Pack Like a Pro: Mark Smiley’s modern take on classic climbs

Pack Like a Pro: Mark Smiley’s modern take on classic climbs

During a recent adventure in Yosemite National Park, several members of the Gear Institute team had a chance to hike with professional mountain guide Mark Smiley. Smiley, an IFMGA-certified guide with Exum Mountain Guides, works closely with the Gore-Tex team as well as Arc’Teryx designers when out exploring the mountains of North America. One of his on-going projects is completing the routes described in the 1979 book by Steve Roper and Allen Steck, “50 Classic Climbs of North America.”

Shortly after a great day of hiking in the Yosemite Valley, Gear Institute’s Aaron Bible chatted with Smiley about his life in the mountains.


Gear Institute: So Mark, after our recent trip to Yosemite, what are you up to as we head into deep winter? What’s next on your hit list?
Mark Smiley: We are entering into the heart of winter, so I’ve been skiing as much as possible. The snow in Wyoming is pretty good already so there are no excuses to not get out there. I’m working for Exum Mountain guides here in the Tetons, so taking people backcountry skiing is one of the many things that will fill my time this winter.


As for next, I have plans to go back up to Alaska this spring for some big boy climbs, and then head to Peru for a top-secret first ascent. Along the way I’ll also keep working on ticking off the 50 Classic Climbs of North America. I’m really looking forward to what is to come, while enjoying where I am.

Gear Institute: Sounds like a full plate! When heading out on a typical day in the Tetons, what items—other than sponsor’s gear—do you ALWAYS bring and why?
Smiley: Always is a big word. But I do always have Capilene briefs on…barring skinny-dipping of course. I always have my Pieps DPS Pro beacon with me in the backcountry.

Pieps DSP Pro I always have, and love, my Black Diamond Glidelite Mohair climbing skins. And I really always have my iPhone with me. Loaded with weather data from NOAA and GAIA GPS.


Gear Institute: Ok. Now for the shameless plug. What gear from your sponsors do you always carry?
Smiley: That’s an easy one: My Arc’Teryx Alpha FL Gore-Tex Jacket; LaSportiva Batura 2.0 GTX Boots; Arc’Teryx Lithic Comp Pants; and my Arc’Teryx Quintic 38 pack.




Gear Instute: What are some special packing or gear-protecting techniques/tricks you use?
Smiley: I use packaging tape to protect my screens (gps, camera, phone) when I go on longer trips so they dont get scratched. It cost exactly $0 for 4 inches of packing tape, works great, and is easy to replace.

Packing for an overnight trip, space is always limited because I like super small packs. One way to save some space is to put your extra socks, baselayer, and puffy jacket in your compression stuff sack with your sleeping bag. I like silk-weight compression bags. Granite Gear’s Air Compressor Sack is the best one I’ve found.


Gear Institute: What gear trend are you especially excited about right now?
Smiley: I hear Sterling Rope is coming out with a 60-meter 9.0mm single rope that weighs exactly 14 oz. Ok, that’s not true, but that would be awesome. Seriously though, I think the La Sportiva Syborg boot and ski are very exciting. They come in at an affordable price point, which will allow more people to get into the human powered ski mountaineering realm, and that is awesome.


Gear Institute: Totally. Anything else you want to share Mark?
Smiley: Really just that I would like to see more people putting miles on the gear they have. It’s easy to burn hours reading about new gear they don’t have. Lack of gear should never be an excuse to not get outside. Think about the explorers from 100 years ago, they wore cotton, wool, and had some awesome adventures…simply because they took action. If you want to take action, and if you want a professional to make the experience more enjoyable, have the “goods” of your adventure delivered in big way (i.e. deep powder), and a thicker safety margin, hire an AMGA certified guide for your next adventure. Finally, here’s a hot tip for hiring an awesome guide that will deliver a high value good time. Your first question should be, “Is your name Mark Smiley?” If they say, “No.” Move on until you get hear, “Yes, where do you want to go?”


Find more about Mark Smiley and his adventures at