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Polar expedition (or nordic touring) vs Alpine style


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Home Forums General Forums Winter Hiking Polar expedition (or nordic touring) vs Alpine style

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  • #3780785
    Juho V
    BPL Member

    @juho

    Hi! First post here… could not think of any other forum trying to start discussion on this.

    I’ve been doing “polar expedition” -style winter hiking in Northern and Southern Finland now about 1o years with various trips short overnighters and longer week trips. I’m not an master level by any means but by nature I try to do things differently to learn what works.

    “Polar expedition” -style (or nordic touring) for me means hauling a sled (Fjellpulken, paris pulk etc) with skis (full or half length skins) where most commonly we use something like Åsnes Amundsen skis with Rottefella NNN BC touring bindings. We normally have some 50-65kg load for a week and we travel something like 100km with 1km elevation up and down. Normally we spent nights in a tent like Hilleberg Nammatj 3GT (two persons) and we warm the tent with a multifuel stove in a aluminium box normally using white gas (like Primus Power Fuel). For a typical trip we have reserved 1 litre of petrol per night so it will be quite cozy… There are also open huts that can be used but on a high season they might be quite full. Aim is to be fully self sustained with very low temperatures (-30 C) and quite high winds (maybe 30 m/s).

    A tunnel tent like the Nammatj is very easy to pitch in the high winds. It is normally put in a long bag over the sled where the tent poles are still in place inside the pole sleeves (in half).

    The stove is normally kept either in the vestibule but some brave people take it inside the tent for maximum heat.

    For me this kind of travelling is quite nice and cozy but it is VERY slow. Also the up hills and in deep snow it will be quite a pain.

    So I’m looking for inspiration from Alpine style winter hiking to see what would work safely and still with a reasonable comfort. Please feel free to discuss around following areas and more:

    – Using touring skis like the mentioned Åsnes Amundsen or some other alpine style mountaineering skis.

    – Using tunnel tent polar expedition heavy and sturdy tent vs Alpine style (Bibler Eldorado style) for example new Dyneema breathable laminate tents from Samaya. Tunnel vs geodesic. Pitching in high winds. Snow skirts or fly sheet with more air gap around the perimeter. Tents with poles vs tents erected with ski poles.

    – Using the heavy multifuel stove box for cooking, snow melting and warming (drying the clothes) or using gas stove in bottle upside down or Alpine bomb configuration.

    – Sled vs backpack. Sled with hauling shaft or just a cord. Ultralight sleds.

    – Ways to cope with the wet gear. Boots with liners or many wool socks vs Vapor barrier

    – Heavy and robust gear (snow shovel etc) vs ultralight

    -etc.

    Thanks!

    #3780788
    Bruce Tolley
    BPL Member

    @btolley

    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    So you want to ski tour in winter with just a pack, and not take the pulk?

    Have you read Ryan Jordan’s articles about winter backpacking posted at this site BPL? He describes his kit in great detail.  In the Sierra Nevada you would still be carrying a snow shovel.

    #3780809
    Philip Tschersich
    BPL Member

    @philip-ak

    Locale: Kodiak Alaska

    I assume there are wood sources in the locations you are traveling? Most of Finland is forested aside from the very far north, I think. Have you considered a wood-burning stove? Then all you need to bring is a saw and you have an endless supply of fuel. We use Seek Outside titanium U-Turn stoves for heating and cooking on our shoulder-season trips, but they would be great in winter too. The stoves are light, pack down small, and also offer very nice ambiance. This setup is great for drying wet gear too. You just would put a stove jack (a fireproof patch of material with a hole for the stove pipe) in your shelter. We generally use floorless pyramid shelters made out of Dyneema (DCF).

    Luc’s site has some good winter touring info, though I don’t think he ever uses a pulk. Some of the info is a bit dated.

    Ski-Touring Equipment Guide

    Fast and Light Winter Travel

    #3780824
    David Gardner
    BPL Member

    @gearmaker

    Locale: Northern California

    If you are talking about going ultralight and skipping the pulks, I learned the “high & light” method/philosophy of alpine snow travel on telemark skis with climbing skins in the late 80’s/early 90’s from Bela Vadasz of Alpine Skills International, then skied the “Sierra Winter High Route” in May 1992 with a group of 9 led by 3 of their guides. A second group of 12 skied in the opposite direction. Of the 24 people, 2 used AT rigs and 22 were on telemark rigs of various kinds.

    Carried weight was limited to 35 lbs., 15 of which was group gear and food. Everyone carried a snow shovel and avalanche beacon. Our shelters were large, square floorless pyramids, 4 people in each. At each campsite we dug a 7’x7′ square down about 2′ and used the excavated snow to make walls about 2′ high in a 8’x8′ square around the hole. The tent was supported by our adjustable ski poles that could be joined together at the grips to make avalanche probes running from the corners to the center, and skis for the tent stakes  and tie outs. The door was a large plastic garbage bag hung over a ski pole at the end of a stepped trench leading into one side. It could easily have been a hot tent.

    4 of us used alpine downhill skis with a couple different kinds of 75 mm telemark bindings or equivalent. These are very powerful and versatile set ups and prefer them for everything except flat or very gentle rolling terrain where you never need to carve any turns, and they’re even better today. AT gear has improved greatly also and gotten much lighter, and at this point either type of rig with similar performance will have similar weights. I personally prefer telemark because the toe/instep flex is more comfortable for traveling long distances than a hinge at the front of the boot, and you can still do full alpine parallel downhill skiing without a heel binding if you want, not just telemark turns.

    The Sierra Winter High Route trip was 7 days, 65 miles, lots of up and down with some mixed ice/rock/snow climbing in the middle, and 90% of the route above 11,000 ft. (3,300 m). Some of the downhill was triple black diamond, and I would hate to try and carry more than 35 lbs. on that terrain. Milder terrain, maybe up to 50 lbs. Flat terrain and you’re young and strong and well trained, maybe 75 lbs. If you’re trying to go for 2-3 weeks the difference could be food. For 1 week it could be luxuries like a wood stove or lots of fuel for hot tenting, and real food. More weight than that, it’s going to be hard to carry it any distance or over challenging terrain, regardless of the type skis & bindings you use. You’ll need a pulk IMHO.

    #3780828
    Juho V
    BPL Member

    @juho

    No I haven’t yet read the article. Just signed up! Thanks for the tip. I’m not sure if I can get light enough to leave the sled pulk home. It’s really convenient and we don’t normally go climbing or really steep terrain. But if it would be possible then maybe yes. Skiing is very difficult with big backpack as the center of gravity changes and you need to compensate leaning forward and then all sorts of problems arise. Actually last week we tried kicksleds (Finnish brand Esla). That was super fun but cannot be used in deep snow but only on established tracks.

    More than leaving out the sled I would be interested in trying different things from faster winter hiking or from more vertical alpine style which I guess means a lot’s of compromises in comfort. I’m maybe more eager to make those compromises than in safety. With a tried a true burly nordic touring style equipment this type of winter touring is very safe.

    #3780829
    Juho V
    BPL Member

    @juho

    Thanks for the tips on the wood stove and the links. I have tried more heavy wood stoving trips. I once went to northern Norway to pick up a sami style lavvo tent called “Arctic Lavvo” (Venor at that time). And I had a heavy Helsport stove. I made two trips to the car with all the wood in my HDPE toboccan style sled that I made. I have had dreams of titanium stoves but not yet together with Dyneema shelters. In Finland and the Nordics the problem is that you cannot cut wood – even from dead standing unless you own the land. So we need to go to established camp sites and take some of the cut wood from there (not meant for that either) or bring your own. But this would make a super comfy and light setup. I am also more eager to make trips above treeline which in Finland is quite north. It is so windy there that multifuel stoves usually make a lot sense (no chimneys and great wind resistance).

    #3780830
    Juho V
    BPL Member

    @juho

    Thanks David for the experiences on the Sierra route. Sounds like fun! Interesting how you used the avalanche probes. This is similar to the polar explorers in the past with their pyramid tens which had four aluminum poles on each corner. Very heavy but super sturdy. I’ve never heard of using avalanche probes like this. I’ve never carried one on my trips as I’m not expert on this area and try to avoid any major risks. Usually what I understand in the area here the style is to go with a sled using telemark or skis similar to which you explained (mountaineering skis I guess) and make a base camp below the mountain they want to ski (they call it off-piste skiing). It sounds like fun!

    I think that your explained route is a good example of one that you just cannot go with a sled and I would agree that perhaps 50lbs is ok. In my trips I have never seen a person carrying 50lbs backpack and doing multi-day winter hikes with skis. 100% times they have a sled. Always heavy equipment.

    I’m interested in the floorless pyramid style shelters. Would you think that a shelter like HMG Ultamid 4 would stand heavy winds? We are not having the avalanche probes though.

    What about the stove? Did you use gas stove? How did it work? How did you keep your feet dry? Did you use some vapor barrier liners or managed to dry the boots in the evenings? For some odd reason there is not many boots with removable inner liners available for touring or more extreme style moving either. Removable inners are easier to dry but perhaps people use vapor barriers in “Alpine” style?

    #3780885
    David Gardner
    BPL Member

    @gearmaker

    Locale: Northern California

    The ski poles we used were Life Links. I searched but I can’t find anything exactly like what we used that’s available anymore. The model we used had adjustable length, and the grips were made so that they could be unscrewed from the tops and then the poles screwed together at the grip ends, and baskets removed,  which converted the poles into into an almost 10′ long avalanche probe. The process took less than a minute, 30 seconds with practice. The only similar poles I could find now only allow the lower sections to be removed and joined into a probe about half the length of the old design. We needed that extra length in order to use them as corner tent poles because they had to be 7′-8′ long. There was also a special grip available that incorporated a shortened and broadened ice axe-style pick that could be used to self-arrest in a fall. The one time I *really* needed them they failed me and I was unable to self-arrest a fall down the Dana Couloir, so now I take a real ice axe.

    They weren’t perfect in probe mode, but they were pretty good and I really liked them. No extra weight to carry for dedicated probes or tent poles, super fast to deploy, and you didn’t have to take off your pack first to get to them. If I could find replacements I’d buy them in a second.

    The 4-person pyramid tent itself PU nylon and weighed about 7 lbs. I think, which works out to 1.75 lbs. per person for bomb-proof shelter. If memory serves it was pretty much identical design as the Ultamid 4.

    The way the tent was pitched gave us more than 6′ headroom in the center and no less than 2′ on the sides. The 2′ wall around the outside of the tent and hole effectively reduced the profile of the tent by 2′ and prevented 90% of the wind from penetrating under the tent around the edges. Especially after we piled and packed some snow on the edges. So between poles running up all 4 corners, tie-outs and corners staked with skis, and the wall around the whole thing, it was pretty darn bombproof in howling, completely exposed, alpine winds and blizzards, and we had that. I won’t attest to the Ultamid 4 or DCF durability in those conditions though because I have no experience with them.

    There were only two real drawbacks: the time and energy required to excavate the hole and build the wall, and the civil engineering learning curve to make a dead flat floor on sloped snow. The first night we were exhausted and said “good enough” too soon, and ended up all sliding slowly towards one side all night long. By the second night I brought my civil engineering and surveying training, and knowledge of Roman engineering, to use water bottles on their sides as sight levels and a 4′ piece of surgical tubing that I brought as emergency binding repair material (I was running Rainer Super Loops at the time) as a hose level, to excavate a flat and level floor. This system was workable on a daily basis, and would be a perfect set up for a base camp hot tent! We did one base camp “rest” and yo-yo skiing day in the middle of trip that way (well, without the “hot” part).

    We used MSR GK(?) white gas stoves I think, although we may have used kerosene for the heat-to-weight ratio. They were great. On the other hand, there were no MSR Windburners available back then, and nobody had yet figured out that you could run propane through butane stoves. For a week long trip I would not bother with liquid fuel (too messy, higher risk, and not enough benefit for the weight of the stove, fuel, pump, and metal bottle), I’d take either a Windburner or 2-3 Soto Windmasters with Moulder strips or adapted to run propane. For multi week trips liquid fuels might still make sense.

    The guides did a full, every piece of gear out of the pack and on the ground, inspection of each person’s kit, with a scale to enforce the 35 lb. limit. The only item of clothing we were allowed – no, required – to bring two of was two pairs of socks, which were alternated on a daily basis. Yesterday’s pair hung on the outside of the pack to dry. I used bread bag vapor barrier liners on my skin, so the only moisture into my socks was from snow or water on the outside. At the end of each day we removed our boots, pulled the liners out, switched socks, used the liners as camp boots (they actually came with a bit of tread on the soles), and hung that day’s wet pair in the tent until the next morning. I didn’t know that removable inner boots were hard to find these days. Maybe only on AT boots? I have some new-ish Scarpa telemark boots and the liners come out for use as camp booties.

    #3780952
    Juho V
    BPL Member

    @juho

    Thanks David for the details – quite inspiring! Funnily enough I have spent a lot of time figuring out if a pyramid tent with poles on each corner would make sense and came into a conclusion that it is too heavy. We are normally only two persons hiking so our ski poles would make only one corner (if custom poles would be made). Ultamid 4 hypotenuse lenght is something around 240cm or 7.8 feet. Ruta Locura carbon pole (ultamid 4 center pole) is 271g or 9.5oz but it’s only 2m. But for estimation purposes let’s say we would need the center pole and 3 more corner poles around 300g, overall with the shelter it would still be under 2kg or 4.4lbs bomber shelter. Still not sure if the corner poles would be necessary. Also with the corner poles the center pole would not be necessary?

    For 2 persons perhaps the Ultamid 2 would be enough. In Nammatj 3GT there is quite a bit of space for two persons and gear so it would be nice to not loose too much of comfort especially with the steep side walls of the pyramid shelters. I would much prefer the Ultamid 4. The level ground is not a problem in where I hike.

    I’ve never heard of adapting butane/propane gas burners to only propane. Sounds dangerous… But yes the moulder strip should be enough. Which stove would be most suitable for cooking in your opinion? We normally take it easy and have a lunch during the day hike if weather permits. Usually it is still quite windy. In the evenings we normally cook proper food. And yeah do you think that the butane/propane stove would be useful for perhaps 1h-2h of heating per evening/morning? I’ve heard there is a lot of moisture that is a result of combustion with gas stoves? Is that a problem when trying to dry gear?

    I need to check the telemark boots as well for the liners. I have found only one nordic touring style boots that have removable felt inner: Lundhags Guide Expedition BC. Unfortunately these did not fit my feet properly.

    Nice to hear your methods of using the vapor barriers. Using them is not common in nordic touring but might be in more demanding expeditions even with the sleds and all. That might explain why the boots I find have no removable inners and are often having some type of waterproof membrane. I have really bad experiences in trying to dry gore tex boots so using vapor barrier liners would be mandatory.

    #3782984
    David Gardner
    BPL Member

    @gearmaker

    Locale: Northern California

    Sorry for the slow response – just returned from overseas.

    We didn’t use a center pole, but had 4 skiers per tent, so plenty of poles for the corners and skis for bombproof stakes.

    I agree, it’s too bad you can’t get the liners out of nordic/tele boots anymore. My old Merrell SuperComps had them, and the original T-1 Terminators, but my current Scarpas don’t.

    You don’t need to adapt the stoves. You put the adapter on the propane tank, and just screw the stove onto that. The only propane tanks that I’m aware of that are small enough to use for backpacking are the $2.95 “Boss Torch” cans from Enviro-Safe. You can also get adapters that will let you refill the Boss Torch can from various other types of tanks, like the green Colemans or better yet BBQ tanks. The investment in the small tank and adapter(s) pays off very quickly because propane is available so cheap that you can refill the tank for pennies vs. the $8-$10 for single-use butane/isobutane cans.

    I would never use either butane or propane for heating the inside of a tent, or any other type of fuel for that matter, unless the heater/stove had a chimney that vented directly outside. Way too much CO and CO2.

    #3782993
    Bill Budney
    BPL Member

    @billb

    Locale: Central NYS

    Nice mini tank.

    You can also get adapters that will let you refill the Boss Torch can from various other types of tanks, like the green Colemans or better yet BBQ tanks.

    I can find many BBQ-tank adapters, but where would I find a Coleman adapter?

    #3782994
    David Gardner
    BPL Member

    @gearmaker

    Locale: Northern California
    #3782995
    Bill Budney
    BPL Member

    @billb

    Locale: Central NYS

    OK, that’s Coleman-to-Lindal. Do you use two of them (plus a Lindal-to-Lindal refill valve) to refill your mini tank?

     

    #3782997
    David Thomas
    BPL Member

    @davidinkenai

    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    Late to the party, but a few thoughts on these different topics:

    Put a glide wax on the bottom of all sleds, just like you do on downhill skis.  Sometimes you don’t need it but it never hurts.  Other times, it avoids the sled bottom icing up.

    I’ve used Moulder Strips on regular store-bought iso-butane and propane/butane mixes down to -32C with a BRS-3000T which is very small (therefore somewhat tippy) but its short height helps with a Moulder Strip.

    If you’re out for long or melting any snow for water, bring a heat-exchange pot of some sort.

    I like a big bottomless pyramid like Black Diamond’s MegaLight because it’s very light per person, handles high winds, and allows you to dig bunks, walkways, kitchen table and bookshelves into the underlying snow.

    Pity you can’t harvest wood as you go.  I can see the appeal of fuel-based tent heating, but that adds a lot of fuel weight.  Would multiple 8-hour disposable hand warmers tucked into your sleeping bag help as much for less weight?

    #3783010
    David Gardner
    BPL Member

    @gearmaker

    Locale: Northern California

    Yes, I also have a lindal-to-lindal adapter, which I bought awhile ago to transfer butane between standard packpacking canisters. Works for propane too.

    I wonder how cold a propane canister with Moulder strip would work? I should get some dry ice (-109.8 °F/-78.5 °C) and try some tests, unless somebody in Alaska wants to try it or already has…

    #3783084
    Krishna M
    Spectator

    @kmarri

    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    I think this BPL article on Lightweight Winter Backpacking in the Arctic might be relevant.

    #3800693
    Juho V
    BPL Member

    @juho

    Thanks Krishna for this article by Jörgen. I think it answered to all of my questions I think. The choice in tent he made I absolutely agree, stove choice was interesting to see he only had the cozy for the gas. Very similar conditions where I intend to go.

    #3800711
    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member

    @retiredjerry

    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    Great article, I don’t remember reading that before

    Propane boiling temperature is -44F.  Should work anywhere above -34F with a regular upright canister stove

    I prefer a mid with ventilation under the edges, but I think it’s weakness is wind and blowing snow so I see how they say a  dome or tunnel tent is better in those conditions.

    Interesting that he’s not a fan of VBL, but uses a synthetic quilt on top.  He showed a picture of how down got damp, then frozen clumps.

    #3800734
    Geoff Caplan
    BPL Member

    @geoffcaplan

    Locale: Lake District, Cumbria

    Hi Juho

    Skiing is very difficult with big backpack as the center of gravity changes and you need to compensate leaning forward and then all sorts of problems arise.

    If you do decide to tour with a pack instead of a pulk, there *is* a system that enables to carry significant loads without disturbing your centre of gravity.

    It’s the Aarn bodypack, which counterbalances the load on your back with balance pockets on your chest. The concept has been well proven in the lab and in the field. For me, it’s been a game-changer.

    Their agent in northern Europe is Sqoop Outdoor Norway.

     

     

    #3800748
    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member

    @danepacker

    Locale: Mojave Desert

    Juho,

    I’ve used two types of skis for winter camping. For many years in Pennsylvania, USA, I used  Rossingnol Randonne “backcountry” 210 cm. metal edged skis and more recently  Asnes Combi Combat as used by the Norwegian armed forces. Later I used shorter, much more side cut Atomic TM 22 “Telemark” skis for both on piste and backcountry in Nevada, where big mountains require more downhill control. On both skis I used Voile’ free heel release toe bindings with heavy duty 75 mm., 3 pin bindings attached and SCARPA 2 with the 75 mm toe.

    It was always difficult to get the boot toe holes aligned with the 3 binding pins so I ground the pins off and just use the toe clamp and the Voile’ heel cable. Works fine and gives a bit more lateral control.

    So, two types of skis for two types of terrain but one type of bindings. I know, my kid and bindings are  both old and “old school” but they work and are safe.

    BTW, henI was a Ski Patroller (medic) for the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York I saw another Juho, it was Juho Mieta, the Finn champion.

    #3800881
    Juho V
    BPL Member

    @juho

    Jerry how do you use propane only in the outdoors in a small canister safely?

    I also was really amazed to see the frozen down clumps in the sleeping bag. I also have had great time in my Primaloft jacket even when it has been really wet. But I should try sleeping in a VBL bag inside my down bag. I don’t normally do so long trips where this would be needed though.

    #3800882
    Juho V
    BPL Member

    @juho

    Thanks Geoff! I have heard of the Aarn! But didn’t think of it for the winter tours. Maybe worth a re-visit! Usually I have sooo much stuff for the winter that it is painful to carry even without considering the center of gravity issue.

    #3800883
    Juho V
    BPL Member

    @juho

    Eric I will have a look at those bindings! Did you test the shoes in very low temps? Did you find any good ones? This has been one of my issues. The shoes are not warm enough and does not have inner that comes out for drying out. The boots should be light as well. Often times the warm ones are super heavy.

    Hah, Juha Mieto is great! Name is spelt almost like mine. I always joke that Juho is the masculine form of Juha.

    #3800894
    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member

    @retiredjerry

    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    “how do you use propane only in the outdoors in a small canister safely?”

    I have only read about this.  David T has done it.

    You need an adapter to transfer fuel from propane bottle to butane canister.  I think this from amazon would work:

    “Butane Refill Adapter Isobutane Fuel Canister Isobutane Canister Butane Propane adapter with Exhaust Air Pressure Button / Saver Saves More Money/Great for jetboil fuel Canister  EN417 Lindal Valve Canister Shifter / Backpacking Camping Stove Adapter”

    Make sure and weigh the canister so you don’t put more in that will fit or it will burst.  Weigh the canister when empty and don’t put more than 4 ounces in.  Or 8 ounces for an 8 ounce sized canister.

    Butane canisters are rated to not burst up to 120F.  Propane has more pressure, so if you put propane in the butane canister, you can’t let it get up to 72F or so.

    This is totally unauthorized by safety people.  If people did this, occasionally someone would accidentally let the canister warm above 72F and it would burst

     

     

    #3800916
    Juho V
    BPL Member

    @juho

    Yeah this is what I thought it would be. Quite sketchy…

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