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The cold world of alpine climbing.

The cold world of alpine climbing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Will it fit part 2

Will it fit? Well that depends on just what size you are, doesn't it?

Part of the reason I write is so you can cut the learning curve. I look for an edge..always have... so I pass on what I find here. There are a lot of really good climbers that these days write a blog. But seldom do you get a detailed description of what they use and why. You can at times glean a little from pictures and a few posts. But few and far between are published manuals like Gadd's and Twight's on how to climb, better, faster and safer. And techniques and gear change rapidly.

On an Internet forum the other day one climber posted he thought "our" conversation too focused on gear. He went on to say, "it wasn't the gear that got people up climbs but the climber's personality and skill".

No question it is always the climber that gets up a climb. But short of a solo, naked ascent we all use some sort of gear to climb with. There are pieces of gear that can make your life significantly easier in the mtns.

And how does this relate to "how does it fit"?

Well if you are my size, 6'1" and 200# on a good day it needs to be big. If you are 5'7" and a svelt 130# every thing can be smaller. "EVERY" thing smaller!!!.... from your pack, to your belay jacket to the amount of food and water you carry can be smaller than what I'll need to do the same amount of work.

Yeah, seems reasonable, but what exactly are you getting at?

Five pounds of whoop ass still won't fit into a one pound box :)

First thought that comes to mind is check out the physical dimensions of your "climbing hero" before you try to emulate his climbing and gear. You might find your size large DAS Parka, size 12 slippers, some Gu packs and a liter of water won't fit inside the 18L sack he used on his last Grade VI.

But if two of you go to do a climb the group gear is split between packs. Your personal gear's bulk and weight will be defined by your size. That size will define what size pack you'll have to carry because of the bulk involved. Everything else being equal, like body fat, conditioning and hydration/nutrition, a bigger body is harder to keep warm (surface area exposed) and feed (takes more calories) than a smaller body.

So the rope and rack don't change. But assuming you are using similar gear, the bulk and weight of your loads will. The amount of nutrition and hydration required for different body styles will change as well.

So what I am getting at is a smart climber will not only pay a great deal of attention to his own gear but he'll also pay a great deal of attention to his partner's gear, both their body's requirements for nutrition and hydration and what is required to maximise both climbers potential. Your "gear" is also your partner and his gear. Unless you are soloing..what your partner brings to the equation directly affects the outcome. Nothing new...just that most of us need to look at that relationship more clearly.

I don't claim to be a smart climber. I haven't done what I am suggesting very seriously and never to the level I am suggesting here. But I should.

Many times guiding clients on bigger mtns I was using the lightest gear. And suffered less and recovered faster for it. Obvious disparity on nutrition, hydration and gear because I knew what was required by previous experience. I have also climbed with partners much smaller physically and with greatly differing levels of body fat.

Our performances as a team, no matter the differing body sizes is all over the map. The best rock climbs I have done generally were with much smaller partners. The best alpine climbs I have done were with climbers of similar size. The best winter climbs or interestingly enough, long endurance climbs, were with climbers geared up very similar to myself and of similar size.

My friend was right is isn't the gear...it is the climber. But to be the best climber you can be it pays to look at all the details. Gear, hydration, nutrition, your partner and how all that relates to both of you on each climb.

The more dramatic the environment the closer it pays to look at those details.
None of this is a big deal out cragging for the day. It can take on a totally new dimension 20hrs into a long day.

A cautionary tell:

Years ago I and my partner did a dozen or so first ascents of some amazing crack lines. I truly thought of my partner at the time as my brother. The lines we climbed together were generally all at the limit of my free climbing ability and for no particular reason than I always wanted to lead, my partner let me.

In a bar over drinks one night, after a good day out, I described in great detail, as only a intoxicated young man at the height of his physical powers could, how I viewed free climbing and the "gear" it required. That included my mental outlook, my climbing gear and my partner.

I made a point of saying my partner was a integral part of my "gear". My belayer was one part of the equation I never had to worry about onsighting hard lines. What was sure to be left out of the conversation was the fact I looked at my belayer with the as much respect as I could muster but I didn't make him feel that way at the time obviously. I couldn't have lead those climbs without him...any more than he could have followed them without a belay from above. Two peas in one pod. In my mind the credit for the climbs go to both of us equally. It was truly an equal partnership in my mind.

So while your partner may be an integral part of your "gear", it pays to make sure they know the partnership goes farther than just climbing and getting up a route. It will make a difference if the person means anything to you outside of climbing.

After all those close calls and grand adventures, we never climbed together again after that conversation in the bar. Which is something I have always regretted. Loosing that trust I had found and the intimate relationship which truly allowed me to excel at hard rock is one of the reasons I almost completely stepped away from technical rock as an end to itself.

There really is more to climbing than just "gear".

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