During my time as a university student I was fortunate enough to land a part-time job working at Bivouac Outdoor in Albany, Auckland. Working at an outdoor retailer is more than just geeking out on synthetic fill compressability and comparing the battery lives of 6 different head torches. The best bit about working at Biv was getting a little bit involved in other people’s adventures. My favourite memory is of one middle-aged lady who was in the market for a lightweight tent. I listed some options and showed her some models that might suit her trip into the South Island wilderness.
She frowned at the sleek-looking shelter in the brochure and said “That’s all very well but the vestibule isn’t big enough.” I looked at the picture of the suggested tent, with its ample storage space for personal gear, then back at the woman.
“What are you planning on taking?” I asked, mystified.
The woman gave a nervous smile, “My pet goat,” she explained, “she doesn’t like sleeping outside so I thought she could camp out in the front of the tent. She’s really very useful for route finding, always seems to pick the best way through any scrubby areas.”
That to me is what is awesome about exploring the outdoors, the adventures that await are as unique and diverse as the adventurers themselves. Of course this means that the tools we use are often specially adapted to the specific conditions and problems we expect to encounter on our travels, and a voyage to Antarctica is no exception:
A key purchase for this trip has been my boots, a pair of full-shank Gronell Piumas. The stiff sole can save your bacon, or rather your calves, on steep ice and snow where you are standing only on the front points of your crampons. The catch is that they tend to be less comfortable on any other terrain.
Crampons are essential for moving safely across glaciers. My G12 Grivels have been trusty steeds for the past three years. Owing to my tiny shoe size and lightweight boots I had to pack out the front arch of the crampon with a piece of plastic croc. This less-than-elegant solution meant that the toe of my boot didn’t stick out too far over my front points. Fortunately, my new boots are a bit bulkier at the front so I’ve been able to ditch the McGyvered modifications.
For this trip I’ve opted to take a walking axe, a straight-shafted Black Diamond Raven, on-loan from Bivouac Outdoor. My usual set of technical tools (Black Diamond Vipers) are hanging sadly from my bookshelf. Having two tools opens up so many doors in the mountains, particularly when climbing un-roped. When the snow conditions are good, you can feel incredibly secure on some seriously steep terrain. However, Mt Scott shouldn’t be overly technical so not worth the extra weight to take two tools.
Getting bored of all this gear talk? So is Boston, my distinctly unimpressed Black Labrador:
When weaving around crevasses on a glacier, roping up is a necessary precaution. Being tied together means that if one person falls into an icy abyss, the others on the rope can arrest their fall. All of this connecting needs an attachment point and that’s your harness. This is my Black Diamond Lotus in fetching teal and grey. Climbing harnesses don’t seem to have the same mythic worship attached to them as climbing shoes, ropes or trad gear- they are the unsung heroes of vertical pursuits. Mine has certainly saved my limbs and life hundreds of times in the gym, on rock and on ice. However, falling into crevasses is a different matter and I really hope it plays more of a wrap-around-purse-for-all-my-climbing-gear role on this trip.
My final gear photo is of one of those pieces of kit which you take and hope like hell you never have to use: the avalanche transceiver, a DTS Tracker. Watching tonnes of snow and ice thunder down a mountainside is one of the most incredible phenomena you can experience in the alpine environment. It is also one of the most terrifying. Really hoping the most action my gadget sees is playing a fun game of hide and seek on the ship.
So here it all is, nicely packaged and ready to be freighted across the world at 8pm this evening. Boston is pictured here trying to blend in with my suitcases in the hope that I’ll take him with me by accident.