Backcountry improv from an alpine MacGyver
By Ian Ferguson
Mark Cionek is a program coordinator and guide for the American Alpine Institute who has logged over 100 Mt. Rainier summits, climbed Denali and Aconcagua multiple times, and been, in general, an alpine badass all over the world. He has more mountain experience in his ring toe than all my buddies and me combined.On a touring trip to Mt. Ruth via Hannegan Pass in December, Mark impressed us not only through his knowledge of avalanche terrain, but also in his ability to make field repairs of broken equipment.
First, Mark’s pole lost a basket. When skinning through deep snow, a basketless pole is useless because it offers no resistance to help with balance or forward propulsion.
“No problem,” Mark said, as he proceeded to crush a beer can, stab it with the pole and secure it with duct tape. The “beer basket” lasted all day, and I believe it is still on the pole.
Next, the sticky side of my skins got covered with snow when I took them off to ski a downhill section en route to our objective. Wet skins don’t stick to skis, and mine don’t have a clip for the tail end. Fortunately, Mark knew that the strip of fabric running down the center of Black Diamond skins can be removed to expose some fresh, sticky skin surface. I pulled my center strips off, stuck the skins back on and was able to salvage a great day in the backcountry.
Mark’s own skins were giving him grief because the ancient clip system had worn out. He improvised a clip with a rubber ski strap (the kind that holds skis together) and duct tape. Aside from a few adjustments throughout the 12-mile tour, his MacGyvered clip did the job. We didn’t make it to Mt. Ruth that day, but skied an adjacent, unnamed peak for 1,000 vertical feet of knee-deep pow turns, and a great time was had by all thanks in large part to creative repair jobs.
Moral of the story, according to Mark: “Give me a lighter, some baling wire, duct tape, and a Leatherman, and I’ll build a freakin’ airplane …” X