Wednesday, 29 August 2012


            "Anyone who has never made a mistake,has never tried anything new."
                                                                                           (Albert Einstein.)

I have certainly made my share of mistakes whilst solo-climbing and am always trying something new. None of which did me much good this year on Eiger,it was just too damn hot. A lot of things did go right however, so here are a few of them that might be of some use to others.
My style of soloing involves overnighting on my bergs so I am dependant on ice and snow for my water supply as I can never carry enough. For rehydration on route I use the Platypus bladder system (or similar) with drinking tube,but I try

Drink tube and sponge stowed in helmet.
to save as much as possible by useing the plastic syphon tube and soak-sponge I keep in my helmet. In alpine summers there are always "sip wells" of fresh ice water forming in rock or snow hollows during the heat of the day, that can be sucked up or soaked up by a thirsty climber. An astonishing amount of water can be obtained by simply pressing a 5"x3" piece of plastic sponge against a damp rock or melting ice formation whilst on the move.
Nearly two mouthfuls of fresh water from a 5"x3" rectangle of sponge.
This may not be the sweetest of alpine waters but it will keep you going and top up your fluid balance, so long as you are sensible and dont drink from obviously contaminated sources.
The Jetboil stove, and those like it, are the soloists saviour when it comes to melting your water from high icefields. Where possible I prefer to gather snow or pound up ice for water a short distance from my bivvy to limit contamination. I use a Hammer-Axe for this and collect the mush in a "Drybag" I have used to carry gear up in (just turn inside-out to carry the ice) or a thick plastic shopping bag. I never trust the "Piezo-Igniters" completely and so always carry
Ice collecting and boiling gear.
a secondary ignition source (see pic). As i almost never bivvy above 3500mtrs the melting point of ice in my Jetboil is not a problem to ascertain. It usually takes between 9 and 10mins to melt ice from a crushed-fragmented state to a boiling state at 2000 to 3000mtrs of altitude.
Method:- Put an inch of meltwater first in the Jetboil before adding crushed ice or snow. Anchor the stove or suspend (as in pic) as it becomes dangerously unstable and top-heavy if you do not! As you can see in the pic, I used a simple 5" S/Steel Jubilee Clip to hold a metre long loop of flexible brass "Picture Frame wire".Using this I can hang on an anchor or wrap it securely round a tentpole or rock so it does not fall over and cause injury. Light the stove and keep the gas setting turned down low, place the rubber top on loosely. Don't be in a hurry, for if you turn the gas up, all that will happen is that you will evaporate more than you melt. Melted this way, a full Jetboil of ice will produce sufficient boiling water to reach the stoves "safety mark line" which equals two large brew mugs, or one large dehydrated ration pack and one small hot drink.
Boiling water to "safety line"inside Jetboil.
If you're feeling daring you can add more ice or snow at this point but it will cost you more gas and boiling time.
To this end it's always good to have a rough idea how long your gas "cartridges" will last in order to provide you with enough hot water for your expedition needs.
C100/97gm.(left) C250/220gm.(right)
The two sizes of cartridge I carry are depicted above.Three years ago I burned both sizes till empty on a Primus Alpine Stove at sea level, on a medium flame setting to see how long they would last.The C100 lasted over one and a half hours, and the C250 lasted an astonishing four hours. I have never yet run out of gas with my Jetboil, which is far more efficient than my old Primus Alpine Stove. How much gas you take in lieu of water depends on how much you want to eat and drink, so its up to you. Do the math!!
On the subject of dehydrated rations, I recently switched to the "Mountain House" brand having tried them on the recommendation of a soloist friend.They are quite superb and remind me of the LRRP rations we were issued in the Royal Australian Army. I used the "Big Pack" version mainly because I can never finish them in one sitting. So I reseal the pack and reheat with hot water for breakfast the next morning before I set off for the summit. It's also a good idea to keep the empty pack (after a rinse) as it can be used as a pot to cook up Porridge Oat flakes, simply by adding hot water and resealing for a few minutes. Porridge Oats are the best survival energy food on the planet! I'll do drinks another time, but generally i take "Ice Tea" granules (drunk cold or hot). Ovo-Sport Blocks (Ovaltine solidified), Coffee granules, Haribo Sweets (can be chewed or diluted as a fruit drink). Also a plastic container of sugar to give it all extra kick!
On the subject of summer bivvying, I'm assuming that you have a good alpine sleeping bag. I can recommend the "Trek-Mates" bivvy bag for summer use.
Trek Mates bivvy bag.
This should keep the worst of the anabatic night winds, snow and showers from wrecking your nights sleep. It's waterproof, breathable, and weighs ounces. I pulled it up to about knee height over my PHD-Sleeping bag before I drifted off and only needed to raise it over my shoulders at 4am on Eiger when the wind got too cold. It would also make a great emergency bothy-bag. Great value!
Finally on the subject of personal alpine obligations and insurance:- Over and above my personal "Legal Waiver" form for rescue,(see two blogs back)
Emergency cards.
I carry three cards on my person whilst climbing, the first being my BMC-Card which can notify my club "ABMSAC" if I am killed or injured. The second is the "Austrian Alpine Club-UK" Card which provides basic emergency rescue insurance and repatriation insurance to UK from anywhere on the planet for only £33 per annum as well as being a great club to belong to. And finally my "EHIC" (European Health Insurance Card) which covers me for medical treatment (even in Switzerland) throughout the EU and backs up my personal medical insurance.
These cards are available to all EU citizens,and I had handed mine to a Dutch friend in Eigernordwand Campsite and was bragging about how useful they were. He looked at it closely and wryly told me it had expired the previous year! I phoned Peggy in UK and she renewed it immediately on the UK-Government website in under ten minutes, which saved me from looking a total dickhead, to only "feeling" like one!
If you live in the EU and don't have this card? Go straight to your country's government website only as this card is Free! Do not go to advertised commercial sites offering you this card, it's a con-job to extort money from you.
I'll blog again soon with more stuff!
Good climbing.


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