Shutterstock – Olga Danylenko
Mountaineering is an endeavor as rewarding as it is challenging. Having the skill and ability to travel off the beaten path, reach summits rarely explored, and make it back is as liberating as color grading for HDR. Rakesh Malik kicks off a new series detailing how to be ready to film in some of the remotest, and highest places on the earth.
But getting there requires a lot of preparation. The Ten Essentials
Dedicated hikers and backpackers are already familiar with the ten essential systems required for survival in the back country. 1) Navigation
If you don’t know where you’re going, the odds of getting there are slim. The odds of returning are even slimmer. So you need to have proper navigation tools, and as important as having them is knowing how to use them.
While GPS can make finding your current location easy, they’re not ideal for identifying how to get to where you’re going, so it’s still very important to know how to read a topo map.
I personally don’t prefer to rely on GPS, instead taking a Suunto lensatic compass that doesn’t require batteries along with topo maps covering area I’m trekking in. Learn how to use it. And learn orienteering; it’s surprisingly easy to get lost in a forest. There are stories of people who stepped off of the trail just for a call of nature and couldn’t find their way back to the trail because they couldn’t tell direction in the forest.
Don’t be one of those people.
Our guide on the trip to the Alatna in Gates of the Arctic National Park, where we were camped 100 miles from the nearest lodge also had with him a Spot personal locator beacon. A lot of Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trail thru-hikers carry these devices so that their friends and loved ones can track their progress, and also so that they can send out a call for search and rescue in an emergency. 2) Light
When the sun sets, it gets dark. At high elevations when you’re above the clouds, there’s no reflected light to give you illumination when the sun dips behind a ridge, so the when the sun sets, it’s simply dark.
While it’s possible to see a short distance by starlight on a very clear night out in the open, that doesn’t work too well in forest or on a cloudy night. So bring light. And spare batteries.
There are of course the usual suspects like Petzl and Black Diamond, but Biolite recently introduced a rather nice headlamp that can be charged via USB. I tend to carry two headlamps though; my other one is a Black Diamond mountaineering model with a remote battery pack, so that the battery pack can rest on a shoulder belt underneath my jacket where it’s warm. Since the best time to make a bid for the summit of a big mountain like Mount Rainier or Kilimanjaro is right around midnight to minimize risk from ice and rockfall, your headlamp has to work during the coldest part of the night, so I started using this headlamp for that reason. 3) Sun protection
For the most part, for me this consists of wearing a hat. For people more prone to sunburn, sunblock is a very good idea.
If you’re going to be spending a signficant amount of time on snow and ice especially at higher elevations where there’s less haze to cut the sunlight, glacier glasses are critical.
People who have experienced snow blindness descrbied it to me as feeling like they had razor blades in their eyeballs. Even on cloudy days, the combination of sunlight and refelected sunlight is intense. Just bite the bullet and get glacier glasses. I have one set that can go over glasses, but is only class one; it’s enough for a day on the ice. For longer trips, I have a set of Juulbo glacier glasses with Spectron 5 glass, the catch being that I need to wear contact lenses under them. The inconvenience is worth it to prevent snow blindness. A good pair of glacier glasses protects from sun blindness – Image: Salomon
Also remember to put sunblock on every exposed bit of skin that you can. Some people have gotten sunburn on the roofs of their mouths from the reflected glare. 4) First Aid
Things happen. Be prepared. Most experienced trekkers assemble their own kits, and learn to improvise things like splints. I used a shock-corded tent pole to splint someone’s broken ankle on a backpacking trip once. We jury-rigged a stretcher from trekking poles, bungie cords, and tarp to carry her to the trailhead.
During wilderness first aid training, I found that an inflatable sit pad makes an excellent splint as well. 5) Knife
These are useful for a great many things. Don’t leave home without one, unless you’re flying through Amritsar. Elsewhere, make sure it’s in your checked bags. 6) Fire
Make sure that you can start a fire. This involves both tools and knowledge; early on a cold morning after a night of drenching rain isn’t a good time to learn how to build a fire. I carry a ferrocerium firestarter as part of my kit, along with a Vargo Hexagon wood stove and a Vargo converter for burning alchol even on day trips. The titanium Hexagon weighs next to nothing and packs flat, and it’s pretty easy to get a fire started in it as long as you can either find dry wood or get some tinder lit.
REI storm matches are an excellent thing to have around as well; while a ferrocerium rod can last for hundreds or thousands of strikes depending on its size, the sparks don’t last long so lighting things like paper or dried grass is difficult. Some people like to carry cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, or lengths of cord that’s been soaked in paraffin because they are fairly easy to ignite with little more than a single spark, and burn for a reasonably long time, enough to dry out damp twigs if they’re small enough. They also weigh next to nothing.
For long expeditions I carry a white gas stove; they’re heavier than alcohol stoves and propane stoves, but very dependable and efficient. 7) Shelter
On a day trip, something like an S.O.L (Survive Outside Longer) emergency bivy is generally enough. I often carry a silnylon hexagonal tarp, because it’s waterproof so it can work as an emergency bivy, and it’s pretty easy to rig it as a shelter for waiting out some rain.
If you’re going to be on the trail for a week or longer, you’ll need a more robust shelter system. I’ve camped in some pretty harsh conditions under a tarp, and I’ve camped in heavy-duty MSR Dragontail mountaineering tents.
Nowadays I favor my ZPacks Duplex tent made of Dyneema Fabric for its extremely low weight, and because it has a free standing option that is quite convenient. It is however very well ventilated, so it isn’t my first choice for higher eleveations where gale force winds are common, or in winter when there’s a chance of significant snowfall. For those situations I use a tipi tent by Seek Outside. It’s heavier, but more robust and also easy to pitch.
There are a plethora of other options, single and double walled mountaineering tents, trekking-pole supported ultralight tents, and a variety of tarp shelters. Some people prefer to just take a tarp and adapt it to suit the needs of the situation; an 8×10 foot tarp with enough tieouts can be shaped into a wide variety of shelters as needed, and if it’s made of Dyneema Composite or silnylon it’s also quite light, and can pack nice and small.
You’ll also need to have a sleep system; a mat to provide insulation from the ground plus something to keep you warm. I use quilts, and have a summer quilt with synthetic insulation, and a winter quilt with down insulation. For a mat I use an Exped down-filled mat; it’s warm and comfortable, and still light enough for year round use.
Some people swear by double walled tents, some say you need a shelter with a floor… you’ll have to decide for yourself. My Duplex has a floor, but my Cimmaron doesn’t. Though it does mean that I carry an extra ground sheet to protect my sleeping mat against punctures, it is possible to cook in it as long as you remember to open up the vents first. That’s a very nice luxury when you’re awake two hours before dawn at 10,000 feet; in addition to not having to sit out in the cold while waiting for ice to melt, the stove warms the tent up nicely. 8) Food
Bring extra. You need it to keep going, and since you are your own primary source of heat, you need food to stay warm on cold days and nights.
While you do need protein and natural fats to keep yourself healthy, you also need a good portion of carbohydrates to keep your energy […]
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