Preface: Recently, when servicing a garment with Icebreaker, in Portland, Oregon, on warranty, I was reminded of the superior products made from superfine merino, the many unconventional purpose they have served for me as a minimalist back packer, and the renew-ability of wool as a textile resource. I could tell many tales which attest to the reliability of merino in a variety of predicaments, the following is a cherished memory that wouldn’t have been the same without my Crush Hoody and Cascade Vest
When the suggestion of hiking to the highest elevation on the Australian continent was first proposed I knew merino would be the only suitable insulation choice. One late September afternoon on the retail floor in Canberra, the countries capitol and gate way to the Snowy Mountains, a co-worker and I began to plan our assault on Kosciuszko Peak, 2,228 meters. Admittedly, this time of year was a risky choice in terms of weather, but if the atmosphere wasn’t on our side at least our merino would be. Wrong time of year or not, I was getting ready to depart Canberra and continue my travels, this would be my last chance to nab Kosciuszko Peak and say I’d climbed to the highest point on a continent. Lucky for us, we were employed at Snowgum, a distributor of Icebreaker, and had intimate knowledge of what merino pieces would best serve the expedition. With our textile contingency plan in place, we confidently plotted.
Fast forward a week. The first thing I noticed when exiting our vehicle at the top of Charlot Pass, the furthest drivable point on our path to Kosciuszko, was how comfortable I felt in the strong gusts sweeping the tundra flat. It seemed I had chosen wisely with the three part layering system in which I had vested my chances for warmth. The first layer was an Oasis Long Sleeve Crew, followed by my all time favorite Crush Hoody, and finally the Cascade Vest. Each layer on it’s own had pours large enough for the wind to penetrate, however, in combination, the superfine weave seemed to over lap and although I wasn’t wearing a wind breaker or shell, the pieces accomplished a similar purpose quite well.
As we began our gentle climb over rolling hills with sheets of deteriorating crystalline cobbles and and alpine streams, my temperature never seemed to fluctuate. A few hours and many miles into our hike, when normally covered in perspiration, accompanied by shivering when stopped, with my body wrapped in merino, my internal thermostat seemed to regulate with greater ease. When we yielded to our tummies for lunch in an old shack atop the final saddle nearest the summit, I found my meal much more enjoyable without sweat laden garments chilling my back.
On the last stretch of grading, a few feet from the summit now, flowers lining the trail, the sun began to break through the clouds which had loomed since leaving the parking lot. As I slathered my face in SPF I shed some layers. Leaving on the Oasis Long Sleeve Crew, I was grateful to know I would be protected by the 50 UPF rating which comes with every Icebreaker garment, no liquid film required. Although exposure atop the peak forced the replacement of all layers previously removed, it was little inconvenience compared to uncomfortably sweating in a shell or shivering in most breath able outer layers. Greeting a Raven as we reached our destination, I wondered if Merino had ever grazed these grassy knolls called mountains. They weer there with us in spirit, on our backs. Summit captured, comfort achieved, gear chosen wisely.
In extreme exposure I remember why I consistently choose merino. Not only are the insulatory properties of wool an ancient anthropomorphic technology, it is backed by thousands of years of evolution by an animal living in harsh and unrelenting geographies. Better yet it’s renewable. Although late winter isn’t ideal for pleasant whether in the high lands of the Australian Capitol Territory, thses proved prime conditions for merino to show case it’s versatility.