I while ago I wrote a blog post about how I occasionally enjoy a nice, easy, solo day out to test out new equipment. I never solo anything hard, but I find that the ability to spend time alone, without the need to uphold conversation or stick to/manage the group pace, allows me to focus intensely on technique or a new piece gear. So this weekend, when everyone with day jobs was out enjoying mega ultra rad adventures far from home on the long weekend, I took the chance to test out the new TX3 approaches from Sportiva on a quick little day mission. Though I’ve lived in Seattle most of my life, I had never climbed the Tooth or Chair peak before, so those were the objectives for the day (both of them).
A little about the day before we talk about gear
I closed my car door and shouldered my pack at 5:30AM. For some reason, the gate to the upper Alpental lot was closed, so I had to park in the lower lot where there was only one other car – good sign! I wasn’t sure how far up the snow was, so I carried my skis and boots up the road to the start of the winter trail into Source Lake that skirts the Alpental ski area boundary. Five minutes later I found out that the snow still comes all the way to the upper-most lot! Here I clicked into boots and skis and headed towards Chair peak. At this point I could see how dry everything was. The warm temps have melted snow off of all south facing rocks. Rock or approach shoes would be the perfect choice for a little late spring time scramble. The question would be how much of a refreeze had occurred overnight, and whether the snow on the south facing slopes would be safe for a few turns.
I zoomed passed Source Lake and up to the base of Chair peak. Even at 615 in the morning, the slope had already warmed substantially. Upon reaching the base of Chair peak and the start of any climbing, I decided it would be more fun and higher probability to ski down now and go climb the Tooth, rather than try to climb Chair, and then to try to descend in calf-deep mush. I should have started earlier. The basin below Pineapple Pass (South of the Tooth) was shaded and would remain so for a few hours. To the Tooth I went, skiing amazing corn in the process to get back down the lake. From here I started back up again.
After passing the Rap Wall and crossing Pineapple basin, I reach the col beneath the Tooth. Following tracks from a party I had seen an hour earlier, I popped out of my skies and walked around to the south face of the Tooth. Here I de-booted, threw my TX3s on, left my pack behind, and started on the tails of the only other party up here. Time to test out these new shoes via a quick solo and down-climb!
I topped out the Tooth 3:15 hours after leaving the car and took a 15 minute nap on the summit. I then started down-climbing and spent another 15 minutes trying to work out stuck cams, for which I was 1/4. Without an ice axe or nut tool I couldn’t free the precious metal from the rock and kept continued down, engaging in intermittent conversation with two guys from Enumclaw who were on some of their first gear-leads.
After reaching the base, I quickly re-booted, hiking back to my skies, and skied beautiful corn back to the parking lot. Wahooo!
Now what you came for, the shoe review
First, full disclosure: I got a pair of TX3s from Erich out the Pinnacle Sales group in Ballard as one of their KinFolk local athletes. Erich had invited me to stop by the sales office in Ballard, which I kid you not is like a climber’s secret lair. While I won’t give away the exact location to you gear buffs, rest assured that within their office hidden amongst sail boats in the Ballard marina, they have a full line-up of next years Sportiva models and cool new Deuter packs to peak, and about every color and fabric combination of Darn Tough socks imaginable.
I specifically stopped by their office to take a look at all the approach shoe options. Upon my first inspection of the TX3s, I was dismayed by the following:
- a mesh upper that reminded me of the cheap materials on Nike running shoes that rip apart after a week outside
- the rubber sole didn’t seem as “sticky” as that found on something like the La Sportiva Boulder X (Is this really a true approach shoe?)
- In general, I tend to have a high-volume foot, and the TX3 looked a bit narrow.
Well, I am now a convert. After some light hiking, town missions, and a soloing all over the the Tooth while I tried to dig out stuck cams, I am convinced these might be the best approach shoes I will have owned to date. For reference, I have worn (and worn out) two pairs of the Scarpa Crux, the La Sportiva Boulder X, the 5.10 Guide Tennis and a bunch of different types of runners (Solomon, Adidas) on all sorts of mountain adventures.
For the Cascades, and in general, I want a few things out of an low-top approach shoe. I want them to hike well, climb okay, be packable, and to be moderately durable. The usage scenario for this type of shoe (IMO) looks something like: hike 4 hours, scramble across talus, and then throw them in your pack for a rock climb. It also makes them comfortable even to take out for a long, full day solo mission where you leave the rock shoes behind. I see all these qualities that are important to me in the the TX3. They really standout for their balance of comfort versus climb-ability.
In detail, here are some of the things I have observed:
- Fit high-volume well: The shoe is quite adaptable to high-volume feet and has a wider forefoot area. Part of the fit has undoubtedly come from breaking in the mesh upper.
- Rubber/sole compound and pattern strike a good balance: The rubber seems durable yet sticky. As I mentioned above, some approach shoes (like those from Adidas) come with a rubber that really makes them more of a hiker – good luck climbing slab on hard tennis shoe rubber. Others, like the Boulder X, sometimes lack the durability because the rubber is so soft and sticky. I wore a hole through my Boulder Xs in a week. Take a look at the soles of a decently worn pair of Boulder X’s or Scarpa Cruxs and they are nearly worn flat. The problem is that even though shoes in these latter categories climb well, they slip and slide on everything but dry slab. Try wearing pair of Boulder Xs on a steep grassy slope in the alpine while bush-whacking in the Cascades, and you’ll be on your ass most of the time.
- Size/weight are great for low-top approach shoe: In terms of bulkiness and weight, the TX3s strike a great balance again. They seem to lie between a very-climbing oriented approach shoe, and one that hikes well, somewhere between 5.10 Guide Tennis (lightweight, don’t hike well, but climb 5.10) and the Scarpa Crux (comfortable for hiking but poor edging). They are light enough that I would have no hesitation hanging them off of my harness. Though the shoe is light and packable, the sole and the rubber guard around the toe box provide a lot of rigidity and support.
The only test that remains in my mind is whether the mesh upper will survive a summer of trashing. I expect the leather upper (TX4) would be more durable, but it would also come with a weight cost. The upper fabric also obviously affects the waterproofing of the shoe. I don’t look for waterproof low-top shoes though, as if I am wearing low-tops, I am probably not on a mission where I care about my feet being a little wet for few hours (just be careful where you step). I would rather have a shoe that will dry quickly, and that won’t add to much weight to my harness of pack.
There you have it. I’ve got my new blue kicks and I am psyched. Let’s see how they perform the rest of the season! Thanks Erich!