All posts on this topic ‘Alpinetrek-Experts’

Altitude training – basics, tips and when it’s worth it

1. October 2020
Alpinetrek-Experts

If you’ve already conquered a mountain, then you’ve probably heard this sentence before: “Whew, the air is getting thin up here…” This isn’t noticeable on a classic hill walk or via ferrata but you’ll notice it whilst mountaineering at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,000 metres. But, the air isn’t necessarily getting “thin”, but the number of oxygen molecules per litre of air volume rather decreases with increasing height. So, there’s a decrease in atmospheric pressure. As a result, your body will want to fight this and you’ll notice that both your breathing speed and pulse have increased. So, if you want to prepare for mountaineering, an expedition or longer stays at high altitude, then altitude training is recommended. This training leads to an increase in the number of red (oxygen-transporting) blood cells in your body.

What is “altitude training”?

The definition goes as follows: “Altitude training is the targeted use of an undersupply of oxygen (hypoxia) to the organism as a stimulus to increase performance”.

When should you start your altitude training? And, when will you notice its effect?

Whether you plan on conquering the Kilimanjaro, Denali or Mount Everest in the Himalayas, a tour at high altitudes should always be carefully planned and prepared. And, both your equipment and physical fitness will play a major role in your success. So, to prepare your body for the special conditions at high altitudes, we recommend you follow an altitude training program before going on your tour. Plus, the effect of “thin air” is very diverse. For example, when it comes to endurance sports, altitude training has been known to increase performance. And, acclimatisation has long been used in mountaineering.

In addition, as of 2,000 m in altitude, the “thinner air“ begins to have an effect on the body. Here, both sensitive and previously ill persons will already experience their first symptoms of altitude sickness. And, the severity of the symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS) depends on several factors, such as: How physically fit you are and how good your general health is. In addition, some individuals may acclimatise faster than others with the same physical fitness level simply based on their genetics. And, experience may also be a helpful factor. Also, whilst ascending a mountain or trekking at high altitudes, you should take into consideration both the speed of the ascent and possible additional acclimatisation days required.

Regardless of the altitude, the oxygen concentration in the air is at 20.9% all over the world. However, the atmospheric pressure decreases with increasing altitude and the partial pressure of oxygen simultaneously decreases. As a result, this effect leads to an undersupply of oxygen to the body (hypoxia). You can find all important information about altitude sickness in this article.

Does altitude training really improve performance?

Journeying at high altitudes leads to an adaptation process in the body due to the reduced supply of oxygen. This includes a sensitization of the breathing activity, i.e. ventilation, just like when the body is stressed. In addition, the release of the body’s own hormone erythropoietin (EPO) is also stimulated. EPO is produced in the kidneys and takes care of the formation of new red blood cells in the bone marrow. At the same time, the body increases the amount of haemoglobin available. Haemoglobin binds oxygen and has a positive effect on endurance by increasing the oxygen transport capacity in the arterial blood.

Plus, several studies have come to the conclusion that physical exertion under hypoxia leads to changes at the muscular level, such as the increased enzyme activity of the energy metabolism. And, an increase in the muscular oxygen storage, the myoglobin, was also observed.

So, altitude training is perfectly suited for performance-oriented athletes who want to improve their endurance under controlled conditions. In case you didn’t know, altitude training has already been included in the training plans of endurance sports, long-distance running, triathlon and cycling athletes. However, even ambitious mountaineers who want to prepare for a high mountain ascent can improve their performance through altitude training.

Which form of altitude training is the most effective and useful?

In order to achieve the positive effects of your training for improved endurance performance, it’s important that a training stimulus is set under the same altitude conditions. Because simply staying at a high altitude without a specific training stimulus does not bring any significant benefits to improve your performance. So, there’s no use spending a few days in a hut in the Alps and playing cards all day. Running, hill walking and climbing at high altitudes is therefore necessary to achieve your goal.

How long does altitude training take?

Many experts and physicians have different opinions on this topic. A minimum stay of one week to ten days (after sufficient adjustment) is required for maximum efficiency, i.e. to be able to carry out performance-enhancing training. However, stays of three to four weeks would be ideal. In addition, top athletes often attend altitude training camps several times a year. But, this isn’t practical or even necessary for an amateur athlete because it’s so time-consuming. And in general, targeted altitude training over seven to ten days can already lead to the aforementioned positive effects for many athletes. Also, there are even special providers who not only organise high altitude training camps but also provide medical care and give advice to the participants.

How long does the effect of altitude training last?

The duration of both the training’s effects and the adaptation effects remain controversial in the field of science. The first few days after a longer stay at high altitudes involves a regeneration phase, which means that you should reduce both the amount of trainings and the intensity. You may even notice a drop in your performance at first, so a short break can help you get back on your feet. Also, various studies have come to the conclusion that the effect of good altitude training lasts between three and five weeks and probably even longer. Plus, red blood cells (erythrocytes) only live in the body for a maximum of 120 days. As a result, the effects cannot last more than 4 months.

Training with an altitude mask and in an altitude tent

With technical aids, altitude training can be carried out without mountains, be it in the city or at home. There are several products on the market, such as masks or tents that can be used for training and simulate “artificial hypoxia”. For example, a person may ride a bicycle ergometer and breathe through a special mask to simulate reduced oxygen conditions. Plus, there are also tents that can be set up on your bed and will simulate sleeping in hypoxic conditions. Also, some cities now feature altitude training centres that provide special training rooms in hypoxic conditions and can therefore also simulate altitude training.

Since every person reacts differently to altitude and some people even suffer from “altitude sickness”, it makes sense to check your tolerance before going on your mountaineering adventure. Also, a medical check should be carried out before starting your long, high-altitude journey, as well as before a simulated altitude training. So, if you’re preparing for an expedition or high-altitude trek, training in special hypoxic chambers can be quite useful.

Is altitude training harmful? Is it doping?

A long stay at high altitudes always puts a physical strain on the body, unless you were born and raised in regions at an altitude of 4,000 metres and above. So, attending an altitude training camp is therefore recommended and should be planned carefully. Otherwise you may drain your body rather than increase your fitness level. In addition, altitude training is not considered doping and is allowed before competitions. In contrast to doping with drugs or forbidden substances, the athlete only utilizes the natural effects of altitude during altitude training. As a result, both the body’s own processes and adaptation are exerted without the use of substances.

Is altitude training also useful for recreational athletes?

A well-planned altitude training can be very useful for recreational athletes and hobby alpinists. So, it’s important to consolidate your own endurance performance and ensure that it’s at a good level beforehand. In other words, you should do sports, run and hill walk on a regular basis for a few years before considering an altitude training camp. Also, a good state of health along with some experience with training are necessary to achieve a positive effect.

For recreational athletes, we recommend not going too hard with the training right off the bat and not to work at maximum intensity straight away. Your own assessment will improve with time and your body will then be able to take on new training impulses.

A summary of altitude training

In conclusion, altitude training can also be used to improve performance in popular sports under certain conditions. On the other hand, on trekking tours to high altitudes on the Andes, mountains in the Himalayas or even on the 4,000 m peaks in the Alps, it makes a lot more sense to reduce the symptoms of acute mountain sickness or to possibly even eliminate them in advance. Lastly, your training goal should be specific and strategic; a simple stay at high altitudes is not enough to achieve meaningful adaptation effects.

Walking day trip checklist

Hiking clothes: the basics

16. July 2020
Alpinetrek-Experts

Which socks should I wear with my walking boots today? The striped ones or the ones with the flowers? Should I take the red or the blue jacket? I mean, it should match the shoes and socks. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the topic of the right sunglasses, okay?

Yes, these things are really important. After all, on the mountain, everything has to be perfectly coordinated. All kidding aside, the choice of the right hiking clothes should be well considered. One moment you might be hauling yourself over the mountain top soaked, through with sweat, while the next you’re freezing cold. What’s to blame? The wrong clothes.

The different elements of a hiking outfit should all complement each other. If, for example, you wear cotton underwear, the entire chain of breathability is broken from the very beginning – but you probably already know that. No? We’ll help you, then!

So, what are the right hiking clothes like? When you’re hillwalking or trekking, how do you deck yourself out from head to toe in a way that is both stylish and functional? We’ve got to the bottom of it.

Practically decked out from head to toe for hillwalking and trekking

When in the 18th and 19th centuries people in Europe gradually started to discover their enthusiasm for hikes through different cities, countries and landscapes, they wore completely ordinary everyday clothing. The clothes of the first hikers were trousers and shirts made of linen or hemp fabrics, shawls made of wool and, later, jackets and coats made of cotton, too. Partly for pleasure and partly out of scientific interest, they began to explore the world on foot. Their leather shoes may have been comfortable, but it took several decades until the invention of waterproof membranes and non-slip soles.

This made the hikes difficult and gruelling from today’s perspective, for the clothing was very heavy even when it was dry, and, after a solid downpour, it was even heavier. Windproof and well ventilated at the same time? No chance! Small packed dimensions yet still robust? No way! Functional layer system? No such thing!

Far from any of the comforts that modern hikers are loathe to sacrifice, the pioneers covered considerable routes over several hundred kilometres that even with today’s trekking gear would be challenging. They thus sowed the seeds for a popular sport that has spawned many functional innovations and which in the 21st century has experienced a downright boom with its outdoor companies and hiking tourism.

Comfortable walking boots with good grip

Instead of analysing hiking clothes from “head to toe”, this description starts with the feet and then works its way slowly up the hiker. Without doubt, walking boots are the decisive “garment” in distinguishing between those going on a hike and those taking a stroll, as well as people in everyday and leisure clothing. There are many different kinds of walking boots, but they all have one important thing in common: a grippy outdoor sole that guarantees secure footing and perfect grip on hiking trails and terrain.

Soles for walking boots have a strong tread and are made of rubber compounds, which also ensures good grip on muddy forest paths, loose scree and slippery roots. Alongside many different inhouse designs and rubber compounds, many companies draw on proven sole technology from Vibram or Michelin. Some walking boots can also be resoled, providing an even longer life span.

There are big differences in the design and construction of hiking boots and outdoor shoes, from lightweight multisport shoes with permeable mesh fabric, to low-cut approach shoes with pronounced rock guards, through to hiking and trekking boots with high shafts and multi-zone lacing. For quick hikes on easy terrain, lightweight walking shoes are ideal. On challenging tours with a heavy backpack, high walking boots provide ankles with the required stability and protection against injuries.

Light hiking shoes and durable trekking boots are usually available with or without a waterproof membrane. Walking boots without a membrane are usually very well ventilated. At the first wet meadow, though, they quickly become soaked through. With walking boots that have waterproof Gore-Tex membrane or another comparable laminate, on the other hand, your feet stay reliably dry even in sustained rain and on snowfields in the mountains. Despite this, water vapour can still escape through the microporous membrane, ensuring they feel comfortable to wear. Since breathable membranes require a certain temperature gradient to best transport the moisture away, breathability may be restricted in hot and tropical areas. This does not, however, impact on how waterproof they are – that’s always a given.

Different companies and shoe styles use different lasts. This means that some walking boots have a somewhat wider design, while others provide the perfect fit for narrow feet. The cushioning and footbed are also optimised to do what they’re designed to do best, so the shoes might feel very close fitting and firm or particularly soft and comfortable. When choosing walking boots, it’s therefore worth considering the terrain in which you’ll be using the shoes the most. When trying on shoes, it’s best to put them on for a while in the afternoon or evening (on account of the fit, since feet are often somewhat swollen then) and walk around in them in your home. After about an hour or two, you’ll quickly be able to tell whether the walking boots fit nice and comfortably. When you’re going out into the country to wear your shoes in, you should do the first few kilometres on easy terrain before going on your first big hike. Over the course of the first few hikes, the shoes will keep adjusting better to the shape of your feet, and will usually become a bit more soft. This process is a little faster for walking boots made of synthetic materials than for pure leather shoes. Once they have adjusted perfectly to your feet, though, leather walking boots have a particularly comfortable fit. To make the choice of shoe even easier, here is an even more detailed buyer’s guide for walking boots.

Well-fitting walking socks

Without the right walking socks, even good walking boots are only half as good. It is only through the interplay between shoes and socks that you can achieve a high level of comfort and a pleasant microclimate around the feet. The choice of walking socks depends on the choice of walking boots. If there is a low shaft and for sporty shoes, the socks can also be shorter and more sporty. For high hiking boots, on the other hand, you want longer socks with cushioning reinforcements on the shaft, heel and around the toes. In any case, the walking socks must reach past the top of the boot to prevent pressure points forming.

Walking socks are either made of synthetic materials, which allow for a particularly good fit, merino wool, or a blend with merino wool and synthetic fibres. Merino wool creates a particularly comfortable climate for the foot, and provides warmth when it’s damp or even wet. Merino wool is also naturally odour resistant. After a multi-day tour, though, you’d rather stick your nose in socks made of synthetic fibres than in merino socks. Socks made of synthetic material have the advantage that they dry more quickly than walking socks made of merino wool. Whatever choice you make in terms of the material, the walking socks need to fit perfectly or pressure points and blisters can form. A good walking sock shouldn’t slip down, wrinkle up, pinch or squeeze, and still feels great even after a challenging tour in the mountains. You can also find all the important criteria explained in detail in the buyer’s guide for walking socks.

Comfortable base layers

Base layers serve various purposes when you’re hillwalking or hiking. They keep you nice and warm in cool weather, and on hot days they dry fast and quickly wick moisture away from the body. And they always fit comfortably, never chafe and don’t leave behind any pressure points. According to what’s required for the weather conditions, base layers for hikers are available in long-sleeved and long-legged versions, as boxer shorts, practical briefs, t-shirts or tank tops.

Alongside a good fit with comfortable elastic and stretchy materials, high-quality workmanship with flat seams is always strongly recommended. Sport shirts und base layers are predominantly made of merino wool, polyester, and blends with other durable und elastic synthetic fibres. Merino wool feels really great on the skin as the bottom layer of clothing, and provides comfortable warmth in the cold while also cooling you down when the outside temperatures are warm. Even when wet, merino wool keeps the body warm and, thanks to its natural odour-inhibiting qualities, base layers made of merino wool are still comparatively fresh even after a multi-day hike.

Synthetic sport shirts and underpants, which are often a little lighter, can wick moisture away even more quickly. This is why they often feel a little cooler against the skin. Some t-shirts and trousers come with odour-resistant technology that imitates the natural effect of merino wool. Both pure materials and a range of blends are popular with hikers, and it largely depends on which material feels best to you. It’s better for hikers to avoid underwear made of pure cotton and t-shirts made of cotton, though. Cotton gets saturated quickly and takes a really long time to dry out again. This means that it cools the body down unpleasantly and is uncomfortable to wear. To this add the fact that breathable hiking jackets and trousers can only wick moisture away properly if the base layer is also good at conducting dampness away from the body. With cotton underwear, the entire chain of breathability is broken from the very beginning. If you are not sure whether synthetic fibres or merino wool is better for you, you can find additional information and suggestions in the blog article on base layers.

Walking trousers, zip-off trousers and hiking shorts

Good functional walking trousers are characterised by good freedom of movement, a comfortable fit, and durable materials that are fast drying and quickly wick moisture away from the body. A range of materials is used for this, from cotton and various synthetic fibres through to Tencel, true hemp and elastane. This makes some walking trousers particularly elastic and others extra robust. Mountaineering trousers with Schoeller fabric and the robust G-1000 material from Fjällräven are just two examples of well-known, high-quality blended materials. Sometimes, walking trousers are specially reinforced at the knee and in the seat so that stressed areas are well-protected from abrasion and damage while keeping the trousers very breathable and flexible. Ergonomically preformed knee areas, elastic gusset inserts and individually adjustable waistbands round off functional walking trousers. To make it easier to choose the right walking trousers, you can find even more information on the different outdoor trousers available here.

Zip-off trousers, that is, walking trousers with detachable legs, are very popular with hikers because they offer a lot of flexibility. When it’s still cold in the morning when you’re starting out on a hiking tour, but the temperatures will keep climbing around midday, practical zip-off trousers can be transformed into short or knee-length hiking shorts in less than no time. Usually you don’t even need to take off your walking boots. These flexible trousers are also perfect for multi-day tours in variable temperatures and weather conditions, making your backpack much lighter since you can avoid having to pack extra pieces of clothing.

On warm summer’s days, hikers prefer to reach straight for short or knee-length hiking shorts. In terms of their material and their design, they’re similar in every respect to walking trousers with long legs. Breathability and freedom of movement are also the most important criteria for shorts. With elastic designs and practical crotch gussets, they support the sporty hiker in any terrain.

Weather protection is also an important factor for hikers. Many walking trousers provide good protection against the wind and have a water-repellent DWR treatment (Durable Water Repellent). This makes droplets of water simply roll off the surface instead of being absorbed by the material. In heavy downpours, though, even a water-repellent surface treatment has its limits. This is why hikers prefer waterproof outdoor trousers when it’s raining continuously. Hardshell trousers with breathable GORE-TEX® membrane or other waterproof laminates ensure dry legs even in heavy rain. In changeable weather conditions, lightweight hardshell trousers are particularly practical because they can be worn over normal walking trousers if necessary. Waterproof trousers with side zips are perfect for this as they’re easy to put on and take off. Lightweight hardshell trousers are very compact, and with their minimal weight they’re barely a burden in your walking backpack.

When you’re walking through wet meadows or snow, waterproof gaiters are a great alternative to waterproof walking trousers. They protect you from the calf up, preventing snow or water from getting into your hiking boots from the top. The practical hiking gaiters only weigh a few grams and can be put on quickly when you need them without your walking boots having to be removed. If you need more advice in the choice of hardshell trousers and gaiters, the buyer’s guide for gaiters and the buyer’s guide for waterproof trousers are sure to be of help.

Hiking shirts, softshell vests und hardshell jackets

Plaid shirts made of quick-drying, functional material have been popular amongst hikers in the summer for a long time. These breezy shirts are really comfortable on warm days, easy to clean and robust at the same time. Sport t-shirts made of synthetic materials or merino wool will also stand you in really good stead. In cool and windy conditions, hikers often like to reach for softshell jackets or softshell vests and gilets. Functional hiking vests and gilets are very popular because they offer a good mixture of wind protection for the neck and upper body, but are well-ventilated around the arms and ensure comfortable freedom of movement. Many softshell jackets and outdoor vests and gilets are protected with a water-repellent treatment, too, so they also stand up to light rain well.

In long-lasting, heavy downpours, a weatherproof hardshell jacket with a well-fitting hood is just what you need. Waterproof rain jackets and outdoor jackets are equipped with breathable membranes by GORE and other companies, ensuring that the rain doesn’t penetrate the jacket while still allowing water vapour to escape. Many hardshell jackets also have extra ventilation openings, for example zippered ones under the arms, ensuring extra ventilation on strenuous ascents. Waterproof jackets for hikers vary in terms of how light and robust they are. For tough mountaineering and walking backpacks, your hardshell jacket should be just as robust. As an accessory for day touring, on the other hand, what is often useful is a lightweight design that can be folded up and stowed away compactly. As well as classic waterproof jackets, some hikers also like to use rain ponchos or trekking umbrellas to protect themselves from the rain. Both have the advantage that your backpack’s straps and back panel won’t get wet in persistent rain. This is why some hikers also use a handy outdoor umbrella in addition to waterproof backpack covers and hardshell jackets, to prevent water from getting between their jacket and their backpack.

On particularly cool days, fleece jackets or insulating synthetic jackets are the perfect addition to your hiking outfit. They can either be worn “solo” over the base layer or as a practical mid layer under a hardshell jacket or softshell vest. Fleece jackets dry quickly, are soft, warm and easy to clean, so they are always really popular with hikers. The buyer’s guide for fleece jackets will help you find the right one from the wide selection.

Beanies, sunglasses and gloves

With this basic gear, you’ll already be really well equipped. Add to this the right walking backpack, maybe a pair of walking poles, and a water bottle or a hydration system, and let the tour begin! Because, however, the selection of backpacks and poles is just as diverse as the range of hiking clothes, we’ve dedicated entire articles to these topics: a buyer’s guide for backpacks and a buyer’s guide for  walking and trekking poles. But first, a few little helpers and accessories to complete your hiking outfit. It’s very important to choose the right headwear. A warm beanie or a soft headband made of fleece are perfect when it’s cold and windy. On clear, sunny days, a cap or sun hat helps protect against sunburn and sunstroke. Many hikers underestimate the intensity of the sun in the mountains. If the air is a little cooler, or a pleasant fresh wind is blowing, headache and nausea are practically inevitable. This is why it’s better to protect the head than to let yourself be roasted the whole day.

Perhaps it’s not exactly clothing, but when you’re hillwalking by the water or in the mountains, high-quality sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV radiation are just as indispensable as good footwear and functional clothes. For most hikers, comfortably fitting sunglasses in category two or three are the right choice. If you’re hiking at high altitude and on snow and ice, you should even go for category four. You can read even more information on sunglasses and glacier glasses in the detailed buyer’s guide for sunglasses.

Lightweight fleece gloves or windproof softshell gloves are a fantastic addition on cold days. The thin gloves have a comfortable thermal rating while also guaranteeing good sensitivity when using walking poles. Many outdoor gloves are touchscreen-compatible, so they don’t have to be taken off to use a GPS device or smartphone.

A neck warmer, scarf or tubular cloth might not be needed on every day tour in the summer, but, whenever the weather turns, they will warm you up nicely and offer good wind protection.

Perfect functionality through an optimal combination of hiking clothes

Hiking boots, walking socks, trekking trousers, and hardshell jackets – walking clothes are a team and they all have to work together; their functional synergy is only as good as their weakest member. In plain English, this means that walking gear has to be coordinated, and can’t have any weak links. The best shoes are uncomfortable when your socks don’t fit, and a breathable waterproof jacket can’t wick away any vapour if the base layers have absorbed moisture underneath. A good fit and a comfortable feel are the sum of all (clothing) parts and make your life as a hiker more comfortable, easier and more pleasant.

Outdoor clothing in the city centre? I need that!

18. June 2020
Alpinetrek-Experts

It is the nightmare of style icons, fashionistas and cultural guardians: the outdoor wave that is sweeping the city centres. Ten years ago, people were sure it was one of those silly crazes that would be laughed off in 10 years’ time. But far from it, it still remains and shows no signs of fading. It’s even expanded into new areas and has long catered to those yearning of hunting, dog sledding and motorcycling adventures.

Even the fashion pages have become resigned to it. Strong criticisms can only be found in older articles. More recently, articles in outdoor blogs and fashion magazines have been favouring the trend. Let’s take a look at the critics and advocates and examine their common ground. As we do so, I’ll add my own two cents into the mix.

But before that, let us turn to an important, but difficult to classify controversial issue: sustainability.

The Controversy of Sustainability

Let’s get straight to the point: yes, it’s true that a multifunctional jacket uses more resources and “toxins” than grandpa’s good old wool coat.

But is “outdoor stuff” with its evil chemicals really so much worse than the “normal stuff” in the department stores and online shops? It is by no means the case that before the “outdoor boom” people only wore sustainable natural clothing. On the contrary, the percentage of “Made under bad conditions and with undeclared chemicals“ is quite high in on-technical everyday clothing.

What is more sustainable: if I wear an expensive, technical winter jacket from brand XY for ten winters, or if I wear several “simpler” and cheaper” quilted jackets from H&M, New Yorker etc.?

There is also criticism because of controversial “ingredients” in outdoor clothing such as down, leather and fur. But these things are also used in “non-outdoor products” and the outdoor industry also offers a growing range of alternative materials. There is also a growing segment called “Urban Outdoor”. These products are less “highly engineered”, do without membranes and chemicals, are not “polarized” and are not brightly coloured. They are more functional than conventional everyday clothing, as well as highly attractive.

Even so, it is a waste to buy technical-functional outdoor clothing for the evening dog walk. In the same way, you have to question when people wear it for show.

Annoyed by the outdoor wave: the features section

The harshest outdoor critics are most likely found in the culture pages A good summary of classical style criticism is provided by the Tagesspiegel article,which is probably the most frequently read and quoted on this topic:

There seems to be an unspoken agreement on this point: there are some clothes and situations that don’t go together. However, this intuitive sense of style regularly seems to fail thousands of people in this country when it comes to outdoor clothing.:

This taste is debatable in many cases. This is followed by two unfinished sentences, which seem to be about the fact that the clothes are made for the most adverse conditions and the buyers know exactly how nonsensical their behaviour is.

True, but only in part: by no means are all products seen in the pedestrian zones “suitable for polar regions” or “suitable for the Himalayas”, nor are they all brightly coloured. Such frequently read exaggerations suggest that the authors are rather less than outdoor enthusiasts. And their unfamiliarity with the subject matter becomes even more clear when they try to imitate technical outdoor jargon. Sometimes this doesn’t fit, as here in the FR, where there excessive exaggeration results in unintended humour. Want an example? Here:

Presumably, the wild colours (of outdoor clothing)can even scare away bears. And make campfires.:

Ha ha. Well, if only you knew, dear FR writer, how many bear attacks the Active-Bearprotect Shield of my Gore-Tex has averted at the last minute. And how many times I’ve been saved from frozen fingers by the integrated InstantFire Jet Technology…

Want another example? Here you go:

No one needs storage for carabiners, oil lamps or a three-day supply of jerky while they’re walking around the pedestrian zone.:

Yes, they do! I need oil lamp storage (fire retardant) in my climbing harness, which is always attached. And my jerky rations (tofu jerky, of course) have saved me from many a rumbling stomach in the CBD.

And one more to finish? No problem:

:

It might be true that we, the summiteers, do not always have the firmest foothold when it comes to the downhill run. But this is often because of the others walking around the fields after summiting. We still need a good grip when we’re picking up toilet paper in Boots.

However, it must be said that not all criticism is so easily refuted. Here’s the Tagesspiegel again:

In my circle of friends, there’s one crazy one who regularly goes on snowshoe holidays through Greenland or Lapland. I understand that he needs a Polar jacket. But when he returns home to civilisation, it returns to the cupboard where it belongs. He goes to work in a woollen coat. He understands: Everything has a time and a place. (…) The thermal coat belongs on the pack nice, not in the city centre.:

Very impressive. But is there really such thing, this law of nature for where things belong? Or is it not just someone’s opinion that has been elevated to a general standard? What if I’ve already spent quite a bit on my ‘mountain skins’ and so spending more on a ‘suitable’ woollen coat seems unnecessary? What if I wear a Gore-Tex jacket when it’s pouring down in the city just because I don’t have another waterproof jacket lying around?

Yes, I’m exposing myself here as one of those “overlapping users”, who actually does go into the mountains and the “wilderness’ in their outdoor clothing.

Also annoyed: ‘real mountaineers’ who ‘actually use this stuff’

As us “overlapping users” are so underappreciated, we are of course upset about the invasion of fake adventurers. For it is only us that should have the right to bear the signs of being an outdoor enthusiast.

So, dear outdoor clothing critics, please don’t always lump us hard nuts together with these fancy dress impersonators! We brave really icy wind and terrible weather. And when we put on a Gore-Tex jacket, softshell, fleece or synthetic trousers in everyday life, the unsuspecting confuse us with these wannabes. If only people could tell the difference, they would finally give us that slightly intimidated admiration that we well deserve!

I therefore propose that we introduce a permit for outdoor clothing: Goretex and Windstopper would only be able to be worn upon evidence of undertaking a tour. In order to avoid any confusion, we should also attach labels or stickers to our clothes:

”Hey, I’m actually going above 4,000 metres in this!”

or

”This jacket has been to Greenland and Nepal!”

Please recommend more effective differentiation measures in the comments ;-)

Elated rather than annoyed: the advocates

Is the case for outdoor clothingspan style=”font-weight: 400;”> sound and convincing at least? Are there good, strong ‘pros’ for Outdoor in the City?

Hm, not really – I only found a little andit’s hard to follow, like the following from Brigitte magazine for example:

Today, with the right clothing, you can demonstrate your love of outdoor sports, trekking, danger and adventure without ever having seen a mountain, a forest or a lake in person. This is certainly very fashionable, even though it may not always make sense to wrap ourselves up in clothes that have functions we don’t even need”.:

I find a person never seeing a mountain, forest or lake in person sad rather than fashionable. But perhaps you don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t know more than a picture. Maybe that would explain the following thought as well:

So-called ‘Sensation Seeking’ has become very popular. Our clothes should at least remind us of the wilderness. If danger (or a hailstorm) should befall us in the urban jungle, we are prepared – and can feel a bit like McGyver’s wild daughter in our Jack Wolfskin jacket.:

Oh, yeah. Except that, as the only male Brigitte reader on the planet, I’d rather be McGyver himself than his wild daughter. For me it’s much more important not to ‘imagine’ being in the ‘wilderness’ through clothing, but to actually travel to such environments.

So, to sum up, neither side are really rational or sensible. It’s about taste and personal preference.

Love of nature, vanity and fear of disaster: explanation attempts

Because there’s so little rationality, most attempts at explaining the phenomena ultimately fail. Let’s try anyway. We’ll go back to the Tagesspiegel to start:

Some people say its a love of woods and meadows, which makes it happen. (…) However, even a brief look at the products shows that this so-called closeness to nature is nonsense. After all, you can hardly get more artificial than an outdoor jacket. The lining is made of polyester fleece or polyamide and sealed on top with a layer of polyurethane or polytetrafluoroethylene. Does that sound something that would grow on any tree in the world?:

It’s rare that Teflon, PU and fleece would all be used in one item, but not inconceivable, and more and more companies are making progress in replacing artificial with natural components.

If love of nature is not the sole motive behind the outdoor wave, we must look elsewhere. One of the less positive motives would be vanity, which the Tagespiegel will illuminate here:

If you wear something you don’t need, you want to represent something. (…) In this sense, wearing outdoor clothing is no longer about preparing for extreme situations, but about simulating them – or better: claiming proficiency in them. Look, I would be prepared to brave wind and weather, arctic temperature drops and steep scree slopes – if I were to put myself in danger.”

Yes, you heard me right. This is addresses a sore point. But a sore point of what? Vanity is a driver for many types of clothing. And also for many human actions in general. So it is just as unspecific to our beautiful, colourful outdoor world as the compensatory instinct (also mentioned in the article).

Now, we’re just missing the entertaining motivation theories. One would be a fear of catastrophe, but that’s going too far in the psychological fog in my opinion…

What conclusion can be drawn from this? Well, if you’re out in the city in outdoor clothing, you can always hope for some attention.

 

 

Walking, hiking, trekking…: the language confusion guide

8. June 2020
Alpinetrek-Experts

Hiking, mountaineering, long-distance walking, walking, trekking, hut trekking, speed hiking, backpacking, fastpacking, undertaking a pilgrimage: all terms that describe walking outdoors. Why are there so many words to describe such a simple and beautiful activity, which ultimately is just putting one put in front of the other? How do all these “disciplines” differ? Are there any significant differences at all? We’re going to take a closer look at these different terms to try and answer these questions. To make it a bit simpler, we’ll limit ourselves to moving at walking speed and without any equipment (like snowshoes or skis).

Walking is not just walking

An initial answer to this question could be: on-foot outdoor activities are becoming increasingly popular and therefore more diverse. The spectrum ranges from simple day trips around the Sauerland to trips lasting several weeks to Karakorum. The different disciplines differ in their duration, geographical location and in terms of effort and demands. Another distinguishing criterion for outdoor walking activities is in the equipment used. The reasons behind undertaking the activity can also be used to differentiate. For instance, some people are doing it for pleasure, others for sport and others have mental or religious reasons. Religious or spiritual motivations have also become a mass phenomenon with the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Awkward German and cool anglicisms

The fact that nowadays every kind of walking in nature has its own name is probably related to the fact that we like to categorise people. Marketing departments in the tourism and outdoor industry certainly must take some of the blame, a wide range of different activities suits a wide range of different products. In Germany, many English terms have added to the naming confusion with their cool and sexy sounding names. Well, sexy at least in comparison to their German variants, which sound rather awkward. Speed hiking is certainly more appealing than “Hochgeschwindigkeitswandern” and fast packing much cooler than “Leichtgepäckschnellwandern”.

However, this language diversity has also created ambiguous terms that cannot always be translated one-to-one. If you do try, it’s easy to get confused. Both languages use hiking and trekking, but not always in the same manner – for instance, the English ‘hiking trousers’ is often translated into German as ‘Trekkinghose’. So, is trekking different to hiking? Yes, so it seems. But the translations are not always consistent…

And if all this confusion wasn’t enough, as well as trekking, hiking and walking, there’s now also backpacking and fastpacking. While the first three describe being on the move, the latter two refer to moving but with a backpack. But hold on, when you’re hiking, you’re still carrying a backpack. So, it’s all just rubbish? Not quite, it’s more a question of region- and country-specific uses of terms.

We’ve already established that hiking and walking are virtually synonymous, and are usually used interchangeably on tourism websites. According to Outdoor Magazine, both are “day trips that use a daypack with a volume of 20 to 30 litres”. Both are usually used when you’re returning to a fixed sleeping place in the evening. Touring when you’re staying over night (in huts) can also be described as hiking.

The many other terms for walking outdoors don’t overlap quite so much, but there’s not always clear differentiation. Maybe that’s why you shouldn’t compare so much, but simply explore all the terms one after the other and then the differences will become clear.

Hiking

If a walk lasts several hours, it can be called a hike. According the German Hiking Association, there is an arbitrary minimum of one hour. They also say that “hiking” should include “appropriate planning, the use of specific infrastructure (…) (and) suitable equipment”.

Hiking can be through forests and meadows, hills and mountains or along rivers, coasts and beaches. The degree of difficulty is limited, because “good, marked paths are used, which do not present any alpine difficulties”. The terrain can be walked without or with minimal aids such as a walking stick. However, a stick is not standard equipment, which is limited to robust, suitable footwear and clothing appropriate to the local climate.

There we go – a definition as simple as hiking itself.

Hillwalking

The definition is in the word: this refers to walking in hilly areas. Most of the time this is on marked or easily recognised paths, which can be walked without any climbing equipment. Exposed areas are often secured and there are only short sections without paths.

The boundaries between hiking and hillwalking are about as well defined as those between hillwalking and mountaineering. Attempts to define them according to individual criteria such as altitude and differences in altitude would be utter nonsense as they would never be able to do justice to the diversity of landscapes and tour possibilities. A wide range of criteria including equipment requirements, duration, planning effort and fitness demands, orientation ability, surefootedness and freedom from vertigo would also then have to be included and compared. It’s simpler just to say that the criteria are just ‘a bit higher’ than just walking.

Hillwalking covers a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from walking on wide forest paths to a managed alpine pasture to climbing an ice-free 3,000m peak in the main Alpine ridge. There are also many variations including high-altitude hiking, which covers hikes that take place at high altitude but don’t involve a great difference in altitude and traversing, which usually refers to travelling between mountain huts.

Trekking

The word “trek” refers to “march” or “hike” and various types of travel on foot. The word “trekking” is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as, “the activity of walking long distances on foot for pleasure.”

This gives it a very similar meaning to ‘hiking’ and even ‘walking’. So, it is all rubbish after all? No, of course not, usually trekking is used to refer to walking longer routes with more luggage. The difference is in the duration and the equipment. According to Trekkingguide.de there are also further differences in terms of movement and means of transport:

“Trekking for us is travelling over several days on foot or with simple, human-powered vehicles such as a canoe or bicycle, usually with luggage. You could of course also call it ‘multi-day hiking’, ‘multi-day water boating’ and ‘multi-day cycling’.”

The location can also be used to differentiate:

“Isolated, poorly developed areas with untouched nature and traditional culture are therefore the preferred destinations for trekking.”

This reflects the classic idea of trekking as a kind of preliminary expedition stage in remote and often culturally traditional areas. In addition to a sleeping place (in the form of the tent), a larger amount of provisions are also transported.

The well-respected Outdoor Magazine has its own opinion. They say,

If you stay overnight – whether in a hut, guesthouse or tent – it becomes ‘trekking’.

A somewhat exclusive viewpoint, but still pretty legitimate. We can agree that trekking often leads to countries far away from the Alps such as Nepal or Canada and takes place further away from “civilization” than classic hiking. Plus, you usually have more luggage and you might experience real wilderness.

Long distance walking

Long distance walking could mean covering long distances over several days or even weeks – and it’s another of these phenomena that come into the public eye like a pop-up window. If you take a look at social media and the blogosphere, the whole world seems to be crossing the Alps in some way. Why is everyone so keen to walk around for days and weeks on end? The Wandern.com portal might have an answer:

When you’ve walked a long way and have 30 or so kilometres behind you in a day, when you reach your hostel with burning feet and an aching back, and at the end of your energy, your soul rejoices and your heart sings. Your success – and the high oxygen levels in your blood – gives you a real rush of happiness.

Hostel is a key word here, because unlike trekking, with long distance walking you’re never discovering unexplored terrains. If a hiker reaches another hostel rather than returning to their starting point, they are named a long-distance walker.

The Alpine Clubs Trail Book differentiates long distance walking even further based on route length: “Fernwanderwege” are over 500 km long and go through at least three countries. “Weitwanderwege” are over 300 km long and go through at least three German states. Of course, these precise specifications do not prevent anyone from planning as many national and regional long-distance hiking trails as they like.

With their attachment to local resources and infrastructure, long-distance hikers are far more important economically than trekkers. Therefore, advertising often appeals to the former. This economic component is also one of the less romantic explanations for the long-distance walking boom. As part of this, more and more paths are being connected, marked, developed and marketed as long-distance hiking trails.

Pilgrims

“Long distance walks with spiritual motivation” – is one way of describing a pilgrimage. The Camino de Santiago in Spain, with its atmospheric landscapes and dense network of hostels, attracts long-distance hikers from all over the world. The most famous leads from the Pyrenees to the tomb of the apostle James in Santiago de Compostela.

Speed hiking

We recently devoted a whole article to this ‘ turbo-charged hiking’. This intensified type of hiking often goes through demanding terrain with strong poles and lightweight equipment. Poles are used to stabilise the body and strengthen the upper body muscles.

Initially, speed hiking was mainly practised as a compensatory sport or training method for other mountain sports such as ski touring and trail running. In recent years, it has become a discipline in its own right, which is great for conditioning and developing coordination skills. Speed hiking also fits into the current ultra-light trend. Of course there are now also competitions, with different distances and levels of difficulty for the growing number of athletes of different levels.

(Nordic) Walking

At first glance, this brisk walking with an accentuated use of poles seems to be the same as speed hiking, because the poles swing and it’s performed at high speed. However, Nordic Walking rarely involves altitude gains or particularly long distances. The terrain and speed are also more comfortable than they appear at first glance. Nordic Walking should be somewhere between walking, hiking and jogging.

Also known as power walking, this walking variant has, in contrast to speed hiking, a slightly more leisurely image, so you’ll rarely come across young (Nordic) walkers in the forests or fields. Nordic Walking doesn’t really count as a mountain sport. Its followers tend to focus more on the health aspects and the social side.

Fastpacking

Just like speed hiking, fast packing is part of the growing ultra-light movement. Fastpacking is a blend of (speed) hiking, trekking and trail running. It motto is “fast and long”. This means several days on foot through remote mountain terrain, over rugged peaks and unexplored mountain ranges. Ideally, you will stay overnight in a bivvy or just out in the open as nature intended.

Fastpacking is not for mountain novices, as the minimalism requires an advanced level of training and an experienced and creative handling of the equipment. The quick and easy flexibility of fast packing is based on the Alpine style of mountaineering. However, despite all the ambition, the aim is to minimise the overall effort without neglecting safety and comfort.

Creative and exotic disciplines

Geocaching is a scavenger hunt for the young and young-at-heart adventurers. The GPS device provides that little nudge to tempt even reluctant nature-lovers outside. The GPS device helps to locate the “caches”, which are now hidden all over the mountains. With geocaching, (hill) walking becomes less daunting for young walkers.

Barefoot walking doesn’t add anything to hiking rather it takes something away – shoes. What might seem like a nightmare to some, feels like total liberation to others. Beginners should start by walking short distances on suitable terrain (grass, sand or earth) and feel their way (quite literally) into it. Of course, you can always put your shoes back on if you don’t like it.

As you can see, the list of “walking activities” is getting longer and longer. And as we humans are forever inventing new outdoor activities, it will be fascinating to see what other disciplines will be added in the future. So, to be continued…

Alpine hazards and how to avoid them

17. July 2019
Alpinetrek-Experts

There are so many dangers you can encounter in alpine terrain. For example, the other day there was this chap who got his beard caught in a figure eight descender. Can you believe that? Oh, have you ever heard the story about that person who got nailed in the thigh with an ice axe? Where was that again? I think it was in Chamonix. There was even someone else there who got strangled by the sling he had around his shoulders. And, what about the woman who drowned in a half-thawed snowfield? Awful. When you start thinking about all the potential risks and hazards you could encounter in the mountains, you might be tempted to cancel the next adventure you had planned with your mates at the last minute. But that isn’t necessary – after all, there IS such a thing as being too careful!

Even though it’s important to be aware of the hazards of the high mountains described in this article, try not to focus on them too much. As a healthy compromise, we recommend you learn what you need to know in order to recognise as many realistic dangers as possible (without making yourself crazy). Recognise and acknowledge the positive aspects of the mountains at least as much as you do the dangers, but don’t let anything lessen your excitement about your upcoming trip.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to draw the line between healthy optimism and recklessness. Most accidents in the mountains happen when someone incorrectly assesses this line. That’s why, especially if you’re a beginner, it’s important to reduce the difficulty and demands of the climb you’re planning if you aren’t absolutely sure of yourself. And remember: it’s always better to turn around if any uncertainties or delays pop up (such as weather developments or the pace of other members of your group).

Sources of danger

In the mountains, almost anything can become a potential source of danger: the slippery, loose terrain, the wrong shoes, a storm cloud lurking behind a mountain, or the trail that leads to a wall of boulders. Even cows were recently identified as an alpine danger – a series of unusual attacks really caused people to rethink the supposed harmlessness of the wide-eyed ruminants. But, overall, the risk of being gored by mad alpine cows is fairly low. Let’s look instead at the “classic,” more regular mountain dangers.

The mountain and its environment

There was a time when being anywhere near a mountain was considered dangerous. Not only did you have to worry about avalanches and ice, you also had dragons and evil spirits to contend with. The super-natural threats may have gone by the wayside, but the mountains still have plenty of other hazards to throw at you.

Terrain

High rock walls, narrow ridges and paths that snake along ledges. Falling from icy rocks has been the most emblematic danger of all ever since the drama of the first ascent of the Matterhorn. And it’s true – climbing that high gives you plenty of opportunities to fall all the way back down. But, it doesn’t even need to be an incredibly steep ascent. If you’re travelling on hard glacial ice, even a slight incline is enough to end in an unstoppable slide if something goes wrong.

Avoiding danger: Plan your trip in accordance with your skill level and stay focused when you’re travelling through terrain that could increase your risk of falling. If you need to rope up, you should know the techniques and your equipment like the back of your hand. If not, you should turn around.

Rocks

Weathering, erosion and permafrost determine how stable the rocks and mountains are. Wherever the rock formations are crumbling, loose rocks, blocks or even entire rock formations can come loose. The former is referred to as rockfall; the latter as a rock slide. A major rock slide is called a landslide. In this situation, of course, a helmet won’t be much help. But the risk of getting hit by such large amounts of rock is fairly low.

In most alpine regions, there is a geological monitoring system that predicts rock slide and landslides so that the areas can be closed off in time. But there is still no guarantee when it comes to these forces of nature.

Avoiding danger: An appropriate helmet can help to prevent injuries cause by loose rock or blows to the head while climbing. It’s always important to remain alert and ready to react quickly when travelling through terrain with a high risk of falling rocks. When rocks come tumbling down, move as quickly as you can while staying as close as possible to the slope or rock face (under a ledge, if possible, with your face turned towards the rock face) and protect your head with your backpack or, if that isn’t possible, with your arms.

When climbing, there is also always the risk that a hand or foothold, or an anchor could give out. The best way to prevent this happening is to test the rock’s stability by tapping it. A deep, quiet tone indicates that it is stable. A loud, echoing, hollow sound, on the other hand, means caution.

Ice

Ice is also known to come falling from above. This isn’t something hikers usually encounter, but mountaineers certainly do. Mountaineers often have to deal with icefall or even hanging glaciers. The level of risk depends mostly on the temperature and the stability of the ice formation. The basic rule is: the faster the ice froze, the lower the risk that something will break off.

Safety measures are more or less the same as with falling rocks. However, timing and planning are even more important here. You should get past areas in which there is a risk of falling ice as early in the day as possible.

Snow

Snow masses pose a danger primarily to ski tourers, snowshoe goers, freeriders, and other winter mountain athletes. It’s important to carefully check the avalanche warnings and become well acquainted with the subject in both theoretical and practical terms. A good place to start is, for example, the Base Camp Blog article about planning a ski tour.

Solitude –infrastructure – supplies

Despite dense development in the Alps, hikers and mountaineers will still occasionally find themselves in places where it’s not as easy to get your next latte macchiato fix. To ensure that you always have enough energy to meet any challenges that come your way, you’ll need sufficient fuel in the form of food and water , since the latter can be very scarce above the snowline.

Avoiding danger: The great majority of emergency situations can be avoided from the get-go with forward-looking, cautious, and – when possible – flexible planning.

The sun at high altitudes

The more intense UV exposure isn’t the only sun-related risk in the mountains – the heat can be a problem, too. At high altitudes, the harmful UV rays are reflected and absorbed to a lower degree because the atmosphere is thinner. Instead, they come straight through to our skin. Heat can start taking a toll on you much more quickly at alpine altitudes than down in the valley because of the dry air and the often high level of exertion. The strong sunlight, which is reflected intensely by the snow, can really strain the eyes and lead to headaches or even snow blindness.

Avoiding danger: Most people should be familiar with the relatively simple and efficient protective measures needed here: wear a well-fitting sun hat, use good sunblock and have a good pair of sunglasses or glacier glasses. Top that off with small sips of water at regular intervals to prevent you feeling to thirsty and you shouldn’t have any problems with the sun in the mountains.

Air pressure – oxygen level

When people reach high altitudes, various temporary changes to the body become noticeable. Depending on the speed and altitude of the ascent, these changes can be more or less intense and unpleasant. At an altitude of 2000m or so, most people notice a difference in the way they feel compared to sea level. They might get tired more quickly, get headaches or feel dizzy.

If you ascend too quickly, life-threatening altitude sickness can occur. This is caused by rapid exposure to lower amounts of oxygen. Whilst the oxygen percentage is actually the same at any altitude, at higher altitudes the air is “thinner” and there are fewer air molecules available, which means there are fewer oxygen molecules.

It’s very easy to avoid this danger as well: give the body enough time. It has no problem adapting to the reduced oxygen – it just needs to produce more red blood cells. This process can take anywhere from an hour to days, depending on the altitude and speed of ascent (or even weeks, if we’re talking about the biggest mountains in the world). During the adjustment period, the body is operating at reduced capacity and has an increased need for fluids, so it’s important to take in enough water and minerals.

In the Alps, you can head to the highest summits after spending a few days at 2000m altitude and getting acclimated with one or two tours on smaller mountains at an altitude of 2500 – 3500m. There’s also the “trick” of ascending and descending so quickly that the body “doesn’t notice” the change in altitude. While this strategy might indeed work on some four-thousand metre mountains, it puts a lot of stress on the body and is not entirely safe, either. You wouldn’t want to get stuck up there somewhere.

Weather

The higher you are, the more heavily you are exposed to the wind and weather. This is mostly due to the fact that, at increasing elevations, there are less obstacles and frictional resistance to wind flow from the ground and terrain. Other weather elements, such as precipitation and temperature, are more intense because the mountains build a barrier where clouds accumulate, pile up and release rain. This is why weather changes and storms usually occur more suddenly and violently in the mountains than in the lowlands.

Avoiding danger: How to best protect yourself is no great secret here, either. First, make sure to get the most accurate weather forecast possible and base your (more cautious/defensive) planning on that. During the trip, observe the weather as continuously as possible and compare it to the forecast. Of course, you should always bring an insulated jacket or an insulated jumper as well as a waterproof jacket with you in the mountains, even in the most beautiful summer weather.

The most complicated risk: people

Warning – things are about to get philosophical. Believe it or not, the complexities of human beings travel with them into the mountains, along with their various behaviour choices and opportunities to make mistakes. People also tend to be irrational and make decisions on the basis of extreme internal and external states: from exhausted to wide awake, from annoyed to euphoric, from resigned to inspired, from panicked to reckless. All these states can increase or decrease the dangers ¬– it all depends. One can lead to a shortening or cancellation of the trip just in time or result in very risky decisions.

Being in excellent physical condition, for example, can lower the risk when someone is travelling more quickly. But it can also increase the risk if it leads someone to take on more than they can handle.

Physical conditioning 

When turning around is not an option, or you find yourself high up on a challenging mountain, (premature) fatigue becomes the greatest risk factor. Subjective feelings of tiredness can be deceptive, which is why you should pay attention to external signs. Slower reaction times and waning concentration and coordination are reliable markers of physical fatigue.

The lower your physical fitness is, the more quickly you will become fatigued. It sounds trivial, but in practice it can be tricky to manage. You need to know your own body quite well to be able to compare your own abilities with the numbers and data of the route you’re planning. If the comparison is successful, you’ll have a realistic self-assessment and will feel neither over- nor underwhelmed on the trip.

Most people need experience (including a few failed trips) to arrive at a realistic self-assessment. Ideally, the increasing experience comes with increased fitness from training and improved technical skills (better ascent and climbing technique, more efficient handling of gear, etc.).

Physical capacity is influenced by a great number of physical and psychological, internal and external factors such as orienteering skills, equipment or tactics. The more you know about these factors and the more you consciously incorporate and train them, the lower the risk the planned route will have.

It gets even more complicated when multiple people are travelling together. Then the psychological factors gain in importance and the group dynamic produces its colourful results.

Equipment

The more challenging the route, the more sources of danger there will be and the more your equipment will become a potential risk factor. There are an infinite number of ways that ice axes, crampons, ropes, carabiners, etc. can be used incorrectly and land you in hot water. The book series “Sicherheit und Risiko in Fels und Eis” by Pit Schubert [translation: “Safety and Risk on Rocks and Ice”, available only in German] explains the absurd mishaps and accidents that can happen in these situations.

Are there subjective and objective risks?

The traditional way of describing mountain hazards divides them up into subjective and objective hazards. Subjective dangers are said to be those that come from within, meaning that they develop within the person themselves. Objective hazards are said to be those that come from outside, that is, from the mountain. This differentiation suggests that only some of the hazards can be entirely avoided, whilst the remaining objective hazards are uncontrollable and should be considered a residual risk.

But now, many take up the position that there are no objective hazards because risks only arise as a result of subjective decisions. Even the risk of falling rocks and avalanches comes from the subjective decision to travel in the mountains in the first place. By making this decision, people willingly put themselves in a bit of danger – much like when we willingly accept a certain amount of danger by getting in a car.

Conclusion

Yes, there are many hazards ‘lurking’ in the mountains. That’s the bad news. But the good news is: the great majority of these risks can be easily eliminated or minimised. As long as the trip is planned appropriately for the members of the group and the expected weather, more than half the battle is already won! And, the more (sensible) trips you go on, the more experience you will gain – and experience is one of the most valuable resources of all. It makes it possible to develop “mountain sense”, a feel for the mountainthat is like a sixth sense or a radar for recognising alpine dangers. You develop this sense by accumulating experience and how you reflect upon your experiences.“ That being said: take care of yourselves and have a great time in the mountains!

Or so it seemed…

1. February 2019
Alpinetrek-Experts

“Hey, there’s a film competition about adventurous women. That sounds like it’d be right up your street.”

This or something to this effect was a message I got from a friend on Facebook. I just shook my head. What does this have to do with me? At the time, not only had I only been climbing for a short time, but I had absolutely no idea how to go about making movies. What a crazy idea, I thought, and completely forgot about it.

A year later, the same competition, a similar message. This time, though, things were different. Not only had I become much more familiar with the climbing community and come up with a good idea for a film, but I had even formed a friendship with the brilliant filmmaker Leon Buchholz.

The film competition I’m referring to is called “Women in Adventure”. It has been hosted every year for the last five years by the BMC, and the reasons for participating are manifold:

  • The winning film will be shown at several outdoor film festivals.
  • The number of women in outdoor films (whether in front of or behind the camera) should be promoted.
  • Motivate other women to go outside.
  • And there’s even some prize money.

What more could you want? Pursuing a hobby, filming something and maybe even inspiring a few other people with your passion… Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Or so it seemed.

After deciding to give it a go, I started to make some plans. If you haven’t climbed a 6000+ metre mountain or climbed at advanced grades, what are you supposed to talk about in a film about climbing? After some brainstorming, it dawned on me that I could talk about something that I had been dealing with at the time: the fear of falling.

Could I use that for the film? I mean, it’s something every climber deals with. Some may never admit it or overcome it quickly, true, but there are still plenty of us who haven’t beat it – yet. It’s often women who raise the issue, and it’s not at all uncommon for those women to feel ashamed as a result. I’ve seen it myself. With all that in mind, it’s the perfect subject for a film. Or so it seemed.

A film is made…

As is often the case when you do something you’ve never done before, we put the cart before the horse and got started.

With a rough idea in mind and not much else, off we went to the crag to film. After a lot of falls (and almost just as many near-heart attacks), we managed to put together quite a few good takes. Then, I took off to start writing the voice over script.

Because of scheduling problems, everything was put on ice for a while. In the meantime, I just kept on climbing, thinking about what to write and worrying that the whole thing would just end up being way too depressing. I mean, who likes watching someone be scared for ten minutes, anyway?

But it all turned out differently, as you can see for yourself in the final film:

15 minutes of fame

Everything was an absolute success: Leon’s magic transformed the beautiful days outdoors into an even more beautiful film. My employer, Alpinetrek, was thrilled as well and even promised to give us some monetary support.

Three days after the release of the film, I had already had 11,000 viewers. We received positive feedback everywhere we shared it. It seemed like nobody could stop us. Of all the films that were submitted, ours was by far the one with the most views.

As you can imagine, we didn’t want to miss the screening and award ceremony in Sheffield. So, we booked our flight, headed to Sheffield and even ended up winning the prize for the most watched film – and getting a barrage of compliments in the process. Everything was so perfect. Or so it seemed.

Reality sets in

When I was writing the script for the film, I was extremely motivated. My goal was not only to inspire as much as possible, but also to show women in particular that it is completely normal to be afraid and nothing to be ashamed of. And, I was really looking forward to seeing inspirational films with large audiences and sharing outdoor experiences with other women and even interested men. You know, breaking down barriers, at least a little. Unfortunately, though, those dreams never became a reality. In fact, most of my hopes were completely shattered.

Where to begin. Well, for a start, you would think that the screening would take place in a cinema, especially since there was an address for a cinema on the tickets for the film festival. But no, that’s not where the screening was. Nope, the screening took place in a foyer upstairs.

You could even hear the bass from the music playing in the showroom below. Another oddity: In front of an audience of about forty people (most of them female), there were five women who, instead of commenting on the films shown at the festival, chose to talk about all sorts of other outdoor films and topics. To top things off, the microphones didn’t work, so, as you can imagine, the moderator’s attempts to guide the discussion were doomed to failure from the very beginning.

The “screen” turned out to be a television screen – connected to a laptop. Because of the background noise and the terrible sound, it was very hard to pay attention.

Three films ended up winning, all of which had one thing in common: They were very artistic and used the “outdoor” theme more as a canvas than as motivation to go outside (obviously, this is my subjective opinion).

Other films were submitted to the competition as well (you could watch them all online) and praised several times, but they were not shown at the festival itself.

On the bright side, there was one really nice bit: Afterwards, we all stood together in groups and discussed everything I had hoped for… the only downside was that there was a man behind us stacking the chairs and asking us to get our things out of the way. Not really my idea of comfort.

I know, all this makes me sound like a bad loser. I admit, I was a bit disappointed that our film failed to get the attention we had expected, especially considering how well it was received by the internet viewers. The greater disappointment, though, was something different entirely.

A bad aftertaste

I must admit, I was quite confused and stunned when I left. I really began to wonder what the point of the film festival was.

Events like this are everywhere: They’re supposed to promote women in some area or another or give them a “safe place” where they can develop independently, free from (supposed) male dominance.

This is no different when it comes to the outdoors. There are climbing groups, courses and competitions – all organised for women only.

I have never really known exactly where I stand on this issue and had great hopes for the festival. I had assumed that the festival would have a different message, something along the lines of: “Look, we don’t have to hide. We’re just as crazy about the outdoors as any man is and just as good.”

But why did it feel like a half-hearted event, struggling to justify its existence? What good is it to make a big ado about something when hardly anyone sees it?

Instead of bringing itself to the fore, the film festival has literally pushed itself into a corner. I mean, it took place in a foyer for Pete’s sake. My male friends couldn’t help but shake their heads over the topics and the atmosphere at the festival, and quite frankly, I don’t blame them.

Instead of bringing the genders closer together, it felt like they put up one barrier after the other: Men were excluded instead of invited, not physically, but in the selection of topics.

Sadly, one of the participants demonstrated this point perfectly: Whilst chatting with me afterwards, she handed me a flyer for her podcast about outdoor women. When my friend looked at her in the hopes of receiving a flyer as well, she said simply “for women only”. What does she think would happen if he listened to it? Would the podcast crash all of the sudden?

What’s left…

In my opinion, this event demonstrated once again just where communication between the sexes in climbing, outdoors and in many other areas of life is lacking: Instead of building bridges and celebrating the community, women seclude themselves in an attempt to feel “more understood”.

In the short term, this could help to motivate and get “us” out of the corner some feel we’re in (I don’t feel that way). But, in the long run, I think this plan is doomed to fail. What’s the point of talking to people who already have the same opinion as you, anyway? Why don’t we have a conversation instead?

At a competition I recently took part in for the fun of it, the organiser – a well-known sports brand – told me that they were planning the same competition later in the year for women only. They did it last year and it seemed to be very well received – they even had hair and nail stylists there.

On the one hand, I think: “Wow cool, a girl’s day.” On the other hand, I wonder: Why don’t they just do it all at once? They don’t do it for men, so why do it for us?

Maybe I have a distorted view on this issue. Most of my climbing partners are men, and I’ve never found that strange. If someone comes on to me or says something I don’t like, I give them a verbal slap in the face and cross them off my list of partners. When I literally have to trust someone with my life, it’s imperative that I like them, but gender has no place in the matter.

So I’m pleading here: Ladies, go outside and tell the men how you feel when you’re climbing. If somebody rubs you the wrong way, write them off and stand your ground. Change can only be achieved through perseverance and we have to show it here. Climbing is one of those wonderful sports where it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman. Everyone struggles with their own problems and has to overcome them on their own. Anyone can support you in the process.

Only together can we truly show what a wonderful sport this is and tackle the adventures that await us. It’s not that hard.

Or so it seems.

Alpine Trekkers visit DMM in Wales

13. December 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

Well, here we are, on the banks of Llyn Padarn in the small village of Llanberis, which is located in the land of unpronounceable words and place names. A few minutes later, we’re at a local climbing shop where we’re greeted with a grin. “Hey team ‘no shoes’. How are you doin’?” Good thing we can laugh again. Shortly thereafter, we’re sat at the front door with our buddy Ben from DMM with three pairs of new climbing shoes, eating fish & chips, as Hazel Findlay walks by. A few chips go around before we pack our backpacks and head off into the evening for some climbing.

Why no shoes, you ask? Well, it all started a few hours ago: We arrive at the airport in Stuttgart, where we are forced to explain the unexplainable to airport security. Yes, the lump of metal in our duffle bags is for climbing. All we get is a look of disbelief. And yes, all the white powder in the little bags is for climbing, too! No, it’s not coke and it’s definitely not explosives! After making it through security, we board our plane to Manchester where we leaf through our Selective Guide for North Wales. Slate quarries, trad climbing, paying a visit to DMM and great weather – the next 4 days are looking good!

Upon arrival, though, reality sets in. None of our three checked bags even boarded the aeroplane. So, we go to the counter to express our dismay, only to find a bunch of other distraught passengers looking for their forgotten luggage as well.

After informing the airline that the lost luggage contains climbing equipment worth several thousand euros, we are assured that not only can we buy the essentials (all at the expense of an Irish budget airline that shall remain nameless) but our belongings will be forwarded to us as quickly as possible. So far, so good. So, we grab our hired car, whiz over to Wales and buy the essentials: climbing shoes and sleeping bags.

The first climb on Welsh rock

Fortunately, because this is an official visit to DMM with a small group of Alpinetrek employees, we don’t have to worry about there being a lack of quickdraws, cams and nuts.

They also let us rent some climbing harnesses, half ropes, helmets and the like thanks to Ben. He had already got us a discount and told the local climbing shop about our arrival. Pretty sweet. Kitted out and ready to go, we set off to finally lay our hands on these wonderful Welsh rocks ourselves!

For me personally, the first four pitches were my first in trad climbing, a great feeling – no bolts, no rules. Only one line among hundreds, as far as the natural structure goes. The only problem I have is that I don’t really trust my brand-spanking-new shoes from Scarpa yet, but that will come. So, there we stand, admiring the stunning view with a beautiful sunset at the edge of the valley.

One moment of happiness follows another

The next day, a glorious Sunday. Early in the morning the temperature climbs above 20°C, forcing us to seek out some of the few shady places there are to climb. My first trad lead climb – Whoop whoop! And that before breakfast!

As a reward, we get an English Breakfast with bacon, beans, eggs and sausages in the open air. Not everyone’s thing, but I love it! The wonderful scenery with Snowdon (1,085 m) in the immediate background is the icing on the cake. In general, you could say that North Wales is a true El Dorado for outdoor enthusiasts… We see mountain bikers, road cyclists, backpackers and above us there’s a single paraglider flying over the quarries. Oh, and the Atlantic is not far away either. There’s even supposed to be an artificial wave pool as well.

You’d think it’d be easy to find a good spot to climb, considering how nice the weather is, but’s just so hot. Beneath the clear sky in the famous dark grey slate quarries, you feel like you’re melting. But here, in the quarries, time seems to have stood. The area is riddled with abandoned mining structures, rusty rail and cable systems…did I mention the scorching heat? Being here is like travelling back in time, especially when you consider the fact that the Dinorwic quarry (formerly the second largest slate quarry in the world) has been abandoned since 1969.

Luckily, however, we have people with us who not only really know the area and its historical significance in climbing but also manage to find one of the few shady places to climb: the Serengeti. Here we spend the rest of the day with some of the rare bolted sport climbing routes and beautiful crack lines where we put almost the entire DMM line up of Dragon Cams, Wallnuts, Offset Nuts, Brass Offsets, Peenuts as well as I.M.P.’s to the test. An intro to climbing hardware at its finest!

Factory tour in Llanberis

At the start of the new week, we find ourselves in the DMM offices in Llanberis. We have the pleasure of chatting with various employees and product developers before taking a closer look at the heart of Welsh craftsmanship: the factory complete with their own CNC machine facility. Here is where DMM bends, presses and forges their carabiners, belay devices and pulleys and performs their quality controls.

The entire production cycle of DMM’s products takes place here. Due to environmental reasons, anodising is the only step in the production process that is carried out elsewhere. It is a really fascinating to see, especially considering the fact that all this hardware is stuff we trust with our lives!

Our long-lost luggage

Meanwhile at Manchester Airport: Our luggage is supposedly finally on its way here. How it’s going to get here and when it’s going to arrive remains a mystery. Anyway, since I only have one pair of underwear, I decide to go wash them in the lake. Probably not so good for the indigenous fauna, eh? Meh, I’m sure they’ll survive ;-) I guess I won’t worry about my t-shirt. We’re going to be on the move all day anyway – a fresh tee won’t make much of a difference.

What I do miss, though, is a decent pair of approach shoes. My sneakers are comfortable, but less suitable for hiking. In the afternoon, we’re going to the Idwall slabs which has quite a few really nice, moderately difficult pitches (VD – HVS). Perfect for experimenting with mobile belay techniques. And so, the hours pass, and before we know it, it’s early in the evening.

Only after hearing the thundering roar of a twin-prop aircraft from the Royal Air Force do we look at the fire-red horizon and realise it’s time for us to pack up and go home.

Off to the Rainbow Slab Area with self-made carabiners

It’s our last day before we head back to Germany, and still there’s no trace of our luggage, but we don’t really care at this point. In the morning, we head to DMM again. One of the many highlights of our trip was the opportunity to assemble half a dozen carabiners each under the watchful eye of our friends at DMM, complete with official approval, laser engraving and random tests of their breaking strength. It’s quite impressive how much the carabiners and slings can take before they break and what a negative impact external factors, such as ageing, UV rays and corrosion have on their ratings.

Bursting with confidence in our new hardware, we do the first thing that comes to mind – we go climbing! Our goal today: the Rainbow Slab Area. When we arrive, we lay eyes on the prominent crack line running up the centre of the rainbow slab. We climb “Bela Lugosi is Dead” (E1 5b), a stunning route, using basically all the gear our harnesses can hold, including everything from cams and medium-sized nuts to really small brass offsets.

Now, we’ve all got trad fever. Or to put it in the words of our climbing guide: “The Rainbow Slab itself is mostly old-school trad classics with minimal or no bolting giving run-out and technical routes requiring deft footwork, strong fingers and a very steady head”. There is no better way to describe the huge differences there are between trad climbing and the traditional sport climbing we know here in Germany. At nightfall, we leave the area and treat ourselves to plenty of celebratory Guinness, cider and fish & chips!

Wales, we’ll be back

Before we head back to Germany, we quickly test one or two boulders and then say goodbye to Ben and DMM with a huge thank you (not least for all the gear we borrowed). In the car, we find out that our luggage is on its way to Wales. Yeah, thanks for nothing, cheap airline from Ireland, whose name shall, once again, remain nameless. An entire week goes by before we get our beloved half ropes, climbing shoes and racks of trad gear back.

Despite the less than optimal experience with the airline, we only have positive memories of our trip to Wales. I think I can speak for all my fellow travellers when I say that the trip was an absolute success and extremely informative. Wales, we’ll be back!

Fellow Alpine Trekker Jan on the Beacons Way

13. December 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

“It is a strenuous walk with plenty of ascents and descents. Parts of the route across open moorland can be difficult to navigate in poor weather – this and the isolation of these sections can make following parts of the route hazardous. The Beacons Way can be walked in its entirety in about 8 days but could easily take twice as long as there is so much to explore and enjoy en route” (en.wikipedia.org).

You’re probably wondering why I’ve chosen to begin this post with a quote from Wikipedia. Well, these few lines couldn’t describe more accurately just what our fellow Alpine Trekker Jan had the pleasure of experiencing first hand in August of 2012.

Anything is possible

How does one get the idea to choose Wales of all places as a destination for a a multi-day walk? True, the West Highland Way in Scotland is probably the best known option amongst the long-distance footpaths on the island, but I have to admit I’m more drawn to the unknown. I have this unrelenting urge to discover, you know, that urge to take the road less travelled. And, the few hundred people per year who dare to tackle the Beacons Way (according to various forums) can’t be wrong about it, can they? The ability to read a map and compass is generally regarded as essential for this route. And, because of the extremely variable weather conditions, thick mist and sink holes off the official route, the walk promises to be quite the adventure. And finally, the national park itself is supposed to be stunningly beautiful, provided the sun is shining.

Maybe I’ve just watched too many shows with the famous adventurer Bear Grylls, you never know. But, when I read that British special forces regularly train in the Brecon Beacons National Park, where the long-distance footpath is located, I was hooked. The terrain apparently takes such a physical and mental toll on you that the place is absolutely perfect for such military training.

Preparation is good, improvisation is better

From London, I travel by train to Cardiff, stay there for a night in a hostel and continue on to the small town of Abergavenny, the official starting point of the trip. Wait, what am I even carrying on my back? Well, I’ve got my 65L rucksack, which contains my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, warm fleece clothing, waterproofs and provisions for 7 days. You can also find a packing list for trekking here. I’ll be cooking my grub with alcohol, which I have to buy there. My plan is to be self-sufficient, at least for most of the way. Also very important: I’ve got the maps for the region: the Ordnance Survey Maps OL12 & OL13 on a 1:25,000 scale as well as a compass and a GPS device for tracking. As it turns out, it was a good idea to take a few survival essentials as well, such as a flint, parachute cord, a pocket knife and a small roll of duct tape, all of which was protected by a large rain cape – but more on that later.

The route

On the first day after walking up under a snuggly blanket, I head out on the route, which takes me over the ‘Holy Mountain’ (486m above sea level) up to a small place called Llanthony, which amounted to about 20 kilometres in total. It’s here that I choose to spend the night, alone at a campsite. Up to this point, the weather has been so-so. I haven’t been able to enjoy any real views so far, but I have got a taste for the very wet moorland and am now trying to arrange myself with the pathfinding. After a wrong turn and a long detour, I decide to look at my map more often! The official markings along the route seem rather scarce, but every couple of hours, I see one out of the corner of my eye, hidden away by some overgrowth, which makes me want to jump for joy every single time.

Fellow alpine trekker Jan on the Beacons Way.After an average night’s sleep, I make myself some warm milk and oat flakes. My little alcohol stove needs a relatively long time to make this happen, especially in comparison to modern gas stoves, but the system weighs next to nothing and has been serving me well since my time in the service. With the sun shining down upon me, I continue my journey past small, medieval villages, ruins from the 11th century, through lush green undergrowth to Crickhowell. After pitching my tent, I sit down in front of my stove, make myself a bag of noodles and study the map. Although there is a relatively large campsite in the village and a few tiny bed & breakfasts along the way, I hardly meet a soul. On the plus side, I was able to enjoy the weather without a worry in the world as well as some fantastic views over the Brecon Beacons. I hope this continues!

British weather ‘at its best’

Nothing against the British, but the rumours are true: when it rains here, it pours. Even trying to get up when it’s bucketing down like this in temperatures around 13°C is a tall task. Soon, I meet a Welsh man on the street and timidly ask what the weather is going to be like, but all he can give me is a grin full of pity and only an inkling of hope for sunshine come afternoon. So, I decide to spend the morning off the beaten track and follow the less exposed ‘Brecon Canal’ to the village of Llangyndir (yes, some of these place names are real tongue twisters. Of course, no one understands me when I say where I want to go…).

Convinced that I have discovered one of the more beautiful spots on the map, I continue for a few more kilometres to find the sun beaming its rays on me on the last climb of the day! Reinvigorated, I pay a visit to the ‘Talybont Reservoir’, on the northern shore of which there is a youth hostel of sorts with campgrounds and an outdoor education centre. At least, that’s what it appeared to be. And although I find a warm kitchen there, I decide to eat my own food first. After all, I’d rather not find out later that I’ve been lugging all this stuff around for nothing.

Day 4 – the highest peak

This section of the Beacons Way is officially described as ‘strenuous’. The weather is dry, albeit cloudy, and offers the best conditions for the 27km-long stretch. But, it’s not the distance that is the problem, but it’s the elevation gain. The route takes me through forested areas with moderate ascents at first, but very soon the path becomes extremely steep. After about 1 1/2 hours, I reach the central mountain range in the Brecon Beacons National Park and arrive on the first plateau, at which point I see some soldiers marching toward me at a pretty good clip. Visibly exhausted and carrying an incredible amount of kit, they torture themselves up and down the mountain. Amazing.

Even though I’m now standing beside a large number of day walkers on the Fan y Big (719m above sea level), there’s a short moment of silence, allowing me to take it all in. My gaze wanders over the expansive, green, hilly landscape and I estimate that I can see about 20-25km in the distance. This is exactly what I came here for! Before I continue, I grab another slice of pumpernickel as a pick-me-up. The path takes me down a steep descent, then straight up Pen y Fan, which is 886m above sea level and thus the highest peak in southern Wales. I take a quick glance behind me, only to see dark and ominous clouds on the distant horizon. I pick up the speed to reach the summit at least somewhat dry, but alas, this hope of mine quickly dissolves. Fellow alpine trekker Jan on the Beacons Way.Suddenly, I can see less than 10 metres in front of me, and after reaching the summit obelisk, I have serious trouble finding the way back down. Finally, by the skin of my teeth, I manage to find my way down despite the torrential rains. Heavily eroded paths lead the way into the valley where I reach a place called ‘Storey Arms’. After half an hour of waiting, nobody shows up, so I decide to go to a catered hut about 2km off the path, which not only gives me the opportunity to dry all my gear but also has something warm to eat! Plus, I get to enjoy a bottle of wine or two with a German family and two Scottish hikers. I couldn’t dream of a more beautiful end to such a long, difficult day.

Life is full of surprises

Yeah, so not only am I’m really lost, rain and dense fog are expected to last the entire day. Great…and just this morning, I was told I shouldn’t go hiking today. Did I listen? Of course not. With a slight hangover from the night before, I thought it would be best to keep moving…

So, now I’m standing in the middle of this boggy, heather-clad plateau like a fool, cursing Mother Nature for this awful weather. My compass is showing me the general direction, but I am more than an hour away from anything that remotely resembles a trail. The last sign, if I’m not mistaken, was a cairn about one kilometre back. So, I follow my instincts and slide about 50 metres down a steep, muddy slope full of sheep dung. Great… Not only am I soaking wet, I’m covered with…ugh, you know what… Today is really not my day…

After a brief moment of reflection, I hear the sound of a small waterfall, allowing me to determine my location on the map. I conquer one kilometre after another on the ‘Old Roman Road’, which is recommended as an alternative route for walkers in extremely poor visibility, interrupted only by several fast-moving, one-to-two-metre wide streams I have to jump over with all my kit. Great… The current is so strong that it would pull my legs out from under me and throw me down the slope with ease. So, first I toss my pack over to the other side, then I follow, hoping that the ground on the other side will hold my weight. I do this over and over again before finally reaching the ‘Ogof Ffynnon-ddu National Nature Reserve’. Bless you. ;)

This area is known for its extensive cave system and karst areas with scars and sinkholes that line the path. In other words, it’s extremely important not to stray from the path, which, unfortunately proves rather difficult in dense fog. Fortunately, the larger holes are clearly marked on the map. Trickier still is the so-called ‘Area of Shake Holes’, consisting of barely recognisable cracks and holes in the ground, often overgrown and thus very difficult to see. But, in the end, I make it to ‘Tawe Cwm’ after 30 kilometres of walking, completely soaked, but thankful for my most faithful companion – my map.

Hating life (because even my last dry sock in my supposedly rain-protected pack now has enough water in to fill half a glass), I set up my camp and reflect… underwear wet, sleeping bag wet, and it looks like stalactites are forming in my tent. So, I spend the night shivering than sleeping, asking myself why I didn’t stay in that damn hut ..

A conciliatory farewell

The following morning begins with me making some minor repairs to my equipment. While hanging my still-wet socks over the stove to dry, I notice that several seams on my walking boots have come apart. Before tending to my shoes, I patch up some smaller holes in my rain cape, which were probably caused by some brambles along the way, with some duct tape. As for the shoes, they need a bit more than that. To keep the bits of material that overlap on the uppers from tearing even more, I slip two zip ties around each shoe. It doesn’t look pretty, but it’s definitely one of a kind. And, most importantly, it works – much to my amazement.

After a morning drizzle, the day promises to be much better than the previous one – I’m already looking forward to the warm sun beaming down upon me. I hang half of my kit on the outside of my rucksack to dry, at which point I am completely fascinated by the landscape again. Along the ‘Lyn y Fan Fawr’, the highest lake in South Wales, I follow the mountain range around ‘Fan Brycheiniog’ and reach my destination in the afternoon with a wonderful sunset over the gently rolling landscape of the Brecon Beacons, which had quite honestly put me through an emotional roller coaster up to that point.

The seventh and final day of my adventure had little to offer in the way of highlights. The route seems to have changed slightly before I had a chance to write this. In any case, I choose to do the “official” stages 7 and 8 together, treating myself to a wonderful 42km trek to the finish in the village of Bethlehem. With only a few metres of gain, ancient ruins and remnants of days gone by, the route allows for plenty of time to reflect. Exhausted but happy, I finally reach the wooden bench, which officially marks the finish of the Beacons Way. What now? It’s odd. I don’t know what I thought would happen when I arrived, so I sit down, eat my last chocolate bar, and eventually, I go on…

Deep water soloing - what's that about?

Deep water soloing – what’s that about?

5. July 2017
Alpinetrek-Experts

A pair of climbing shoes, a chalk bag and some swim briefs – that’s about all you need to climb a wall. At least, that’s all Alex Honnold needs. Unfortunately, the kind of climbing (free soloing) Honnold wows us with on a regular basis is very dangerous, forcing the less audacious among us to leave it to the professionals. If you want to give it a crack anyway, we recommend deep water soloing.

Those who have tried it before refer to it as climbing in its purest form. Why? Well, there’s no protection, you can choose to follow routes or not and you won’t be risking your life as you would with each and every free solo climb.

Deep water soloing (DWS), also known as psicobloc, is becoming more and more popular. If you have yet to figure what it’s all about and where you can do it, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s start with a definition: Simply put, deep water soloing (DWS) is climbing without protection above deep water. So, does that mean it’s a less dangerous version of free solo climbing? Let’s put it this way: it depends on how you go about it. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the basics:

Advantages

You can just climb. You don’t have to think about protection, routes, belay stations, etc. In other words, you can leave most of your gear at home, which will come in really useful if you plan on flying somewhere. Simply pack your shoes, chalk and swimshorts and get ready to crush some gnarly DWS routes! If you’re planning on rappelling into routes then you’ll need straightforward kit like harness, belay device and rappel rope plus ascenders/prusiks to get back out if necessary.

Since you don’t need a belayer, you can climb by yourself (though we recommend climbing with others or letting them know your plans at the very least), saving yourself from the embarrassment of trying get over the crux for the umpteenth time. In other words, you can just focus on climbing, the movement, the route and your goal. Many people are surprised by how much easier it is to climb at your limit whilst on a DWS, at least once you’ve got over the fear of falling into the water.

This kind of climbing could be perfect for those of you who want something somewhere between free soloing and bouldering. Especially if you enjoy the heady sensation of highball bouldering above pads and spotters, DWS is for you.

Things to consider

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as you might think. In order for it to be fun and truly safe, there are a few things you need to consider.

How to get there

I know of three different ways. Climb there, rappel to your spot or take a boat! Many popular DWS locations have easy rental access to kayaks, canoes or other small boats, meaning you’ve instantly got a way to access the wall and a place to scramble onto after taking a dive. It also means your buddies are going to be in right place in the event of a bad fall or just to take the necessary action shots!

When rappelling into a DWS destination, bear in mind how you’re going to get back out. If the route proves too hard or you need to get out because of the tide coming in, or maybe you just stayed out until dark – you’ll need another way out of the crag. Take a jumar/prusik and know how to use them. Trust me, it’s better than getting stuck at the bottom of a sea cliff with the waves lapping at your feet! If climbing down, consider carefully whether you are confident on the approach. If in doubt, use a rope and be aware of potential loose rock.

The wall

This should obviously be in water and positioned in such a way so that you don’t fall on underwater rocks, logs, reefs or other obstacles. A lot of DWS cliff faces are vertical (like in the video from Löbejün below) or slightly to majorly overhanging. If inexperienced, don’t just commit to a ‘DWS’ without knowledge of the wall and water below. It could be that the route you think is safe is actually just as dangerous as soloing it above ground.

The landing zone – the water

The water at the base of the climb should be deep enough so that a long fall does not lead to impact under water. The wall should thus extend vertically downward below the surface of the water for several metres. Many DWS walls are over 15m high. There should be several metres of water below you.

The water should be calm as well. As many DWS are seas cliffs, you will have to familiarise yourself with subject matters such as surfs, swells and currents. And, in some regions, you may even have to think about whacky stuff like jellyfish, sharks, crabs, submarines, fish, pelicans, etc.

If you prefer to stay away from stuff like that and like it a bit more relaxed, look for DWS cliffs in lakes. However, make sure to spot your landing zone and have a boat at the ready – don’t get complacent just because you’re not in the sea.

Gear

The good thing is, you really only need shoes and chalk (and swim briefs/bikini). However, you can only use them for a single route, because after your dive/jump – which is an integral part of every fall – your shoes and chalk bag will need time to dry, unless you have backups. When deep water soloing in warm countries, most people take 2-3 pairs of shoes and have the others drying out in the sun whilst they are climbing.

In the UK, things need a little more preparation. Items such as a towel to dry off between attempts, a rash vest to keep warm during longer sessions and a waterproof container for keeping dry essential bits of kit like spare chalk/sandwiches come very much in handy. You should also carry a first aid kit at all times to deal with any small injuries or a genuine first response situation where a friend is injured.

There’s a trick you can use for your chalk bag, though. Take a plastic bag (one that fits perfectly inside your chalk bag) and fill it up with chalk. That way, you can just replace the plastic bag instead of having to use an infinite number of chalk bags. Liquid chalk is also great as that can applied once before a climb and will last well.

Information

You usually won’t be able to see far enough below water to find out what your landing zone looks like, so it’s important to find some background information about the venue beforehand. You can find this kind of information online or in certain climbing guides, such as the Rockfax – Deep Water – Climbing guide. Even better, get in touch with the local climbing scene and see if there are some clued up local climbers who don’t mind showing you around in exchange for beer and high fives.

What does psicobloc mean?

For one, psicobloc is another name for DWS. But, it also happens to be the name of a competition that Chris Sharma launched in 2013.

The competition takes place in Utah where an artificial climbing wall is erected above a swimming pool (usually used for high diving). In 2013, elite climbers met there for the very first time in a trial of mental strength! In August of 2014, they met again for another epic battle. The video is worth watching. Your fingers are guaranteed to sweat.

The crucial question – is it dangerous?

As always, it depends entirely on how you go about it. I mean, you can get injured doing anything, even whilst playing chess! All jokes aside, when compared with free solo climbing, DWS is much more attractive since a fall is not necessarily fatal. Still, your safety depends on a few factors.

The higher the fall, the harder the surface of the water will be when you come crashing down upon it. So, the way you land is crucial. You should try not to fall out of control but instead attempt – as you would when bouldering – a controlled jump, stabilising your body position to your advantage. The height of the fall and how you fall into the water will determine whether your landing is soft, burns, breaks some bones or worse.

Obviously, if the water’s too shallow at the base of your climb, a fall would be fatal. A good example of the importance of water depth is the Hard Moves Boulder League held in Wuppertal, Germany. In 2013, the wall they used for the competition was 7.5 metres high. However, the swimming pool in the Wuppertal’s Schwimmoper was not deep enough, so they improvised and built a trampoline to catch the participants’ falls (see image). If they hadn’t done that, it wouldn’t have gone well.

It’s also very important to make sure you’re not climbing over the foot of a cliff over rocks hidden underwater, as that could be fatal as well. Ledges along the route can also lead to serious injuries. In the worst-case scenario, you could hit a ledge on the way down, land in the water and have to fight your way out, all whilst dealing with a potentially serious injury.

On top of that, you’ll have to deal with all the risks associated with the water itself, such as swells, currents, etc. So, it’s possible that even after a great landing, you’ll still be exposed to certain dangers. Even a small fall can really knock you around so having friends on hand make sure things don’t get epic in the bad way.

In other words, I know we said you COULD go by yourself, but for exactly these reasons, you shouldn’t. Always go with at least one other climber. But, I’m sure you know that from rock climbing already.

In sum, if you’ve found a good rock wall with a good landing zone, use your head when you climb, jump off the rock faces well, don’t climb too high, then DWS should a brilliant and relatively safe activity for you to try.

Popular DWS locations

Popular and documented locations for DWS include places in Mallorca and Malta, Thailand, Croatia, the French Riviera (Cap d’Antibes, Coco Beach, Point de l’Aiguille) and Vietnam.

In Germany, you can go deep water soloing in Löbejun near Halle or in Kochel above Lake Kochel.

As for the UK, the southwest coastline of England and Wales has a lot of great places for DWS-ing. Beginners should look to the popular enclaves of Pembroke and Dorset, for good quality routes with nice holds and good water underneath. Harder challenges can be found in the intimidating sea caves of Berry Head in Devon, with hard link ups such The Wizard of Oz f7b standing out as must-tries for the seasoned soloer. Kato Zawn in Pembroke is another location where harder challenges can be sought out. Beyond that, there are plenty of other destinations for those seeking the thrill and sea spray of a stonking deep water solo – and maybe even a few first ascents to be made for the true advocate!

Have fun getting after it!

The big food test: Trekking food!

The big food test: Trekking food!

3. January 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

If you’ve lived out of your backpack for long periods of time, you’re surely familiar with the advantages of outdoor food: the ratio of weight to nutritional value is unbeatable. Plus, the food couldn’t be easier to prepare. All you need to do is pour hot water into the little pouch. I know what you’re thinking: Easy prep is well and good, but what about the taste?

Well, we tried some! In fact, we’ve been so dedicated to our little undertaking that we’ve turned down our usual lunchtime grub multiple times now in favour of outdoor food. And, of course, we took notes! So, keep reading if you’d like to find out more about outdoor food.

Hungry, hungry Alpine Trekkers

Our food testers consisted of people from our purchasing department (who should be familiar with the stuff they’re buying), some customer service reps (who can share their experience with you) as well as some folks from our content team (who can then describe their first-hand experiences) and a couple of volunteers from other departments. We all met for lunch on several occasions.

Each session was structured in the same way: various meals from a single manufacturer were prepared. What followed was something like a game of musical chairs: the bags circled around the table in search of somebody who hadn’t tried them yet. In between all the smacking of lips, we shared and discussed our first impressions. Plus, each tester was responsible for noting down their personal opinion.

The first thing we notice: the group of testers grew with each and every lunch break. Even though we had all lived off instant meals before on our various trips, the opportunity to try so many different ones in such a short period of time was something nobody wanted to miss out on. In fact, some of us even discovered some new faves! And because there were some meals that were not so kind to the palate, to put it lightly, we recommend trying out a few before heading out on a long trip.

Expedition food and packet meals – what we tested

The most important question: how’s the taste?

The point of our numerous feasts was to test that which no nutrition facts could ever tell us: whether or not the grub tastes good. Admittedly, we weren’t able to replicate the conditions of life in the great outdoors. After all, we’d all probably eat about anything after completing an elevation gain of 1,500m, right?

And thanks to Benedikt’s willingness to sacrifice himself, we were even able to test whether or not the grub was palatable without “cooking” it first. The result: If you’ve got strong teeth, you can eat it, but you definitely need a high tolerance for, well, crap food.

Preparation and convenience 

Plus, we had a closer look at some of the more practical aspects of these ready-made meals:
  • How useful were the packages when it came to preparing and eating the food?
  • How much energy do the single packets provide?
  • How easy are they to prepare, e.g., pouring in the right amount of water?
  • How much does one meal or a (filling) portion cost?

Various manufacturers of outdoor food

First, we’d like to mention that the food for this test was supplied by the manufacturer at our request. But, don’t worry. We’ll remain open and honest throughout our review and refrain from using any advert slogans or catchphrases. Promise! However, we would like to thank our suppliers for their support and generosity. It’s greatly appreciated!

The following is what we had the pleasure of eating during our lunchbreaks:

The individual tests will be posted little by little with the appropriate links here at Base Camp!

Outdoor food: just pricy packet soup?

One of the first things that come to mind when enjoying some packet food is whether or not the high prices are justified. The main argument put forward in this context was: Why buy expensive outdoor food when you can buy packet soups from a variety of different brands at any discount food store for next to nothing. Valid, wouldn’t you agree?

Well, yes and no. While there are several similarities between the two, there are big differences as well. For one, outdoor food has more calories per gram. Even though most supermarkets try to appeal to the diet-crazed masses with fat-free, low-calorie food and most of us bite, outdoor athletes actually need just the opposite. For example, if you were to compare the caloric content of instant noodles to that of trekking noodles, you’d find that the latter has about twice the amount of calories per gram.

And, if you were to have a closer look at the nutrition facts and ingredients, you’d notice yet another significant difference: Trekking food does not contain the excessive amount of (cheap) fats and sugars. In sum, these ready-made meals are better tailored to the needs of us Alpine Trekkers. But, you’ve probably figured as much, right? This also means that trekking meals are usually much easier to digest than the same amount of instant food from the supermarket.

In addition, the meals can be prepared with little effort and even without the food ever leaving the packet. The only time it ever leaves is when you eat it! This will save an enormous amount of weight and space in your backpack, since you won’t have to lug around extra pots or tableware.

All in all, though, it’s an unfair comparison, because we’re comparing two products designed to meet different demands. For shorter trips, you can definitely opt for a cheaper alternative or just take a couple of sandwiches along, but trekking food is the better choice for longer trips.

And don’t worry, we’ll let you know whether or not it tastes good in a later post.

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My favourite bouldering area: Fontainebleau

My favourite bouldering area: Fontainebleau

3. January 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

If you’ve already been there or heard the word “Bleau” thousands of times from your friends, unfortunately nothing in this post will be new to you. But, if you’ve just started bouldering, have fun reading (and planning your next bouldering holiday), keep reading! You’ll want to leave straight away!

The bouldering mecca

Most of us are familiar with the scene’s more famous bouldering spots, such as the Rocklands in South Africa, Hueco Tanks, Bishop or Joe’s Valley in the US, Magic Wood in Switzerland or Hampi in India (to name a few). But, there are so many other smaller areas as well, many of which have grown in popularity in recent years. Not to mention, the new routes that are constantly being set.

However, today we’re going to talk about a destination that assumes a very special position among bouldering spots, namely Fontainebleau. Fontainebleau has become so popular that the magazine NEON even sent one of their editors there last year. Of course, whether or not that’s desirable is an entirely different question.

So, why Fontainebleau? Well, this is where everything began! Well, at least all things bouldering. Whilst everybody else was still climbing mountains with boots studded with cleats and hobnails or rejoicing because they were able to free climb a route, the French were bouldering in this small forest not too far from the beautiful city of Paris. In fact, they were even bouldering long before the sport climbing scene started doing it as a form of winter training.

What or where is Bleau?

When people refer to the bouldering area Bleau, they actually mean the forest near Fontainebleau, which is not too far away from Paris. This forest itself is full of countless sandstone boulders, which make up the bouldering area of Fontainebleau or “Bleau”.

So, if you go bouldering in Bleau, you’re bouldering in one of the many subareas there, such as Franchard, Apremont or Cuvier-Chatillon (just to name a few). These areas are then divided up further into sites. I know, it sounds confusing, but if they didn’t do this, bouldering guides would be a dreadful mess! After all, there are so many boulders in Bleau!

Where to spend the night

There are campsites, holiday flats, which range from being dirt cheap to ridiculously expensive, as well as designated bivouac sites. These are free of charge, equipped with a water supply and outdoor toilets and can be found in the bouldering guides.

Many boulderers even bivouac or camp right in front of the bouldering areas. As you can probably imagine, the park employees don’t like this one bit, since the bouldering guides explicitly state that you should use the designated sleeping areas.

This may not have been a big deal back in the day, but now that so many people travel to Bleau every year, it’s probably best that we all follow the rules. Otherwise, the car parks will turn into camping sites soon, too! Besides, a ten minute drive won’t kill you, right?

What’s the bouldering like?

Very traditional and technical. Bleau is where you learn to stand on your own two feet. Something you should probably considered before heading out is your shoes. You probably won’t be too happy with shoes with a lot of heel tension. I would recommend wearing softer, straighter shoes.

If you’re looking for a bouldering destination to stroke your own ego, Bleau is not for you. “Bleau teaches you humility”, as my co-worker would say.

My favourite bouldering area: FontainebleauWhat kind of rock is in Fontainebleau?

Beautiful sandstone! This rock is much easier on your fingers, but also happens to be much more susceptible to external factors. So if the blocks are damp or even wet, don’t climb them, and always wipe off your shoes before starting.

What about when it rains?

So many people claim that the idyllic little town of Fontainebleau has nothing to offer. That couldn’t be any further from the truth! There’s a cinema that has English movies playing several times a week. Plus, there’s a very big park behind the castle and a fabulous farmer’s market that sells regional organic produce three times a week! Oh, and there are excellent pastry shops as well. Nothing to offer, ha!

What else is there to know?

Well, Bleau is a pretty busy place. After Easter at the very latest is when it really starts to get full. There are boulderers from all over the world. Last year (long before Easter), I met people from jolly old England, the Netherlands, lots of Scandinavians, Germans, Spaniards, Irishmen…I think that’s it!

Unfortunately, the famous bouldering sites in Bleau are quite the attraction for petty thieves as well. So, try not to leave any of your valuables in the car. The police patrol the area regularly, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

What’s else is there to say?

If you’re a boulderer and have a chance to go to Bleau, you have to do it! The same goes for Tessin, Magic Wood, Val di Mello … etc. Getting acquainted with other bouldering areas will not only expand your horizon but also improve your performance! Plus, you’ll gain a lot of valuable experience in Bleau, even if your ego suffers as a result.

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Climbing and bouldering in Scandinavia

Climbing and bouldering in Scandinavia

3. January 2018
Alpinetrek-Experts

Norway and Sweden are well known for being wonderful destinations for trekking and canoeing. But that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. We’re here to talk about climbing and bouldering in these beautiful Scandinavian countries. The aim of this post is just to give you a little taste of the best climbing and bouldering regions and to answer the question as to what makes climbing in Scandinavia in general and in Norway and Sweden in particular so unique.

Of course, this post isn’t meant to be exhaustive. We only hope to inspire you and put you in the mood to head over to Scandinavia to climb! Let’s begin with an important fact: the Scandinavians are very environmentally conscious people, which is the reason why they have refrained from placing bolts in many areas. So, it’d be a good idea to consult a climbing guide or ask a native before heading out.

Climbing in Norway

Old hands in mountaineering know Norway as the Mecca of ice climbing. Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or very experienced, you’ll definitely find a route for you. Beginners will love the region around Rjukan. This is where the popular ice climbing festival is held. But, if you like it a bit wilder or just prefer places off the beaten path, you should definitely check out Laerdal, which abounds in huge frozen waterfalls for all your ice climbing needs. Large areas of this region remain largely untouched. Of course, Gudvangen and Hemsedal are worth mentioning as well. All of these regions are mere hours away from Oslo.

For sport and alpine climbing, Setesdal is extremely popular, not least because it’s located in Southern Norway and thus easier to get to. If you happen to be in Denmark, you can just take a fairy from there to the Norwegian mainland. The granite rock in Setesdal offers climbers not only a large number of bolted routes but also plenty for route setters to work with. Many of the routes are smooth slabs, so you’ve got to like that sort of thing. But, they’re really fun once you get the hang of it! Cams, nuts and slings are a must even with bolts!

If you fancy more extreme regions, you’ll love the area around Narvik, or more specifically, Stetind. This rather imposing mountain is located north of the polar circle, so it’s pretty chilly all year round. There’s a climbing guide for this region as well, which will show you the way up the smooth sides of the granite. Of course, you can head up north to the Lofoten Islands as well. These islands are perfect for fans of multi-pitch climbs, not least because of the absolutely unique and beautiful scenery. The difficulty of the set climbing routes are between 4 and 8 (UIAA). There are climbing guides available as well: Ed Webster’s “Climbing in the Magic Islands” and the more recent “Lofoten Rock” published by Rockfax. Of course, you have the option of acquiring these guides and others when you get there.

Climbing in Sweden

Pretty much the opposite of the raw and wild alpine-like character of Norwegian climbing areas are the ones found in Sweden. Being able to climb by the sea is quite the experience. It’s as if the dichotomy between the water and the mountains vanished into thin sea air. In Bohuslän, which is north of Gothenburg, there are not only cute little islands but also solid granite to climb in warm summer weather. The majority of the predominantly sport climbing routes are significantly shorter than those in Norway. You can find much more on this region in the the tourist information in Uddevalla.

If you’re into the more difficult stuff, you’ll have the time of your life just outside of Stockholm. The demanding sport climbing routes, such as the Örnberget or Värmdö, start at around 6b (according to the French scale). However, out of the approximately 2000 routes that are within an hour’s drive from each other around Stockholm, there are some great routes for beginners as well. Other great routes can be found in Agelsjön near Norrköping or Kullaberg just north of Helsingborg. More maps and info on climbing in Sweden can be found at www.sverigeföraren.se, provided you speak Swedish.

Bouldering

There are plenty of places to go bouldering in Norway and Sweden. Many such areas are in Setesdal and in Southern Norway. Nico Altmaier who Alpine Trek has been working with for a while now, travelled to Norway for some bouldering in 2014 and made a short film about it.

Sweden is becoming one of the more popular destinations for bouldering holidays. In the rather idyllic town of Västervik in Sweden, there’s even an International Boulder Meet with several famous boulderers. The meet has taken place several times now and has really put the area on the (bouldering) map. Sweden’s bouldering scene is small but has been on the rise for a number of years. There are plenty of other spots as well. Check out the map of Sverigeföraren for more.

Conclusion

So, why should you travel all the way to Scandinavia to go bouldering or climbing? What makes the region so special?

Well, for one, it’s the variety of the Nordic countries. Not only can you boulder by the seaside but you can also experience extreme 750-metre long alpine adventures and unbelievable ice climbing routes. Norway is characterised by the rough and unpredictable climate, the view of the fjords, the green hills and the unbelievably exhilarating feeling of being out in the “real” wilderness – things we have trouble finding anywhere else, let alone at home in Britain. But, if you’d rather play it safe and keep to the climbing guide, you’re sure to have just as much fun.

Sweden is best for a relaxing holiday by the sea combined with some demanding sport climbing and bouldering problems. Plus, since it doesn’t get dark until really late at night in the summer months (and not at all north of the polar circle), you could theoretically climb into the wee hours of the night. The Scandinavians are such pleasant people, too – you’ll absolutely love it there! What are you waiting for? Head up to Scandinavia!

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