Field Test -- Mount Shasta

On my attempt to climb Mount Shasta last weekend, I put a few new and well-used pieces of gear through the proverbial wringer. Indeed, we experienced towering spindrift tornados + winds up to 80mph on the mountain peak, and I spent what has been my most extreme night ever at altitude, the tent nearly buckling to wind despite three-foot-high snow walls and anchors secured deep in the snowpack.

Here’s my quick thoughts on a few pieces of gear that saw action on the peak. . .

STOVE: Jetboil PCS— Plumes of vapory gas puffed benignly out of this stove when I tried to light it up at 10,500 feet to cook some soup. Though it was only about 20 degrees out, the stove would not work. My solution: Huddle in my sleeping bag, stove clutched between my thighs, for a 1/2 hour. Mind you, it wasn’t the canister that was frozen, as I’d climbed with that next to my body to keep it warm. The actual stove unit was too cold to operate. I was kind of dismayed with this, though after warming the unit up in the sleeping bag it fired and cooked the soup in no time flat. (Here’s my original review of the stove from last year: http://thegearjunkie.com/jetboil-stove-accessories)

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SNOWSHOES: Atlas 10 Series— These mid-weight snowshoes have a nice ergonomic (read: asymmetrical) binding system that allows for natural striding. However, I wore them with a pair of waterproof trail-running shoes from Montrail (my preferred “warm”-weather mountaineering footwear), and the snowshoe bindings kind of pressed harshly into the toe area of the shoe. With mountaineering boots the fit is nice and tight, securing the snowshoe on the foot. But in soft-topped trail runners, I had to loosen the grip a bit for comfort. In addition, the Atlas 10 Series do not have the best grip when terrain gets steep. My climbing partner wore the MSR Denali Evo Ascent snowshoes, and he fared better on the steepest slopes. (Here’s my original review of the Atlas ‘shoes: http://thegearjunkie.com/snowshoes-atlas-grivel-msr)

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SHELL JACKET: Rab Drillium— This lightweight eVent fabrics shell was the perfect assault jacket for Mount Shasta. It kept the wind and water out, breathed well enough, and it’s so lightweight and packable that you don’t feel bad bringing it along on the nicest days. One compliant: The neck area on this jacket could use a better closer system, as wind seeps in too easily. It’s a tad pricey, too, at $275. www.rab.uk.com

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TENT: REI Sub-Alpine UL— Go ahead and laugh. Yes, I used a three-season tent made for ultra-light backpacking—named the “Sub”-Alpine nonetheless!—for a full-on alpine camp at 10,500 feet. Add to this that we experienced 80mph wind gusts, and you’d think we would have been dead in the water up there. Not so. This feathery tent actually held its own even when tents around us were ripping and tearing apart. Poles were snapping that night with some of our neighbors’ tents, but, lo, the Sub-Alpine UL—bolstered by three-foot-high snow walls, anchored in with ice axes plunged straight down into the snow—didn’t die. Granted, a pole bent, and the whole night long the walls were shaking and whipping, sometimes bending in harshly as to suffocate me and my sleepless climbing partner. But the next day we emerged warm and fairly dry, though spindrift did blow in through the screens. My original plan—just so you don’t think me an idiot—was to camp low with this tent, preferably behind a big boulder and out of the wind. But plans changed, and we had to go high, and the tent actually performed well beyond its capacity.

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SLEEPING BAG: Western Mountaineering Puma Super DL— As a minus-20-degree down bag, the Puma Super DL was overkill for this trip. However, at just 3 pounds 10 ounces, the bag is almost as light as my mainstay 10-degree bag, so I decided to bank on warmth over ounce-savings for this trip. Glad I did. Though the temps were only in the low 20s, maybe high teens, the winds on Shasta whipped the chill much below zero. In addition, to keep my food, water, camera, and fuel from freezing, I had all that stuffed in my bag with me all night long. Happy to say I stayed warm for my whole (sleepless) night at 10,500 feet. (Here’s my original review of the bag from last year: http://thegearjunkie.com/winter-camping-equipment-sleep-gear)

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PACK: Macpac 35 Amp— For eight days straight I wore this pack in the Utah desert last summer during the Primal Quest Adventure Race. I loved it so much that I decided to bring it to Shasta, where its performance was nice, though its meshy exterior is not perfect for mountaineering. On the way off the mountain, for example, spindrift found its way in to the mesh pockets on top of the pack, where I kept my compass, sunscreen and other items that would not be damaged by a bit of moisture. At 2,200 cubic inches of capacity, and with intricacies like hip-belt pockets, shoulder holsters for water bottles, a small removable sleeping pad that doubles as back support, the pack did do a fine job up there. Just be careful what you put in the mesh pockets. It’s only $130, too, which seems a good value in my book. (My original overview of the pack: http://thegearjunkie.com/gear-of-the-year-awards-2006)

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