Monday, July 17, 2017

Three Things Thursday, Issue #23

Wydaho Sunset. July 15, 2017

  • All you need to know about alpine climbing. Well, at least close to all you need to know... 
  • I think maybe I've said it before, but rock and alpine and ice climbers have fewer and fewer good reasons to belay a leader with something less than an assisted braking belay device. Your regular "ATC" or plate-style device, even if that device has friction "teeth" or a "guide mode" is out of date. Use a Camp Matik, Grigri, Edelrid Jul, Mammut Smart, or something like it. Use it well, but use it. It grants a real margin for error over the older alternative. I don't care if it seems more complicated. Rock climbing is complicated, and dropping your buddy is real complicated. Learn complicated skills. 
  • Stay tuned for me to drop my entire 2018 calendar in your lap. My time fills up fast, and 2018 looks to be no exception. I'm excited to be working with a variety of partners to offer world-wide adventures. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Summits Matter! Teams Matter More.

Porter photo

When Abe Lincoln famously said “give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe” he easily could have been talking about ski alpinism. Heck, he could have stretched that 4:2 ratio to something more like 1,000,000 to one. If the “chopped tree” of backcountry skiing is a techy, hard, big mountain descent, the axe sharpening takes years while the main event can take minutes. We won’t bore you with the ‘stats’ of our Peru ski mountaineering trip, but you can rest assured that the ratio of prep to descending was mind blowing. The whole experience, start to finish and beyond, was well worth it, but the preparation was hearty. 
Porter Photo

Each participant came in with honed fitness, years of backcountry experience, and careful recent care of their bodies through travel, 3rd world diet, and last-minute trip and work stressors. The guide and logistics team tapped into generations of knowledge of Peru, skiing, camp logistics, and mountain risk management. Each individual smoothly yielded his and her individual self in the interest of joining what proved to be a well-oiled team. How does that happen? How does an apparently random group of skiers, some with decades of shared experiences while others met everyone else in the dark at the Lima airport, coalesce into a team that successfully transcends the sum of its parts to achieve more than any individual is capable of? How does that all happen on a guided trip? 
Smiley Photo

Distilling a group of big, adventurous personalities into a cohesive alpinist team is half discipline, half art, and half magic. Mark and Janelle and I hatched the idea for our latest Peru ski expedition years ago. From the very start, the group and group dynamics was a major consideration. Big mountain terrain and skiing are inherently appealing. Our Smiley/Porter teamwork and skills are now fairly well solidified, with inevitable and ongoing incremental improvements on top of our foundation. Where we had the most to work on was in the nature of the group we’d assemble. Reaching, interviewing, and preparing the individuals in the group is where we focused our greatest efforts. We knew we could deliver an amazing trip, if only we could get a great group together. 
Porter Photo

I’d say we did a damn fine job. We laid the foundation of the group from our most trusted and loyal returning clients. We then worked with other applicants to make sure they were 100% ready for everything skiing in Peru would require. 
Givler Photo

On the overloaded discipline/art/magic trident that makes up expedition “group assembly”, much is out of our control. We can only do so much to make sure everyone’s expectations, skills, fitness, and attitude is ready for something like skiing on giant, wild, equatorial peaks. On the things we can do, however, we went hard. We had extensive email and phone conversations with each interested participant. Folks sent us videos and resumes, delivering humble and vulnerable information to ensure that all would have an excellent time on the trip. We tapped into our network of guides to calibrate people’s mountain auto-biographies against the trips they’ve done with our colleagues. 
Smiley Photo

People “self-select” very well. Adventurous, expedition skiing like we enjoy and enjoy sharing is appealing, but its realities are clear. Those that aspire to such things are inherently adventurous, calculated, and self-aware. No one signs up to head half way around the world to “see if this is something I might like”. Those that want to ski something like Peru’s expedition ski peaks are committed. Every applicant to our expedition understood the expedition’s realities. Everyone involved planned enough ahead so that they could fill in whatever gaps they had in their experience, fitness, or equipment. We worked with each participant for at least three months, staying in touch through shake-down ski tours, gear selection, and rigorous sea-level physical fitness regimes. Of the 11 Americans on the trip, all but two skied with at least one of the others in the season prior. We coordinated some of these shared ski tours with folks that otherwise wouldn’t have known one another.
Porter Photo

Every one of the 11 gringos on our 2017 Pisco and Copa ski expedition arrived in Lima with 99% of the work done. We then joined a revolving, professional staff of Peruano guides, cooks, porters, donkeys, and donkey drivers to smooth the local hurdles and considerably mitigate the physical work load. We had an excellent plan, had performed careful preparations, and could essentially coast through the van rides, innumerable “duffel shuffles”, and miles-high skin tracks to the apex. From our trip high points, the payoff was enjoyable, but this team of adventurers carried prodigious understanding of the realities. The journey, starting years prior, was the destination. Those minutes of ski descending were the punctuation, the seasoning, the celebratory shot of pisco. The hours and months and years of preparation, each participant and guide bringing her and his own story and path to merge, ever so shortly and sweetly, with the rest, were rewarded as each of those paths continues on to the next adventure. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Red Line Traverse, Gear

Scimitar Pass. 4/27/2017

Here's what I used. Just the gear. The route description, that won't go public. I'm glad to share privately, if you want. Words on the whole experience will appear elsewhere. For nuts and bolts, read on. I had exactly what I needed. I wouldn't have wanted any more or less.

Ski and Tech Gear

  • Dynafit PDG Skis and Dynafit Low Tech 2.0 Race bindings. 
  • Dynafit PDG boots
  • Contour race skins
  • Camp Storm Helmet
  • Camp NanoTech Crampons
  • Camp Corsa ice axe
  • Dynafit Ski crampons
  • Black Diamond Helio ski poles
Race skis do fine downhill when it is firm. And uphill? Like a dream.


  • T shirt
  • Patagonia sun hoody
  • Camp Protection wind jacket
  • Arc Teryx Nuclei FL puffy jacket
  • Feathered Friends Helios down jacket
  • Boxers
  • Crazy Idea ski pants. Like, training "tights". Not your typical soft-shell ski pants. Way better.
  • Camp Protection wind pants
  • Two pairs of Bridgedale compression ski socks
  • Camp G comp Warm gloves
  • Camp Wind mitts
  • Sun hat
  • Buff
  • Toque


I "slept out" one night. The last night. It was warm, calm, and beautiful. All the other nights were in the tent. 

  • Feathered Friends Vireo sleeping bag. Simply brilliant. Paired with the Helios, this is the lightest, most versatile high mountain sleeping system on the market. For this many days, it was a little light and cold. For shorter missions, it is unparalleled. 
  • Feathered Friends down booties
  • Thermarest NeoAir, short.
  • Torso length closed cell foam (for the middle third of the trip I used a borrowed second piece of similar foam, for additional warmth)
  • Black Diamond Betamid tent
  • Old Chouinard brand shovel blade that works on the Corsa ice axe. Crucial for camping.
  • Space blanket ground sheet
  • Arc Teryx Alpha FL 45 backpack, modified to carry skis in bandolier race style. 

Cooking and food

  • Just over two pounds of food per day. Freeze dried, bars, nuts, jerky, soups, etc. 
  • 2x 1 quart gatorade bottles
  • MSR Reactor 1.0L stove and pot
  • Back up MSR Pocket Rocket stove burner
  • 2 ounces of canister fuel per day
  • Spoon
  • 2/3 cup measuring cup for snow melt
  • two lighters
  • Eat out of the freeze dried containers
  • I got resupplied with appropriate amounts of the consumables (food and fuel) on day 8 and day 12. My buddy Paul brought me a couple sandwiches on day 13. 

Electronics and Communications

  • iPhone
  • Iridium GO Sat phone/modem/text device
  • Spare battery back up
  • Charging cables
  • Petzl Reactik headlamp
  • Spare battery for Reactik
  • Solar panel
  • Spare headlamp. Petzl E*lite. 

Emergency and Repair

  • Three ski straps
  • candle/skin wax
  • rub on ski wax
  • super glue
  • hose clamps
  • bit driver and bits
  • zip ties
  • Leatherman Squirt PS4
  • Thermarest repair kit
  • Various tapes, duct and clothing repair.
  • A few t-nuts and screws
  • Rubber gloves
  • Gauze
  • ibuprofen, pepto, excedrin, anti-diarrheal
  • first aid tape
The daily nap and foot break. This time, in the Royce Lakes looking at Merriam Peak. 5/1/2017

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ski Photos. Winter 2016-2017

Quick "photo dump"...

These haven't been posted anywhere else, in most cases. It's quick, it's dirty, and it's in no sort of order. Pretty stuff, white stuff, cold stuff. Wyoming and Colorado. Tetons, Rocky Mountain National Park, Silverton. Late November to early April. This kind of wraps the regular winter ski season. Now begins spring "expedition season". Still skiing, just different. Skis are smaller, backpacks get bigger.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Three Things Thursday, Issue #22

Pitch 9 of 11. Aguja de l'S. Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Argentina. January 24, 2017
Three quickies:
  • Choose the right footwear. When you can, walk in shoes optimized for walking, rock climb in shoes optimized for rock, and tromp on snow and ice in appropriate kicks. When an endeavor involves all of these things, that gets tough. Make your compromises wisely... For instance, here in Patagonia, we're tackling big climbs after pretty big walks. Our packs are relatively small, and the approaches are strenuous but not technical. Walking in walking shoes, carrying the boots, seems like the call. Those choosing to walk in mountaineering boots are suffering for that choice. 
  • Use rituals to keep safe
  • Couples? Climbing, skiing, backpacking, hiking? Pure joy, or confounding suffering? Some thoughts on making it work

Friday, January 20, 2017

Alpine Climbing Gear List, 2017 Version.

Perfect granite and carefully selected gear. Paso Guillaumet,
Patagonia, Argentina. Jan 18, 2017. 
This oughta be fairly timely... I'm in the shadow of one of alpinism's most classic sky-lines, pondering gear, weight, logistics, and strategy while waiting for good weather in El Chalten. The climbing here is technical, long, with steep, human-powered approaches. In many ways, it is among the most challenging venues to pack for. What works here will work in any non-winter alpine range. Here's what we're packing for huge alpine mixed ice, snow, and rock climbs of Argentine Patagonia.

I divide the packing list right away into group and individual gear. If someone is equipped exactly this way, by my scale it should come to about 27 pounds individually. The group stuff, listed further below, comes to basically the same weight, but is then roughly divided in half. So the total team weight comes to about 84 pounds. And that is everything... Clothes, boots, rock shoes, tools, spikes, camping, food, rack, ropes, etc.  This is a hearty rack of pro, and two 60m ropes. Steel crampons, two ice tools per person... basically, for the most technical routes around. Put each climber in his or her clothes and personal climbing gear, and put a lead rope in play with the gear on the harness, and the packs end up being about 30 and 20 pounds. Now, that's not lightweight. But a competent climbing team should be able to climb smoothly to about 5.8 and WI 4 with packs like that. When it gets harder, get out the other rope and haul the heavier pack.

Also, note that many items can be swapped out for lighter alternatives. Easier rock climbs? Leave most of the cams behind. No ice? No screws, replace steel with aluminum crampons, ditch at least one tool each. Excellent weather forecast? No tent, substitute lighter shell gear. Shorter route? No camping gear of any sort. These are obvious things that the "list" doesn't fully capture. The list is on the "comprehensive" end of the spectrum, and the pack weights are still workable.

Without further ado...

Individual gear:

  • Synthetic t-shirt
  • Synthetic boxers
  • Two pairs of socks. I'm digging some Bridgedale, tall, thin "compression socks".
  • Arc Teryx Gamma AR pants
  • Patagonia thin gore tex pants
  • Patagonia R.5 hoody
  • Arc Teryx Nuclei puffy
  • Arc Teryx Alpha FL shell jacket
  • Feathered Friends Helios down jacket
  • Sun hat
  • Buff
  • CAMP belay gloves
  • CAMP Geko Light Raincover gloves
  • Camp G-Hot Dry gloves
Individual Camping "etc":
  • Sunglasses
  • Collapsible trekking pole
  • Wallet and passport
  • Two trash compacter bags
  • Headlamp. Petzl RXP
  • TP, hand sanitizer
  • Suunto Ambit GPS watch
  • Iphone and charging cord. Loaded up with maps and entertainment.
  • Headphones
  • About a pound of food per day
  • Spoon
  • The smallest Thermarest NeoAir
  • Feathered Friends Vireo... This thing is a secret weapon. Comfy and warm down to the low 20s, it works with your puffy jacket and keeps the weight to just over a pound. Game changer!
  • Arc Teryx Alpha FL 45 pack. 
Individual Climbing gear:
  • Cassin X-Light tool, pair. Modified with the after-market "X-Dry grips". 
  • Cassin C12 crampons
  • Evolv Kronos rock shoes
  • Garmont Ikon Plus boots
  • Hand Jammies
  • Two small lockers
  • Two larger lockers
  • Helmet. CAMP Speed 2.0
  • CAMP Flash Harness
  • Tibloc
  • Prussik loop
  • Micro traction
  • Belay device (I'm partial to the Edelrid Mega Jul these days... there's no real reason anymore to climb with a device that doesn't have some sort of assisted break. Ask me for more details...)
Group gear:
Camping, etc:
  • BD FirstLight tent
  • MSR Reactor stove and pot and hanging kit
  • Two lighters
  • Snow melt cup
  • Fuel (1-1.5 oz per person per day. Allows for some snow melt, but largely finding liquid water)
  • Iridium GO satellite communicator
  • Extra battery power to charge phones
  • Map and climbing topos
  • Emergency/First Aid kit
  • Pack towel (for tent condensation, mainly)
  • Sunscreen
Climbing gear:
  • Metolius "Mini Aider"... Sure, it's decadent. But iced up cracks are slow going. With an aider, they're less slow...
  • Pair of ascenders... Again, decadent. One of the first things to leave behind.
  • 10 draws. Mixture of short draws and shoulder length slings. All equipped with the category leading CAMP Nano 22. 
  • Knife
  • A set of Metolius Ultralight Master Cams from 0-4 (purple to red), each on a Nano 22  
  • A set of BD ultralight Camalot's from .5-4 (grey to grey), each on a Nano 22
  • Set of stoppers
  • Four pitons. thin
  • 5 ice screws. The aluminum Petzl ones
  • V-threader tool
  • 60m Esprit rappel cord
  • 60m 9.5mm lead rope