Packing for Chamonix

It took me a while to narrow down the bag of goodies I wanted to bring to Chamonix, but I finally got it all packed for the trip.  I figured it would be helpful to share my process, the final list of gear, and the reasons behind some of the specific items.  I also wanted to highlight a few tricks I’ve been repeating for some specific items that I have stolen from other more knowledge folks than myself.

First, I’ll be in Chamonix for roughly 7 weeks (May 21st – July 5th). During that time frame, I expect to do the following:

  • 2-3 4000m peaks, including Mont-Blanc with friends and Grand Paradiso with my parents and Danny Ulhmann
  • 4-6 alpine rock climbs
  • 1-2 winter/mixed routes, 1 guided with Danny
  • 1-3 bivvies and 1-3 nights in Refugies (huts)
  • 1-3 days of cragging

All of this climbing would be unguided with the exception of stuff with Danny, whom I plan to hire to do a larger objective than I feel comfortable with myself or with new climbing partners.  My parents and I also plan to do Grand Paradiso or a similar objective with Danny, which would involve staying in huts and potentially a ski descent.  My mom doesn’t want to carry a pack, and guides like Danny are so great at handling those kinds of logistics.

I don’t expect to do much skiing, and the skiing I do plan to do will likely be done as part of the approach or descent to/from rock or winter lines.

My primary goal when deciding what to bring was to keep expenses to a mininum.  I decided to bring two large duffles and most of the gear I needed other than skis, given that I would be around for a fairly significant amount of time.

Laying out gear before trying to see how many bags I'll need

Laying out gear before trying to see how many bags I’ll need

Here is my final packing list:

Quantity Item Notes Reason
Bivvy sack
Sleep bag 15 degree down
Sleeping pad Closed-cell foam Closed cell isn’t as packable as an inflatable but it also cannot rip so I won’t have to deal with repairing it, and is cheaper if I need to leave it behind.
Ski/touring boots For ski approaches or ski-mo objectives I will rent skis, but it will be nice to have boots which I know fit.
4-season boots
Sport climbing shoes Lace katanas For sporty days outside or in the gym when the weather is BAD.
All-day/granite climbing shoes TC-Pros  These DO NOT fit with socks on…
Approach shoes 5.10 Guide Tennis
Lightweight crampons Aluminum, Stubai For use with approach shoes
Ice/mixed steel crampons BD Snaggletooth + narrow and wide toe bails  For use with both 4-season boots and ski boots
2 Technical tools
1 LW ski-mo or mountain axe
Ice screws 1×22, 1×19, 2×16, 2×13, 1×10 = 7
Rock protection double rack – 2″, 1×3″, 1x#4, nuts, 10 x single length, 2 x double length, 2 x coordelette
2-person tent 4-season, single-wall. I packed since I had the room for it.  If necessary, this would be a great place to save room/weight.
10 slings
6 QDs
Glacier/Rock personal kit 3 lockers, ropeman, short climbing prusic, longer glacier + leg loop prusics
Extra lockers
Climbing rope 60m 90.3 mammut infinity, dry For both rock and alpine climbs + associated approaches
Haul/tag-line 6mm x 60m Edelwiess accessory cord. For long, emergency rappels or  easy solos w/ rappel
Climbing helmet
Emergency kit 2 lighters, bungee cord, swiss army knife, chord for avy test pits of other uses
5 Ski straps For racking skis on pack or otherwise.  I use this for everything.
2 Headlamp BD 160 Lumen, 100 lumen For climbing and camping respectively
12 AAA Batteries
Transceiver Not sure if necessary given lack of plans for significant skiing
Guidebooks  Narrowed the stack down to 5 books which focused on areas where I wanted to climb most.  For example, didn’t bring a book for Les Aiguille Rouges
Winter/alpine pack  Arcyterx Alpha FL 45  Like the Ferosi jacket from OR, this pack works for just about any use case.

The above list isn’t without changes I would have made had I more options. Here are some notes I would for further consideration:

1 – On shoes/boots:  I don’t currently have a set of mid-height approach shoes for days with a moderate snow approach + carry over.  Wearing Nepal’s will be very heavy for this, and the Guide Tennis will get soaked, so I may end up needing to buy these. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the week I arrived, Cham received a meter of snow, so full boots of skis should work just fine for a while!

2 – On bringing skis:  I chose not to bring skis, because I wanted to make a climbing trip out of this and because I figured skis would be expensive to bring.  There are many climbs within an 1hr approach from the Midi d’Aiguille lift or other access points, which means skis aren’t necessary. Although the lack of skis may mean I end up doing a bit more wallowing than intended, the only other option is to pay more $$ one way or another. Sometimes you just have to suffer in the deep stuff!

3 – On ropes: At time of writing, I don’t have a pair of halves or twins, which seem to be the standard for climbing in Europe.  Because of this, rappel stations are often setup for a full 60m.  I brought a 60m x 6mm accessory cord for these situations, which I’ll try to avoid using unless necessary.  There are some great systems for using thin diameter cord for rappels I have been talking to Mark and Danny about.  I’ll highlight those soon!

In terms of technical clothing and layers, I brought:

Quantity Item Notes
Hard shell jacket
Soft shell jacket Enchainment
Light wind, sun layer Ferosi Amazing as a layering piece during hi-ex cold weather climbing/skiing, or as an outer layer on rock climbs.
Light rain jacket Helium II
Alpine/glacier climbing pant Cirque Pants
rock climbing pant Ferosi pants
Parka style down hoody Incandescent Belay Jacket on ice/alpine climbs and 4000m’ers
LW down layering jacket Transcendent
Long sleeve synethic layer Radiant Zip up.
2 Beanie Lightweight one climbing under helmet, 1 for colder camping at night
2 Hats 1 climbing under helmet, 1 casual
3 Pair ski/wool socks
3 Pair thin/sythetic socks
4 Upper base layer
3 Pair polyester underwear
Wool pants Skipped these – might regret it!
LW long underwear 1 thin pair
LW climbing gloves OR Lodestar
Snow ice/gloves OR Extrovert
Belay/rock gloves Hardy gloves Buy from HarborFreight online or in Seattle. $5 for a near-perfect rock glove for belays or cold rock
Sun glasses
Glacier glasses
Ski goggles Low viz lens
Buff I carry a lightweight buff ALL the time when I am climbing, but a thicker one would be useful for winter routes
Running/casual shoes
Flip flops

Okay, enough plugging OR, how did I finalize on this list?

  1. I came up with the set of goals/climbs I expected to aim for. Combining this list with the expected weather was a good starting point for narrowing down a list.
  2. Shared my list with several people who had guided or climbed in the Chamonix valley.  This is where a few mentors I really appreciate came in handy.   These folks knew what types of weather and conditions I would encounter during the timeline I expected to be there, and also what could be purchased or rented in town.
  3. Started this task a few weeks ahead of time, in order to give myself enough time to order an items I wanted to have through the cheapest methods possible. I ended up looking for a few things I needed just a week before, which didn’t give me a enough time to save money or do proper research.

In addition to the above process, I would also recommend the following:

  • Bring some basic supplements, functional foods (protein powders), and stables for use to replace some of the important nutrients that you might not readily find in new places. I brought bars I like, a few sets of can food (sardines), and some other goodies as room and weight allowed.
  • Wrap your crampons in a puncture proof bag – seems obvious but easy to forget. I like to use the tear-proof bags used for shipping (see photo below) for these types of sharp objects.
  • If you wear your heavy mountaineering boots on the plane, like I did, be sure to wear thin socks that won’t lock in heat, which I didn’t.  Within the first hour of my first flight, my feet were roasting.
  • Find gear that works for multiple disciplines/use cases.  For instance, the OR Ferosi and Arcyterx FL pack I mentioned above are great examples of this.
  • Use stuff sacks to keep your gear organized in larger duffles, even if they have interior organizer pockets.  I find this helps me to easily locate specific items, and these double well for other uses later (like organizing gear within your pack on a climb).
  • Put your rope in a rope bag.  You never know what TSA is going to do with your stuff behind close doors, and the last thing you would want is a climbing injury or death over a rope that came into contact with something at the airport without your knowledge.
Tear proof bags used for shipping work great as cheap crampon bags.
Tear proof bags used for shipping work great as cheap crampon bags.

I’ll follow up soon to note how this packing list works out!

2 thoughts on “Packing for Chamonix

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