Winter "Fast and Light" - Does It Exist?

02/26/2019 1:27 PM | Darren Shutt (Administrator)

Yes, Virginia, winter "fast and light" is real - and in fact has made many appearances, even on typically "heavy and slow" expeditions!

How can you be light and fast in winter without cutting the margin of safety razor-thin? And just because you are light, does that mean you are automatically going to be fast? How about these tips from the front line.

[Alaskan scenery captured out the window while flying into Denali - Todd Martin]

  1. Get fit. Winter climbing is demanding - heavier loads, deep snow, cold temps...it can be tough. Be prepared for it by following a fitness training program that includes cardiovascular endurance and some strength training. This will allow you to go further and last longer. Apex and Peak members both have climbing specific training programs included in their membership, take advantage of it! 
  2. Go without a 4-season tent. Opt for a snow shelter or a floorless shelter instead. With a few hours and a some motivated folks armed with shovels, you can create an sweet basecamp. Floorless shelters such as the BD MegaMid and BetaMid, or the Sierra Designs Mountain Guide Tarp, when combined with digging down in the snow, can provide a roomy and even bombproof basecamp. Or you can dig into the leeward side of a snow drift for your very own snow cave! Or create a quinzhee. Pile the snow, stomp and pack it, then dig it out in this same manner. Using any of these alternative shelter options can save you up to 10 lbs.[Illustration by Mike Clelland]
  3. Practice Multi-Use and Limit Duplication. Sleep with all your clothing on and you can bring a lighter weight sleeping bag. Bring only one torso length closed cell foam pad and use the rope and your backpack under you as additional insulation from the cold. Maybe this will in turn allow you to bring a smaller and lighter backpack. Only a few items should be duplicated: socks, gloves and headlamps in particular, and see if you can get by with only two pair rather than three. Winter is not the time to bring the coffee press and camp chair. This can save you a pound or two.
  4. Cut down on protection. Often we bring more than we need. Bring a smaller diameter (<9 mm), shorter rope, and only the minimum of protection. Or opt for a route that is non technical, such as a ridge climb, so you don't have to haul this gear. It can save you up to 10 lbs. [MAA teams on a winter ascent of The Sisters near Carson Pass]
  5. Cut down on food, and make careful selections. Yes, it's scary to contemplate running out of food, especially in winter. And you need calories to stay warm, so it's a safety thing too. But this is an area where folks routinely bring more than they need, and even return from the trip not having eaten it all. If this is the case, you probably brought too much. Consider bringing the most calorie-dense items you can, with raw BTUs as the criteria - this is not the time to be on a diet. (Bacon is one of the best for calories to weight ratio, for example!) Also, remove packaging and only bring what you are actually going to eat. Plan it out for each day. Unless you'll be further than a day's journey from the trail head, there is no need to bring "extra food", just in case. The average person can go an entire day or more without eating if necessary, you are going to make it. With careful planning and bringing no more than 3.5 lbs of food a day this, could save you many pounds of unnecessary weight.
  6. Don't carry so much water. It's important to stay hydrated but take care of that while you are in camp or by filling up at streams, if possible. You probably only need to actually carry a liter or two at a time. Each filled Nalgene (quart) weighs over 2 lbs. And when you do drink liquids, opt for hot drinks!

All these concepts are taught on the MTN 2 training course offered by MAA in winter time. Hope this helps keep the loads lighter and the smiles bigger! 



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