|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – August 2001
How light can you go? Six friends face off to determine whether carrying less gear makes you half as macho, or twice as smart.
At the col, we all also don crampons. My strap-on aluminum crampons (1 pound 4 ounces) are a pound lighter than Marc's steel points, yet for nontechnical travel across blue-ice glaciers or up icy snow slopes, they provide equal bite. In fact, because slips on snow cause many backpacking accidents, I contend that wearing light shoes and carrying aluminum crampons is not only lighter, more versatile, and cheaper, but also safer than heading into the high country outfitted only with stiff leather boots, as some hikers might do to "save" the weight of crampons. My shoes and crampons weigh only 3 pounds 6 ounces, considerably less than Marc's big boots alone, which weigh 4 pounds 8 ounces.
We make a mile-long traverse of the Butterfly Glacier and, though the ice is hard and the pitch very steep, Steve and I have no trouble with our light footwear. An hour later, we downclimb glacier-polished slabs with greater ease and safety than do the Heavies, thanks to the improved balance afforded by our light packs and flexible shoes.
Late in the afternoon, we reach a ridge above Moth Lake, a glacially fed tarn where we will camp. The Heavies are feeling their extra pounds, but the Lightweights are still fresh. Steve tells me he used to pack heavy like the others, and "8 to 10 miles was a big day then." A paradigm shift made him realize he could get by with leaving much of his load behind. "Traveling light has eliminated neck problems backpacking was causing me. It's also made 25-mile days no big deal," he says.
While the Heavies trudge on to camp, Steve branches off for a side trip. He jogs along a broad, scenic ridge and gradually climbs 1,500 vertical feet to the summit of an 8,000-foot peak overlooking Moth Lake. At camp, Marc drops his pack; watching Steve's upward progress, he mutters, "No way I want to do that now." It's a convincing win for the lightweights.
Lightniks 5 Heavies 4
After lunch, we move onto the Honeycomb Glacier, a 3-mile-long river of ice, and begin climbing. The Heavies lean into their loads and frequently stare down at their boots. Steve, by contrast, is looking everywhere--up at the spires flanking us, sideways at the volcanic hulk of Glacier Peak, backward at the green lake below the terminal moraine--and snapping pictures as he walks.
At 7,400 feet, the party splits. The three hikers wearing the biggest packs exit the glacier and make a beeline to camp. Chris, with his middling weight, joins the lightweights, and we shift into high gear. Adding a few hours to the day, we climb a peak feeding this glacier, drop off the peak's far side, and follow a circuitous return that has us reaching camp just after dark.