Pageviews past week

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Friday, February 11, 2011

Light is Always Right..... Part duex

GCC, Mount Kitchener, photo by Ken Weeks

"And so it goes on, the ceaseless evaluation of weight against eventuality; the number of krabs and pegs estimated in accordance with the difficulty of the climb and then whittled down to a manageable load."

Joe Tasker, MOUNTAIN LIFE, 1975

In alpine climbing nothing really changes.  With the exception of global warming the mountains don't change a lot in a man's life time.  And even then alpine climbing has always been about "conditions".  As the mountains have warmed we have just changed the seasons we climb in.    Good conditions generally makes any alpine climb a romp.  Bad conditions can make them into a slug fest, death march.

We as climbers haven't changed physically.  Even the best professionals of today are going to be hard pressed to ride a bicycle half way across the country and then climb any of the European Classic North faces with modern gear instead of the gear they relied on in the '30s.  That kind of fitness and mental sobriety few still own today.  Think not? OK, put everything you need including your climbing food, in a ruck, hop on your one speed bike and pedal it partway across, Italy, France or Germany (take your pick) all while wearing the same clothing you are going to be climbing in. Then WALK into the route and spend a couple of days out.  When you finally get down, you grab you bike and peddle home.  Get the idea?  Tough!

Kinda like this amazing modern trip of Maxine Turgeon's...just different :)

Paul Diffley's wonderful film, PINNACLE if nothing else showed the fitness required of Smith and Marshal  for just one week in the Ben in 1960.  MacLeod and Turner were hard pressed to keep up that pace.

So what has changed? From a myopic perspective two things, gear and attitude.   Attitude came first.  New gear enabled the attitude to infiltrate the masses.

Once the "race" began in alpine climbing, gear became less important than the mental attitude of the climber.
Pared down to crampon's and a a pair of  curved ice tools,  the LIGHT IS RIGHT ethic literally sped to the forefront.

Messner's solo  on le Droites 1969 (8hr30min) and again with Habeler on the Eiger  in 1974 as a "traditional" team (10hr) , come to mind.

Messner's climb of le Droites in 8.5hr on a route that is longer and harder than le Ginat should make one step back and rethink what light and hard climbing is.   The Eiger's current team record was 6:50,  then 6:10 set in 2008.  Le Droites?  2:08 on the Ginat, which doesn't even go to the summit as Messner did via a new route.

Below, Ueli Steck on le Ginat.

Photo courtesy of Colin Haley, here on the lower ice field, during a quick ascent of  le Ginat, le Droites

Colin's blog links beloiw from two of his le Droites climbs.

"Some of the best climbers in the world stopped their ascents and watched through binoculars, aghast, as Messner hacked his way up Les Droites, then regarded as the most difficult ice wall on earth. The fastest ascent until then had taken three days; three previous expeditions had met with disaster and death. "

By the late 1980s, Wild Things' packs and harnesses had attained cult status among the world's elite climbers. "When they started the company in the late '70s, Wild Things was way ahead of everybody else in pack designs, sewn slings and one-piece suits," explains American Alpinist Mark Richey. "These are things we all take for granted nowadays, but John and Titoune developed the designs for climbers and brought the ideas to market. I suspect that from 1982 through 1987, nearly every big climb was done with Wild Things' gear."

There were two climbs in particular that Bouchard put his (and Titoune's)  "light is right" philosophy to the ultimate test.  The South Face of Aconcaqua  in 1983 (with Titoune) and again on the East Ridge of Shivling in 1996 (with Mark Richey).  

As important as the ascents of Messner and  Bouchard were in the Alps, and later, on bigger peaks it wasn't their climbing that influenced several generations of alpinists to follow that path.  It was their writings on the idea of "light is right".  Mark Twight started climbing in 1980.  He later worked for John Bouchard at Wild Things and has his own legacy in the Alps and Alaska.  Twight was able to push the "light is right Koolaid" to another generation and may be even more so by one piece of his writing,  "EXTREME ALPINISM: Climbing Light, Fast, and High" .

I am continually amazed at the detail that Mark addressed in his book.  I reread parts of it on occasion.  Often times to just get a refresher on some idea or project I am bouncing around in my head.  I think in retrospect it is the most influential text on alpine climbing ever written.  You may love Twight or hate him or lay some where in between but no question his "EXTREME ALPINISM" has and will continue to influence alpine climbing for a long, long time to come.   A good thing, I think. 

I've heard several aspiring alpinists tell me much of Twight's info is dated.  And I would agree on some small details, like glove choices and tool leashes.  But clothing systems, sports nutrition and tools will change over time, the basic philosophy of climbing light, hasn't.  Twight had (has) the majority of that process down pat as did his mentor Bouchard.

So if you think Twight is out dated.....and for what ever you think this is worth.   I reread Twight's book quite often for new ideas and ways to solve my own problems on difficult climbs I want to do in a light weight manner.   Pimping "EXTREME ALPINISM" isn't just lip service.  I use the resource.

Will Gadd's book, ICE & MIXED CLIMBING is another good reference piece for similar projects.

"Messner was able to move so quickly because he climbed alone, alpine-style—meaning he took only a rucksack. "

There is something magical about climbing steep terrain with nothing but a rope, a rack and the (small) pack on your back .    Yvon Chouinard simply paraphrased the great German alpinist,  Willo Welzenbach in the late '60s,  and finally published in 1978,  "carry light packs. leave the ten essentials behind and remember, if you take bivouac gear equipment along, you will bivouac."

What is left out in that converstaion to put it into context?  You had then better be prepared to climb well into the night and the next morning if neccessary.   Failure can be painful and lasting.  Climbing just became a athletic endurance event and the risks higher..   It pays to know the game and the rules you will be playing by.

Even mountains like Denali become a lot more friendly and fun when you climb (well acclimatised)  from 11,000 to the summit and back in a long day.    Light is right could just as easily be described as "long days"!

Photos courtesy of Colin Haley, Bjørn-Eivind Årtun soloing the Cassin.

Several hrs later and a good many meters higher on the should be obvious what was in Bjørn-Eivind's pack.

"Big" climbing packs for long, difficult, alpine routes will generally weight under 25# now.  Your entire clothing kit,  another 10# past that.   The smart guys carry and climb in less.  Generally a lot less.  The now classic test piece on the North Buttress of Mt Hunter is being done with light days sacks on two and three days climbs to the summit and down.  The Eiger is done in two days or less now, mid winter.  The Ginat on le Droites or  the MacIntyre/Colton on the Grand Jorasses both commonly done now in a day, and  again in winter.

"Climbing light" is as much more about the climber's personal desire to climb fast and push their own physical limits, than it is about using light weight gear. 

The easiest way to get "light weight" is simply take LESS gear.  Which might in turn push the envelope on your own skills and experience.

But where do you start?  How do you cut weight besides the obvious, exercise and a healthy diet? Go long with less.  Double the length of your next trail run and take nothing more. Or soloing on easy to moderate terrain are both good places to start a "light is right" training program.   Get in where you are comfortable and then push yourself until you are uncomforatable.  It is easier that you might first imagine to find your own limits on what is too light and what is right for you at the moment.

The fast track on gear?  Take a look at the weights for some of your own kit.   Might be well worth taking a serious look at (and weighing) what you are using for gear and clothing.  If you don't actually know what each item weights how do you know what is the lightest?      My list is a year old and I am continually surprized by the results of even the most obvious comparisons.

Cold Cold World 35l custom climbing sack, Spectra rip stop, 1#9oz 709g
REI Flash 18l 9.2oz / 261g
Arcteryx Khazri 35l 2#13oz / 1275g

Boots (size 45)

La Sportiva Spantik 3#.05oz / 1362g
La Sportiva Spantik with a Baruntse liner 2# 12oz / 1247g
La Sportiva Baruntse 3#2.5oz / 1503g
La Sportiva Batura 1st gen. 2#7oz / 1106g
La Sportiva Nepal Evo 2#10.5oz / 1205g
La Sportiva Trango Evo Extreme GTX 2#3oz (35oz) / 992g
Scarpa Phantom Ultra new 2010 model 2#3.5oz (35.5oz) / 1006g
Scarpa Phantom Guide new 2010 model 2#7.5oz / 1120g
Scarpa Phantom 6000 new 2010 model 2#10oz (a full dbl boot with intergal
gaiter) / 1190g

Ice tools

Original Petzl Quark hammer 1# 8oz / 682g
Petzl Nomic with mixed pick/weight 1# 6.8oz / 648g
Black Diamond Cobra or 1 lb 5 oz (mini hammer) / 600g
Black Diamond Viper or 1 lb 6 oz (hammer) / 625g
2nd gen Black Diamond Fusion (green) 1#9oz / 680g
Chouinard 55cm bamboo 770g
Chouinard alpine hammer 533g
Terrodactyl hammer 790g

Carabiners (times 20 or 30!)

Black Diamond solid D 50g
Black Diamond wire gate D 46g
Wild Country wire gate D 40g
Trango lwt wire 28g
Black Diamond Oz 28g


Metolius Master cam 2.5" 110g
Original Wild Country Friend #2.5 130g
Original Wild Country Frend #3 142g
Wild Country Tech Friend #3 152g

Ice screws

12cm Grivel Helix 5.1oz / 144g
13cm Black Diamond (newest) Express 4.8oz / 136g
16cm Grivel Helix 5.8 oz / 166g
16cm Black Diamond Express 5.1oz / 144g
19cm Black Diamond 5.6oz / 159g

Belay jackets

Wild Things, Belay Jacket, 34oz pre 2010 / 963g
Eddie Bauer XV 38.5oz / 1091g
MEC Tango, 31.7oz / 898g
Patagonia DAS (new) 36.9oz / 1046g
Arcteryx Duelly 28oz / 794g
Narrona Lyngen 26oz / 737g
Narron Trollveggen 37.5oz / 1063g
Arcteryx Atom Hoody SV 19.0 oz / 538g
Mountain Hardwear Compressor Hoody 19.8oz / 561g
Mammut Ambler 47.2oz / 1338g

Lightly insulated jackets (belay sweaters) and shells

EB Downlight Hoodie Pullover XL 15.4 oz / 455g
EB Frontpoint XL 18.5oz / 547g
Arcteryx Atom lt Hoody large 14.4oz / 429g
Arcteryx Atom Hoody SV 19.0 oz / 562g
Mountain Hardwear Compressor Hoody 19.8oz / 586g
Arcteryx Gamma MX Hoody XL 24oz / 710g
Arcteryx Squamish pullover XL 5.6oz -166g


Paradox, mid weight longs 8oz / 227g
Arcteryx Gamma Lt large 12.4 oz / 351g
Mountain Hardwear Ridge Runner 3/4 16oz / 453g
Arcteryx Gamma MX large 19oz / 539g
NWAlpine salopettes large 21.6oz / 612g
Arcteryx Gamma MX salopettes large 30.4oz / 861g
Arcteryx GoreTex Theta Bib large 23.3oz / 660g


Black Diamond Traser 8.5oz / 241g
Black Diamond Half Dome 12oz / 340g
Petzl Ecrin Roc 16oz / 453g
Grivel Salamander 13.7oz / 388g
Petzl Elios 12oz / 340g
Petzl Meteor III 7.9oz / 224g

Crampons per pair

Black Diamond Stinger, w/ full bot 32oz / 900g
Petzl Dartwin 1/2 bot 30.5oz / 865g
Petzl Dart no bot 28.8oz / 816g
Grivel G12 ful bot 35.6oz / 1010g
Grivel G 20 28.2 oz / 800g
Grivel G 22 w/full bot 900g
Black Diamond Stainless Sabertooth full bot 34.2oz / 969g
Black Diamond Stainless Sabertooth no bot with Petzl bail toe 28.4oz / 808g
Black Diamond Stainless Cyborg full bot 39.4oz / 1116g
Black Diamond Stainless Cyborg, mono, no bot, 28.6oz / 811g
Salewa/Chouinard hinged with straps (1980) 880g
Salewa/Chouinard clip-on rigids (1990) 920g

So how easily does it add up?  The real world weight comparisons?

I wanted to make an actual comparison of gear and see what the real world differences are on a team with very similar gear set ups and how small choices might or might not effect us.

We are suited up for a long one day of climb that is realistically rated a Grade V but generally done in a day. Although with perfect conditions I have done the climb in 5 hrs while roped to a partner and placing pro.  The flip side to that is in early January's short days, in fairly cold conditions, the climb easily lives up to the overall Grade V label.

The brothers Grimm masquerading as "Team Arcteryx LT" for this discussion.... ;-)

More here:

 88.8 oz or ........... 2517g  difference.

What does 5.5# or a 22517g mean to you?

Most of that weight difference is in the actual pack's weight we used (same Cold Cold World basic designs, different material, one stripped, one not ) and the decision on the amount of extra water carried. The helmets stand out as well. Interesting with that the same manufactures helmets, that the heavier hard shell helmet broke when hit by a dinner plate and the lighter, foam core one did not with a similar hit. We were out 10 hrs total and both of us brought water back to the car.  Low temps were -30C or -22 F.
Some times even I wonder just how important tracking you gear weights really is.

If you wonder as well take a quick look at what I used on Polar Circus in '08 and what I used on the same climb in similar conditions in '09 as I intentionally cut weight.

pack-CCW in ballistics nylon 2#6oz
boots-Nepal Evo 2#10.5oz
screws-12 -12cm Helix 60.7oz
belay parka-Mtn Hardware Compressor Hoody 19.8oz 561g
soft shell-Arcteryx Gamma MX Hoody XL 24oz 680g
pants-Arcteryx soft shell Bib large 30.3oz   858g
helmet-Grivel Salamander 13.7oz 388g
crampons-Grivel G12 full bot 35.6oz 1009g

total weight in 2008 16.5#  7484g

pack-CCW Ozone, custom, 20" back, Spectra 1#9oz no lid
boots-Trango Evo Extreme GTX 2#3oz
screws-8 -12cm Helix 40.8oz  1156g
no belay parka
hard/soft shell-EB Frontpoint XL 18.5oz  524g
pants-Gamma Lt large 12oz 349g
helmet-Petzl Meteor III 7.9oz  224g
Dartwin 1/2 bot 30.5oz 864g

Total weight in 2009 10.6#   4592g 

How does that relate to effort in the real world? In '08 we climbed the route as fast as I ever have with a partner. In '09, with more comfort and significantly less effort than I have ever used on the climb and not actually trying to climb any faster than normal we almost cut that time in half! And in very similar conditions.

It is always a learning experience. The system I'll climb in this year given the right conditions in late spring?
But now I am getting very "condition specific" with this particular level of kit.   Not a lot of leeway here if anything unforeseen happens on the climb.  One would be pretty miserable if you had to spend a night out.

pack-REI Flash 18L 9.2oz  261g  less weight
boots-Scarpa Phantom Ultra 2#3.5oz  1006 more weight
screws-8-13cm BD Express 38.4oz  1088g less
Arcteryx Squawmish XL 5.6oz  159g less
pants-Gamma Lt large 12oz 340g equal weight
helmet-Petzl Meteor III 7.9oz  224g equal
Stainess Sabertooth stripped/Neve heel 25.4oz  720g less

Total weight 8.2#  /  3685g

Finally when you are stripped totally bare someone will invariably ask..."what goes in the pack?"

Depending on how big your pack is, and how high, far and long you plan on being out any combination of the following, food, water, stove, gas, belay jacket, insulated pants, small foam pad, file, picks, extra socks or gloves.

Classic " light is right" kit for today's big alpine ice routes. Will Sim's and Jon Griffin's climbing sacs after a quick trip up the Solvanian start to the Croz Spur.

Part one of the thought process is here:

I wrote this gear article for UKC earlier in the week.  Less than  72hrs later it had 5000 reads.

Here is the UKC forum discussion:


Ian said...

Dane, I don't see rope or cord mentioned. What are some common set-ups used by the climbers you mentioned or by yourself? I've worked pretty hard to dial my pack weight back but then end up throwing this sport rope on top and spoiling the effort.

Dane said...

Hey Ian,
Ropes are such a big part of what we do. These days you have so many choices and not all are approved uses for the rope. Twin or half ropes used as singles. LWT singles used alone. I have a number of ropes and choose depending on project and how far the walk.

My most commonly used ropes are Beal Ice Twins and a Beal Joker.
Some good lwt dbl ropes available as well that I use as singles on alpine ice climbs. It is not a practice I would recommend for everyone though.

Length is another issue all together. 80m ropes are pretty cool in the right place as are 70s but the weigh so much a good bit of their usefulness is lost on me.

I tend to stick with 60m. Weight is one reason to do so.

David said...

Ropes: I sometimes use a 60m, 8.5mm Beal rope tha's been cut in half ie 30 m length for easy alpine climbs where the rope is largely used for glacier travel and easy belaying up short sections