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A Few Things to Consider When Planning an Expedition

A Few Things to Consider When Planning an Expedition

 

Words and photo by Nik Mirhashemi

Planning for an expedition can be an intimidating process. You have to arrange transportation, maybe hire porters or donkeys, and then there’s the food. I always dread the food shopping trip! Inevitably things will go wrong or get left behind but usually everything comes together in the end, just in time. But don’t sweat it, you can probably survive on oatmeal for a few extra days and that extra pair of socks you left behind isn’t gonna shut you down (but your partner may pass out everytime you take your feet out of your boots). After our trip to Alaska this spring, Mark Pugliese and I came up with this list of ten things to never leave behind on an expedition into the mountains. You’re welcome.

#11 High quality entertainment

Every expedition I’ve been on (even when I’m working) has at least a bit of down time. You have to take time to acclimatize, you’re stormbound in your tent or you’re just plain tired. Bring magazines, books, cards, all the usual suspects. Don’t forget about music! I can’t go without a little music for more than a few days. When I go to Alaska we’re often traveling to climbing objectives on skis so I always make sure I have a setup that I can actually ski on and not just wiggle around in my mountain boots. It might be too stormy to climb but that’s when the pow is just right.

#10 Extra things

Over the years I have realized that I am capable of breaking absolutely any piece of gear. Tents, crampons, jackets, stoves, I’ll break them all. That’s why I always bring a solid repair kit that’s always evolving (as I break new things). I also just bring extra shit. Extra ropes, extra gloves, extra nuts and cams. You never know if you’re gonna core shot a rope and on a longer trip you’re inevitably going to have to bail a time or two so those extra nuts you decided to leave at home are starting to look pretty essential. Nothing sucks more than to end a trip early because you’re running out of gear.

#9 Journal

I like to think of running expeditions as a work in progress. I’m always learning from last year’s mistakes and making changes to the gear list. That’s why I always have a climbing journal with me. Don’t forget to bring this, why did I bring that, why am I always running out of whiskey? Take good notes and do it better next trip. A good alpinist feels totally at home in the mountains so if something isn’t right, write is down and fix it next trip. But don’t wait to get home because inevitably you’ll forget about it and next year you’ll still have all that extra oatmeal.

#8 Whiskey

This should be a no brainer. Sometimes you need a night cap. Or a few night caps. Stormbound next to your smelly climbing partner for days? Old Crow is there for you. And speaking of smells, a couple car air fresheners in the tent go a long way to take care of stinky boots and sleeping bags.

#7 Time and backup plans

While it’s not exactly a “thing”, budgeting enough time for an expedition is super important. You can’t forget about rest days, storm days, acclimatization, etc. Give yourself a few more days. You’ve already invested all your hard earned vacation days on this trip. Backup climbing objectives are another important “thing” to have in your back pocket. You can plan your perfect route back at home until your mind goes numb, but that all can change when the plane touches down on the glacier and you find your route has already melted away. In a place as vast as the Alaska Range you can always find something to do so do yourself a favor and do a little extra research to find alternate objectives nearby. Keep an open mind. Some of my best experiences in the mountains have been spur of the moment plans.

#6 A killer basecamp setup

When I go to Alaska I like to do it right. You like car camping? Well how about plane camping? You get dropped off in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ice and snow covered cliff faces with all your kit. All you have to do is drag it all 100 yards away from the runway and you’re set! So why not bring it all? Separate tent for cooking? Check. Two burner coleman stove? Check. This year I brought three pairs of boots with me! Mountain boots, ski boots and camp boots. It’s pretty nice to lounge around camp and get out of those stinky climbing boots and like I said, when the pow is good I like to be ready. You can bring pretty much whatever you want out there. You’re plane camping!

#5 Communication

When I’m off on a trip it’s pretty nice to unplug for a few weeks. Life is simpler out there when you only have to worry about you and your climbing partner. But the fact is there is technology out there that works well to let folks at home know you’re doing well every now and then, and when shit hits the fan it’s good to be able to call for help. I’m really psyched about the Delorme InReach these days. It’s easy to send texts back and forth, you can sync with your phone and it’s pretty affordable, especially if you go on trips often. You can text friends for weather forecasts or to let them know you’re dangerously close to the bottom of your whiskey supply (see #8). Having it this season proved invaluable. I took a big fall on route and needed to fly out of the range ASAP. I texted Talkeetna Air Taxi and 2 hours later they picked us up and flew us back to town. Pretty slick right? I’ll always bring it with me on long trips.

#4 High quality entertainment

Every expedition I’ve been on (even when I’m working) has at least a bit of down time. You have to take time to acclimatize, you’re stormbound in your tent or you’re just plain tired. Bring magazines, books, cards, all the usual suspects. Don’t forget about music! I can’t go without a little music for more than a few days. When I go to Alaska we’re often traveling to climbing objectives on skis so I always make sure I have a setup that I can actually ski on and not just wiggle around in my mountain boots. It might be too stormy to climb but that’s when the pow is just right. 

#3 Good food. Real good food

Food is probably the most under budgeted part of an expedition. I eat A LOT on these trips to stay fueled up for big days in the mountains. I don’t want to eat bars and GUs every day. They’re great for on route but back in basecamp  you gotta take care of yourself. I recommend lots of quesadillas, canned fruit, bacon and eggs, hashbrowns, go crazy! Remember you’re plane camping (see #6). It’s always better to have a little food left over than to run out. People have been stuck waiting for a flight for a week or more! Better stock up on the good stuff.

#2 Hot drinks

Water is great. I love drinking water, especially straight from the glacier. But I don’t always want to drink water. When I’m hanging out in camp and its cold and dark I like a strong cup of hot cocoa in my mug. Or tea or cider (whiskey and cider?). Hot drinks are essential out on the glacier or up on route. Can’t choke the ice cold water down at the belay? How about a nice hot cup of chai? Now that’s better. You’re welcome.

#1 A solid partner

If there’s one thing I’ve struggled with over the years it’s finding a good climbing partner. Not just good but great! Think about all of your close friends. Now think about all your close friends that you wouldn’t mind sleeping inches away from, cramped in a little tent for weeks at a time. I bet that list just got a lot shorter. Finding a great climbing partner can be hard and I won’t go too in depth about it. As long as you can have fun, keep each other safe and still want to hang out when it’s all over, you’re probably doing better than a lot of people. I’ve been to a lot of cool, crazy places in the world but I always remember the good folks I’ve met along the way. I might not have found the perfect climbing partner yet but I guess until she shows up I’m stuck with Mark.


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