TraditionalMountaineering Logo - representing the shared 
companionship of the Climb

Home | Information | Photos | Calendar | News | Seminars | Experiences | Questions | Updates | Books | Conditions | Links | Search

  Search this site!
Read more:

What is light and fast alpine mountaineering?

Light and Fast alpine climbing is an approach to traditional mountaineering that seeks to leave behind everything but the minimum gear required to reach the objective under the assumed conditions.  One who is experienced might strip away everything that was not used on previous climbs, leaving no room for error.

Yvon Chouinard's book Climbing Ice, published in 1978 contained one of the first descriptions of light and fast techniques and ethics.  I recall his description of an alpine climb in Chamonix where Yvon and a girl friend passed a heavily equipped group, summited, rappelled, finally anchoring off his shoelaces and returned to the restaurant hours before the other party returned.  Mark Twight and James Martin in their book Extreme Alpinism, published in 1999, describe advanced Light and Fast techniques.  Remember, great climbers are smart, gifted, trained, experienced and dedicated athletes.  

There is as huge a difference between a gifted professional climber and a weekend climber as there is between an Olympic medalist and an average athletic guy or girl.  Nordic athletes in Bend Oregon who are approaching national class ranking, can run 5,000 feet up South Sister in shorts and t-shirt in under two hours.  The average climber will take nearly five hours to do the elevation gain and six miles of trail, trace and scree to the summit.    Gifted and trained marathon runners can maintain five minutes per mile; the average dedicated marathoner is doing well to maintain a pace within eight minutes per mile.

The style "Light and Fast" must be coupled with the admonition "Fit and Experienced."

A climbing group is only as fast as it's slowest member.  A climber working at his aerobic threshold can not be forced to go faster; he will go anaerobic and grind to stop by definition.  A minor accident to an untrained climber working at his aerobic threshold and filled with anxiety at falling behind, may rob the group of the speed they needed to return to camp before nightfall.   The flashlight left behind to go Light and Fast might have been the only way to avoid a night of exposure.

Experience in the skills required for the climb may be needed to meet the Light and Fast plan.  The inability of any team member to put on crampons or to rope-up quickly for glacier travel may lead to trouble.  The experienced climber can rig an anchor in minutes or be self assured doing without the belay; the weekend climber can take ten times as long and fall off the mountain from shear fright.

Go as Light as reasonable, as Fast as possible for you and your companion(s) together, being sure that all are physically and mentally Trained and Experienced in the tasks required.

--On Belay! Bob Speik
Copyright© 2000-2012 by Robert Speik. All Rights Reserved.


Climbing 'light and fast' also proves deadly

Climbing 'light and fast' also proves deadly
Minimalists spark a debate after recent mountain deaths
By Mike Lewis
Seattle Post Intelligencer
Monday, January 15, 2007

As the story goes, the climbers would have died that August week on Mount Rainier two years ago.

Two members of the eight-climber group had been hurt, one with a broken leg. They sent a team back down the route to get help just as foul weather set in. Down slope, the descending climbers found help in the form of park ranger Mike Gauthier.

The rising storm made an immediate rescue impossible. The eight-member team had been traveling "light and fast" -- the mantra of the modern climber. With minimal fuel
and supplies, they had been prepared for a fast summit and return. A stay of several freezing nights at altitude wasn't in the plan.

"If they had not run into some other climbers with extra fuel, at least a couple of them would have died," Gauthier said recently. "They had to dig in, and they weren't prepared."

This is, experienced climbers say, the fine, often shifting line that defines light-and-fast climbing, or the pursuit of a summit with as little extra gear as possible.

The deaths of three climbers on Mount Hood in December renewed the ongoing discussion among serious climbers about where the minimalist line should be drawn -- although it remains unclear exactly how much extra, multi-day-stay gear the Hood trio had.

Two of the climbers' bodies have not been found. The third died of exposure, not injuries, while hunkered in a snow cave. Would more gear have saved him?

"It's hard to say, but at Denali, for example, you are prepared to stay a week in a cave if necessary. And people do that," said Jay Sherrerd, member of the Mount Hood Crag Rats, a climbing club that helped with the rescue attempt. Two Crag Rats found the body of climber Kelly James in the snow cave.

Although it's true that 11,237-foot Hood is no 20,320-foot Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, a winter summit on the Oregon volcano is difficult, particularly on its north face.

Sherrerd, who has climbed Hood a dozen times, cautioned that the Hood accident might not represent anything more than bad luck for three climbers who got caught in the worst storm anyone can remember. Winds near the summit topped 100 mph for several days in a row.

"But in mid-December, you have to plan for terrible weather, too. Their e-mails indicated they planned for a quick two-day summit. Sometimes, that's just not going to happen."

E-mails among the trio in the two months before the climb, rescuers said, indicate that they had an internal debate about what gear to take, including whether to pack bivy bags -- sleeping baglike emergency shelters -- for their winter summit attempt. Years ago, a bivy bag would have been considered as necessary as water.

"You see people going up Rainier", Gauthier said, "with all of the right things to achieve a perfect climb. But what if it isn't perfect? What if it turns into several days in a snow cave?"

This has been the subject of discussion on climbing message boards. Indeed, some of the early debate involved the fated climbers themselves. They were making queries about a winter climb on Hood and what gear to take and what to leave behind.

Put simply, "light and fast" means using the least to achieve the most, keeping a pack light enough for a quick summit and return, staying exposed to weather and altitude as little as possible. It can mean taking merely a single day's worth of food and fuel (critical in melting snow for water) and little extra clothing other than what is worn.

The light-and-fast philosophy is nothing new, and many expert climbers say it has saved more lives than it has cost. The Mountaineers outdoors club offers seminars on the subject. Climbing books extol its virtues.

It is now such a standard way to approach alpine climbing -- as opposed to once-popular, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink expedition style -- that the discussion has distilled to how light a climber can go.

But in the effort to shave weight, climbers sometimes allow little margin for error, said Christian Beckwith, a former editor of American Alpine Journal and an author of books on climbing.

"The light style is relatively accepted in Western climbing, simply because it is easier," Beckwith said. "You accept the risk in order to minimize the (weight) discomfort.

"But there might be sliding scale of how light you should go and how good you are."

That scale was at the heart of the debate that surfaced on the message board in the months and days preceding the Hood tragedy.

Before the accident that would claim his life, Jerry Cook -- using his message board avatar "Fuggedaboudit" -- found himself in a debate with some local climbers who asserted that by the nature of his queries about a planned Rainier climb, he likely didn't have a clear grasp of that scale. (Many of the postings have since been removed.)

One person, rather than sending answers, sent him photos of rescues instead.

Cook's response: "Finally, just wanted to say that when I ask for route conditions on this site, I really don't think you need to post photos of helicopter body recoveries instead of telling me whether or not the snow bridges on Carbon were still solid last mid May, which is what I was looking for when I asked for info, not 'people can get hurt or die doing this.'

"I think this site is a great resource for information but am really turned off by someone anonymously parenting me to 'climb the mountain on her terms not yours.' You don't know me, I don't know you. The difference is, I keep my mouth shut."

Jim Nelson, owner of Pro Mountain Sports in Seattle, listed Cook among his customers. Considered the primary local gear destination for the orthodox go-light crowd, Pro Mountain is known for its obsessive customers, called "gram geeks" -- alpinists who spare no detail in order to travel ever lighter, even if it means removing tags from

Also an author of a couple of Cascade Mountains climbing guides, Nelson cautioned that going light hardly isn't unsafe. In fact, he said, it generally is much safer. The type and amount of gear a person takes depends on their experience and risk assessment.

"But people do get sucked into it," he said of minimalist climbing. "It can get you in trouble, if you can't weather a storm. In the right hands, though, it can get you out of trouble. You can (by moving quickly with little weight) reduce your exposure to altitude."

Gauthier, the Rainier ranger, said that to the inexperienced climber, particularly in the fickle Cascades, that line can be hard to determine.

When he is asked what gear to take to Rainier, Gauthier automatically assumes that the person doesn't have much local climbing savvy.

His heavy response:

"Bring all of it."
Copyright© 2007 by Seattle Post Intelligencer. All Rights Reserved.

From Harvey Manning's One Step at a Time
From Harvey Manning's book One Step at a Time, 1972

"Light and fast, fit and experienced"




Read more . . .
Midge Cross and Scott Johnston on light and fast alpine climbing
Steve House on clothing for light and fast alpine climbing
Dan Osman
Reinhold Messner
Tomaz Humar

  About Alpine Mountaineering:
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
  The Ten Essentials        
Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales

What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering summit pack?
What is the best belay | rappel | autoblock device for traditional alpine mountaineering?
What gear do you normally rack on your traditional alpine mountaineering harness?     Photos?    
What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering seat harness?    Photos?   
Can I use a Sharpie Pen for Marking the Middle of the Climbing Rope?
What are the highest peaks in Oregon?   Alphabetically?

Is running the Western States 100 part of "traditional mountaineering"?
What's wrong with GORP?    Answers to the quiz!
Why do I need to count carbohydrate calories?
What should I know about having a big freeze-dried dinner?
What about carbo-ration and fluid replacement during traditional alpine climbing?   4 pages in pdf  
What should I eat before a day of alpine climbing?

Winter mountaineering hazards - streams and lakes
Is long distance backpacking part of "traditional mountaineering"?
How long is the traditional alpine mountaineering ice axe?
What about climbing Mt. Hood?
What is a good personal description of the south side route on Mount Hood?
What should I know about travel over hard snow and ice?
How can I learn to self belay and ice axe arrest?   6 pdf pages  
What should I know about snow caves?
What should I know about climbing Aconcagua?

Young Bend man dies in back county avalanche
What is an avalanche cord?
Avalanche training courses - understanding avalanche risk
How is avalanche risk described and rated by the professionals?    pdf table 
How can I avoid dying in an avalanche?
Known avalanche slopes near Bend, OR?
What is a PLB?
Can I avoid avalanche risk with good gear and seminars?   pdf file

Why do you like GAB crampons for traditional mountaineering?
What should I know about the new snowshoe trails
What are technical snowshoes?
Which crampons are the best?
What about Boots and Shoes?    

What are the new Ten Essential Systems?
What does experience tell us about Light and Fast climbing?
What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering summit pack?
What is Light and Fast alpine climbing?
What do you carry in your day pack?      Photos?    
What do you carry in your winter day pack?       Photos?    
What should I know about "space blankets"?
Where can I get a personal and a group first aid kit?      Photos?

Which light backpack do you use for winter and summer?    Analysis   pdf  
What would you carry in your backpack to climb Shasta or Adams?   
What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering summit pack?
Photos of lite gear packed for a multi day approach to spring and summer summits
Backpack lite gear list for spring and summer alpine mountaineering    4 pdf pages

What clothing do you wear for Light and Fast winter mountaineering?
What do you carry in your winter day pack?       Photos?   
Which digital camera do you use in the mountains?
What about Boots and Shoes?    

How did you become interested in traditional mountaineering techniques?
How do you avoid, recognize and treat hypothermia in the backcountry?
Who is Reinhold Messner?
What is traditional slacklining or highlining?
What are some of the comments you have received?
Who was Peter Starr?
Who are the Mazamas?
What is an avalanche cord?
Who were the notorious Vulgarians?
How was top rope climbing practiced in the 1970s?
What is a Whillans sit harness?
What is a dulfersitz rappel?
How do I self-belay a rappel?

How accurate is the inexpensive hand-held GPS today?
What are some good Central Oregon Geocaches?
What is the Public Land Survey Grid?   pdf
What is the UTM Grid?   six pdf pages
Which GPS do you like?    
Which Compass do you like?   
How do you use your map, compass and GPS together, in a nut shell?
How can I learn to use my map, compass and GPS?
Do you have map, compass and GPS seminar notes?   six pdf pages