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What a Mountain Guide Packs to Climb the World’s Highest Peaks



When Edgar Parra travels for business, he usually eats about three Snickers bars a day. He’s got an excuse: A regular workday can involve carrying an 80-pound pack across a glacier or shuttling gear to a high-altitude base camp. “You need sugar when you’re up there,” the 35-year-old mountain guide says.

That is why he squirrels away 40 or so candy bars for a two-week expedition up Mount Aconcagua, a 23,000-foot peak in Argentina that is the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.

Mr. Parra runs Lonely Summits, an adventure travel and climbing company based in Machachi, Ecuador, at the foothills of Mount Cotopaxi, a 20,000-foot volcano.

He grew up in the nearby village of Santa Ana del Pedregal, population 500, elevation 11,000 feet, and says he’s climbed Cotopaxi about 200 times for fun and for work. He leads climbing trips into the Andes in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, and has also summited mountains on three other continents.

Over the past decade, he’s whittled down his packing list to 104 items.

His main piece of luggage is an Osprey 70-liter backpack and a North Face 120-liter waterproof duffel bag. He needs to carry his personal items, safety ropes and technical gear for the trip, plus camping gear and food for himself and his clients. The duffel usually gets to base camp by mule or by donkey. The rest goes on his back.

For a trip up Aconcagua, his team will set up base camp at 14,500 feet and high camps at 16,500 feet, 18,000 feet and 20,000 feet.

Even though climbing season is usually in the summer, which runs from November to February in South America, at altitude the temperature can easily plunge to 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Over his years of guiding climbers from around the word, he’s noticed that cold is in the eye of the beholder. His Russian clients are the least fazed by frigid temperatures. For most others, he says, 5 degrees below zero “feels OK, as long as it’s a dry cold,” meaning no humidity and no wind.

Layering is essential for his climbs, which can last for a couple of days to three weeks. He’s clad in Gore-Tex from head to toe, including a technical outer jacket by Arc’teryx and a puffy down jacket by Mountain Hardwear.

He packs in threes: layers of long underwear, pairs of gloves, types of sunglasses. “If you drop a glove, you’re lost,” he says.

At high camp, Mr. Parra wears his elbow-length, down-filled Black Diamond gloves to sleep. By day, he wears Julbo sunglasses designed for glaciers, where the sun’s reflection can cause snow blindness.

Mountaineers revere their boots. Mr. Parra wears a pair of Millet Everest GTX that cost around $1,000.

He also brings a Garmin GPS, walkie-talkies, a Samsung Galaxy phone and a solar charger. He’s noticed that he gets good reception on peaks in Ecuador and Peru, but not on Alaska’s Mount McKinley.

His toiletries are minimal. Toothpaste tends to freeze, so that stays in his sleeping bag at night. Mr. Parra’s medical kit includes an oximeter to check his clients’ pulses and oxygen levels daily.

He always brings an Ecuadorean flag with him. “It’s a bit nationalistic, but I feel it brings me luck,” he says.

To pass downtime on the mountain, he carries a deck of cards, a 160 GB iPod and a journal. On a recent trip to summit Khan Tengri in Kazakhstan, Mr. Parra and his climbing partner were stuck in their tent for four days by a snowstorm. Boredom at 19,000 feet is still boredom, he says. “I played a lot of ‘Angry Birds.’”

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