I recently bought a kitchen food scale. It is sensitive to one one-hundredth of an ounce, or so it claims. I did not buy it to weigh food. I bought it to weigh my hiking equipment, all of it. For your information, my liner gloves weigh 1.45 oz while my alcohol stove weighs 1.35 oz (but that includes a pack of matches and a syringe for loading it with just the right amount of fuel). Not that she wasn’t already, but my wife is really starting to worry about me. While I don’t chop off the handle of my tooth brush to save weight, I now very carefully consider everything that I put into my pack – do I realistically, really need this thing I am about to bring on a 2,000 mile hike?
The path I took to this particular point in life is a somewhat twisted one. It began with the ill-fated pack I lugged on our Lyell hike. But it did not change much after I lost my mind and signed up for the Tibet/Everest ABC/Lhakpa Ri expedition. While exercising the option on this marital sabbatical, I also, somewhat gleefully, took this as an opportunity to go on a shopping spree. In general, I don’t like shopping but I love going into any kind of camping/hiking/mountaineering store –my fingers immediately get itchy. Whenever I give the clerk in an REI store my membership number it usually provokes a reaction – “oh wow, I’ve never seen a 6 digit membership number before”. So, I’ve had this problem for a while.
I bought a lot of stuff for the Lhakpa Ri trip. Not that I didn’t need most of it (or at least 1 copy of most of it). Chief among the items on my list was getting a better pack. After getting home from the Lyell trip I discovered a large patch of my outer right thigh was numb. This was not amusing. I went to my GP, concerned that I had somehow permanently damaged myself. In about 15 seconds she diagnosed me with (temporary) right anterolateral thigh paresthesia. In other words, my pack hip belt had been cinched so tight that it damaged the nerve serving my right thigh. I immediately returned to REI, exercised my option on their famous return policy, and upgraded my pack to a Gregory Whitney. The Whitney is a beast, holding 95+L. The Whitney is also a beast, weighing in at 8 lbs empty. I never gave that a second thought, or a third, as I continued my equipment buying spree. Full disclosure, I have used the Whitney on every major trek/climb since then, including trekking to the summit of Mt. Whitney with my Whitney (I love being able to write that), and it became my best friend (sorry Guy).
I bought based on the premise either that “more is better” or “when in doubt pack 2 identical back up versions of the same item”. Other than the beast, none of these items, in isolation, weighed a “significant” amount (although my definition of “significant” has changed significantly since then). Exhibit A: I packed three mini butane cigarette lighters for starting fires, a pack of waterproof safety matches and a magnesium flint firestarter, just in case. What “case” was I contemplating? The reality was that I needed NONE of that. This was a guided expedition for god’s sake – it involved actual living, breathing Sherpas who were there to help you. There was a cook tent and a cook. They were bringing all of the food, separately. I should have figured that the Sherpas (and the western guides) might bring their own firestarters. Nevertheless, I brought all of it. It might get cold at 21,000 ft (or 23,000 ft should you get that far). I needed a sweater, so, I packed 3 of them. This lunacy went on and on.
Then it came time to actually pack my bags for the trip. International travel allows 2 bags, at no additional charge, each weighing up to 50 lbs. By the time I finished loading up my two duffels, they weighed in at around 48 lbs each. Somehow I didn’t appreciate that while we would have yaks to carry the equipment from Everest Base Camp to Advanced Base Camp, I still was responsible for lugging this stuff around – from the airport to the hotel in Kathmandu and then to Lhasa, etc., etc. A final gift from my older daughter, carefully packed into my duffel was a book (of course I packed 4 other books as well) she had bought just for me, to read on the trip. It was written by Beck Weathers, the Texas pathologist who survived the 1996 Everest disaster chronicled by Jon Krakauer in his book Into Thin Air. The title of Beck’s book? Left for Dead. I’ve never asked my daughter if there was any particular symbolism in her choice of titles …
Blissfully ignorant, sated from many happy trips to camping stores to buy equipment and clothes, I loaded my duffels in the car and headed to the airport. The expedition was about to begin.