Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mountaineering Boots and Shoes

Boots (1st row: right-to-left, 2nd: r-to-l): Double-plastic (Aconcagua),
TNF Goretex Shoes (Kozi), TNF Insulated leather boots (Carstensz),
Millet Everest One Sport (Vinson)
Farmer's rubber boots (Carstensz' approach), Millet (Elbrus)

One of the most important gears in one’s expedition arsenal is a good set of footwear, sometimes even a few pairs of varying specs.

“No shoes – no climb!” While it’s easy to ignore the importance of a proper footwear – a bad experience of frostbitten toes, or unaddressed foot blister or other debilitating injuries could badly and sometimes abruptly end one’s expensive mountain trip.

Here’s a footwear guide based on actual shoes or boots that I’ve used in all 7 Summits…

1. Kilimanjaro. I only used a cheap Hi-Tech ‘leather’ non-insulated boots. It has Vibram soles, but the soft sole version. It was just ok – given non-insulation design (I did have thick socks and was fine), but soft soles sometimes mean feeling hard rocks hitting your underfoot as you run your way downhill. In a nice weather – one can survive with Goretex (waterproof/ breathable) trainer shoes, even all the way to the summit, though not recommended. With light snow or colder temperature (I had -10C during my climb), light boots with wool socks should be just right. If you tend to feel colder – get an insulation boots (ex. leather boots with ‘padding’ insulation inside).

2. Elbrus. The first time I climb this (unsuccessfully), I used a double plastic boots which I bought second-hand in Kathmandu (not bad). Very heavy, but rigid and durable. You need crampons so boots should be crampon-compatible.Mt. Elbrus is COLD so at the minimum, one has to use double-plastic boots or best the newer, more expensive 'Everest boots’ like Millet or La Sportiva Olympus Mons. I used Millet in my second climb (more because I already have one after climbing Cho Oyu and Everest with it). Note, double boots don’t necessarily ‘breathe’ (or vent out vapour) so wear 2 layers of socks, one for wicking (the thinner, baselayer) and the thick one for added insulation (for cold and padding against the rigid boots). Oh – some guys in my team attempted to use an expensive leather insulated (non-double plastic) boots but the guide didn’t like it. It might work (assuming your guide permitted you to wear it), but the semi-arctic condition of Elbrus may give you frostbite especially when the weather turns bad, or your trip was prolonged for whatever reasons. Lastly, don’t forget your gaiters (like an ankle wrap to prevent snow/rain from going inside the boots) if you’re not using the Millet Everest boots type (which has its built-in gaiters).

3. Aconcagua. Here I used double-plastic boots. Heavy (which I didn’t like) but durable and insulated enough for the rocky and sometimes snowy terrain. I feel that an insulated boots (lighter) may be used in a good, nice weather. Boots need to be crampon-compatible as one tackles steep ice-snow approach towards the summit. In my route (standard), we tackled the ‘Canaleta’ with crampons on. With heavy snow, you may need to put gaiters on. The approach to basecamp only requires good hiking shoes/trainers or hiking boots.

4. Everest. I used Millet Everest. The big bur relatively lighter (but more expensive - 2x than regular double-plastics) but very reliable -60C rated extreme-weather boots. My favourite! Not very good for ice climbing, but ok for limited snow-ice vertical climbing such as Lhotse wall. Tip: you have to tie up the inner boots ‘higher’ and tighten the outer boots straps when doing a vertical route, otherwise, I normally tie my strings up to middle (inner boots) so as not to ‘over lock’ my ankles and consequently damage my knees more (i.e. when you lock one joint, the strain and stress are transferred to the next joint). In the old days (and maybe still today), some climbers use double-plastic boots but with ‘over boots’ wrap-around which is normally made of neoprene. This works in extreme environment (-30 to -40C perhaps) but it’s tough doing all sorts of assembly, difficult when one is tired, cold and AMS’d. Lastly - going to basecamp from the lower villages will only require trainers or good hiking shoes or boots.

5. Denali. Same as Everest.

6. Kosciuszko. I used goretex hiking shoes. If not too cold – one may even use sandals. :) What’s a few hours of hiking in a single day, right…

7. Carstensz Pyramid. In the approach to basecamp (over jungles, marshland and rocky mountains) – I used rubber boots bought in the local market. Yes – farmer’s “bota” – good for muddy terrain. For the summit day (from basecamp) – I used The North Face insulated leather boots (Goretex). I actually bought an expensive La Sportiva insulated climbing boots in HK, but decided to use the lighter but durable TNF boots.

8. Vinson Massif. Same as Everest. I wouldn’t gamble with any other type of boots.

Of course, one doesn’ t need to buy all of these. Climbing one mountain at a time - means planning for the gear requirement for that specific mountain. In most cases, one can re-use many of his/her equipment and sometimes, even just rent in the absence of a brand new or available funds.

Just remember – comfort, safety and durability. Ignore the high price tag if you must, or lose your toes. :)

Have fun shopping!

1 comment:

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