I was going to write about down suits and jackets, however I started writing about boots and it ended up taking a whole update so I’ll write about the down gear next.
There are pretty much only two types of boots being used by climbers on Everest – Millet Everest and La Sportiva Olympus Mons. Here are my thoughts on them.
On Everest I used Millet Everest III boots. The III model is not the latest – you can tell it by the large Millet writing on the front of the gaiter, and rough rubber on the sides of the boot. This rubber is meant to keep the boot warmer and melt the snow off, and it does seem to do this, but I note that the new model released last year doesn’t have this. Maybe it didn’t work well and wasn’t worth the weight? I have a Euro size 45 1/3 and in normal shoes I take a 43. These boots are reasonably tough and sturdy, however they are heavy. Mine weigh 2340 grams or a little over 5lbs each.
The alternative is the La Sportiva Olympus Mons EVO and at 5lbs 6oz for the pair, these are a lot lighter. In fact nearly half the the weight of the Millet boot. However they are not as warm, although this extra warmth might only be needed on summit night and could easily be countered with Hotronics (see previous post). One of the ways that they have made these boots so much lighter, is by using a strange material on the outer sole of the base of the boot. It’s almost like a compressed closed cell foam – if you walk on rocks you will quickly ruin the tread, so you need to be very careful. The boots in the picture are of a team member with me on Everest in 2007 had been only been used once before for a climb of Aconcagua. If you look carefully can already see that almost all the tread has disappeared. These boots are being repaired by the Goo Man – the plastic zipper no longer worked. Fortunately it was noticed at base camp, and we were able to sew on some strapping and make a temporary repair and then Fiona bought in another pair, however if this happened up high or near the end of the trip, it could cost you dearly. These boots will do one season on Everest comfortably, but any more will be pushing it.
So the trade-off is weight (approx 5Kg compared to 2.5Kg) with sturdiness and warmth. Some people take a lighter pair of climbing boots to use between BC and C2. Obviously this makes the going much easier for you up to C2, but it means that your heavy mountaineering boots have to be carried up and then down when you are finished the expedition. However given that you will make this trip at least 3 times on an expedition, it’s worth considering, as weight saved on your feet is very significant.
What would I recommend?
For me, I am happy with my Millet Everest boots, despite their weight. If you were worried about your physical ability up high, I think LaSportiva is a good choice, however do minimize the time that you wear them by using other boots down lower on the mountain.
Getting my boots ready
I have a regular routine that I follow for getting my boots ready before the start of a climbing day. This is especially important if I know that we are going to be starting early or that it’s going to be cold. It goes like this:
When I get into camp I take my liners out and put them either outside in the sun or else in the netting at the top of the tent if it’s warm enough. Failing that, they go into my sleeping bag when I am inside it. Dry boots are important because they are much warmer.
On summit night on any mountain it’s really important to have warm feet, because it’s usually colder given that it’s night time and the altitude is higher. It can take a while for the boots to get warm, and if you put your feet into cold boots, it will make your feet cold and cause the blood vessels to constrict in this area, thereby reducing the amount of blood circulating. This makes you feet get colder and compounds the problem. It’s important to be organised and get the boots warmed up with plenty of time to spare. A minimum of two hours before I am due to leave, I put my climbing socks on and then my boot liners on my feet inside my sleeping bag. I leave the laces undone and the whole thing very loose, so that nothing impedes circulation. If I notice any part of my feet getting cold, I give them a vigorous massage to try and get the blood flowing. Half an hour later I put my outer boots in my bag too. With 45 minutes to 1 hour before we leave, I open the chemical hand warmers I plan to use inside my gloves. Up high these take a long time to heat up and at 8000m it’s at least 45 minutes. If you put them into your gloves where they get even less air, before they are really warm, then they will never be very hot. After opening the packet and shaking them around a little bit, I put them into my outer boots inside my sleeping bag and I find this warms up the boots a lot, whilst still allowing plenty of air to reach the hand warmers. When it’s time to put the boots on (the very last thing I do in the tent), I put the hand warmers in my gloves and hop into toasty boots.
If anyone else has any handy suggestions, an improvement on the above, or a completely different idea altogether, please comment.