Lightweight Alpine Rack
Lightweight Alpine Rack by Ian Parnell
The Frendo Spur in the Mont Blanc Range is one of my favourite alpine routes. It’s a great line – the initial rock buttress leading up to that perfect delicate central snow crest before the final rock gendarme – a wild adventure rising up beneath the crowded tourists of the midi cable car, almost within touching distance yet so far away.
In fact I like the route so much I’ve done it three times. The first time was as my second ever proper alpine route in a very long two days and two nights and most recently in a 5 hour afternoon jaunt. It’s interesting to look at the difference between those two ascents, why so much quicker?
Okay I was a little fitter and I knew the route, but really the key was a change in my approach. My first visit to the Frendo was a typical British approach to alpine climbing – big intimidation and big pack, rack-wise we brought everything we’d use on the hardest rock routes at home and then added even more kit because we were scared.
The last time I was there we trimmed all our kit down to its essentials and were able to live up to the alpine credo - light and fast. Remember the less time you spend on the route the less time you are exposed to storms and all the other nasty dangers lurking in the mountains.
In alpine climbing the challenge comes not from absolute technical difficulty but from covering lots of moderate to medium graded ground fast. Protection wise you would expect to place less than on a single pitch rock route back home but make each piece count.
New Superlight Rocks offer an immediate chance to save weight I’d go with one each of the 3-6 sizes together with one each 1-9 size of the New Anodised Rocks.
Rockcentrics, for bigger cracks I use these, especially sizes 5-7 which with their sewn in dyneema sling save on extenders, are lighter than friends and can be hammered into icy cracks where cams might not work.
As seen below the variety of placements with Rockcentrics is great and they have the bonus of being able to be hammered...always fun...
More Big Nuts
And as an alternative to Rockcentrics another choice could be the new 'Big Rocks' - these suckers are giant versions of the standard Rock and would also be great for iced up cracks. On wire rather than dyneema they can also be placed above the head in sticky situations....
Read Review of 'Big Rocks by Andy Kirkpatrick
Friends for alpine routes are for me luxury pieces but I quite often take 1 each of the size 1, 2 and 3 of the Technical Friend, particularly for the parallel cracks of Chamonix granite.
I like to a small selection of pegs, usually 2 or 3 knifeblades plus a shallow angle or two for the thinner cracks.
And finally from 2 to 5 ice screws depending on how much ice climbing there is likely to be.
Go for the best quality ice screws you can afford their speed of placement is worth the investment.
Alongside your rope this is perhaps your best chance to save weight and the Helium Krab at only 33 grams is your secret weapon.
I’d use Heliums throughout your rack; super strong their wire gate also has the advantage that in freezing conditions you can avoid the "lock up" that can freeze the gates of traditional Karabiners.
I tend to minimize screw gates as they are heavier perhaps going for a couple of the superlight Oxygen Clean Lock for belays and bivi security.
Extenders and Slings
I rarely use quickdraws in the alps rather opting for 60cm slings with a Helium krab at either end. These can then be threaded through to make 20cm length “quickdraws” that easily extend to their full length when necessary. I take between 6 to 10 depending on the route.
I also like a big bunch of 120cm slings perhaps up to half a dozen for spike and thread runners, again I have a handful of spare Xenon krabs to clip these.
Slings # 2 - the Cordelette
Another great item to add to the rack if you’re not being super minimalist is the 10mm Dyneema Cordelette. This huge, 4 metre sling wraps up small yet unwraps to form a very useful belay equalisation tool..
Click here for full advice on how to use....
To help handle the icy slippery “skinny” ropes used on alpine routes I like a belay plate with a bit more bite such as the VC Pro.
Top Tip: if you combine this with a roundbar Synergy HMS Screwgate you can use the HMS with a Munter Hitch to abseil if you drop your device
You shouldn’t be taking lobs in the mountains so weight saving and freedom of movement are your key concern.
The Matrix would be my choice, its radical 3D pads allowing maximum movement, 5 generous gear loops and buckled adjustable leg loops to allow you to pull on waterproof trousers when “full conditions” arrive.
Or if you value your comfort that bit more then the Syncro is beefier and has plenty of racking for ease of use.
This is the other major area where you can cut the pounds and with modern rope technology you can use narrower and lighter ropes without threatening your security. Infinity Ropes 8.4mm Sprint is one such “new wave” cord.
A 60m pair of these are still a fraction of weight of traditional ropes and crucially for those snow covered alpine routes they are dry coated.
So there we have it a simple but effective lightweight Alpine rack which should allow you to approach many routes wih a lot less weight and extra speed.
Obviously please bear in mind that thisl advice is not suitable for everyone, and every route, so please check the guide books and ask your friends if you have a particular route in mind which may have specific needs.