Tag: 4000 meter peak

Quandary in Snowstorm

October 27, 2014

Last night my wife suggested I do Quandary. It had been a couple months since last time and a few months longer before that. I checked the weather on Mountain-Forecast.com:

Quandary Weather near the bridge
Quandary Weather near the bridge
Quandary Weather at the summit
Quandary Weather at the summit

Looked like it was going to be really cold and windy and a bit overcast. I gathered up a few of the things I would be taking, including my Suunto Ambit 2S and my Salomon Spikecross shoes. I had seem some beta pics on Grays that implied there would be a fair amount of snow up high and I hadn’t used these shoes in a while. Strava says I only had 15 miles on them, but it’s probably more like 100 with all the winter summits I did do in them previous to Strava.

My daughter was already in bed, and I keep a lot of my stuff in her closet, so it would keep till morning. At least in winter you don’t have to beat the lightning. The next morning it was snowing hard. I got the rest of my gear together and dressed then took the kids to school and continued on to the Quandary parking lot. I followed a snowplow much of the way. I assumed they were going to work on Hoosier Pass, because the road was pretty slick. Quandary was socked in good, from this pic at the pull-off near the other road in.

Quandary from the pull-off on Hwy 9
Quandary from the pull-off on Hwy 9

At the parking lot I put on the HR belt and it took a good 10 minutes for the Suunto to pick up a GPS signal. Later I heard from a few friends who also had GPS acquisition issues today, so not sure if it was the weather or the system. For pants, I was wearing a pair of UnderArmour briefs, a pair of REI fleece tights (my favorites for cabin wear on expeditions) and some Pearl Izumi cycling wind/water shell pants. They’re really light and flexible and I wanted to test them out under stress today.

Where the rubber meets the trail - Salomon Spikecross winter trail shoes
Where the rubber meets the trail – Salomon Spikecross winter trail shoes

As I mentioned previously, I was wearing my Salomon Spikecross winter trail shoes. They have carbide spikes that I feel work a bit better than Kahtoola on the rocky sections of the trail on Quandary. Under them I had my classic combo of Injinji liners (the really thin ones) under Point6 Summit Mountaineering Wool Socks (Eddie Bauer brand). I normally don’t wear gaiters if I can help it, though I do have some Mont Bell softshell running ones that I wear now and then.

 

Trailhead sign for Quandary. Still accessible by road
Trailhead sign for Quandary. Still accessible by road

Up top I had on a Columbia Omniheat (reflective) zip turtleneck and a Salomon hybrid softshell/fleece jacket under an OR Goretex jacket. My gloves were a home-brewed combo of Columbia Omniheat Cell-compatible liners inside Mountain Hardwear mountaineering shells. For a hat I’m wearing an Icebreaker beanie (very thin) under a Salomon Swag Cap. Yeah, Swag as in they gave it to me at the finish line of a 10K run. I also have a buff on, though I wasn’t able to locate one of my favorites that I think is in my ice climbing backpack.

Near the bridge, nearly halfway and from here the swirling maelstrom of snowstorm is just visible at tree line
Near the bridge, nearly halfway and from here the swirling maelstrom of snowstorm is just visible at tree line

I wasn’t moving too fast, with a target of about 2 hours for the summit so I didn’t sweat too bad, though I did open up the neck of the two outer layers and the pit zips on the Goretex.

View of the upper layers if you're interested. This is still at the Trail Restoration sign near the bridge. Later in the winter the trail takes off from here straight up that hill
View of the upper layers if you’re interested. This is still at the Trail Restoration sign near the bridge. Later in the winter the trail takes off from here straight up that hill

When I got to tree line, just about 12,000′ I switched the Goretex out for a Mont Bell puffy synthetic jacket and cinched up the hood. It was really windy and cold and blowing snow pelting me. I’d say that 35-40 MPH wind forecast was about right. I passed a couple struggling near the top of the point at about 12,600′ and after a while looked back and didn’t see them. There had been three sets of footprints on the way up and one was still barely visible ahead of me and I followed it up the regular summer trail which was still easy to follow.

As I passed the flats at 13,300′ it became much rougher going with snow drifted in between the boulders making for difficult footing. Your foot would either hit wind crust and stick, hit crust and punch through into the boulders, or slide down into the powder and bounce around in the boulders until  you either stuck or fell.

At about 13,700′ I saw the owner of the third set of footprints heading down from way off to the North, angling back onto the trail. That implied the trail was hard to follow up high. I’d have to remember that. I ran into her after a bit.

“Windy” nodding her head up.

“Yeah” just nodding

And that was all we had the energy to say in the blustery day on Quandary.

Quandary Summit after 2:45 from the lower parking lot. Very difficult conditions and bad weather.
Quandary Summit after 2:45 from the lower parking lot. Very difficult conditions and bad weather.

Finally after 2:45 I got to the summit. 45 minutes later than goal, but the conditions were pretty bad and I had to face out of the wind braced on my poles several times to stay upright in some of the worst gusts. I made a short video on top then took off for the bottom without eating or drinking. I did that on the way down once I was out of the wind. Footing was even worse on the way down so it was slow going until I got down below about 12,000′ and then it was pretty quick.

So I’m back in training for mountaineering and have plans for some cool objectives coming up. As soon as any of them get past the “how much, what dates, how many climbers” etc I’ll let you all know. Subscribe to the newsletter if you want to be among the first to know.

Winter Hiking for the First Time

I took my 13 year old son out winter hiking for the first time on a Colorado 14er. I selected Quandary for a few reasons.

  • I’ve been to the top in every month, in almost every condition and know the routes well.
  • I’ve helped several other people do their first 14er on Quandary.
  • He’s been up it twice in the summer and knew what to expect.
  • Winter access to Quandary is the same as in summer, so no long approaches.

Winter hiking for the first time can be daunting, but he has seen me preparing for my winter outings. I trail run, snowshoe run, ice climb, and climb lots of mountains all year round. I knew how to prepare and properly outfit him for the adventure. The weather called for temperatures into the mid 20’s with possible winds to 20 mph. He’s a bit smaller than I am, and younger. He hasn’t adapted to winter activities like I have.

Winter hiking for the first time, my son got to meet Alan Arnette
Winter hiking for the first time, my son got to meet Alan Arnette

My son has a few favorite clothes items so I based his outfit around those to make it easier for him. I suggest that if you are considering winter hiking for the first time you do the same. It’s a lot easier. He wore base layers, insulated snow pants like for sledding, a mid-weight fleece jacket, and a mid-weight down jacket. On his extremities he wore a thick knit cap, ski gloves, and on his feet, wool ski socks and some Sorel boots. We brought along a couple pair of snowshoes but I really didn’t want to wear them unless we had to. He didn’t have enough experience with them that I thought it might slow us down some.

At the trailhead we discovered that there was some mountain club group hike going on, the lot was full and the road was almost completely parked up. We parked way down by Hwy 9 and decided with that many people ahead of us snowshoes were definitely not needed. We started out dressed light, with his puffy (nickname for down jacket) in his backpack. Along the trail we bumped into Alan Arnette, whose Everest Blog is quite popular CLICK HERE. We passed through a few deep spots with a bit of wading. I expected these, since they’re always in about the same spots every year. In my opinion it’s worth slowing down a bit to break trail in hip deep snow for a couple hundred feet in return for going a bit faster and lighter the rest of the trail.

Winter hiking for the first time, my son got pretty hot in the sun but below the wind
Winter hiking for the first time, my son got pretty hot in the sun but below the wind

When we got up in the wind I had him put on his jacket and have some food and water. At about 12,500 – 13,500 feet a lot of people run out of gas. Add in slick snow surfaces and cold and wind and it’s very difficult sometimes to convince the newbie to keep moving. We finally hit the summit about a half hour behind my initial target for him, but we did take a few more breaks and 3-1/2 hours is still a respectable time in the winter. We hung around at the top with about 100 members of whatever the group was, eating and drinking and taking pics.

We then headed down the trail, which was a little bit more slippery. I didn’t have any spikes to fit his Sorel boots, so I didn’t wear any either. It went okay though and in about 2-1/2 hours we got to the car. One funny thing was that having parked at the mouth of the turnoff to Hwy 9 we could see our car almost the entire way down. That was a great incentive to keep moving. His adventure with winter hiking for the first time was a great success and on the drive home he asked me about ways to improve his time and beat it the next time out. That makes a dad proud.

Video of my son winter hiking for the first time

Suggestions if you want to try winter hiking:

Winter hiking can be dangerous. I am very experienced and knew the route well. I knew the local weather patterns and what to expect. I’ve also had several sessions of outdoor training. I’ve been up Quandary with a handful of friends, some having never done a 14er before, some having never been hiking in the winter. I recommend that if you are going to try winter hiking for the first time that you find a mentor to help you.

I suggest that you also have snowshoes and/or microspikes. I’m used to running on winter trails in running shoes, spiked running shoes, and running shoes with Kahtoola Microspikes. In general you want to be safe and prepared. Snowshoes are a bit clunky to haul around, but microspikes are pretty light and great insurance. They would have been handy on the way down.

I recommend trekking poles. They will help you stay up when the going is slippery. They’ll help you stay in balance on the way down. They can help you transfer some of the work to your arms on the way up and down, taking a load off your legs.

I can’t stress enough the importance of going with someone experienced, so I’ll say it again. An experienced friend can monitor you for signs of exhaustion and cold injury. An experienced friend can help you remember to eat and drink and adjust your layers for your body’s thermal state – too hot or too cold. An experienced friend can keep you from being lost. I’ve had to help people find their way down Quandary a few times now. For some reason there are a couple of spots on the way down where people make wrong turns on a regular basis.

If you need any more information about winter hiking for the first time let me know in the comments. I want your first experience to be a good one.

Carstensz Pyramid Travel Warning

Carstensz Pyramid travel can be difficult. There are a few logistic hoops to jump through. Trekking in Equatorial Jungle. Various permits. Lack of helicopters. These are all issues to deal with. No one is going to rescue you and you need to be self-sufficient. You are taking a big risk. I had quite a few experiences of this nature when I climbed Carstensz in April of 2013. I wrote about them in my book Carstensz, Stone Age to Iron Age.

The mine was brought up as well. We were told that many expeditions had run into trouble with the mine, who in partnership with the local government owned all the land in the Carstensz area. With our government permits we were allowed to trek in, summit, then trek out. We would not be allowed to trespass, or cross any property of the mine not specifically spelled out in our permit. — Carstensz, Stone Age to Iron Age

My good friend at the logistics company I used for this trip posted this on the Facebook Event page for our climb of Carstensz Pyramid:

Carstensz Pyramid Travel and Climbing: Company Policy

Carstensz Pyramid Travel and Climbing - Freeport Mine Policy
Freeport Policy for Carstensz Climbers

Carstensz is indeed a logistical nightmare. There are only a mere handful of local operators able to handle the convoluted system of permits and porters and hiking trails that get you to the bottom of the cliffs of Carstensz. Then you have 2,000′ of climbing on steep limestone and gravel gullies with ratty fixed lines with poor anchors. While not technically severe in grade, the climbing has a fair amount of exposure, or perception of steepness and a deadly drop into the abyss between your heels. It’s not like Kilimanjaro, on which any reasonably fit person could walk up to the top. — Carstensz, Stone Age to Iron Age

If you want to see the full text of the (Carstensz Pyramid Travel and) Climbing Policy CLICK HERE

Carstensz Pyramid Gear List

To climb Carstensz Pyramid right now the only option is trekking. Six days up to base camp from Sugapa Village to the Carstensz Pyramid summit at nearly 4900 meters. Then four days to return to the village. There could be a few days of weather to contend with at base camp. You’ll need enough gear to last the two weeks. You’ll also need to be as light as possible, as the porters will only carry 17 kg. That’s about 37 lb.

17 Kilograms per Porter for the Carstensz Pyramid trek
17 Kilograms per Porter for the Carstensz Pyramid trek

Carstensz Pyramid Gear List

Climbing Gear
Alpine climbing harness, adjustable leg loops, fit over all clothing.
Double lanyard (Via Ferrata).
4 Locking carabiners.
Figure 8 Belay-Rappel Device.
1 mechanical ascender with handle.
Climbing helmet, fit with hat on
Trekking boots.
1 Pr rappel gloves.
Adjustable trekking poles.

Upper Body
Long sleeve base layer, light colored, sun and mosquito protection.
T-shirt for lower elevations (optional).
Soft Shell or fleece jacket.
Down/synthetic puffy jacket light-to-medium weight.
Hard shell jacket with hood Waterproof and breathable.
1 Pair liner gloves.
1 Pair medium weight gloves.
Warm hat Wool or synthetic.
Balaclava.
Sun hat or baseball cap.
Glacier glasses 100% UV protection with side shields and a hard-sided storage case.
Extra pair of sunglasses.

Sleeping Gear
Sleeping bag Rated to at least 10-20º F. Line the stuff sack w/plastic bag.
Sleeping pad Full length closed cell foam.
Thermarest (bring repair kit).

Backpack
Day pack 1800-3000 cubic inch for approach hike and summit day (a full pack is not required as we use porters).
1 Large duffel bag.
1 Small duffel bag for leaving clean clothes etc at Timika.
Locks for duffel bags.
Backpack Cover – waterproof.
Stuff sacks & plastic bags– waterproof.

Lower Body
1-2 Pair light-medium weight base layer.
1-2 pair lightweight short underwear.
1 Pair soft shell trousers.
1 Pair nylon shorts quick-drying type.
Lightweight pants for hiking.
Shell trousers Waterproof/breathable with full side zips.

Carstensz Pyramid Trekking Boots Scarpa Charmoz GTX
Carstensz Pyramid Trekking Boots Scarpa Charmoz GTX

Footwear
Trekking Boots.
Wellingtons (these must be knee-high and fitted with trekking boot insoles; you will spend much more time walking in Wellingtons than trekking boots).
Gaiters.
Sandals or light hiking/trail shoes for use at camp.
2 Pair of liner socks.
2 Pair wool/synthetic socks Medium weight.

purificup water purifier for Carstensz Pyramid gear
Purificup for clean water on Carstensz Pyramid

Miscellaneous Equipment
Personal first aid kit Basics: blister kit, Band-Aids, first-aid tape, ibuprofen, personal medications, etc.

Lip balm At least SPF 20, 2 sticks.
Sunscreen At least SPF 40.
Insect repellant Small bottle.
Headlamp plus one set spare batteries.
2-3 Water bottles 1 liter wide-mouth Nalgene.
Pee bottle.
Pocket knife mid-size.
Water purification Silver ion, Chlorine or Iodine tablets.
Hand sanitizer.
Toiletry kit Be sure to include toilet paper stored in a plastic bag.
Camp towel.
Bandanas (one, optional).
Neck gaiter (optional).
Snacks and/or munchies Bring your favorite “trail foods” or desserts, pack in Ziplocs. Preferably to include extra protein.
Camera Optional; large SLR types are not recommended.
Paperback books.
Walkman etc + 2 sets earphones.
Solar charger.
Small stainless thermos (optional).
Umbrella (optional but recommended).

Carstensz Pyramid Solar Power Battery Pack
Solar Power via Goal Zero for Carstensz Pyramid Climb

Carstensz Pyramid Gear List From Carstensz-Expedition
Guide 10 Solar Powered Battery Pack from Goal Zero
Purificup Water Purification System.

Carstensz Itinerary

Carstensz Pyramid is the highest point of the continent of Oceania. Oceania is the continent used to get Carstensz into the Seven Summits for the Messner list. For the Bass list you would use Kosciousko on Australia. This is a much simpler alternative in almost every way.

Carstensz highest point of Oceania, image by Ch1902 Wikipedia
Orthographic map of the Australasian part of Oceania: Australia, New Guinea, Island Melanesia, and New Zealand, but excluding the Maluccas – by Ch1902 on Wikipedia

Carstensz Itinerary

Day 1, 20 Apr : Welcome dinner in Bali
Day 2, 21 Apr : 00.30am check out. 02.15am fly to Timika.
07.00am arrival in Timika. gear check etc.
Day 3, 22 Apr : Charter flight – Timika to Sugapa-Bilogai airstrip.
Porters arrangement then travel by motorcycle to Muara River.
trek to Suanggama (last village).
Day 4, 23 Apr : Trekking from Suanggama to Camp I.
Day 5, 24 Apr : Trekking from Camp I to Camp II (Enda Tsiga).
Day 6, 25 Apr : Trekking from Camp II to Camp III (Ebay).
Day 7, 26 Apr : Trekking from Camp III to Camp IV (Nasidome).
Day 8, 27 Apr : Trekking to Carstensz Base Camp.
Day 9, 28 Apr : Carstensz Climb.
Day 10, 29 Apr : Basecamp – Nasidome.
Day 11, 30 Apr : Nasidome – Enda Tsiga passing Ebay – the shortest trek.
Day 12, 1 May : Enda Tsiga – Suanggama if possible, continue to Sugapa).
Day 13, 2 May : (early morn, Suanggama-Sugapa) then fly out to NABIRE Day.
Day 14, 3 May : fly to Bali.
Day 15-17 , 4-6 May : Preserve days for bad weather, flight delay, etc.

If there is good weather and a strong team we could fly to Bali on Day 13, May 2. Otherwise worst case, on Day 17, May 6. Speaking of weather, today I can get a forecast to April 25 via Mountain-Forecast.

Carstensz Weather – Trailhead Sugapa 2000 meters

Carstensz Trailhead Weather
Carstensz weather for the trailhead near Sugapa Airport

Carstensz Weather – Base Camp 4200 meters

Carstensz Base Camp Weather
Carstensz Base Camp – weather at 4200 meters

Carstensz Weather – Summit 4900 meters

Carstensz Summit Weather
Carstensz Summit -Weather at 4900 meters

Trekking to the base of Carstensz Pyramid is a very rugged adventure. Lots of mud, insects, rain, humidity. It’s a big challenge. I’m hoping that my training pays off and that I can endure the Carstensz Seven Summits Challenge.