Preparing for the Alps
With my first summer alpine trip not far away I thought I’d better make an effort to spend as much time as possible getting used to long days in the mountains. So last weekend I headed to Snowdonia with the idea of doing a long low grade rock route or scramble which also took in a summit or two and could be finished as a round trip.
Wales is ideal for this sort of thing as there is a plethora of long less technical climbs with plenty of options for some additional distance. The original idea was to do something on Lliwedd and finish via Crib Goch or walk down the Watkin Path, as we were staying at the Nant Gwynant campsite. However, based on the weather forecast we decided to change this to the Cneifon Arete in Ogwen as Lliwedd was likely to be seeping and generally a bit damp. This proved to be a good choice as the tops in the Snowdon area remained clagged in for the majority of the day whereas in Ogwen we stumbled upon plenty of sunshine.
We ended up doing Glyder Fawr via Sub Cneifon Rib, Cneifon Arete and Y Gribin ridge. Sub Cneifon Rib gets vdiff and we pitched all 4 pitches, I also switched to rock shoes for it as well. At the top we traversed to the base of Cneifon Arete and soloed it. It gets diff, but this is only for the first pitch, the rest is a thoroughly enjoyable scramble of massive holds and great positions of varying difficulty. From there we crossed ‘the football pitch’ and scrambled the Y Gribin ridge to the Summit of Glyder Fawr. From the summit we descended the path through Devils Kitchen back down to the valley.
My aim of the weekend in terms of the upcoming Alpine trip was to get familiar with my gear and to get used to spending a long time moving over technical ground with a pack on.
- Bridgedale Liner Socks & Bridgedale Wool Fusion Trekker socks
- Montane Terra Pants
- Mountain Equipment Crux SS Synthetic Baselayer
- Arcteryx Squamish Hoody
- Montane Sabretooth Jacket (softshell)
- Deuter Guide Lite 32+
- Rab Stretch Neo Jacket (waterproof, not used!)
Most of this stuff I’ve used before and know how it performs. However, I hadn’t ever tried the Bridgedale Liner Socks before and thought they were great. I’ve previously just used thin cotton socks or no sock at all under the mid weight hiking socks. The liner socks did make my feet feel noticeably cooler and dryer and I will be using them every time I go out in boots from now on. They worked very well with the Bridgadale Trekker Socks and I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t work with any hiking or mountaineering sock as long as there’s enough room in your boot for the combined thickness of your chosen socks.
The other new bit of kit I had with me was the Arcteryx Squamish Hoody and it turned out to be a great weekend to test it as the weather was warm, but really quite windy. The Squamish Hoody dealt very well with these conditions whilst I was moving. It wasn’t warm enough for belaying in the shade, which is when I switched to the Sabretooth Jacket.
The Sabretooth is a few seasons old now and Montane don’t make it any more, though there are plenty of similar midweight softshells available (which are now probably a bit more breathable). I think that it’s great for climbing as it offers enough protection when you’re belaying and breathes well enough to keep you comfortable. I do find that it’s too warm for walking and scrambling when I’m moving constantly for longer periods. For activities where I’m moving constantly and the Sabretooth is too warm the Squamish hoody fits in nicely for warmer days and I actually use my Rab Stretch Neo Jacket on cooler days, even when it’s not raining.
The Terra Pants are great, ideal for this sort of thing, they’re probably a bit lightweight for Alpine use but I plan on having a pair of waterproof over trousers with me which I can throw for extra protection. One tip with the Terra Pants, and one which will probably apply to all lightweight softshell trousers, is to empty your pockets when using them on the mountain, the material does wear through incredibly quickly when objects on the inside are rubbed against rock on the outside. The only other downside to the Terra Pants is that everyone seems to wear them! Though there’s obviously a reason for this.
The Deuter Guide Lite 32+ is a fairly recent purchase for me, I’ve used it for day ski touring and it’s ideal for that. It’s also ideal for big mountain days in the UK and I can see it being perfect for the Alps too. The size is perfect as there’s enough room for everything, yet it’s small enough so that there’s no room to carry anything unnecessary. I’ve found that this has been the case for both touring and mountaineering. NB my helmet goes on the outside most of the time. It has a comfy fit and I find that there’s plenty of adjustment on all the straps, I particularly like the way the pack moves with you and has a large range of adjustment which allows you to pull in the top of the pack closer to the shoulder straps. This is great as you can change the centre of gravity depending on how the pack is balanced and dependent on what activity you’re doing.
What did I learn?
I’m quite happy with my gear selection; I will need a long sleeve synthetic base layer for the Alps as currently I only have merino long sleeve base layers. Long sleeve is necessary for protection from the sun and synthetic base layers are cooler than merino ones.
I must remember my Rab Meco Boxers as I forgot them this time and regretted it! They were a must have discovery from last year.