Ed Douglas is currently off climbing big mountains in Nepal and he's testing some kit there for OutdoorsMagic here's what and why.
Top outdoors writer Ed Douglas is currently in Nepal aiming to climb a series of 6,000m peaks and, as part of his trip, he's going to be reviewing a selection of kit for us here on OM.
Why expedition test? Quite simply, it's an unforgiving environment where weaknesses are ruthlessly exposed over a period of intense, unforgiving use. Here Ed, jet lagged in Kathmandu, tells us what he's taking along and why.
Back In Kathmandu
Can there really be anywhere left to explore? When you read stories about mobile phone coverage on Everest, and you can sit at home and swoop up remote Himalayan valleys on Google Earth, it might not feel like it. But there really are corners of the world’s highest mountain range that are unvisited and far from the comforts of trekking lodges, with unclimbed mountains that often don’t even have a name as far as the eye can see.
I’m back in Kathmandu preparing to leave on an expedition to the far west of Nepal, to a series of valleys in the north-eastern of Humla district. The main town of Simikot is known as the starting point for the trek to the Tibetan border and the sacred Mount Kailas. Our team of four is heading in the other direction, packing food and gear for a month long exploration of a series of peaks around 6,000 metres.
One Week To Base Camp
There’s very little you can rely on in this part of Nepal. It’s a week’s trek to base camp, although we don’t know exactly where that will be yet, and we’re not sure of our route after that. Although you can see some rough shapes via satellite, there are no photos of our mountains, not from the direction we’re heading, so I have no real idea of whether we’ll succeed in climbing anything. But fact there’s so much to discover is part of the attraction.
Because we have to be totally self-reliant, there are lots of discussions about how much food we’ll need, or how many mules to carry it all. (There are few porters in western Nepal compared to the Everest region.) Most of all, there’s the anxiety I’ll forget some crucial piece of equipment or else it won’t be up to the job. This trip, I’m trying out some of the latest gear for expeditioning, and there will be no option of nipping back to the shop if it doesn’t work. So that’s more uncertainty.
Trekking shoes are one of the most critical choices. You can get away with trainers on a lot of Himalayan trails, but on a trip like this, we’ll be crossing long stretches where there are no paths at all. For me, beefy approach shoes are ideal. I need to be able to cross loose ground with a big pack. Balance and sure-footedness are everything. Sprain an ankle a week from the nearest airstrip, and life gets awkward. So I’m taking Scarpa’s Ascent Tech GTX.
Although you’re supposed to be able to wear shoes from the box these days, doing so at the start of a trip like this would be asking fate to go ahead and smack you, so I’ve been wearing the Ascent Techs for a few weeks now, and so far am really impressed. The last may not be to everyone’s liking, but my feet feel precise and secure in them, so I’m not expecting any problems. But I’m curious to find out how they’ll wear. I want to hang onto these for a long time.
On my feet, I’ve also got a pair of Smartwool’s recently re-designed trekking socks, part of its new PhD range. The claim is that a blend of two different merino wool fibres in high wear areas has massively improved durability, so it'll be interesting to see how they hold up.
Hi-Tech String Vest
I’ve got a new base layer, essentially a tailored synthetic string vest from Brynje of Norway. Sir Ed Hillary wore something similar on Everest, so it’s proven if old school and has the reputation of being the warmest underwear going. Part of the Super Thermo range, it’s a zipped polo neck with fabric on the shoulders to protect the skin when carrying a pack.
I’m also taking a mid layer from Sherpa Adventure Gear, the adventure gear company founded by Tashi Sherpa in 2003. So many companies have used the name ‘Sherpa’ to flog stuff, so it’s nice to see someone who is actually a Sherpa producing gear under that label, and creating jobs in the Nepalese garment industry. Their range is newly available in the UK this autumn, and Everest veteran Kenton Cool has become the brand’s ambassador.
I’ve not used any of the new combined down and PrimaLoft clothing yet, so I’m interested to see how I’ll get on with Berghaus’ Asgard Hybrid. The cut is superb, and the down in the torso area is also treated to make it hydrophobic, while the sleeves use synthetic PrimaLoft. Like all expedition gear, where things can get trashed quickly, there’s a necessary balance between wanting something and how much it costs, and the Asgard ain’t cheap at £190. But there’s no hiding from the weather on an expedition and it’s useful having a warmth layer I can get wet.
I’ve changed my water purification system for this trip to Steripen’s UV process. Headlines about a cholera outbreak in western Nepal have stuck in my head, so along with the already well-known SteripenAdventurer, which runs off batteries, I’m also packing Steripen’s new Sidewinder, which has a hand-operated crank to power its UV lamp. That will prove particularly useful at base camp, and allow me to save batteries for when I’m out on the trail. That will not only save money, but means I don’t have to carry spare and dead batteries.
The final bit of kit is arguably the most important – at least to me. At the risk of sounding pathetic, I like to be comfortable at night, and see no reason to skimp on a sleeping mat. So far I’m immensely impressed by Exped’s Downmat UL7, which is ludicrously light for the comfort and insulation it offers, and consequently pricey. The only question mark in my head is how well it will stand up to the rough treatment gear suffers on a trip like this.