Winter Mountaineering Gear Pt 1 – Boots for Crampons

Winter is coming!

For some people that is not a welcome statement, but for those of us who love winter sports then the first dusting of snow on the high ground gets us excited about getting out on the ice and snow.

The first in our series on winter mountain gear will explain the differences between boots and how they are graded for use with crampons.

BOOT GRADING FOR CRAMPONS

Boots for any climb over snow and ice need to be of a type that will allow fitting of crampons. Boots are graded according to their compatibility with different types of crampon.

Boots graded B0 are not suitable for use with crampons. The sole is not stiff enough to prevent them moving differently to the crampon with the result that the crampons will move around and may come off all together. They are also not very stiff in their upper section and may not provide enough support to your ankle or enough rigidity to allow ‘edging’ of the boot in snow when not using crampons.

Boots Graded B1 are suitable for use with strap-on C1 crampons for use on moderate snow and ice conditions. They have fairly stiff soles so that the crampon does not loosen or come off as the boot flexes during walking. They are also fairly stiff on the upper part so that they provide good ankle support and allow edging in the snow when not using crampons. They are however not so stiff that they are too uncomfortable to walk in off the snow.

Boots Graded B2 are suitable for use with C1 or C2 crampons. C2 crampons have a clip lever at the back and therefore require the boot to have a protruding shelf at the heel for the end of the heel lever to engage with. The boots have a stiffer sole than B1 boots and will help to keep the crampon in place on moderate mountaineering climbs. Some B2 boots are still flexible enough to be used on an approach walk although this is very dependent on the materials and construction of the upper.

Boots Graded B3 are suitable for use with technical C3 crampons. The boot is fully rigid and allows the crampon to be used on more technical climbs (where there is likely to be sustained use of the crampon’s front points) without the crampon losening. B3 boots are likely to be very uncomfortable for approach walks and trekking as they are rigid and often heavily insulated.


On all climbs or treks where crampons will be used, your boots will need to be rated at least B1 or B2 for use with crampons.

If you choose to purchase your own crampons prior to the trip please ensure that you take your boots to the shop and ask a suitably experienced person to check the fit of the crampons with the boot. Some combinations of boot and crampon do not provide a good match and can lead to poorly fitting crampons and consequent problems on the mountain. If you are planning on using overboots to upgrade the wrmth of a boot you will also have to check carefully if the crampon will be secure. You may need to cut out sections of the overboot to align with heel or toe bails.

If you are booked onto an Adventure Alternative trip then you get full access to our experienced staff before the trip so that you can be sure that you get the right gear.

Trips where you would need crampon compatible boots include:-

Trip/Peak
Mount Everest
Muztagh Ata
Huayna Potosi
Pequeno Alpamayo
Aconcagua
Mount Khuiten
Mount Elbrus
Mera Peak
Ojos del Salado
Island Peak
Yala Peak
Toubkal Winter
Advertisements

First Ever Photo of a Wild Singing Dog?

Is this the first ever photograph of a New Guinea Singing Dog in the wild?

Photo from the trail, cropped to show dog

We had word of some very exciting wildlife news at Adventure Alternative HQ recently. It was of a potential sighting (and photo capture) of one of the rarest (if not the rarest) breeds of dog in the world – the New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD).

The sighting was made by Adventure Alternative Borneo director Tom Hewitt whilst on trek in the remote Star Mountains of Western New Guinea Island. These elusive dogs have most probably never been photographed in the wild before, so this is potentially huge in the NGSD world.

Tom, who has been living and working in SE Asia for the last ten years, is now based in Sabah and Sarawak from where he runs Adventure Alternative Borneo – the company that came into existence after a chance meeting 3 years ago with Adventure Alternative founder Gavin Bate. Along with a rainforest camp called Lupa Masa next to World Heritage Mt Kinabalu Park in Sabah, Adventure Alternative is also providing assistance to new community tourism and reforestation project based around 6 Penan villages in the remote interior of Sarawak. With financial support provided by Moving Mountains Trust, Adventure Alternative’s partner charity, the villages aim to plant 15,000-20,000 new hardwood saplings per year on previously logged and burnt forest.

Every year or so, Tom leads expeditions to New Guinea, an island shared between the independent Papua New Guinea and Indonesian controlled West Papua.  New Guinea is a truly remarkable destination as these facts and figures testify:

  • It is the 2nd largest island on earth, covering 785,753 sq km.
  • Although this landmass covers less than 0.5% of the world’s surface, it is estimated to contain up to 8% of the world’s known land and sea species, with countless still unknown and waiting to be discovered.
  • In terms of size of continuous rainforest it is exceeded only by the Amazon and the Congo.
  • And whilst only 1% of the world’s population call New Guinea home, the number of native languages spoken, account for over one sixth of all languages on earth – that is over 1,100 distinct dialects!

The Main Photo in Question

The photo taken from the trail of the dog on the hillside above

The same photo again (hence the slightly low resolution)
Now cropped closely to the dog its self

The details of the Sighting

We invited Tom to offer his own account of the trip and the sighting…

A client approached me at the end of 2011 requesting a bespoke trip that was ‘beyond any usual tourist or trek route, ideally mountainous and not hot and humid’. For a long time I had been looking at Mandala Mountain on the West Papua map. It is the 2nd highest free standing peak in Oceania with very little information available about it. It seemed to fit the requirements.

At an unconfirmed 4,760 m (no one is really sure) Mandala Mountain is the highest peak in the Star Mountain range – one of the most remote and unexplored areas of the world and until 40 years ago Mandala mountain even had it’s own permanent glacier. Here the native flora and fauna species, including the secretive singing dogs have remained in virtual isolation and undisturbed for thousands of years.

The twelve day tour included myself and the client, plus a trusted cook and guide that I had used before and seven local porters and guides from the starting village, itself an expensive 1 hour chartered plane ride from the capital of West Papua, Jayapura.

At the time of the sighting we were in a dramatic, wide valley with 4,000m peaks and limestone walls with waterfalls on either side. We spent a total of 4 days camping in this valley and there was regular contact with a number of exciting animals: couscous, possums and even tree kangaroos were seen most days, as well as many unidentified ground nesting birds living in the swamp grass. One species of bird of paradise was heard in the lower forest, but not seen. There were a few highland flowers and grasses and occasional groves of an ancient cycad species – primordial in every respect.

The guide and cook were 10 minutes ahead of us on day 1 of the return the trek, they had stopped I presumed, for us to catch up. When we reached them the guide proclaimed ‘dog’. This took me quite by surprise and it took three explanations by him for me to understand. But sure enough above us on the rocky outcrop in the bush there was a dog – the guide seemed as bemused by it being there as we were. After initially being quite close to the guide, by the time we arrived it had taken position on the hillside above us; this is the position found in the photos. We watched it for around 15 minutes as it continued to watch us. It seemed as curious as we were but not particularly scared or nervous. What stood out was how healthy it looked upon closer examination with binoculars.

I had no in-depth knowledge of NGSD’s at the time of the expedition and the photos in question were merely one of a huge number taken. To my utmost regret I did not make any video footage, nor did I try to get any closer. But in the context of any trip to Papua at the time this was no stranger than other events that happen daily – such as waking up one morning to see one of the porters using a tree kangaroo as a neck scarf to keep him warm.

There have been no previous confirmed reports of Singers in that general area. This can be easily explained by the fact that it is not an area the locals would ever go to, or at least not very often. There is much better hunting in the lower forests and hills. It is also very rarely visited by any other visitors.

When we returned from the trek, I searched for more information on the Singing Dogs of Papua and realized that I had possibly the only ever photo of one in the wild. The photos have since been disseminated amongst various experts including the American based New Guinea Dog Conservation Society.

Here are some more photos that were captured on the trip:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In 2013, Adventure Alternative will be offering the chance to climb the 3rd highest mountain in Papua, Mt Trikora, on the 100th anniversary of the first ever summit expedition. At 4,750 m Trikora is also in an area that the New Guinea Singing Dogs have been seen by the locals. The scheduled climb will either begin or end with the annual Baliem Valley tribal highlands festival – this is when all the various highlands tribes come together for a big party in Wamena. For all of the trip information, click here.

History of the New Guinea Singing Dog

The intense topography of Papua as a whole coupled with low scale political troubles in the Western side of Papua has meant that little research has been done into the existence of NGSG in the area. The dogs themselves are believed a close relative of ancient dogs that were domesticated from Asian Wolves between 10-15,000 years ago and are related to the dingo of Australia.

The first live ‘Singers’ were caught in the Eastern province of the island in the 1950s and taken to Australia – nearly all of the Singers outside Papua are now descended from these 4 dogs. More recent expeditions have failed to locate any singers, including a month long expedition to the Eastern province highlands in the mid-90s. In this case, the Singers were heard but never seen. The NGSD is considered an evolutionarily significant unit. New Guinea Singing Dogs are named for their distinctive and melodious howl, which is characterized by a sharp increase in pitch at the start and very high frequencies at the end.

The future and the ethical dilemma faced.

The latest consensus from the experts regarding the photos is that “all of the photos have been examined forensically and there is no indication that they have been tampered with or are fakes. No layering is present. We also have had these photos examined by a PHD in Tropical Biology who is currently involved in rainforest research and conservation in New Guinea and his conclusion of the photos are that the plant life is consistent with the Star Mountain Range of the New Guinea Highlands”.

There are some people that may well question why there is a need to capture a wild animal and take it from its natural habitat. We asked Tom Wendt, founder of New Guinea Singing Dog International to explain further:
There are a couple of reasons why actually capturing a Singer is important. You first need to know that the NGSD is genetically nearly identical to the AU Dingo and the first descendant of the wolf. Although it’s yet to be proven, I believe that before the end of the Ice Age (when PNG and AU were land locked) the AU and PNG Dingo/NGSD were the same being.

The first good reason follows the same theme as the Australian version. Hybridization of both versions threatens their survival in their pure form. There was a day when the NGSD lived everywhere on PNG in a pure form. It was us humans who started the decline of numbers by bringing in domestic dog breeds. The hybridized NGSD or Village Dogs are man-made. This is the main reason that the NGSD could only be found these days in the place where you found one.

Both halves of the island’s governments are in such disarray, there is virtually no interest in setting up and funding some type of sanctuary for the NGSD that would serve to keep it in it’s pure form.

The other threat to the NGSD’s survival is that the natives are known to kill and eat a ‘Singer’ before preserving it. This is especially true in the highlands as the unhybridized versions are supreme hunters. In AU most provinces encourage the hunting and elimination of Dingoes as they are a threat to livestock. The same holds true in PNG.

The goal is to have a healthy population of NGSD’s here available to go back into the wild or to a sanctuary or preserve designed to keep the Singers alive in their pure form. Until the day comes that sanctuaries can be setup in PNG to keep the Highland Wild Dog from going extinct, we are the best option for their survival. With the population here being from a very limited gene pool the fear is that inbreeding will render the captive NGSD’s defective.

The Basenji (Africa’s wild dog) went through some severe health issues years ago and actually got to the point where inbreeding defects had threatened their very survival here. It was a group of folks passionate about the breed (not the experts) who raised the funds for the expeditions that captured new bloodlines and saved the Basenji from going extinct”.

Options for following up this significant and rare sighting are still being considered. Including return expeditions subject to funding and permissions.

More Information:
YouTube video about New Guinea Singing Dogs
For updates on the story, follow us on our Facebook page.
Further photos from the expedition on the Adventure Alternative Borneo Facebook page.
In 2013, Adventure Alternative will be offering the chance to climb the 3rd highest mountain in Papua – Mt Trikora on the 100th anniversary of the first ever summit expedition. For all of the trip information, click here.

Scientific American have written a great article on the sighting, with more extensive information on the NGSD to visit, click here.

Adventure & Disabilities

The upcoming Paralympics will put the spotlight on a truly inspiring group of people.  There are over 1billion people in the world living with disabilities. As well as people with obvious physical disabilities, this group contains a wide number of people who have disabilities that would not be obvious to the observer.

London 2012 Paralympic pictograms

At Adventure Alternative, we are proud to have involved some fantastic people with disabilities on our treks and projects around the world. Although a lot of our trips involve strenuous physical activity, we believe that as many people as possible should have the opportunity to partake in these activities. We chat with our clients before their trip to try and fully understand their capabilities and accommodate their needs; we like to be prepared!

Currently climbing Mt. Elbrus with Adventure Alternative founder, Gavin Bate, we have two inspiring men – Dave Padgen and Nigel Vardy (AKA Mr. Frostbite).  Temperatures as low as -60°C on Mt. Mkinley in 1999 caused severe frostbite and claimed Nigel’s fingers, toes and nose. Two years after the accident, he was back out climbing in the Alps. Dave has Cerebral Palsy but this didn’t stop him competing in the Paralympic Games held in Atlanta and Barcelona. He is also the first Brit with Cerebral palsy to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Both Dave and Nigel celebrate their passion for adventure and ably demonstrate the potential accessibility of the mountains.

A further demonstration of the same principles, and in a similar field, can be seen in the case of mountaineer Mark Inglis. After losing both of his legs during a blizzard on Mt. Cook, New Zealand, he has gone on to achieve a number of inspiring achievements, not least winning a silver medal in the 1km time trial at the Sydney Paralympics, 2000. In 2006 Inglis became the first double amputee to summit Mt Everest.

Mark Inglis

The principles of inclusive society have now become more widely recognised than ever. A document to come out of the recent Rio+20 conference – ‘The Future we Want’ – talks about disabilities with reference to a number of topics and sectors, including ensuring accessible shelter; access to food; and incorporating people with disabilities into the green economies nation states will aspire to over the coming years. But where does tourism fit into this and what is the tourism sector doing to be more inclusive of this group? For tourism to be considered truly sustainable, it must be inclusive of people with different needs, including them in the decision-making process.

Many countries have a long way to go in the accommodation of people with disabilities. The USA and Australia are known to be particularly on-the-ball when it comes to offering facilities that enable this group to take part in travel and adventure holidays, including abseiling, kayaking, mountain biking and ice-climbing. There are also a number of NGOs who offer assistance and advice for people with disabilities, with some even offering financial assistance.

Tourism for All UK is a national charity dedicated to standards of world class tourism which are welcoming to all.”

Tourism for All offers a wealth of information to enable people to fully participate in action and leisure activities, including an extensive region-specific section on the UK.

If you have a disability or consition and would like to take part in an Adventure Alternative trek or project, please don’t hesitate to get in contact! We fully appreciate that everyone has different abilities and circumstances. We can have a chat to see what we can do to ensure that you have a meaningful and enjoyable trip. Based on your aspirations, abilities and requirements we can chat about suitable locations, environments and expeditions and hopefully together we can get you on an adventure of a lifetime!

We wish Team GB all of our luck during the Paralympics!

Everest – Risk, Tourism & Elitism

As another Pre-Monsoon Everest climbing season draws to a close there is, as usual, much to reflect on. There are the usual debates about overcrowding, unsuitably experienced climbers, ethics of rescue & risk and also debate about the unseasonal weather and conditions this year.

Photo taken from the Nepal Everest Basecamp looking towards Khumbu Tse, the Lho La and the Khumbu Icefall.

A good round-up of the season’s goings on can be found in Alan Arnette’s summing-up post.

The issue of overcrowding was brought into stark contrast by Ralf Dujmovits’ photograph which ran in The Guardian under the title ‘The Human Snake’. Though it should be noted that this photo was not taken ‘on the way to the summit’ but between camps 3 and 4, and that queues on the mountain are unfortunately not a new phenomenon. Adventure Alternative expeditions have been faced with these additional dangers on a number of occasions. It is regrettable and frustrating when it is apparent that it is due to incapable climbers, but it is hard to see how it can be controlled by external rules. For more on the overpopulation debate, visit The Guardian.

Looking down the Lhotse face, towards camp 3. Shot by mountaineer, Ralf Dujmovits, and displayed in The Guardian (May, 2012).

At Adventure Alternative, we feel that it is at least morally down to each expedition to ensure that all the climbers in their team are suitably conditioned, experienced and capable for the task. This shouldn’t mean that the world of Everest mountaineering necessarily becomes elitist, requiring a lifetime dedicated to mountaineering. But the level of skill and experience required will not come about based on a year or two of peak bagging.

Another major story was the decision of Russell Brice to abort the Himalayan Experience expedition early. Himex run arguably the most influential, and certainly the most expensive, expeditions on Everest. This should not overshadow the fact that Russell is a hugely experienced and respected mountaineer in his own right. It was a very bold decision and one that has not gone without criticism. We feel that he should be applauded for following his own judgement through on sound information and experience and not giving in to economic and marketing pressure. This is quite independent of whether or not certain objective dangers claimed casualties in the end.

Sadly the season ended with a number of climbers losing their lives. It would be unfair to group all these people together under a blanket statement, such as is often employed in the media. Each one of them was an individual with a family, a story and a combination of aspirations and decisions which brought them to the mountain.

On the Lhotse face. Taken from The Guardian (May, 2012).

Climbing Everest or any other mountain will never be a ‘safe’ thing to do. Paying such huge sums can lead to the assumption that the mountain will, and must, be summited at any cost. Therein lies one problem: money can’t buy everything. Anyone who is led to believe otherwise is being done a great injustice. We believe that each individual has the right to decide if they are willing to take the risk. What we, as providers, must do is to ensure that they receive as much honest, frank and balanced information as is available to help them to make a decision. We will then seek to minimise the risks as far as possible and present a continued appraisal of them. Consciously turning around is not a failure, losing control and perspective is.