If you’re embarking on a mountain expedition, whether climbing or trekking, preparation is key. Who better to consult for advice than top Berghaus-sponsored climbers Leo Houlding and Mick Fowler?
Mick is fresh from an expedition to West Nepal where he succeeded in making the first ascent of Gojung (6310m) in the Himalaya; In 2009 Leo conquered the daunting north face of Mount Asgard, after skydiving into the icy heart of Baffin Island. He is currently on an exciting month-long adventure in Venezuela.
Here are the fruits of their 40-plus years of combined expedition experience.
1. Choose your timing and decide on your objectives
Leo: “Think very hard about when to go. Choosing the optimum timing for your trip or expedition is critical, so I pay special attention to local weather reports from previous years. If you’re even a few days off, you could be jeopardising your chance of success.”
Mick: “It’s important to have a specific goal to inspire you and drive you on in case of adversity. I look for a challenge that’s tough but not impossible, something inspirational and eye-catching – but also in a setting with lots of cultural interest.”
2. Do your research
Leo: “This is vital. Get hold of every crumb of information you can about the routes you want to tackle. There are lots of expedition diaries online, but a site I swear by is www.summitpost.org, a Wikipedia-style database that covers almost every mountain in the world. It includes technical advice, route notes, logistical details and tips on overcoming local red tape. Photographs are especially important to help you judge whether your objective is achievable, and you can often contact the contributors directly with further queries.”
Mick: “I always make a pilgrimage to The Alpine Club’s library in London (www.alpine-club.org.uk), which is open to the public, and look through magazines such as Alpine Journal, The American Alpine Journal and Japanese Alpine News – not to mention trawling through old explorer’s books for hints. Exploration gurus like Tom Nakamura and Harish Kapadia can be priceless sources of know-how – never be afraid to tap the grapevine for advice.”
3. Sort out the red tape
Leo: “If you have your money and passport stolen on a trip, don’t panic. Pool resources with your mates, go and do what you had planned, then sort out your papers when you get back to civilisation.”
Mick: “Remote areas are often politically sensitive, so even if you’ve got the correct permits to visit a mountain area, keep checking until the minute you fly, in case conditions have changed. Research how the system works in your chosen destination – if you run into difficulties with paperwork on the ground, you’ll need to know who is making the decision and whether you can get to see them.”
4. Do a trial run
Leo: “If you’re caught in a gale on a mountain ledge in Nepal, you don’t want to be fiddling with unfamiliar equipment, or relying on climbing techniques that are new to you. Before you go, do a training trip to Snowdonia taking every bit of gear you plan to take on your expedition, and the same partner or team. A basic rule is: always test out new kit and skills on routes that are relatively easy for you, so they’re grooved by the time of your big trip.”
Mick: “Choose your climbing partner carefully – you need to test their compatibility, too! Ideally you’ll have a similar temperament. If you hit snow or tough conditions and they want to go down, but you don’t, it’s not a recipe for success.”
5. Be prepared for the unexpected
Mick: “No matter how much research you’ve done, be prepared for the terrain and weather conditions to be completely different when you arrive. Photographs can never give the full picture. Before you embark on a climb, assess whether the risk is worth it, and whether you have the skills to get down, especially important if you have to abort the ascent halfway. And never take short cuts with altitude. I’ve learned to spend two full days at 5,500 metres [18,045 feet], then come down to base before embarking on a big push above 6,000 metres [19,685 feet].”
Leo: “You’re almost bound to run into logistical problems on an expedition – it comes with the territory. So you need to take that philosophically, as an intrinsic part of the adventure. The point of a big trip is the journey, not getting to the top of the hill – there’s nothing up there, after all! My three objectives on every trip are that everyone comes home safely; that everyone comes home friends; and that we make the summit – in that order.”
Planning a mountain trip: The essential kit
In high mountains, an exceptional performance-to-weight ratio is critical. Mick Fowler is a big fan of our Ignite jacket -lightweight, highly packable, but supremely insulated and offering instant warmth. It’s also a favourite of our sponsored mountaineer Chris Bonington. Leo Houlding recommends our Mount Asgard Hybrid Jacket, which was designed with input from his Mount Asgard expedition. Designed for scrambling alpine routes where weather conditions are changeable and lightweight performance is essential the Men’s Mount Asgard Hybrid Jacket offers unrivalled warmth and comfort.
One of our top-of-the-range technical jackets for climbing is the Attrition, a three-layer Gore-Tex shell specifically engineered and cut for climbing in the worst winter conditions.
If you’re trekking, check out our Expedition 80, a technical load-carrying rucksack designed to withstand the knocks of an epic adventure. A removable dry liner keeps your kit protected, and its huge capacity means you can pack essential kit, while the rucksack itself is incredibly lightweight.
If you’re planning an expedition or have any photos from previous expeditions you’d like to share why not share them in our Facebook Live for Adventure gallery.