Home/Mountaineering/Cold Mountain information

Mt Mc Kinley: Comments on gear

trip report | Comments on photography | Pictures of the expedition | Tuan's mountaineering page

  1. tent: Stephenson
  2. stove: MSR XGK
  3. misc: sleeping, clothing, ...

Tent: Stephenson's is very good

I have used a Stephenson Warmlite 2R (2 person, double wall) during this trip. The tent is roughly a 1/2 cylinder with conical ends, and has an elliptical arc aerodynamic shape. The double wall covers only the central parts, not the ends. There are only 2 (very thick) poles in prebent 7001 aluminum which look extremely strong. The tent is stacked by the two ends, using only three stacks. It is the tension which maintains its shape, therefore, it is not free-standing. To setup the tent, you have just to assemble the poles, then slide them into full length sleeves which are outside the tent (therefore you must be outside the tent to set it up), and then hammer in the three stacks and tension the tent (there is no rainfly). A key particularity of this tent is that the two walls are made of coated nylon which are sewn together. The fabric does not get soaked, and thanks to the clever, chimney-effect adjustable ventilation system, the condensation is actually minimal (the single wall version, 2Xa which weights even less is supposedly condensation-prone). It is also claimed that this system is warmer than the traditional double walls. The seams are not taped or sealed. It is possible to have them factory-sealed for a fee, which is what I should have done even if they say they might do a lousy job because it is so tedious. There are a couple of nifty options which make the tent more all-purpose (side windows, endliners, etc...) but I prefered to keep thinks simple, knowing that I would use the tent only for mountainnering. These options add some weight and cost. The idea of having side windows is certainly very tempting, and if I get another tent for non-solo use I'd consider it.

Globally I have been extremely satisfied, and think that it is an outstanding mountaineering tent, to which no other tent that I have seen could be compared. For my use (solo mountaineering), it has been excellent. However, I think it would not roomy enough for two persons and their gear in arctic conditions, although it is roomier than almost all two person tents (42 sq feet), at the cost of a vestibule. If I were to go on an expedition with another climber, I would rather bring a 3R, which is only one pound more. Another point is that I think this is really high-performance gear which is made of very light material, and may not be as resistant to abuse than heavier tents, and I really don't know if it would be a good idea to use it if weight is not critical.

A common question is whether this tent can survive really hard conditions. I have not encoutered really nasty conditions, having to endure only a few mild (by Alaskan standards) storms. Glenn Randall in his book Cold Comfort speaks highly of the Stephenson's. However, Clyde Soles said that he shredded it and now uses a Bibler. It could be that these tents are like egg shells -- very strong once erected but easily broken if you aren't very (e.g. assemblying poles).

The good points, which were truly essential are:

Less satisfactory points, which are relatively minor :

The only other tent that I would consider for mountaineering is the Bibler. The advantages of the Bibler would be that it is free standing and requires less surface to be set up. It would work better on really tiny or rocky ledges. Other than this, I don't see any advantage for the Bibler. The Stephenson is at least as easy to set up and strong. It is much more roomier for the same weight. It is also probably warmer, and has less condensation.
Stephensons Warmline Equipment
Rd 4 bx 145
22 Hook Rd
Gilford, NH 03246

Stove: XGK is bad

This stove is reputed to be entirely field-reparable, so I could do without a backup stove. Also, it is hot, and uses white gas, a fuel widely available on the mountain. It seemed a good choice. However, I have had a lot of problems with the stove, and would not consider using it again on anything barely technical. Now it seems that all these problems can be avoided by using a butane-propane stove. I have used for eight years the same Globe-Trotter (I found that the Bleuet is even too heavy for alpine climbing), never did any maintenance of any kind, and never experienced any real problem. I don't remember exactly the weight of the whole cooking set, but it was certainly under 1 lbs. One bleuet cartridge lasts two or three days per person, and contains less than half a pound of gas. All the french people that I met have complained about MSR and such stoves, and the most wise of them have returned to Bleuet. Considering all the problems encountered with MSR, and also the weight, I will use it again only at lower elevations (to save cartridges). Perhaps it makes more sense for a large group to use these kind of stoves, not for me.

French climbers use almost exclusively the Bleuet, or its lighter version, the Globe-Trotter, both made by Camping Gaz. I am pretty sure that the Bleuet has been on every major peak of the planet several times. It is often said that they don't work well at altitude and cold. This statement is misleading. They work better at altitude. It is just because the pressure differential between the cartridge and the ambiant atmosphere is higher. They indeed do not like cold very much. Therefore a Bleuet is going to work much better on a 8000m peak (where, by the way, it doesn't usually get that cold, except during the night sometimes), than in Yellowstone in winter. At temperatures and elevations common in the Alps and similar ranges it works very well. To get around the temperature problem, well-proved solutions are (i) to cook in the tent (these stoves do not flare-up. you still have to be careful about carbon monoxyde poisonning, although it is less likely than with a liquid fuel stove),, (ii) to suspend the stove so that the cartridge is isolated from the snow, (iii) to prewarm the cartridge (by putting it in the sleeping bag for instance),(iv) to insulate the cartridge with foam, (v) to rig a metallic wire pluged in the flame and running to the cartridge.

Sleeping, clothing...

I used a Feathered Friends Peregrine long, rated at -25F and a REI vapor barrier. A smaller bag would have been preferable for me. The hood and collar system is quite complicated, and long to operate but works well. Although in the tent the temperature was never less than -5F (-20C), the night when I did not use vapor barrier, I was rather cold. I am wondering what these ratings mean. However, the vapor barrier proved to be efficient, and not uncomfortable at all while wearing Capilene underwear. I had Thermarest light long and a short ridge rest. The Thermarest was somewhat difficult to inflate when it was cold. The sleeping bag was very hard to stuff, it was a rude struggle each morning.

I missed very light, clear clothing for the lower glaciers, a short to be worn above underwear, and a sun hat. When using TNF mountain pant (shell bibs) and alpine bibs (pile) together (only on the summit days), the drop zipper of the alpine bibs is extremely difficult to operate. This is not a good solution to relieve oneself quickly. I used One Sport Everest boots. They are extremely convenient, much more than the double boots that I previously owned. Also they seem to be warm enough so that overboots are not necessary. My normal size is 7/7.5, and I took them in 8.5. It left me enough room to wear only one (thick) sock. With liner socks and VB socks (which were actually overkill), due to the excessive compression, my feet were numb and I had to remove them. They are not very rigid (less than a technical double boot like the Asolo super lite), but feel a little clumsy due to the size. I have found quite easy to walk with them on the flat surfaces which you find in the first days of glacier travel.

My pack was Lowe Cerro Torre 2, capacity is 85 liters with the extension, to which I added a TNF pick-a-pack (10 liters) which was the biggest pocket that I was able to find, and made a good summit mini-pack. This is barely enough, and forced me stuff very tight, which is not convenient. Now I think the biggest possible pack should be used.

trip report | Comments on photography | Pictures of the expedition | Tuan's mountaineering page

Reader's comments

I found your information to be true on the MSR XGK stove, unfortuneately I found out the hard way, and spent many hours attempting to nurse it along at 12,000ft. on Mt. Rainier. 1st time I have used it, and don''t know if I will again. I had read your write up on the stove shortly after I had bought the stove. It worked flawlessly for me at sea level, and so I ignored your advice, and felt rather stupid explaining to my partner that I had read your write up as we messed with the stove.
Contributed by Ron Hansen (ron@belyea.com) on September 15, 1997.
I e-mailed MSR and informed them of my problems and made reference to your similar situation. They stand by their stove as being one of the best and seemed unaware of such problems.

We e-mailed each other back and forth with no solution being discovered, but last night I believe I solved my particular problem. It seems that the jet nozzle if not tightened extremely well allows fuel to escape through the threads. This was causing an occasional small flare-up and a lack of power overall. I have not had a chance to test my stove at altitude (and when I do I will have a back-up along for the ride). This dosn''t sound like anything you experienced, but I think it could be a problem with any of these stoves.

Contributed by Ron Hansen (ron@belyea.com) on October 15, 1997.
Thanks for the very informative and enjoyable trip report. It proved to be very pleasant reading. Hope to make it to denali myself before too long but not solo... jeff
Contributed by jeff allen (allenje@mail.dec.com) on November 12, 1997.
I thoroughly enjoy your photos and comments everytime I visit your site. It is very helpful and inspiring. Right now, my plans are to do Denali in ''99. I''m in the process of evaluating equipment.
Contributed by Ed Acheson (tiger1@fuse.net) on January 10, 1998.
I have a Stephenson''s tent, an older model, and I would never trust my life to it in a Denali storm. I would trust a Bibler Fitzroy or Bombshelter, a Sierra Designs Tiros or Stretch Dome withe Exp. fly, Mountain Hardware Trango 3.1, or a Wild Country, but that''s about it. One of the biggest problems with Stephenson''s is that snow can blow in under the door, and there is no way to seal the door off. Also, they perform OK with a moderate wind blowing parallel to the long axis of the tent, but they are horrible in cross winds.

Also, the MSR XGK is notorious in cold weather, but the Whisperlite is fine.

Contributed by Doug McKeever (dmckeeve@whatcom.ctc.edu) on February 26, 1998.
Just wanted to say thanks for a terrific website, and for providing all the photos and write-ups on your trips, particularly Denali.

I really appreciate having the feedback on the gear - definitely helps with the selection process.


Contributed by Ian Hamilton (Ian_Hamilton@bc.sympatico.ca) on March 17, 1998.
Great page !!! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Some I too hope to get a shot a Denali. Hope to more of your trips in the future. Thanx !
Contributed by Myke B. (the_hammer@playnet-kc.com) on June 15, 1998.
I like your trip report for Denali..except on what you said about the MSR XGK. I have the XGK II, which was bought for me as a gift in 1993. Now, since I''m older and living in Northern Chile, I have had the opportunity of using this stove at altitudes of 14,000 feet plus. To this day, I haven''t had any problems with gas leakage or output and to me, still doesn''t weigh that much. Currently, MSR makes the XGK Expedition and the XGK shaker jet which may solve the problem you had with cleaning the jet after two days. Perhaps you should look into these new types of jets. Other than that, good trip report.
Contributed by Chris Dagel (xtfritz@hotmail.com) on July 18, 1998.
Your review of the the Stephenson's 2R tent was uncovered while I was trying to find Stephenson's address. Thank you.

I have a Stephenson's "3R-LSC" circa 1972. This is the best damn tent ever designed ! I was looking for their address to order some replacement poles. I have used this tent year in year out for 26 YEARS. On top of Half Dome, Big Sur, and every where else. I have never been been soaked in an El Nino in my 3R. We have waxed it up with Johnson's Car Wax repeatedly. It does not LEAK. I am thinking of having it waterproofed with 3M's ScotchGuard. Due to wear and tear it now is truly "featherlight" -- 14 OZ. on a good day. My kids have used it as "play" tent. It is indestructible. (Except for the tent pole I drove over.) Let's fix my poles an put this sucker in the NASA Wind Tunnel at Moffett Field. What will she take 150 MPH ? With new poles -- yeah only 2 !! -- and 3 stakes, I say 200 MPH easy. Are you game ?

By the way -- when was the last time the wind blew 150 MPH when you were camping ?

Contributed by D. Henry Russ (druss@utimco.org) on September 20, 1998.
Thanks for the information on your page - it was very interesting. I am surprised that MSR has been unable to help you with your stove - they have been very helpful to me in the past.
Contributed by Matt (marrowm@hotmail.com) on January 31, 2000.
Having used the MSR XGK twice on McKinley I found it to be a superb stove. Before going into a remote locatation you need to know exactly how your equipment works. Relying on "stove experts" who may or may not be there is not the best way to go about. You should have repeated use of the stove in a safer environment to understand its nuances. The stove is designed to work anywhere and have found it do just that.
Contributed by Matthew Gardiner (mattgardiner100@hotmail.com) on August 10, 2000.

Home/Mountaineering/Cold Mountain information