Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Leading The Way" Ixta

I'm headed to Mexico later today to guide a group of blind and visually impaired teens and young adults up Iztaccihuatl (Ixta), one of the grand volcanos looking over the capitol city. I will be working with my blind buddy Erik Weihenmayer as we are teaming up with Global Explorers out of Ft Collins.

As the legend goes, the volcanoes of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl were created from the tragic love of the Aztec princess Iztaccíhuatl and the warrior Popocatépetl. These magnificent peaks were formed by Popo's fiery emotion and immortalized in Ixta's womanly shape. From a distance, Ixta forms the outline of a woman lying on her back. Although few have explored their broad talus and snow slopes up close, they have a beauty, a history and a palpable presence which transcend their stunning visual prominence. Combining an unlikely team of blind and sighted young adults from Mexico and the United States, it will be an extraordinary journey of leadership, discovery and adventure.

For this expedition, Global Explorers has partnered their nationally recognized Leading the Way program with the Mexican nonprofit Ojos que Sienten. Their goal: to reach the higher limits of 17,159-foot Iztaccíhuatl and, in the process, to break down barriers and misperceptions about disabilities. This trip is made possible through the support of numerous sponsors, including Unilever. Thanks to the generosity of Fundación Televisa and Fundación Cinépolis, an eye operation will be donated for every participant who reaches the summit.

Not only will students explore a social and cultural exchange between Mexico and the US, but they will also examine the shared contexts of disability. A unique part of the project will be a collaborative art project with photos from the expedition taken by blind team members. These photos will then be posted to an online gallery as part of a continuing tactile and visual project of artwork created by blind students. Additionally, Ojos que Sienten will be hosting "Dinner in the Dark," where blind students serve their guests in complete darkness. This gala dinner is open to the public and gives the blind students an opportunity to share the experience of blind culture with their teammates and community.

Should be a wonderful trip with a great blend of culture, leadership, challenge an down right fun!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gross National Happiness

Just back from an amazing journey to the Magical Kingdom of Bhutan.
It's such a remarkable place for so many reasons.

Just a few years back it was considered one of the most isolated nations in the world. Recent developments with technology including direct international flights, the Internet, mobile phone networks, and cable television have increasingly modernized the urban areas of the country. However, Bhutan has balanced modernization with its ancient culture and traditions under the guiding philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Through skilled foresight and lack of greed, rampant destruction of the environment has been avoided. The government takes great measures to preserve the nation's traditional culture, identity and the environment. In 2006, Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world. I believe everywhere we went we were greeted by happy and satisfied Bhutanese folks. From the yak herders to the store owners to the children in the villages. Everyone seems to be content and genuinely proud to be Bhutanese.

They've really figured it out. Most of the folks I spoke to were confident that this fragile balance between modernization and traditional identity and values will be securely in place for at least another decade or so...after that, they say...unclear. Everyone is hoping the up and coming generation will maintain the historical balance and continue to preserve the purity of this amazing place.

I hope so. I will absolutely go back...again and again. And hopefully this tiny little country, sandwiched between the superpowers of China and India will be able to continue holding it's colorful core values and snub the greed that infests the rest of the world.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bhutan Earthquake Situation

We are headed to Bhutan on October 1st with repurcussion of the earthquake on Sept 21st still coming in.

News articles are coming out about the deaths and damage are now being compiled.

The New York Post has an article about some of the damage done to Buddhist monasteries there and that some monks have been forced to leave.
Kuensel Online a Bhutanese media outlet has a story as well. They have listed the casualties, talked with survivors and summed up some of the damage to Buddhist related structures and the like:
Many monuments, monasteries, chortens, houses and schools in eastern Bhutan have been damaged. There were heavy cracks on Trashigang dzong and Lhuentse Singye dzong, according to dzongkhag officials. Dzongkhag officials in Pemagatsel also reported that there was a major damage to Yongla Goenpa. The sertho of Trongsa dzong had also tilted, while parts of the Tshemey lhakhang in Yangneer, Trashigang, collapsed, injuring four people, including two monks. Roadblocks in many parts of Mongar and Trashigang were also reported.
Here is a link to over 500 news stories for those following the situation. It should be noted that aftershocks are occurring as well and increasing the damage and the likelihood of more casualties.

We have been told by our outfitters in Bhutan to expect some aftershocks during our journey. Though these will probably pass unnoticed.
Locally the Buddhist population of Tibetan refugees has been enjoying a festival of Tibetan music, dance and other arts for the past few days to coincide with the ending of the Muslim season of Ramadan and the start of the Hindu season of Dussera/Divali (festival of lights). It is usually decided that if some of the major religious denominations are going to take a holiday then all might as well enjoy it in their own way as well.

There are collections being taken up by the Tibetans at this time, at the temple from visitors and the school from the audience to send whatever assistance is possible through the monastic system and the Tibetan government in exile to Bhutan to help with their efforts at ameliorating some of the destruction. I am told initiatives are currently being organized elsewhere here in India as well among the Buddhist populations.

Once we return we will have a better idea of how we can provide help to areas in need.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kingdom of Bhutan

We are headed to Asia in a few days to begin our trek through the magical kingdom of Bhutan.

I have had many folks asking me recently about Bhutan...where is it? what's it like?

Follow along our trek through our Bhutan Daily Dispatch page.

So, here ya go...

The Kingdom of Bhutan (pronounced /buːˈtɑːn/) is a landlocked nation in South Asia, located at the eastern end of the Himalaya Mountains and is bordered to the south, east and west by the Republic of India and to the north by People's Republic of China. Bhutan is separated from the nearby state of Nepal to the west by the Indian state of Sikkim, and from Bangladesh to the south by West Bengal. The Bhutanese call their country Druk Yul (Dzongkha: འབྲུག་ཡུལ་) which means "Land of the Thunder Dragon".[5]
Bhutan used to be one of the most isolated nations in the world, but developments including direct international flights, the Internet, mobile phone networks, and cable television have increasingly modernized the urban areas of the country. Bhutan has balanced modernization with its ancient culture and traditions under the guiding philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Rampant destruction of the environment has been avoided. The government takes great measures to preserve the nation's traditional culture, identity and the environment. In 2006, Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world, citing a global survey conducted by the University of Leicester in 2006 called the "World Map of Happiness".[6]
Bhutan's landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the Himalayan heights in the north, with some peaks exceeding 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). The state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism, and the population of 691,141 is predominantly Buddhist, with Hinduism being the second-largest religion. The capital and largest city is Thimphu. After centuries of direct monarchic rule, Bhutan held its first democratic elections in March 2008. Among other international associations, Bhutan is a member of the United Nations and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Over the past decade, Bhutan's political system has developed from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. In 1999, the fourth king of Bhutan created a body called the Lhengye Zhungtshog (Council of Ministers). The 'Druk Gyalpo' (King of Druk Yul) is head of state. Executive power is exercised by the Lhengye Zhungtshog, the council of ministers. Legislative power was vested in both the government and the former Grand National Assembly. On the 17th of December 2005, the 4th King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, announced to a stunned nation that the first general elections would be held in 2008, and that he would abdicate the throne in favor of his eldest son, the crown prince.[21] King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck took the throne on December 14, 2006 upon his father's abdication. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was adorned with Bhutan's Raven Crown at an ornate coronation ceremony in Thimphu on Thursday, November 6, 2008, becoming the world's youngest reigning monarch and head of the newest democracy.[22]
The new democratic system comprises an upper and lower house, the latter based on political party affiliations. Elections for the upper house (National Council) were held on December 31, 2007, while elections for the lower house, the 47-seat National Assembly, were held on March 24, 2008. Two political parties, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) headed by Sangay Ngedup, and the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) headed by Jigmi Thinley, competed in the National Assembly election. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa won the elections taking 45 out of 47 seats in the parliament.[23]

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tragic Loss

My wife Merry Beth is from a small farming town in Arkansas. Everybody knows everybody and everyone knows her cousins, the Parten family. Both of the young boys Tyler and Daniel were exceptional in every regard growing up there. Tyler, the older got into West Point and Daniel was two years behind, following in his big brother's footsteps. Tyler graduated from West Point in 2007 and began his tour of service earlier this year in Afghanistan as a Battalion Commander Armory Division.
Tyler's emails home were often outlining the immense boredom he and his crew were experiencing...almost hungry for a bit of combat that they had trained so hard for.
On 9/9/09 Tyler's Division came under fire and they were required to engage. The details from there are murky and have yet to be outlined. What is clear is that Tyler was shot and sustained a fatal injury.
He was a remarkable young man that will be missed. A true talent and gift to us all.
The world was in front of him. He gave it up as he was trained to do...for his country and for his faith.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Positive Pessimism

Mountain climbing is a perverse endeavor. It takes a different kind of person to decide they would rather drag themselves through days or weeks of pain on the side of some cold rock than stay at home in a warm bed with their loved ones. Depending on your point of view, we either have a unique idea of a good time or a massive personality defect. Either way, a side effect of the lifestyle is the development of a sick sense of humor. Part of it has to do with the climbing machismo, but part of it is a normal human response to the pain and misery we put ourselves through. Positive pessimism is a great example. It’s an idea we came up with accidentally, but it
has served us well over the years.

The idea began on our trip to Denali. Being stuck at high camp was a miserable time. We were parked on the only spot with any real cover, a relatively flat patch of hard rock and ice beneath a stone outcropping. We sat around for days eating cold food out of tin cans, waiting for the weather to break. Sleep was nearly impossible, with the whipping winds and tough ground
doing their best to keep us awake. When we were able to catch some rest, we’d often wake up to find that the ice beneath us had melted into a small glacial pool, or that the smell of unwashed
bodies in the tent had become unbearable. We’d all had it.

By the third afternoon, I wondered if we would start to crack. In order to break the tedium, we decided to press on. We’d been hoping to make some headway despite the storm, but didn’t
seem to be making any progress upward. Chris was leading us up a dark, miserable glacier, when he turned and uttered, “It’s cold out here, but at least it’s windy.” A slow smile curled up from the corner of his mouth. In spite of our shared tension, each of us chuckled for a moment.
“We’ve been climbing all day, but at least we’re lost,” Erik added. This brought a new round of laughs.
“Last night, I found a hole in my sleeping bag, but at least I've got frostbite,” was my contribution.

Sam had left us minutes before to relieve himself off the trail. But now, from twenty yards away, we could hear him shout, “It’s twenty below, but at least I’m partially naked!”
For the next few days, whenever the team seemed to be down, someone would invent a new positive pessimism. For us, it became a way to laugh at ourselves and the downside of a
unpleasant reality. Things aren’t always great; they won’t always be how you want them to be. The best thing to do is laugh.

I think learning not to take ourselves so seriously has been a secret of our success, and other people seem to agree. Ever since I first mentioned it in a speech years ago, the response has
been overwhelming. Nearly every day I get a note from someone who is taking the idea of positive pessimism and making it work for them: ‘I get micromanaged, but at least my boss is an idiot.’ Or ‘The company is downsizing, but at least my assistant is still worthless.’ I think it’s great. The next time you find yourself in a tough spot, try to find the fun in it.

And remember, life may be hard, but at least you’ll die in the end.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Headed South

Off to Peru on July 5th with 21 good folks. We will be crusing the Andes via the infrequently traveled Ancoskocha Trail with a final destination of Machu Picchu.

Dispatches will be uploaded as frequently as technology allows us (we learned last year that once we get 2 days into the trail not even satellite phones work).
Those dispatches that we do get out will be viewed on our Field Dispatch page.

Our community service project this year will be based on adobe wall construction for the Chilipaua school we have grown to love. More on that later.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Missing In China

It's what we didn't want to hear... Sadly it appears that the Boulder based climbers that were attempting Mt Edgar in China have been claimed by an avalanche. One body has been discovered in a fan of avalanche debris near the advanced basecamp of this remote peak. Everyone is holding out hope that perhaps at least one of the 3 survived.

From a previous news thread:

June 5, 2009, Boulder, CO—Three Boulder, Colorado climbers—JonathanCopp (age 35), Micah Dash (age 30), and Wade Johnson (age 24)—areoverdue, having missed their flight on June 3 from Chengdu, China.

The three traveled to Mount Edgar (6818 meters/22,368 feet) on theMinya Konka massif, Western Sichuan Province, China. They embarked from base camp on May 20, 2009. There hasn’t been any contact with the climbers since.
Copp and Dash are highly experienced alpinists and professional climbers who have many years experience tackling big unclimbed mountains around the world. They received the Mugs Stump Award grant for this expedition from the American Alpine Club in 2008 but had to delay the climb until now, due to political unrest in the region. Johnson (a photographer with Sender Films) was accompanying Dash and Copp to base camp and did not intend to attempt the climb to the summit.

From this mornings news:

The latest news from China is that Xinhua News Agency, China’s official news organization, has named the three American climbers—Jonny Copp, Micah Dash, and Wade Johnson—as the victims of an avalanche. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing is, however, not confirming the identities but says they are American citizens.
Li Zhixin, an official with the Chinese Mountain Association, says that one body has been found and Chinese climbers are searching for the other two in avalanche debris. The body was located at 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) on Mount Edgar in the Minya Konka massif. The mountain is a sub-peak of 24,790-foot (7,556 meters) Mount Gongga, the highest mountain in the Sichuan Province in western China. The rescuers did not move the body because the surrounding area was unstable, instead taking photographs for identification later.

Of the 3 of them, I only know Jonny as he is the founder and energy behind the Boulder Adventure Film Festival. Jonny is a great character and advocate within the climbing community, but especially here in Boulder. Would be a huge loss.

And now confirmed:
June 7, 2009, Boulder, CO—The body found in avalanche debris at 4000 meters on Mount Edgar (6818 meters/22,368 feet), China, has been positively identified as Jonathan “Jonny” Copp, age 35 of Boulder, CO.

For more details and to help in the search...go to the Adventure Films website.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Member of Explorers Club

Just learned this morning that I have been selected as a Member of New York City's prestigious Explorers Club.
What an honor.

A bit about the Club:

The Explorers Club was founded in New York City, New York, in 1904. The club as explained in its charter was formed to further general exploration, to spread knowledge of the same; to acquire and maintain a library of exploration; and to encourage explorers in their work by “evincing interest and sympathy, and especially by bringing them in personal contact and binding them in the bonds of good fellowship” (TEC, Certificate of Incorporation, October 25, 1905). The Explorers Club is a sister organization of the National Geographic Society, and one of the Honorary Directors of The Explorers Club, Gilbert Melville Grosvenor, is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Geographic Society. Further, the two organizations share many board and general members.
Today, The Explorers Club is a multi-disciplinary society dedicated to advancing field research, scientific exploration and the ideal that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore. The club's mission is to encourage scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space, emphasizing the physical and biological sciences. Its headquarters is the Lowell Thomas Building on East 70th Street in New York City.
Membership in The Explorers Club is open to qualified individuals and corporations that are leaders in science and exploration. The Club counts 3,000 members representing every continent and more than 60 nations. Over the years, membership has included polar explorers Roald Amundsen, Robert Peary, Matthew Henson, Ernest Shackleton, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Sir George Hubert Wilkins, and Frederick Cook; aviators Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, Richard Archbold and Chuck Yeager; underwater explorers Sylvia Earle, Jacques Piccard, Don Walsh and Robert Ballard; astronauts John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride, Kathryn Sullivan, and cosmonaut Viktor Savinykh; anthropologists Louis Leakey, Richard Leakey and Jane Goodall; mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay; former U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover; and thousands of other notables including journalist Lowell Thomas, newspaper cartoonist Mel Cummin and pioneer explorer Thor Heyerdahl.
Today, the club serves as a base for expedition planning, presentations, meetings, and events. The Club invites returning explorers to share their experience and findings in public lectures and member events, and in its quarterly periodical, The Explorers Journal.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Documentary Film Compilation - MVX Style

Here are the 3 documentary films that have been made in conjunction with Jeff and MVX over the past couple of years...

Walk Your Own Path

A film by Joshua Levine. A documentary that follows Jeff guiding Bill Barkeley (blind and deaf) to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro.

A Travelers Footprint

A film by Alex Williams. A wonderful short documentary on the impact and influence of travelers while on a MountainVision Expedition.

A New Yorkers Guide to Climbing Mountains

A film by Emeka Ngwube. A documentary that illustrates the contrasts and parallels between Manhattanites and ambitious Kilimanjaro climbers being guided by Jeff Evans

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

MVX Video

We are fired up to have our MountainVision Expeditions promo video up and running.
Check it out:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Project MountainVision Foundation

I'm happy to announce the establishment of a long awaited project of mine...

The Project MountainVision Foundation is a non profit venture that donates 1% of all MVX client fees to many of our existing social projects around the globe. We feel it is critical that while experiencing the world of adventure in such unique and wondrous places, we must act as global citizens and contribute in constructive and socially conscientious ways to the local destinations and communities.

Some of our projects include an ongoing adobe brick construction "add-on" to a small school in an isolated Peruvian village, providing necessary educational school supplies to an AIDS orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania and delivering medical supplies to local clinics in the outskirts of Paro, Bhutan.

We encourage all of our MVX clients to participate in the building and distribution of materials on each of our trips. We also love receiving suggestions and project ideas from our friends and clients prior to departure.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Navy SEALs: The Epitome of Teamwork and Leadership

My last post was addressing a poor display of preparation, leadership and teamwork in the failed resuce of a climber on Aconcagua.

After watching how the events of the "hostage" boat captain played out over the weekend off the coast of Somalia, we see the definition of leadership and teamwork.

I have always been in awe of the Navy SEALs...primarily from learning how intense their training is. Their BUDS school is infamously regarded as the most rigorous and demanding military training school in the world. Their own definition:

"Prospective SEALs go through what is considered by many military experts to be the toughest training in the world. ... The most important trait that distinguishes Navy SEALs from all other military forces is that SEALs are Maritime Special Forces, as they strike from and return to the sea. SEALs (Sea, Air, Land) take their name from the elements in and from which they operate. Their stealth and clandestine methods of operation allow them to conduct multiple missions against targets that larger forces cannot approach undetected."

These men are taught to be the best at what they everything they do. I have spent most of my career involved working with teams and in some form of leadership. I am humbled by the presence of these men that serve at such a high level.

From the SEAL creed:
"My loyalty to country and team is beyond reproach. I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans, always ready to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own. I serve with honor on and off the battlefield. The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance, sets me apart from other men. ... In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission. ... I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight."

That is the true definition of teamwork.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Weak Rescue Attempt on Aconcagua

The video below shows rescuers attempting to bring down Argentinian mountain guide, Frederico Campinini. I was on Aconcagua during this "rescue" a lower camp. All of the "rescuers" in the video appear to be either Argentinian or Chilean. Sadly none of them appeared to have any clue as to how to perform a high alpine rescue.

The commentary includes rescuers ridiculing Campinini. On numerous occasions they mutter the word ‘idiot’ at him, while also pushing, pulling, and dragging on him by a single rope. It is thought that the rescuers believed Campinini was dead before they were summoned for the rescue attempt. With this in mind, the rescuers failed to bring proper equipment along to aid in a successful rescue. At about the 1 minute mark, you can plainly see Campinini trying to make a move to get up and going–he gets up on his knees–then the rescuers, rather than help him to get up, start pulling on him to get him moving.

If you think this video looks like the rescue is heading UP Aconcagua, you would be right. The rescuers decided that a safer route could be managed to bring down Campanini by going back up and over the summit. The condition that Campinini is seen in would make this a very hard decision, indeed. He can barely move on his hands and knees. Campanini eventually collapses after barely making a move. The rescuers are all seen standing around the fallen guide and trying to decide what to do. A call is made by radio explaining that Campanini would be dead in 20 minutes. All within earshot of the climber. A few minutes later, a decision is made to abandon the rescue. With Campanini crumpled down in the snow, the rescuers leave–it is not known if Campanini was alive or dead at this point. It is known that his body was left on Aconcagua.

The rescuers involved in this incident are not identified. The videographer of Campanini’s recue attempt is also not identified, but an anonymous source sent this video to Campanini’s father, who then released it to the internet via YouTube and the Argentinian press. Much criticism has followed this video’s release. Was Campanini abandoned by his rescuers? Could he have survived this incident if things had been done properly?

Reports of Federico Campanini’s condition range from hypothermia and dehydration to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)–a buildup of fluid in the lungs associated with being in high altitudes. Regarding the hypothermia and dehydration, rescuers came ill prepared to handle any of this as it was assumed that they were going after a corpse, and not a survivor. They carried no fluids and did not have proper means to warm Mr. Campinini. If indeed Mr. Campanini was suffering from HAPE, this could have been thwarted by simply bringing him down to a lower altitude–quickly. The decision to go back up Aconcagua, then over, and back down, could have very well been the deciding factor in if Campanini would survive. With breathing already difficult in 20,000+ feet of altitude, as well as the buildup of fluid in the lungs, moving anywhere quickly would be a task. Throughout the video, it is plainly seen that for the most part, one person is doing all the work, while four others stand nearby–or offer belittling encouragement (’Get up, idiot!’). These rescuers obviously had no idea of what they were doing and had not been properly trained in how to handle such a situation. They also seemed to not mind being filmed, or to have this film eventually made public.

This is a sad video that offers a brief look at what happens when absolutely everything can go wrong during a rescue. Federico Campinini didn’t have a chance.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fun Adventure in the Sweet Town of Telluride

Just getting home from a wonderful week down in the San Juans of Colorado. We were thrilled to be a part of the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program's (TASP) "Expand Your Horizons" program where we screened Blindsight as well as a community keynote presentation.

Some of the media that came from the week:

Plum TV interview

Telluride Daily Planet article

Telluride Insider radio interview

All of the events were centered around a fundraiser for TASP, a wonderful organization that empowers challenged athletes to "get after it" in the mountains.