I took an opportunity on December 29-30 to climb Pike's Peak in Colorado. For the uninitiated, the mountain is 14,114' feet high, and while the summit is accessible by cog rail and road much of the year, we climbed it over a cold winter weekend complete with an overnight snowstorm. This forced both the road and rail to close, so we quite literally had the mountain to ourselves.

I filmed the climb with a GoPro camera and wanted to share the good and bad of using it in cold mountain conditions. But first, witness the output, produced through the magic of iMovie trailer templates, but more importantly, delivered through the Multipop player:

So how does the GoPro work? Simply in theory:

  1. Strap it to your head
  2. Point your head at something interesting
  3. Press the record button to start filming
  4. Press it again to stop
Nice view, but also take a close look at my head. That's not a headlamp. It's a GoPro!

Nice view, but also take a close look at my head. That's not a headlamp. It's a GoPro!

I repeated this process many times over the course of the two day climb to create the masterpiece you just watched. In practice, I have to say using the GoPro was a mixed bag on a climbing trip through. Let's break it down.

The Good

  • Small! It's as tiny and light as you could ever expect for a video camera. The weight did not bother me at all.
  • Great Output. The lens made it easy to produce some great shots. Wide angle + lots of depth of field = just point and shoot. Which is exactly what you need when 99% of your focus has to be on the task of climbing.
  • Good Conversation. It's a great conversation piece. Seriously. Summit day was 16 hours of climbing, so you need to keep those topics flowing.

The Bad

  • Not Glove Friendly. Since it's tiny, and since the buttons are nearly flush with the casing, I had to take my gloves off to start/stop recording. Not good at sub zero temperatures. If it was really cold or we had more wind or precipitation, I would have thrown the camera in the pack and given up.
  • Power Drain Problems. Cold weather kills batteries, and the tiny battery can only drive the camera for so long anyway. I wasn't able to film the last couple hours leading to the summit because I drained 2 batteries. I tried to keep turning it off completely between shots to conserve power, but that was another hard to operate button, so doing so was hit or miss.
  • Battery Change Impossible. Opening the casing to change batteries is definitely a warm weather activity. You literally need to pry it open with fingernails, then remove a tiny (unhinged) door with more fingernails, try not to drop that, then pry out the battery itself with any remaining fingernails. Simply impossible on the mountain. So I was limited to one battery each day, only being able to change it overnight in the sleeping bag.
  • Headlamp Conflict. While convenient on your head during the day, that space is reserved for a headlamp while climbing at night. I tried to have both devices strapped on, but that didn't work so well. There's a beltclip mount I tried as well, but any attachment you make with that to your backpack straps ends up being upside down.
  • Changing Settings. I understand that on a device this size you can't have a great user interface for changing settings such as aspect ratio, file quality, white balance, etc. But this literally works like a 1970's Seiko early model digital watch. Press 2 tiny buttons to cycle through modes indicated by flashing LCD characters. I can't even do that with the manual out at home, much less on the mountain. Plan to set it via the iOS app over wifi beforehand then live with the settings.

There is No Ugly

This is constructive criticism here. No need to get ugly. Plus as I mentioned, the results were great!

How cool is this location?

How cool is this location?

Suggestions

If the folks at GoPro are listening, I have 2 suggestions to make the camera more climbing-friendly:

  1. An alternate housing with absurdley big protruding record and power buttons. Something you operate with the equivalent of an oven mitt on.
  2. An outboard battery that can attach to the headband and be changed simply by unplugging a wire lead.

And maybe bonus points to team up with Petzl on a combo headlamp/GoPro on the same strap sharing a power source.

Shout Out

That's it for the GoPro, but I did want recommend Pete Lardy at Pike's Peak Alpine School to anyone interesting in climbing the mountain. He was my guide on this trip, and about the nicest, most knowledgeable, friendliest and experienced guy you'd ever want to climb with.

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