Sunday, January 25, 2009

Everest Gear- Best & Worst

As with the stories of Everest, it sometimes can be valuable to see or hear what sort of equipment worked in that sort of extreme environment, and what didn't.


1: General Dynamics Duo Touch II

This piece of hardware is about as hard-core as you can get. Ruggedized to the hilt, it proved invaluable and completely reliable despite subzero temperatures and 21,000'. The General Dynamics team provided me with a version that has a solid state hard drive, GPS and screen viewable in full sun. It also uses a lithium battery, and these are capable of operating in temps far lower than alkaline batteries. In an environment like Everest having them prove invaluable. This is without a doubt one durable piece of gear and having it made communication with home possible.

2: Sony Cybershot DSC T200

Only a few ounces in weight, these little cameras have two things going for them: they are light, and they take fantastic pictures. I wanted a camera that didn't have any real moving parts, as in telescoping lenses and would operate off of lithium batteries. The Cybershot has 8.1mb high resolution image capture, is chock full of features and can be operated with heavy duty down mittens.. all for $400.

3: Outdoor Research Alti Mitts

Remember the discussion about how cold it was on summit night? Negative 20 degrees is fairly mild up at 29,000', but I'm guessing that even if it were much colder these mitts would still perform well. Throughout that night, I found my hands sweating- a good sign when I had chunks of frozen breath fuzed to my eyebrows. Before I left on our summit push, I casually held up two separate sets of mitts and asked Willie & another Everest vet "hey, which ones work best?" It took them about 2 seconds to collectively say "bring the Altimitts!"

4: Feathered Friends Snowy Owl

I used this sleeping bag on McKinley and fell in love. Is it possible to fall in love with an inanimate object? Yes. This thing is like the Rolls Royce of bags- rated down to -60, it kept me warm and comfortable thanks to a massive cocoon of down every night I was away from Base Camp. While on the South Col, I shared this bag with Tendi and Danuru in our tent. "Hey, where's your bags?" "Doug, we didn't bring one." Wtf? So, my bag was then shared among the three of us as we used it to keep our feet toasty, using our 8,000 meter climbing suits as sleeping bags. The next morning, Danu accidentally melted off the foot box with our stove while making breakfast. I then looked like I had a goose hidden in my pack as I down climbed the Lhotse Face as feathers flew all over the mountain. Even then, the next night it was still incredibly warm. It is an amazing piece of gear. Now to figure out where to load a DVD player into the thing for absolute comfort..

5: Petzl Tikka Plus Head lamp

Super light, this LED head lamp operates off of 3 AAA batteries blasts out a humongo amount of light and is as reliable as they come.

6: Intuition Boot Liners

Ahhh.. warmth. Intuition liners are another item I used on McKinley, and think that they keep your feet uber toasty. They are super light and dry quickly. Upon arrival at the South Col, I took my sopped liners out and threw them into the sun for about 3 hours. They dried quickly in the powerful UV rays that exist at 26,500' and were incredibly comfortable, leaving my feet warm for the next 14 hours.

7: Hughes BGAN

Plugging the DT II into this portable satellite dish will link you in with the world. While initially it seemed like you needed a PhD to get the thing to work, it did prove surprisingly simple once we had it all figured out. While the Nepali liaison officers were doing their best to please the Chinese by monitoring Base Camp and telling them that no one had Internet access, we were able to point the BGAN at a local satellite and get connected- all from inside our tent. A little heavy, this is still one good piece of gear.

8: MREs

Laugh if you want to, but the standard MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) that Marines eat happily while in Iraq or in the field anywhere are perfect for high on Everest. Vacuum sealed, the meal packets contain high calorie meals that have flavor and are super easy to prepare. While melting snow for drinking water, you can kill two birds with one stone by plunking one into the pot to cook a meal in minutes. We chowed down on these meals all the way to the South Col and I'll bring more along on my next expedition.

9: Julbo Explorer Glacier Glasses

It is truly amazing how clear and crisp the images are that come through with these glasses. They wrap to your head, are lightweight, and rubberized to ensure that getting banged around will not result in then breaking on you.

10: iPod Shuffle

Lightweight and using flash technology, I would plug this little bad boy into a solar recharger and have it ready to go in just 30 minutes. Because there is no screen, it will run for a tremendously long time. With 4gb of memory, this little MP3 player will hold hundreds of songs to play as you trek and climb through the Western Cwm.


1: Feathered Friends 8000m Climbing Suit

Where to start with this piece of gear. In a nutshell: At the Balcony, my zipper stuck in the open position. For the next 5 hours, I fought with it as cold air kept pushing in and I couldn't safely close the suit to protect me from the elements. At the bottom of the Hillary Step, I finally gave up and had to tear the zipper to "fix" it. That's just the half of it. When I brought the suit in to explain this situation to Feather Friends, one of their sales agents got openly hostile, loudly clarifying the store's position on not issuing refunds. Ya know what? If you are selling an 8,000 meter climbing suit, it should work at 8,000 meters. Not break and expose the wearer to frostbite. And frankly, when your store is located in the shadow of REI's superstore it is hard to understand how you compete with REI's refund with no questions return policy. Especially when you cop an attitude about your crappy product. I love their sleeping bag, but have lost all confidence in this overpriced piece of junk.

2: HighGear Altitech II

I think this thing is advertised all over Everestnews, Explorersweb and other adventure websites. Well, it fritzed out on me once above 20,000' and when the temps started to drop the screen simply whited out. Even below 20,000' I found that I had to adjust the thing regularly to reflect accurate altitudes. It does look cool, which is probably why G-Man snapped it up so quickly when I offered it to him as a gift. Good for lower elevations, but if that's all it's good for it shouldn't be positioning itself as a piece of gear for the Himalaya.

3: Omega Pacific Jake HMS Screwgate Carabiner

Maybe it was just a need of WD-40, but the gate on this carabiner seized up on me several times. While running ropes through the Icefall, I found the gate open several times.. bad news when you need to know that your life line is secure.

4: Columbia River M16-12Z E.R. Knife

While some people prefer to save weight wherever they can, sometimes reduced weight = flimsiness. I prefer durability and will sacrifice weight when I know something will last, so my Ka-Bar folding knife ran circles around this little guy that broke within 2 weeks of arrival at Base Camp.

5: North Face VE-35 Tent

Narrow and with few pockets, this tent is just not comfortable for two larger guys- especially when your tent mate snores and seems to forget about that magic invisible equator that exists to separate the tent halves. I prefer the VE-25 for space, interior height and storage pockets.

6: Oakley A-Frame Ski Goggles

I reached the summit right as the sun started getting bright. Time for some eye protection. I threw on these goggles, breathed out and within 5 seconds of having them on my face found them fogged and frosted over. I hauled them all the way to the summit and ended up never using them, instead wearing my Julbo glasses for the down climb.

7: Beer & Alcohol

The team next to ours decided that it would be fun to drink regularly on their trip. Of 11 climbers, only 2 made the summit. Leave the partying for after and focus on the climb, yo.

8: Sardines & Herring

Blech. I don't care if they are loaded in vitamins & energy, there are other things to eat.
'Nuff said.

9: Free Tibet Flag

In a year of political posturing and a looming shadow of having the entire climb be cancelled, why would someone bring a Free Tibet flag to the mountain? I mean, seriously. Save it for a time and place where you aren't potentially going to screw it up for several hundred other people. This is just an exercise in poor judgement.

10: Chinese Olympic Climbing Torch

Finally, number 10 of the worst gear on the mountain. After watching TV when I made Kathmandu I think this piece of hardware has to take the dubious honor of being listed. I watched the Chinese climbers struggle on several occasions to get their torches to light. So I have to ask... given the eyes of the world on these guys, wouldn't they go out of their way to make sure they had torches that actually lit properly?

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