Gear does not the climber make — but you can’t do this stuff without the gear. Hence, let’s delve (or wallow) into the closet so I can share my mess-ups and also what worked. All good info for any spring weather ski traverse with luxury lodging. (Otherwise, get a bigger pack and carry more stuff).
Overall, the thrust with European “hut” skiing is to travel light and simple, knowing the luxurious lodges are waiting with a shower, a place to dry your clothing, and plenty of food and re-hydration if you don’t carry a ton of eats and water. (Of course not all EU huts are luxurious, but those on the Silvretta are indeed, as are so many others across central Europe.)
|Most of the gear, please click image for massive enlargement.|
(Following is listed somewhat from left to right, though some items are not in the photo.)
Backpack: Black Diamond Alias. Slightly too small but I’d rather have that than too big. Felt like the Avalung was overkill, but on the other hand several people have died in slides just outside the door of the Wiesbadener Hut, so I’d probably bring it again. (Note, call it a “rucksack” in EU and you’ll sound more like a pro.)
Fluid hauling: Just a 1-liter Nalgene and a small thermos. I brought the Nalgene instead of a water bag as I can use it as a pee bottle if necessary. Turned out that wasn’t necessary — all bathrooms are just down the hall. Do I drink out of it too? Yep. After a good wash. Aaron Ralston said that was ok. Want to share? As for athletic drink mix, I brought my trusty Cytomax and was glad I did, though six day’s worth did add a bit of weight to the load and I probably could have gone without.
Puffy: Down jacket from Mont Bell. They seem to make the lightest available for a given thickness, but the coat could do with three or four ounces more fill. Someone needs to make a decent lightweight puffy for golight ski mountaineers. Most such jackets have heavy fabric and not enough down fill. Others have light fabric and also a miserly amount of stuffing. Clouveil’s first puffy from years ago was awesome, with 800 fill down and plenty of it, but they soon quit making that exact model as it probably wholesaled for practically what it cost to produce. What’s more, most people simply do not appreciate or need a thick puffy with weak fabric. But we do. Solution? Take the Mont Bell over to the sew shop and get some extra down put in. Next week.
Computer: Acer Aspire One with a mini mouse and cut-down power cord to reduce weight. Neoprene case inside a Tupperware box kept it in near-new condition (as did not falling while skiing — and not sitting on it). Hauling the ‘puter around was a pain, but as all my travels are really “work trips” it was great to have at the huts so I could stay on top of the photo processing as well as throw a few blogs from the huts that had Internet. Even worked some on the train during our last day.
Eye Protection: Kid’s size Smith yellow goggles and Smith Trace Interlock sunglasses with rose lenses and dark lenses. Croakie on sunglasses.
Shovel: Arva Snowplume. Carbon shaft, minimalist blade. Not for daily use, just for emergency.
Shell garments and layers: No pant shell, just used OR Zealot. I actually wish I’d brought a lighter softshell pant such as my Cloudveil Inertia Peaks, combined with an emergency leg shell such as OR Revel Pants. The Tremors were a bit too hot, and would have been marginal if the weather had turned rainy since they’re only water resistant. Softshell workhorse jacket was my Cloudveil Serendipity, the older model with huge Napoleon pockets. Lower base layer, cheapo lightweight polypro tights (never used), upper base layer, OR wool T-neck Sequence. Sun shirt, my proverbial old button-down North Face junker. That guy is getting retired for something more athletic and modern looking! But can my neck handle the sun with no collar to protect it? I’ve got all spring to find out.
Ski Crampons: B&D Dynafit compatible. They got used. Never tour in EU without harscheisen! Also, “dynamic” ski crampons that lift with your foot are better for longer, lower angled tours such as those of the Silvretta.
Repair and First-aid: Just the basics, in that little yellow bag. Screwdriver, knife, some tape, fire starting stuff, CPR mask and a few other knickknacks.
Hats: Basic ski cap, thin polypro balaclava, sun hat (old Coolmax bill cap with neck protection flaps. Coolmax is amazing stuff as it wicks sweat like nothing else I’ve ever seen. The whole hat gets soaked, but I never get any sweat dripping in my eyes. Best hat I’ve ever had. Anyone know of anything out there to replace it?)
GPS: Garmin Etrex Venture, with associated software installed on computer. Couldn’t afford to buy the EU maps so had some extra work plotting the routes. Mark Houston of Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides shared his Silvretta waypoints with me. That’s a big deal, as all the good guides have the top trips “gyped” but no way they’re going to be giving that stuff out to just anyone and undercutting their own service. So thanks Mark! That said, for travel in most of the Silvretta’s open terrain, you can gyp off the 1:25000 topo maps and create a perfectly adequate route for use in bad weather, though doing so wouldn’t work for the more tricky stuff such as getting around the serac areas while climbing Piz Buin. But who would want to climb Piz Buin in a whiteout anyway? Probably a guide and their clients, but in that kind of weather I’d rather be at the hut slurping a cappuccino and doing some journal writing — or blogging.
Headlamps: A Black Diamond Spot, and an Ion in the repair kit. Lithium batteries for everything. Tip: if you’re staying with a room mate or in the hut’s bunk rooms, get a headlamp with a red light option such as Brunton RL4.
Cell Phone: The lightest weight international phone I could find, carried with charger and case. Too much junk but you’ve got to have a cell phone for this stuff. A cell will work from many places up in the mountains in central Europe, and who knows where you’re going to end up and who you’ll need to call? Taxi? I’m not an ace with European cell phone issues. Ideal would be owning a phone that worked everywhere. Verizon said mine did, but then I found out it didn’t, so I bought the international phone. Typical.
Rope: We brought a regular 30 meter randonnee rope (which Ted carried, thanks!) as well as my 30 meter hunk of Blue Water Tech Cord 5mm Dynema. We found the diminutive rope to be quite useful. It has no stretch so you don’t want to use it for a glacier travel rope or for belays where a long freefall could occur, but it would make the perfect extra cord for setting up a crevasse extrication system (which is why we carried it). And where it really shined was for doing a bit of belaying on the scramble sections of our peak climbs. It’s really amazing having a rope that small. Instead of going to all the trouble making guide-style loops for storage, I’d just bundle it up and stick it in the big pocket of my Cloudveil Serendipty; “la cord del la poche?” Is this a new trend with the top French guides?
Harness and glacier gear: CAMP Coral harness (lightweight, buckles around waist, easy removal of leg loops for bathroom or putting on with skis on feet). I’m not sure if CAMP still makes this harness, but they have other equally nice options. Check out their Alp 95 if you want the ultimate in lightweight, it’s upgraded this year with a buckle at the waist so it works much better than previous iterations. Only problem is lack of leg loop buckles. Also carried a few biners, several prussiks and an ice screw.
We never roped up on the glaciers, but would have if there hadn’t been the severely beaten skin tracks and snowshoe crevasse test prints to follow. Glacier travel is in my view one of the main reasons you hire a guide in Europe, because they know how to get you out if you fall in, and they generally know where you need a rope and where you don’t. But Ted and I have solid glacier travel skills, so self guiding felt totally appropriate — and if the skin tracks are not in you can always leave later and shadow a guided party (though you might get yelled at and shunned at the hut if you’re too blatent about doing so.) Mainly, never leave just AHEAD of a guided group, that’s considered poor etiquette and might even get you slapped (yes, actually open handed on the cheek), as happened to one of Ted’s friends by a Swiss guide a few years ago.
Beacon and Probe: My trusty Tracker, along with a Life-Link Ultra Light probe. Better still is Ted’s G3 Carbon probe. I’ll have to pick up one of those. It weighs nothing. As many of you know I don’t always carry a probe, but in situations where the unknown may arise I like having the full arsenal of politically correct avy gear, and a probe can be essential on a glacier if you find yourself in a crevasse field, or need to bivouac and make sure you’re not sleeping on a snow bridge.
Ax and ‘Pons: CAMP lightweight alu stuff is the only way for this type of trip. Corsa axe and XLC 390 crampons, with the anti snowball plates.
Gloves: OR Omni worn 100% of the time. These Windstopper lighweights are incredibly versatile. Of course I carry a “real” glove as well — whatever I can find that has thick synthetic insulation and a minimalist shell, in this case a pair of Gordini I got at Sports Authority. Most gloves these days are long on shell beef and short on insulation, making them somewhat absurd for lightweight travel when they live in our pack most of the time (I mean, should your gloves weigh more than your jacket?).
Boots, Shoes and Socks: Dynafit Zzero but of course! One pair of thin synthetic ski socks, washed in the shower about every other night. I’d have brought a second pair of stockings but simply could not fit them in the rucksack. For hut shoes I ended up hauling a cheapo pair of WallyWorld bedroom slippers, as my lighter weight tennies were still too bulky and heavy for this trip. Tip: whatever your exact choice, bring a closed toe type of hut shoe so you can wear them comfortably on the snowy patio. Flipflops and shower shoes are light and easily packed, but really a bit too minimalist for alpine lounging. Ted brought Crocks. No comment.
Camera: Canon Powershot A720. With lithium AA batteries will easily last for a six day trip, even with heavy use of LCD and flash. This is a bomber rig that’s now made around 5,000 captures and is still going strong. Carried in a small pouch on one shoulder strap. I noticed the euros are big on shoulder strap pouches for their GPS units and cameras. Great minds think alike?
Warning: It appears Canon may be phasing out A-series cameras that have optical viewfinders combined with wide zoom range — two essential features for grabbing quality backcountry skiing photos. Thus, it appears the 720 might be the most cost effective they’ll ever offer in this category as it has a 6x lens, even though it could do with a still wider zoom that included a deeper wide angle end.
Skis, Sticks and Skins: K2 167 cm Baker SL with Black Diamond mohair climbing skins and Dynafit ST bindings. Generic carbon fiber non-adjustable poles.
Altimeter Watch: Basic Suunto Vector. Essential item.
Mayo Clinic: The pink bag. Small travel toothbrush and some tooth paste, floss, vitamins, Ibu, aspirin, ear plugs, Xanax, Celebrex and a few other goodies. Also carried my secret hand sanitizer in a small plastic vial, Vicks Early Defense, lasts on your hands instead of just evaporating as the alcohol based ones will do. Also, heavy use will not chap your hands. Since starting to use this stuff a few years ago I get 90% fewer colds. Essential for hut living, where hand washing is not exactly the most commonly practiced activity. Note the Vicks product contains Triclosan, a controversial chemical disinfectant. If you’re uncomfortable with that look for something with benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient, or just stick with the alcohol based products and use them more frequently since they don’t last on your hands.