Tech Tip – Big Wall – Portaledge cooking
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Safe and secure portaledge cooking.
Jon had never used my custom-made liquid-fuel burning WhisperLite hanging stove, so I probably should have given him a demo before letting him use it in his portaledge. He gave it a good pump, then opened the nozzle and over-filled the primer cup. I heard a loud whoomph, followed by Jon yelling as a fireball engulfed his ledge. Luckily, the flames died before the ledge fully caught fire, but the straps definitely melted. The incident illustrated an important point: portaledge cooking is dicey, especially with liquid fuel. Unlike cooking in a tent, there’s literally nowhere to run — and nothing to keep you suspended — if your portaledge catches fire. So don’t cook in your portaledge unless it’s an absolute necessity. That said, this Tech Tip is about cooking in your portaledge. For alpine big-wall climbing, a stove is mandatory for melting snow. A butane-canister hanging stove is the way to go for almost all domestic wall-climbing trips as it is easier to maintain and operate, and less prone to accidents (read: fireballs) than a liquid-fuel stove. You could purchase one, or if you’re short on dough, check out climbing.local/techtips/ttbigwall184/, or revisit Climbing No. 184 (page 161) for Beta on how to make one. Rations. So how much fuel should you budget for your climb? Are you just making morning coffee for an El Cap ascent, or are you melting snow for all of your water? Generally speaking, a two-man team that’s melting snow will burn through at least one eight-ounce butane canister per day. If you’re only heating the occasional pan of water, a canister might last two days. As with any fuel ration, it’s always a good idea to factor in a margin of error in case you go over budget. Share the love. A heat exchanger — a piece of copper tubing that wraps around your canister, with one end passing through the flame — helps your stove operate efficiently in cold weather (or when your canister is running low) by heating up the canister and thus pressurizing its contents. Heat exchangers enable your stove to spit out more fuel, and therefore more BTUs. In a cold environment, a heat exchanger can be essential; without one, butane stoves have a tendency to sputter as the fuel runs low. After coiling the heat exchanger around a new canister, I wrap the canister in aluminum foil and then slip the whole fuel assembly into a custom-made, duct tape-covered foam cozie. This insulates the heat exchanger (making it more efficient), and prevents it from melting gear, should you inadvertently bump the stove while cooking.
Sewing a custom biner cozie is good Beta for cooking inside your portalege.
Location. If you’re smart, you’ll situate your stove on a belay seat outside of your portaledge or clip it into the anchor. Better yet, clip it to an independent piece situated near your ledge. This piece doesn’t have to be bomber — a solid copperhead will do — as long as it’s backed up. If you’re like me, you’ll clip the stove into a strap inside your ledge. A cranking stove can generate a tremendous amount of heat, and if you don’t insulate the biner where the stove clips into the ledge, the strap will melt. I recommend buying an insulated oven mitt, cutting off the thumb, and custom stitching a heat insulator that protects the biner where it attaches to both the stove and to the portaledge strap. You’ll want to hang your stove at about chest height (or just above the floor of your ledge) so you can easily see into a pot. Be careful not to knock the stove, as spilling boiling liquid on yourself is always a bad idea. Also, if the pot gets hot enough and contacts your rain fly, it can melt or burn the storm-proof material. Ensure that your stove assembly can’t melt any of the ledge’s straps. Nuts and bolts. Use a waterproof stuff sack with a solid clip-in point for collecting snow; store it outside the ledge. Remember, melting ice chunks yields more water than snow and helps you conserve fuel. Carry a heat-resistant scooping cup for moving snow from the bag to the pot, and for ladling boiling water into your mugs. Have pot grabbers, spoons, and the scooping cup set up with mini carabiners so that you can keep them clipped in when not in use.Ventilation. Your stove needs sufficient oxygen to work efficiently, so keep the doors and all ventilation ports as open as possible, and keep the stove situated so that it sits directly in your portaledge’s cross flow. If you find that your stove isn’t firing at full capacity, chances are high that you need to give it more air. This can be a problem when it’s heavily storming. Hopefully your portaledge comes with a hood over the top of the door so that you can leave it open at the top without letting in the elements. Tools of the trade. If you’re bringing a stove up a wall, make sure that it’s going to work. A full repair kit (with spare parts) is essential. If your stove is your only source of water, bring a spare — modern stoves don’t weigh much. Always clean, service, and inspect any stove before a big trip.