/ Clothing advice for the Alps, please
Folks, I would appreciate your advice, please. I'm a alpine noob, so I hope you'll consider my ignorance if my questions seem daft.
Three of us are attempting Mont Blanc by the Gouter route in early Sept of next year. Apparently, temperatures are in the -7 to -12 range at that time of year. No huts - we intend to bivvy and will be taking our time, weather permitting. I have a few questions regarding clothing and sleep systems.
1) Clothing. For the cold bits high up, I was initially thinking of layering like this: base layer/fleece jumper/Patagonia Nano Air/softshell outer. Hardshell in my pack, just in case. But I'm now thinking I could simplify and lighten the load by going baselayer/down jacket. Silly or plausible?
2) Sleeping bag or a half bag with a seriously good down jacket? I'll be in a bivvy bag in either case.
I realise that everyone is different when it comes to cold perception, so I'm asking for personal experiences, please, rather than definitive answers - I know they aren't possible. FWIW, I tend to run hot when I'm moving and I sleep warm.
To give you some idea, I'm looking at this setup from PHD, without the full size sleeping bag:
> 1) Clothing. For the cold bits high up, I was initially thinking of layering like this: base layer/fleece jumper/Patagonia Nano Air/softshell outer. Hardshell in my pack, just in case. But I'm now thinking I could simplify and lighten the load by going baselayer/down jacket. Silly or plausible?
You'll probably find it far too hot, and it won't give you any flexibility to adjust to conditions. Though the air temperature might be -15 on paper, on a glacier in the midday sun can be perishingly hot. Equally, it might be overcast with a stiff wind even if nominally 'warm'. My usual layering system in the Alps in summer is thin base layer, Nano Air if cold enough, thin stretchy softshell (ME Squall), and a reasonable down jacket in my bag in case of emergency or stopping in poor weather. Lower half just a pair of thin leggings and thin softshell trousers. No hard shell as a general rule, unless there's a specific need to take one (ie crap weather on approach day, knowingly going out in conditions that warrant one, etc), and if that was the case I'd take it instead of the softshell, not in addition to. Avoiding being out in crap weather is much more important in the Alps than in the UK though; if the forecast is poor, staying out of the mountains is the default.
> You'll probably find it far too hot
I suspected as much, but it's good to get confirmation. Thank you, sir
> if the forecast is poor, staying out of the mountains is the default.
We're too old and fat (well, I say 'we', I mean 'I'...) to be heroic, so we'll definitely be following that advice :-D
I agree with teh_mark. Softshell all the way in the alps with something in the pack to put on over the top if stopping in the cold. First time I tried softshell I was amazed and very impressed. Setting off at 2am in freezing conditions, I didn't feel the need stop to change clothing once even when it warmed up. I've never used a sleeping bag on a bivi preferring instead to use a duvet jacket and put my legs in the rucksack. These days I would carry one of those Blizard survival bivi bags.
Before you plan to bivi on the gouter route check out the latest plans by the local government (town mayors) to control access to M Blanc
Yes indeed. From what I've read you'll not be allowed past Tete Rousse unless you have a booking for the Gouter or 'look' like you'll be up and down in a day - I'd love to know how they judge that!
As long as you are well acclimatised and fit you can bivvy near the Tete Rousse Hut, which is lower and more sheltered than the Gouter, and then summit from there. This is has the benefit of crossing the Grand Couloir at night when stonefall is usually at its least. For a slower approach some people will stop near the Tete Rousse and also the Gouter, this does rely on there being a solid good forecast for several days.
I agree with the above posters, softshell is the way to go. I tend to run hot and so, personally, I don't use leggings for alpine summer. I use softshell trousers but also carry full length zip but very light over trousers that can be put on first thing in the morning when it is cold ( if necessary ) but removed very quickly and easily when the sun comes up even when wearing a harness. Should the wind get strong, it often does around the summit, the leggings can go back on again but I hardly have ever had to do this. I find wearing leggings too hot for me most of the time and less versatile in terms of temperature regulation.
For the top half a long sleeved chest zip wicking top ( with a fit that allows sleeves to be rolled up ), and a lightweight softshell jacket usually does the trick. I also rarely take a hardshell top. When it is colder / windier I usually have a lightweight insulating puffer layer such as a Patagucci Nano Puff that can be put away in its pocket and clipped to harness ( no need to get into rucksack then ) plus the beefier insulating jacket which is often needed nearer the summit. Down is perfect for alpine conditions but I actually use synthetic filled jackets because the same jacket is of more use in the UK ( than down ) for what I prefer to do imo and I also can't afford one of each.
For sleeping I have also done what Grid North suggests, wearing the above combined with a very trim basic foam mat and legs in rucksack. For greater comfort a small trim self inflating mat and a lightweight bivvy bag. For the three star experience I take a very lightweight sleeping bag ( Phd Minimus ). I also make sure I drink lots of hot beverages and will often have a metal water bottle filled with hot water to keep me toasty if it is especially cold. ( It is ready to drink in the morning ).
Ideally test your bivvy skills and equipment out in the UK first, perhaps bivvy on a summit ) and also use them in the alps on your acclimatisation peaks. Have fun...
Many thanks to all who have replied, it's very much appreciated and I'll be taking your advice.
Generally people can go lighter than they think with the clothing for alpine summer climbing - base, fleece, light soft/wind shell and then an emergency warm jacket. But bear in mind the following:
- MB is high and it can get very cold up there at any time of year, if you intend to "take your time" you are likely to get colder for longer and are more likely to need back-up layers - moving fast is key to keeping warm
- bivvy comfort levels are very personal, but I have previously used a zero rated bag with a warm jacket and thermarest at 4000m and it's OK for me. I think the PHD set-up you mention would be overkill for most people (don't get me wrong , I really rate their gear and have used it at 6000m+ in Nepal). Things like whether you take a stove and have a hot meal will also impact warmth hugely. Bottom line is you should try and experiment before you go or earlier in the week of the climb if possible
- hardshell only if it is actually raining/snowing and needed to stay dry which means I very rarely wear one in the Alps in summer. Worth investing in something very lightweight so you don't mind having it in the pack and possibly not using if the forecast is iffy (there are some good models out there at around 200g or look at some of the trail running designed kit)
- look at the new rules for camping on the Gouter route before you go
From the number of layers you're wearing and by how old and fat you are ;-P
This Alpine Conditions page gives a summary of what is being climbed at the moment, what is 'in' nick and what the prospects are...
Niky Ceria has bouldered at a world-class level for several years, although he cares less about the arbitrary number attached to the rock and more about aesthetics, movement and history. UK readers will remember Niky as the man who made the 2nd ascent...