Things To Consider For Alpine Climbing

Beal athlete, Jewell Lund shares some tips on making any alpine experience a better one.

Base camp was a smorgasbord of gear: cams, ice screws, ropes and harnesses set out.  My clothing that I had ‘washed’ was hanging up to dry on a piece of cord strung between my skis.  This was a move for morale: I couldn’t do another long day in those long johns without trying to wash some of the sweat out.  Time now to decide what food to bring, and then fit it all into a pack.

A base camp smorgasbord. What to bring?
Photo by Chantel Astorga
Chantel and I were preparing for our second route on Mt. Huntington this May.  Somebody back home must have been doing an impressive ‘good weather dance’ for us; we had the good fortune of climbing the Colton-Leach route a few days before, standing on the summit of Huntington without even a breeze.  More sunny days followed, and once we recovered we decided to try another route on Huntington: Polarchrome.   Chantel and I decided to climb Polarchrome in a push, as we thought we could move efficiently and we knew the descent well—having done it coming down the Colton-Leach.

Grateful for sunny views from the summit of Mt Huntington.
Photo by Jewell Lund

The idea of lightening our loads from the weight of a tent and sleeping bag was an attractive one. Knowing that we would be climbing straight for several hours, however, was intimidating.  The items we brought with us would need to facilitate our efforts to move ‘light and fast.’  Below are some thoughts we considered as we packed our bags to climb the next day:

How much gear will you need to move quickly and comfortably?  
While taking less gear certainly means less weight, too little gear will make you uncomfortable and compel you to climb slower.  Chantel and I actually stacked up on rock and ice gear, both because we were hoping to simul-climb a good portion of Polarchrome, and also because we had no prior information on what gear was necessary for the route.

Thank God we broght so much rock gear! Chantel styling an opening rock pitch on Polarchrome. We headed up and right.
Photo by Jewell Lund.

What do you need to sustain your effort?
Many male climbing partners have been astounded at how many calories I consume in a day of climbing.  I don’t need to be climbing to eat impressive amounts of food—you should see me tackle a burrito—but if I expect to climb for several hours, I need a continuous intake of calories and water.  I actually brought more food for Polarchrome than the Colton-Leach because I knew I would need to fuel my body for a sustained effort.

I'm smiling because I can see that Chantel just pulled out a some cheese-wheels for us to eat.
Photo by Chantel Astorga.

What items can you NOT do without?
Chantel and I brought a medical kit, repair kit, and satellite phone.  These things could be considered bulky and heavy, but for us they were insurance worth carrying.  To each their own.

What items can you do without?
Slimming down this portion of the packing list often has to do with accepting a bit of discomfort. While it would have been much more comfortable to sit in a sleeping bag while we brewed up at sunset, puffy jackets and pants combined with drinking hot liquids did the trick—though we did need to move again before long, as it was quite cold.

Nighttime views after brewing up high on Polarchrome.
Photo by Chantel Astorga.

Don’t forget about morale.
Sometimes—more like always—it’s worth bringing along a small something to brighten your partner’s day.  You can save it for the summit, or you can bust it out when the going gets tough and you and your partner need to laugh about something.  I once heard a story about talented climber, Scott Adamson climbing a route on Easter Sunday in Zion National Park.  While he was on lead, he hid Easter eggs next to his gear placements, for his partner to find—awesome. While Chantel and I weren’t so well planned, we did pack a summit candy bar to share.  That candy bar tasted pretty good after being on the move for over many hours.

Best Milky Way ever!
Photo by Jewell Lund.

Have fantastic neighbors.
This is more a matter of chance than something you can plan on, but to stack karmic odds in your favor you can be a fantastic neighbor.  I have found that the people you run into in the mountains are typically great company and incredibly kind.   Chantel and I stumbled into camp after over 24 hours on Polarchrome, and our neighbor Mark Allen came over and announced that he’d made us stuffed bison burgers and chai tea with whiskey, immediately achieving Neighbor of the Year status in my book.

This trip would not have happened without support and stoke from the American Alpine Club, Beal Ropes, Outdoor Research, CiloGear, Scarpa, Cascade Designs, and all of our supportive family and friends. Y’all are great, THANK YOU!

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