Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nuisances in Climbing Mountains

Prepare for climb challenges like this, and for the nuisances

In a perfect world, visiting the mountain should be enjoyable day in and day out.  You take in fresh air, see nice sunsets, observe spectacular wildlife, enjoy the awesome view or make a wish in a starry, starry night.   
Reality and actual experience will tell you that not everything is pleasant.  Some of these are expected as part of the main list of challenges, but there are these small things that just make one’s life more miserable in the mountains!  Coping with these little stressful things adds to a better mountain experience.  And sometimes, even success.

Here are a few of these extra nuisances:
1.      Walking with crampons or snow shoes.  While one may easily get the hang of it,  it’s  not rare to see climbers tripping every now and then, sometimes with ripped pants or gaiters (from crampons). Even worse, a cut or wound in the leg (crampon puncture/cuts).  And crampons make a slow going, unless the terrain is icy-slippery.  Tip: suck it up and mind your ‘bukaka’ walk (steps wide apart).  No loose pants lest you make an easy crampon-catch/trap.

2.      Doing things with thick down-filled mittens.  Imagine wearing your kitchen-cooking mitts and use them to operate your ascender (on fixed lines), carabiners, even re-fit your crampon straps.  Nasty!  Removing them is a normal workaround (leaving 1 or 2 glove layers), but losing them could mean a frostbite in -20C and colder environment. Tip: Practice doing things with your mittens.  If you must remove, leash ‘em or stow them temporarily inside your jacket/suit.
3.      Walking with Icy snow goggles. Snow goggles, whether the high-end version with double lens plus moisture control ‘system’ will eventually fogged up inside.  Condensation will turn into ice.  Which makes your vision obscured.  You remove and you risk face frostbite (if super windy-cold) or snow blindness. Sometimes the initial icy moisture can be cleaned (by inserting your gloved finger inside the goggles to do a wiping motion).  Only to have another set of icy moisture.  Until finally, you can no longer remove them, or got tired of caring to remove them.  Until now, this has been a nuisance for me. I’ve risked removing mask during storm (Denali), or during long semi-sunny walk (Vinson, Everest), not very pleasant or ideal – but I had no choice.  Tip: just suck it up and endure! And pray you don’t get frostbite/snow blindness.  Or find a better auto-moisture-removing-feature technology.
4.      Shitting with the whole ‘costume’ on.  I used to have a downsuit with zipper lined on the crack making dumping a ‘big challenge on a small hole”.  Even with my newer crescent-open zip version,  making that ‘shit-portal’ with so many layers of clothes is still a challenge.  Now, combine that with strong wind, or bullets of little snow hitting your butt skin – ahh, you’d re-think why you ever climb mountains!  Tip: just suck it up and dump!  Practice makes perfect, but no one ever practice with the full suit on.
5.      Shitting in a bag without a portable toilet!  Sometimes with cold wind numbing your butt.  It is already an effort to dump with many layers of clothes, with thin air, with pounding headache – add a stressful task of ensuring that the bag is not blown away by wind, or that you have a big-enough opening hole to shoot your smelly thing inside.  Tip: find a covered place, or put stones/ball of snow in or on the edges of the bag (doesn’t work all the time), or step on the edges.  Pray that your poo is solid!
6.      Using smelly joint protection items almost everyday.  I used mostly neoprene-based knee braces.  It causes skin rashes from prolonged neoprene use.  There are more bio-friendly/ skin-friendly materials (I used to have but didn’t fit well), mostly I used neoprene support for its better ‘holding capacity’.  Putting the used/smelly neoprene protective support every day, and removing the same freshly-dry-sweat-scented support aid at the end of the day – are undesirable tasks.  Add an itchy-bitchy skin irritant and you’d envy the guys who didn’t need that extra burden.  Tip: I used tegaderm to layer my skin.  It’s breathable.  In really cold places, I use talcum powder on my smelly knee/skin and on the support aid themselves.  In less cold places, I use alco-logne (cologne with alcohol) for its scent and anti-bacterial power.
7.      Walking on soft-slushy snow on steep terrain, or persistent windy weather.  Walking on a soft, knee-deep slushy ice-snow on a steep terrain could mean making 2-3 steps forward followed by 1 or 2 steps slide back.  Walking doesn’t seem to end!  Use of techniques such as front-pointing and use of ice axe works from time to time, but would be more tiring vs. the normal walking routine.  On and off wind is also irritating.  You remove your shell or fleece jacket,  then wind came, longer than expected.  So you put back the jacket, only for the wind to abate.  It will be hot soon, even with zip-open jacket, so you remove your jacket.  Then the wind starts puffing again.  Argh!  Tip: suck it up, that’s life in the mountain… Practise wearing/removing outer layer while walking (with pack).   Practice different steep-terrain climbing techniques to lessen the “slide back’ agony.
8.      Peeing at night.  Some climbers perfected peeing (in a pee bottle) inside their sleeping bag.  I wouldn’t risk accidentally wetting my bag so I do the traditional routine.  You zip open the bag, put on your layers, put on your head torch (you will fumble), open the inner tent, grab/open your bottle (sometimes it is frozen locked), and shoot your pee inside.  You close the bottle (make sure), either leave it outside (it will freeze), or keep inside your bag (I don’t), you remove your layers, go back to your now-cold sleeping bag and doze off and sleep. It’s a long process.  Above 18,000 feet, with little oxygen, this is quite an effort!  If you don’t have a pee bottle, add:  put on your boots (you will fumble), zip open the outer tent (vestibule) if any, walk away from the tent, look at the stars (or endure the cold biting wind or snow), and pee.  Tip: pee 2x before bed. 30min apart.  If you can. If you want to risk, practice peeing inside the bag either kneeling (partially zipped-open sleeping bag) or even lying down sideways.  Don’t skip your drink to avoid the pee.
9.      Taking ‘movement’ videos or SLR photographs.  Especially with sled in tow.  Or when roped up with your team.  Or with a pack weight of +20kg.  Or fast team mates (you’ll be left behind).  Go-pro somehow made it easier to capture moving selfies, or just about anything in motion (while you’re also in motion).  But near/far-distant shots of your team mates or buddy would be a challenge.  You could, but tiring.   If you’re changing gadgets (I do constant video sometimes with 2 different units, and take pictures using digi camera), it would be double nasty.  Among the many things hanging or inside your pockets (think water bottle, ice axe, ready gloves/mitts, ascenders, belayers, carabiners, munchies, sunglasses/goggles), getting your extra video/picture gadget or changing its battery, tape/ SD card, etc – are all laborious and effort-full of nuisance!  Tip: get a cameraman!  Or just ask team mates for a photo exchange deal at the end of the trip.  Invest on small / flexible units like go-pro (video and still in one). 
10.   Carrying and operating so many gadgets.  If one is in a documentary trip, this is an added nuisance especially if you’re self sufficient.  I recall bringing and operating combination of solar panels, palm pilots, and laptop-looking satellite device (BGAN) to transmit pictures.  Not to mention video recorders, cameras, and satellite phone.  And all the wires, and batteries and connective accessories. Tip: distribute load and responsibilities to team mates when possible.

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