(Ed’s note: Smell the Glove is an irregular series chronicling stuff we actually use to, you know, go skiing, whatnot. Peruse earlier Smell the Gloves here.)
By Porter Fox
I left Brooklyn last February with a 1960s canvas backpack, book and a plane ticket and headed for Morocco's High Atlas Mountains. I wanted to ski the tallest peak in northern Africa (Toubkal: 13,665 feet) and do it in the old style. No luggage, just a carry-on. Skis, boots, skins, maps and food would all have to fall into place. (Read the story next fall in Powder to see if they did…) I did bring three essentials, though, and they saved my ass.
I spent the first night in the mountains in a French climbing refuge at 10,000 feet. It was 20 degrees inside and 20 degrees outside ( i.e., there was no heat in the place except a fireplace in the common room). At 9 p.m. I unrolled Mountain Hardwear's Phantom 32 down sleeping bag ($305) in my bunk and by 9:07 p.m. I was warm for the first time that day. The bag had been balled up the size of a cantaloupe--no kidding--for almost a week in my pack. It is only rated to 32 degrees, but the 800-fill down kept me warm all week, while other folks complained that their zero-degree bags weren't enough. At 1 lb. 7 oz., I hardly noticed it on my back the rest of the trip…
Even though I had no idea where I was going most of the time, I always knew the way home. The Brunton 8099 Eclipse compass ($78) lived in the outside pocket of the old pack, and half the time around my neck. (I didn't want a GPS. Too easy, too unreliable.) The Eclipse is a baseplate and mirrored sighting compass that comes with three clinometer systems and a half dozen reference cards--that explain everything from how to plot a course to first aid to how to survive off the land. ("Healthy birds and small animals are usually edible.") That may all sound intimidating but Brunton's patented circle-over-circle alignment system had me orienteering in a matter of minutes.
The last thing a foot soldier needs in the mountains is good shoes for his feet. So I gave up my Rod Lavers for Garmont's Zenith Hike GTX ($150). These things are the most technologically advanced shoes I've ever stuck my feet into: Gore-Tex® XCR, asymmetric cuff, water repellent suede, Vibram sole, rust-resistant hardware. I took these shoes from Marrakesh to the snow with no blisters or leakage. They were my slippers in the refuge and savior on the eight-hour approach--kind of like ski boots for walking.