Monday, March 3, 2008

The Gear Bomb

Packing packing packing packing... it looks like a big giant gear bomb went off in my loft. I have small gear, medium gear, large gear. Common gear, specialized gear, unique gear. Some gear I look at and wonder what I'll ever do with it again after this trip, some gear I'm excited to try out on a more common mountain like Rainier. Quite literally, it comes in all shapes, colors and sizes and a good portion of my floor space is covered with equipment. I guess the closest comparison I can give is to liken the experience to packing for a deployment. I'm about 99% of the way there on shopping though, which is really good because I seriously don't know how I'm going to fit it into two bags for transport to Nepal as I bounce through a few cities en route.

I'm only allowed 2 pounds of "specialty foods"- as in a favorite snack which for me are hands down Sour Patch Kids- more or less Gummy Bears with a tart/sugary coating and happen to be the best quick energy trail food developed by Man. Right. Two pounds? I know that the second I pull my two pound bag of Sour Patch Kids out there will be 15 cupped hands waving around in front of me. This is if the bag doesn't vanish before I even get there. Besides, if these bags are being hauled on the backs of burros to Base Camp, I'm not at all feeling guilty about overing my "two pound weight limit" while I short all the approved camera equipment on the list. My point & shoot Cybershot is perfect and more than makes up for the 6 extra pounds of Sour Patch Kids that I have hidden in boots, etc.

I do have a theory on what will happen to the science of economic supply & demand once I depart Seattle though. Let's take a Petzl Tikka Headlamp- typically $32 at the REI Superstore. I'd love to apply the Big Mac Index to this device, but unlike that measuring stick (which is an amazingly strong indicator of local economic strength based on how much a standard Big Mac, made with the exact same ingredients no matter where it is sold happens to cost) this deals more with an item that is a critical device and comes in varied supply based on location. So much for the Big Mac, but man am I hungry now.

So looking in Seattle, you will find a Petzl Tikka for close to $32, nestled among dozens of other competing LED headlamps and in abundant supply.

Heading to China, all expectations are that the exact same headlamp will drop in cost to $10- being that China is where they are made, there are tons of knock-offs, and the whole "oops! look at this box of headlamps that somehow disappeared off the factory floor".

But move on to Kathmandu where there is a much more limited supply (yet still maintains a healthy secondhand climbing goods market thanks to last year's climbers) and there should be a moderate price increase- let's say $25.

Once flying to Lukla via single-engine prop plane, the availability of headlamps drops, but the need increases exponentially. It's now too late to do the "crap, I forgot to pick up a headlamp- I'll go get one now." That price will increase gradually the further along the trail you get, leading all the way up to Camp 3. Camp 4, however is where the final summit push happens with a midnight kickoff. If you manage to lose a headlamp here, or yours breaks? How much is a person willing to pony up for a spare headlamp? "Sure, I have an extra one. Got $500 bucks?"

Then as soon as the climb is over, I'm expecting the price of a headlamp to plummet. Who wants to pack out that stuff if they don't have to? If there's a fire sale in Base Camp, I'm definitely taking full advantage of the higher priced gear for sure. Cost of a headlamp there? $10 maybe.

The price will likely increase slowly from there down the trail, into Kathmandu's gear shops, and then back to Seattle where $32 will be the norm again.

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