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lightweight rack
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Jerold Swan
(jswan) - F - M
lightweight rack on 12/17/2004 13:31:58 MST Print View

I'm a pretty novice climber at this point, and haven't started assembling a rack. What are your thoughts on a lightweight rack for low-to-moderate difficulty summer alpine climbing in the Rockies?

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
light rack for alpine climbing on 12/18/2004 11:36:39 MST Print View

Selection of a rack depends on five things for me and is nearly always route dependent:

1. Type of route (rock, ice, snow, mixed)
2. Condition of route (dry, frozen, winter, etc)
3. My level of climbing skill (ability to run out protection, simul-climb or go unbelayed, etc.)
4. My level of familiarity with the route, gleaned from other climbers' beta or my own past experience on the route
5. My desire to minimize weight.

Often, for me, and especially, if Alan is along, I need to consider the fact that the last climb probably left my rack a little thin because we left most of the gear on the mountain rapping in a storm. Which means I enjoy the luxury of assembling a new rack frequently ;)

OK, here's what I'd start with as a bare minimum for the following route types:

1. Alpine Rock

Really Thin cracks. I still use pitons. KB's and Bugaboos. They hold better in thin cracks than tiny stoppers. You don't typically learn this until you've unzipped a line of thin stoppers. I use both BD and Camp pitons, and the latter are a little lighter and cheaper, and work fine. I use Ushba Alpine Ti pitons as well, although the titanium is not as malleable, so you have to be careful with placement - they aren't as forgiving, and require some experience at placing pitons.

Thin Cracks. I take a selection of stoppers, currently I climb mostly on ABC huevo wired stoppers, I like their shape and they are light and easy to place and easy to get off the rock if you take the time to learn the color coding. Sometimes I also take a few of the smallest size angle pitons as well.

Medium to Large Sized Cracks. Here I alternate between slung hexes (dyneema slung wild country hexes) and slung cams (DMM 4CU's). Hexes are lighter, cams are easier to place. Often I'll forgo cams for tricams, which are lighter at the smaller sizes.

2. Alpine Snow and Ice

mostly depends on route condition. early season and pickets are the go-to-pro. I use Yates expedition pickets (10 oz). I almost never use flukes, but have wished for them in some cases of very soft snow, when I've instead used things like my snow shovel, helmet, backpack, etc.

As the spring snow melts and the ice goes white (true alpine ice, the kind you find in gullies) Ushba Ti screws work great. I wouldn't use Ti screws from Camp, Salewa, or the cheapos at REI - they are tough to screw in even white ice. Glacier ice - blue ice - Ti screws are less effective, and this is where you need to begin making the switch to steel screws. Spend the weight on the express handles (I use BD) - it's worth the time gained making placement easier. For late season black ice, or spring/winter/fall melt-freeze water ice, steel screws are really your only option. The best three types of steel I have used (in terms of placement speed) are BD Turbos, Grivels, and DMMs, in that order.

Spectre Pitons from Black Diamond - everyone needs one of these. They are infinitely useful when you start to climb alpine melt/freeze routes that have water ice on them. Ushba makes a Ti version and it works great as well. For rappelling ice routes, an abalakov threader and a 22cm screw is invaluable for making V-thread anchors.


Only one option, anymore, worth bothering for: the ultralight 8mm Mammut Contact slings. If you are climbing water ice or rotten rock routes consider taking two Yates screamers to protect belays from shock loading.


Right now the ultralight standard is defined by the Trango Superfly - 30 g. Wait til spring and you can get Camp Nanowires for 28g. For locking, the lightest out there are the ABC Electrowires - 47g.

OK, so what you need to start will depend on what your partner has, but for now, let's assume that this rack needs to get you up moderate grade Class 4-5.5 routes in the Cascades, Rockies, Sierras, where you aren't placing a TON of protection on each pitch and you may run into steep snow and rock, with the very occasional short section of water ice.

First, start with the package the Pro Mountain Sports has put together, they call it the "Ultralight Starter Rack", go here:

Ultralight Starter Rack at Pro Mountain Sports

Add a nut tool (Ushba Ti), 3 KB/Bugaboo pitons, 2 angle pitons, 1 17cm express screw, 8-12 60cm x 8mm Mammut Contact slings, 2-4 120cm x 8mm Mammut Contact Slings, a few dozen Trango Superfly Biners, 6 or 8 ABC Electrolites, and you should be well set for most moderate grade mixed summer alpine climbing routes.

Edited by ryan on 12/18/2004 11:41:37 MST.

Another view on 02/19/2005 17:22:13 MST Print View

Umm. Ryan’s recommendations make my head swim. So lessee…

You’re so new to climbing that you don’t have any part of a rack. You’re looking to do easy summer routes in the Rockies; I assume you mean the CO Rockies, which has rock of variable quality but not much limestone. To me that suggests that you won’t be doing black ice or even water ice and you won’t be doing sport climbing type falling. In fact, I’d recommend NEVER falling in the mountains. So your pro will be used mainly for rappelling and 4th class, protected climbs, with short sections of low 5th class. That means you’ll have lots of pro options and many times long runners alone will be adequate.

I’d recommend starting with a few medium wired chocks (numbering systems vary among manufacturers) fitting cracks from no smaller than half inch to little over an inch. Maybe just one #6 wired Rock to get started. Then more larger slung chocks. The Mountaineering Handbook recommends #7, #8, and #9 Rocks with longer, hand-tied Tech Cord runners. Then a #6 Hexcentric on a hand-tied Tech Cord runner and #7 and #8 Hexes on double length 9/16 webbing runners; these longer runners may save you from adding a separate sling and you can always bash a Hex into an icy or snowy crack. If you want to add more pieces, double up on everything but the big Rock and add a bigger Hex.

Personally, I like the smaller TriCams too, because they work in chossy or icy cracks better than cams and they feel more solid when set. Multipurpose, too. Maybe a #1 and a #2. I also like the #.5, the “pinky,” because it fits tiny placements where nothing else will.

I’d skip the pitons until you get more experience. For one thing, they require something heavy to pound them in. Before pitons I’d suggest a BD Pecker in #2 or #3; these will work as a rap anchor piton instead of Bugaboos and can be also used as a Fi-Fi hook or even for desperate aid (hanging on your pro). I’d also skip the 22 cm ice screw unless you plan to climb where solid ice is guaranteed—but then you’d want an ice rack and that’s a whole ‘nother story. Use nearby rock pro instead. Also skip the active cams at first; they will cost as much as the rest of your rack and weigh as much, too.

The main thing you will definitely need is plenty of long (48”) runners. I’d suggest ten. Skip the Spectra/Dyneema at first, especially the Mammut 8 mm version. They aren’t reliable for friction knots, and you want multi-use items whenever possible. Sewn 9/16 or 11/16 would be ideal, but hard to find. You don't save much weight using the Mammut dental floss runners and they will scare the crap out of your partner. Throw in a couple of 5 mm prusik loops and at least 2 cordelettes per climbing team; make them from 20 feet of 7 mm cord. Wouldn’t hurt to carry at least 20 feet of 6 mm cord to cut up for rappel anchors.

As for carabiners, go for old-fashioned symmetrical ovals. Sure, they are heavier than the newest wiregates, but they are far more multipurpose—and easier to work with gloves on. The weight you save is insignificant, because you will carry only about a dozen. You’ll need a big HMS biner and a couple of small lockers, one on your daisy chain.

The heaviest thing you will carry will be your rope. I’d recommend a short half rope used as if it were a single. Remember, you won’t be falling.

If all of this is mind boggling, I’d recommend reading the new The Mountaineering Handbook (McGraw-Hill). It covers this issue and many others very thoroughly, including fast and light general mountaineering.

(sdurgo1) - F
alpine rack on 06/13/2005 17:27:46 MDT Print View

8-12 pieces max! I like tricams, take 2 X 1/2 size, 2 X 1 size, 1 X 2,and 3 sizes too 1,2,3 wired hexes,and 3 overlapping sizes in TCUs. (Secret Weapon)*** lots of runners*** 2 footers and 4 footers. 2 cordelettes (you might have to leave one). A single 9mm X 60M rope is fine if you are confident on 5.6 terrain or below. I have used this rig with great success and have been able to move light and fast on long backcountry climbs.

Walter Pickett
(wpick) - M
Alpine rack on 06/13/2005 23:14:01 MDT Print View


I'm curious. That's a good rack you've got there. But what sort of stuff do you have on your harness???

It might sound dumb. But the way I do it is that all pro is on a gear sling, over my shoulder. On my harness besides belay/rap device is the "Oh *BEEP*" stuff: things that you need to get yourself out of a bad spot i.e. prusiks, prusells, a few locking biners, a few runners.....

What do you have on your harness???


(sdurgo1) - F
alpine rack on 06/14/2005 14:53:47 MDT Print View

I usually carry 2 "leave-behind" biners and 2 rap rings on the rear gear loop of my harness(BD Momentum is great). I would rack the pro on my harness and rack the slings over my neck. Don't forget a nut tool(you can't afford to lose a piece which such a small rack), and a small knife to cut slings(old) or use pieces of one of your cordelettes to fashion rap anchors.

Al Shaver
(Al_T.Tude) - F - M

Locale: High Sierra and CA Central Coast
Snake Runners on 06/24/2005 05:31:52 MDT Print View

My Trango Lightweight Locking biners weigh in @44gm versus the 47gm ABC Electrowires. I also use Black Diamond Positron Screwgate @54gm because of it's keylock design that eliminates the hook that catches webbing and cord. Keep in mind that the Camp Nanowire is not a full size biner and consequently is not a good all around biner. It works fine for the bolt hanger end of quick draws on sport climbs.

I discovered the limitations of sewn slings years ago and consequently havent carried one for 15 years. Unfortunately the climbing community and most gear manufacturers have yet to discover the lightweight and massively greater versatility of rabbit runners. With the advent of super high tensile strength spectra webbing, single strand runners (rather than loops) now meet climbing load requirements. Metolius offers them. I get lighter ones they call "snake runners" from Mountain Tools. Larry Arthur @ Mtn Tools also sews custom double length ones for me.

With an 8ft and an 18ft 5.5mm Spectra cordlette at each belay station, 12,24in. snake runners and 2,48 in. snake runners each clipped with a single biner; and a small selection of small stoppers and small to medium sized Tricams I can protect just about any low grade alpine rock pitch involving a wandering route, small to large slung natural features and equalizing multiple pieces. The light weight, speed, versatility, safety, simplicity and low cost of this set-up is unmatched by any other system that I have ever seen or used.

To amplify on an earlier comment: Single ropes are now available in the lightweight 9mm range. A 50 meter or shorter piece can serve nicely for these type of routes. Even 8mm glacier ropes not rated as single ropes will work for the easier sections. When you come across sharp rock, frequent ledges or difficult sections, double your rope and half your pitch lengths using twin rope technique (not double rope technique unless your rope is so rated). The reason these thinner ropes are not single rope rated is not because they will fail, it is because their elongation under load is great enough to consider the extra fall distance due to rope stretch to be unsafe *. This is why you only use them single strand on the easy, cruising sections. Speed in the mountains is saftey and low weight = speed.

[edit:* and thinner ropes are less resistant to cutting ]

Edited by Al_T.Tude on 02/21/2006 03:46:58 MST.

Christo Angelov
(xpucmo1) - F
Re: Another view on 06/30/2005 14:27:01 MDT Print View

> Maybe just one #6 wired Rock to get started. Then more larger slung chocks. The Mountaineering Handbook recommends #7, #8, and #9 Rocks with longer, hand-tied Tech Cord runners. Then a #6 Hexcentric on a hand-tied Tech Cord runner and #7 and #8 Hexes on double length 9/16 webbing runners...

An excellent book. BTW, when buying nuts specifically for a lightweight alpine rack, beware of different models covering different ranges. I got a set of Metolius nuts, and it turned out that the shape of the nut is almost square, i.e. width and depth are close, so when you rotate the nut sideways, you get the next size. The Black Diamond (and Wild Country, I think) have a huge difference between width and depth, so a limited set of nuts covers a much bigger range (if you have a full rack with a whole set of nuts and a bunch of cams, it makes less of a difference).

Christo Angelov
(xpucmo1) - F
Related Q on 06/30/2005 14:32:28 MDT Print View

I am going to the CO Rockies this summer, and I, too, had the same question. I have a (limited) rock rack, but I don't know if I will need snow or ice protection for a glacier climb of moderate steepness (35 - 50 degree) in RMNP in the middle of August. Is there any way to know what conditions to expect and whether to take ice or snow pro (or both, or neither)?

Christo Angelov
(xpucmo1) - F
Re: Re: Related Q on 07/12/2005 08:47:26 MDT Print View


Edited by xpucmo1 on 08/11/2005 11:16:15 MDT.

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
rack backcountry on 10/21/2005 22:32:22 MDT Print View

Gear per person easy 5th class rock:
Six pieces of rock pro
four runners (I like some tied for threading,
make your own pro from wedged rocks etc.)
2 single runner length 6 mm prussics
1 cord 20 ft 7mm
8 non lockers
2 lockers
longest knife blade piton used primarily as a nut tool (pound it in with a rock or side of ice axe for pro)

Rock Pro In order of most useful for the weight
(I like to have some of each type per party)

tricams .5, 1, 2, 3,
Stoppers sizes 1/4" to 1 inch
cams 1-3 inches
hexes #8-10

Leader gets all the pro, runners and non lockers
to start, the rest stays mostly with each climber
to speed up belays and for rescuing a fallen climber.

Ben Lyon
(Dynamo) - F
Re: rack backcountry on 11/01/2005 10:28:37 MST Print View

I have enjoyed this thread immensely as I am an intermediate rock climber looking to lighten my main rack, as well as an aspiring alpine climber. My current ROCK rack consists of a configuration similar to the Promountain UL Starter Rack mentioned above with a handful of 24" 8mm slings, 20 or so Trango Superflys, and the normal anchor gear.

Happy to know alot of it will carry over when I make some trips North and West.

David Spellman
(dspellman) - F
Re: lightweight rack on 12/18/2005 18:49:16 MST Print View

Quote: What are your thoughts on a lightweight rack Unquote

I dated that girl for a while, and...

Kellen Holt
(ikellen) - F
Thoughts on 02/20/2006 10:34:28 MST Print View

A lot of consideration as to the type of climbing you will be doing and what your personal climbing limit is will dictate alot of the decisions you make for your rack. A lot can be taken by what climbers are using on the big mountains. Steve House has been doing amazing things with light gear, including his latest ascent of Nanga Parbat. The use of single twin ropes drops weight on what is largely the heaviest item in your rack, the rope. The use of this technique should only be on routes where falling is not an option, but for routes from 5.5 to 5.8, this usually isn't a problem.

For actual pro, I personally carry mostly thin gear and tend to run out the pitches if I don't have thin placements. I don't carry anything above a #1 camalot. I carry a set of wired stoppers up to about an inch or so. I carry 4 CCH aliens - Blue, Green, Yellow and Red (.25, .5, .75. and 1 I believe). I add a .75 and a #1 camalot. Of course, judge based on your route. If you know you have to deal with 2 pitches of fist cracks, perhaps add a #2 or #3.

I use regular sewn slings. I'm debating picking up the mammut 8mm slings, but I'm ok with the regular old nylon for now. I stick exclusively to wiregates for carabiners. I use BD neutrino's, but the new lightweights out there like the Wild Country Helium and the Superfly can shave even more weight.

I have never done any routes involving ice or use the use of axes, so I can't comment on that. I will say that the use of pins is pretty out-dated. Wired nuts are lighter, can be placed almost anywhere, and don't damage the rock the way pins do. Also, as mentioned, you need to carry an extra piece of equipment to place pins solidly.

Some techniques are somewhat neccessary when using a rack like this. First, the leader should be comfortable running out the pitch over easy ground. On 5.6 or easier terrain, we're talking 40-50 feet in places. This both conserves gear, and speeds up the climbing (remember, fast AND light). Second is creative anchor building. Using natural features , as well as two piece anchors (two bomber pieces) save gear for the actual pitches. Third is using natural pro, such as chock stones or trees on route. Ultimately, you want to save your hardware for the crux sections of the climb, where a fall is faintly possible.

Beyond this, helmets, lightweight insulated belay jackets, and happy climbing!

Chris Jackson
(chris_jackson) - F
minimal gear for alpine rap anchors on 06/16/2006 15:09:36 MDT Print View

As Anonymous noted above, when climbing low-grade routes one is (hopefully) not heavily reliant on the gear during the ascent. However the gear is absolutely crucial for building rap anchors.

There has been little discussion so far of what to use for building a rap anchor on dodgy alpine rock. If you're carrying a full rack then you have the luxury of selecting the appropriate pieces. But what gear (other than slings) do you bring when you're soloing an easy route and the rope is carried solely for an unplanned rappel?