Wednesday, March 22, 2006

My Expeditions

2006 Cho Oyu, Tibet
Succeeded, solo. Summited May 7.

2005 Mt. Saskatchewan, St. Elias Range, Yukon
None of the team summited

2004 Aconcagua, False Polish route, Argentina, South America
Just Shelley and I, we both summited

2003 Kilimanjaro, Western Breach, Tanzania, Africa
Just Shelley and I, we both summited

2001 Shishapangma, Tibet
None of the team summited

1999 Manaslu, Nepal
5 other team members summited

1997 Cho Oyu, Tibet
2 other team members summited

1995 Broad Peak, Pakistan
Shelley and I summited along with four other team members

1993 Denali, West Buttress, Alaska
All four of our team reached the summit.

1991 Changtse (North peak of Everest), Tibet
Another team member and I reached the North Col

1990 Denali, East Buttress, Alaska
Just Shelley and I - unsuccessful

All except Changtse and Broad Peak were organized and led by Shelley and I. None of the trips have been guided (other than the mandatory African "guide" on Kili) and we've never used sherpas or oxygen. Only Broad Peak was a commercial trip and it was still unguided and without porters or sherpas.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Gear for Cho Oyu

I spent a fair bit of thought (and money!) on gear for this trip. I wanted to go as light as I could without sacrificing safety.

I'm taking two tents - a Bibler (Black Diamond) I tent (1.95 kg / 4 lb 5 oz) and a Mountain Hardwear EV-2 (2.21 kg / 4 lb 14 oz). Both are lightweight, single wall tents. The Bibler is pretty cramped for two people but for one, it's fine (as long as you're not too tall!) The EV-2 has a built in vestibule so it's roomier. I've had a bunch of Mountain Hardwear tents over the years and I've always been really happy with them. Getting the poles inside the Bibler can be a bit of a struggle - the EV-2 has external poles which seem easier to me. Although it's normal to have three camps on Cho Oyu, I'm hoping to get away with two by going for the summit from Camp 2. If this doesn't work I'll just have to take my tent with me when I go from Camp 2 to Camp 3.

For the last while I've been using an Arcteryx Bora 80 which I really like, but it's pretty heavy (3.1 kg / 6 lbs 12 oz). This time I decided to try a Wild Things Andinista at only 1.75 kg / 3 lbs 14 oz. I was pretty tempted by the Spectra version which is 12 oz lighter, but it's also twice the price and has to be custom ordered so I decided to pass. I was able to get a large to fit my long back, but with a small hip belt to fit my skinny waist. I was a little concerned about how the Andinista would carry without any kind of frame, but I've been carrying it with about 50 lbs for 5 or 6 hour hikes and it's actually not too bad. The minimalist hip belt and shoulder straps aren't the most comfortable, but the lack of frame hasn't been a problem.

The last few trips I've had some concerns about keeping my feet warm enough. On Aconcagua they got cold enough to go numb. By itself this isn't so bad but once you lose feeling you can't tell if they're freezing. I decided to splurge and bought some Millet/One Sport Everests. These are specifically designed for high altitude climbing with a built in overboot/gaitor. They're known as the warmest boots available. The new model is supposedly 10% lighter and at the same time 10% warmer. In addition to being lighter and warmer, you avoid the hassles of trying to put crampons on insulated overboots (and having them fall off at the worst possible moment!). I ended up buying these in Chamonix on our recent trip to Europe. Probably paid too much, but they're a specialty item and at least there I could try them on.

I've got the room this time so I'm taking two sleeping bags so I can leave one at base camp and the other up on the mountain. This saves some carrying. My mountain bag is a Mountain Hardwear Quantum 3rd Dimension which is a synthetic -20 C / 0 F bag. I can't say I'm sold on the "Quantum Expander" idea - I figure the extra zipper has to add to the weight. But otherwise I've been happy enough with it. I'm a believer in synthetic bags, but they are bulky. I really want a -30 C bag, but instead I've got the Quantum 3D upgrade which is a separate inner bag that adds another 10 degrees or so. For extra warmth up high I can always sleep in my insulated pants and down jacket, since I'll be carrying them anyway. For base camp I've got a MEC Hybrid (down/synthetic) -20 C bag. For sleeping pads I've got a full length thermarest for base camp and a 10mm closed cell pad for on the mountain. The thermarest is more comfortable, but I'd hate to spring a leak up high. And repeatedly blowing it up can end up getting moisture inside which destroys the insulating value.

I've got two MSR Superfly butane stoves with the hanging kits (which I hear are no longer sold, unfortunately). Butane stoves have their drawbacks, especially when it's really cold, but for ease of use and safety cooking inside the tent, it's really the only way to go. For the first time I've rigged up some copper strapping to attempt to transfer some heat to the cartridge since otherwise they tend to freeze up. Warming the cartridge with your hands or (carefully) with a lighter works but it's not ideal. I'll see how well it works in practice.

For clothes I've got Arcteryx goretex bib pants, Alpha SL goretex jacket (only 347 g / 12 oz!), Mountain Hardwear Alchemy soft shell jacket (a favorite), and some old Mountain Equipment Coop fleece bibs which I've had for years and am quite attached to. Up till now I've avoided down suits. Maybe if I was going to Everest, but I'm not. Instead I've got MEC primaloft pants, a lightweight primaloft pullover, and a lightweight down jacket. If it's windy I wear my goretex over the insulated pieces. And of course, synthetic long underwear - for up high I prefer one piece "union" suits. I recently picked up an N2S (next to skin) windstopper shirt which seems pretty good. And of course, a selection of gloves and mitts, including, for up high, Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero mitts.

Miscellaneous gear includes: Black Diamond Alpine Bod harness, Petzl expedition ascender, figure 8 descender, Grivel Airtech Racing ice axe, Black Diamond Flick Lock expedition ski poles, Petzl Tikka Plus and Myo 3 headlamps, and Black Diamond expedition duffles.

I almost forgot the gadgets. First, what I'm NOT bringing - no satellite phone, no laptop, no internet or email, no solar chargers or generators. We had all this stuff on our first trip to Cho Oyu and I swear I spent more time messing with it than I did climbing! I have a Suunto Observer watch with compass and altimeter and a Garmin Geko 301 GPS with compass and barometric altimeter. Hopefully these will keep me from getting lost up high! My camera is a Canon Powershot S1 IS digital camera with 10x zoom and image stabilization. I've got four 1gb memory cards for it. I'm using lithium AA and AAA batteries in everything - expensive, but pretty much a necessity in the cold.

I've probably forgotten stuff, but that's the bulk of it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Three Weeks to Go

Recently an old climbing friend emailed me to find out how things were going for Cho Oyu. Here's what I told him:

I leave in less than three weeks (April 4). It's the usual mixture of excitement, nerves, and the occasional tendril of fear if I let my mind wander to thoughts of getting whited out on the summit plateau at 8000m. Everything's booked, my gear is all ready to go (not that that stops me from fussing with it!). I'm at the point in my training where nothing I do now will make much of a difference. You always wonder if you could have trained more, but I'm feeling pretty strong. Up and down Blackstrap for two hours today with big boots and pack and no breaks. But the real test will be on the hill.

It's strange to be going without Shelley, she's been my constant climbing partner for 10 expeditions over the last 20 years. Also strange to not have a team for the first time, but I'm kind of looking forward to that part. No one else to worry about, no one to fall behind or get ahead, no big logistics. It's a much simpler game, just me and the mountain, and that's appealing. With the right partner can be better than solo, but big teams can be worse.

Of course, so much of it is a crap shoot - I just have to hope I acclimatize, stay healthy, and get decent weather.