Are you dreaming of high alpine peaks? Beautiful sublime faces of rock and ice? Surreal corniced ridges and crimson sunsets? Alpine climbing is one of the most committing and unforgiving forms of climbing, but with a little practice and solid game plan it can be safe and extremely rewarding!
Here are a few tips that will help make your next alpine adventure enjoyable and fun!
1. Pick your partner wisely.
It’s one thing to go cragging for the day with someone. But going to Alaska for 21 days to attempt a nail-biting alpine climb is another story. The last thing you want is to argue and bicker like an old married couple. You might be the best of friends at sea level, but after a few days shivering on icy ledges, tensions can spin out of control quickly! I like to do some warm up climbs with potential partners–see how our personalities mesh, and how the vibe goes. I seek partners that are solid as a rock, cool under pressure, and can find comedy even in the most rugged and challenging of situations.
2. Leave your comfy lightweight inflatable mattress at home.
As tempting as it is to splurge on the expensive blow up mattress with a high R-value, you’ll be left trying to care for it like a fine piece of china. It will more than likely pop when you need it most, and leave you shivering and sleepless all night. Take a closed cell foam pad cut down to just provide coverage for your body.
3. Take extra gloves
Your glove quiver is the single most critical item on the mountain. By day’s end, after brushing off snow and belaying wet ropes, your gloves will be wet and soggy. And if your hands get cold, frostbite can set in quickly, rendering you almost useless, a very dangerous place to be. Gloves never dry out, not even in your sleeping bag, and will freeze over night. It seems ludicrous to bring 5-8 pairs of gloves for a 5 day alpine mission, but I do!
4. Drink your water cold to save critical fuel
Water is very important when you’re working 12-16 hours a day. It will help prevent cold injury and ensure maximum athletic performance. As delicious and soul-warming as it is to sip hot tea at every stop, save your hot beverage for the bivy. Remember fuel is heavy! I ration one medium 250 gram can of gas per day for two.
5. Mitigate objective hazard
I scrutinize a route for hours, days, even months! I am careful to note potential terrain traps and loose rock, keeping in mind prevailing winds and snow pack. I do my best to avoid climbing under seracs and am always considering my retreat options.
6. Bring at least one adze for the team
After climbing all day, the thought of spending two hours chopping a bivy platform is agonizing. But comfortable sleep won’t come until you do. Having an adze will streamline your efficiency and get you off to dreamland sooner so you can be fresh for your next day of adventure.
7. An iPod Nano or Shuffle can boost moral like no other!
I usually download half hip-hop and metal to get me fired up, and than some mellow reggae to cool me down. Additionally, my small point and shoot camera goes on a tether off my micro zipper and lives in my left chest pocket near my skin in a base layer. This ensures the battery stays warm and functional.
8. Take a lightweight sleeping bag and wear all your layers to bed
Sure, I strip off wet Gore-Tex if need be, but often I just crawl right into my bag with my whole kit on excluding my boots. This provides an extra layer of warmth and saves precious time. Often I want to stay tied in, so I sleep in my harness or use a sling around my waist. I sleep with my boot liners in my bag to keep them from freezing.
9. Master the art of the descent
Rappelling a 5000-foot face can seem daunting and downright terrifying. But with creativity and ingenuity, descending can be fun and rewarding. Often it’s safer then slogging down avalanche prone slopes. Slings and cordelettes can be cut up and equalized. Nuts, if placed correctly, can be bombproof and much cheaper than leaving a cam. V threads in the ice are the most efficient and low impact. I simply tie a loop knot in what ever I’m rapping off to avoid leaving costly carabiners. And remember, the Prusik back-up is paramount in the event you’re hit by falling stones or must fidget with your next bombproof anchor.
10. Most importantly, bring your positive attitude and be ready to adapt and overcome to what ever is thrown at you
The mental challenge is what I like most about alpine climbing. Like in life, things do not always go as planned. Successful people are good at improvising and can stay motivated even in uncomfortable and difficult situations. Stack the odds in your favor before going, and practice pertinent skills – ice and snow climbing, dry tooling, aid climbing, rope ascension, self-rescue, and first aid. And remember, if things start to go wrong, and you feel like you’ve gotten yourself in over your head, retreat and come back to fight another day!