How much gear do you need for a new route on an 8,000-foot Himalayan face? Traditional, expedition-style ascents required so much in the past that an army of porters and yaks had to haul it all to base camp. But times have changed.
In early October 2013, the bold and talented Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck carried less than 18 pounds on his back for a new route up the super-steep south face of 26,545-foot Annapurna in Nepal. (Steck had previously established Camp 1 on Annapurna, but this gear was all he used above 20,000 feet.) With no partner and minimal equipment, Steck relied on great skill and fitness to get up and down Annapurna in just 28 hours. (See p. 54 for more on this ascent.) “There is not a lot of reserve when you climb like this,” Steck says. “I was up there with nothing. This allows you to move fast, but if you can’t move anymore, then it gets very serious very quickly.”
Though few will ever plan such bold climbs, all alpinists engage in similar decision making while packing for a route, and some of Steck’s thinking applies to every ascent. Too much weight, and you move too slowly. Too little, and you could be stranded—or worse—if something goes wrong. In addition to his basic clothing and warm boots with integrated gaiters, here’s what Steck opted to carry for his historic climb.
850-fill down jacket with hood; synthetic-fill jacket with hoodSteck chose this combination to layer for the extreme variation in temperature between day and night, and for 8,000 feet of elevation change. “During the day, usually a thin layer is enough, so I just wear the synthetic insulated jacket. Later, at night, the down jacket would not be enough, but together with the synthetic one, it was perfect.”
Down mittens and glovesWhile examining a photo of the face on his camera, Steck dropped the camera and one of his mittens. He had to continue through the night wearing his liner gloves, alternating the warmer mitten on each hand.
60-meter rope (6 mm) This super-thin rope—essentially a tag line or accessory cord—was only carried for the descent. “My decision was to climb the face without a rope. If it got so technical that I could not climb without a rope, I would have to turn back,” he says. Even on the way down, the rope was used sparingly. “With [only] 60 meters of 6mm rope and five pitons, you don’t rappel a 2,500-meter face!”
2 ice screws
Abalakov hook The Abalakov hook, or V-threader, was named for Russian climber Vitaly Abalakov, who invented the technique of drilling two intersecting holes in solid ice and threading a sling through them for a rappel anchor. V-threads allow climbers to make many rappels with minimal anchor equipment. See how to do it at climbing.com/skill/low-cost-rappels-on-ice.
Carabiners and slings
Tent Steck carried a super-light (2 lbs., 8 oz.) single-wall tent up the route but left his sleeping bag at Camp 1. Why? He didn’t plan to stop long enough to need the sleeping bag, but “the tent is very important. It protects you from the wind [while you melt snow] to brew some drinks,” he says.
Stove and integrated pot
1 gas cartridge
Sunglasses and goggles Why both sunglasses and goggles? Because, Steck says, “If you don’t have any protection for your eyes, you get snow blind very fast, which means you are dead. So you have extra glasses. Plus, goggles protect your face from the wind, but are not comfortable during the day when it’s hot.”
First aid kit Steck carried a small but varied medical kit: ibuprofen for pain and inflammation; dexamethasone for altitude sickness; Adalat (nifedipine) for altitude sickness; Tramal (tramadol) for pain relief; Imodium for diarrhea.
Energy food The Swiss climber brought about 3.5 ounces of cheese but left it at Camp 1. Instead, he relied on six PowerBars and two packets each of PowerGel, Performance Energy Blend, and Peronin Cacao energy-drink mix, for a total of about 3,200 calories.
Pre-climb ritual: According to photographer Dan Patitucci, Steck likes to eat a Hostess cupcake before starting up an 8,000-meter peak.