I’m sure most of the SOTA folks out there who go summiting in the winter have the right gear. This is intended for those that may be new at the venturing in the cold and limited daylight of the November – March month time frame in alpine areas. Reality is, this is just paying homage to the old Boy Scout mindset of be prepared (I myself was never a scout) but just thru dumb luck, memorizing the Mountaineering bible and years of playing I’ve come to always carry the following things so I never have to rely on the kindness of strangers, search and rescue or more dumb luck. The goal here is that I could survive for 24 hours (minimum) IF things did not go to plan. As always though YMMV based upon where you are, experience, tolerance to cold, weather etc. To be clear, I have done a ton of hiking and backpacking in the winter, so this list is based upon that..This will be the first year where SOTA is going to be the primary goal of my outings this winter. Who knows, I may even get some summits via snow machine, but not sure yet..
For those that know me, or just looking at my TOC you can see I spend a lot of time in W6/NS and W6/SN, and I do love venturing out into the snow (although 2017/2018 is not shaping up to be very wintry at this rate)..but it’s conditions like this that I would consider are more dangerous for the inexperienced mountain topper. To illustrate the point, during the winter of 2014/2015 (the worst year of the California drought) we had a SAR where some folks on a low snow year thought climbing Pyramid Peak (W6/NS-094, and no not doing SOTA) was a great idea in Vans and blue jeans with 3 16 oz bottles of water between the group and NO food or other supplies. Needless to say we found them…200 yards from the road, they never made it far even though they wandered thru the woods for 8 hours. A lot could be said about their preparation, but the main point I am looking to illustrate here is do not let benign conditions, and technology create a false sense of security. This is not an isolated incident by any stretch of the imagination.
I use my older backcountry snowboarding pack (DaKine poacher 45L) as it has plenty of room. I am still using a lowepro camera case to carry my SOTA gear, it’s not broken yet, and I see no need to replace it as my entire HF kit and amish logbook (pencil and paper) all fit. This is also my base SAR pack for what it is worth.
I’ll link a short write up on my radio gear separately but like most of us it is probably an ever evolving list of toys so it will be out of date tomorrow.
I am a bit OCD when it comes to organization in my backpack, a stuff sack for every purpose, and every purpose with a stuff sack (also referred to as ditty bag, or just bag).
I will start with what I consider my second most important bag… I call it my “butter bag”:
It basically carries Justen’s butters and trail bar of choice (currently for me is the Tahoe Trail Bar). I smear the butter on the trail bar for 500 calories of awesomeness (pretty sure i’ve talked about that before). I call it important, and in winter I put a bit of priority around food..(warmth always comes first, but food is harder to come by in the snow and snow can be melted for water).
I have enough bars and gooey peanut butters that I could survive 72 hours if I had to.
I also carry a not quite full cook kit:
- snowpeak gigastove and canisiter. note: A single 110ml canister lasts for a week of boiling water. IF my stove ever gives out I may move to a Jetboil system, but my stove is running rock solid at the moment so no need to replace it. I have had it since 2003. In the cold warm the canister before trying to use it.
- GSI outdoors Micro dualist cook kit.
- bag of soups, teas, instant coffee for warmth.
- sometimes I carry a full thermos of hot water too just to skip cook time.
So next up is my clothing. My clothing is based upon my known tolerance for cold, and I tend to run warm. I use a 13L stuff sack for my clothes. Other things get in and out but these are always in this sack:
- Synthetic puffy pants (not putting these on is a mistake I make often for some stupid reason).
- Patagonia R1
- Pair of wool socks: one thing I did learn from my dad was take care of your feet and everything else will be all right.
- Pair of lightweight legging base layer (capilene 1)
- Down jacket based upon possible summit temps. I have a lightweight OR 600 fill down sweater as well as a heavier Cloudveil 800 fill down jacket.
Some things you may not see in pictures but that always are somewhere in my pack
- balaclava (I picked up the coolest merino wool balaclava made by a Japanese company named Oyuki last winter.
- gloves that are weather specific
- headlamp, spare batteries
- spare radio battery
- 2 person bothy bag (these things are great wind break shelters that pack down VERY small). I would not want to backpack for a week in one, but I have spent the night in mine just to see what it was like.
- GPS as well as map and compass (I still am not willing to trust a cell phone as a means of navigation..I rescue way to many people who do). 1 extra set of batteries. A pair of Duracell Quantums last about 24 hours of constant use in my GPSMap62s
- fire starter (#1 priority in survival is staying warm).
- basic first aid kit
- water treatment in case I do find running water
- Avalanche kit (beacon, shovel, probe). Never head to avy country without them.
- Rain jacket for wind break
- Ziplocks and some Toilet Paper (please if you have to drop a deuce in the cold do not leave it).
Other things you will see in the pictures at the bottom include:
- Ice Axe
- Sit pad..part of staying warm is get off the snow
- crampons if conditions require it
- snowshoes, but they are not being carried, they are being worn. I have done used my backcountry snowboard for SOTA too.
And that is it. all told the base weight is about 20lb, but winter is a time where I would definitely rather have it and not need it then start yelling CQ SOS and hoping someone gets to me soon. What I can share is in the county where I volunteer, from the time you call 911 to the time we are at the trailhead and ready to move to you is about 2 hours. It takes time to get the right folks involved and the teams built, blah blah. Once we are on the move we move at anywhere from 2.5mph to 4mph; however snow does slow groups down. So again, better to have it and not need it then test fate and get REAL COLD!
Given my summit success during the late running winter and snow coverage in early 2017 I plan to do some more summits this winter (and take advantage of that winter bonus to get my points per activation up).
-73 and hope to hear you out there in the coming months