Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rainier Gear Regrets

Anon asked:

Could you elaborate on what you carried and needed versus what you carried and wished you had left behind? 

How did the Warmlite perform? I was wondering why in your original gearlist you were bringing 2 different tents?

I'll answer your second question first.  The Warmlite performed great!  It was easily big enough for three people and gear and hardly flinched in the wind.  The only problem was condensation.  On the section between the poles where there is a double layer of fabric, there wasn't much condensation after sleeping.  But, on each of the ends where there is a single layer of sil-nylon, there definitely was a decent amount of condensation in the morning.

Originially I planned to use different tents for the separate routes because the Warmlite has such a big footprint that it is harder to find places to set it up, especially on a steep route like Liberty Ridge.  The Black Diamond tent's footprint is about half the size of the Warmlite so it takes about half the time to chop out a ledge to put it on and it is easier to find a ledge big enough to set it up.  Also, even though the Warmlite is super lightweight for its size, it is still about a pound heavier than the BD tent.  The BD is simply better suited for steep climbing.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of gear that I took and didn't need.  Some of it I used because I had it, but if I was to do the climb again, I would have left it behind.  Other gear I simply didn't touch.

The following list is gear that I took and wouldn't take again with an explanation:


MHW Compressor Pant- I used the pant around camp, but I didn't need it.  I would have been just fine with a baselayer and softshell.  They were nice to have once I got to camp, but I wouldn't take them again unless I was staying at Ingraham Flats for multiple days and the weather forecast called for colder weather.

Rab Neutrino- I don't think I would take the Rab Neutrino again if we were to do the same route and expected the same weather.  I only used the Neutrino for about a half hour on the whole trip.  I put it on on the summit and hiked in it for about 30 minutes on the way down.  I could've shivered a little on top and saved the weight for the rest of the trip.  The Atom LT was ideal for hiking in cold weather, and the only time it wasn't warm enough was when I wasn't moving and the wind was blowing (because of the underarm power stretch that lets the wind through).  I think the Atom would've been enough to stay warm while stopped if I threw a windproof jacket (like the OR Helium) over the Atom.  It the weather had been colder, maybe the Rab would've been necessary, but for this trip, it just wasn't cold enough.

Arc'teryx Alpha SV- I actually didn't take this jacket on the climb; I swapped it out for the OR Helium.  I'm glad I did this.  Because the weather was supposed to be pretty nice, I didn't need a heavy duty shell.  I didn't use the Helium anyway, so it was about 7oz that I didn't need to carry.  I'd still probably take the Helium if I had to do it again, just in case the weather turned wet.

Arc'teryx Acto MX Hoody- I really like this jacket, but it was unnecessary for this climb.  The weather was dry enough and cool enough that the Atom LT worked just fine as an active layer.  I took the Acto because it breathes better than the Alpha SV but is more weather resistant than the Atom.  Well, because the weather was pretty dry, the Acto was unnecessary.  The Atom is more wind resistant than the Acto (except under the arms) anyway so it worked better in the high winds.  The Acto is nice, but not ideal for this climb.  I could have saved a pound by leaving that in the car.


Picket- It's usually a good idea to have a picket or two while traveling on glaciers, but if I were to do this route again, I think I would leave it in the car.  The DC gets traveled so much and it's not extremely technical, so crevasse rescues are unlikely (and a few axes can work to make an anchor too) and there are already fixed lines on what the guides feel is potentially hazardous terrain.  If I was climbing this route for the first time and nobody had climbed it previously, I still don't think there's any point on the route that I would choose to protect with a picket.  So, I would leave the picket in the car.

Shovel- I took a shovel and so did Mark.  It could've been nice to have two shovels to dig out a big tent platform, but it was overkill.  Because I was feeling so poorly between Camp Muir and Ingraham Flats, Mark got to camp before I did and had already dug a platform with his shovel.  Seth made a platform with his axe.  Seth did use my shovel briefly, but he didn't need to.  It actually went fairly unused.  If I were to do it again, I would've only had one shovel for the group and everybody else could've used their axes.

Ice Screws- I thought it may be a good idea to have an ice screw or two for going up the Ingraham Direct route, but I don't think they're necessary.  The terrain on the DC wouldn't have taken a screw (the ice was more like hard snow) and guides usually put up fixed ropes anyway on sketchy terrain.  I would've probably still taken a few for the Liberty Cap on the Liberty Ridge though.

9.5mm 60m Rope- This was one of the heaviest things on my pack, and while we were using it the majority of the rope was carried over my shoulder and went unused.  If I were to do the climb gain, I would've taken about 25 meters of 8mm diameter rope to save weight.  My 60m rope weighs in at about 8lbs.  A 25m long 8mm diameter rope would probably weigh about 3lbs.

Other random climbing gear- I took extra slings and carabiners that were unnecessary and stayed in my pack the whole trip.  Before I left, I had worst-case scenarios going through my head and I planned accordingly.  I also wanted to make sure I had plenty of clothing and gear to keep Kelsey warm and safe. These thoughts led me to overpack.  I had enough gear to build elaborate anchors and make 5:1 haul systems.  On the DC, a crevasse fall is highly improbable and with a group of four, a 5:1 haul system is unnecessary.  If I were to do it again, I would've had two prussic cords for each person and a sling for ascending out of a crevasse.  This requires a little know-how on ascending ropes.  Seth has climbed this route multiple times without even roping up (and had climbed it a few times before that roped up), which some may feel is irresponsible, but we saw climbing rangers climbing ropeless as well.  Seth climbed it this time without roping up as well.  It all depends on one's comfort level on steeper terrain and on glaciers.  If it wasn't a well-traveled route on the glacier or he didn't have a lot of experience reading glacier terrain, Seth definitely would've roped up.

Helmets- I took my helmet but didn't use it.  We hiked early when it was cold so the chance of rockfall was minimal, and we tried to be extra careful of other climbers above us.  I would never suggest that a climber doesn't take or use a helmet on any route on Rainier, but I didn't use a helmet on this climb and never felt like I was in danger.  I wouldn't take a helmet if I were to do the same route in similar conditions, but if it was warmer and the chance of rockfall was higher, I probably would.  I definitely would take it on Liberty Ridge.  That's a no brainer.

Garmin GPS- This route is easy to follow because of wands so I never took my GPS out of my pack.  If I were climbing this route for the first time and nobody in my group had been up there before, I would take my GPS in case bad weather moved in and it was hard to see.  Because Seth had been up there many times, and the trail was well trampled and wanded, the GPS was unnecessary.  I would leave the GPS in the car unless we expected bad weather.

There are probably other things that I took that I didn't need, but these are the things off the top of my head that I remember wishing I hadn't hauled up the mountain.  I think my pack would've been about 10-15lbs lighter if I'd left these things home.

Another thing that I regret is that I didn't divide group gear a little better.  Because I wanted Kelsey and Mark to have a good experience, I put most of the group gear in my pack and figured I could handle the weight.  Seth carried all of his own stuff (tent, stove, etc).  Mark is very strong and had no problem climbing to Ingraham Flats or to the summit.  He didn't need me to carry the extra weight and my slowness probably hurt the group more than me carrying extra weight helped.  Potentially because of the extra weight I was carrying, I was the weak link at times.  I could've tried not to be so macho and allowed others to help share the load and I think the group would've moved faster.

One thing to always remember is that the lighter you go, the faster you can move, and potentially the safer you are.  But, if you're going light and fast, it takes a little different attitude.  If you are light on gear, that often means that you are more vulnerable to bad weather and waiting out storms may not be ideal.  But, if you are lighter, if bad weather moves in, you can get to safety quicker.  So, by leaving many of these things in the car, I accept the responsibility to know how to get to safety if I need to.  It is irresponsible to climb light and fast and then need someone else to rescue you when you didn't read the weather right or didn't have the ability to climb through technical terrain with minimal protection, etc.  I find that one key to going light and fast is getting out a lot.  By climbing a lot, for example, you realize what you do and don't need and you acquire the skillsets to take care of yourself when things turn south.


  1. Hi, sounds like a good time, even if you did not meet you original objective. Next time!

    Did you get a chance to compare the new boots, Scarpa and La Sportiva?

    All the best

  2. Definitely a good time, Bruno. Thanks. And yes, I was able to compare the two boots. That will be the subject of a lengthy post that I will do early next week. In short, I have used the Scarpa Phantom Guides for about 5 months but the Sportiva Baturas were brand new for this trip. I made the cardinal sin and wore the Baturas for the first time on Rainier. I didn't get any blisters or have any problems with the Baturas (except for sore feet, which is expected since my feet are accustomed to super comfy running shoes right now) and I have never had problems with the Phantom Guides. Both are great boots, but they are different enough in fit and design that owning a pair of each isn't redundant, in my opinion. I'll go into further detail next week.