Kicking steps up hard snow on Wetherlam’s frigid northern slopes, the advantages of B3 boots came sharply into focus. I was progressing rhythmically with neat one-kick steps, while Graham Thompson (Trail’s technical editor) was floundering below, having to rekick my steps to house his more flexible B2s.
It’s only when things start to get marginal in the mountains that you see the benefits of some types of gear – but it is at these times when these differences are at their most important. In most snowy conditions here in Britain, and even among the high Alps in summer, B2 boots are more than adequate; but if you are serious about your hills and climbs and don’t want any compromises then you have to plump for B3s. As always however there is a trade-off, and what B3s boast in terms of security on steep ground and warmth in frigid conditions they tend to lack when it comes to sensitivity and comfort on walk-ins.
For a long time boot manufacturers have been juggling this compromise of stability and comfort, trying to come up with a solution. Over ten years ago Scarpa made a determined effort with the Cumbre. At the time it was hailed as a winner, and it quickly gained classic status. But technology and thinking have moved on, and it has now become dated – which is where the Mont Blanc comes in. This boot has been launched as a replacement to the Cumbre as part of a range alongside the Phantom Ultra and the Phantom Guide. These two are very technical boots, which leaves the Mont Blanc aimed squarely at the softer, more flexible end of the B3 scale. Their only downside seems to be a shallow rear binding lug recess, which may not accommodate all clip-in bindings.
It might seem odd logic to have variation within the B3 classification, but in this instance it works really well. Scarpa has clearly recognised that there is a large group of mountaineers who aim at doing high Alpine peaks and moderate winter routes in the UK, and has designed the Mont Blanc accordingly. They have got the flex, support and warmth ratio just right for doing routes up to AD/D at the highest altitude in the Alps, Grade IVs in this country and just about any grade of pure ice-climbing.
The purpose of my day out on Wetherlam was to try out the Mont Blancs on some steep ice. The amazing conditions we had this winter had already allowed me to try them on long walks, including covering lots of Grade 1 ridges and steep mixed terrain. At all this the Mont Blancs excelled, with a high level of comfort. The acid test for me though is on ice, particularly thin stuff as it is a good measure of sensitivity and support. Off the side of Steel Edge are some reliable ice falls that give a good selection of thick ice and ice-glazed rock. The routes are short and it’s easy to bag lots of hard or easy variants. On these, the Mont Blancs performed with aplomb, proving that they are both sensitive and supportive enough to tackle ice and Grade IV winter routes, as well as being flexible and warm enough for more moderate climbs and walk-ins. In my opinion, with the Mont Blanc GTX Scarpa has made a new classic.
Upper one-piece 3mm HS12 suede; Gore-Tex (Insulated Comfort Footwear) waterproof and breathable membrane; integrated snow gaiter
Sole Vibram Total Traction
Sizes 37-48 including half sizes
Weight 2400g (pair, size 46)
Made in Italy
Due in store April 2010
Stockist details – tel. (0191) 296 0212: www.scarpa.co.uk
The Scarpa Mont Blanc GTX is an extremely comfortable and capable boot with a high degree of sensitivity. The flex and support give painless approaches while still allowing enough support to tackle moderately technical and icy ground. However, the rear binding lug recess is a tad shallow and may not accommodate all clip-in bindings. All in all, a big step towards the perfect B3 boot.
Review by Jeremy Ashcroft
First published in Trail magazine Spring 2010