It’s that tingly feeling that spreads from your fingers to your toes, that bubbling in your stomach that rises to the surface in bursts of outward excitement. It’s the months of training, the weeks of physical preparation, and the time spent route planning, studying, reading trip reports, repetition of alpine butterfly knots, ascension techniques, and escaping belay. Its the scrubbing of rubber climbing shoes, the whoosh of air as you roll closed stuffed compression sacks, clinging of metal cams against carabiner-racked slings, bustle of packing and unpacking giant duffel bags as you try to make your checked bag weigh less than fifty pounds. All of these things combined creates a low humming of energy that will persist to the moment of departure, when the sleek, silver hull of the aircraft finally launches itself into the air and suddenly you are airborne, a passenger of the sky, the city of Raleigh disappearing in the clouds beneath you.
Preparation for a big alpine objective requires dedication and time commitment, as well as a fair analysis of gear you have and gear you need. It’s not just car camping for a night followed by craggin’ the next day, with camp chairs, a fold up table, and a two-grill Coleman stove. Its a gear-sorting, organizational, minimization conundrum. And its just plain beautiful.
The most important step is packing appropriate clothing for the unpredictable weather of any alpine expedition. A good layering system includes wool socks, breathable underwear, a wool base layer, R1 hoodie, soft shell, puff coat, topped with a waterproof outer shell, such as a Marmot minimalist, to hold in the thermal energy. In this way you can remove and add layers as needed. As always, you need to include stretch woven pants for climbing, synthetic base layers, and a super lightweight shell that actually condenses to a size that will hang from your harness, my personal suggestion either being the Patagonia Houdini or Black Diamond Alpine Start hoodie. While the Houdini is a few ounces lighter and more wind-resistant, the Alpine Start is more durable and water resistant. Its all about personal preference. My extremely organized climbing partner was gracious enough to share an example of his layering system for this trip.
The next step is gear organization. For this trip in particular it was important to bring ice axes and crampons for glacier travel, a 60m rope,
full set of camalots and nuts, waterproof boots, approach shoes, and gators or gator-like system. Basic alpine camping necessities include a lightweight tent, compressible sleeping pad, MSR Windburner, and all-in-one cookset.
Preparing for an Alpine Expedition: Route Finding
The final step in preparation for an alpine expedition is making a physical plan for ascent. This should be the most delicately considered aspect, and include plans for hiking in, base camp preparation, followed by the actual climb itself. For big alpine objectives, you will spend more time hiking, descending, and hiking out than you will physically climbing.
For us this means a four hour hike from the parking lot of the Bugaboos to the Kain hut where we will spend the night, an alpine 4am morning start, three hours of hiking to the base, an average six
hours of ten-pitch climbing the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, followed by the descent of the Kain Route and three hours of hiking back to camp. A full, twelve-hour, calf-burning, toe-curling, day of epic proportions. This is going to be one of the most grand adventures of our lifetime!