You hear it all the time. "Fast and light, "light and fast" or "going light." For most, this idea can be nothing more than hope as you find yourself lugging your gear to your intended high camp, your packing weighing you down and biting into your shoulders as you continually contemplate the contents of your pack and what made it so heavy.
Packing for any alpine climb can be a challenging endeavor. We as alpine climbers are constantly trying to refine our systems in order to get closer the point where comfort becomes pain without crossing the line, at which point safety and fun become effected.
We often bring too much into alpine environments. Understandably, It makes us feel safe. I see it all too often in the mountains. Climbers trudging their way to their camp with packs the size of a small person with what looks to be their entire closet strapped to the outside for only a few hours of tossing and turning.
Over the years as a mountain guide I have learned what I need, what I might need and what is totally useless. Pictured below is my pack, including guiding gear, for a 2 day guided ascent (the most common itinerary for climbers both independent and guided) on Mt. Shasta. My planned itinerary is the Hotlum-Bolam ridge with a unique variation that features low 5th class climbing on what I have found to be the only solid rock on the mountain before reaching the summit plateau. I hope that a review of the contents, weighing in at a mere 32 pounds at the trailhead, will help you decide what to take and what to leave behind.
"The key to a the perfect kit is versatility." - Steve House
3. Advanced Medical Kit: This lives in the bottom of my pack. I never take it out unless I plan on using it. There is nothing fancy about it. It is a stock mountain medical kit by Adventure Medical Kits. It has everything I need for advanced, long term medical care. Broken bones, large lacerations, dislocations and severe cold weather injuries. I keep a smaller medical kit for minor injuries, blisters, headaches etc.
5. Guide Notebook: Not everyone needs to carry something this elaborate. However, having emergency contact numbers, a map of the local area and the weather forecast in some sort of weatherproof container like a ziplock bag can be a life saver. I will often add key GPS coordinates of the area I am operating in should I need them and not have access to my electronic devices. It's weightless and well worth it.
6. Sunglasses and Buff: You need to have high quality sunglasses in any alpine environment. Anything that lets 15% or less light through the lens is sufficient. If your eyes are sensitive to light or glare consider getting a darker lens. I tend to sweat a lot so having a sunglass with some sort of ventilation is key for me. I have been using the Julbo Pipeline for some time now and couldn't be happier. A buff is a key piece of gear in mountain environments and I often think of a buff and sunglasses as a system. They bother sun and wind protection and I always have both on. Unless it's dark.
8. Watch: In a perfect world you want something with an altimeter. If you get lost or find yourself in whiteout conditions it can be a life saver to know your elevation. Trust me.
9. Rope: This will obviously be dictated by the nature of the terrain you will be on. Dynamic ropes have come a long way since their inception. Now, you can get a single rated rope at a diameter of 8.7mm. For most of my guiding on Mt. Shasta and other low to moderately technical alpine terrain with no technical descending involved, I opt for a 40 meter 8.5mm rope. All of that 40 meters is rarely used with the exception of this and a few other specific itineraries, however, it is nice to have just in case.
10. Backpack: Very rarely do I need a backpack over 55L for an overnight trip. Unless the route requires a lot of technical gear or the temperatures are quite cold. There are hundreds of different backpacks out there. It can be overwhelming to find one. My recommendation is find one that fits you and meets a few of these requirements: Thin hip belt so it doesn't get in the way of a harness, removable lid, limited exterior features like pockets and extra straps. Pictured above is the Black Diamond Speed 50. I have the large version which adds roughly 5 liters to it's capacity.
11. Guide Kit: I keep everything in this little semi hard case. it lives in the under side of my lid so I always have quick access to it. It is often the first thing I get out of my pack when I get to camp and put in the large inside pocket of my puffy jacket. Contents: blister kit, tent repair kit, headlamp, knife, small first aid kit, cell phone charger, nylon repair tape, patches for sleeping pad, multitool, extra batteries, spare buckles, ski straps, extra lighter, duct tape, emergency sunglasses, spare contact lenses, anti nausea pills, anti diarrhea pills, zip ties, map and compass.
13. Locking Carabiners: I always carry a few locking carabiners on me for various jobs. The lighter the better. I always make sure at least one is a round bar stock carabiner for use in belay situations. There is much less friction and you save a significant amount of energy. The Petzl Attache are a great lightweight option.
14. Bowl and Spoon/Fork: You need to eat right? No need to get too fancy with this. Fozzils are a great option. Once unsnapped, you slide these down the bladder compartment in your pack and they disappear.
15. Harness: If you don't plan on hanging in your harness, go with a modern lightweight alpine climbing harness like the Black Diamond Couloir. It packs down quite small, takes up very little room and has just enough room to store all of the technical equipment you may need while you are climbing.
16. Helmet: Get something that fits your head. And make sure it's specific to climbing. I see way too many independent climbers on Mt. Shasta wearing bicycle helmets. They won't do anything for you. Some great lightweight options are the Petzl Sirocco or the Black Diamond Vapor.
17. Ice Axe: I like the Black Diamond Venom. It is not the lightest tool on the market but it can handle a lot of different situations. It can handle everything from snow to steep bullet proof ice. If I am carrying just one axe I make sure it has an adze on it. I want to be able to use my axe to chop anything from tent platforms, rest platforms, or steps in the snow. If you are looking for the lightest axe money can buy, I recommend looking at the Camp Corsa. It is the lightest ice axe in the world currently. Remember, when purchasing an ice axe for general mountaineering you want the bottom of the axe to hit your protruding ankle bone.
18. Technical Gear: For a majority of my climbs on Mt. Shasta and other non glaciated snow climbing routes, I will generally carry 1 double length dyneema sling, 1 quadruple length dynemma sling, 2 prussiks, a tibloc, a small knife, an ice screw and a picket (not pictured.) On this particular occasion I have added 2 Omega Pacific link cams and 2 slings with one carabiner on them to protect the section of low 5th class climbing. The technical gear you choose to bring on your climb will be dictated by the terrain and level of comfort and trip outcome. For me on this particular itinerary, I use this short section of 5th class rock climbing as a great teachable moment to cover rock movement, rock protection and safety in technical terrain.
20 & 29. Tent: I currently use a Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2. To the best of my knowledge it is the lightest 4 season mountaineering tent you can buy. Under 3 pounds according to my scale. including the poles. You do lose the creature comforts compared to a larger tent, like a vestibule and windows in exchange for minimal weight and bulk. You can split up the tent parts between you and your partner to distribute the weight more evenly.
21. Tools and Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, lip balm, lighter, multi tool. Nothing more. don't weight yourself down with things like makeup, deodorant, baby wipes etc.
22. Sunhat: Personally, I like visors. My head tends to overheat when I have a full baseball cap on. When the sun comes out on the climb and it's not too cold I will often put my visor on under my helmet. Doing that with a baseball cap can be uncomfortable sometimes.
23. Gloves: Often times I will only take 1-2 pairs of gloves on an overnight trip. Like most industry professionals, I like to use Kinco gloves for non technical mountaineering. Expensive cold wearing climbing gloves can wear out easily. Kinco gloves tent to hold up to more abuse. I will usually pair a thin liner with these gloves so I never have to expose bare skin to the elements. I always make sure they are compatible with smart phones. Luckily, most liner gloves are these days.
24. Crampons: If you are just snow climbing, a 10-12 point aluminum crampon is sufficient. The important thing is that are securely attached to fully rigid mountaineering boot. Although they aren't aluminum I use the Black Diamond Sabertooth crampons for most alpine guiding.
25. Dromedary Bag: This is a phenomenal piece of equipment. It let's you store extra water for either the following morning before you leave for your climb or let's you transport extra water from a source.
26. Water Bottles: I use a combination of two different types of bottles. A regular 1 Liter Nalgene and a collapsable 1 liter bottle. Most of the time, I only carry 1 liter during my approach given it is not too long. I use the rigid Nalgene during this time and roll up the collapsable bottle and stuff it away to save space. On the climb, 1 use both bottles filled when there is plenty of extra space in my pack. since the collapsable bottles are not as durable as the hard plastic ones, I will sometimes reinforce them with duct tape.
27. Clothing System:
- Long Underwear
- Softshell Pants (Patagonia Dual Point Alpine Pants)
- Synthetic T-Shirt
- Medium Weight Long Underwear Top
- Mid Layer (Black Diamond Deployment Hybrid Hoody)
- Outershell (Black Diamond Sharp End Shell)
- Puffy (Black Diamond Hot Forge Hoody)
28. Food: Food is personal preference. The key is to finding out what you like to eat under any circumstances. For me, cheese, canned fish, candy and fruit seem to do the trick. Depending on your body size and exertion level expect to consume anywhere between 3,000 and 4,000 per day. Remember, the higher in altitude you go, the simpler food your body will want to absorb. Simple sugars up high, complex carbs down low.
Have a question, comment or concern? Please feel free to email me at Adamskerr@yahoo.com.
SWS Mountain Guides