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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Climbing Plans for 2014, 2015, and beyond

Our time on Mt. Shuksan, despite being barely 4 months ago, seems like ages ago. Perhaps it’s climbers amnesia, or perhaps its just the speed and complexity of everyday life that make it seem so long ago. Almost like a far off place, that it’s almost hard to believe it was me in the memories. Thinking back to the moment when we came across our first crevasses on summit day, slowly climbing the glacier in the dark, relying on our expert guide to see through the rain/ice that was lightly pelting us, through the cloud we were ascending through. It wasn’t a few hours after that moment, when the sun had come up and put a ghostly light through what seemed like our own personal cloud, that my climbing partner took a photo from his position (third on the line).

daylight's first crevasse

traversing around daylight’s first crevasse

But now, like before, we’re faced with deciding what to do next. Where to climb, how hard should it be, how much of a financial and logistical challenge do we want to endure, etc. Nothing is set in stone (even when you think it is), and no plan survives first contact with the enemy. That being said, here’s the current somewhat fleshed out version of the plan:

2014: training year. Both 2012 and 2013 saw a “practice” climb (something we can do without a guide, something easy to get to, something we can do at our current skill level). This was followed up, each year, with a big “challenge ourself” climb. For 2014, we’re going to instead focus on training. This will include both of us working on our personal deficits (for me, at least, it’s my multi-day endurance with a full pack). Plus, we’re going to try and do a variety of practice climbs in and around our local areas. The goal is to spend this year getting into better shape and better condition. This will be in preparation for….

2015: big climb- right now, we’re looking at either Ranier or Baker. Both of these are in the (physical) area where we’ve climbed the last two years, and we can go with (hopefully) the same guide who has taken us on the last two big climbs. We might expand this list of potentials to include something like Whitney, but either way, the goal is to do something big and hard in 2015. As this will be “harder” than our 2012 and 2013 big climbs, the hope is that 2014 spent as a training year will be the key to success. This, though, is intended only as a warmup for….

2016-2017: something big and a little closer to crazy. I think we agree on something international, i.e. leaving the US to find a high and thrilling alpine climb. But from there, we have a number of options. Island and/or Mera Peak in the Himalaya are possibles, as are volcanoes in Mexico or some of the awesome alpine climbs in Bolivia and Ecuador. Which we choose will come down to primarily time, cost, logistics, and what seems like a realistic goal. All of these options are at/around/near 20,000 feet…hence time between now and then intended to get us ready to do this.

Much work remains for these plans, and as stated previously, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. But given the commitment required for this to actually happen, some semi-balance of a plan is necessary. Even if dates change and targets shift, our plans can shift with it.

 

 

Solo summit of Annapurna?

World famous (and some would say infamous) climber Ueli Steck has apparently done a solo climb and summit on Annapurna via the south face. Check out the initial reporting here.  This is just beyond words amazing- between the time he accomplished it in and doing it solo, it’s not terribly far from a true feat of humanity to pull off something like this.

Nearly equally as amazing as Steck may be, is the marketing machine that comes behind him thanks to sponsors. This climb was literally just a few weeks ago, but in that short time since a super slick video of the climb has been released. See it here.

 

 

Climbing in 2014…and climbers amnesia

Our guide (Chris) mentioned it to us last year as well, but it struck a chord more this year: climbers amnesia. It’s a climber’s ability to forget the pain and suffering of previous climbs and instead focus on the accomplishment, views, challenge, etc. This morphs into the desire to climb again, often minimizing or completely forgetting the suffering one will likely entail. This is actually similar (it seems) to a woman’s ability to completely forget the pain of child birth when they decide they want another baby. Of course this is more of a  (probable) evolutionary phenomenon (if women were scared of the pain of child birth, the species wouldn’t propagate very far).

Anyway….it wasn’t hours after getting of Mt. Shuksan, still limping around, that I began to think of next year.

2014 isn’t far away, and given the logistics involved with these “big” climbs, planning for something in the same time frame (August) would need to start in the next month or so. Thus it certainly isn’t too early to begin to put it together. But after a few discussions, a (tentatively) agreeable point was that perhaps we wouldn’t do a big climb in 2014. Perhaps we’d spend the year on skills development (and physical betterment, for me at least).

(1) Skills development:
I’m pretty comfortable on crampons now. But I’d really like a chance to work on self arrest (with real scenarios vice just laying on the snow), crevasse rescue setup and execution, glacial navigation, etc. In general, alpine mountaineering skills. In addition, I’d like to work on more generic outdoor skills, like gear selection, wilderness survival, navigation, etc. The paths to these goals isn’t terribly complicated. First, for alpine skills, my partner and I can return to Mt. Washington during the winter with a number of different (small) outfits that will do a multi-day skills class on the mountain, with or without a summit attempt. Not only does this get me (us) the skills training, but it’s also logistically easier and financially more palatable. For the more general outdoor stuff, the combination of the local climbing club and REI-sponsored classes, again logistically simple and inexpensive. This sort of stuff can be done throughout the year with far less advance planning. Finally, rock skills. My entire climbing endeavor began outdoors on rock, on a 40 foot pitch rated v5.5 (at the absolute most). It was the initial love of that type of climbing that made me so excited for the summit pyramid on Shuksan. So, in the midst of everything else, spending some time on the local crags and in the indoor gym here would be hugely beneficial.

(2) Physical betterment
It really just comes down to endurance. Strength wise there isn’t an issue, nor is my childhood asthma a problem. It’s basically the ability to walk uphill (or downhill) with a 45 pound pack for 16 hours…and not be limping across the finish line at the end. Shuksan was incredibly trying for me in this respect. The last hour or two coming down the trail towards the parking lot was superbly challenging for me (made that much harder due to my boots and pack issue, but still). Hours spent on a treadmill and/or stair master are valuable (and has served me well), but in the end I just need to shoulder the weighted pack and get out more during the year. This isn’t super easy in my local area, but there’s still some ways to make it happen.

So, not entirely sure yet what 2014 will look like climbing-wise. But some combination of “local” skills training and endurance training will certainly be part or most of the plan.

19 days and 54 days, Washington and Shuksan

19 days till my partner and I make the trip up to New Hampshire to climb the highest peak on the east coast of the United States: Mount Washington. We’ve made some preliminary plans regarding the approach and the routes. We have a primary campground in mind- one that puts us sleeping in pretty close proximity to the trail we intend on hitting. This trail will be one of the more challenging (and also less crowded) on the mountain. But we could get rained out. Wet rocks makes the level of exposure we’ll have that much worse, so if it happens to be raining or have rained in the day or two before, we’ll switch up our route.

images

Also, we can’t reserve a space at the campground (as we did last year on Katahdin), so if we get there and are out of luck, we have a backup site planned as well.

As  a “practice” climb this will be a nice warm up. As part of the practice part, we’re going to carry our full packs, weighted, on the ascent and descent. Of course, this isn’t necessary for a variety of reasons (both because of the logistics of the mountain and the fact that we don’t need that much gear). But, since this is a warm up for a much more serious climb later on, the full pack will be a good compliment.

Once we tackle this endeavor and return home, we’ll have barely over a month before heading out to Washington State for the main attraction, our climb of Mt. Shuksan in August.

Now we’re not going to be skiing on Shuksan, but this is still quite entertaining and a nice look at the mountain, here.

The End of Everest season, Part I

This year’s Everest season has ended. There’s a lot of great information out there about what happened this season, who summited, who didn’t, and other great things. To start, I just wanted to include some interesting links:

(1) There’s been no shortage of coverage of the Sherpas this year (some good, some bad). And of the deaths on the mountain this year, most were Sherpas. This article from Salon talks about the efforts of the Sherpas to protect their climbing clients.

(2) Himalayan glaciers are melting, and this Slate article gives some good general information about the situation at hand as it relates to Everest.

(3) This pretty awesome iOS app lets the user explore Everest in pretty intimate detail on their iPhone or iPad.

Having the strength to turn back

summit-intro

 

Spending years and thousands of dollars to reach a goal only to turn back at the last moment is a gut wrenching decision that will likely stick with you for the rest of your life. For an absolutely vidid and emotional look at one of those moments while near the top of the world, check out the blog post from Nelson here, specifically the Summit Day post.

“What I realized on this expedition is that summiting Everest takes a lot of things to go perfect and in your favor. So many things. Everyone is different—mentally, physiologically, and physically. Some people have a higher tolerance for cold and pain, some people are stronger for longer periods of time, some people have better patience, some people are more willing to risk things when it comes down to it. Maybe that’s my limiting factor: to what point I’m willing to push my body and to what cost. Maybe I’m too scared of that point and that’s what stops me. Who knows?”

I’ve written before about Ed Viesturs and his words of wisdom, that getting to the top is only half way. It takes someone super in-tune with their own physiological and mental state to be able to make that decision, to turn around. It takes a significant amount of additional bravery to write it up in such an emotional and raw way.

 

Summer climbing plans….

For those following the current Everest season, reports are that the first (western) summit was David Tait this morning. Nowhere near as impressive but equally exciting (for me, at least) is that my summer climbing plans are coming together nicely.

First up is our practice climb: my partner and I are aiming for Mount Washington in New Hampshire. As the highest point (at 6,289 feet) in the northeastern United States, we’re treating it like we did Mt. Katahdin last year (see Part I and Part II of that climb). But it’s a starkly different mountain. First off, Washington is known for its super erratic and often dangerous weather. While the summer months likely won’t subject us to extreme cold, sudden rain and electrical storms can have a serious consequence as well if one is not prepared for it. In addition, it’s higher than Katahdin last year by about 1,200 feet. Were still working out details on our planned route (more on that later).

While we’ll attempt Washington in July, barely a month later we’ll hop on a flight to Seattle for our climb on Mt. Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier. Information from our guide company is that it’s equal to if not somewhat harder than Mt. Adams (last year’s big climb), but overall a totally different animal. We’ll spend an extra day or two on the mountain, spend more time on roped travel and glacier navigation (plus crevasse rescue), and do a combination of forest (below the tree line) hiking, roped travel up the glacier, and finally some low fifth class rock climbing on the final portion to the summit. Based on my reading, this last section of 5th class rock is the crux of the climb.

Equipment wise, I need to stock up. Most importantly I need a new sleeping bag. The North Face Snow Leopard II I had last year (and used on both climbs) was plenty warm and very comfortable, but it was simply to big to easily carry (even in its stuff sack). It was simply to much mass and weight in my already heavy bag. So I returned it and plan to get a new bag in the coming month. This particular item I will (likely) need for Washington, so my time frame is a bit tighter.

The other gear I want to buy, including my own set of crampons and my own ice axe, can wait till we’re closer to Shuksan since I won’t need such gear on Washington. But I am already starting to read reviews and figure out what looks best this time around.