requests for the neoshell bivy bags has been way beyond expectations – seems the number of users who want a light, stretchy, breathable, extra long, simple bivy bag for mostly cold conditions is huge, which isnt surprising. the thing is, these are not commercial bivy bags, which means theyre not going to be on shelves and are not made in commercial quantities, and therefore the production process isnt straightforward.

-15c, direct onto frozen ground, inside a frosted tarp shelter, several nights in a row – no problem: the Neoshell bivy bags are made to simply work

the current status of the Neoshell bivy bags is

  • there are currently none available

  • a new batch is in the pipeline, hopefully before winter

  • the new ones will be an upgraded design thats greater volume to accommodate bigger sleeping bags / bigger people / more gear jammed inside

  • the fabric will be the same stretch Neoshell

  • the colour may change but will be bright for safety reasons 

  • they will be made of less panels, so less seams to tape and all that goes with that

  • they will have water proof zips instead of a weather cover

  • the zips will be double, possibly triple pull

  • volume still wont be huge,w e are guaranteed to run out again

  • people who have already made a request are higher on the list, tho will need to confirm when the bags are ready. 

  • weight will be under 400g

  • price will be under $300

  • we can send anywhere, tho thats not included in the cost

interested climbers should get in touch, and watch this site for announcements of availability.


climbing in serious cold is one thing, and climbing in serious heat is another. ‘serious’ here means the process of climbing is changed due to the direct effects of heat, and like serious cold can damage tissue and compromise ability.

50c / 122f at the rock’s surface: hot enough to limit the amount of time contact can be made with the rock

today’s session was expected to be hot, so it was planned to be over by midday. a degree of discomfort was factored in, but antidotes like water, sun cream & shade were included.

but, by 11:00am the heat coming off the rock was hitting 50c, making it too hot to touch, and we called it early. consider that to be radiating at 50c the actual surface will be hotter. consider too that to a tenderloin steak is cooked at 55c, for less than an hour. its not enough to kill bacteria but it is enough to break down the fats, collagen and protein to make them digestible and be released as juices.

heres what climbing in 50c entails:

  • reflected heat onto the front of the body feels like an open oven. unlike direct sunlight, its not from a single direction, so hits all surfaces

  • above about 45c the heat is felt straight thru the rubber of climbing shoes, even thicker stuff like the rand of TC Pros

  • around 50c the heat on the toes can only be tolerated for about 10mins

  • temperatures like this massively soften the rubber, nice for sensitivity, painful otherwise

  • finger contact, especially open handed, is limited to about 1 min. that most holds face sun-wards compounds the problem

  • any metal device getting friction (belay / rappel devices etc) get hotter than normal and take longer to cool. they certainly get hot enough to burn skin, and sizzle when water or sweat is dropped on them when rappelling.

  • any hard dark surface gets really hot, including helmets, shoe rubber, the insoles of shoes left at the base of the route, buckles, pitons etc

  • any water carried gets hot fast unless frozen first

essentially, the combination of radiated and reflected heat from the rock creates a zone maybe 1m deep over the rocks surface that is habitable for only short periods. the rock itself is possibly significantly hotter. like intense cold, a degree of adaption with the right actions can be achieved, which would include:

  • wear full coverage, reflective coloured clothes. especially for any jamming arete route where large areas of the body contact the rock

  • cover every skin surface with sun cream, including downwards facing areas like inside the nose, under the chin, backs of legs

  • consider easier route options that minimize prolonged static positions

  • consider the rock type: lighter rock stays relatively cooler but reflects more. darker rock is obviously hotter.

  • on harder routes plan around areas of shade and consider aiding, even just for rests, to reduce contact with the rock surface

  • wear larger sized rock shoes to give extra buffer from pushing against hot rock

  • carry water on route – delaying hydration even slightly when inside a zone of 50c gets dangerous fast. supplement with electrolytes. stuck on a rock wall is not a good place to be when the effects of dehydration or hypernatremia hit.

  • consider a gri gri for belaying – the part-plastic construction reduces the chance of burns over an ATC or all-metal device like a cinch

  • use gloves for belaying and rappelling. anything that normally gets hot will get hotter and remain hot longer

  • factor for much longer times…

…this session was meant to be 14 x 25m pitches at 5.8 to 5.10, expected to take 2 hrs. instead it took 1.5hrs to do 5 pitches, then we called it. rather than 5 or 6 pitches back to back, each pitch required a prolonged rest between to hydrate, allow metal gear to cool from the rappel off and boots to be cooled. really.

consider too: daytime peak temperatures were expected at between 1:00 and 2:00pm. if it was hitting 50c at 11:00am….

seriously, climbing in intense heat involves limited fun. on big routes, entering conditions like this for more than an hour or so could get nasty fast. unlike intense cold where options can exist for retreat into sleeping bags, shared body heat etc, retreat from serious heat is at the mercy of what the route offers. when the hottest zone extends several feet off the rocks surface, the shade of a portaledge may help, but the radiated heat will still be huge.

its funny how the suffering from intense heat makes one long for the suffering of intense cold that seems so far away…


long climbing trips are grimy stuff, so as a single extravagance LUSH soaps add a touch of civility for no extra weight. we constantly fork out extra for shiny climbing bling, so why not an extra few yen for luxury soap. for years now LUSH has been a companion to grim places, where once or twice a month it all makes sense.

LUSH has a campaign to get the message out there

BUT, the sad thing is, many of these places we go to climb in are a living hell for anyone whos love interests go beyond being straight and thats not right. Japan itself is overtly tolerant of gay, trans, lesbian etc lifestyles, and whilst still working towards full legal status, in some parts of Japan same-sex marriage is recognized. but in many places where the climbing is good its not. and thats wrong. not long ago China deemed homosexuality a disease requiring institution and electric shock therapy. the ex-soviet states have come a long way economically but basically nowhere on gay freedom, and Pakistan….

now buying soap wont change the world itself, but lending some solidarity across the worlds sectors all helps. footballers are coming out, soldiers are coming out, athletes are coming out so its gathering steam, and this a voice from some climbers, as dirty as we may be.

and hey, its really nice soap. the gold sparkles rub off which raises eyebrows.


power wool is soon to have it’s big release for fall-winter, so it’s a good time to get some real-world beta out there along side the endless press releases and showroom fondling from the trade show circuit. having used the stuff over almost a year and taken it from baking granite walls to nasty tibetan snow storms and lots of variety of trips between, a decent perspective on the stuff exists.

high exertion, bleaching sun, cold conditions: Polartec’s Power Wool is a quantum leap in next-to-skin fabrics

having worn capilene, various merino wools, maybe every form of Powerdry, Powergrid and Power stretch and like everyone, the old school poly pros, Power Wool is as close to getting it right as has been achieved. now into 2nd and 3rd generation versions, some of the issues have been worked on and what now exists is impressive.

what matters is that the entire clothing ‘system’ rests on the foundation of the baselayer. compromise it and that $700 jacket is off to a poor start. baselayers need to fill a range of functions much more sophisticated than the other layers, so stakes are high, and as it goes Power Wool is as big – if not a bigger – leap in function that Neoshell or Alpha.

the way Power Wool works is straightforward: the inner side is wool that has a degree of insulation yet allows heat to dissipate consistantly, and the outer side is a synthetic fiber that wicks efficiently and allows moisture to pass thru unimpeded.

how they’ve made it work is very sophisticated: this is not 2 layers stuck together. evolved from Alpha-style technology, Power Wool is a bi-component 3D knit (not a traditional weave) thats the one layer but with 2 sides to it. the wool inner side is a waffle texture, the synthetic outer side is a denser uniform texture.

beyond all that are the properties of the fibres: the wool doest reek, it keeps your skin in good condition and it gives a firmness to the fabrics dynamic. the synthetic element gives it durability, provides most of the wicking properties and retains the elasticity of the ‘firm stretch’ factor that makes it fit so well.

speaking of which, the fit is a major factor at work here. firmer than a normal high-stretch baselayer but not prone to the stretch degradation of wool, Power Wool acheives much of it function by form fitting alone. it sits tight against the skin to have maximum thermal and wicking efficiency, but has minimal bunching around the joints or riding up like many tight layers do. perhaps the best factor is that by combining wool and synthetic 3 dimensionally theres no need for a patchwork of ‘body mapping’ panels – which means construction can be kept simpler and more durable yet function is heightened. this then leads to more sophisticated design possibilities ie, how panels conform to the body, where zips go, ways of connecting panels etc.

Power Wools body-conforming ability makes it super efficient: it stretches but doesnt sag, sitting firmly against the skin but not loosing integrity with use

in use Power Wool is a true ‘put it on, leave it on’ fabric – which is vital for a baselayer. the days of stripping to a baselayer yet still sweltering are a big step closer to being over. Power Wool doesnt work by being thick – it works by being efficient, which means it’s almost neutral to the touch. as a single layer it will work comfortably well into warmer temperatures. this is largely increased by it currently being produced in a silver-grey that reflects radiant heat well. this stuff is as much sun layer as it is warmth layer.

on extended trips Power Wool has the odour minimizing properties of any wool, with the quick dry properties of synthetic. the minimal amount of seams needed to achieve high function also makes a garment with less pieces to come apart. over time is where the stuff really come to the fore, allowing the other layers in the system to maintain their functions too, remaining less compromised by the effects of grime as a trip wears on.

all this could only be done by Polartec, the only company working on a full spectrum of functional layers. they realize that for Alpha, Powershield, Neoshell etc to work properly they need to be on top of a foundation layer that gives them the best possible chance. of all the layers it’s taken the technology for Power Wool the longest to emerge, and in producing it theyve reinterpreted how baselayers can function.


Japan’s not the easiest place to find the climbing in. theres hundreds of places but aside from a core few most are quiet and off the grid. Unlike other destinations with hard climbing histories, many of Japan’s serious routes in the 5.13 – 5.14 range are surprisingly obscure. Even the Japanese complain about the lack of good, collective info. Mizugaki has long been the slightly esoteric sister to Ogawayama. the trails are less trampled, theres usually no one else out there, and aside from a few boulderers even weekends tend to be quiet. despite significant routes by Dai Koyamada and Yuji Hirayama and visits by Steve House attention is (welcomingly) minimal.

perhaps the start of a new wave of publishing, the new guide to Mizugaki is the book weve been waiting for. besides being a well done book with good (as in really good) data and images, theyve picked a location still with hundreds of routes to be done. Somewhat more daunting than Ogawayama and more popular spots, presenting Mizugaki like this could just be the thing to see significant new routes go up this summer, which could then lead to winter attempts on the higher routes.

note its all in Japanese but easy to figure out the basics for non-readers, and comes in two volumes covering different parts of the mountain. note too both editions almost sold out in the first week. hopefully – unlike other classics of Japanese climbing guides – it will go into extra printings.


finally Chimpanzee bars have arrived.

in the world of energy bars its hard to stand out, with most bars following the McClif Bar model and just rehashing the same old stuff. but Chimpanze bars take a different approach, producing a less tiresome, more multiday friendly nutrition source. not all that sweet, with a high raw and fibre content, Chimpanzee bars dont clog the system as much as more procesed bars. the flavours are bit left of center (beetroot? surprisingly good) perhaps reflecting their Czech origins and the protein content is really good.



‘the journey of a thousand li begins in your living room’ – lao zi (except the last bit)

after 15 years of trips to obscure parts of china, central asia and the subcontinent weve  noticed theres a primary factor that makes the difference but is often misjudged: the lead up. between confirming your place and getting on the plane is a phase that determines a lot of what happens out at the sharp end when you wont have internet, specialty shops and ATMs to solve the problem. its amazing what people let slip thru, setting up a domino effect of issues that can result in problems where they are appreciated the least.

get things ready when its easy: fitness, packing, equipment etc. you will better things to do when you arrive

real expedition climbing is accessible. you don’t have to be sponsored, or have 6 month windows, or invest tens of thousands in huge logistics – you just need the motivation and a head for planning.


you can do this. expeditions come out of careful planning and applied intention, not bravado and super hero acts. the actuality of going on expedition is more possible than many people think simply because most climbers talk themselves out of it. knowing the world wont stop turning if you head off for a few weeks is the first step achieving big goals. not being overwhelmed by the list of things needing doing is the next.

ideas about failure, risk, loss and confusion are normal when setting off on trips – the key is in waiting until things are in front of you before you worry about them. usually they are so outweighed by the cool, unique, unmissable stuff they get dealt with and resolved. being confident in confronting the insecurities of trips to obscure places to do committed things is a matter of preparation; research, training and planning.


it takes at least six months to get real results for expedition climbing. thats the minimum needed to change your body over from whatever its doing now to being exped-ready. if youre already climbing fit, youre part of the way there. if youre not – 9 months is more realistic.

training has lots of superficial elements to tweak to the specifics of your trip, but behind that is the big, general exped base all climbing needs. whether its walls or alpine ascents or multiple routes, everything is about 75% the same; huge amounts of slow burn cardio capacity, a big reserve of functional strength and focused ability to redline when you have to. the actual applications of each capacity can be tweaked towards specific trips (jugging big walls, high powered mixed routes or technical steep slogging), but whatever the objective the accumulated physical condition takes a long period of consistant effort to acheive. weekends at the indoor wall wont do it.

work it out by scouring a calender to see what time you have to work with. be realistic. how many hours a week? how many hours all up? how can you best use them? saturday mornings bouldering in the gym may not be the best way of getting in shape if you cant run up 25 floors of stairs.


most western climbers are put to shame linguistically in the places they go to climb in. impoverished local kids can all say ‘one pen’ or ‘hello Joe’ in English but more often than not most visitors know not a single world of their language. this may be understandable when their language is Burushaski or Pamiri Tajik, but when its Hindi, Russian or Mandarin – the languages of millions – it’s a point of shame.

the basic greetings and pleasantries will be welcome to locals who see us as aliens and learning to count will save you money in otherwise lop-sided haggling. being able to recognize the names of places your trip is planned around is a basic function, as is knowing the names of common food. without the safari bubble a real expedition takes place without the industry safety net, on local terms and with outcomes dependent on local relations. we are the ones with the excess time and resources, the education and global connectivity, its up to us to bridge from this side.


there are no observers: take away the commercial bubble and the realities of going to obscure places take getting used to.


as this article isn’t concerned with industrially organized safari trips we wont consider that you will be met at the airport and your hand held all the way to BC. in this case you will be outside the fishbowl and in with the locals, and theres no excuse for not making the effort to adapt to a degree.

white people stumbling belligerently into another culture isn’t cool any more so learn whats what and how its done and pay attention to the locals. every culture has social rituals that cluster around food, entering homes, meeting people for the first time, displays of gender and basic hygiene. if Burton could work this all out in 1852 you can make the effort with todays technology. in some cultures that surround high mountains there isn’t a second chance, with unfriendly ejection from peoples backyards still going on. in other places it just helps to reinforce preconceptions of foreigners and in some other places the outcomes are even less savoury. even if you don’t learn the exact social specifics, at least have a broad knowledge of where to expect them and sharpen your senses to see where they arise.


you will probably have spent hours on google earth, scouring topographic maps and dreaming up topos of routes and access, but what do you know about the roads going in and the cities you will stay in? getting lost downtown in the search for ziplock bags is unnecessary and a waste of time, and in places like Islamabad these days, a risk.

like guessing where theres water on the route, it makes sense to know where the department stores are in town, what ATMs are about and the general direction to the airport.


cut corners elsewhere: the right things on your feet is a major chunk of the equation resolved.


make this the priority and try, order and get used to them as long before you need them as possible. research the route and conditions, see whats available and make the most informed choice. its stupid to skimp on boots when you’ve spent a lot elsewhere. a common mistake is a last minute splurge on sexy looking boots after a sudden panic that yours need replacing. worse still is when they need to be ordered in a time frame that’s cutting it thin. no ones ever gone down for wearing boots warmer than needed, but examples of boots being insufficient are a mainstay of mess tent conversation. think about the expected conditions and go with the boots that cover the worst, not the easiest (or cheapest). it sounds obvious, but to save $200 its amazing what you see trying to be justified.



don’t plan for doing an ultra a week before you go. likewise don’t crash your chances with a big binge or period of extended lethargy. in the last month or so before a trip eat well, exercise moderately, minimize risk and get us much good sleep as possible. whatever your training has been, there wont be any great leaps made in a month so aim to debug any niggles and stabilize your weight so you go in as a known quantity. perhaps the worst choice is booking a skiing trip in the lead up – easy package ski holidays ‘just at a resort’ are amongst the top factors for late minute cancellations and insurance woes.


plastic bags

despite being the bane of the developing world, decent bags for organizing gear and prepacking food are hard to find away from modern cities – freezer bags after all, tend to require a freezer to put them in.

when trips get long they need careful food planning and the quality of the bags its in determines what it will be like to eat in 4 weeks time. the damper the conditions the more it matters and when your carrying oil, muesli, coffee and other things you cant afford to spill or leak, decent ziplock bags rate with decent weatherproof clothing. good bags not only store your food but by eating out of them (dropped first into your cup) minimize washing up and optimize with sanitation.


even short trips take a lot of stuff


the stereotypical expedition image is a stack of duffle bags getting hitched onto mules, loaded into light aircraft and hoisted onto the backs of brown people in sandals. regardless of the karabiners you use, all your gear needs to make it from your living room floor to a little tent somewhere via baggage handlers, taxis, hotel rooms, camels, Cessna’s, rope bridges and the hands of other climbers.

regular big hypalon duffels work well but are limited in their durability and weatherproofness. they are fairly easy to handle and ok for organization, but inside a tent they are terrible. barrels are great for longer trips and trips with a lot of gear (walls etc) as they can stay outside your tent, and the contents are less damaged by pack animals. they are a must for any trip that involves a lot of water crossings and/or where you need to cache stuff as they are rodent proof. with a bit of DIY they become the most securely lockable choice.

roller duffles are creeping into the market now. once embarrassing symbols of yuppiedom they are now being made rugged enough to cope with expedition use including being loaded onto pack animals, and they are the easiest thing to get thru the 50% of your journey that isn’t over mountain terrain by yak.

haul bags are another option that have the ruggedness of a barrel but also the drawbacks. easiest of all to manhandle (porters can come to blows over who gets to carry a haul bag) and possible to be stored outside a tent (throw a tarp over them) they are also a pain in the ass to get stuff from the bottom of, but you cant have everything.

and don’t just think about transport – how will you use it at BC? a 3 person tent feels like a bivy bag when you’ve got a months worth of climbing gear inside it, so consider your luggage from a storage perspective and think about a system for keeping it all in lofts and clipped high in the tent when youre out there.


anyone seen the handle for the coffee grinder? even a basic degree of organization helps

pack intelligently

half the gear misplaced on expeditions is down simply to not having a coherent packing system to begin with. dropped on a mountain is one thing – left next to the shower in a hotel room is different. you wont need your glamorous climbing gear immediately, so pack it at the bottom of the pile. everything will be resorted at BC, so rather than a huge knot of ropes, slings and aiders think about mesh laundry bags (that have lots of uses up high as well). it’s a good idea to keep a token amount of gear at the top in case of approaches that need river crossings. likewise a pair of flip flops and dry trousers at the top.

for the days ahead to BC have a day pack ready with what you will need enroute, including stuff for the hotel room like good coffee and a washing line. always have a headtorch for power failures and early starts. have your passport handy if expecting checkpoints and for hotel check-ins.


get some good marker pens and mark up whats needed. checking off lists is easier when you know what number of how many something is and things like gas cannisters need marking, plus any emergency gear including medication, especially if in another language. for trips like bigwalls or when using barrels, when everyone has Black Diamond haulbags or the same blue chem barrels, scrawling names and details on the outside is an obvious thing to do.



expeditions are exercises in logistics, not climbing. for the 15% that is climbing theres 85% below the water that is preparation and execution that requires the right pieces to interact at the right time. relying on a memory affected by fatigue, cultural reorientation and chaos is a bit optimistic, especially when a pencil and paper negate having to. make lists and use them. know what you need and when and the order in which things need to happen. carry a little notebook to keep on top of details and keep the details refreshed.

 dont skimp on food: eating properly is the single best thing you can do in an expedition. nutrition is the foundation of any trip


theres a lot of discussions about health and bowel conditions on expeditions, most of which can be easily negated by two things; money and pills.

an extra $100 spent on good food is perhaps the #1 bargain on a long trip. nothing else will you pine for more and feel the effects of more dramatically. lots of climbers spend big on bling then scrounge on food, eating either spartan local fare or junk. and many will agonize over the length of their slings when the addition of some multivitamins and fish oil will have a far greater impact on their on-mountain performance.

expecting first world urban nutrition in an isolated third world basecamp is simply misinformed. when snacks are less, food isn’t as fresh, youre working harder from altitude, sleep is disturbed and its constantly cold it simply isn’t realistic. even at home youd find it a strain and need to boost things a bit. eating more chocolate and drinking more tang isn’t the answer to improved condition.

so plan for it as it will happen (the indicator is seeing how long before people start fantasizing about what they will eat when they get back to the city. what they choose is often a sign of what theyre missing…). bringing your own supplements is easy and lightweight, but the real solution is everyone paying an extra $50 for more food at BC. $50 x each member will go a long way in a cheap country, and so long as its earmarked for quality produce (not more beer and chocolate) it boosts the entire experience profoundly. people don’t remember great snacks but they do remember great BC meals.

beware of he-man style protein supplements tho as they don’t always digest well at the best of times, let alone at altitude. amino acids are usually a better bet. more importantly – avoid taking more sweet junk as your day food and snacks in the first place. sugary crap can be found the world over whilst dense, fatty, complex carb, neutral snacks cant, and that’s what you will crave long after your teeth sting from all the Haribo and Snickers bars.


the magic of the internet puts any relevant data before you. collect and collate it and get in the picture, be informed. even the most pedestrian image or facebook mention can house some iota of beta that seems minor at the time but becomes clear when youre out there struggling to make decisions.

a lot of what appears as great voyages into the unknown is only that way to the outsider. once on the ground its normal to find that lots of information exists from a local perspective, its just never been homogenized into a format climbers are aware of. try searching from other perspectives; somewhere unknown to climbers may be ordinary to ornithologists, fishermen or geologists.


Most expeditions don’t happen without warning. Look at the time you have and put things in order so visas, flights, gear orders and daily life can all be slotted together. sit down, scrawl it out, figure it out and put it into a timeline.

After a couple of trips you get to recognize your own ‘expedition pipeline’. the process of getting better organized is a sign of growing up as a climber. the more mature the objective the less room there is for teenage haphazardness and the greater the risks from messing it up. forgetting the ziplock bags on a weeks cragging is a pain in the ass, but on a 6 week trip at high altitude it has very real consequences.


after years of trying lots of packs weve settled on Cilo gear. others have worked well, but Cilo’s packs have simply worked the best, and a recent trip to the US solidified a relationship so Teton Bros can make them more available in Japan for climbers and skiers. iceclimbingjapan amongst others is part of getting the word out there.

Peaks Magazine, Japans #1 exposer to the outdoor industry, was impressed enough to give Cilo the front cover

when about 40 days per winter is spent carrying loads and that average load weighs 30kg, the pack matters. even when its not about weight, its about durability and function, and tho Cilo isnt the top in any one catergory their packs out-do others when its all combined. this is why they are worth the rolls royce price tag – you are getting a rolls royce product.

legendary in their home country, Cilo’s packs carved a place into climbing to call their own. perhaps no other company has made such a radical splash for their size. seemingly from nowhere Cilo brought new textiles, new construction methods, new functions and new levels of function to an already saturated market. we didnt need any more packs – until Cilo came along. its to their credit that years later they are still going strong, with few real competitors, and became icons of both material evolution and market direction. in more ways than one Cilo are the standard for where packs are going.

ice, granite and extended use – Cilo gear packs in their element

very light and very strong, Cilo packs have every detail tweaked towards alpine limbing. theres none of the market compromise to get them to sell to a wide consumer base who dont really need them. non-climbers and non-skiers will scratch their heads. the weird fabrics, the strange dangly buckles, the odd colours and the significant prices make them out of place on the shelf amongst all the other slick packs, where they appear basic, clunky and half-baked – yet on the mountain they shine. its hard to name another pack that stands apart so distinctively in both enigma and function.

hydrophobic dyneema thats actually lighter than water means the white Cilo packs absorb no moisture and so dont freeze when things get really cold. spilled coffee will stain them tho…

now all this sounds like superlative. no pack can be that interesting, right? well that depends on how much your pack means to you. a few weekends a year for a few hours a time is a spartan relationship where little matters, but seriously loaded, seriously abused and spending serious time together shines a light on what a pack can be. other packs dream they are Cilo packs. theres a reason Cilo spends so little on direct advertising – appearing on the backs of most world class alpinists does it form them.



trip report from deno and brian’s december trip to china’s #1 ice climbing location, the shuangqiao valley on the sichuan tibet border. after 10 years of trips there there’s still not a lot of good beta on the place, so Deno’s report and Brian’s film is a good resource for anyone wanting to get out to ice climbing’s true wild west frontier

So it’s August 2014.  In Hong Kong.  Also known as the worst month in an already polluted city, and my mind wanders from my admin-y desk job to ice climbing.  It’s been far too long, and I’m not getting any younger. My buddy Brian in Singapore is going through the same withdrawals, neither of us have had gloriously miserable freezing cold days outside since Nepal the year before, and now it’s just TIME. Time to get a bit vertical, time to get a bit scared, time to live a little.

Now you don’t have to be one of the world’s elite climbers to get jazzed by the idea of an ice climbing trip, and I’m a shining example of that.  I can get wigged out on WI3, and I’m stoked when I climb WI4 any old way.   But this is not about grades, because I’m getting excited thinking about ice by year’s end, and it’s a great “waiting in bed for Santa to come” type of feeling.

On this occasion, Asia’s own ‘full metal alpinist’ Ed from was our Santa.  Not in the roly-poly old dude way, but certainly in the ‘gives gifts to those who deserve them’ way.  He sorted the permits (hell, it’s China, so don’t expect that to be easy or quick), and transport / accommodation logistics.  Shuangqiao valley in Sichuan was our goal, a still semi-under-the-radar ice destination with 60+ lines, and everything you could want – multi-pitch ice from WI2 to WI6, and plenty of mixed, from intro to ridiculous.  Let’s not forget it’s all at over 3500m, so it’ll get you breathin’ hard.

4th December 2014.  I’ve kicked my job to the curb a while back, and I’m loving the freedom.  Brian and I meet in Chengdu, and one of Ed’s crew has arranged a Land Cruiser to get us to the valley. It’s one hell of a 7 hour ride, over broken roads and broken countryside, still trying to recover from the devastating earthquake of 2008.  There is a long way to go.  It’ a rural, subsistence-level farming environment, and as you get higher, life seems to gets harder.  In summertime it’s covered in tour buses looking for alleged pandas and enjoying the stunning scenery, but in -15 degree December the beauty is in the frozen vertical that we climbers seek, and this means basically no tourists anywhere.

We’re staying at the “Five Colours Mountain Lodge” a simple Tibetan-style lodge that is totally set up for climbers, they are used to the amount of crap we have, the need to hang and dry ropes and gear, and the hours we keep.  Great family, great food, and apart from the fact they speak no English and our Tibetan/Sichuan dialect is ZERO, we got on really well.

For all but 2 nights of our 9 night trip, there were only two other climbers climbing in the valley, the awesomely strong pro-climbers Enzo and Marcos.  Given that their level was ‘not the same as ours’, we had our choice of routes throughout the valley.  However, we were basically there a couple of weeks too early. Ice was thin on many routes, or totally missing in big sections on some lines. Basically, unless you like climbing WI3 that is trying to be WI5+/M6, wait until late December.  Then you will be rewarded with fat floes on long multipitch routes, brilliant access (no walk longer than 60 mins, most only 30-40 mins on great trails) and an incredible sense of adventure and exploration. Whilst it’s not the sort of place you want to have an accident, there is cell phone coverage, and escape off most routes seems possible, at least in theory.

So that’s a too-many words summary of our trip.  In 9 short days, we got a bunch of multi-pitch ice climbed, rediscovered the awesomeness of that metal-taste-in-your-mouth when way above your gear, saw zero pandas, and had a fantastic adventure in an unspoiled, beautiful part of the China/Tibet border.  There are routes for now, there are routes for ‘the future’, and there are routes to repeat.  All of which makes me sure I will go again, and I know Brian feels the same.

When to go:    late December to late February

What to take: 70m ropes x 2, full ice rack, gear for mixed, plenty of v-thread cordlette, anything else you need for an ice trip – there is nowhere to buy stuff.  Lodges have great bedding etc / food is ample, take personal snacks, no shops in the valley.

Old Guide book (but still the best there is, and with great info):

Brian’s youtube clip of our trip:


the asama-yama / fuji-san back-to-back is never easy. its a 2 day exercise in suffering and strategy with no easy way round it. physical condition plays the major role, shared with the weather, but perhaps more than any trip we run your gear choices have a big effect on the outcome

sleek, light, simple and functional

hour after hour of constant ascent in hurtling winds makes every gram count and function matter. unlike the stop-go schedule of ice climbing, asama/fuji is a constant push forward with little time to stop. the clothes and gear you use need to work for this. with 3800m of total gain attempted over 2 days, total weight needs to be as low as possible, but with temps so low and conditions so hostile (-5c to -25c and windchill easily bring things down to -35c) it all needs to be very warm and weather-proof.

clothing needs to be as dynamic as possible with as few superfluous bits as can be done without. approaches can be sweaty, but both routes have sudden emergences above the treeline when things get very cold very fast.

baselayer full sleeved, full legged, hooded, perferably one-piece

trousers tough, leg vents, preferably a bib

mid-layer mid-weight, vented, athletic cut, large pockets, hand pockets

shell jacket full weight, athletic cut, hooded, simple

insulation light exped weight, hooded, generous cut

face protection windproof, full face coverage, glacier rated glasses

boots as warm as possible, doubles preferably

gloves 1 x light and windproof for the approach, 1 x full alpine, 1 x insulated mitts for contingency

carried gear needs to be as light and low profile as possible but generous in design to swallow up gear in the howling gales. often too much is carried or choices are too complicated, meaning that keeping the wheels grinding forward is made harder than it has to be.

pack over-night sized, stripped of lid, waist belt and flapping straps, large snow throat

food glove friendly, 2500kcals per day, salty, freeze-proof

water insulated, sweetened, about 1.5L

tech gear needs to be light and sleek as possible. tho harnesses and helmets are rarely needed for objective matters they are in-place in case of accidents when it would be too late to get them on

crampons light and simple as possible, easy to don in nasty conditions with cold hands

axe light, straight shaft, insulated grip, teathered to harness

helmet light

harness light, wearable with crampons

head torch +70 lumens, fresh batteries, carried against body

now none of this is very special, but when put together it needs to be streamlined and idiot-proofed as its too cold to stop and fiddle once under way. to nail the strategy demands constant progress just below max hill speed – sustained for up to 12hrs. anything that flaps, doesnt work with big gloves, freezes, demands dexterity, takes unnecessary time or isnt bombproof fast becomes a limiting factor. in trips past weve turned back due to problems that at other times wouldnt take much to solve. a face mask that doesnt cover enough skin, crampons that shift or zip pulls that catch can be just enough to lose the psyche thats needed to keep your head in an already difficult game.

as the hours grind on the inner dialogue needs to be kept bouyant and nailing down gear is one way to control the small window we can. its also our interface with the elements – all of which work against us – and creates the narrow micro-climate that allows us to survive.