12 October 2012

Alpine adventures - Rethinking equipment

It has taken me the sum total of about 12 years to get to visiting Chamonix in France. The epi centre and home of Alpinism and Alpine climbing. Mont Blanc was the objective but it was not to be. Italy and Grsand Paradiso at 4061m was to be the prize and my first 4000der. It proved to be the perfect Intro Peak for our trip. This African born boy is used to the slog of days and days out in the mountains. The novelty of being out on the mountains and then back in time for a hot bath dinner and a comfy bed did take some getting used to!!!

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 Rethinking equipment
I have experienced most types of weather short of hurricanes. My mind set has always been one of carry as much as you can and think you will need. Now I realise most of the Alpine climbing world already knows this, but think of this article as one for the uninitiated.

Gone are heavy goretex layers, thick mid layer fleeces and haevy down jackets. I had all of these and ran hot for most of the time including our summit ascent. I had an Hseven soft shell jacket I was itching to try out in the dry but cold days, but never got up the courage. I nused what I knew. Winter Helly Hansin base layer (superb), 1/4 mzip mid weight Hseven Fleece fleece mid layer (Fine when no wind) and shell and Goretex TNF Summit jacket (Just to heavy and cumbersome. It aslo wetted out in about an hour going up Mer de Glace. It was a long thoroughly wet first day going through our crampon drills and ice axe work.

Other than this first dismally wet day, all the rest were perfect Alpine days. I was itching to try my Helly base with a long sleeve 100% polyester 1/4 zip wicking top and the soft shell jacket I had. The main reason I chickened out was the wind, the soft shell had no hood. I used a fleece lined beanie that I know excatly to use for heat regulation. It was however not wind proof. I am not keen on your typical windproof waterproof fleece lined mountain cap is that they get to hot. (Personal prefrence). A soft shell hood to pull over when pertinent would have ben perfect. WIndproof fleece that the other guys used also worked well, but again no hoods. The cold also meant an external shell layer.

Knowing how your body operates with your layers is absolutely crucial as any Pro alpinist would tell you, but hey we all need to start somewhere. I will get a trip in to snowdon in December to test out my layers and of course just get some ice and snow time in ..if there is any !!!

The other kit:

Crampons - Grivel G12 Crampomatics  superb but make sure they are sharp. I hired some and was  notnto impressed on real 60 Degree ice slopes. My climbing partner had brand new ones and stuck like glue. Having you own is definately the way to go.

Boots - La sportive Nepal extremes - fantastic, they were comfortable and perfect all round.  I used walking poles all the time (So did our guides). For total comfort I used sorbothane insoles. Well cuishoned and absorbent. Highly recommended. Also help keep warmth in at higher altitude.

Axe -  I used a Grivel Nepal ice axe but frustratingly short for me at 50cm (again hired)

Harness - Dmm alpine bod - Ok but there are many other better and more comfortable harnesses out there. We were told by our trip organisersat Icicle Mountaonering to only take one screwgate carabiner, one sling and one prussik chord. Never again will I ever be with out at least 2 screw gates. The guides were less than pleased by this. One would not have been any good for more technical endeavours if I had fallen into the loads and lodas of crevasses we walked over.

Helmet - Petzl elios. Good comfy but w did not use it alot. OIt was mostly a pain having to get in and out of our bags with this constabtly in the way.

Alpine backpack - Hseven 40 Litre perfect in every respect. A good amount of in and out and it was imperative that you pack your pack wisely giving real thought to what you will be using when. The real mind set change was carrying so little. It doid not fewel right but by the end of the week it felt normal and we were checking every gram almost. - Thoroughly knowing your layers and kit made this possible.

Bladders and Bottles - We were told not to bring camelback bladders as they would freeze. Perhaps I take things to literally or am just really out of practise but I could have kicked myself for not taking mine. I consumed a huge amount of water on the summit day and actually ran out. I did use the sigg bottles for the colder climbs but you save yourself a lot of time using the bladder. Not to metion keeping hydrated continuously with out having to slow your posse down by stopping for water.

Try try try all your kit on, spend as much time using it as possible and be totally familiar with it. Granted walking around in crampons on your boots is not the easiest thing here in the Uk when there is no snow. Be confident in being able to put your crampons on and take them off. Do this repeatedly and make sure they fit 100%. Some of my team memebers wetre incredibly frustrated time and again when their crampons came off. My colleagues were completely lost the first day they were told to put thewir crampons on. It bcame very frustrating for them and eventually the guides who needed to get on with the programme.

Softshell mountain trousers (Simond) were excellent. I had not used these before. They were perfect and kept me dry and warm, but with the side vents, also kept me cool. They had braces which were somewhat of a challenge on the morning of our summit at 04:30 am when I needed to take a dump. I thnik I was more frustrated that I did not think about it than the actual task.

Gloves - I used the old trusty seal skin. My hands get very warm so I did not need anything other than these. I did however have liner gloves and some Mountain hardware conduit Mountian gloves for if it really got hairy. I would still have carried all these regardless of weight.

Socks - Summit and proper snow and glacoer das I used 4 season high altitude mountaineering socks and my feet never felt the cold once. 3 seaon socks did the trick for the lower and warmer days. My feet do feel the cold so Iwas not taking any chance.

Glasses - Cat 4 high altitude are a must. We had goggles but the weather (even with a total white out and high winds whilst in Italy) dd not really nesessitate the use of them. A good pair of glasses that wrap aroound really well are just the ticket. One of our party used normal Oakley sunglasses which he claims were ok as well. I was rreally supprised how intense the snow was, pretty much all of the time.

Insulation jacket - I had a down jacket that i took on the higher altitude days and the summit day. We did not have to use them. Having climbed Kili I still had the mindset of super cold and loads of layers. Knowing what I know now, more efficient layers (knowing my layers) and a lighter fiber type jacket would have had the same  effect as a much bulkier and haevy down jacket.

                                                           What would I change ?

Not much actually. A lighter alpine waterproof, a softshell hooded jacket and a lighter fiber jacket instead of the down. A water camelback bladder and knowing my layers better. I intend to do more of this so will get the equipmetn and be sure I know it intimately. If this is a once off for you, hire the kit but be aware of the things I have mentioned.

Be maticulous with your packing and arranging your kit. You will actually be supprised how little you need if you have have all your ducks in a row and are well versed with your kit.

I picked up the Mountaineering bug again and look forward to Snowdon in December, Toubkal in May and all things being equal Conquering the Blanc round July and then Aconcagua for some real expedition training in 2014 Jan. The seven Summits sits on the outer rims of my thinking but that is real serious stuff and real costly.... Hey, what is there to lose ?

                                            

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