I’m sorry it’s been a bit quiet here in the last few months, but I have my reasons (good, positive ones for the most part…).
In May I went to Montenegro with my girlfriend and did some wonderful day hikes around some of the mountain ranges in this beautifully diverse little country. I definitely want to return there some day to explore some of them a bit more, and for longer. I have the feeling some of the ranges would present some fun climbing and mountaineering in the early summer season, especially Komovi and Prokletije (the latter we regretfully did not have time to visit). My dream would be to trek in, make a base camp and go nuts for a few days. Now to find the time…
In July I went to Austria to attend an introductory mountaineering course organized by the Dutch alpine society NKBV. I was lucky enough to be able to attend their combined course and alpine tour. This enabled us to really take the time to drill certain crevasse rescue techniques – both self-rescue and buddy rescue. This two-week period was a great learning experience and it has definitely left me yearning for more, even though some of the vistas were of… debatable quality…
And last but certainly not least, in August I participated in Fjällräven Classic Sweden, a week-long trekking festival in Lappland, held each year. This really is a community event and a great introduction to trekking for those new to the activity and a really fun event for those already familiar with hauling their home on their backs (which includes yours truly obviously).
For those familiar with trekking in rough conditions, it is not the biggest challenge ever, although the fickle arctic summer weather and the exposed terrain can make it tough nonetheless. Outside of the context of Fjällräven Classic I would never advice anybody to take their first multi-day trekking trip into Northern Sweden as the weather and terrain can and will make it very unpleasant indeed, and might make a beginner very uncomfortable if not downright unsafe.
Now, especially my two weeks in Austria have taught me a thing or two. Aside from the obvious complicated hauling systems and rope techniques (which I will have to repeat a million times more to truly master), the one take-away for me was the importance of low packing volume of gear – especially in summer.
Especially in the alps, though, I underestimated the amount of time certain pieces of gear spend in your pack: harness, wind jacket and rain jacket only came out very sporadically. This is more or less obvious for the latter two, but my harness was a chunky Black Diamond sport climbing harness. Really comfy to rappel in, belay in or just hang into, but during glacier travel and especially when in my pack, it was big and heavy and, when worn, cumbersome to combine with a backpack belt.
Which led into an orientation into ski mountaineering harnesses. I eventually picked up an ‘old’ orange Black Diamond Couloir, which I was able to find for a fair price new at retail. It’s one of the last ones of these produced in 2015, so theoretically usable until 2025 – which is longer than the practical lifespan of a harness anyway. It’s 1/3rd the pack size of my sport harness, and about half the weight. Quite an improvement, and I really dig the bright orange color.
Another space saver is a proper windbreaker jacket. Softshells are really comfy and versatile but when the weather forecast calls for mostly sunny weather they do take up a lot of pack space – although I still prefer them when there is a big chance of changeable weather.
When wind is the main issue, the Patagonia Houdini Jacket is truly a magic trick. Weighing 100 grams and stuffing into a built-in pocket smaller than a big banana, this jacket is windproof and is capable of shedding some precipitation as well, all while remaining quite breathable. Its small weight and pack size means that it is about five times as space efficient as a traditional softshell. But when you combine it with a thin fleece, it is about as functional.
Then there is the issue of actual waterproofs. Superlight rain gear is available nowadays from as light a weight as 170 grams for a jacket. But the tricky thing is that sometimes your rain gear gets used with a heavy backpack (especially when you’re bivouacking, trekking, or setting up and operating from a base camp of sorts). My Fjällräven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket is a wonderful piece of waterproof-breathable wear for heavy-use situations. It is also of acceptable weight for those summer days when rain isn’t in the forecast and it will spend 90% of its time in your 50-liter alpine pack. The only thing it doesn’t do very well is being part of a superlight summer kit. My kit dream is to be able to do a technical, cabin-to-cabin alpine trek with a 30L-ish pack. Doable, but only when everything packs down tiny. However, I still want it to be full featured, ie. helmet-compatible hood, 3-layer laminate, large pockets that are usable while wearing harness and/or pack belt, vent zips, and, most importantly, not feel like a plastic bag.
Now, I originally planned to postpone this purchase a little, as 3-layer hardshells can go up in price quite a bit, especially when they need to be lightweight. But it being sales season for most of the big retail chains over here means that I was able to pick up a Mammut Masao Light HS Hooded Jacket for a bargain. This jacket seems to have all the bells and whistles I need for about 3/5th the weight and size of my Bergtagen – perfect for lightweight summer alpine trips. I haven’t read any extensive reviews online either so I’ll write one up as soon as I have put it to use a bit. However, I still think I will take my Fjällräven hardshell on mini expedition style trips, long treks, and when the forecast is less favorable – or plain bad.
So I went on a tiny spending spree… Looks to be money well spent though, as I’ll use all of these items on future trips and adventures and I can mix and match all of these pieces of gear depending on my needs.
Now, time to plan the next mountain adventure!