To be fair, I am not necessarily the average example of clothing needs for warmth as I tend to run hot in general, so take that into consideration when reading below.
The head gear: I probably went a little bit overboard with the head gear, but it is nice to have options as you go from what feels like summer on the lower glacier — to pure winter at 20,000 feet. I spent most of my lower glacier time in my Odell’s Brewing 5Barrel Trucker hat. Added to this was a bandanna hanging out the back for the intense sun on the glacier. I had a Black Diamond Skully Beanie that provided a great option for uphill travel on the glacier. Not so hot as to make you sweat, but warm enough to keep the ears from getting wind chilled.
Next layer up was a High Llama Hat. These things were great. The llama wool really seemed to do a good job of insulating, while still being breathable if it got a little warm. Certainly one of the products I’d recommend. The Arc’teryx Waldo Beanie was my choice for most of the time spent above 14,200 camp. It has a warm fleece feel to it, it adequately covered my ears, and was heavy enough for all but the coldest days.
Finally, (I know you are thinking…this is way too many hats, you’re probably right) I brought the Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon Beanie. This thing has gone with me to Aconcagua, Elbrus, and now Denali. The design is great. The generously sized dome covers your entire head, and completely covers your ears. It includes Windstopper so the breezy summit winds really weren’t an issue. Certainly a winner in my mind.
For my face mask I brought the OR Gorilla Balaclava. Granted my version is one I bought a few years ago, and it worked well. The removable face mask is key so that you don’t overheat when the wind dies down behind the summit ridge.
The Neck Gear: I brought a lightweight Buff that served as a light face mask; it could also be used as a hat, a sun shield on my neck, or even a filter for those “interesting” smells coming from around camp.
The gloves: I would say I generally have warm hands, but Denali is a cold place right? I brought a pair of liner gloves that lasted about 3 days up there, and I think if I could go back on this I would try to find some glacier gloves that were almost waterproof to use as liner gloves. I found myself either going up a level, or going barehanded a good portion of the trip. Above the liners I had a pair of Kinco Lined Leather Palms work gloves. I find the work gloves to be fine for skiing and climbing as long as you don’t spend too much time with your hands in the snow (which will soak them). Caked with leather waterproofing wax, they work pretty well. They are great for skinning and rope work.
On top of that I brought the Hestra HelB Gloves. I thoroughly enjoyed having these bad boys. I think I can probably say that they are the warmest gloves I’ve yet owned, and they have a decent amount of dexterity to boot! Certainly a product I was pretty happy about.
Top dog in the hand cover department for me was the OR Alti Mittens. I’ve owned these mitts for a couple years now, and if there is a warmer mitten out there for the average consumer, I’ve never heard of it or seen it. They have a removable Primaloft interior mitten, and then an additional outer mitten with additional Primaloft insulation. Like with any mitten, dexterity is pretty much not expected, but I have still managed to hold on to an ice axe with these hand bags on.
The top half from the bottom out, I wore a T-shirt from the beginning. For all 21 days. I climbed in it, I skied in it, I ate in it, and I slept in it. The Icebreaker Superfine 150 Anaconda t-shirt was the shirt of choice. Icebreaker does a good job of using Merino wool to keep the odor down, and at the same time make it a comfortable fit and a breathable material. I wouldn’t say that I would have eaten off the shirt by the end of the trip, but it certainly wasn’t nearly as smelly as some of the other products I’ve used in the past.
Next layer up was an Arc’teryx Rho LT Zip Top. This was a good midweight layer, and I think in hindsight, it is probably the only long underwear top I would have taken.
Next layer I carried was a big thick Merino wool layer from Icebreaker. This is a great layer, but I think for this trip it was a bit repetitious and if I did it over again, this one would stay home.
On top of the midweight long under wear top, I usually found myself wearing our Patagonia R1 fleece pullover tops. These are a great midlayer, or outerlayer when the wind isn’t blowing. I think the only change I would make here is to take the hooded version instead of the non hooded version.
Next layer is an Outdoor Research Delta Windstopper N2S Zipneck Shirt. I’m fairly certain that this product was discontinued, but I have been pretty happy with mine the last few years and find that it makes a great shell layer when it isn’t particularly nasty out, but perhaps is a bit windy. This might be another unnecessary layer for the West Buttress, but I put it to use, and would likely take it again.
On top of all that (or in reality, worn by itself as often as not) was my Arc’teryx Gamma MX Softshell. I’m a bit of an Arc’teryx fanatic myself. I have been completely happy with any and every jacket I’ve ever owned of theirs, and I think that they are a prime example of “you get what you pay for.” The Gamma makes for a great level of softshell. It is rather lightweight and does exactly what you would hope a softshell would. It has some insulating properties, and it breathes like a champ. Certainly a keeper in my mind, though I must admit that throughout the trip I was a little jealous of Caleb’s version of the same jacket that included a hood. Oh well, live and learn.
Outer layer for me was a burly hardshell. I’d heard stories of how brutal the storms could be, including rime ice, blowing snow, insane wind speeds… I was fairly sure I wanted to roll up there with a jacket built for exactly these conditions (though thankfully we didn’t really experience much of this.) My choice was the Arc’teryx Stinger jacket. This jacket in yellow combined with my yellow hat and nose guard earned me the nick-name “big bird” on the trip, but hey I was rolling up there with a bunch of wise guys so what do you expect? I used this jacket all winter as well and found it to be the best ski shell I’ve ever owned, and in all likelihood it will be in my ski closet for years to come.
All of us carried the North Face Himalayan parka. All I can say is, “Wow!” They thought of everything as far as I could tell and felt as though I was hanging out in my 40 below sleeping bag when I threw on the parka. The parka saw most of its use while sitting around on the summit, but was undoubtedly a layer I was glad to have up there.
I brought a sunshirt for the lower glacier, but I think in hindsight I would have left it behind as I ended up leaving it in one of our caches low on the mountain and just wearing my t-shirt and lots of sunscreen.
The lower half: I generally don’t worry about my legs staying as warm as my upper body, because they are always doing the work and therefore stay warmer, at least in my case.
I toyed with the idea of what to do about the underwear situation up there, and realized fairly quickly that a couple things were obvious. One, I didn’t really see myself stripping out of all my clothes to change underwear very often, and two, I didn’t want to carry them up and down the mountain. Solution? Most of our crew went with a board short option such as the Prana Mojo board shorts. They are comfortable, don’t chafe, and are a bit more airy than the average pair of skivvies. I also carried one pair of boxers, but I carried them right back down. Now looking back on the trip, I think that the board shorts option is a good one, especially if you bring the wet wipes as part of your toiletry kit.
Long underwear for me was two different pairs of Smartwool layers. One was a microweight layer that was just warm enough for me. These are all I had on before summit day. When summit day came along I put on the midweights over the top and for me that was more than enough.
Below 14,200 camp the sofshells were my leg outerlayer of choice. I had a very thin REI sofshell pant that worked great for the hotter temperatures on the lower glacier. I also brought a pair of thin hiking pants that didn’t make it past the 7800 foot cache either.
Above our high camp I found myself in my Arc’teryx Alpha SV bibs most days since we were skiing and climbing the fixed lines. They seemed like the better option for staying dry up there, though our group was fairly mix and match in terms of what we wore on the mountain.
I also took a pair of Western Mountaineering Flight pants that were down pants with full zips down the sides. To be honest, I never climbed in these as I just never found myself cold enough to do so, but I spent most of my time walking around camp in these. They are very well designed. They are lightweight, and easy on and off. One member on our team learned the hard way about wearing them on the outside of your bibs when you have crampons on. Don’t do it, or be careful, as most down pants don’t include crampon protection.
The feet: My feet are perhaps the one part of me that doesn’t really keep up with everything else in terms of warmth. I used our vapor barrier system, but in my case instead of the 3 layer system I found that my thin Bridgedale Coolmax liner socks worn underneath the vapor barrier was sufficient in my oversized ski boots that allow movement of my toes. On the colder days I put on my Smartwool Ski socks in place of the liner socks for a bit more insulation, and this seemed to work well. Intuition liners are a must in any ski boot for cold weather mountaineering.
I brought along some fleece socks for sleeping. For camp footwear I used a pair of Forty Below synthetic booties, worn under my Forty Below neoprene overboots if necessary. As we’ve mentioned in other blog posts, this combo worked well, though some of us wanted booties with more insulation (it sounds like Forty Below may be coming up with a thicker model).
Outside of the ski boots there is no better option than the 40 Below Purple Haze overboots. Simply put they are tried, true, and proven to be the best option for cold weather mountaineering.
Sunglasses and Goggles:
I took the Julbo Explorer XL Glasses as did three others from our crew. All I can say is perfect. I also threw in a pair of Smith Shelter glasses as backup, but didn’t really need them.
I took the Smith Prodigy goggles with the gold mirror and thought that these worked great for the trip. I had some other lenses with me, but never bothered to swap them. Again, good choice, I would certainly recommend these goggles.
Just to reiterate I am a particularly warm individual, so your choices may vary. I thought that I had far too many clothes, while I think that Lou felt his more minimalist combo was just right, though perhaps colder sometimes. Beyond all that, I’d offer that it’s super important to test everything if you have the opportunity to do so.
The nice thing today is that most of the clothing companies out there that we associate with quality mountain gear are making good stuff, and from my own experience I’m sure most people should be able to find what they need for a reasonable budget by discount shopping or even buying or borrowing used gear…for an expedition budget anyway. Main thing is, start your shopping and fitting many months before your trip, as it’s surprising how long it can take to get everything dialed.
Jordan White is a strong alpinist who finished skiing all 54 Colorado 14,000 foot peaks in 2009. He guides, tends bar, and lives the all-around perfect life in Aspen.