Home to ten of Europe’s highest mountains, the small country of Georgia, sandwiched between the Black and Caspian Seas, with Russia to its north and the Middle East to its south, is a mountainous region often overlooked by the mainstream. And for good reason: The formidable peaks found in the Caucasus Range reach heights of 17,000 feet above sea level with some of the most difficult access and unpredictable weather one can find in the mountains.
But for the most hardened mountain travelers, those peaks are alluring. That includes skiers like Sam Anthamatten, Léo Slemett and Markus Eder, who together in July 2017, set out to climb and ski Mt. Ushba—the fifth highest peak in Georgia, yet the one deemed by many alpinists to be the most challenging peak to ascend in the Caucasus. Achieving such a lofty goal requires grit, experience, knowledge of mountain travel and safety, and undoubtedly a few strokes of luck—and also dependable gear.
We asked Anthamatten, Slemett and Eder to share the essential gear items that aided them in their push to the summit of the 15,400 foot Mt. Ushba. From outerwear to thermal layers, luggage, camping equipment and more, these are the items they assert will keep you performing at your best no matter the conditions.
The Fuse Brigandine Jacket has been relied upon by some of the best big-mountain skiers— Ian McIntosh, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, for example—for years now, and we didn’t think it could get much better. We were proved wrong, however, as The North Face has evolved the jacket into an even more impressive garment. The new Fuse Brigandine is built with a further ergonomically sound fit, meaning no matter which way you move during your high alpine adventures, the jacket will move with you. The jacket is also fully integrated with bibs and mid-layers in the Steep SeriesTM collection thanks to dual entry pockets. Simply open the pocket’s inside zipper and you’ll gain access to the pockets of your mid-layer or bibs. As with previous iterations, the jacket features a seamless, tough-as-nails jacquard weave in the hood, elbows, pocket openings, chest, lower side panels and back to reduce wear and tear, prevent moisture penetration and ensure an optimal fit when wearing a pack.
The North Face dubs the Unlimited Jacket as its most innovative snowsports midlayer and for good reason. Among many innovative design features, this insulated piece is built to fully integrate with the two-way pockets constructed into The North Face’s Steep SeriesTM jackets. Its combination of body-mapped 800 fill down and synthetic insulation (in a baffle weave for reduction of seams) ensures the warmth stays in to keep you cozy in the coldest conditions. To top it off, it’s built with an ergonomic fit for incredible ease of movement, no matter your mission.
The 26-liter Snowmad pack offers up enough storage capacity for day outings from the tent or trailhead, depending on your mission. Exterior features include an A-frame or diagonal ski carry system; ice-tool holder; hipbelt pocket and tool loop; a dedicated strap to stash gloves; reinforced fabric in high abrasion zones; and routing straps to attach a Modular ABS airbag system. Inside, a spring steel frame provides support and stability, a tool pocket ensures space for your avalanche tools and the pack is hydration compatible.
The Fuse Brigandine Bib is built to take you anywhere… and we do mean anywhere. Up top, its zero-hardware suspenders (no more uncomfortable metal adjusters poking you every which way) reduce discomfort and a pack-compatible kangaroo pouch features a beacon tether. Down low, the bib features harness-friendly cargo pockets, inner and outer leg vents and a gusseted inseam for a no-bunch fit. The whole package is built with waterproof/breathable GORE-TEX®, a ergonomic “attack” stance (adhering to the natural skiing posture) and two different “loft zones” that protect key areas from sharp objects you may encounter on your journey.
Versatility is the name of the Leather II Solo Glove’s game: You can count on this glove whether you’re ripping around your home resort, spending a day or two in the backcountry, or rappelling nine-straight times, at 200-feet per rappel, down vertical walls of sheer ice in Georgia. Waterproof and breathable DryVent™ inserts keep moisture at bay; articulated fingers provide excellent dexterity; a wool lining provides coveted warmth; an adjustable leather wrist strap helps bring about a perfect fit; and the goat leather exterior ensures they’ll stand the test of time.
The Adder 40 is the ideal aid in any high altitude mission that involves both climbing and skiing gear. The Adder has an A-frame ski carry system as well as a rope carry system, allowing you to lug your planks and climbing ropes up the mountain. The pack boasts 40 liters of storage while maintaining a relatively light weight of 2 pounds, 15 ounces (in size L/XL). Additionally, a dedicated pocket stows your crampons and wand pockets provide a spot for your wands—brightly colored bamboo sticks used to mark glacier travel.
The Modulator ABS can convert any backcountry backpack into an airbag pack. The unit harness attaches to any pack with two straps and features an ambidextrous trigger that will deploy dual airbags to help keep you above the snow in the event of an avalanche. When you’re not using the Modulator ABS, its packaging can also be utilized as a stowaway bag that keeps the unit out of the way until you need it. /p>
Boasting 95 liters of storage capacity, the rugged Base Camp Duffel has you covered for extended ski trips. Updated and greatly appreciated features for 2017-18 include an alpine-cut (i.e. it mimics your trekking pack) and ergonomically sound shoulder straps; together, these upgrades allow you to wear the duffel comfortably on your back. An exterior compartment on the end-cap was also implemented in this latest version to stow dirty, wet clothes or swamped-up shoes, separating them from your fresh belongings. Four compression straps cinch down the load for a guaranteed fit in the overhead compartment, or, in a place like Georgia, on the back of a yak while trekking to the mountain.
If you plan on spending the night above treeline, you’re well aware of just how cold it can get when the sun drops behind the mountains. The Inferno Sleeping Bag can turn those frigid nights into cozy ones. It’s rated down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit and is insulated using water-repellent 800-fill ProDownTM—just what the doctor ordered when the mercury drops. Its wider cut and center zip construction also allows for easy entry and exit. The North Face also integrated Neovent AirTM fabric in the hood, feet and back to help block moisture from prone areas.
The Assault is a two-person tent built to withstand the brutal winds that come with camping at high altitudes. The highlight of the tent is its pole-supported ventilation system, which increases stability of the tent during big gusts. When wind hits the broadside of the Assault, the interior is backfilled with air which helps to equalize pressure to improve stability during foul weather. In addition, dual top vents and The North Face’s proprietary DryWallTM single skin wall provide breathability; a removable vestibule allows for a “changing room” if needed; and numerous tabs located in the interior ensure you can hang all your gear when not in use.