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summer alpine routes - carry a waterproof or not?

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 Stone Muppet 05 May 2022

Thinking about summer alpine climbing above the snow line, if it's raining you've definitely screwed up, if it's heavily snowing then you've screwed up too, and you have a windproof already. So if all goes well the waterproof never goes on, and if you need it you're probably trying to descend rather than push on up.

Does anyone here simply not carry one - i.e. because they reckon their Big Insulated Synthetic Jacket covers the bases for emergencies and is water resistant enough to keep you warm until you're off the mountain? And your bivi bag isn't waterproof anyway?

Alternatively does anyone carry a superlight one, not very durable but hopefully never worn? If so what?

2
In reply to Stone Muppet:

For a quick day hit of a an Alpine rock route near a lift etc I sometimes don’t bother if the forecast is solid and I take a wind proof. But obviously you can be caught out and you need to assess what that might mean based on your route and escape options. But outside of winter I would usually always be going for a super light in any case - Patagonia M10 anorak. 

 Jeff Ingman 05 May 2022
In reply to Stone Muppet:

I stopped Alpine climbing 4 yrs ago but always went with the later suggestion for summer. I carried a completely waterproof very light 'cag' to deal with an afternoon cloud burst. Zero breathability, 175g and £5 from Decathlon. I've only worn it 3 times but it served it's purpose. If you need goretex you should be drinking beer in the valley.

5
In reply to Stone Muppet:

I would always take one.  An alpine storm can be as viscous as Scottish winter and do happen unexpectedly, as does getting caught out overnight.

1
 Rick Graham 05 May 2022
In reply to MG:

I'm 100% in agreement with Jeff, light waterproof for summer alpine , one or one long day  guidebook time routes.

Even after getting stuck for two nights in one alpine summer storm at near 4000 m, (1980, when the isotherms used to be way lower), I  would rather endure that than a long night in winter Scotland.

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 VictorM 05 May 2022
In reply to Stone Muppet:

It really depends on conditions and circumstances. Realistically, you're doing a lot of routes from hut A to hut B and maybe tag on hut C with something-or-other-spitze in between. In such cases, you're going to have to carry everything in the pack. 

If it is indeed a case of a quick hit with a lift and you'll be in the valley with the last lift back, you can sort of count on a good forecast and ditch a waterproof and maybe only bring an emergency bivi. I'll always bring a good waterproof though, even though I prefer to climb in softshell. 

 Mark Haward 06 May 2022
In reply to Stone Muppet:

As George says, if an easy access route with easy descent and a solid forecast coupled with my own judgement I would not take a waterproof.

    If out for longer, higher or more committing I would take a light weight one rather than the Scottish suit of armour and would usually have a lightweight bothy bag too. 

   If the weather / conditions are dubious I change my plans back to an easier less committing route, but there again I am a wuss!!

1
 Howard J 06 May 2022
In reply to Stone Muppet:

I would always carry a lightweight waterproof.  Storms can bubble up very quickly out of nowhere, and despite a clear weather forecast.  One of the most terrifying experiences of my life was being caught in an Alpine thunderstorm.

 BruceM 09 May 2022
In reply to Stone Muppet:

Always.  Marmot Precip.  Used heaps in those thunderstorms that weren't expected.  Question usually is do you need the insulated jacket as well? --  or just thermal blanket, bivi bag thing etc. as backup.

In reply to Stone Muppet:

> Does anyone here simply not carry one - i.e. because they reckon their Big Insulated Synthetic Jacket covers the bases for emergencies and is water resistant enough to keep you warm until you're off the mountain? And your bivi bag isn't waterproof anyway?

The question is, what's the probability of you getting down fast enough in bad weather to reach shelter before your insulation jacket becomes useless?  Chances are that if you're having to descend in bad weather it's going to take you a lot longer than it normally would.  Even the 'simple walk out' at the base of the abseil piste is going to be horrendous in the rain. 

Then you have the 'how will I cope when I injure myself on that rushed descent in the wet?' aspect - your wet insulated jacket and damp everything else was fine whilst you were moving and generating heat, but now you're stopped with a sprained ankle in a gully with no phone signal after a long day burning all your energy......  I guess it boils down to 'how much will the extra weight slow me down and increase my risks' versus  'how much risk will be reduced by being able to stay dry'.  That risk assessment will depend on the climber and the route.

I'm not an alpine climber, but a shell jacket is always in my bag in the alps on VFs and walks.  I don't find the additional weight and packspace to hinder me, therefore my risks aren't increased and thus the additional risk reduction in the event of bad weather are worth it for me.

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 Siderunner 13 May 2022
In reply to Stone Muppet:

There’s some good writing about Yosemite accidents that highlights how quickly things go south on a big wall when it really rains. Obviously El Cap is different than most alpine rock, but worth contemplating.

I once got caught in an extreme summer hailstorm in the Dolomites, fortunately at the first, bolted, belay. Came out of nowhere at 11am from behind the cliff, literally a black cloud out of the blue. In the 10 minutes it took us to get down we were completely soaked and freezing. Water and hailstones were streaming down the slab we were on, and water ran down our arms whenever we touched the gear on the rock. Felt like a funny incident as we sat in the cafe after, but if we’d been 8 or 10 pitches up and the belays hadn’t been bolted it wouldnt have been so amusing.

 Robbie Blease 13 May 2022
In reply to Stone Muppet:

Something else to think about is a super light bothy shelter. Probably going to be lighter than the two (or three) separate waterproof jackets you'll be carrying as a team. And kind of better for the short sharp alpine storms when you'll almost definitely not be climbing anyway. 

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In reply to Siderunner:

> I once got caught in an extreme summer hailstorm in the Dolomites, fortunately at the first, bolted, belay. Came out of nowhere at 11am from behind the cliff, literally a black cloud out of the blue. In the 10 minutes it took us to get down we were completely soaked and freezing.

That's the problem with mountain stuff - you often can't see what weather's going to hit you.  I had a similar hail experience with my scouts here on our winter expedition - we saw a big squall coming and told them to put their waterproofs on, but one older lad was all "I'll be fine" and wouldn't listen so we let him learn a lesson . It whipped up to F6 and hailed & sleeted for the time it took him to walk 400m across a flat hard beach, resulting in him getting soaked to his underpants through his army surplus tunic and trousers. We then continued for another hour or two to the campsite where he was unable to tie shoelaces - a) his fingers wouldn't work, and b) his brain wouldn't work.  We put him in the hot campsite shower for 20 minutes to warm him up and fed him to fix his hypothermia.  On the hill with no ability to warm up he'd have been stuffed.

Personally, I've been involved in a misjudgement of scale - we were just coming off the VF Piz Da Lech and onto the grass when the late afternoon thunderstorm started. Our hotel was directly below so we decided to simply keep going down instead of waterproofing up as it wouldn't take us long. We were completely soaked and chilled by the time we got there because it took us longer than expected even though there were no problems with the descent - it was simply further than it looked (2.2miles, 2,200ft descent).

Post edited at 16:11
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OP Stone Muppet 06 Jun 2022

Alright then, part 2: to carry waterproof trousers, or not?

 galpinos 07 Jun 2022
In reply to Robbie Blease:

I love a bothy bag but if you intend to try to get down out of the weather they are, quite obviously, useless. I generally take somethin I can move in then something I can't, though most often, I take both*!

*Bothy Bag or a SOL foil sleeping bag

In reply to Stone Muppet:

> Alright then, part 2: to carry waterproof trousers, or not?

As I normally wear schoeller trousers which, although aren't waterproof, are DWR, I sometimes don't bother on day trips with good forecasts, but always will if I'm doing multi-day hut to hut stuff due to a higher chance of the forecast being wrong. However, as I don't live in the alps I have that logic through the variable weather where I live, and alpine forecasting may be more reliable.

 VictorM 08 Jun 2022
In reply to Toerag:

However, as I don't live in the alps I have that logic through the variable weather where I live, and alpine forecasting may be more reliable.

It really is not. Alpine forecasting is accurate to maybe 24-48 hours in advance but I would not trust it for much more than that. So for hut to hut stuff or longer tours I always carry a full rain set. If it's a day hit I might forego the rain pants but will probably carry the jacket.

 ExiledScot 08 Jun 2022
In reply to Stone Muppet:

> Alright then, part 2: to carry waterproof trousers, or not?

Never. If the forecast is that bad i wouldn't be doing routes! As said slightly wind and damp proof trousers are fine.

There are reasons many are slow in the alps, big bags and a pack list like DoE! 

2
In reply to Rick Graham:

Err, not quite true. In the Alps you might be at 4000m with nearly 1000m to descend. In Scotland you’re never more than a few 100m off the ground. How many people have frozen to death in the Alps in summer, notably the Freney disaster and the two Brits on the Droites. One dead and the other lost his feet, as well as dozens of others over the years frozen to death. You can’t assume a storm will only last one night, although I agree in recent years this is rare. After one night out in a viscous summer storm at 4000m my climbing partner was incapacitated, it was so cold and we had hell on getting down.

 ExiledScot 08 Jun 2022
In reply to Philb1950:

The Jamies on the Droites was in winter?

I get your point, my view is just that if you treat the alps like Scotland, you’ll be so heavy and slow you'd likely need everything you carried and it becomes self fulfilling. Yes, you can be unfortunate, but multi day storms don't arrive unnoticed, low pressures or depressions are well forecast, daily thunderstorms in the afternoon should just be expected as they are so frequent in some valleys because of the air movement generating them. 

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In reply to ExiledScot:

I never climbed in the high Alps without waterproofs and emergency shelter. You’ve only one life. I don’t think I was ever heavy or slow, soloed the Swiss route on the Courtes and the N face Triolet in a morning, back in Cham for lunch. I always regarded Scotland as wee hills and training for the Alps.

 Mark Haward 08 Jun 2022
In reply to Stone Muppet:

I find myself once again caught between two camps of 'always' and 'never'.

If an easy access route with easy descent and a solid forecast coupled with my own judgement I would not take a waterproof. However, this may depend on the area. If in an area where storms come from a direction I can't see and tend to brew up very rapidly ( thinking of some parts of the dolomites for example) then I'd be more likely to.

    If out for longer, higher, north facing or more committing I would take a light weight jacket rather than the Scottish suit of armour and would usually have a lightweight bothy bag too. 

    I find for summer alpine I don't need base layer leggings, too hot. Softshell trousers work great for me most of the time. However, sometimes a 1am start in cold conditions ( that great overnight freeze we long for ) can be a bit chilly when on higher, longer or more technical routes. So then I'll often take light weight full length zip shell trousers for the first coldest hours as extra insulation because as soon as it warms up a little ( activity or sunrise ) I can quickly remove the over trousers whilst still wearing crampons / harness etc. 

   A quick tip I picked up from watching others; many shell garments have zips that are hard to operate quickly with gloves on. So I add a short length of thin cord where appropriate to make gripping and pulling easier. 

 ExiledScot 08 Jun 2022
In reply to Philb1950:

> I never climbed in the high Alps without waterproofs and emergency shelter. You’ve only one life. I don’t think I was ever heavy or slow, soloed the Swiss route on the Courtes and the N face Triolet in a morning, back in Cham for lunch. I always regarded Scotland as wee hills and training for the Alps.

I wasn't doubting your ability, just differing perspectives. If you're knocking out those routes I'd say you're not the average person you see with a 10kg rack, 70+litre bag battling their way along cosmiques for the entire day.

I do sometimes carry a small group shelter for that unforeseen disaster, but trudging in the rain/sleet/snow in some form of wind resistant soft shell trousers with waterproofs over top, nah, you'll find me in the valley. There is a vast difference here between winter and summer, apart from brief thunder storms, prolonged bad weather in summer is generally well forecast, plus you can track it on your phone or from forecasts in huts. 

 montyjohn 08 Jun 2022

I'm not sure many of the replies are answering the specific question.

> Thinking about summer alpine climbing above the snow line

To me this means start/finish somewhere like Aiguille Du Midi where you are always above 3600m where I assume it never rains (can anyone confirm this?).

Maybe this is where someone with more experience can come along, but let's assume the weather forecast was garbage and you've been caught out at that altitude. You've got your DWR windproof softshell trousers and jacket and you're down duvet, I can't see how waterproofs would offer much more protection in these conditions?

Again, interested to hear thoughts for this specific scenario. I can't imagine snow melting on your down being an issue, but I guess it could melt on your legs.

I suspect when people respond saying they always carry waterproofs, then they are starting or finishing lower down where getting drenched is a real possibility.

Post edited at 10:34
In reply to ExiledScot:

Take your point entirely about the Cosmiques, but I think it’s typical of a modern mindset, whereby you seem to have to be instructed or shown what to do, rather than crack on. My friend Albie a member of a pot holing club, poled up and did the Walker for his first alpine route, in far less than optimum conditions.  I took my 12y/o daughter along Cosmiques for a fun day out, but it’s atypical of your average alpine route in potential seriousness and I think there’s a difference between the heavyweights you describe and being prepared for a sudden and potentially violent storm.

In reply to montyjohn:

Most of the time nowadays it frequently rains high. Quite often the freezing level is near or above 4000m. In recent years its rained on the summit of Mount Blanc. A waterproof is also a wind proof and modern goretex weighs nothing.

 VictorM 08 Jun 2022
In reply to montyjohn:

It’s fairly common for the zero degree line to go higher than 3000m so I would not assume it cannot rain at that height during summer. Even then, sleet can happen even at slightly under zero. 

Edit: a good rain protection kit would come in at about 800g for a rain jacket, lightweight pants and an emergency bivy. I would agree that light is right but there is such a thing as too light. 

Post edited at 11:22
 montyjohn 08 Jun 2022
In reply to VictorM:

In reply to Philb1950:

> In recent years its rained on the summit of Mount Blanc

So this would be the exact info I'm missing so thanks for that. I weighed my waterproof trousers and jacket the other day and they came in at 1kg so slightly on the heavy side. It gets frustratingly expensive trying to shave the last few hundred grams of all your gear, but it's amazing how much it all adds up to.

 Mark Haward 09 Jun 2022
In reply to montyjohn:

It does sometimes rain above the snow line, even over 4,000 metres sometimes. Also, snow falling can be very wet. Assuming you mean a down jacket by 'duvet', these can quickly be overwhelmed in these conditions, as would softshell trousers. Waterproofs would offer much more protection in these conditions.

I've spent many nights bivvying around the Midi area, mostly in good dry and cold overnight conditions. However, I've also experienced rainy, misty nights when, if I'd been more sensible, I would have been better off in the hut. Some days I've climbed the rock routes in that area in a short sleeved base layer and lightweight softshell trousers and rock shoes, other times I've had the mitts, goggles, B2/3 boots and big insulating jacket and full waterproofs on. 

   Some storms can be brief, though still quite intense, that then dry off very fast. Others can last a lot longer. In the UK we may often go out in poor weather conditions - think UK winter climbing. I would hope that a garbage forecast in the Alps would keep most people in huts, in the valley or possibly moving to a different area to catch better conditions as big storms in the alps can be serious killers. If you can see one coming, descend as fast as practical. Sometimes, if things really hit the fan, it is better to find shelter such as in a crevasse or Bergschrund. 

    I would also hope that people would increasingly use their own judgements about the likely weather and conditions based on their experience and also local knowledge as whilst the forecasts are generally accurate the timing sometimes varies. Different mountain areas have different weather patterns which can be observed and learned from. All a part of the alpine apprenticeship. 

    Sometimes a decision is made to walk from the valley to a hut in poorer weather, fully waterproofed up, because the weather is due to clear for the next day and so there is a possible window for a route the next day. However, there are many different options here. You will find different responses on this site because people will approach alpine climbing in different ways. Sometimes people may do one day hits using mountain transport for quick access and escape, some may do a long walk in to a hut for a route or two and then descend back to the valley. Some may go to a high hut and stay there doing several routes over several days from the same base. Some may move from hut to hut, possibly staying high such as the Spaghetti Route. Some bivouac or camp. Some do shorter routes, some may do highly committing multi day epics. Many will do a mixture of all these approaches. On top of which some people may be more cautious, others may be greater risk takers, others may be more willing to suffer ( alpine climbing can involve a lot of suffering ! ). All with have different experiences that have led to their decisions. 

   You may not be aware but some of the respondents to this post are extremely experienced alpine climbers, but will still give different responses based on some of the factors outlined above. So I suggest there really is no one answer to the OPs question - apart from perhaps - 'it depends...'

 montyjohn 09 Jun 2022
In reply to Mark Haward:

Thanks for the detailed response. All makes sense.

> Assuming you mean a down jacket by 'duvet'

Yes i did. 

A couple of tiny clarifications where I think I was unclear, when I said "garbage forecast", I meant in that it's predicted to be good weather, but turned out to be not so good so you get caught out.

Second thing, just want to be clear when I said "Maybe this is where someone with more experience can come along" I wasn't referring to previous posters, I meant more experienced than me to respond to my understand of it.

Which is exactly what I got so thanks all.

 Solaris 10 Jun 2022
In reply to Stone Muppet:

I always carry a Goretex Paclite and, often, light overtroos, not just to keep me drier, but also as an insulative layer keeping warmth in and wind out.

Weight? For me, if I can't climb quickly and smoothly carrying what I regard as essentials, I'm not fit (or perhaps, acclimatised) enough.


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