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Winter attempt on Nanga Parbat

Winter attempt on Nanga Parbat

The North Face is sponsoring Simone Moro and two others to make a winter attempt on 26,660 foot Nanga Parbat in the western Himalayas. 

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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.

Crevasses are terrifying

Crevasses are terrifying. To both the uninitiated and the seasoned climber they are giant holes in the ice that can be hidden, covered by snow, hundreds of feet deep, and can range in size from small enough to step over to big enough that you have to route find your way around it.

The reality of course is that with proper training and the appropriate gear the risk can be very much (though not completely) mitigated. For example, on my last climb on Mt. Shuksan, we ran into a number of different crevasses. The level of danger (and psychological terror) was increased due to the fact that visibility was extremely poor, so the first few we came across we didn’t see until we were right up on it. Our guide (who was leading the rope’d group) changed his tact a bit as we found more and more of them. Thankfully he had his GPS, without which I have no idea how he would have been able to find a path that would have been both around the crevasses and on target for the summit pyramid.

a crevasse on Mt. Shuksan

a crevasse on Mt. Shuksan

 

Just a small step over....

Just a small step over….

This particular crevasse (above), the second one we encountered, was just small enough for us to step over.

daylight's first crevasse

daylight’s first crevasse

This one, though, we had to go around. The of fog lifted in time for the photo, but we literally walked right up to this one without seeing it.

Big Shuksan crevasses

Big Shuksan crevasses

Crevasses in the distance. Luckily we didn’t have to get close to these.

Hiding

Hiding

Finally, as I said before, they hide. This one was just a bit too wide to step over, but was super long…we probably deviated 30 minutes from our path to get around this thing. Of course we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us, so it was a “best guess” as to which way would get us around the shortest side of it.

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.