Just a kid….but more than age

This  kid became the youngest person, at nine years old, to climb the highest peak in the Americas: Aconcagua. At 22,837 feet this isn’t a small accomplishment and is impressive no matter the age of the person climbing. But for a nine year old, it certainly does stand out. To have the patience, physical and mental stamina, and skills to be able to do this (even with a guide) is impressive for anyone, and even more so for a nine year old.

Aconcagua

Aconcagua

It reminds me of the other young American alpine phenom, Jordon Romero.

But one important item to note: there’s nothing one can say to literally detract from the accomplishments of these, well, kids. But one thing I’ve learned about climbing is that there is little in the way of predictable variables. By this I mean that young or old, tall or short, different levels of fitness, it’s hard to look at those variables and predict someones ability to undertake such a serious climb. Sure, one could look at someone of advanced age and say that it’s probably a good idea to avoid high altitude alpine climbs, but then one can easily point to the 80 year old Japanese man that just became the oldest to climb everest (and the many others in the 70’s and 60’s before him who have done it). Or the cigarette smokers who seem to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with ease because their lungs are already use to a more oxygen deprived state Or perhaps a coworker in my office, easily 50-60 pounds heavier than he should be and obviously not in the best of shape, who summited Kilimanjaro. Or, finally, the many (many) beautifully in shape marathon runners and body builders who fail to reach the summit of Everest, or any other big mountain.

The bottom line is that there are simply elements of someone’s ability that just can’t be assumed or guessed based on the most common factors we might consider. By any stretch of the imagination, a 9 year old shouldn’t be able to pull this off. Spend some time at a elementary school and look at the 6th graders, and think, do any of them seem like they could do it? I know at 9 I certainly wasn’t able.

The key take away here is that those unquantifiable qualities like determination and stamina and mental toughness are often far more consequential in the end than physical shape, or size, or anything else.

I don't necessarily think this images does the mountain much justice...but an interesting look nonetheless.

I don’t necessarily think this images does the mountain much justice…but an interesting look nonetheless.

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Why We Learn to Self-Arrest

It seemed almost silly at first, my partner and I on this very slight slope on the side of Mt. Adams learning to self-arrest. The idea wasn’t silly of course, learning how to prevent injury and death when falling down the side of a glacier, when standing on a glacier, was certainly a wise move. But the action itself seemed odd- flipping over onto your stomach on the ice, digging in with your ice axe (which, if held correctly in the first place, shouldn’t have been stabbing us in the chest) and kicking your feet/crampons much like a cat in a litter box. It’s obvious why you practice this move on a slight slope, before you get much higher on the mountain.

That being said, it’s one of those skills that you learn, and remember, and practice, but hope to never have to use. In the case of this video, the climber didn’t actually get a chance to self-arrest (for a variety of reasons that we can only discern from watching the video), and the fact that he survived is actually quite amazing. But it’s a good reminder why we learn the skill in the first place.

From 128,000 feet!

Though not climbing related, this is no less exciting and simply an incredible human achievement. Felix Baumgartner has set the record for highest free-fall jump, exiting a specially designed capsule at 120,000 feet and falling to earth in approximately three minutes. On the way down, his speed broke 730mph, which (currently unofficially) makes him the first human being to brake the sound barrier outside of an airframe.

Watching this live via YouTube was pretty awesome- the ascent took a few hours. But once they reached 128,000 feet, they began to equalize the pressure in the capsule (to the outside air pressure). After dumping what little oxygen was left in the capsule, the air pressure equalized and the capsule door popped open.

His mission control ran through their 31 item checklist, and he stood out on the capsule footpad, fully outside. A few words, and he just jumped.

He accelerated super fast almost immediately (thanks to the thinner air, this is where he probably broke the sound barrier) before the quickly thickening atmosphere slowed him down a bit. He quickly got into a more controlled fall, and soon enough his chute was out. Perhaps the most amazing part was the fact that he landed on his feet- from 128,000 feet to the ground in just a few minutes, and the guy lands on his feet. Absolutely spectacular.

That altitude is just insane. Mountain climbing, no matter how extreme, just can’t compete with the altitude. Watching him stand on the outside of the capsule just reminded me of the first time I went bungee jumping while in high school. Of course the altitude and level of risk is absolutely nothing close (in fact they can’t really be compared), but I do remember my thought process as I stepped out of the cage and stood at the edge. The best way I described it to others was that I knew I would be fine- I was tied into a huge cord. But my body, and my mind, didn’t seem to recognize that fact. It was as if my mind was screaming at me to back up and sit down, get away from the damn edge!

Well turning back at that point would have been embarrassing (and in high school, what else matters?). I just ignored that inner-voice and “fell” forward off the little platform. To say “I liked it” is a bit of an understatement….I did it two more times that night and again the next day. I wonder what was going through Felix’s mind as he stepped onto the platform….

The mental process when climbing has some interesting intersections with those feelings I described above. For me at least, climbing feels less risky (and the mind doesn’t play nearly as many tricks on you) because it’s a slow ascent. Even at serious altitude (and the most I can speak to is 11,400 feet), the climb to reach that point is gradual. It isn’t until you reach a certain point and look down (or turn around) and realize how high you are, or the angle at which your climbing, that the level of risk really hits you.

A huge congratulations to Felix Baumgartner for his stupendous accomplishment!

Kilimanjaro for Charity

Spencer decided he wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. Awesome. He decided to do it and raise money for a Children’s charity. Absolutely stellar. Spencer has no legs. Ridiculously incredible.

I was sitting here thinking about my August climb on Mt. Adams and how hard it will be…and then Google Reader directed me towards this webpage. Certainly puts things in perspective. Check out his website HERE.

Even better, check out the video:

Think about Spencer the next time you think something is impossible.

Veterans and Mountain Climbing

Veterans atop Grand Teton, 9/11/11

Back in January 2012 an article appeared in the magazine “Foreign Policy” asking why so many combat veterans take up mountain climbing. The article begins by referencing the question posed to Everest conqueror George Mallory, “why do you want to climb Mt. Everest” with his response, “because it’s there.”

The author seems to believe that at least part of the reason is because it’s a thrill seeking sort of experience that produces an adrenaline rush one might become accustomed to in combat. This seems pretty logical to me. But the author also writes of the “because it’s there” sort of mentality that veterans might take when looking at mountain climbing. A World War One vet, who decided to try and climb Mt. Everest after returning from war, wrote in his book Into the Silence:

But his eyes were drawn to those in khaki, perhaps thirty or more scattered through the audience, soldiers like him who had endured the slaughter, the coughing of guns, the bones and barbed wire, the white faces of the dead. Only they could possibly know what the vision of Everest had become, at least for him: a sentinel in the sky, a place and destination of hope and redemption, a symbol of continuity in a world gone mad.

This also makes sense, probably a bit more than the thrill-seeking part of it. The uncertainty of everyday life while at war is hard to trade in for the uncertainty of everyday life at home. The variables certainly change, but that esoteric feeling of  (sometimes) helplessness (for some) can be daunting.

As the author of the article writes:

Do we seek adventure to recapture the sense of purpose, mission, and camaraderie we may have found in war?

Only the veterans among us, those who have sacrificed the comforts of home to fight in a far off land, can really answer that question.

While we’re on the topic of veterans and climbing, apparently a having one leg (plus a prosthetic) isn’t enough to keep these guys from climbing and summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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?

Jordan Romero: soon to be the youngest to attain the seven summits?

http://goo.gl/GtsMi

Looks like Mt Vinson is next (and last) on Jordan’s list to becoming the youngest person to reach the worlds highest seven summits.

Other than ridiculously impressive, it puts my (meager by comparison) achievements at nearly 30 years old in perspective.

Watching his progress is inspiring….