Thinking fast image

Thinking fast

May 29, 2012

Reading Time: 658 minutes.| Comments: 1

Hi Andy,
I hope you don’t mind the email, I was just hoping you might be able to offer some advice.

My partner and I (fiancee) are off to the Dolomites for the Jubilee week. Its been a bit of a last minute booking and I’m quickly realising there’s more to take in than I had anticipated.

As a team we’re fairly competent both Sport and Trad however most of our larger outings have been on bolt protected routes (Verdon, Riglos etc.), this is obviously going to be a challenge in terms of speed but I’m confident we can move fairly swiftly. My main concern is the mountain environment. One thing we’ve both noticed is that for us; lighter = better. In other destinations this can mean being a bit frazzled by the sun or alternatively a shivery descent but none of it life threatening. Obviously at altitude and with the risk of storms this isn’t really an option.

We generally climb with a lightweight camelbak rucksack, in this instance we’ll have shoes, waterproof/windproof shell, Rab vapour rise for climbing in, another layer (I need to replace my technical moon hoody after reading your chilling article) over a merino wool baselayer. Does this sound like sufficient? My main concern is that below the waist we won’t have tonnes of insulation (maybe thermal leggings) and nothing waterproof.

One friend has suggested that we should carry a 2 person bothy bag which seems like a good solution but as ever, size and weight slows us down and makes the chance of needing to use such a shelter more likely. One route we have our eye on is Don Quixote on the Marmolada, the descent requires a quick slide down a ski run (on a glacier) to reach a lift station to get to the valley floor, this closes at 4pm and without it there’s a 3 hour glacier descent which I simply don’t feel I’d be prepared for (again friends have suggested micro spikes but my experience with snow is slim at best).

Furthermore, should we get into a sticky situation (with the weather), without means of retreat, is there something I can read which will give me pointers on the most sane thing to try and do?

I should probably qualify that we intend to stay well within ourselves and very much find our feet rather than going ballsout straight for an epic. Any hints, links or reading materiel is very much appreciated and I must say I’ve enjoyed the blog!

Many thanks

Hi James

Sounds like you’ve got the right amount of kit, but with all alpine climbing (and the Dolomites is alpine climbing) the most important thing to have is an understanding of your own speed and competence on the terrain.  It’s this that will negate any need for ‘oh shit’ gear.
Once you know how fast you are, and have a handle on the type of terrain your on (this allows you to get a sense of how routes will unfold), you should be able to treat it more like cragging.  Until then you need to treat it as big a serious!  Also as a tourist (most Brits are alpine tourists) then you’re always going to be in this non cragging mode - treating any route like a first ascent in the deepest Himalayas (maybe that’s part of the fun!).

To those ends I’d probably take a bothy bag, as weight wise it’s not very heavy, but is without doubt the best bang for your buck (or gram in your sack) when it comes to survivability (or just sat huddled waiting for the sun to come up).  The approach on clothing is very much the same as what you’d wear if you were going out for a long run in winter (where you may expect snow, rain, wind).  With a light shell, base layer bottoms and top, socks, a balaclava and light gloves (and maybe a light high loft top), you can run in some really crap weather.  But when you stop your body has a very small comfort time span - meaning don’t stop!  If you feel the kit you have (along with food and water) will allow you to move well for the whole length of your alpine day - as well as deal with all weather - then you should be sorted (being too hot may be your biggest problem).  Having a little camelback stuffed with bits that will keep you safe - and having that buzz of ‘lightweight commitment’ - without being totally naked - should give you that mental edge as well (thinking fast).

Finally, a few more tips for speed would be:

Everyone should have a watch (buy a cheap on from Decathlon and attached to your shoulder strap) and keep an eye on pitch speeds.

Limit the time when no one is moving to the absolute minimum - meaning slick belay’s.  Communication, trust and understanding are crucial for speed.
On easy terrain move together using the ropeman/tibloc auto belay system (warning - learn to do this safely and don’t fall off!).

On less than solid rock, poor fixed gear, and technical route finding, you may find you need to drop a grade or two to get up routes fast.

Speed Climbing by Hans Florine and Bill Wright is worth buying, as it covers a lot of topics that applies to alpine climbing.

Final bit of advice comes from my mate Paul Tattersal, who once climbed the West face of El Cap in a morning with Rolando Garibotti.  When he got back I asked him how Rolo climbed so fast. Paul replied"He just climbs at a normal speed - but he never stops”.

(note: photo nabbed from Huw Gilbert’s (MIC) site)


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