Merry Christmas: Packing for the GT – Just how light is right?

“Ho, ho, ho”, or should it be “groan, groan, groan” as our bodies struggle to digest that enormous amount of food that is traditional to consume at this time of year.

I have been training hard for the past few weeks, however with the parties, dinners, lunches, drinks etc, my self-discipline has slipped with what I have been eating. I am justifying this indulgence by mentally preparing for how LITTLE I will be eating over New Year as we attempt the Grand Traverse on Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain.

The Grand Traverse (GT) is one of those routes which is committing.   Once you get high up on that ridge, it is difficult to get off it.  In fact the easiest way to get off if things turn bad, can be to complete the route and descend down the other side.  Most routes on mountains involve ascending from one point and descending back to that same point. Hence you can set-up your ‘basecamp’ and leave a good deal of your equipment not needed for the climb at the basecamp.  For example, sleeping bags, spare food, spare fuel, tent or bivvy sack.

The Grand Traverse (GT) involves a whopping 3000m of ascent up one side of the Aoraki Mt Cook, then 3000m of descent down the other side. Hence we will not be returning to our starting point and will need to carry all our equipment with us.  This is a very important factor when it comes to gear planning and preparation for this route.  The ridge is very exposed so if the weather turns when we are up high, things will be serious. For the GT route, I feel speed is the key to safety.  Carry too much gear and too much food, we may be warmer and eat more comfortably. But we will also move more slowly and become more tired,  increasing our chances of hitting rough weather.  Carry too little gear, we run the risk of getting too cold or too hungry if things go wrong.

A recent example of a group who carried too much gear, moved too slowly and consequently got stuck in bad weather on the ridge is seen in the YOUTUBE video below.  This was a Japanese pair of climbers in 2008. The footage is from the rescue helicopter who tried to get in and rescue them.  Unfortunately after a number of days being stuck in bad weather, when it was finally calm enough to allow them to fly high up on the ridge, one of the climbers had succumbed to the conditions and passed away.  The temperatures on the summit ridge in bad weather even now in the middle of our summer can reach -20 or -25 degrees Celsius. That’s similar conditions to 8000m peaks in the Himalaya. On a nice day (which I hope we get) the temperature could be in the +20’s to even 30 degrees Celsius. So trying to bring the right equipment to deal with these extremes, all squeezed into a small backpack is a challenge.

So what’s the right amount of gear and food to carry? Tough question. Over the last few weeks I have putting a good deal of thought into this.  Below is the (almost complete) final selection laid out on the floor in my apartment.  I have broken out my credit card and bought some new lighter weight, higher performance items for this climb including ice axe, ice hammer, sleeping bag and bivvy bag.  ‘Light is Right’ is my motto.



1  =  Iridium Satellite phone with spare battery and 75 mins prepaid talk time SIMCARD

2 = Panasonic Lumix DMC ruggedized and waterproof camera with spare battery

3 = Climbing harness, prussik cords, slings, belay plate

4 = 4 x ice screws

5 = Black Diamond Sabretooth crampons

6 = Scarpa Omega plastic mountaineering boots

7 = OR Gaitors

8 = 3 x thick thermal socks

9 = Mammut 50l backpack with 1 x snowstake

10 = Black Diamond Venom Ice Axe and Hammer

11 = Waterproof pants

12 = 2 x light weight thermal bottoms (for rest)

13 = 1 x heavy weight thermal bottom (for climbing)

14 = 3 x thermal tops (1 x short sleeve, 1 x medium weight long sleeve, 1 x heavy weight long sleeve)

15 = Windproof polar fleece jacket

16 = Outer shell jacket (wind and water proof)

17 = Down jacket

18 = 700 gm down sleeping bag

19 = 3 x pair gloves (1 x lightweight merino wool and possum fur blend, 1 x fleece wind stopper glove, 1 x heavy insulated glove)

20 = 1 x Wind stopper balaclava, 1 x buff, 1 x sunhat, 1 x category 3 SWORKE sunglasses

21 = Helmet

22 = OR Alpine Bivvy Bag, plus 1m closed cell foam mattress

23 = 1 x 1l Nalgene bottle for drink and pee, 1 x 0.5l Nalgene for hot drinks, plastic spoon

24 = Dehydrated meals, 3 in 1 milo drinks (need to add some more food)

25 = Energy Gels, Isotonic GU tablets to ass to drinking water

26 = Head torch and Lithium batteries

27 = Waterproof toiletries bag – toothpaste and toothbrush, compeed, notebook and pen, matches sunscreen

One good way to limit the amount you carry is to use a smaller backpack.  Thus I am using my 50 litre Mammut backpack which I used on Everest this year, as opposed to my larger 70 – 80 litre MACPAC. This way I don’t have any option – I have to take less as I just don’t have the room.

I can manage to squeeze all that gear laid on the floor into my backpack as per the picture below. I still need some more food items and will have to add the group equipment (either a 50m x 9mm climbing rope or the MSR stove and fuel), however I am confident it will just fit.

Small packs are a great way to cut down on the amount of kit you carry!

Small packs are a great way to cut down on the amount of kit you carry!

The question now becomes – will this be the right amount of gear and food do this climb safely? I guess time will answer that. Weather permitting, we plan to start climbing this coming Sunday(30th January). I will try to post voice update’s by Iridium satellite phone during the climb.  Of course if the conditions do not favor us, then we may have to change plans.  The mountain will always be there.

I am also very much looking forward to some post climb fun with Stephanie as we enjoy three days sea kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park at the top of the South Island.

Sea Kayaking in the Abel Tasman national park, New Zealand.

Sea Kayaking in the Abel Tasman national park, New Zealand.

I wish you all a happy, adventure filled, safe and wonderful New Year and 2013 ahead. When you see all that food in front of you during the festive period remember ‘Light is Right’!


Posted on December 24, 2012, in Equipment and Gear, Grand Traverse Aoraki Mt Cook. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Have a Merry Xmas and a Jolly Excellent New Year, same to your Preety Woman!
    Next time u must being her along for a glass of vino.
    Also best of luck on your next venture.
    cheers Tad


  2. Kate (Isadora) Smith

    Still keeping my eye on you. I really miss those daily blogs from Everest, you made us feel as though we were climbing with you.You have certainly been very busy with your presentations and preparing for your trip to Mt Cook. I don’t really know much about the mountain so I am looking forward to your blog. I hope by now that your sister is much better.Best wishes for Christmas and New Year to you and your family.Kate (UK)


    • Hi Kate, Merry Merry Xmas to you also! I spoke to Debra this morning who has hit a plateau with her recovery. She was enjoying her xmas day with our parents and her family. I hope you and your family have a wonderful xmas and a wonderful New Year! I miss Everest too, am looking forward to more adventures next year!


  3. Sonia Candy-Rova

    ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh man could you have waited for school to go back then my class could have followed merry christmas to you both too, and look forward to more blogs on your climb


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