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Photo: Alpinists in the Dauphinee.
Alpine Climbing - Summer & Winter Kit
Not perhaps essential in summer, and a definite encumberance on many climbs. However if you suffer from knee/ankle injuries they may be useful. Brilliant for winter where route approaches often involve wading through heavy snow.
A 55cm alpine style curved pick axe or similar is probably the best all round alpine axe, being short enough for technical climbing and long enough for glacier work. We would only recommend a pair of drooped pick tools for more technical routes (TD and above).
A shorter hammer 50cm or 45cm is best - or consider a really lightweight "third tool" instead for voie normal type routes where some harder sections may be expected.
If you are taking a pair of drooped picked tools, it may be worth having an alpine axe (see above) for use on easier routes.
Having used (and got tangled up in) many a tat and micro-krab botch-up over the years, we took little convincing that a purpose built "Double Spring Leash" is the best we have found to stop those expensive and useful axes taking a tumble down the nearest crevasse.
12 point semi-rigid for preference (Grivel Airtech or similar) - alpine climbing is mainly walking, so only take fully rigid crampons on the hardest routes!
Once it was all plastics but now boots like the Scarpa Phantom, and Sportiva Batura provide a more comfortable lighter alternative. For winter, plastics are still the best if you want to avoid frostbite.
Absolutely essential. Lightweight and probably white (for coolness), make sure it has head torch fixing points.
Expedition Sack/Gear Bag
A large bag to transport and store this lot in.
Should be big enough (ca 55L + 10L extension) for routes involving several bivis, but light enough to use as a crag sac. The POD Black Ice is ideal. Alternatively Macpac's Ascent is also very good.
Must be dry treated and preferably a pair for harder routes. Beal's 8.1mm Iceline or Mammut's 8.5mm Genesis are both great choices, but 9mm ropes will do fine. For easier, "voie normal" type routes, many parties would use a single 8.1mm, 8.5 or 9mm rope, rather than carry a weightier 10mm even though these slimmer ropes are not rated for single use.
Slings x 6
Take lots of slings, they are very quick to place, and can be used as extenders too.
Quickdraws x 10
Take lots in case you go valley cragging on an off-day, or even end up in the Verdon. On a typical Difficile route, 4 plus your slings would probably do.
Set of Wires
Again this may be cut down for the actual route to say, Rock 1, Rock 3, Rock 5 and Rock 7, but take lots to basecamp in case you abandon some on your first route.
Set of Cams
Ditto (sort of). For many easier routes it is probably not worth the extra weight.
Ditto (sort of). Worth having a few blades if nothing else, as they may get you out of a sticky situation.
Screw-in Icescrews x 6
You'll certainly need one apiece for crevasse rescue, and more if you intend doing any big ice/snow faces.
Warthogs x 2
Handy for the rock hard black ice that is often encountered in the alps in summer.
In fact best to take two to base, and learn how to do an Italian Hitch in case you drop one.
Essential for crevasse rescue an useful for ab tat for retreats too. Practice how to use them before you need to! Alternatively, ascenders work better but are heavier.
Take plenty of abseil tape or cord to abandon as you abseil down when things go horribly wrong.
Something solid for your valley base.
Worth having for the valley - you'll sleep better.
Down Sleeping Bag
A super lightweight one like Rab's Alpine 300 is best for summer. Can be used without clothes at valley level and with clothes at altitude. In winter, you really need something that you can survive in, say 4/5 season.
Closed Cell Foam Mat
Better than a thermarest for bivi's as it's lighter and indestructable.
Very useful for winter bivis and well worth their weight.
Very useful for winter bivis. Make sure it's clearly labelled, and large enough (1litre)!
For summer use, a micro gas stove is fine (but see note on fuel below). For winter use take an MSR XGK or similar as gas won't burn effectively below 0°C.
We can't send fuel by post, hence it doesn't feature on our website. Be aware that screw-threaded gas cylinders are not widely available in remote alpine valleys and it is best to take them with you (though not if travelling by plane). An Adaptor is available to convert percable gas cylinders to screw threaded.
Lighter and Matches
Preferably both and x 2!
Something that doubles as a bowl.
A large one if you want your fair share of the soup.
Something light and quite large. It makes little difference to the weight and is less likely to spill.
Knife, Spoon, Fork
Though real 'ard men use use their pitons!
Handy for wrapping up sandwiches made the day before.
Plastic Bags and ties
A large one, and if there is not water en route, consider taking two.
wicking underpants x 2
wicking longsleeve T
Belay Jacket & Expedition Hood
or Down Jacket
Thick Socks x 2
Liner Socks x 2
Liner Gloves x 2
Other Clothing etc
Spare Film/Memory Card
Head torches x 2
Spare Car Key
First off, this page is not about icefall climbing. It is about climbing the traditional Alpine mountain routes in winter. This is not a pursuit to be recommended to anyone who has not served a resonable summer alpine apprenticeship and has done a great deal of Scottish winter climbing as well.
Alpine winter mountaineering has most if not all of the same problems as alpine summer mountaineering with several additional ones, most notably increased cold, and shorter hours of daylight, and you will need to decide from the outset whether to take the go-for-it-in-a-day lightweight approach or the possible bivi approach.
Expect temperatures ranging from -10°C at night down to -30°C. Although in dry alpine air, -10°C does not feel too bad, -30°C is perishing, and you will need to be prepared for bivouaccing in such conditions even if you don't intend to. Thus your rucksack should include a good 4/5 season sleeping bag, a high insulation sleeping mat, a bivi bag, and a stove (gas stoves won't work in these temperatures - take a petrol stove such as the MSR-XGK) and food, even if you plan to do your climb in one day. Of course you will then climb more slowly because you are carrying a large rucksack. You will also tire more rapidly. So you are more likely to have to bivi, but the consequences of an enforced bivi out in winter without a good sleeping bag could be very serious and indeed has proved so on many occasions. Again, a bivi may be on the cards due to the shorter hours of daylight. Deeper snow on the approach, and snow covered holds on rock pitches may add to the difficulties and also the time taken. Another danger is that there are few people about in the alps in winter. Whilst this has definite benefits (less stone-fall and so on) it also brings extra risks in that there maybe no-one to come to your aid or even notice if you have an accident.
Go for It in a Day
All the above applies, but you still reckon you can get from the valley/hut to the summit and back in a day.
This may be feasible if:
a) you are fit,
b) the forecast is excellent for several days,
c) you are climbing well below your limits,
d) the route is short, and,
e) you know the area very well and are unlikely to get lost.
If you are convinced of this, then you just have to accept the risk of being benighted without proper bivi-gear, and take the absolute minimum you need. You should move faster and consequently achieve your target - but if you blow it you could lose all your toes - or worse.
If the above criteria don't apply, then reconsider the Possible Bivi approach as listed above.
Finally do not forget to check out the avalanche danger and also comments that other climbers may have made in the register at the Guides Bureau - much the same things as you might do in Scotland in winter. If avalanche warning flags are showing you may be invalidating your insurance if you ignore them.
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