Reading between the lines.
Expedition providers put a lot of thought and time into compiling kit lists. Imagine rocking up on a Himalayan glacier just wearing flip-flops because you hadn’t been told otherwise. The proverbial would hit the fan.
Getting adequately prepared for an expedition takes some practice. Like most things this get easier through repetition but the task at first can seem very daunting indeed.
It starts with a visit to the gear store. Here a helpful dude pops up from behind the counter and once you’ve told him you are going to climb Mera Peak comes up with a whole bunch of “essential” stuff you need for 6,000 metres. Sure, they might be essential for summit day but what about those 2 weeks preceding this momentous event. Do I need double boots and a down jacket for them too?
It helps to read between the lines.
Weather: Think about all climatic conditions you are likely to encounter. Not just the harsh conditions the mountain will throw at you on summit night. I appreciate that this is the overriding thought when signing up for an expedition but the reality is that this part of the expedition usually is the shortest time. Take an expedition to Mount Everest as an example, for most a dream but the principles apply across the board for any climbing expedition in the Andes or Africa. You start this expedition by walking up the temperate Khumbu valley. Total time in your one-piece down suit equals 2 days.
Doubling up: The above considerations don’t suggest you need to pack in preparation for all the world’s climatic conditions. You can double up on a lot of stuff. Instead of taking a cotton shirt for the rain-forest approach, that long-sleeved base-layer you’ll wear whilst on the move at 6,000 metres will wick that sweat away like a dog shaking off after a dip in the river and higher up provide a perfect insulating barrier for the summit bid. Those trekking boots? Perfect for the climb to camp one (if crampon compatible). And that downsie? I find mine great to sleep in at the lower camps. Gear manufacturers are continuously coming up with equipment which span a range of conditions. Utilise this approach in your planning too.
Think about the small stuff: A while ago on a climb in the Andes, myself and my climbing partner settled down in the high-camp to get ready for our summit attempt. I reached into my rucksack for our stove. I found it no problems but to my horror noticed that I had no way to spark it up. I thought back to my childhood and the many times we’d made stuff explode. With a big grin and a wink, I un-screwed the bulb from my head-lamp and carefully filed off the top. Then I filled it with a drop of fuel from the stove, plugged it back into my headlamp and pressed the on button. The result was a miserable puff of smoke, no dinner and no summit.
The upshot of this is to visualise the situations you are likely to encounter before you leave the comforts of home. Think through every detail involved in camping out. What will you need to insulate yourself from the cold floor, how will you read that book when sitting out the inevitable storm, what will you use if that shoelace breaks.
Again, a lot of this will become easier once you have been on an expedition or two. But just by giving it some thought beforehand you’d be pleasantly surprised at the level of comfort a simple thing like a lighter can add to a night in a tent.
Packing your brain: When confronted with an annoying scenario whilst camping think about how you’d deal with a similar situation at home. Just because you are high on a mountain does not mean that your intelligence has frozen solid too. Have a hole in your thermarest? Use your skills to fix a bicycle tyre to patch it up. Lost your spoon? How about borrowing one from your tent buddies? Need a cup? Hey that empty can of tuna will do nicely.
Going light: The best approach to take is to adopt the less is more philosophy. The less you take the more you will enjoy the experience. Trust me, you do not really need an extra pair of high altitude double boots when climbing in the Alps. The more you bring, the more you stand to lose and the more blood, sweat and tears are required to drag the stuff around with you.
The rewards of an expedition are many. The lessons learned, characters met, experiences enjoyed and ambitions achieved will be with you for a long time. But remember it is about leaving it all behind and embracing the experience. By reading the kit list, preparing to use a single item of kit for different scenarios and by anticipating the situations you might encounter you will be able to comfortably step away from the trappings of modern life and exchange them for a simpler, less complicated way of living.