burnable (a major consideration on long walks). Perhaps my only regret in having experienced these newer dehydrated pouch foods is that I’m now wishing we had these or similar brands available (at a reasonable price) here in Australia.


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SolarMio. Power on the Move


Our recent trip to the United States to do the John Muir Trail was the perfect opportunity for me to try out my latest gizmo, a SolarMio 3 lightweight solar panel. We planned to do the walk over 24 days and I wanted to take along my Apple iPhone. I was hoping the SolarMio would be able to recharge it along the way. I admit there was no reason to carry an actual phone along the crest of the Sierras as there is cold snap in hells chance of getting a connection. But I do use my iPhone for a variety of other purposes. Firstly, I’m addicted to the iPhone camera. Sure, I was carrying a Canon 5D Mark II for all of the usual high-quality stuff, but I have to say that I really love the immediacy and simplicity of the iPhone camera. I’m also fascinated with the various camera apps that allow me to quickly change how my images look and feel. Secondly, I wanted to listen to my music collection. I have thousands of songs on my iPhone and I figured that since we were confined to our sleeping bags by 7pm I would end up listening to most of them (my wife, Karen, was reading her Kindle and didn’t want to talk to me). Thirdly, I use my iPhone to write a daily journal and wanted to work on a few other text projects.

I bought the SolarMio 3 from the guys at Pinnacle Outdoors in Melbourne. The SolarMio is a foldable unit with three flexible solar panels. It has an output of 4.5V (300mA) and a battery bank with an output of 5V/6V (500mA). The battery is rechargeable Lithium Polymer and the whole lot weighs in at a reasonable 125g (a couple of Mars bars). I attached the panel directly to the back of my rucksack using elastic ties, which worked extremely well. Interestingly, we were walking the John Muir Trail from north to south and the back of my rucksack was often facing north, which in California means away from the sun. Despite this the SolarMio battery would usually fully charge over the day (especially if I placed the panels to face the sun in the last half of the day when we were in camp). A single full charge of the battery would see it deliver a reasonable 35 to 40% charge to my iPhone. This proved to be plenty of power to keep me shooting images, listening to music and jotting down my thoughts. Overall the SolarMio proved its worth, but we were hiking in sunny California. I wouldn’t want to bet the house that the SolarMio would deliver similar results when walking in less sunny regions such as Patagonia or Scotland.