By “Sensei” Dave Staeheli (based on his 50-plus Denali climbs)
Oh boy! You have to buy puffy pants for Denali. You are stepping up with the big boys now. You try them on in the store, buy them, take them home and maybe model them for your significant other, then pack them away in their stuff sack.
It’s snowing, it’s blowing, this definitely isn’t Kansas anymore; and, in fact, you aren’t even sure you are on planet Earth! Where are those puffy pants and how the heck are you going to get them on? Let’s see … you are at 20,000 feet, wearing big boots with crampons, a harness on your waist, bundled under a big Michelin Man jacket and you absolutely dread the thought of taking your hands out of your mittens. It suddenly hits you: you are not in your living room and that you really, really, REALLY should have practiced with this more!
So, this is the guide tip from a guide who has been guiding Denali for more than 30 years. You really need to practice with this stuff in the comfort of home, because when it gets to be the “Big Nasty,” it’s not the time to be figuring it out.
Well before you travel to Alaska, get yourself all rigged up. Now take off yer pants. Make sure you have fogged-up goggles. Wearing crampons indoors is optional and you may consider doing this outdoors. Remember, when you’ve got the big panda jacket on, you can’t even see your waist. So how are you going to deal with your harness? With mittens on? Maybe, you think to yourself, you better learn to do this fast, preferably with light gloves on. Now put yer pants back on.
If it took you ten minutes for either operation, it will take you 20 minutes up on the Football Field at 19,500 feet. Let’s not even think about it on the steep flanks of the Autobahn! Now change out your mittens or gloves. Is there a way to hang them on your waist without taking off your pack? Is your warm hat handy? Can you switch from goggles to sunglasses and do you even know where the blasted things are? Phew, this is hard work!
There is a truism every experienced mountaineer knows: “Plan in comfort, practice in comfort.” Then, when that summit lenticular cloud comes slamming down on our heads, you won’t have a total epic just changing your pants.
WARNING! One of my clients from a year back really did practice putting on his pants. He reports it’s OK to wear crampons on shag carpet. Also, he did it in front of his wife, which caused her to break down into uncontrollable laughter.
Note: Mountain Trip is not responsible for any injuries caused by you putting this advice into practice at home!
Alaskapedia: skookum, adj: an action or state of being that is working well or is all right. As in, “my gear is skookum.”