Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wrong Turn on Hood and Another Mountain Mystery

Clues are now suggesting to searchers on Hood that the 2 climbers that left their injured buddy probably fell from somewhere just below the summit around the Pearly Gates area...this photo is looking down onto the south side from the top of the Gates.
In good weather it is somewhat challenging to determine which channel is the appropriate one to descend....with most of the others cliffing out below. Would be really difficult with big snow, low visibility and high winds.

These guys will most likely be found a couple of thousand feet below one of the adjacent rock channels.

Another notable climbing mystery is unfolding in China right now where 2 prominent alpinists have been missing for some time. Charlie Fowler and Christine Boskoff were expected home from their exploratory climbing trip around December 11th. They were in a very remote region of China attempting several unclimbed peaks. A blog has been created regarding this mystery.

Throughout every climbing incident that unfolds and seems to captivate the drama driven media, remember the words of Helen Keller:

"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Lost on Mt Hood

Just got a call from a non climber friend of mine, questioning these fellows lost/dead on Mt Hood. He was inquiring on where those guys went wrong...why didn't they carry a GPS tracking device....could they have done something different and still be alive.

First of all, I admire these guys for attempting this route in the winter. Remember that they were attempting Hood from the north which has only a handful of ascents each year and clearly very few in the winter (in contrast to Hoods south side which has countless ascents up its ski area). It's a solid approach even in the summer...then the final headwall to reach the summit is steep and relatively sustained.

I climbed this route in April of '04 with several buddies including super blind guy, Erik. We were the first party to attempt the north face of the season which was quite a treat. We intentionally bivied (camped) in a partial snow cave right at the base of the headwall...I imagine right were these guys made their primary cave and where the one dead climber was found yesterday.

I have pretty strong opinions about calling for help while voluntarily out in the mountains...attempting a route. This probably comes from my years of working with the National Park Service as a volunteer climbing ranger in the Alaska Range...primarily on Denali (Mt McKinley). Countless times we would receive a distress call from a 'climber in need'. Many times the calls were justified and the party was in significant trouble...however, often times the climber was simply exhausted...too tired to get down.

In my opinion (and many others) the presence of the NPS Search and Rescue team has unintentionally given climbers the hubris to stretch beyond their limitations...knowing that if they get in trouble, one of the best SAR teams in the world will be at their beckon call. I remember getting the call on one occasion from a Japanese climber that had 'broken' his ankle and was stranded up at 18,000 ft on Denali (the 'football field'). After a lengthy helicopter rescue where several rescuer's lives were put at risk, he was carried down to the mountain's basecamp at 7,200 ft and proceeded to walk with ease out of the helicopter and into the basecamp yurt. After some subtle coaxing he admitted that his ankle was mildly sprained....his ailment was actually severe fatigue and he felt that he was due a rescue after paying his Park Service fee prior to his ascent. Obviously this chaffed many of us and cost the taxpayer well over $2000.

That being said, the Denali NPS SAR team as well as SAR teams around the world provide an invaluable service and have no doubt saved countless lives...climbers that did everything in their power to get themselves out of their predicament. Sometimes it appears you just run out of options.

So this leads me to how I answered my buddy's inquiry this morning....

Most seasoned climbers know to enter their objective in a self sustained way...never enter into a situation that you and your team are not capable of getting of, on your own.

Should they have brought a GPS system?...obviously not with the intention of applying it for rescue purposes, only perhaps for route finding or establishing way points to map out later. But in having the GPS or in the case of the cell phone the one climber called from, there is a locator established through satellite communication...a bonus I suppose in carrying these instruments in the backcountry.

These fellows were somewhat experienced in the mountains and appear to have attempted to get themselves out of their dire situation prior to the distress cell phone call. By doing this they exonerated themselves from the 'I can go further than my means, because I know someone will pull me out of the shit if it gets deep' syndrome.

They were trying a relatively challenging route in the winter and unfortunately got hammered by one of Oregon's worst storms in over a decade.

The mountains are ruthless at times and have their own rulebook by which we must play. If we care to throw ourselves into their grasp we have to be willing to slide out of it on our own.

All of that being said, if I lived in the area of Mt Hood I would have been one of the members of that SAR team, hunting and searching for these lost guys...even if in vain...because I know that if I ever go missing...I know that a capable group of selfless men and women would put themselves out there looking for me. That's the creed of the mountains....that's just what you do.

Godspeed to them and all of the folks out looking for them.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

New data on the melting of Kilimanjaro

Relatively new data and story on the melting snow and ice of Kili.
Even in the short period of 5 years that I have been guiding Kilimanjaro I have noticed a retreat in the ice line. Specifically on the crater I have noted that the ice line is further away from the standard trail...perhaps three to four feet from where it was on my first trip up the hill. The other glaring issue that I have noted over the past several trips to Tanzania is the ubiquitous dead corn crops. I also continue to hear stories from my Tanzanian friends that every year seems to get worse with agriculture in their region. Some folks might say this is just cyclical. I don't think so.


Avoiding Disaster in Adventure Travel

A relatively informative article on how to limit risk while globetrotting in search of adventure....but, clearly if you join MountainVision on one of our trips, you will hear us recite this info and much more prior to departure.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Machu Picchu, The Quiet Way

I am headed back to Peru in May of '07 to trek up the isolated and relatively unkown Ankoscocha trail concluding at the mystical ruins of Machu Picchu....and I can't wait.
This is a 5 day trek over several high passes (14,000 ft)...where chances are good that we will not encounter another tourist over the entire 5 day trek...unlike the majority of other trekkers on the standard Inca Trail.

Below is a short story that I wrote for a Japanese Adventure Travel magazine, after my return from Peru...

As thoughts of my upcoming journey to Machu Picchu swam through my imagination prior to my departure for Peru, I was inundated with fears of having to share the 5 day approach trail with swarms of other tourists, all competing for the same camping spots, photo shots and natural silence. It was these anxious thoughts that lead me to choose a variation of the standard Inca Trail that 99% of all travelers take to reach the ‘lost city’ of Machu Picchu. I would happily refer to my pending trail variation as the ‘Huber Inca Trail’.

The usual packing effort behind me, I was on the plane and headed for Peru. After a quick swing through Lima, we quickly headed into the heart of the Peruvian Andes. Arrival into Cusco was refreshing to say the least. It is a city that retains its indigenous heritage while at the same time allows many elements of contemporary society into its colorful and bright way of life. The central square of the city vividly displays the place where native Quechan culture was dramatically and succinctly mandated with Spanish dominance and the subsequent Roman Catholic faith. The main cathedral contains effigies of a dark skinned Christ, stone carvings remarking on several prominent Incan holidays as well the expected Catholic pomp and circumstance.

Whereas Machu Picchu was the ‘summer getaway’ for the Emperor, high priests and scientists, Cusco was the established permanent home of the head of the Incan Empire as well as the large bulk of the Quechan civilization. Even in today’s often diluted society, Cusco stands out as a lovely city still retaining its native charm.

Cusco is full of remarkable historical places and memorable learning points and although I had spent four years studying Meso-American culture and received a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology at the University of Colorado, a relatively significant semantic detail regarding the Incan Empire had eluded me. I was quite surprised to learn from my ever knowledgeable Peruvian guide that there was actually no such thing as the Incan Empire. The civilization that I had always known as the Incas was actually the Quechan civilization. He enlightened me to the fact that the Incan Emperor was referred to as Inca and for the purposes of history and teaching, or perhaps downright laziness, this term has often been blanketed to refer to the entire civilization. This was another wonderful illustration that one can spend thousands of dollars on a higher education degree, but the real learning will always take place in the world of experience.

The five days spent on the high trail were magnificent. As each day flew by I was required to finally believe that we really would not see another tourist for the entire journey. The only other contact we had from day to day was with several groups of Peruvian sheep/goat herders and of course individuals from some of the local villages that we gently crept through.

One of the joys of our trip was pre-arranging a community service project in the small village of Chilipaua. An entire day was spent painting the local school and celebrating cultural diversity with the locals. This was a vibrant and rich way to feel a part of Peru instead of just cruising through in a homogenous and segregated way. We enjoyed this activity immensely and I will include it in all of my Peruvian itineraries in the future.

It goes without saying that the scenery while walking through the Andes is remarkable. High mountain lakes and waterfalls are circumventing massive glaciated peaks along every step of the trail…all of this simply whetting your appetite for the grand finale five days later…Machu Picchu. Pulling into the ‘Gate of the Sun’ as the sun was just dropping behind the mountains that provide the barrier to the ‘lost city’, was glorious as it uncovered this lovely antiquated village nestled on its hillside. One can practically envision the hustle and bustle that must have taken place in this once active village 500 years prior. Just like it was just yesterday.

We headed back to our lodge down the road from Machu Picchu once it got too dark to take in the sites and sensations of this wondrous place, only to return back in the morning to spend four quality hours taking it all in with our knowledgeable Peruvian guide. A very special feeling comes from walking on this sacred ground. You get the feeling that the inhabitants of this place were way ahead of their time in regards to engineering, mathematics, farming, astronomy, spirituality as well as countless other nebulous concepts. I could only hope that some of their insight would find its way into me and the folks around me.

Check out Didriks site for many photos from this trip.


Mt Everest Basecamp Trek

My business partner Gavin Attwood will be making his own attempt on Mt Everest in the Spring of '07 and we will all be following him closely. Prior to his ascent he will be guiding a group of trekkers up to Everest Basecamp. This is a fantastic adventure through the Khumbu Valley arriving at 17,200 ft and the most famous camp in the world.

Forearm pump

An interesting article on the dreaded forearm pump....the lactic burn.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Thank God for Thailand

Climbing with and guiding the most famous blind climber in the world has its challenges sometimes. Now, you’re probably thinking of how tough it was to keep tabs on him up sheer faces like El Cap and Half Dome…maybe even how hard it must have been guiding him through the jumbled up mess of the Khumbu icefall on Mt Everest…or perhaps how tough it must have been ensuring his safety up and over the Hillary Step at 29,000 ft. Well, in some regards, that was the easy part.

Other than Stevie Wonder, Johnny Winter, and the late Ray Charles, Erik Weihenmayer is perhaps the most recognizable blind guy in the country (as well as some other unlikely international locations). Especially after the feel-good billboard campaign that is as ubiquitous as a local 7-11 throughout this great land of ours. A mega billboard shot of Erik on Denali, 11 years ago, striking his best Jesus pose with the quote “Climbed Everest. Blind.” Yeah, that must have been tough. Well let me tell you about tough.

Erik and I are both fortunate enough these days to make our livings giving keynote addresses based on our adventures to companies around the world (He’s in the upper stratosphere of speakers…I’m simply happy to make a living out of it to support my climbing habits and family). Occasionally the event will require the speaker to travel great distances to participate and give a heart rendering and inspiring account of suffering together as a team, overcoming adversities, and making the commitment to reach to top. Erik often gets offers to speak in far away, cool places like Dubai, Cortina, Auckland, Seoul, and Santiago. I get excited when I get the call that I’m headed to exotic places like Sacramento, Pensacola, and Pittsburgh. But I don’t complain, because my blind colleague has done a wonderful job of accepting engagements in cool locations, (read, awesome climbing sites) and dragging along his longtime buddies for some good fun on the rocks and mountains after the talk is a thing of history.

On this most recent occasion, Erik accepted an engagement speaking to a group of 10,000 insurance salespeople in Bangkok, Thailand. Now, Erik in his great insight and wisdom saw the opportunity at hand. A mere 2 hr flight south of Bangkok are islands just teeming with sick, steep limestone walls, delicious Thai food and bikini clad Euro gals all crankin on overhanging cliffs with their 1% body fat. It’s what we like to call, Paradise.

As strong and competent as our man Erik is, he usually needs someone to do most of the leading(editors note…Erik has lead many pitches in his climbing career, most notably 4 on El Cap). So, for this trip to the land of Thais, Erik brought along myself and another notable, successful climbing bum, Charley Mace (of K2 fame and one of our Everest teammates).

Once the business of the speaking engagement was behind us, it became all about getting south, and firing onto the forearm cranking cliffs. As a climber, the first time you round the corner into the Au Nang bay and catch a glimpse of Ton Sai and Rai Lei beaches, you nearly fall out of your long tail boat with the sheer magnitude and square footage of the limestone surrounding you. Huge towering cliffs sprayed with orange, black, green and gray, all begging to be scampered on.
Many an account has been logged on the detail and beauty of climbing in southern Thailand, so I won’t bore you with the details other than a typical day over our two week ‘expedition’…wake up, gather gear, drink iced Thai coffee and banana lassie, head for pre-arranged cliff site and climb till sunset (Erik was usually game to keep firing after the sun went down…a customary problem with him). Then, head to bar for beers, converse with Euro climbing dawgs (with the one, incessant house-rave song plodding on in the background) and deliberate on routes we would tackle tomorrow. Go to sleep. Repeat. A true sufferfest. Its’ OK, we’ve had lots of experience suffering on expeditions. We’re good at it.

As tough as all of that sounds, we have yet to experience the crux of the trip, the challenging part of climbing with a famous blind climber…After 38 hours of traveling from southern Thailand and landing back in Denver, we were done with the poorly reclining seats in 1st Class, moments away from reuniting with our families, an hour from climbing into our own beds… …and then, the inevitable happens. “Are you Erik Weihenmayer, the famous climber?” a lovely admirer asks as we step into Denver International Airport. Several minutes of curious inquiry and questioning then takes place, all the while pulling Erik along towards the train, groggy from the jetlag.

Then again, after disembarking the shuttle train, “Wow, you’re the guy that climbed Everest, right?” Another 3 minutes of Q&A. A similar scenario plays out twice more as we draw closer to the doors leading us into the Colorado breeze. Charley and I begin to fade. The hours of travel, the proximity to our final destination and perhaps that Ambien I took 7 hours ago, all start to conspire against me. Erik, the consummate gentleman, stops again to politely converse. I start to get tunnel vision; I know my wife and 6 month old son are only a few hundred feet away. My hands start to get a little shaky. I start to sweat and I have to dig down deep not to grab Erik and sprint to baggage claim. Finally, it comes to an end and we are reunited with our families and out into the night, feeling that sweet Rocky Mountain dry air. And the sufferfest has come to an end, the crux completed. In marginal style, but nonetheless, completed.

Go climb rocks in Thailand. If you can suffer hard enough, its paradise.

Thank God for Thailand. More pics here.


Signing On

I will just say outright that I am new and naive when it comes to this cosmic realm of blogging. As with most things in life, being introduced to a new concept, application or mechanized instrument comes in the form of someone taking a few minutes...or hours in my case...to patiently explain the intricacies of this new found valuable asset.

Mine came in the form of my airplane compadre Erik who proved be a very smart fellow on many topics...all of which I am not. Erik turned me onto the world of blog as well as many of the nuances of internet security as he works for Verisgn.

So, the way I will choose to interpret my blog site is that I can post anything I damn well please...Perhaps folks will read it over time and perhaps they will even comment on it.

My plan is to post daily thoughts in just about every field and topic with a heavy hand in the world of adventure travel and corporate keynote speaking....both of which I do to make a living. I will also be posting short stories some of which I plan on applying to my 'under construction' book.

The hope is in '07 we will be doing dispatches from many of the expeditions MountainVision undertakes and adding them to this site.

Thats it for the sign on....much more to come.