The Expedition, The Needs, and The Dump
Patient friend and Himalayan guide extraordinaire, Sonam Gelek (aka Spiderman), once explained preparing and packing ‘essentials’ for an expedition, this way: “There are things you need and things you don’t. Don’t bring things that you don’t need”.
He speaks from decades of treks, climbs, and wanderings in the highest of highlands on the planet. Dozens of journeys with him have only enhanced that philosophy in my own mind. He rarely carries more than a small pack (even for months’-long journeys) but rarely seems to be without that which keeps him content, healthy, and warm. Good footwear that is well worn in, legions of long underwear (often worn simultaneously), gloves, sunglasses, rain protection and one good down jacket, and he is thus armed for anything it seems.
Sonam and I have been on countless journeys with clients, and on full-sponsored expeditions, where we’ve watched in awe and concern, people change their clothes so often that we rarely see them in the same outfits twice. Every soft hint of change of temperature brings about an entire “out with the old and in with the new”. Sonam once patiently explained to two young men that we would run the risk of not making our nighttime camp, if they continued spending so much time changing! There is a sense that those who bring a lot, need to make use of all of the items that they have brought. So, bring less and untether the idea that one needs a lot of stuff.
Sonam and time within the great mountains have been the most significant influencers on my own theories on what one actually needs on an expedition (or indeed in life) beyond the basics. When one is ‘washing’ in glacial streams, sleeping in tents, and eating basics every single day, the concept of a luxury changes in a massive way…but so does the idea of a burden. How many of us have stuffed an extra (and totally useless) trinket into our pack, convinced that it will be used, enjoyed or provide a kind of treat from the heavens upon the trail…and never once used it, or even remembered we brought it?
While a small treat of sumptuous chocolate might still make it into my pack, three pairs of identical trek pants ‘just in case’, won’t. Gone are the days where I compulsively packed backups to everything; and backups to the backups. In my experience footwear and warmth are the vitals…the rest is either adapted to, embraced, or trained for.
Temperatures, altitudes, moods at altitudes (a very real dilemma for many), and the body’s ability to endure are all uppermost when considering an expedition, rather than things.
Much as camera gear, chargers, and solar panels are now considered ‘needs’, the only other items that are essential in my world are those that keep a layer between my own frame and the ever-fluctuating elements. Trusted kit that has been worn in, used, and abused (and survived) become like trusted family members. Medical supplies must be on every journey, yes, no matter what the burden.
The whole concept of less, also resonates with the idea that one is in the mountains or on the trail to be somewhat ‘away’ from stuff, (some) people, and the clutter that both inevitably bring. Being away should be being away and living to some degree differently.
Always, one’s intuition is a good guide and the sense that one’s self is capable of adapting more than one might think. When in doubt about whether to take an item (however coveted and loved) that is simply something you ‘like’, dump it. You know exactly what those things are! You’ll live without it fine, you’ll adapt, and perhaps even begin to forget the item(s) while taking in the environment that surrounds you.
One caveat to Sonam’s advice that I’ve adapted into my own regime of packing for the mountains, is that I always bring my own stash of tea. One ‘treat’ won’t harm anyone and for me, starting each and every day with my own familiar leaves, works as a kind of panacea, fuel, and comforting ritual. And if I was brutally honest, I absolutely do need my tea, my way.