Michael Lawrence dropped us a line and asked if the box wall jacket would be in production soon, he also cheekily volunteered to test one! Two of his friends had also independently bought AD 900 fill down bags and a set of walking poles. As far as we know they were the first unofficial Alpkit expedition! - Col
So, how did the gear perform? I had only really expected to wear the jacket at above 5000m but Namche Bazaar [3400m] was covered by freezing fog so I stuck it on in the evenings every day from then on. The jacket lofted up nicely and the long tail and high collar kept my arse and head [some say there’s no difference] toasty. No real test at this temperature though.
We ascended gradually and by the time we had reached out training camp at Chukkung at 4700m the jacket was used in anger for the first time as we practised crevasse rescue, building snow belays and mucked about in the snow. And very handy it proved too, especially whilst belaying during a day’s waterfall ice climbing. These days, although filled with bright sunshine, were often quite chilly with a bitter wind biting through clothing. The Alpkit stood up superbly and no wind penetrated the fabric, but I would have liked a hood though.
The boys loved their down bags. Each morning we’d wake up to a thick covering of frost on the inside of the tents and over the bags, but inside their Alpkit’s the boys were warm as yaks and just as smelly. The bags quickly dried out in the morning sun and none of the ice cold drips from the tent appeared to have penetrated the outer at all. They did the job as well as my much more expensive bag.
Summit day. Up at 1.00am in –20 temperature, down jacket not coming off for a while!! No problems with the cold – just don’t stand around too long as feet get cold quickly. Not feeling too great as I’d been slightly ill the day before and was consequently dehydrated and lacking energy. Stupidly I hadn’t warned my guides about this.
Climbing the last steep 150m ice section was the toughest thing I’ve ever done and nearly did me in. Carla, our lovely Swiss guide, persuaded me to get to the top where Danny, her ugly mug of an English boyfriend, was waiting. So there I am, me and the Alpkit on the top of the world! Well alright so it was a couple of thousand metres short of the top of the world but it damn well felt like it! I was totally exhausted and could only just raise a smile for the cameras. Things started to go a bit dodgy from here on.
The descent from the summit to the glacier is by six or so pitches of abseiling down ropes we’d fixed earlier. My head was clear on what was required whilst changing over at each abseil point, but my hands were responding very slowly and were very uncoordinated. Thankfully, Geordie Paul was there with me so we checked each other’s ropes and ab devices all the time. Got to the bottom, unclipped from the line, stood up.whoah, legs buckled, down I went sliding head first down the glacier. Paul somehow managed to grab my boot and stopped me before it was too late. I really didn’t have the energy left to move and Paul could only clip me into the rope whilst I was lying prostrate on the snow.
Here was where I was most glad of the Alpkit jacket; it insulated me really well from the cold and didn’t absorb any moisture which was just as well as I was lying there for half an hour whilst Dan shoved litres of fluids and several bars of chocolate down my neck. I still couldn’t quite stand up so Danny had to resort to more brutal descent tactics.
Time to test the stuffing. “Right” says Danny “I’m going to clip you to a sling and then push you down the glacier on your back”. “Won’t that be slightly uncomfortable for me though Dan?” says I. “Bollox. I don’t care” was his response. Cheers Dan. Off we go sliding at breakneck speed down the glacier, me on my back Danny holding the sling and glissading down behind. I’ve got one hand on my harness trying to take the strain of my balls and I’m desperately trying to lift my feet off the ground to stop my crampons from flipping me over, all thoughts of looking after my nice jacket are gone.
Shit! I must have hit a seagull on the way down. Damn, the jacket has a few holes and feathers are coming out. Hmmm, these are nice and soft. No wonder the jacket is warm; Alpkit clearly use good quality down. Bit of gaffer tape down at camp will sort out the holes. Good news – I can just about stand up now. Two hours, a dozen bars of chocolate, three litres of water and a couple of gel bars later and I’m fully recovered. Lessons learned; must eat more, must keep fluids up and must take an Alpkit down jacket.
To sum up, we were all impressed with the quality of the Alpkit bags and jacket. What I really want from my gear is functional, good-looking stuff that doesn’t cost the earth [I know I might break it] and this is what Alpkit is all about. Well done again chaps and keep on dreamin’!