A run down of gear used on a winter attempt on Fitzroy's Super Couloir
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).
We each wore coolmax shreddies, followed by a set of Macpac XPD underalls. The underalls are a soft-shell style suit, providing warmth and weather repellency. Then a Lowe alpine shirt for a touch of warmth (I also wore a thin merino shirt from N-Zo).
2 layers of techie sock from Bridgedale. We didn’t remove our boots whilst on the route, so we didn’t carry replacement socks either.
We then each wore thin shell pants – as we were grovelling in the snow a lot, and a thin shell jacket. I would have preferred a good Shoeller jacket to replace the two shirt and gore-tex XCR jacket I wore, but couldn’t find any good ones before we left. There is a HUGE marketing effort on membrane softshells, and goochie looking things with no hood, or one that doesn’t fit over a helmet. The hard-shell had to do (even that didn’t fit over my helmet properly – 2004 Mountain Hardware Tenacity Jacket).
We then had Lowe-Alpine Outer limits belay jackets. These were light synthetic things. We would have like a hood, and a little more insulation, but apart from that, they were brilliant. We wore them over sodden shells, in sleeping bags, etc. Moisture didn’t affect them. This was vital.
We climbed in Cactus gloves, and carried a pair of warm mitts and powerstrech liners for sitting around and dextrous work respectively. Good choice in gloves all round.
We used our standard plastic boots (Scarpa Vegas and Asolo Evoluziones), but we ditched the original liners and used Intuition liners. These are custom moulded by sticking them in the oven. We can’t recommend these enough. They were so much warmer, a better fit, and didn’t hold moisture. The one problem I had was that I’d moulded one of mine too tight. A couple of my toes lost circulation while I was asleep, and they froze in the night. I didn’t realise until I took my boots off 2 days later, and they eventually came good. This would have been avoided easily if I’d been more careful in moulding the boots. The same mistake could have been made with any liners that were too tight.
Our gaiters were pretty standard. Having water-proof breathable gaiters was very valuable. This is one of the few places where gore-tex is probably the best choice. Maybe Shoeller would be better?
It never got above 0ºC while we were in Patagonia, so were remained comfortable in our clothes. We removed our shell jackets momentarily while climbing in the sun, and opened up zips, etc. As mentioned above, replacing our shell jackets would have simplified our zip-twiddling, but we were relatively stable.
We slept in the open using Snug-pack Softie-3 sleeping bags and all our clothes. We shared a ridge-rest mat, and shivered the night away, boots, helmets and all. Warmer bags would have been luxurious, but the given the weight/warmth balance, these did nicely.
We knew that rain and wetness wasn’t an issue on Fitz Roy in winter, so this set up worked very well. We also tested this same gear in New Zealand’s alpine Autumn, where we climbed and bivvied in the rain. It also worked there.
We had one stove (MSR Whisperlite) and 1 pot. We each had a spoon. There is no need to be petty and share a rope with your mate, but not a bowl. We also had one mug to share. I’m normally a vegetarian, but we added copious salami and cheese to nearly every meal. We carried a lot of Gu-type eneregy gel, but had trouble with accessing water while we climbed, so we avoided the gel in place of museli bars and chocolate. We didn’t frig around with lighters, matches and stuff. I have a great little fint which is completely dependable, and weighs the same as a lighter. Works in all weather, and with mitts on.
Tim came up with the notion of draining pasta water into his waterbottle. Warm your sleeping bag with it, then add chocolate powder and drink it, or make porridge in the morning with it. It’s chock full of goodness, and water/fuel is too scarce on such routes.
I used my thin Lowe Alpine Mountain Attack 45 Hyperlite with a camel-bak style bladder. The hose comes out of the side of the pack, which meant it was always frozen, and useless. I didn’t drink much. If the hose came out between your shoulders or something like that, your body would keep it wet. Tim kept his water in a foam-covered nalgene bottle. This stayed liquid, but was hard to reach. It was only a marginally better solution.
Our initial plan was to have a leader’s pack with water, belay jacket, mitts and rack, and a second’s pack with the food and bivvy gear. We would swap pack when swinging leads. In practice, we divided all the gear evenly. When we left our only proposed bivvy site, we left all the food and bivvy gear there (except for snacks). We would still like to hone the pack-swapping idea more.
Tim carried a slide-film compact camera, and I carried a lightweight plastic SLR and zoom lens. I think we carried about 8-10 rolls of film on route. Slide film is still a lot lighter than digital, and batteries tend not be an issue. The results are a lot better too.
Tim’s camera fit nicely into a jacket pocket. I had a waterproof Ortlieb bag for mine. I slung this on my shoulder when possible, and buried it in my bag at other times. I was fussy about my camera, but I’ll definitely investigate a compact for future trips. Being able to access it without faffing is important.
You can check out Mat’s images at mathewfarrell.com