Peter Ostroski shares photos and insights from his winter of snow in Alaska. Read More //
The Shell Game
Some tips for choosing the right raingear for the conditions from Mike Boardman. Read More //
The Wild Things Fleece Wind Pro Hoody
Jeff Shapiro reports on fabric, fit, and function of this hard-faced fleece jacket. Read More //
The Wild Things Insulated Belay Jacket
Mike Boardman breaks down the details of this reinvented, classic cold weather parka. Read More //
Slaying A Giant
Mark Richey recaps his first ascent of what was the second highest unclimbed peak in the world, Saser Kangri II. Read More //
Bright is Right
John Bouchard talks about intelligent risk management as gear becomes lighter. From our 1986 catalog. Read More //
The First Ten Years
John Bouchard recaps the first ten years of Wild Things. From Wild Things 14, our 1991 catalog. Read More //
Marie-Odile "Titoune" Meunier
Climbing hasn't changed Titoune's life. It's the only life our founder has ever known. Read More //
Light is Always Right
It was a big deal in 1981. Still is today.
Excerpts reprinted with permission from the Cold Thistle Blog, By Dane Burns • February, 2011
It doesn't matter if you are sport climbing at your local crag or in the greater ranges, light is always right if you want to push the limits of what you are capable of.
Every trip out reinforces that mantra to me. It doesn't matter if the object under discussion is a super light weight forged wire gate carabiner, your climbing pack, the helmet or clothes you choose. All of them add up to significant weight as a whole. How you decide to climb, be it unroped, scantily protected or lacing it up matters as well. Are your skills up to the task and your chosen style?
How fast you climb will define what you bring for food and water. How you dress will define that equation as well. Too warm and you'll need more water and your body won't work as efficiently. Too warm and you'll climb slower.
Going light means speed in the mountains. And speed in the mountains is all in the details which include staying aware and alert top to bottom. Are the ropes organized? Did you bring enough gear but not too much gear? Will the climb push you or will you push on the climb?
In alpine climbing nothing really changes. With the exception of global warming the mountains don't change a lot in a man's life time. And even then alpine climbing has always been about "conditions." As the mountains have warmed we have just changed the seasons we climb in. Good conditions generally makes any alpine climb a romp. Bad conditions can make them into a slug fest, death march.
We as climbers haven't changed physically. Even the best professionals of today are going to be hard pressed to ride a bicycle half way across the country and then climb any of the European Classic North faces with modern gear instead of the gear they relied on in the '30s. That kind of fitness and mental sobriety few still own today. Think not? OK, put everything you need including your climbing food, in a ruck, hop on your one speed bike and pedal it partway across, Italy, France or Germany (take your pick) all while wearing the same clothing you are going to be climbing in. Then WALK into the route and spend a couple of days out. When you finally get down, you grab you bike and peddle home. Get the idea? Tough!
Paul Diffley's wonderful film, PINNACLE if nothing else showed the fitness required of Smith and Marshal for just one week in the Ben in 1960. MacLeod and Turner were hard pressed to keep up that pace.
So what has changed? From a myopic perspective two things, gear and attitude. Attitude came first. New gear enabled the attitude to infiltrate the masses.
Once the "race" began in alpine climbing, gear became less important than the mental attitude of the climber. Pared down to crampon's and a a pair of curved ice tools, the LIGHT IS RIGHT ethic literally sped to the forefront.
Messner's solo on Les Droites 1969 (8hr30min) and again with Habeler on the Eiger in 1974 as a "traditional" team (10hr) , come to mind.
Messner's climb of Les Droites in 8.5hr on a route that is longer and harder than le Ginat should make one step back and rethink what light and hard climbing is. The Eiger's current team record was 6:50, then 6:10 set in 2008. Les Droites? 2:08 on the Ginat, which doesn't even go to the summit as Messner did via a new route.
Some of the best climbers in the world stopped their ascents and watched through binoculars, aghast, as Messner hacked his way up Les Droites, then regarded as the most difficult ice wall on earth. The fastest ascent until then had taken three days; three previous expeditions had met with disaster and death.
"I suspect that from 1982 through 1987, nearly every big climb was done with Wild Things gear."
By the late 1980s, Wild Things' packs and harnesses had attained cult status among the world's elite climbers. "When they started the company in the late '70s, Wild Things was way ahead of everybody else in pack designs, sewn slings and one-piece suits," explains American Alpinist Mark Richey. "These are things we all take for granted nowadays, but John and Titoune developed the designs for climbers and brought the ideas to market. I suspect that from 1982 through 1987, nearly every big climb was done with Wild Things gear."
There were two climbs in particular that Bouchard put his (and Titoune's) "light is right" philosophy to the ultimate test. The South Face of Aconcaqua in 1983 (with Titoune) and again on the East Ridge of Shivling in 1996 (with Mark Richey).
As important as the ascents of Messner and Bouchard were in the Alps, and later, on bigger peaks it wasn't their climbing that influenced several generations of alpinists to follow that path. It was their writings on the idea of "light is right". Mark Twight started climbing in 1980. He later worked for John Bouchard at Wild Things and has his own legacy in the Alps and Alaska. Twight was able to push the "light is right Koolaid" to another generation and may be even more so by one piece of his writing, "EXTREME ALPINISM: Climbing Light, Fast, and High".
I am continually amazed at the detail that Mark addressed in his book. I reread parts of it on occasion. Often times to just get a refresher on some idea or project I am bouncing around in my head. I think in retrospect it is the most influential text on alpine climbing ever written. You may love Twight or hate him or lay some where in between but no question his "EXTREME ALPINISM" has and will continue to influence alpine climbing for a long, long time to come. A good thing, I think.
I've heard several aspiring alpinists tell me much of Twight's info is dated. And I would agree on some small details, like glove choices and tool leashes. But clothing systems, sports nutrition and tools will change over time, the basic philosophy of climbing light, hasn't. Twight had (has) the majority of that process down pat as did his mentor Bouchard.
So if you think Twight is out dated...and for what ever you think this is worth. I reread Twight's book quite often for new ideas and ways to solve my own problems on difficult climbs I want to do in a lightweight manner. Pimping "EXTREME ALPINISM" isn't just lip service. I use the resource.
Messner was able to move so quickly because he climbed alone, alpine-style—meaning he took only a rucksack.
There is something magical about climbing steep terrain with nothing but a rope, a rack and the (small) pack on your back. Yvon Chouinard simply paraphrased the great German alpinist, Willo Welzenbach in the late '60s, and finally published in 1978, "Carry light packs. Leave the ten essentials behind and remember, if you take bivouac gear equipment along, you will bivouac."
What is left out in that conversation to put it into context? You had then better be prepared to climb well into the night and the next morning if necessary. Failure can be painful and lasting. Climbing just became a athletic endurance event and the risks higher. It pays to know the game and the rules you will be playing by.
Even mountains like Denali become a lot more friendly and fun when you climb (well acclimatised) from 11,000 to the summit and back in a long day. Light is right could just as easily be described as "long days"!
"Big" climbing packs for long, difficult, alpine routes will generally weight under 25# now. Your entire clothing kit, another 10# past that. The smart guys carry and climb in less. Generally a lot less. The now classic test piece on the North Buttress of Mt Hunter is being done with light day sacks on two and three days climbs to the summit and down. The Eiger is done in two days or less now, mid winter. The Ginat on Les Droites or the MacIntyre/Colton on the Grand Jorasses both commonly done now in a day, and again in winter.
"Climbing light" is as much more about the climber's personal desire to climb fast and push their own physical limits, than it is about using light weight gear.
The easiest way to get "light weight" is simply take LESS gear. Which might in turn push the envelope on your own skills and experience.
But where do you start? How do you cut weight besides the obvious, exercise and a healthy diet? Go long with less. Double the length of your next trail run and take nothing more. Or soloing on easy to moderate terrain are both good places to start a "light is right" training program. Get in where you are comfortable and then push yourself until you are uncomfortable. It is easier that you might first imagine to find your own limits on what is too light and what is right for you at the moment.
The fast track on gear? Take a look at the weights for some of your own kit. Might be well worth taking a serious look at (and weighing) what you are using for gear and clothing. If you don't actually know what each item weights how do you know what is the lightest?