02 December 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
A few weeks ago I came across a post on UK Climbing about what to take on the Walker Spur on the Grande Jorasses. The list was pretty complete and caused quite a response as other climbers picked at it, saying what items should be removed, and which should remain. In response, I thought I’d do my own, as I thought it could be both a guide to those who are unsure about what to take, and also as a tick list when working out what you may have forgotten.
I’ve never climbed the walker spur, but this list is designed for that kind of route; namely long, multi-day, moderate to high temperatures (30 to -5) and with short sections of hard climbing (HVS), but with lots of fixed gear. Like the Walker this kit list is based on the expectation that very little snow and ice climbing will be encountered.
Looking at my own kit list I can see that it contradicts quite a few things that are written elsewhere on this site, which may confuse some people. Yet the most important aspect of gear choice is to remain flexible in your thinking, and so try new things or rediscover old ways of doing things that now seem to make more sense. This means things like trying a more trad layering system sometimes, trying plastic boots instead of leather, not using your super techy hanging stove, but something simpler. This approach will keep you learning and keep climbing fun, and more importantly the outcome unknown.
These should be light enough to be easily carried in your rucksack (ideally under 2 kg), yet be warm enough for cold days, and stiff and sensitive enough for both moderate rock climbing and ice climbing. Ideally, you should be able to feel comfortable leading 2 grades below your normal grade in these boots (using some French free), meaning an HVS leader should be happy leading VD (UIAA IV).
Go for a good quality mountaineering sock with high wool content. Length isn’t that crucial, but longer socks can be pulled up when it gets cold, but shorter socks will be cooler.
Make sure they fit well before departing.
These should fit well and not be too baggy (especially at the ankle as you’re not wearing full-length gaiters). Having a pair with some kind of gator at the bottom is a good idea when you’re post-holing to your route. Try and make sure they have been tumble dried before you go so as to improve their DWR.
Won’t smell, can be worn as shorts on the approach/descent, will also reduce chaffing.
This should be lightweight, with long sleeves, zip-neck, and a dark colour. This is not for warmth, but to keep the sun off your skin.
This would be a very lightweight hooded Pertex top, worn over the base layer.
This should be very lightweight (Patagonia), and have Velcro tabs on the back to attach a piece of material French Foreign Legion style.
Nothing to fancy, but they need to fit well and be factor 4.
Can be worn around the neck on cord or on the wrist (needs to be a slim profile on the wrist if hand jamming)
This would be a Patagonia R2 style jacket, which may have the edge on micro puff style jackets for moisture control on potentially hot (stop and go) climbs. It can also be worn next to the skin (Buffalo-style) when “wet warmth” is needed. A half-zip jacket is good as it will be worn with a harness a lot. This fleece should be modified by adding wrist overs (made from the cuffs of an old thin fleece), and if it’s short then extend the hem so it tucks well into a harness.
These should be as light and simple as possible. They may get damaged, but you should be prepared to patch them up.
This would be a lightweight and hooded synthetic jacket (Patagonia micro puff jacket), that would be worn at night in my bag, for very long belays, in a storm. This might replace my fleece jacket if the conditions were warm.
These should be as light as possible, but still, be able to handle full storms. My favourites are Buffalo mitts (79g), which I’ve used alone down to -30oC! Add a shock cord retainer so they can’t be dropped.
Go for something that fits well. My favourite fabrics are grit style fleece (R1) or Powerstrtetch.
These can be used as mitts as well and should be placed in a plastic bag.
These should be fitted with your big socks for moderate climbs, and be comfortable enough to wear all day. Use wax on them to help to reduce wetting out. They should be compatible with your gaiters.
These are worn when rock climbing in cold conditions to keep your feet warmer (more important when wearing thinner socks in your boots), and are either old socks with the toe cut out or homemade from fleece (Powerstretch).
On something like the Walker I might take a pair of very light technical tools (one for each climber), meaning hard mixed climbing could be achieved (crucial if you get verglas or have to climb in a storm) by the leader (the second should be able to cope on a tight rope). This also gives you a hammer that can be used for testing/resetting pegs on a descent. My choice would be a set of leashless Petzl AZTAR EX P for this kind of climb, as they would be light (500g) but able to handle any technical terrain (snow, ice or mixed).
For this type of climb, I’d go for pair of superlight alloy crampons, perhaps switching to a pair of steel 12 points later in the season if I thought I might encounter mixed climbing.
The lightest harness I could find. At the moment this would be a Petzl HIRUNDOS (fixed legs)
You need something lightweight but able to cope with both rock and climber falls. On a route like the Walker I’d probably go for Petzl Meteor III, although a Petzl Elios would make more sense. My headtorch would be fixed to the helmet for the whole climb so I couldn’t be caught out, and for summer alpine climbing this would be a Petzl Tikka XP or new Petzl Adapt system (not tested yet) fitted with new batteries.
This would either be:-
A homemade synthetic half bag (details on how to make one coming soon), that would have a water-resistant outer, no zip and a built-in cowl.
A 300 grams down bag (PHD), or 1 season synthetic that would be used as a blanket over both climbers.
The importance of having a sleeping bag (rather than just going without), is that you’ll feel more able to push on when time isn’t on your side, plus you stand a better chance at getting some sleep!
This probably needs to be homemade as there are no commercially available bags that suit this type of climbing. Another option is to use a lightweight tarp (Steve House style).
Pain killers, finger tape, sanitary towel in plastic zip-lock