Posts Tagged ‘equipment’

Cutting expenses

Posted: May 17, 2013 by Ben Weber in English
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Neither Natalia nor myself are particularly wealthy, so financing everything we are doing is not easy. For Brazil, we do reasonably well – definitely firmly there in the middle (maybe upper middle, but a long way off the elite classes here as they just earn ridiculous amounts!). In São Paulo, if we didn’t have the project to finance, we would be able to do just about everything we would like to do for a normal life; cinema, restaurants, night-outs, internet, TV etc etc etc. I obviously can’t complain and am not complaining at all, so please don’t take it like that…!

For the project, however, we are talking about considerable investments – soon we will be starting work with a PR company to boost the presence of the project in the media (yes, we need attention!). PR isn’t cheap, either, no matter where you are in the world. We need to buy equipment that isn’t cheap (take a look at Ozone Frenzy kites and then remember that we will need five each for the overall journey, with different sizes used in different strengths of wind…) even one 6m storm kite is expensive at just under 900 pounds (r$ 3000)… cross country skiis (with wooden cores and metal edges) and bindings; boots; special harnesses for kites and sled-pulling; cold-weather clothing and equipment; the actual sleds themselves… a lot of stuff… and then finance the training projects, none of which are cheap.

So we have to cut down on our little luxuries in order to make things balance or at least manageable.

We are using a free application called Yupee to help us work out where we can reduce our expenses and just inputting in our normal monthly expenditure and it is incredible how much we spend at the supermarket…..! We live right next to a 24hour Pão de Açucar – one of the more expensive supermarkets in São Paulo… so we want to decrease spending on this by about half. Lunch time at the office during the week… I work on Avenida Berrini, and most of the places to eat there are all expensive, so more lunches at the office. Reducing costs like these will definitely help, plus just controlling ourselves when we have the urge to succumb to our somewhat materialistic natures and urges that have been pushed away over the last months though every now and then resurface… self-control is a must and not giving in to temptation is essential!

Back to New York

Just less than three months to go before our British winter cycle tour so not long.  I will be going to New York this coming weekend to meet Kirk, who was mountaineering with us in Bolivia, and also to pick up a load of equipment – hopefully the city will have recovered from Hurricane Sandy, which is tearing its way through the area as I write. Chatted with Kirk earlier today and he is alright, outside the city. His place looks to be outside of the flooded area (at the moment at least), and hopefully it will stay like that.

VE25 – Being put to good use…

On the kit side, as well as a new Mac to work on the editing side, and a new camera for photography and video filming, camping equipment is primary on the list. We are getting a North Face VE 25 four season, three-person, tent that has exceptional reviews and is frequently used in high mountain expeditions as well as polar expeditions. Also some -40C sleeping bags: will be a bit hot for the UK, though at least when you are warm, you can open up the zippers to stay cooler, though if you are too cold, it is much harder to get warmer. The difference in price is ridiculous… here in Brazil at one place we saw 0C sleeping bags for R$2,000… about US$1,000…! It doesn’t take much research to see that this is pretty extortionate in comparison to the costs of sleeping bags in the UK or US.

With the wintry conditions, we are fully expecting days where we will be rained on constantly, and that there will be some tough winds, so water/windproof layers are all ready to pack, as are base and mid layers to help us keep warm when the temperatures are low.

With the further training equipment – the Polar RS800CX watch will be useful to help us monitor our progress training, as will the Garmin Edge bike computer. And then of course the bikes and bike equipment… one decision to make is whether to get baggage racks with panniers, or a trailer….

BOB Yak trailer

Ortlieb Back Rollers are the options we are looking at for panniers: they can take a good amount of weight and are nice and easy to get on and off; BOB Ibex Plus and BOB Yak Plus trailers look to be interesting options – and price-wise it might make sense; they come with dry sacks, you can fit lots of cargo into them, and they are extremely stable. Problem will be getting them into the bags in New York, though they should fit into the large duffle bags… hopefully. Also trailers give us heavier loads to carry – the Yaks, 13lbs (5.89kg) and Ibex, 17lbs (7.71kg) – though the Ibex have suspension systems which would help on the rougher roads. Choices choices…

Aside from this, strong back and front lights not just to see in low light conditions, but to also help car drivers see us – especially important when visibility is low and the roads are curvy. The lights we are getting are Planet Bike Blaze – nice strong lights which can be seen  a mile away, just a problem of limited battery life at their strongest settings. And of course: the helmets. Definitely can’t be forgotten!

Seeing deaths in any sport is never good, and mountaineering is an activity that sees its fair share of fatalities. Last week has been bad when we look to see how there were four deaths on Mount Everest, near the summit. Happening just before our adventure into the Andes, the timing for us reading about these things isn’t great either in terms of making us nervous.

Photo by Lesley Weber at Alligin, Scotland. Beautiful region; potentially deadly without the right preparation…

Mount Everest might be the highest, but it isn’t the hardest mountain, technically speaking, in the world to climb. Hundreds of people climb it each year. Tamae Watanabe has become the oldest woman to climb the mountain, at 73 years old. Other mountains are much more dangerous – on K2 for example, around 25% of those who have attempted it have perished. But people still get killed climbing Everest, just like they do on lower mountains. The mountains in Scotland are by no means the highest in the world, but people still get killed climbing them. One of my sisters, Lesley and her boyfriend Billy frequently venture into the highlands – they can easily talk about how the conditions in the mountains can change from pleasant to terrifying there…

Things can go wrong, even for the most skilled and experienced mountaineer, no matter which mountain range they are going up.

Up in the mountains, the weather can change in the blink of an eye, and if you find yourself in a blizzard, you can quickly find yourself disoriented. Even with experience you will be in trouble, though with inadequate preparation, you could easily become lost, frostbitten or falling off the edge of an unseen precipice…

After 2,500 metres, the altitude starts taking effect. Though there are times of day and periods when the risks of avalanches are higher than others (fresh, heavy snow is always a high risk, and as the temperatures warm up, so does the likelihood of snow falling), you can always be unlucky to be on the wrong end of one….

Above 5,000 metres and you are reaching the extremes already. Couple this with the physical exertion of mountaineering, and you are taking risks. Going too high too quickly will make things even worse and increases the risks of disaster. Becoming fatigued and arriving too late in the day at the summit will increase risks of exposure to the elements… equipment problems won’t help…

A host of other reasons can contribute towards a tragic end.

Not the best thoughts to have as we start on such an expedition, huh? Maybe not, but at the same time we always need to remember how we need to always be as careful as possible. Huayna Potosi is generally considered one of the “technically easier” mountains, though in spite of this, we will not be taking it lightly in any way; we are there to climb, enjoy the experience but also respect the mountain; we are there to learn and to train for greater challenges ahead, not take unnecessary risks with our lives. Indeed, respecting the mountain and being aware of all of the risks and possibilities is a good way to start minimizing the risks as we are making our ascents.

Less than a week to go…

Posted: May 23, 2012 by Ben Weber in English, Equipment
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Less than one week to go before we fly to Bolivia and we are just about all ready, equipment-wise. We have all of our base, mid and shell layers as well as down jackets to keep us even warmer in case weather turns against us; balaclavas; beanies; helmets; BD Storm headlamps; trekking poles; Black Diamond Raven ice axes (walking through the New York Metro with the axes was quite an experience in terms of getting some very strange looks from people, including police officers who were probably wondering if they were legal – they are pretty darn big and sharp!); socks; boots…

The clothing is mainly North Face, Deuter, Curtlo and Salomon, with Casa de Pedra base layers; and we have also got Julbo ski goggles and mountaineering sun glasses which look pretty cool…  The technical, largely Black Diamond or Petzl (we also got ourselves Petzl Reverso 4 belay devices which, whilst we probably won’t need to use it in all its functions, will most likely come in useful in the future).

Also, among other points medications are not something that we can afford to leave behind – we will be taking with us a broad spectrum antibiotic in case we get any bugs, Diamox and Decadron (Dexamethasone) for altitude sickness; iodine for water sterilization; and other medicines for stomach problems and nausea. Obviously we are not planning on being sick, but we need to be prepared.

Also, armed with the Canon EOS 7D (probably not something we will take on the summit attempts as it is a bit big and heavy!); a smaller digital camera and Contour HD video camera and a Sony video camera, we should be able to get some good footage in and make something we hope will be pretty special at the end of this journey.

So on Monday we were at the Casa de Pedra store at Vila Olimpia and started building up our equipment inventory. We started with the base and mid layers and also got ourselves small 30-32 litre Deuter summit packs for when we head out from our camps to the mountain summits – no need to carry everything with us, just basic essentials such as water, things like shell layers lest the weather turn against us, and emergency necessities.

The layering we get is extremely important. Wear the wrong clothes made out of materials such as cotton and your skin won’t be able to breathe. Your sweat will be trapped in your clothes against your skin, your clothes will become soaked; you become colder, wetter, and before you know it you could easily be battling against things like hypothermia on a cold mountain-side – not something you want, really.

So the base layer – we got light Casa de Pedra and heavier Solo Power tops and bottoms (to make sure we are okay in warmer and colder weather) is important to keep you warm but also quickly transport water away from your skin.

But the base layer itself, even if very warm, won’t make you as warm as you could be without the second layer. We got North Face fleeces, though wool tops are good as are other synthetic materials. The tops continue to wick the moisture away from your body, but at the same time they trap the air between them and the base layer – the air heats up and helps keep you warmer.

I will be going to the United States tomorrow to get more equipment – mainly technical gear, though also outer layers such as down parkas and shell layers. The down parkers help to keep you enormously warm by trapping a massive amount of air in the down and between it and the second layer, though at the same time, continue to transport moisture further away from your skin. Shell layers which cover everything, will keep us waterproofed and also wind-proofed, though still staying breathable so the moisture from your body can finally be transported fully away from you. Depending on the weather you can remove different layers which aren’t fully necessary, though you need to make sure you have everything as you can never be over-prepared.

Equipment inventory so far:

  • Solo X Power (heavy) base layers (tops and bottoms) (Masculine/Feminine)
  • Casa de Pedra (light) base layers
  • North Face TKA 100 Fleece tops
  • North Face Snowboard socks
  • Deuter Race 30 Summit Pack
  • Deuter Spektron 32 Summit Pack
  • 2 closed-cell sleeping pads

Plenty more to come, especially this weekend!

Mountain Costs…

Posted: April 6, 2012 by Ben Weber in English, Equipment
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You might remember some time ago that we did a “shopping list” of all the equipment we need to buy. Last week we got ourselves some hiking boots here in Brazil as we looked to build a quote of all the different things we need to get for our Bolivia mountaineering expedition.

A couple of days ago, we got a some quotes back and it was all a bit of a shock really, even though we imagined in Brazil that things would be more expensive – we were thinking that we would be able to pay in installments, which is one of the advantages here. But no, not even that would be possible here… a grand total of R$17,000 (about US$ 9,500)… ouch! Locking carabiners here would cost R$70 or so (about US$ 39)- in the US, US$9.95… basically the taxes here in Brazil are already high, then the wholesaler marks up the price to the distributor; the distributor marks up to the retailer and the retailer then marks up to the customer. If we get everything in the US, we will probably end up spending about US$3,000 (about R$5,400). In a word… wow!

So yes, it looks like I will be spending some air miles to go to the US for a weekend in the next month or so. Even if we were paying for the ticket, it looks like it would be worth it. Not sure exactly where – a lot of people have recommended the Denver and mountain states; a couple of others suggested Seattle (headquarters of REI)… Any thoughts of best places/stores to go..?

And very nearly did last night.

Not to us on this occasion, but we were quite close to the scene: basically a girl next to us who was belaying (securing the rope for her partner who was climbing up) had not secured the belaying device to her safety harness properly and it slipped out when her partner was close to the top. At the time this happened, fortunately the guy was firmly secured with his hands and legs on the wall, but had he not been, there would have been a nasty ten metre fall awaiting him that would have caused serious injury at the least. The monitors seeing what had happened rushed over to secure the rope and connect it to one of their own harnesses so the climber could come down safely.

Dan Osman - at the limit

A while ago, back in 1998, a massively experienced climber, Dan Osman, fell to his death whilst performing “controlled jumps” which led to the ropes snapping. In spite of all his experience, perhaps his self-confidence got the better of him, and he used equipment that had been exposed to the elements for months.

Accidents can happen. I have had a couple of small things happen to me – one stupid: climbing up one wall, I lifted my hand up quite quickly and caught it on a “rock” on the wall; still hurts now, five days after it happened. The other time was not really my fault: a “rock” was slightly loose and turned suddenly under the weight of my foot which was taking all my weight when I was traversing along at the bottom of the wall – almost got a groin strain but fortunately was okay. Much worse things that are out of our control can happen outside of the safety of the gym. Climbers have been killed in avalanches and in severe weather after conditions changed on their mountain in the blink of an eye.

Climbing, if everything is done properly, is pretty safe. Incidents like what happened to the girl and her partner; what happened to my finger and what happened to Dan Osman can certainly be avoided (otherwise us climbers would (literally) be dropping like flies!): We must always be aware of exactly what is happening to ourselves and with our colleagues. We should be calm and steady in our movements to avoid breaking any of our own bones…! We must be careful with all of our equipment to make sure everything is set up properly before taking steps forward into potentially dangerous situations even a few metres off the ground. We must always take care of and maintain the equipment itself.

Things can always happen that are beyond our control. The weather might close in on us in the worst of places. All we can do is try to be prepared for even the worst and minimise these risks. Waiting for avalanches to happen before attempting an ascent; ALWAYS looking at the weather and being prepared for the harshest of conditions. The risks of “rocks” turning around (rocks come loose on the mountain, that’s for sure) can also be reduced: looking and feeling the lay of everywhere we place our hands our feet. Is it secure and stable?? Does it feel loose? Can we move somewhere better?

Always maintaining a distinct sense of … not fear, but awareness of the possibilities… can be a real life saver. After all, no matter how many mountains we climb, we are far from invincible.

So yes, yesterday Natalia and I got ourselves some new mountain boots: Salomon Wings Sky GTX.

There were a fair few boots to choose from (strangely enough at a mountain store of all places… who would have thought..!?) though we ended up choosing these because they seem relatively very light, and are also waterproof and breathable as well as extremely comfortable. Natalia got the red ones whereas they had no orange in my size (BR 43; UK 10.5; US 11) so I had to be content with the black ones… not complaining though as they still look pretty nice!

The boots being lighter may have issues with durability – the really heavyweight ones will last forever – though these are also versatile and great for trekking not just through mountains but all sorts of terrain, from marshes to deserts to tropical forests… which is where we will also eventually be using them. We were pleased to see when we got back reviews of the boots which were nice and positive as well.

Spent the rest of the afternoon yesterday wandering around the house in them which was a bit bizarre, but should hopefully make life easier for us when we start hiking in them.

As the Bolivia expedition draws closer, we are starting to get our equipment together. For those of you who saw the shopping list for this training project, you will see just by looking at the list that it is certainly not going to be cheap.

Where we are going is over 6,200 metres high, and we will be going over glaciers and snow. Being so high up in the mountains the most important things that we will need are the right clothes – layered clothes. So today we spent some time at one of the mountaineering stores in São Paulo, Half Dome, looking at the different options.

By layered, what we are talking about are multiple levels of clothes on top of each other that will insulate our body from the cold, wind and rain/snow outside whilst at the same time letting our bodies breathe – especially when we are sweating carrying loads up the mountains.

A base layer (Curtlo Thermoskin Zip Base)

The inner layer, by the skin of the body, must be a reasonably snug fit and made of a material which will take the sweat away from the body. If you don’t get the right materials (generally synthetic), your sweat will be trapped and could lead to all sorts of problems as your clothes gradually become soaked from the inside out. Don’t use cotton! The salesman at the shop (also called Fabio, but no the same as our climbing trainer!) showed us the difference between materials and their affect by spraying a little water on them – on one, the spray instantly disappeared into the clothing whilst on the other the spray just turned into a drop of water on the inside of the fabric. I imagine me, sweating away going up a mountain wearing the latter, and it wasn’t nice!

The second layer, the mid-layer, will be a looser fit. The looser fit will trap the air between this layer and the inner layer, and in the cold, we may need more than one such layer, though we will need to remember that we will be warming up as we walk. Also, these layers will be designed with materials that will help transport the moisture from our bodies out – again, so we don’t get soaked by our own sweat!

Marmota Soft Shell jacket

The final layer, the outer (or shell) layer, needs to be wind and rain resistant, and at the same time, breathable so that the moisture from our bodies is drawn further out. It needs also to be pretty durable and resilient to sharp rocks as if it rips and rain gets into your layers, then your layers are no long so effective.

How much is this costing…? well here in Brazil just for these layers for the legs and the body, well about r$1,600 (US$ 1,000) per person. The advantage here is that we can pay in installments (3 to 6, depending on the store) whereas elsewhere will most likely be cheaper, but we wouldn’t be able to do this. So we are biting the bullet at the moment as we look for sponsorship – ultimately it will be equipment that will last a really long time so is a good investment no matter what.