By Fitz Cahall; video still by Bryan Smith
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Colin Haley specializes in climbing the world’s largest and steepest mountain faces. They require the cardiovascular fitness needed to summit Mount Everest and the carefully honed technique required to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan. Sherpas don’t haul loads to established high camps. Haley doesn’t rely on the fixed ropes that run like ladders up the 8,000-meter peaks.
What he needs to climb a mountain goes in his backpack. It’s not surprising that Haley is exacting about every item he carries with him. While you probably won’t be packing to climb the West Face of Cerro Torre or the North Face of the Ogre II, Haley’s thought process on what to bring is applicable to any human-powered adventure. Here’s what goes through his head and keeps his pack light.
Little Things Add Up Over Time
“Even small amounts of weight—the difference between a 120-gram fuel canister and a 250-gram fuel canister—can translate into a big difference in exertion when that fuel canister is carried up 2,000 vertical meters,” says Haley. All-day or multiday adventures amplify each ounce. Don’t just consider what you need, consider how much of a given item you are going to use.
Comfort Is a Luxury
"Every item I bring is something I feel is either important to succeeding or important to staying alive. An item that makes me more comfortable, but isn’t critical to success or survival, is left behind,” says Haley. Collect as much pre-trip data as possible—from weather reports to campfire conversation—to formulate a checklist. Based on that information, imagine the absolute bare necessity of what you need to be successful and bring that.
Let Experience Guide You
"The truth is, learning by experience is the only real method. Every time you go out think about what items of gear would have been useful if you had brought it, and then look at what gear you brought that was superfluous,” notes Haley. If too much weight bogs you down on a summit bid of Mount Rainier, don’t return with the same strategy and expect a different result. Subtle experimentation is key.