Disappearing Himalayan glaciers

Spearheaded by David Breashears, who was made famous by being the first American to summit Everest twice, GlacierWorks has the following mission statement:

Founded by acclaimed mountaineer, photographer, and filmmaker David Breashears, GlacierWorks is a non-profit organization that vividly illustrates the changes to Himalayan glaciers through art, science, and adventure. Since 2007, GlacierWorks has undertaken ten expeditions to document the current state of the glaciers, retracing the steps of pioneering mountain photographers in order to capture new images that precisely match the early photographic records. Over the past five years, they have recorded losses and changes to glaciers that are inaccessible to all but the most skilled climbers.

Of the many interesting and valuable things on the website, THIS ridiculously awesome image of the Everest Base Camp (EBC) and Everest itself is well worth the time to explore. Take time to zoom down on base camp to check the setup and the numbers of tents. You can get in super close on the Khumbu ice fall and other parts of the mountain. If you  look closely, you can even pick out teams of individuals ascending their routes up Everest. A thread at SummitPost found as many as 52 climbers in the image, on their way up the mountain.

Of note, EBC (South) is at an altitude of nearly 17,600 feet. Once of the things that struck me when viewing this image for the first time was that the mountain actually doesn’t look terribly imposing in this view. But the key to remember is that base camp itself, in the image, is at 17,600 feet. With a summit above 29,000 feet, the distance between base camp and the summit is roughly 12,000 feet!


Knowing when to quit & following the leader

Ed Vieturns makes a point in almost all his books (though I read it HERE first) that in order to make it down alive, a climber needs to remember that getting to the summit is only 50% of the game. You still have to get back down. It’s so simplistic, and yet brilliant. I’m not yet an experienced climber, but in the few climbs I’ve made, I at least kind of know that thought process. You’re struggling to get up, and the summit feels like the goal, the end of the game. It’s very hard to remember that there is the whole other return trip to make as well.

It was the above thought process that ran through my mind when mountaineer and Everest “reporter” Alan Arnette reported here on his website that Himalayan Experience (HIMEX) has pulled their Everest team off the mountain and cancelled their summit attempt (on Everest and other local peaks). You might know HIMEX- they’re led by Russel Brice, whose Everest expedition was the star of the Discovery Channel Show ‘Everest- Beyond the Limit.’ After watching the show it was clear that Russel not only knows his stuff but is also a no nonsense sort of guy. If he tells you not to do something, there is a damn good reason for it.

Climbing Everest is a serious commitment: the time to train, the many thousands of dollars it takes to buy gear, the tens of thousands it takes to get on or buy a permit, and the months of your life dedicated to the effort. Imagine spending all that money, getting in country, getting to Everest Base Camp, starting to climb, but then to be told that it’s simply to dangerous, and that it’s all called off.

It’s also important to look at it from Russel’s point of view. Other teams are on the mountain, and they didn’t cancel. Others are moving forward with their climbs on Everest. But Russel talked to his sherpas, looked at the weather and the conditions on the mountain, and decided that the safety factor required him to call it off (all according to Alan’s post). But he is running a business, and this sort of press isn’t necessarily ideal. So as the business operator, there is a drive to run a successful business. But Russel Brice put the safety of his climbers and his sherpas before his profit and his business. Canceling doesn’t necessarily hurt him, but it doesn’t do him any favors either.

Ultimately, I think this speaks incredibly well for Russel Brice. Teams will probably summit this year, and those that signed on and paid Russel Brice will lose out. But they placed their safety and welfare (and decisions on such) in the hands of Russel Brice, and he made the call. If the day comes that I have the drive to make any Himalayan climb, HIMEX would be my first stop.

Goals and Plans: Considering the Seven Summits

Having a goal is a good thing. It allows you to put yourself on a path towards achieving something specific. It allows you to set goals, way points, and put in place the pieces that allow you to achieve your end result.

In climbing, I’ve come to see two types of goals. One way to look at it is that one is tactical and the other is strategic. Let’s talk about the tactical goal first.

Climbing in and of itself is a daunting task. Whether it’s to summit a 20,000 foot mountain or to climb a 5.14-rated route in your backyard, the task you’re setting yourself on is no easy thing. Your goal might take you a few hours, or days, or even months. But it’s a very proximate thing, it’s staring you in the face. When I am climbing indoors

indoor climbing

the goal is simply the top of the route. Once I am clipped in, I’ll take a minute or two (or more) to study the route before I even touch the wall. I do the best I can to envision where my hands and feet will start, and the sequence of moves I need to get to the top. This is an art, not a science. And being able to plan your moves far out in advance is most certainly a learned skill, something that I am capable of doing at a very low level at the moment. But when I started, I wasn’t able to do it at all, so progress is progress! Once you have that plan in place, you get on the wall and start. Inevitably I hit the crux of the route, and I have to re- imagine how I am going to best the crux. But, I figure it out, make it past, and then hit the top. I’d imagine (and I will soon find out) that alpine mountaineering is similar, in that you spend lots of time planning your site, bivy locations, route, etc. Plus the added weight of managing gear packing and load-out.

I see the above as tactical because the end result is proximate.

Strategic goals, on the other hand, are ones in which the goal is much further out and is not only driven by a specific end-result, but by a more esoteric achievement. The two efforts (tactical and strategic goals) are intricately linked, and one lays the groundwork for the other, but the tactical goal is so much more proximate that your efforts are incredibly heavily geared towards that effort, with the idea of achieving your strategic goal taking a (hard to imagine) back seat for a limited time.

So why does any of this matter? I’m climbing the South Spur route of Mt. Adams in the summer of 2012.

Mt Adams (12,281ft)

This is generally seen as a non-technical route good for alpine beginners. While the altitude is serious (12,281 feet), the level of difficulty is still beginner (though it’s all about the context!). Once I’ve tackled this, what next? In a classic example of putting the chicken before the eggs, I want to climb something harder in 2013 (one year later). I’m pretty sure I want to climb Mt. Baker, also in Washington State. Now Mt.

Mt. Baker (10,781ft)

Baker is a bit smaller (10,781 feet), and though still thought of as a beginner mountain, it’s far more technical. While crampons are needed on both, the size of the glaciers and the danger of crevasses on Baker require roped-glacier travel skills. Mt. Adams doesn’t have this particular issue. The crux of the Mt. Baker climb  (the Roman Head Wall) is reportedly much harder than the crux of the Mt. Adams climb. In addition, I want to make the Baker climb in 2013 part of a longer alpine mountaineering course, likely a week long. So, that’s Mt. Adams in summer 2012, and then Mt. Baker in summer 2013. Then what?


If the stars align and everything works out perfectly (i.e. my abilities to actually do this, personal circumstances, etc), I’d like to tackle one of the seven summits (the highest peak on each of the seven continents). Of the seven, two are generally considered the “easiest” (again, context): Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (19,341 feet)

Mt. Kilimanjaro

or Aconcagua in Argentina (22,841 feet).

Mt. Aconcagua

The basic idea here is to tackle a huge undertaking in 2014- considering the financial cost to do so, that might be more like 2015 or even 2016. That seems like a long ways away. My current efforts are certainly laying the groundwork for it to happen, but the more proximate effort (Adams) is taking up so much of my efforts in this space, that the other stuff is on the back-burner at the moment…my strategic goals. More in the next few days at what an effort at Aconcagua or Kilimanjaro would look like…


Climbing literature, what I’m reading (Annapurna by Herzog)

There is no shortage of books out there about mountain climbing. Sadly much of it is dramatic stories of disaster or rescue. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, of course…like most climbers (I would imagine) I’ve read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, and I found it riveting and fascinating. I flip through the climbing related magazines at the book stores (Rock and Ice, Mountains, Alpinist, etc) looking at gear, gear reviews, the amazing photos, and the stories. But at this very moment I am reading Annapurna  by Maurice Herzog. This is a great book. The politics and issues surrounding the different accounts of this climb aside, the book is a stellar read about the first serious attempt to summit Annapurna.

The book is Herzog’s account (as team lead) of their 1950 adventure to make the first summit of Annapurna, which also happened to be the first successful climb of anything above 8000m. Herzog was french, as was the team he had put together. What made this so spectacular was that the peak had yet to be truly explored or reconnoitered in a fashion to allow Herzog’s team to develop a plan of attack to climb it. Once they arrived in-country (which in 1950 was no small feat), they worked first to simply find (!!!) the peak. Once successful in locating it, they needed to figure out how to get up it. Annapurna does not sit alone, it sits in a range of other peaks of similar heights. Thus to climb Annapurna you needed to tackle a significant portion of the range in which it sits.

Annapurna in it's range

Herzog’s team found their way out there, and with the help of local Sherpas, explored the area for quite some time before finding to them what was the best route up the mountain. I’m only half-way through the book thus far, but it’s a great read (and I highly recommend it).

Two things in particular stand out for me with this book. The first is that the gear used by the team seems antique compared to the gear used now by climbers to tackle Himalayan peaks. This includes the fact that there was no bottled oxygen used by Herzog or his team. Second is that while the gear seems antiquated, the teams experience in the India and rural/remote Nepal doesn’t seem terribly different from what today’s climbers and trekkers experience in the same area. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Herzog on the summit of Annapurna, 3 June 1950

Watching others climb and succeed

For a sport/activity that is generally considered an isolationist sort of activity, I’ve been surprised at how communal the climbing community seems to be. In this case I am referring to the way that certain climbers put themselves and their progress out for others to see. Now this is certainly related to my earlier post on Climbing and Social Media, but instead of evaluating the state of things, I just wanted to share the climbers and efforts that I’ve found and that I’m following.

Alan Arnette: you can find Alan’s blog here. From his site you can reach his Facebook page, blog, Twitter account, etc. Alan recently finished his Seven Summits climb to raise money for Alzheimers research, and using his site I was able to follow his way through the adventure.

Lonnie Dupre: Lonnie calls himself a “Polar Explorer” vice a climber. His website, which can be found here, is currently tracking his progress on a solo winter attempt on Mt. McKinley/Denali. He’s got a map up showing his progress, and links to his Twitter and Facebook accounts as well. His site also has plenty of information on his previous polar expeditions.

Jordan Romero: Jordan is now the youngest (at 15 years old) to have climbed the Seven Summits. His website, here, details that adventure, to include real-time positioning, a chat feature, his twitter feed, links to his Facebook account, etc. And of course, congratulations to Jordan for achieving his goal.

I have watched others through websites like SummitPost, but the above three are the ones whose sites I have found and that allow me to stay abreast of their progress. I think it’s a wonderful thing, that from the comfort and warmth of my own home I can stay up to date on their successes.

Do you know of other climbers/explorers with sites like the above?

Climbing and Social Media

from the NYT: Tommy Caldwell climbing El Capitan. Caldwell updated his progress on Facebook using his iPhone.

The recent New York Times article on social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter) and climbing has spurred a fair amount of discussion on other sites and in other places. It was an interesting piece that really asks a basic question (and a potential follow-up): Does social media have a place on the mountain, and if so, how much of a role should it play? From the article….

“Caldwell updated his progress on Facebook using hisiPhone, which he charged with portable solar panels. His fans, a group that grew to more than 4,000 during his climb, could follow along in real time with commentary from the climber himself. No need to wait days, weeks or months for a print article or video. The Dawn Wall, as Caldwell’s project is known, is the latest example of what has become an increasingly accepted practice among professional climbers and in the wider climbing community: from-the-route social media. Observers enjoy it, sponsors encourage it and climbers get to share what is inherently a selfish pursuit.”

The primary argument against it (in the article) was because climbing has traditionally been a solitary type of engagement. Even when others are involved, it’s a small number of people actually going up the wall or making the trek up the mountain. So does posting the progress of a climb or expedition on Facebook and/or Twitter destroy the solitary nature of the sport? Does it invite an unwelcome element?

I have no idea. I haven’t done this enough yet to really know what that potentially negative effect might look like. But, what I do know/see are some real and potential positive effects.

First, take the example of Alan Arnette‘s recent Seven Summits bid to raise money for Alzheimers research and treatment. Here we have an incredible sportsman dedicating his efforts to the raising of money to treat a horrendous disease that took his mother from him and effects millions all over the world. As a budding climber I watched Alan’s efforts with awe, and as someone who has seen the effects of that disease on loved ones first hand, I saw the incredible and selfless value in his efforts. But no matter how many summits he made, without his exquisite use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, his blog), the fundraising wouldn’t have been possible. The excitement that I found in his efforts was made possible by the fact that I was kept up to date, in near real time, of his progress on the world’s seven highest summits. It inspired many to donate money to his cause. That increased awareness has allowed him to follow-up his climbs with speaking engagements at the US Capital and on radio and TV stations nation-wide. In this case, the combination of social media and climbing did a world of good.

Second, there was a recent thread on SummitPost asking whether mountaineering is in decline. And it’s a legitimate questions, I think. The golden age of exploration is passed us- all of the highest points on earth have been climbed (many times). Kids and young adults are no longer seeing the expeditions up these peaks and getting inspired to do it themselves. From my vantage point, I think it’s hard to argue that mountaineering and climbing has the appeal that it use to (at least to the non-initiated). But….that doesn’t mean all is doomed. In fact, I think the very question the NYT article asks is the answer to this particular issue. Younger and newer generations find their inspiration in different places than did earlier generations. Like it or not, Facebook and Twitter and the internet are where a lot of “the younger folks” spend a lot of their time. Using these mediums as an outlet for live or real-time information on climbing allows more and more people the opportunity to get exposed to it, maybe get excited about it, and maybe even give it a shot. Their experience might be like mine: the first time they do it, they’re hooked.

The question isn’t settled, and the path really only leads to more and more integration of climbing and the live electronic path it makes through the internet and social media. I think the key for the climbing community is to figure out how to harness the potential and use it for good, much like Alan Arnette has already done.