How make high altitude mountaineering (or even just hiking in the backwoods) just a little more luxurious
When I was last in Nepal my trip there was made a lot easier by having some creature comforts that were really small and light. They were also things that one doesn’t usually find in the high-priced gear shops and are not (usually) on the gear lists that mountain clubs or expedition companies publish. These are ten of the things that I’d take again. They won’t break the bank and don’t weigh me down (too much) Let me know what’s on your top ten too.
In Nepal on the trail out of Lukla airport (I first went up towards Everest base camp to get used to the altitude then turned back and crossed over the pass towards Mera) people were dropping with Deli-Belly all the time. I won’t say that I was completely free of the runs, but obsessive cleaning of my hands with antiseptic alcohol rub kept me a lot healthier for a lot longer than if I’d been without it. Boiling (filtering, or whatever) drinking water is not enough if you have bugs on your hands.
This is a trick that most soldiers (and journalists in war zones) know well. There is nothing like a small bag of baby wipes to make one feel a whole lot more human. It doesn’t take many but just enough to clean one’s face, under the arms and between the legs (preferably in that order) to make one a whole lot more sociable and also to feel a whole lot less sticky.
Dental floss (and a small needle)
This stuff should be standard issue at birth. Dental floss (not tape or any of the newfangled kinds that fluff up and fluff down) is stronger than any thread you’ll be carrying. I’ve repaired backpacks, boots and clothes with dental floss, and my ugly stitching has easily lasted years. I’m sure if I even had to stitch myself up after an accident (and didn’t mind an ugly scar) dental floss is what I’d use.
I know that every serious first aid or medical kit will have some of these, but I always like to have a few of my own (when on a group expedition with shared medical supplies) or a few extra. Altitude gives me a sore head (I’m talking normal stuff, not altitude sickness). And as I get older, sleeping rough on a thin foam mat gets less and less comfortable. My days of having a few beers after a day out, grabbing a sleeping bag and curling up on the nearest flat patch of open ground are over. Even with a comfy Thermarest and pad my hips still stick into the ground. Maybe its just getting older, but a couple of pills sure make me sleep better.
One can spend a lot of money buying fancy watertight bags made of the latest seam-sealed materials. I’m sure they’re great. If I was planning to become a Navy Seal and scuba dive into enemy territory while keeping my rifle dry I’d want one. But for just about everything else I’m happy with run of the mill zip-locks from the supermarket. They cost almost nothing, weight almost nothing, allow me to keep the inside of my pack in order and keep stuff dry in a downpour. Need I say more?
I’m sure that serious photographers are wincing at the thought, but on summit day in Nepal I carry a disposable film camera. I’m not worried about batteries freezing, lenses getting moisture condensing in them, or loosing a valuable camera with clumsy mitts. I carry a one-time camera in a top pocket where it is warm enough, take my shots and get them developed. Shudder if you will at my lack of respect for the fine art of photography, but it works for me.
A couple of secret snacks
I find that there is nothing better after a week or so on the trail than knowing that I have a secret little snack, a packet of sour worms or some dried nuts as a treat to look forward to. Sometimes I play a game with myself, promising myself one sweet at the next big bend, or a little square of chocolate for the next 100m of elevation that I’ve gained. Whatever it is, it is great to have something to bribe myself with.
A good book
A book is really dead weight and a lot of people I know would rather do without. But I love having something to get stuck into in the evenings in the tent. It is worth choosing companions with interesting taste in books as high-mountain book clubs can lead to some interesting exchanges. On one expedition a friend was a huge Michael Moore fan and I ended up reading 3 or 4 of his books over a week or two.
Bottle of Tabasco sauce
Carrying a little bottle of hot sauce is, I’m told, an old secret in the army as it spices up those bland MRE’s they get. I can’t say first hand if it is true in the army, but I know for sure that a tiny bottle of chili has helped me enjoy a lot of meals that would otherwise be pretty tasteless.
Small bottle of whiskey
And on the subject of life’s little luxuries, I like to carry a small bottle of whiskey to celebrate an ascent or the end of a long hike with friends.
Some of these suggestions are pretty obvious. If so, forgive me, but I wished I know some of them a lot earlier than I did. Some may also not be to your taste. But let me know what’s on your top-ten list of little luxuries when out in the hills.