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Light Is Right. Saving Weight For Winter Ascents.

Updated: May 2

Winter climbing is hard work. In general you are weighted down by extra clothing, heavy boots, deep snow and cold temperatures. In general the tendency is to carry to much. Everyone likes having a safety net around them too some degree. Climbing is a progression. Little by little you unlock parts of the puzzle and progress to the next stage. Clothing and climbing equipment seem to move at about the same speed. It’s rare to get a real break though, when it comes to weight savings with new product, but over the course of the last 12 months I was surprised by all the weight savings I managed to accumulate. I am thinking about the weight of everything, as it’s almost time to get back to Fiordland and attempt some of our winter mixed climbing projects. Weight on technical routes can be the difference to knocking out a hard onsight, or backing off due to an exhausted aching body. Here are a few of the weight saving products I came across in the last 12 months, as I upgraded my kit.

Starting with the feet. I swapped my Nepal Evo Extreme boots, that weighted 2,250g, for a pair of Mammut Eiger Extremes, weight 1,888g. They include a built in gaiter, which means in addition to the decrease in boot weight I also wont be packing my Black Diamond gaiters, saving 164g. Total weight savings 526g.

Next was an upgrade of the pants. My OR Alibi pants 598g had too many holes to be considered remotely waterproof, so they got traded in for some new Montura Everytime Pants 490g, a saving of 108g. Not too much changed in the mid layers or fleece jackets. I still prefer my OR Radiant Hybrid Suit, which at 478g is heavy compared to a straight thermol pants but it definitly eliminates cold spots when hanging on long belays. I combine this with a Patagonia synthetic running top and usually a light weight hooded fleece. In general im trying to get the hooded fleece between 300-400g. On top goes a mid weight synthetic jacket. For the past couple of years I have been using the Marmot Baffin Hoody 439g. I prefer synthetic for NZ climbing as it stays warmer when wet. If it looks like tempetures are going to be super low or the climb could involve a long bivy, I then add a non hooded Marmot Baffin synthetic jacket 372g in the pack as well. However for this years winter climbs that has now been replaced with a Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic Jacket, 269g saving 103g, but keeping the same amount of synthetic insulation. The jacket is a bit less tailored though and basically fits like a large plastic bag. I often carry a soft shell jacket as well trying to make sure it weighs less than 600g.

I don’t often carry a rain shell, but when I do, I go for something small and light. Basically, I throw this in when the forecast is not so flash, or I think there could be some form of bivy. Usually i’m going for weight and cheap pricing, as no matter how good your jacket is if it rains for a long time you will get wet. Combine this with the fact that even the best rain jacket rips when brushed against rock while mixed climbing ,it’s better to get something that does the job but doesn’t cost the earth. For several years I went with the Marmot Super Mica 246g. However after three years of abuse it finally died and is no longer very waterproof. I was pretty happy when I found the Montura Magic jacket, which has an actual weight of 204 grams, even though the lady in the shop told me it was 160g. Weight saving 22g.

Helmets seem to be constantly getting lighter. When i first got my Camp Speed helmet weighing just 210g I was pretty pleased. However……. swapping that for the Petzl Meteor Helmet at a mere 165g was very cool. I used it for the first time on a solo climb up the Frendo Spur on the North Face of Aiguille Du Midi and it was really hard to tell there was a helmet on my head at all. The fit is excellent and even though it looks bulky, I really could not notice I had a helmet on. Weight saving 45g.

In the pack department I have changed out my Osprey Mutant weighting ,1330g ,for a much lighter Mountain Hardwear Summit Rocket 30 weighting in at 440g. A massive weight saving of 890g. I had always liked the Mutant pack, however for it’s weight, it didnt seem to hold up that well to alpine climbing. In particular the stitching on the sides seemed to break down quite fast when over packing and trying to clip sleeping mats to the sides. I would not have usually taken the Mutant on a big route, however I am trying to do a direct comparison to the weight saved from my last climbing trip in Fiordland in 2012, to my next one in 2013. In general I think there is no reason to climb on single push one-two day routes with a pack that weights more than 400-600g.

Not much has changed in the weight of my winter rack. DMM Dragon cams and BD Camalots still make up the mix, with light weight Camp Nano Carabiners, on thin Mammut Dyneema Slings. In the ice screws I still have a preference for BD Express Screws. My Arcteryx harness weighting in at 310 grams finally died and got replaced by a Camp Air harness 260g. For a 50g weight saving. The Camp Air is definitely not as comfortable though, at a hanging belay.

The other main weight savings we have managed for this winter come from the decision to drop back to 60m ropes rather than taking 70m half ropes. 20m at 42g per meter saving us 840g! Mostly this decision was based around the fact that if we really needed to push for a longer pitch, we would just simul climb the extra distance. My final weight saving was on the hammers of my Nomics. The new Petzl light hammers save 38g per hammer over the standard 58g hammer. This is a huge improvement to how the tool climbs. Previously the large hammer seemed to change the swing too much, and you definitely notice the lighter tool on a big route. Total weight savings from new hammers 76g.

Part of getting older is in theory getting wiser, so this year in addition to our Jet Boil I have decided to include a Rab Survival Zone Bothy bag for emergencies, and to give us somewhere warm to brew up hopefully when we top out our next Fiordland project. These great little bags bring instant heat and weight 240g.

So, in the 12 months since I last winter climbed in Fiordland, I have been dreaming about my next winter project there. A direct line through the steepest walls on the South Face of Marian. This line is likely to involve 16 highly technical pitches and four easier pitches. A total of 20, 50-60m pitches. In order to complete it in a reasonable time and still have enough energy to get back down, the weight of our teams equipment and clothing will be important. I estimate the time for the route up and down if all goes well to be somewhere around 35 hours of non stop climbing. Fortunately even when adding in the Rab Bothy bag, the total weight savings, thanks to new equipment, total 2317g. Now, 2.3kgs doesn’t sound like much, but Im pretty sure that if I came up to you and asked if you wouldn’t mind taking this additional 2.3kg weight on your next non stop 30+ hour climbing mission, you might think differently about it. Combine that with a year of additional training and who knows, if the weather plays ball, we might just have a shot.

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