Standing on the summit of a mountain, some 12,000 feet up is not what I’d envisioned when Mtbr was invited to France for a visit with eyewear maker Julbo. Yet there I was, clenching a rented ice axe, straining against my natural inclination to panic.
I was initially told this event would involve a factory tour, some riding, and a big hike. Shortly before the trip, however, the PR guy called to ask if I was afraid of heights. That should have been my first clue. His second question was if I had any previous climbing experience. Being the idiot that I am, I mentioned I’d been bouldering and promptly forgot the conversation. It wasn’t until I was sitting at a rental store in France being sized up for a harness, crampons, mountaineering boots, and the aforementioned ice axe, that I realized I might be in over my head.
Thankfully another journalist noticed my growing apprehension and gave me a brief tutorial on how to wear a harness, crampons, and most importantly — self-arrest. I don’t want to say this two-minute tutorial saved my life, but I’m pretty sure that two-minute tutorial saved my life.
Loaded up with gear and an uneasy feeling, I was ushered into the world’s highest vertical ascent cable car with a group of Julbo employees, athletes, and three other journalists. To say this was the start of the longest day of my life would be a massive understatement. Words don’t do the experience justice, so hit play to enjoy my misery (and please excuse my generous use of four-letter words).
That occasionally terrifying half day mountaineering excursion in the French Alps was the perfect introduction to Julbo. While I’d not previously heard of the brand, Julbo has been producing eyewear for over a century. Their first product was released in 1888 at the behest of crystal hunters in these mountains, and they’ve been manufacturing some of the most well-regarded mountaineering eyewear on the market ever since.
When you’re climbing at elevation, your equipment selection is critical. You have to have complete trust in your gear because your life is quite literally on the line. Of all the equipment you’re bringing, it’s strange to think just how important eyewear is.
What makes the correct eyewear so critical at altitude is the increased exposure to UV rays. For every 3,000-foot increase in elevation, UV radiation increases 10-12%. If that mountain range happens to be covered in snow, then the amount of UV radiation reflected goes up 80%. And these rays aren’t just beaming straight down, they’re bouncing around, creating unique opportunities for sunburns, like on the inside of your nostrils or your eyes. In the case of your eyes, this could result in a temporary but painful condition known as photokeratitis (AKA snow blindness.)
Most high-end sunglasses offer protection against UVA and UVB rays, but what sets Julbos apart is the high level of light transmission they offer. Most sunglasses are too dark in inclement weather, but UV rays aren’t abated because the clouds are out. To adapt to a wide range of dynamic conditions, Julbo sunglasses use a photochromic technology that works regardless of temperature.
Their Zebra lenses, for instance, can transition from a category 2 (42% light transmission) to a category 4 (7% light transmission). In practice, that means you can see clearly while riding deep in the woods, yet still be comfortable at the top of a mountain. Better yet, the sunglasses transition quickly. Julbo claims it takes only 28 seconds to go from one end of the spectrum to the other. If you prefer polarized lenses, the brand also offers their Camel lenses with a 5-20% range of adjustment. Both the Zebra and Camel lenses have anti-fog and oil repellent treatments.