I DARE YOU
Look around you, the fast-food industry has won. Political correctness has crept evermore invasively into our society as the norm. Smart devices and electronics have consumed us. Fancy is cool and expensive is better. Where did our spirit of ‘personal best’, passion for adventure, and ‘go for it’ go? Of course, learning how to mastermind the latest iPhone or computer software is an adventure but, can you take it to the Doctor’s office with you? Internet wonderfully shows the world but, does it replace the real thing? Are we so overworked and overwhelmed by the pressures of family and life that the trees are more vivid than the forest? Where is the robustness in our kids? Reality check: we need something more than entertainment, politics, jobs, and paying the mortgage to realize the extraordinary side of ourselves. I could talk about the high rates of obesity, cancer, mental illness but we all know this picture and haven’t we grown a bit half-hearted toward them. I mean – what can we do?
One thing we can do is dream a bit bigger, and start drawing a picture in our hearts and minds about what a great life is and how we can find a personal challenge that drives our passions and feeds our hopes and aspirations. If you don’t take some control over the road you follow in life ultimately you drift and years later wonder where time and opportunity went. It went nowhere but you didn’t seize the moment, realize your potential, follow your gut. We are living in a great age of mostly world peace, easy living through the exciting revolution in electronics, information technology, medical innovation, etc. but we have become lazy with setting personal goals and paying attention to the single biggest assets we have: a healthy strong body and daring mind. A mind is healthier and more creative with a strong body and by the same token, the body needs that vibrant mind. A recent Facebook post said it so succinctly “Nature. Cheaper than therapy.”
Science is clear, physical activity is essential for a healthy body. It may be a cliché but we only have one life, one shot to get it right. Health is of course about the body, but it is also about the mind and especially spirit. And frankly, the spirit may be the most important of the three. Spirit is the dynamic to help you achieve the impossible, to reach where you never expected you could go. To get up at five in the morning week after week to train to compete, to believe in yourself to overcome injury or illness through daily physical training, to attempt to climb the highest mountain in the world at 63, to start jogging at 300lbs to realize your first half-marathon. Each and every one of us has an enormous capacity to dream and reach big, but it takes a decision to get started, passion will then follow, and determination will get you over the hurdle. There is no secret or special DNA we need to reach a goal, it is simply called resolve and love of life. Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can do something or you think you can’t do it, you are right.”
Perhaps I have been very lucky in my life to be motivated to push my limits on so many endeavors. I have certainly failed on some, but I wasn’t crushed only inspired to try again with more vigor, experience, and know-how. From having a love of art and painting in my youth to traveling around the world in my twenties, to building a business in my thirties and forties and then becoming an athlete and mountaineer in my fifties and sixties. One thing I am certain of, with the possible exception of art, I had no exceptional qualities on any of those pursuits. I believe that almost everything we do in life is learned. It is about the lifestyle we choose: who we want to be, what we expect of ourselves, and where we want to live and build them.
Regardless of the season, now is the perfect time to get outside and explore, to make that decision to fire up those passions to reach goals you never imagined you could be capable of. They sit just below the surface if you really want to find them. It is never too soon or too late in anyone’s life to stick your chest out knowing you are proud of yourself for having the courage to draw a line in the sand and say: It is now I will bust out of my ‘comfort zone’ and start climbing that mountain one step at a time. Look around you, there are plenty of hills to start skiing, jogging, and biking. Not to mention a world of great adventure with your name on it. You can be sure of one thing: Nothing comes easy in life. But that is the beauty of it all. You get out of life what you are willing to put into it.
I Dare You to Dream Big.
CHO OYU - TIBET - 2008
August 31 – October 12, 2008
I sort of became a mountain climber in 1969. While traveling around the world, I stumbled into Nepal and got whip-lashed by a story from a New Zealand climber who had just returned to Kathmandu from trekking about 300 miles to Everest Base Camp and back. His account so inspired me, I immediately decided to try to do it too. Alone, without mountaineering experience, not even a tent, I spent 32 days backpacking in the most spectacular mountains on Earth, the Himalayas, and succeeded to make it up the Khumbu Glacier to the base of Everest at about 19,000’.
Many years later in 2008, after having climbed some of the highest mountains in South America, North America, and Europe, I set my sights to return to where it had begun, the Himalayas and an 8,000m mountain. There are only 14 mountains in the world over 8,000m, and it is the ultimate challenge for any mountain climber to attempt one. No one knows how they will do at such high-altitude and extreme conditions.
I left Montreal on the 29th August 2008 and arrived several flights later in Kathmandu, Nepal on the 31st where I met my team of nine international climbers. Our plans were to climb Cho Oyu from Tibet’s north side and to fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa where we would begin our overland journey to the mountain. Since the summer’s Olympics in Beijing, China had closed the Tibet border to everyone. After arriving in Kathmandu, the Chinese embassy told us to leave our passports with them for 5 days and that maybe we would be granted our visas to cross into Tibet en route direct to the mountain. To fill in time, we flew to Pokhara for 4 days of hiking in the Annapurna Hill District. Saturday, September 5th we were on our way overland to the Tibet border and Cho Oyu. The first night we stayed in the border town of Zhangmu just inside Tibet. The next day our small bus slowly zigzagged for hours up a very winding, often washed-out mountainous dirt road. We bounced over rockfall, crossed rushing mountain streams, peered-down within inches of thousand-foot cliffs, and banged our heads on the roof of the jolting bus. Finally, we arrived in the dusty, windy one street town of Nyalam, 12,000’, high on the perimeter of the Tibetan plateau.
After two nights of acclimatizing and hiking, we pushed on over this vast, elevated plain and crossed Lalunga-la (pass) at 5050m heading toward Tingri. Tibet is the highest region on Earth and is commonly referred to as the “Roof of the World”. We ambled along this barren hilly landscape devoid of much visible life, occasionally passing a small yet colorful walled-in village that would usually sit next to a cold glaciated stream or river.
The town of Tingri, situated at over 14,000’, overlooks a sweeping broad plain bordered by the great Himalayan peaks. Old and new customs and lifestyles mingle seamlessly in what appears like an old wild western Tibetan town. Packs of dogs yelp all night long. Pigs and livestock roam at will. Butchered goat carcasses hang for sale in open stalls on the street. Horse-drawn wagons stand beside modern motorcycles in the dusty, unpaved road. We get our first full views of the towering snowy giants of Cho Oyu and Everest, seemingly so near now. It is a wake-up call that we are almost there.
The bus drops us off far up the broad barren river valley at a desolate Chinese military post we call Base Camp, 16,500’. Manned by kids in military uniform, a red flag hangs near a Chinese/ Tibetan expedition group also attempting Cho Oyu. Yaks grazing nearby on very marginal pickings are waiting to porter all our gear and provisions up to Advanced Base Camp. We leave a few minor clothes behind and hike further up this bleak moonscape to interim camp, then continue up over long glacier moraine ridges, heaped-up rock hills, always moving parallel to a several kilometer-wide winding glacier until we arrive at ABC in light snow and gray visibility.
Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 18,500 feet sits on loose rock-fall high above the twisted and choked-up Nangpa Glacier, and in the long mighty shadow of Cho Oyu, the ‘Turquoise Goddess’. Directly opposite us lies Nangpa-la pass, the traditional trading route between Nepal and Tibet. For several hundred years Tibetan and Sherpa porters have struggled over this high pass trading salt and barley with each other. Recently, it has also become an escape route for Tibetan refugees and on September 30, 2006, the Chinese Border Security Police shot and killed 2 unarmed Tibetan pilgrims attempting to leave Tibet, 18 others went missing and are presumed dead. The victims were shot from a considerable distance by the Security Police as they moved slowly away through chest-high snow. In the early morning when the sun is rising over the summit of Cho Oyu, its rays create an amazingly picturesque canvas of long curved shadows over Nangpa-la that are so beautifully framed by the shaded and brightly reflecting mountains on either side.
After establishing ourselves at ABC, the first item of business was to perform the important ‘Puja’ ceremony. We have a team of Sherpa’s and Tibetans coordinating and assisting our expedition, and according to Buddhist tradition and faith, we must request approval from the Mountain Goddess to climb Cho Oyu. Before a man-made altar, with Buddhist prayer flags streaming out in all directions, our technical climbing gear placed at its base, we chant for hours asking the ‘Turquoise Goddess’ to bless and protect us up high. Ringsing, our cook assistant who is also a Lama, performs the colorful and captivating ceremony. It is a moment and experience never to be forgotten.
Using ABC as a home base for the next month, we will gradually be acclimatizing to the high-altitude air (18,500’) and by progressively climbing higher on the mountain, we will further increase our red blood cells. The key is the body needs time to adapt to low oxygen to avoid hypoxia and acute mountain sickness. High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) are a climber’s worst nightmare since they can rob him very quickly of the summit and his life. Generally, there is a 3% loss of air pressure per thousand foot gain in altitude. Effectively, at ABC we have only 50% of the oxygen that is available at sea level and on the summit at 27,000’ there will be only about 25% or less oxygen. The sun’s radiation is another serious issue as well.
September 18 we left ABC at 8 am on our first rotation to Camp 1. Light snow was falling and the winds gusty. Falling rock from adjacent mountains covers most of the glacier as we headed up its flank. Huge penitentes, many 5 to 10 stories tall, suddenly appeared like ancient frozen behemoths in the foggy, misty conditions. After hours of crossing up and down over rocky ridges and circumventing icy obstacles, we came to the foot of a steep scree slope. After a brief break, we started climbing this loose rocky hill, two steps up, slipping one down. Finally, about 1500’ up and near C1 in strong winds, we returned back down to ABC.
Although a thousand miles away, huge storms brewing in the Bay of Bengal regularly slam Cho Oyu with hurricane-force winds. From ABC, we would regularly witness the upper reaches of the mountain in absolute chaos. Sitting on the north and leeward side, we were spared from much heavy snowfall. Our route above Camp 2 had already avalanched early in September, thus making it safer before we tackled it. However, on our next 2 rotations up to C1 and attempting C2, we were continually forced to retreat by those gale-force winds. Several other expeditions at C1 and C2 literally lost over 30 of their bullet-proof tents, being shredded or physically blown off the mountain. We were experiencing the full consequences of climbing an 8,000m mountain.
Without fully acclimatizing as we had wished, not being able to get to or sleep at C2 over the last several weeks, and also being forced to act before the Jet Stream started to return south over the mountains, we had to make a decision. We received a weather report that there would be a narrow 3-day window of opportunity with low winds. October 2nd we would leave for the top.
I prepared my pack for our summit bid. An error of judgment at this point, forgetting something vital, can cost you the summit or even your life. Seven upper layers, five lower, double plastic boots with overboots, goggles, glacier glasses, multi-layer mitts and gloves, balaclava, tuques, medical bag, crampons, ice ax, pee bottle, water bottles, and very important- food. You can easily burn 10,000 calories a day. You need to drink and eat, period. Also, protect yourself from the sun; at this extreme-altitude, you will be badly burned. Prepare.
Thursday, October 2nd after breakfast, we took a group photo and I made my ‘peace’ with the ‘Turquoise Goddess’. Five grueling days lay ahead. Our day of reckoning was here. The Chinese/ Tibetans, Koreans, and another international group were already a day or two in front of us. It was sunny. We were hyped.
The first night at C1. Mike Chapman feels unwell at daybreak and decides to go down. Climbing between C1 and C2 is tough and technical. Negotiating several ice cliffs, backing-up your protection, staying alert and very focused. Himalayan climbing is climbing alone, not roped-up as a team. There are crevasses but they are usually very large and visible. Anyways, roped-up is usually too dangerous on the steeps. It is a 9+ hour day to C2, (23,622’). We are now above the clouds, above almost every other mountain in view. At Camp 2 we are sitting on about 18 feet of recently avalanched ice.
October 4th, Nathan and I start out from C2 on a steep 45° slope. The air thin, the views magnificent. Just above Camp 2, you can see both camps below, and far to the right following the arcing flow of the glacier, ABC. We both feel lethargic. About 1500’ above camp, there is a long ridge I am hoping high camp is situated. I have needed a little psychology today to inch myself up one step at a time. Just below the ridge, it begins to snow heavily and visibility is cut sharply. On the ridge, we realize C3 is still somewhat higher. There is already about a foot of new snow on the ground. We push up the last few hundred feet to C3 (25,000’) and arrive around 3:30 pm. We have only about 7 hours to rest and eat before striking out in the dead of night for the summit.
I tent with Mike Hamill and Greg Vernovage. We start using supplemental oxygen for the first time to keep our bodies warm and charged for the climb. Packed three to a two-man tent, resting is the best one can do. At 10 pm, I light my stove to boil water and prepare porridge. About 11:30 pm, after the difficult task of putting on boots and crampons in this extreme cold, I am the last one out of camp. Right above camp begins the near-vertical rock face called the ‘Yellow Band’. In the absolute dark of night, with only a small headlight as your visual compass, but with the millions of stars above keeping you company, you anxiously climb focusing on every detail. This is an altitude with so little oxygen that it is known as the ‘Death Zone’. Your body is physically breaking down and dying.
Over the years I have personally observed that our minds at high-altitude work like a pyramid. The more extreme and difficult the environment, the more focused we are on basic survival. You forget about fingers and toes and concentrate only on your next step, and staying alive. It must be in your arsenal of experience to remember, from time to time, to check the feelings in your extremities.
I was climbing with Tseten Gyurme, a Tibetan who had fixed the lines to the top of Everest for the Tibetan/ Chinese team that carried the Olympic Torch to the summit in early May 2008. He is an amazingly strong climber and he kept his eyes on me in case I messed up. I overheard that Al Schumer had decided to return to C3. We passed several other members of our team. Over the years I usually get a runny nose in cold temperatures. It is not normally a problem since I generally have a hanky nearby or use a more elementary method. Today, however, it was a much more miserable dilemma. I was wearing an oxygen mask. It was like Chinese water torture. It kept dripping and dripping and there was no easy way to deal with it. Somehow, psychologically, I told myself that this was the most important climb of my life and I would not let a little snot stop me. It was mind over matter and I won. We pushed on up in the dark. We had this whole great mountain to ourselves. I had no idea of time. I felt energized on the oxygen. I felt a serenity I have never known before in my life.
The night seemed to pass so quickly. I suddenly realized that it was getting light. The slope had begun to mellow considerably. The huge tooth just below the summit was now so near. We were almost there. Suddenly the ‘divine shadow’ of Cho Oyu appeared in the distant sky above the peaks. I knew I was going to make it. Mike Hamill was just in front of me. We slowly rounded the crest and saw the rising sun just edging up behind Mount Everest and Lhotse. Nathan Dolbeare had arrived first, followed by Karel Masek and Chris Bergum. We stood there in awe. We hugged. We took pictures. We all tried to absorb this momentous moment. It was 6 am October 5.
In the minus 40° temperature, with a light wind rising up the mountain from the west side twirling the snow into miniature tornadoes, I managed only a few photos before my camera batteries froze. I had really wanted to do a short video tribute to my aging mother and to the Tibetan people, but it was not possible. Standing there, on the ‘roof of the world’, probably higher than any other human being at that moment, I stood fixated with my mind numb in awe. So many weeks on the mountain, so many years of training, reaching a goal that sometimes seemed impossible. This moment would be way too short.
Before I knew it, I was on my way down. Did I leave to soon? Christ, stay focused, descending is the most deadly part. I struggled to get my crampon points to bite the near-vertical rock down-climbing through the Yellow Band. At C3 I packed-up and was the 1st one out to C2. Down at C2, we all gathered to rest for a while and snack. We decided we would continue descending to C1 to sleep. Just below C2, crossing a steep slope and misjudging the snow my left foot found air and I fell maybe 30’. Fortunately, I had attached protection and the rope held my fall. Being very steep with soft new snow, I had to angle side-slope to get back on track. The first rappel was over blue ice and a bergschrund (crevasse). The 2nd rappel was over a sheer 15+ story drop. My heart raced so fast I had to stop to rest for a minute halfway down. Only later did I hear that a Slovenian climber, Miha Valic, had fallen exactly here yesterday and died. I finally got into camp 1 around 5 pm after a 17 hour day.
News soon surfaced that 2 climbers had died and another had fallen but survived. Guy Leveille, a Canadian policeman from Winnipeg turned around 60m from the summit exhausted. He was climbing with the FTA Team led by Stu Remensnyder. Apparently Stu, after summiting had found Guy on his way down and spent the next 40 hours with him above 7500m trying to help get him down. Guy fell and was gone, Stu barely made it back to camp himself. Another climber had to be resuscitated with CPR after collapsing. Miha Valic, a Slovenian guide fell in the ropes on rappelling the icefall above C1, landed on his head, and died. He was a great climber who succeeded to climb 82 of the 4,000m peaks in the Alps in only 102 days in early 2007. It is thought he was suffering from HAPE. When I got to C1 at 5 pm, Miha was already wrapped-up and laying just outside of camp. Both deaths were a great tragedy.
We arrived back at ABC late morning on the 6th of October exhausted but content after 5 long days. We had luckily managed to summit before the Jet Stream hit. Coming down below C1 I saw behind me sitting right above Cho Oyu a large Lenticular Cloud, which usually means very powerful winds circling the peak. We were actually the last ones to the summit for the season. The next day the yaks arrived to carry out all our gear and the rest of the supplies and garbage. It was finally great to be getting off the mountain and going back home to our families and lives. A washed-out road delayed our return by a day. We managed to get back to Kathmandu at night October 9th, and the following morning I called home and received bad news from Rosanna that my Mum had passed away September 29th.
It was really strange because on the 29th I had repeatedly tried calling home but was unable to make a connection using the SAT phone. I did manage to reach Rosanna on October 1st, the day before we left ABC for the summit. I had asked her about Mum but she was reluctant to say much. I knew something was wrong but didn’t expect that. I very much appreciate that she held back the heartbreaking news. I would not have been able to do anything and I definitely needed all of my energy and concentration for the mountain. This essay and my summit are dedicated to my mother; Kathleen Armstrong Stewart Fairhurst, 95. Besides being a very loving mother, she was a real trouper.
I have a great deal of respect for every member of my team. Nathan Dolbeare, Louis Carstens, Paul Garry, Karel Masek, Mike Chapman, Al Schumer, Chris Bergum, Greg Vernovage, Mike Hamill.
EVEREST Final Update (Expedition 2010)
It has taken me a little longer than expected to summarize my Mount Everest adventure. Returning home after more than 2 months away from family and business, not to mention trying to organize all the photos and videos from the climb, has been rather demanding in itself.
The Everest challenge was everything and more than my original expectations. Heading back up the Khumbu Valley after 40 years (December 1969) and especially arriving in Namche Bazaar, was a moving moment for me. That original experience of trekking to Everest Base Camp alone 40 years ago and having a dream, even if it was in a distant recess of my mind, to go back and climb this great mountain some day, was a fulfilling and huge life experience. It made me realize that I am exactly the same guy now as I was then, needing adventure, needing challenges, living life with passion. I had no idea if I would make it, but I knew that nothing, at least under my control, would stop me from giving it my best shot. There are some things in life you just have to do.
The climb itself was unique. The time duration was long. Everest Base Camp is a small international community that is a ‘one of a kind’ in the world. I think there is no other comparison to any other sport or adventure that resembles those 2 months every year so many diverse people assemble with one purpose to test themselves and risk everything on this Himalayan icon of mountaineering. The friendship one develops spending literally day and night together with a small group who depend on each other for support and safety. The absolute decisiveness and clarity of mind one must have to hang in there and succeed. The significant cost involved that one is prepared to spend just to have a ‘go’ at it.
The rewards are many. Climbing through the dangerous Khumbu Ice Fall crossing ladders and crevasses teaches managing fear. Getting up at 2am in the cold, day after day, teaches diligence and strength of character. The long hours of physical endurance teaches fortitude and determination. The passion to want to do it at all teaches spirit and love of life. The beauty, albeit stark, teaches appreciation of life at the extreme end.
Hemingway once said something like this: there are only 2 sports in the world – race car driving and mountaineering, and everything else is entertainment. Last week having dinner with my good friend Martin Husar who formerly was a race car driver in Europe, asked me if I had experienced any truly profound life moments climbing Everest. He had a serious crash in France some years ago and wondered how my recent scary moment descending the Hillary Step may have impacted me. Certainly, over time and through the filters of life, the hues in your personality must get richer. Our experiences either weaken us or strengthen us. I think the more we experiment, attempt, ‘go for’, especially when we dare our limits, broaden our characters more than we can imagine. Picasso late in his career had a period where he painted like a child, yet no child could paint or fathom to the depths of a Picasso. I feel stronger psychologically as a result of all parts of this Everest challenge.
During the climb and sending the updates, I avoided mention of deaths and casualties. At camp 2 some of my team discovered a body emerging from the glacier. A Russian died on Mount Lhotse. At least 3 more deaths occurred on the north side. A lady fell into a crevasse in the Ice Fall and broke her back. The medical tent at Base Camp was usually very busy. I am pointing out this simply because it is the reality of an Everest season. The risks are clear. I read some time ago that 1 in 4 climbers over 60 who have summited Everest will die descending.
Some funny and not so funny moments. Getting a hemorrhoid on our last rotation before our summit bid and wondering how I would explain not summiting because of it. Leaving Base Camp at 2am on our final six day summit push and near the bottom of the Ice Fall breaking through some thin ice up to my knees. I had to remove my plastic boots and pour out the ice cold water and climb the rest of the night up to C1 with cold soggy feet. High on the mountain on summit day and desperate to pee wearing down pants that had no zipper and a waist harness leaving no access, but really having to find a way. Seeing a sparrow size bird alive on Everest’s summit. Waking up the morning after summiting with my face all puffed-up from peripheral edema (probably lack of oxygen during the night) and my finger black from frostbite.
I have been asked repeatedly over the years how I manage to suffer and endure these climbs. The simple answer is ‘one step in front of the next will get you to the top’.
Last, I was very lucky to be part of such a strong, experienced and focused team. We encouraged and supported each other. That all of us were able to summit is an extraordinary occurrence and achievement on such a difficult mountain as Everest. My congratulations again to: Mike Hamill, Eben Reckord, Louis Carstens, Sandhosh Kumar, Jason Vandalen, Tim Igo and Mayk Schega.
May 28, 2010, Kathmandu
Great news!!!! I still am trying to believe it. I summited Mount Everest at 8:15 am on the 23rd of May. It was certainly one of the most difficult challenges of my life. It was the most technical and dangerous climb I have ever done. Fortunately, I am suffering only a little frostbite on one finger (I may lose it) and some peripheral edema on my face. Considering everything, I am very lucky.
May 18th we left Everest Base Camp at 2:30 am on our 4th rotation, climbed up through the treacherous Khumbu Ice Fall to C1. We hung out at Camp1 for several hours in our tents to escape the mid-day sun that heats the glacier valley into a fishbowl with temperatures soaring over 100° F. Surrounded by high glacier mountains (Nuptse, Lhotse and Everest) the sun reflects on all 4 walls and the temperature has nowhere to go but up. The moment the sun gets blocked behind cloud or peak, the temperature plunges back down below freezing. At 3 pm we moved up the Western Cwm to C2. The next morning at 3 am the winds were howling so we decided to wait and rest.
May 20 we left C2 for C3 at 2:30 am. It was still windy but our weather report called for decreasing winds. Once past the Lhotse Bergschrund and climbing up the steep Lhotse Face the winds increased dramatically. We had about 3000 vertical feet (1000m) to climb to reach C3. The winds kept getting stronger and probably were gusting at 70mph (120 kph). It was hell, especially the last 500’ when the slope gets even steeper with cement black/ blue hard ice.
Camp 3, 24,500’ (7500m) is carved out of the icy steep slope. The tents are stepped-up from each other. You must use crampons even to go have a pee. If you slip you are gone. It has extraordinary views but the geography is deadly.
Those high winds blasted and imprisoned us in our tents for the next 30 straight hours. Sometimes it felt like our tent would get ripped up and blown off the mountain. The gusts sounded like a freight train as it came over the South Col and careened down the Lhotse Face at us. The South Col is famous among Everest climbers as it is the pass or col between Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse at 26,000’ (8000m). Camp 4 is situated there and it is in the ‘death zone’ where the body cannot sustain itself. Effectively the body is breaking down and dying at this altitude. The idea is to make your visit short.
Finally early evening May 21 the winds calmed so we prepared to leave at first light the next morning. May 22nd we started out before 6 am and climbed another 500’ up the Lhotse Face, then precipitously traversed across its face to a steep rocky vertical section called the Yellow Band. It is a famous band of rock clearly visible from a distance. Next, we got to the Geneva Spur and using our ascenders (jumars) climbed up and around this rocky outcrop to the South Col, also known as Camp 4. I arrived around noon.
We rested in our tents all afternoon at C4, trying to eat and drink a bit, and preparing for our summit bid that night. It was cold, sunny with light winds. We were all psyched. After two months on the mountain acclimatizing, 4 full rotations, getting up at 2 or 3 am in the cold mornings, the moment had finally arrived. Each climber was facing his own destiny. There will be no second shots; we will blow all our energy (15,000 calories) on this attempt. Every member of the team has already lost a lot of weight, up to 35 pounds. Tonight is do or die.
I am the first out of high camp at 8 pm. It is black darkness but my headlight opens my path on the rock and ice. The winds are stronger now but still ok. I start climbing a 1,500 vertical foot slope up to the only flat patch on the mountain called the ‘Balcony’, where we will change oxygen bottles, drink and snack a little. We are soon climbing on a 45°+ pitch. Mingma Sherpa is buddying up with me. Step by step we move up. I am sucking on a relatively low oxygen flow rate of 2 liters per minute. It makes my cellular furnace fire and helps keep me warm. The O2 tank weighs about 8+kg and is in my backpack.
Hours later we arrive at the Balcony at 27,600’ (8400m). It is still in the middle of the night and very cold around 40° below. You must avoid resting long here since your body will quickly freeze up and mentally shut you down. Many climbers don’t get past this point. I change my Oz bottle and immediately start traversing a narrow ridge with black voids on both sides.
Although we are clipped into a fixed rope with our safety line, the prospect of falling even 50 or 100’ and banging against rock and ice would definitely cause serious damage to life and limb. Rescue above the Balcony is practically impossible. The climbing route up the mountain is technical and unforgiving. Clipping-in to an anchor is possible but on a steep slope you are very exposed and if you lose anything (glove, pack, goggles, jacket) you are doomed. Loss of a single mitt means instant frostbite and loss of fingers and hand. The room for error is razor-thin.
I arrive at a rocky section where the 1st seven feet is a 90° cliff face. Another climber who is unknown to me is already there. He repeatedly tries to jumar himself up but fails each time. I stand waiting behind him for what feels like a half-hour literally freezing until finally, he manages to get up. There was absolutely no way around him. I just hopped from foot to foot to keep my feet from freezing.
Honestly, a lot of the next few hours I do not remember clearly. It was dark and I was so focused on every step and detail. It was simply one step in front of the next. When I would need to climb over a really hard spot or a very intimidating rock ledge, my heart rate would jump exponentially. Frankly, I was on a mission, I didn’t question myself, I had total blind confidence I would make it. I just had to remember from time to time to keep track of my toes and fingers and make sure my crampon points bit the ice. Focus! Focus! Concentrate on every step!!!
Then I saw it. A slither of a band of reddish light suddenly appeared on the far distant horizon. After more than 8 hours in the black frigid night, a new day was dawning. It meant warmth, hope, and somehow the possibility of success. Next, I saw the extraordinary magical shadow pyramid of Everest glow in the distant sky. It was like a ghost appearing out of nowhere. I could also see Everest’s true triangular summit far above me, yet I was already higher than every other mountain in the whole Himalayan range and world. From Base Camp, all these mountains appear so huge towering above you, but now I looked down on them as if they were just snowy hilltops. Only Mount Lhotse and Mount Makalu vied for status in this phenomenal panorama.
Step by tentative step my dream came closer. First the South Summit at 28,707’ (8750m), next the Cornice Traverse, and finally the famous Hillary Step. The Hillary Step is an imposing 40-foot rock vertical wall. You have to jumar yourself up finding tiny footholds as leverage. It is a very precarious scale considering on your right is the 11,000 foot Kangshung Face dropping straight down onto the Tibetan Plateau and on your left lies the 8,000’ Southwest Wall of Everest.
Above the Hilary Step at 28,740’ the slope starts to become gentler as it rises to the real summit. Almost before you know it, you are standing beside Buddhist Prayer Flags left behind by Sherpa’s and summiteers over the years. You are standing on a small oval slanted rock-hard icy stage the size of a big sundeck. You realize that you have climbed to the very ‘Top of the World’. There is nothing anywhere higher around you. You have, against all odds, accomplished your goal. It has been years of training, preparing, learning. You risked it all. You did it.
Oddly enough, it doesn’t actually sink in. You know it is 40° below. You know that you are standing on the most extreme hostile geography of the planet. You know that if you trip you die. But somehow you are consumed with the simple job at hand – trying to take photos and video. My camera freezes up; my fingers turn to rigid sticks when I remove my gloves to click the shutter. I must go down soon. I just want to hang here a little longer. I know it never was just about the summit; it was about what I was capable of, how far could I push myself? I did, however, recognize a certain feeling I had from other big climbs: a warm sense of glow deep inside. But, I knew this was not the place to celebrate. I must be focused to stay alive and get down.
The hardest and most dangerous part of any climb is the descent. Down-climbing the Hillary Step I slipped and found myself hanging precariously over 8,000’ of empty space. I recovered but not without seeing my heart almost arrest. “Just because you’re finished with the mountain, doesn’t mean the mountain is finished with you”. You refocus on reality – one false step may be your last.
I arrived back to C4 (South Col) sometime around 4 pm. I was held up by an attempted small rescue operation lowering a climber with cerebral edema just above the Balcony. It was a 20 hour day and I was totally exhausted. I crawled into my tent and sleeping bag and passed out. I desperately needed sleep to recover.
May 24th I woke up realizing I had frostbite on my index finger and ‘peripheral edema’ on my face. My eyes and cheeks were all puffed-up and my finger black. I packed up quickly and descended with Mingma down the dangerous and technical terrain of the Yellow Band and Lhotse Face. We arrived at C2 sometime in the afternoon and slept there that night. Next morning the 25th we all descended together as a team down the Western Cwm to C1 and then continued down through the Ice Fall to basecamp. What a relief to finally be finished going through the Ice Fall. So many deaths and serious injuries occur there.
After 60 days of living on ice and rock, the whole team was desperate to get going off the glacier. We packed-up early the next morning the 26th and started our long hike out down the Khumbu Valley. It is about 35 miles (65 km) of trekking over scree and every type of terrain to Lukla and then a short 1-hour flight to Kathmandu. We covered it in 2 days and arrived this morning in Kathmandu skeletons of our previous selves and physically exhausted. However, we are joyously awarded to real showers, real food, and a real bed.
T.S. Eliot once said: “Only those who risk going too far will know how far they can go.” Dare to reach, dare to dream, dare to go after your goals. If you don’t try you will never know who you are!
One final note, by lucky coincidence I summited Everest on my stepson’s 18th birthday, David Gordon. Wow
ANTARCTICA - WOW - 2009 - What an Awesome World
January 5, 2009, I received an email from Phil Ershler at IMG offering me to join an expedition to climb Mount Vinson, the highest mountain in Antarctica. I was to replace another climber who was unable to go. The only trouble was – I had to leave in 36 hours. IMPOSSIBLE!!! Well just maybe… I’m coming.
I have wanted to go to the Arctic and Antarctic for a long time. It is just so hard and expensive to get there. The notion of being in such an inhospitable and extreme climate and landscape has always appealed to me. So few people have ever ventured there. It has so much history and culture of extreme survival and exploration.
I had just got back from climbing Cho Oyu in Tibet last September & October, and I had frankly been very lazy with my training. Was I fit enough to climb Vinson at 4897m (16,067ft) in extreme cold?
The Vinson Massif is at 78° latitude and only 1190 km (700 miles) from the South Pole. It is in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains. It is also one of the Seven Summits being the highest on the icecap continent. Getting there is difficult and expensive. You need to fly to the most southern tip of Chile – Punta Arenas – then cross your fingers and wait for good weather at both ends before boarding a Russian-built cargo plane, an Ilyushin, to fly you almost 5 hours across the Antarctic Ocean to a desolate, windswept place called Patriot Hills. This place is well chosen to land the Ilyushin because it has a naturally formed runway. Crosswinds descend over the Patriot’s leeward side creating a perfectly flat and icy landing strip parallel to the hills. The big problem is the winds need to be very low before the ‘Big Bird’ can land.
On-call to fly anytime, we get word after 2 ½ days to prepare to leave in 1 hour. It is Monday at 9 pm, January 12. We board the Ilyushin decked out in our mountaineering gear – double plastic boots, down pants and parkas, many layers – and one duffel bag full of crampons, ice ax, harness, glacier goggles, food, tents, etc. We step into a big open cargo hold without windows, with some seats, and full of supplies and gear. Thirty-seven adventurers from all over the world to challenge themselves to ski to the South Pole, to climb Vinson, retrace Ernest Shackleton’s 1916 epic of endurance, etc. I am captivated by the rare abundant energy and circumstance emanating in that cargo hold. I have never experienced anything like this before. This is an adventure of a lifetime.
My team is multi-national. Two Czechs, 1 Mexican, 1 German, 5 Americans, and myself, Canadian. We are all pumped. We land at Patriot hills at 3 am. It is sunny and bitterly cold. We eat in the Camp dining tent and put up our own 2 man tents and sleep to 11 am. At 1:30 pm we are packed and climbing into a Twin Otter en route to Vinson base-camp about 1 hour away. Don’t ask me about the views- just look at the pictures. Simply marvelous and pristine.
The Sentinel Range stretches for more than 130 km (80 miles) and is drawn up like pieces on a chessboard against the edge of the greatest sweep of ice in the world – a vast barren dry desert plain, bigger than North America. Antarctica is the coldest, most windswept continent on Earth. Its mean altitude of 2290m (7,500ft) is three times greater than that of any other landmass, and it holds 90 % of the world’s ice, which at its deepest lies up to 4776m (15,700ft) thick. This ice covers the whole continent – only a few mountain tops poke through it. Winds that blow normally at 10-15 knots, can often reach up to 100 knots. And now, during the Antarctic summer when there are 24 hours of daylight, the sun simply rotates in the sky 360° just above the horizon.
At about 2:30 pm we land on the Branscomb Glacier at 2100m (6900 ft) and make camp. Next morning we saddle up the sleds and haul up to intermediate camp, cache and return to base-camp for the 2nd night. Thursday morning the 15th January, again we load-up all the sleds with the rest of our gear and provisions, pick-up our upper cache, and move to camp 1 at 2700m (8800ft). It is situated on a broad flat plateau covered in sastrugi – furrows or irregularities formed on a snow surface by the wind. We set up our camp and saw out ice blocks from the surface to build walls around our tents in case the weather gets nasty. Friday, we load up backpacks with gear and provisions we need at high camp and climb a fairly steep headwall on fixed ropes for about 1200m (4000ft) and cache at a rocky outcrop, then drop back down to C1 for the night. Saturday is a rest day.
Sunday we pack up camp and climb up the headwall again to our cache, load up and continue climbing up to a small flat patch thousands of feet directly above our lower camp with outrageous views of Mount Shinn on our right and far below the broad white desert that seems to go to infinity. My breath is taken away. This is living. Whatever happens tomorrow on our summit push, I feel very lucky to be here.
Monday, 19th January, 7:45 am we rope up in 2 teams of three and 1 of four. The weather is perfect, sunny and warm. We head out of high camp on a long curving slope until finally over a rise Vinson towers in the distance. It is still kilometers away and yet you feel you can run to it. We are in the broad valley of the massif, the intense reflection of the sun on the glacier is unnaturally overheating us in this high altitude polar world. I am supposed to be wearing everything I brought including down, yet I have on only two layers. There is barely any wind. It is so quiet, so peaceful.
We push on hour after hour. At 3 pm, we are just below the final long ridge to the summit. The mountain had looked rounded from below, but now it has become one of the most beautiful summits and ridges I have ever seen. You have to snake up and down and around over rock outcrops and icy ledges to advance forward. This is the fun part. We are so close.
We are finally standing on a small tabletop summit. It is rocky, icy, and corniced. We all made it. It is 4 pm, January 19th, 2009. We hug, take group photos, laugh, congratulate. We have made it to the top of this incredible continent. The views have just got even better. It is probably more than minus 40° C with the 5 to 10-knot wind-chill. Yet in this dry cold, it does not feel it. We have not only climbed a very special mountain, but this is also Antarctica – the most unknown and untouched land on the planet. We are very privileged. I want this moment to last forever.
On the long descent back to high camp I got lost in my thoughts about this extraordinary trip and climb. It is definitely not one of the most spectacular and difficult mountains I have climbed. But the mountain is only one part of this great experience. Being here in a land so few have traveled or spoiled. Making your own tracts in the snow. Standing on ice a hundred thousand years old. Sleeping in daylight 24 hours long. Flying in the open cargo hold of the Ilyushin with so many other excited souls. This is what life is about. This will go down as one of my most treasured adventures.
Our luck held with the weather. Back at base-camp on Tuesday, there was a heavy cloud cover. No planes could fly. The next morning the skies were perfectly clear. The Twin Otter was coming for us. At Patriot Hills, the news was good and bad. The Ilyushin may leave Punta Arenas at 3 pm if the winds decreased a bit more here, but if not, there was a large bank of clouds moving in and we would be stuck here at least for days. At 3 pm we heard that ‘Big Bird’ was in the air. What a sigh. At 9:30 pm we took off probably forever leaving this remarkable land behind. The trip may be over but it will never be forgotten.
Team members: Dan Garst, American; Mayk Schega, German; Mike Boaz, American; Milos Burysek, Czech; Petr Leidl, Czech; Walt Elrod, American; Moises Nava, Mexican; & myself Theodore Fairhurst, Canadian.
Special acknowledgment to guides: Mike Hamill, American; & Greg Vernovage, American.
Mike has a third sense in the mountains. I have known him for years and he has an uncanny ability to pull off the right moment for summit day. But more importantly, I trust his mountain judgment totally.
Greg has a committed determination to make you succeed. Even though he won a gold medal as a ‘player’ of beach volleyball at Sydney, his eyes shine when he reflects back as a ‘coach’ of the game. He brings that same energy to mountaineering.
Special gratitude to IMG: Phil Ershler & Eric Simonson for their leadership.
SCOTLAND - 2015 - MTN BIKE NORTH SEA to ATLANTIC OCEAN
Wow, just back from another great challenge: mountain biking coast to coast across the Highlands and mountains of Scotland. Marc-Antoine Laporte and I met our team (predetermined) at the train station in Aberdeen Saturday morning 22nd August at 11 AM. Our guide Mark Cox from Wilderness Scotland got us sorted out and shuttled the group just out of town to a lighthouse and huge red ‘foghorn’ above the lapping waves of the North Sea to begin our adventure across hills and mountains, single track and double, bog, river beds, glacier valleys, rock, root, sand and shrub, and some connecting roads, to the most western point on the mainland of Britain; Ardnamurchan Point.
Day 1 we followed Royal Deeside, the route of the old railway line built for Queen Victoria. We then climbed up into the hills and descended some decent singletrack to Glen Tanar, and on to the village of Dinnet just inside Cairngorms National Park (64km).
Day 2 we started on some cool singletrack on the Deeside through birch and pine forest. From Ballater, the route climbs into the heart of the Cairngorms and through Glens Gairn and Avon. This is a beautiful wild country and we continued climbing to Tomintoul, the highest village in the Highlands (60km).
Day 3 was my absolute favorite but the most physically difficult day of our challenge. We started in the rain climbing up some back roads winding up to pastures and grazing fields and then to a rocky snaking stream that we continually crossed. Following this swampy low-land, it led us to a steep double-track that rose to a hilltop with stunning views of the rolling hills and long valleys. We dropped down to another river crossing, and then spent the next few hours climbing, descending, or traversing on some of the best singletrack I have ever been on. It was rocky terrain surrounded by Heather, earth, and roots choked by shrubs, it snaked and surprised you at every turn. We crossed barren exposed countryside and beautiful ancient forests and led to the village of Newtonmore (80km).
Day 4 we followed an old military road into Laggan Wolftrax – one of Scotland’s best mountain bike trail centers. Next, we headed up into a remote glacial valley that passes through the heart of the mountains on double and single track which led us into the delightful West Highlands. We spend the night in Spean Bridge (64km).
Day 5 we followed a man-made canal to Fort William where we took a short ferry ride across Loch Linnhe and arrived on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. We then headed south and west to ride through (what they call) “one of the Highlands finest glens – remote, wild and dramatic.” We followed the shores of Loch Shiel to the historic village of Glenfinnan and then up and down a dirt road bordering this narrow 30 km long loch to a ‘middle of nowhere’ wharf where the coolest ferry piloted by an even more cool captain suddenly arrived to collect 9 weary but happy ‘crazy’ bikers. We motored up this extraordinarily beautiful Loch Shiel to Acharacle (60km).
Day 6 was another truly awesome day as we headed past a sandy inlet straight up the double-track into lush hills to some of the most challenging singletrack of the entire trip. We had breathtaking views of Isle of Skye, Outer Hebrides and the Small Isles. It was a bit cold, windy and rainy but that added substance and character to the remarkable exposed and astonishing landscape. I was in ‘seventh heaven’ on those rocky, slanted, wet singletracks cramped full of scrubs and low lying bushes. The view of the ocean and layered distant hills, the smell of pure misty air, the heart-stopping apprehension of the whole gang biking on this ‘real stuff‘ was simply pure delight (52km).
Finally, we pushed on following the coastline and eventually went inland climbing and descending through some villages on road to an epic finish at Ardnamurchan Point – the most westerly point on the UK mainland.
A vital part of any challenge or expedition is the team – or more specifically the team dynamic. Over the years I have experienced many different types of teams and of durations from 2 to 65 days. When a team gels it is magic. It is fun, inspiring, and productive.
Mostly unknown to each other, diversified from New Zealand to Spain to Canada, we rolled right into the spirit from day 1. We knew ‘why we were there’ and that we were going to have a great time. We certainly did and now this traverse is called the ‘whiskey coast to coast mountain run’.
Team:Guide and mentor extraordinaire Mark Cox; Mark Leadbitter, New Zealand; Marc-Antoine Laporte, Canada; Shelagh Munday, Scotland; Jose Luis Fernandez, Spain; Max Cadonna, Italy; William Neville, England; Craig Little, Scotland; Theodore Fairhurst, Canada.
Back-up bike repair and support: Paul McCaffrey
Wilderness Scotland organized and delivered an excellent program managing logistics to a tee. Cheers.
BIKING over ALPS - 2014 - LAKE GARDA to BLUDENZ, Austria
Only a month after returning home from the Pamir Mountains in Kyrgyzstan climbing Lenin Pik, I was on my way to Italy with Rosanna to meet up with Hartmut and Brigitte Duerhold, my dear windsurfing friends from Karlsruhe, Germany. Hartmut’s recent 70th birthday demanded a little extraordinary measure to celebrate. Our mission, Hartmut and I would bike from Hotel Capo Reamol near Limone sul Garda in Italy up across and over the Italian and Austrian Alps to Bludenz (Austria). That is a lot of climbing!
Tuesday, October 2nd 2012, shortly after the sun rose above Monte Baldo, we set out knowing it was going to be an excruciatingly long day. After a short ride to Riva del Garda, we started our 700m climb to Passo Bellino. Of course, flying down the other side is a breeze, only to realize it was going start all over again pumping back up to Andalo Pass. At last, we arrived at Sanzeno for the night. First day: 100km, 1,934m total climb, max altitude 1,050m, average speed 18.1 km.
Wednesday, October 3rd we faced a daunting climb of 820m to Passo Palade where at lunchtime Hartmut initiated me to Griessnockerl soup and Kaiserschmarrn for the first time in my life, at a rustic inn on top of the pass. Next, we bulleted 30 km downhill on zigzagged roads with outrageous views of the Etsch Valley and Merano. Day 2: 88km, 1,378m total climb, max altitude 1,518m, average speed19.5km.
Thursday, October 4th we headed out of Schlanders through the Medieval village of Glurns and up the gorgeous valley of the Etsch River. Ancient villages with wooden covered bridges, surrounded by hills and towering mountains, where at Reschen Lake a village had been submerged many years earlier, and its church steeple was still poking high above the waterline. Up we climbed over 800m to Reschenpass where we crossed the Italian/ Austrian frontier. Another rocketing downhill arriving in the village of Ried. Day 3: 84 km, 1,123m total climb, max altitude 1,512m, average speed 19.6km.
Friday, October 5th we continue along the charming valley to Landeck, following an old road parallel to the Rosanna River towards St. Anton. Superb alpine beauty eased the pain climbing to St. Christoph am Arlberg above the treeline to Arlbergpass at 1,800m. It was a sunny cool day at the top of the barren rocky landscape mountain pass where we relaxed for a few minutes enjoying a much-deserved cappuccino.
We soon start our race down 38km of winding switchback Arlberg mountain roads to make the last train out of Bludenz to Karlsruhe. Astonishingly, we arrive and mount the last train literally seconds before it pulled out of the station. Hartmut and I celebrated our awesome biking challenge sharing our last chocolate bar as we rolled along those tracks. Day 4: 89 km, 1,171m total climb, max altitude 1,800, average speed 20.5 km.
RAFTING the TUOLUMINE RIVER, California - 2013
June 7-9 2013
Steve Sideroff, a psychologist and friend from UCLA needs to get out of his box. In comes friends Hal Myers, Al Darbonne and myself to join in his adventure to raft down the mighty Tuolumne River as it sorties famous Yosemite National Park. Extraordinary 1000’ V-shaped valleys carved out eons ago from glacier melt, the river rips through this canyon as it drops 70 to 100 feet per mile through slick Sierra bedrock. Eighteen miles of class 1 – 5 rapids. Today it is 110° F – but the water is freezing. A blanket wave of heat envelopes you one moment, but then the next white churning almost freezing water swells up and blasts you out of sight. Sweet it feels. Does life get any better? Three days running rapid after rapid, camping under Californian stars, listening all night to the constant roar of the Tuolumne only a few feet away.
Steve is writing a book about resilience called: The Path: A Powerful Method for Resilience and Successand creating a program that universities and medical clinics can apply to move people into a positive zone. He can imagine returning to the Tuolumne soon bringing patients and faculty together to run this river. Why – he loves it and this gets you out of your comfort zone ‘big time’. What better way to build bonds, trust, and self-confidence than being a team in a tiny raft on a mighty big seething river.
Banging through Class V Rapids early on our 2nd day brought out fear, passion, and joy. All of us are white water amateurs yet inspired to experience new adventures and places. As Hal said –“ this is my first time off the grid in years.” Unfortunately for those who can’t or won’t taste the sweetness of Mother Nature at her finest. This is rattlesnake and cougar country, we keep our eyes peeled on the steep sun-burnt desert-like slopes facing both banks. Nothing moves except for the high flying hawks but our imaginations are peaked.
The river snakes, tumbles, caresses, pounds, pokes, careens and at least another thousand metaphors describing its flows around and over polished rock after shiny stone to the distant ocean. Its beauty and dancing movement hypnotizes you. The message: be inspired when you can, grab the moment when it comes, get out there and ‘go for it’. We have but one life – use it or lose it.
ESPRIT de CORPS Foundation
December 1, 2013
I have the honor and good fortune to serve as a director on Esprit de Corps Foundation in Montreal. We have a program to help struggling working single family parents reach their goal of hiking up Mount Washington in New Hampshire in blustery winter conditions. I have immensely enjoyed helping and being a team member on two such groups March 8-10 2013 and November 29-30, Dec 1, 2013. Although they are trained weekly by Esprit de Corp for 4 months, this challenge is way out of their ‘comfort zone’ in terms of mountain experience, physical and psychological difficulty in cold icy conditions. They have shown amazing inner strength and fortitude as a team and individually and I believe have reached a new plateau in their lives.
April 6, 2015
Proud to have climbed Mount Washington Saturday, April 3 & 4 with Foundation Esprit de Corps Single Parent program Team Cohort 9. Hurricane-force winds 75-100mph (120-150km) forced us to turn around just before the summit. The team showed such strength of will and determination under very difficult conditions and they are a brilliant example and inspiration to their kids and families alike. Bravo.
ACONCAGUA - 2006
The exciting thing about high altitude climbing is not really the details from day to day, like the raging river crossings, moving up and down from camp to camp, radical weather changes, equipment issues, etc., etc. These details are, of course, the wonderful stuff that fills up your memory box and photo albums. In my opinion, however, it is the senses, especially anticipation — that aspect of living on the cutting edge of new experiences, that weighs in as the real adventure. Of course, all the camp stories, the phenomenal vistas, the blizzards, thunderstorms, high winds come to mind first after a climb. But during the climb, it is “anticipation” and all those other senses that keep you fine-tuned to the moment, and motivates you as nothing in normal daily life can come close to.
The river crossings become moments of high drama wondering if a missed foothold will plunge you into the fast current. The anticipation of hoping to find a horseshoe on the long march into Base Camp to add a little extra luck to your summit bid. Wondering if you can manage to haul the heavy loads of gear and food to higher and higher camps in thinner and thinner air. Praying you won’t come down with some virus. High altitude acclimatizing. Managing to twist yourself through the penitentes. It is exciting stuff living every moment on the edge. Perhaps it can be compared to that first teenage date when all your senses are in overdrive trying to look and be your best. Afraid something will go wrong regardless of how much you have perfected yourself. Those are the important memories from then and likewise, these moments of anticipation put you at your best now.
And so it goes, at camp 3 at 18,000 feet, hearing thunderstorms during the night below you on the mountain, hoping three days of snowfall will finally stop for summit day, worrying about not getting enough sleep. These are not negative fears. Believe me, they are all your senses coming alive and on fire. Moving up to camp 4 at 19,500 feet and getting into position for the summit. Suddenly, the snow-laden clouds open and the last rays of a setting sun slam into the golden rock surrounding your tents. Regardless of how exhausted, you are at the end of the day, seeing such brilliant fire reds and oranges, and almost being able to see the Pacific ocean over the tops of all those snowy peaks below you, energizes you as nothing else can. You feel emotions and feelings you never knew you had.
It is 4 am the next morning, the sky is dark but clear, the wind low – today is the day – ‘we are going for it.’ You wolf down some cold cereal, step into your crampons, worry about getting your clothes right. Can you make it? You are prepared. You are trained. You know it is 50% physical, but also 50% mental. One foot in front of the next. It is 3,500 feet straight up in thin air today. This is your day. This is judgment day. The world is spectacular all around you. Your senses are bursting inside you. You are alive like never before. This is a drug. And all you have taken is the decision to challenge yourself on a very big hill. The hours go by. There are moments. They pass. It is 4:15 in the afternoon. You have taken your last step up. You are standing on top of the hemisphere. You are the happiest eight people in the world. Goddamn it, you made it. You trusted those senses, you lived on the edge. Every cell in your body is alive. All that “anticipation” sharpened you like a knife…
Guides: Michael Hamill, Eric Stevenson; Team: Chris Burrows, Craig Dean, Michael Dunbar, David Ferreira, John Thompson, Theodore Fairhurst.
MOUNT DENALI - 2007
May 5, 2007
For some non-apparent reason, my sub-conscious restlessness drives me to challenge myself physically and emotionally and usually in faraway places. This time it was the acclaimed and magnificent mountain Mount Denali (Mount McKinley) 20,320′ in Alaska. At 63 degrees north bordering the Arctic Circle, it is light for almost 24 hours a day this time of the year. It was cold, stormy, excessively glaciated, and unpredictable.
My climb began on the 8th of May 2007, as seven of us plus guides boarded 3 Beaver prop planes equipped with snow landing pads to usher us and our huge amount of gear and food onto the Kahiltna Glacier at 7,200 feet. Thirty minutes after take-off from Talkeetna airfield as we approached the mountains, word came via base-camp that heavy clouds had closed in, so we did a 180° and returned to Talkeetna. Four hours later we re-boarded and this time succeeded to land on the glacier at around 6:30 pm. By 10 pm we had established Base Camp, eaten, and climbed into our sleeping bags.
May 9, we practiced crevasse rescue techniques and discussed strategy.
May 10, we set off for Camp 1 descending from the southeast fork to the main Kahiltna Glacier each one of us pulling a sled weighing about 90 lbs (40 kg) of gear, food, fuel, etc. and also carrying a backpack of 50- 60 lbs mostly of personal and technical gear and clothes. The initial descent and the long ascent were gradual but grueling. Six long hours later exhausted, we arrived at our Camp 1 position. The lower Kahiltna Glacier is laced with crevasses so traveling on it requires zigzagging around large open cracks and tediously stepping over snow-bridged ones. They are everywhere and your travel is precipitous.
May 11 we hauled up to 10,300′, cached food and gear in a dug-out snow hole, and then returned to Camp 1 to sleep. The idea is to separate the weight into 2 halves when moving up on steeper slopes and also to acclimatize by climbing high but sleeping low. This was a 9-hour day and at least 5,000 calories burned.
May 12 & 13 it snowed 3 feet. We were buried in our tents and had to regularly dig out.
May 14 one member of our expedition Tim from Florida decided to throw in the towel and return to Base-camp and fly-out. Together with Jason our guide and 2 other climbers from another expedition they started out roped up trudging through the deep snow. Later we learned that Jason fell 20′ into a crevasse almost yanking 2 other climbers with him. He got out unharmed. We on our part trudged in the opposite direction up the glacier to 9,800′ and made camp. That night it snowed another two feet.
May 15. Late in the day when the snow stopped, we moved up to 11,200′- Camp 2. Immediately after arriving, we then dropped down to our cache at 10,300′ and dragged it up to our new Camp 2. By midnight we were ready for our bags.
May 16, we moved up some steep and long slopes this time carrying only heavy backpacks (probably 65- 70 lbs) and cached at 13,800′. Once again, we descended to Camp 2 at 11,200′ to sleep. Sleds and snowshoes now would stay at Camp 2 and crampons would be the order of the day above this point. The day was 8 ½ long tough hours.
May 17, we moved up to Camp 3 at 14,250′ with the rest of our loads. Camp 3 is ABC (advanced base camp) in as much that you are within striking distance of Camp 4 and the summit where the weather is still moderate. At 14,000’, it is considered a sort of threshold where one must manage carefully acclimatization to prevent AMS (acute mountain sickness). At 14,000′ oxygen pressure decreases to 58% from sea level, and ultraviolet sunlight increases 5% per 1000-foot gain. Since oxygen pressure decreases 3% per 1000′ gain, the summit will have only 40% as much oxygen we get down below. Also, the weather becomes considerably more severe above Camp 3 on and above the ridge. It will be preferable to spend as little time as possible at high camp. On our way up the mountain, we encountered several international parties who had all been defeated by the severe temperatures at camp 4. They told us that the daytime temperature was 37 degrees below.
May 18, we retrieved our cache at 13,800’ and rested.
May 19, we moved up to 16,430′ into a col and cached. We had to climb a steep headwall using ascenders so travel was slow and difficult. It took us 8 hours to get back to Camp 3.
May 20 to 24 we were held hostage in our tents by the winds at Camp 3. Above us, on the ridge, the weather was really nasty. It started to seem like our summit bid was looking very bleak. Food was getting low and our flight dates out were fast arriving. It was demoralizing to think that all our excruciating work of dragging such heavy loads higher and higher up the mountain was in vain. Would we be denied our chance to attempt the summit? We were reduced to hanging out in our tents and waiting.
May 25, the sun shines. We break camp and start climbing up. The slope is moderate but consistent. We stop before the headwall 1400 feet up to take a break and prepare our gear. Above the headwall, at the col, we collect our cache and start climbing the narrow ridge. It is circuitous and steep. No place for errors. Finally, after many hours we arrive at 17,200′ Camp 4. The winds are sharp & cold. Using an ice saw we cut out blocks from the snow-packed ground and build 3-foot-high walls around a radius big enough to fit 3 three-man tents. The day is 11 ½ hours long before we started dinner. We are exhausted.
May 26 is summit day. Again, it is sunny, strange having two good days in a row. This is our one chance. Eric Larsen and I start off roped together. We move up diagonally across a steep slope known as the Autobahn for about 1000 feet of altitude to Denali Pass. Above this pass, we start climbing another steep ridge. We are above all the other mountains in the range. Even Mount Foraker is way below us now. The views are spectacular. All of North America is below us. We push on one foot in front of the next. Jeff Garvin switches teams to join us since we are moving quicker. We continue up and up until we arrive at what is called the Football Field. It is a huge expanse of relatively flat area separating the summit ridge from the Archdeacon’s Tower. We drop our packs and push up a moderate headwall. We are finally on the summit ridge. The worst is over. The summit is almost in view. 45 minutes later, after crossing up and down a knife-edged ledge often not wider than a foot, with drop-offs 600′ on the left and several thousands of feet on the right, we set foot on an irregularly shaped spoon sized summit. It is 6:15 pm. We have beaten the odds. It is one of those rare moments in life, however brief, that you feel the pride of numbness. You forget the anticipation, the physical and emotional sweat, it is not even glory, it is just a little tear in the eye. No one would even notice. We did it.
A few minutes later reality sets in. The weather is closing in. There is a hint of wind and clouds are thickening all around us. We start back along that cutting-edge ridge to what is called Pig Hill and down to the Football Field and our packs. The wind is now more than 25 miles per hour, the temperature has dropped and visibility has considerably worsened. We wait for the others. After 15 minutes or so we are freezing and begin moving on. Conditions now are much different than before. Winds are getting stronger, the snow heavier, and visibility down significantly. It becomes hard to spot the wands we had placed. We get knocked down at times by the gusts. Just finding your footing in the powdery deep snow on this steep slope is challenging.
At last, we arrive back at Denali Pass a 1,000’ above high camp. Descending down this steep, deadly Autobahn will demand every bit of our focus and strength. Finally, we get to camp 4. It has been 13 hours for Jeff and me, but still, it will be 2 more hours before the rest of the group shows up. Mark Walsh from England arrives almost delirious with exhaustion. He had pushed well outside of his energy threshold to just get to the summit ridge and descend. Nick Cole also from England had submitted shortly after us with Jason, and on their descent came across Mark. We were all given our summit chance. Some made it- some didn’t. We gave it our all.
May 27, winds rage all night. Half a foot of snow has fallen and visibility remains poor. We rest in our tents the next day recovering.
May 28, we break Camp 4. The winds have finally decreased but visibility is poor. We slowly descend the steep, narrow ridge to the headwall. Descending the headwall on the fixed lines is always challenging. At Camp 3 we eat a snack and move on down to Camp 2.
May 29, we want out. It has already been 23 days on the mountain. We are dreaming of showers, real food, families, and comforts. Saddled again this time with lighter sleds and backpacks, we wearily descend onto the Kahiltna Glacier and at 6 pm we struggle into Basecamp. To our huge disappointment, it starts to snow again and the Beavers are grounded.
May 30, this morning our worst fears are realized. Visibility is horrible and it is still snowing hard. Will we be socked in here for days? Almost everyone has already missed their flights anyways. We wait. Around noon the sky starts clearing and we hear that the planes are coming for us. You cannot imagine what a sigh of relief that overcomes you. Before I know it, I am in a 3-seater prop-plane banking around the awesome mountains of Foraker and Hunter with massive tongues of glaciers flowing like rivers below me. I know this moment is so special. This whole experience will be over in seconds and I will have only my memories to savor. I know that each climb I do takes me out of my comfort zone in so many ways. The lessons we learn are the great lessons in life. I know I have been lucky on this climb, and I also know that even with my success, I have been humbled.
Team: John Hauf, Eric Larsen, Jason Thomas, Jeff Garvin, Joe DeSipio, Mark Walsh, Terri Schneider, Nick Cole, Theodore Fairhurst.
LENIN PIK, Kyrgyzstan - 2012
August 3 – 30, 2012
How to begin?
I just came out of the mountains and I am resting in a small city called Osh in Kyrgyzstan. I pulled the plug two days ago on August 18th at Camp 2 (5300m) and decided to follow my gut and not to continue climbing Lenin Pik (7134m), one of the famous of the Snow Leopards. Why? It was a very difficult decision.
Two days before leaving Montreal August 3rd for Russia to climb Mount Elbrus in the Caucuses, I heard from my teammate Mayk Schega from Germany, that he had to cancel out of our planned climb together of Lenin Pik for medical purposes. I was to meet him right after climbing Mount Elbrus in Bishkek and we were to go to the Pamir Mountains together. My 1st inclination was also to cancel. It was Mayk’s idea and planning that started this expedition. After checking with our Russian agency Top Travel I found out it was too late to cancel since payments had been made and all the wheels were in motion. Even with personal reservations, I decided I would go and play it by ear.
First, I was bumped off my Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Bishkek August 12th, but immediately rescheduled and got there the following day. Another short flight to Osh and a 6-hour drive to the Pamirs and Lenin base camp. The Pamirs are a stunningly beautiful snow-covered mountain range in Central Asia, at the junction of the Himalayas with the Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, Hindu Kush, and Hindu Raj ranges. I met my Russian guide Sergey Filatov and the next day we were off hiking into ABC (Advanced Base Camp) 4300m.
Before leaving home and after receiving the bad news that Mayk had canceled, my wife Rosanna had expressed grave reservations for me going to Lenin Peak. She had never been overly concerned by my other climbs, even Everest, however this time she did not want me to go. Her words were; “if you climb that mountain you won’t come back.”
Lying in my tent the first morning at ABC I heard that unmistakably crack – avalanche. Poking my nose and camera out the tent door, I saw it coming down right over our route to Camp 2. Over the years I have heard hundreds of them, yet they still raise the hair on the back of your neck. That day Sergey and I did a 400m acclimatization hike up a nearby steep scree slope.
Six-thirty next morning we left camp and crossed over onto Lenin Glacier at the foot where 1000 m of steep rock-hard vertical glacier ice begins. We put on our crampons, shedding layers and climbed. High up on that face I realized that the whole route to Camp 2 was avalanche prone. I seriously thought at this point to abandon the climb, but I was so exhausted after more than 8 hours of climbing that it was indeed safer to continue up then down-climb. Finally, after about12 hours we arrived in camp 2, tucked up against a rocky wall for security. Not one hour after arriving at camp, another huge avalanche came down and wiped out the whole route we had just crossed meters away.
Everything was going wrong on this climb. Losing Mayk, getting bumped off the flight, the 1st avalanche yesterday, and now this. I realized that I needed to listen to Rosanna, and exit the mountain. My heart was no longer in it. I was not having fun. My gut told me to stop. I hate quitting anything, but I truly believe in listening to your ‘gut’. Your gut tells the truth without bias.
It was really not easy to make that decision. I labored over it for quite a while. I finally went into Sergey’s tent at dinner and tried to explain to him my decision. He speaks very little English. He knew I was climbing strong. Why? I hope he eventually understood. Although relieved, I felt bad and barely slept.
The next day we climbed down. It was a very strange learning experience for me, but it was the right decision.
VOLCANIC SEVEN SUMMITS - 2017-18 - AGE 70
ELBRUS & KILIMANJARO
June 2 & 9 2017
I have now completed climbing Mt. Elbrus, June 2nd (Europe), and Kilimanjaro, June 11th (Africa). This was my 2nd time climbing these two mountains. In 2012 I also climbed them in my quest to climb the 7 Summits (highest mountain on every continent) which was an eight-year project I realized in 2014.
Now as many of you know my new challenge at age 70 is to climb the Volcanic 7 Summits in one year. Fortunately, the next 5 mountains will be new climbs for me. Damavand, Iran; Giluwe, Papua; Pico de Orizaba, Mexico; Ojos del Salado, Chile; Sidley, Antarctica. I am doing this surely for me as a new decade challenge, but my real driving purpose is to be an example to all generations, especially Millennials, to get out into Nature themselves. Einstein once said: “Look deep into Nature, and you will understand everything better”. Nature holds such extraordinary originality of wildlife, terrain, weather, and pure raw beauty. Nature is the ultimate experience to find out who you are and what you have in you. The more we are in her fold, the more we love her, and the more we love Nature, the more we will want to protect and fight for her.
I DARE all of you reading this post to take on your own challenge this year in the mountains, rivers, oceans, or forests. Something that will push you out of your comfort zone. See what amazing strengths of body, mind, and spirit we all have in us. You will never know unless you make that DECISION to get out there and ‘go for it’,
And if you possibly can be generous to a cause of your choice to support and enrich NATURE. All of you who share these great values please post on your timeline. We need to act collectively to save our flora and fauna for future generations.
Touching Nature is Touching Your Soul.
September 29, 2017 / 11:30am
I summited Mount Damavand in Iran yesterday 29 September 2017. It is the highest volcano in Asia at 5610m. It is now no. 3 in my challenge at 70 to climb the Volcanic Seven Summits in one year. Elbrus and Kilimanjaro were completed in June of this year.
I summited Mt. Damavand with local Iranian guide Babak Kheirjoo. We climbed it in only 3 days, which is quite fast for this size of the mountain, especially considering acclimatization. Winds were about 75kph. At the summit the mountain vents out sulfuric gas as seen in the photo.
Damavand is very near the Caspian Sea which dramatically impacts its weather and has a special place In Persian Mythology. It is a potentially active volcano.
Tomorrow I fly to Papua New Guinea to climb Mount Giluwe, the highest in Oceania.
Our lives are based on DEFINING MOMENTS. But they are only defining when we have acted on those moments.
Climbing Mt. Damavand was particularly special for me considering the difficulty I had to get a visa. Experiencing culture and people in the raw is so rich. On the mountain, I met so many extraordinary and welcoming Iranian people. Knowing I was from Canada they opened their arms to me. I was touched when one man gave me his trail mix just in passing. Mr. Hosenpur from the Pulur Climbing Federation embraced me and said I was the 1st Canadian in more than 5 years to climb Damavand. This mountain is very dear to Iranians and I met a woman doctor from Tehran who pushed herself to the extreme to realize her dream to climb Damavand. I feel honored to see such beauty and greatness in the world.
October 9, 2017, 11:30am
After 11 hours of hiking up through the dense jungle and grassy equatorial highlands following a ridge over many hilltops, we arrived in the rain at basecamp.
Monday, October 9, we climbed up a steep couloir (about 65 degrees on the upper 150m) to the summit of Mount Giluwe. The climb was pretty straight forward but more exposed and technical than I was expecting. There was little room for error in some places. We were mostly engulfed in slow drifting clouds, but occasionally the magical jagged saw-tooth mountains would appear out of the mist. The whole landscape has a fairy tale beauty.
I shared a sincere special affinity with my Papuan guide and porters. Under a tarpaulin shelter built on the edge of a miniature forest on the grassy sloped highlands, they started a fire in the rain and cooked on the coals sweet potato, corn & rice. Papuans are gentle, friendly and so willing to help. Unfortunately, life expectancy is only about 45 years because of a poor lifestyle and a lack of modern infrastructure.
Giluwe is the highest volcano (4368m) in Oceania and it is # 4 reached on my challenge to climb all 7 of the Volcanic Seven Summits (highest volcano on every continent) in my 70th year. To date, since May I have climbed Mt. Elbrus – Russia/ EUROPE (June 2nd); Mt Kilimanjaro- Tanzania/ AFRICA (June 11th); Mt. Damavand – Iran/ ASIA (September 29); Mt. Giluwe – PNG/ OCEANIA (October 9).
THE WORLD IS HUGE. WE DETERMINE HOW BIG WE DARE TO ENVISION OUR LIVES.
PICO DE ORIZABA
21 December 2017
Thursday 21 December 2017 I successfully summited Mount Orizaba (5636m/ 18491’) in Mexico. After 5 days of acclimatizing on volcanoes Iztaccilhuatl and Orizaba itself, we finally had a long 18-hour day climbing from high camp (16,900′) up the glacier to the summit and back down to low camp in the dark. The glacier was very icy and we needed to belay down the about1500′ to the rocks. I must admit I had nothing left in me at the end. Team: Michael Hamill, Tim Igo; Zav Mahlum; Clint Kugler; Mat Wood; Kent Steward, Andrew Gregory; myself Theodore Fairhurst
This makes #5 in my one year challenge to climb all 7 of the Volcanic 7 Summits at 70 years old. This project began last May 2017. I am scheduled to fly to Antarctica early January 2018 to Mt. Sidley and then after I come off the Ice Continent I plan to go directly to Ojos del Salada, the highest volcano in the world, on the border between Chile and Argentina.
I have had the great fortune over the years to climb many mountains and volcanoes around the world, and just a few days ago this high-altitude volcano Mount Orizaba (5,636m/ 18,491’) in Mexico, the highest in North America. These opportunities and challenges to climb mountains have certainly enriched me in ways I may never fully realize. One thing I know is I am very lucky to have the desire and spirit to choose this lifestyle for myself. I have encouraged family and friends to reach out past their grasp to discover their great strengths that we all have within us. We are bombarded every day to live up to the demands and expectations of others, and we can easily lose sight of why we are here and how unique we all are. If we are not inspired to be all that we can, then we are losing special time, and time is measured. Life doesn’t care if you are happy or sad, and being both is life, so taking control of your direction entirely rests in your own hands. Don’t count on a bigger or smaller power to help you realize your profound greatness. It is not a question of quantity of pursuits but it is a question of quality of achievement. Reaching the summit is really cool, but getting out there daring and pushing your limit is the absolute ‘real great’.
Being out in NATURE is my way to achieve this balance. Studies clearly demonstrate its healing power. However, there are many avenues available to challenge and learn about ourselves. The key I think is not to be afraid to poke our fears and doubts and move our confidence level continuously higher to the next degree. There are many ways to describe it: passion for life, go for it: get out of your comfort zone: follow your dreams: but the point is to be alive and getting the most and best from yourself. I am no guru but that seems obvious to me. Use it or lose it – mind, body, and soul. Make high expectations of yourself. What do you have to lose that you can’t build stronger? You can be more than you think you can be.
THE MAGIC AND GENIUS OF BEING BOLD.
I wish everyone an INSPIRED 2018.
January 14, 2018
D Day has arrived. Flying to ANTARCTICA today to climb the highest volcano on the Ice Continent. CRAZY – yes. But as a friend with MS said, “I wish I could still be crazy”. I am lucky indeed at 70 years old to have such an opportunity to be fit and able to break barriers and reach lofty goals on some of the most isolated and extreme frontiers on the planet. Why do I do it? My hope is to make a clear statement that regardless of age, sex, or any other factor, we all have within us great strength to reach goals far beyond our expectations. But it takes a decision to ‘go for it’. It is not a dream at night. It is a dream by day. To dare to reach as far as the imagination allows. It is about being alive and taking advantage of all we can be, and not regret what we could have been.
If I can poke young or old to take a chance on pushing their edge to reach pride in themselves, believe me – I will be inspired. As a board member at Esprit de Corps Foundation, I saw so many faces filled with the joy of accomplishment after climbing Mt. Washington in the winter. They were single parents who were determined to know who they really were. And the experience of pushing through barriers and hardship to reach their summit changed them forever. But it takes the first step to start down that road to learn and grow.
Mount Sidley is in the remote Marie Byrd Land of the Executive Committee Range in Antarctica. This is my #6 volcano of my challenge to climb all the Volcanic 7 Summits (V7S) in one year at 70. Please follow and show your support to help me reach all those who DARE TO DREAM.
Success on Mount Sidley (Antarctica). #6 on my challenge to climb all Volcanic 7 Summits in one year at 70.
After 30 hours of flights from Montreal to Punta Arenas, Chile – then on a Russian cargo plane (Iluysian) across the Antarctic Ocean to Union Glacier. Next a Canadian built Twin Otter prop for 5 hours across West Antarctica (a fuel cache re-supply half way) to the Executive Committee Range and rarely visited Mount Sidley. An extraordinarily beautiful shaped quarter -moon volcano rising majestically above the endless flat ice plateau of the Antarctic Continent. Pilot extraordinaire Russ Hepburn, Co-pilot Tyron So, and engineer Kevin Bouwsema landed the small craft directly in the snow sastrugi-crusted crater. In all my years of climbing on multiple expeditions I have only had a 1-woman teammate, but this time I was the only male, plus Nate Opp as our guide. My three teammates all very accomplished climbers from Australia; Kate Sarah who has already done the 7 Summits and now just completed the Volcanic 7 Summits on Sidley. She is only the 13th person in the world to have climbed all 7 Volcanoes. Cheryl and Nikki Bart – mother/ daughter team have also climbed all 7 Summits together. Great teammates and great goal-oriented mountaineers.
MOUNT OJOS DEL SALADO
December 11, 2018
After 3 attempts on Ojos del Salado, I finally reached the summit tower – 6,893m – at 3:30 pm Sunday, December 9, 2018. I have now completed the Volcanic 7 Summits and am almost certainly the oldest person to have accomplished both the 7 Summits and now the V7S at 71 years 235 days.
My Australian friend Dan Bull who I climbed Carstensz Pyramid in Papua New Guinea in 2014 has been recognized by Guinness World Records for being the youngest person to climb both the 7 Summits and the V7S.
According to James Stone website http://clachliath.com/, only 15 people have climbed the V7S to date.
The last 12 days living in the extremely dry and windy environment of the Atacama Desert of Chile, sleeping at higher and higher altitudes acclimatizing at 3,800 to 5,800 meters and climbing several nearby mountains (5,000m to 6,000m) to prepare. Yesterday at 4 am risking high winds, my Chilean guide Ismael Sepulveda and I made the call to go. We had been in a holding pattern for 3 days waiting for the near hurricane-force winds to subside enough to make our summit bid. Fourteen very tough hours of climbing that literally pushed me to the edge, but somehow, I persevered and reached the technical summit at 3:30 pm.
It felt really rewarding to complete my goal to climb the Volcanic 7 Summits. Ojos shook me up having already having attempted it twice. I must admit, I had a grain of doubt lingering down deep. Now in my hotel room in the small mining town, Copiapo near the coast enjoying simple pleasures like a shower, bed, no blowing sand in my face, a cappuccino, I’m feeling really great and extremely blessed.
I last posted February 4, 2018, that I was climbing Ojos del Salado. I had just returned from Antarctica and was expecting to wrap up my big challenge to climb all the Volcanic 7 Summits in 1 year. I had already completed 6 of the 7 in only 8 ½ months and felt confident I would succeed on Ojos. It has been quite a ride since then. Ojos is a massive mountain at 6,893m (22,615 feet) and tougher than it looks – weather, altitude, and climbing. Together with teammate Michael Halbig from Germany, and our formidable Chilean guide Ismael Sepulveda, we first climbed 3 mountains to acclimatize – Siete Hermanos 4,890m, Mulas Muertas 5,300m and San Francisco 6,018m.
Receiving a weather report of a massive snowstorm predicted for February 14. We had no choice but to advance our summit bid forward 3 days before we were fully acclimatized. The mountain had already been dumped on with 65 centimeters of new snow in the last few weeks, so the climbing was extremely arduous. We broke trail in 2 feet of snow. There were 17 climbers on the mountain from different countries, but only 3 of us made it to the Summit Crater Plateau, just below the true summit itself. We were about 100 vertical meters below the rock face leading to the summit. We still had to climb a chute and then scale the rock wall.
Reaching the crater at 1 pm with practically no energy left, not fully acclimatized to the altitude, and past our turnaround time with that abominable snowstorm trudging in, we had zero latitude other than to descend. It was truly heartbreaking to give up being so close, but it was the right decision. Safety first.
OJOS IS MY NEMESIS - FAILURE - ATTEMPTS 1 & 2 - 2018
FEBRUARY 2018 ATTEMPTS 1 & 2
Finally, my 2nd attempt climbing Ojos del Salado has failed. She is proving to be a very tough nut to crack. My first attempt on February 14th I got within 75m from the technical summit (6908m) but was turned back by an impending snowstorm. February 23rd at 11 pm my Chilean guide Ismael Sepulveda and I left high camp Tejos (5837m) and started our 2nd summit push. It was minus 25 degrees with a nasty wind in our face. We climbed all night and realized at around 6500m we were both suffering hypothermia. We were on a steep slope unable to rest and warm ourselves. Besides that, I realized I had lost too much acclimatization since the 1st attempt. Even though I had taken steps to keep acclimated, they were not enough. I felt my lungs and body screaming for more oxygen. We sadly realized it was not to be.
I have been exceptionally lucky over the years to succeed on my first attempts climbing all the Seven Summits – Everest 2010; Denali 2007; Vinson 2009; Aconcagua 2006; Elbrus 2012; Carstensz Pyramid 2014; Kilimanjaro 2012. Now, this last year my new challenge to climb all the Volcanic Seven Summits in one year at 70, I have also been able to summit on my first go 6 of the 7 peaks – Elbrus (2nd time; Kili 2nd time; Damavand; Giluwe; Orizaba and Sidley. Had I reached Ojos del Salado summit I would have broken several world records. However, what I believe in, and what I speak about in life, is taking on real challenges. The whole thing about a challenge is that it is unpredictable. It is about hardship, risk, and suffering. It is not supposed to be easy. You get out of life what you are willing to put into it. So poking yourself to discover your inner strengths builds a rich character that nobody can take away from you. That is the beauty of it. Although I feel I could have done more, I also know the mountain is not going anywhere and I hope to be back later this year to try again. I have been humbled but I sense it is testing me to see if I have the mojo to push on.
So thanks for all your support and encouraging words. They meant a lot to me. I love challenges and Ojos del Salado is no exception. I have, I can tell you, a huge amount of respect for her. This challenge is not over. 7 of 7 is still in the cards.
- Amit Kotecha Keep strong bro. You will succeed. Just need faith and the right opportunity.
- Andrew Thomas Wow Theodore Fairhurst
You’re a trooper and quite the athlete to be able to do all that !
I’m glad you’re ok !!
- Shevy Warren I am still impressed ????
- Alex Shoumatoff Too bad, Ted, but it’s still there and you’re still here. You’ll make it!
- Richard Doyle You’re world class mental toughness and no quit attitude of victory is amazing. If anyone can accomplish these records it is you!
- Emmanuel Daigle It’s always a great success to be able to climb down and try again. It takes much more courage to say NO to a summit than to climb it in perfect weather. In my opinion, it is your best climb because you’ll learn much more from this mountain. Keep on climbing and never give up on your dream. :)
- Jennifer Ford-Fairhurst To say you are a true inspiration is such an understatement. You have accomplished more with the mountains you’ve conquered (and didn’t) and by the integrity, drive, and discipline you live your life with, than the majority of people I know. Record holder or not, my family will always see you as the BEST!!! Can’t wait to hear of your adventures first hand. Much love❤
- Rosanna Grande❤
- Isabelle Durand Il n’y a pas de mots pour dire combien ta force de détermination est extraordinaire…respect!
- Tavia Tolleson Bravo for your courage, wisdom, determination and grit. Amazing!
- Sonia Pivetta It takes real courage to know when you must stop. However, like you said, you will try again! True determination and I believe you will succeed!
- Jérémie Devinant Wow ted you are so inspiring, you should do a movie from that to spread this way of life!
- Marc-Antoine Laporte Ted, a mountain is only a mountain. Mother Nature is the one shuffling the cards. Like a poker game, you don’t always have winning hands, and don’t always succeed with best cards in hand. The game with Ojos is not over, you’ve played your chips right and have only folded 2 hands. Cheers ??
- Veronica Baruffati I am sure you have the mucho mojo to conquer Ojos ….interesting that you refer to this summit as a she….”ojos del salado”, literally “ eyes of the salty one (male)”….either way, s/he obviously wants to see you again. Lucky #3, Ted. Yough, brave and wise decision to turn back.
- Hernan Leal You will do it Ted and it is very intelligent to stop when you have to do it., this volcano will be waiting for you buddy!
- Jean-Philippe Turgeon Thank you for the rich experience and these strong words… You will Summit 7of7!
- Ali Shafa Next time inshallah
- Joshua Noya Respect ????
- Katherine Snow I can only second what both Emmanuel Daigle and Jennifer Ford-Fairhurst have already expressed. You show great courage, not just the kind one reads about in record books, but the personal strength and courage it takes to believe in yourself. ?
- Bud Hansen You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished!❤
- Gordon Finlay Happy to see you have courage and wisdom!
- Alana J. Hansen Congrats are still in order for your massive accomplishments?
- Earl Ford You will accomplish your objective just keep on working hard any have faith
- Silvana Rossi You have accomplished more than anyone of us could ever imagine. You are already there in my eyes!!! I so admire you! Now hurry back we have plans to make ! Lol!
- John Gradek An amazing hero in my eyes, Ted! OJOS yet awaits your conquering spirit! And welcome home!
- Alexandre Forgues Good job Ted, you are an inspiration ! We are happy that you come back to us in one piece
- Philippe Lefebvre You are and will still be my mentor Theodore.
- Stéphanie Benoit Continue intelligemment Théodore, c’est le plus bel exemple! Whatever time it takes!!!
- Drew Harrison As the old comediennes said “LEAVE EM WANTING MORE” safe travel
- Sajish GP Do it.
- Julie Fairhurst Brilliant work Ted! Very proud and inspired by your work ethic. Yes indeed you will try again but let’s get you to Italy first! Congratulations on your amazing achievements ❤
- Allan Fairhurst Ted, while sorry to hear didn’t quite make it this time, we are very very happy you are safe and sound back in Montreal. The awareness to know your position and the limits although severely stretched is a real strength. As you say the 7th Volcano is still there and not going anywhere. Look forward to seeing you and Rosanna.
John S. Dahlem Ted….keep the “mojo” and follow that journey and remember getting to the top is nice, but getting down is mandatory. The volcano is still there and you will be back you “young whipper snapper!”
- Robert Michaud Awesome feed-back! You are so a inspiration for us!
Love u man!
- Jessie D’Aigle What a journey, we can only imagine how unbelievably challenging this must be. I’m freezing just reading what you wrote. :-)
- Josée Groulx La prochaine fois sera la bonne. Dans la vie à l’occasion nous devons reculer de deux pas pour mieux avancer .Je vous dis LA PROCHAINE FOIS SERA LÀ BONNE.
- Veronique Landry You are really a source of inspiration!! I admire everything you’ve accomplished!!
- Katie Sarah Sorry to hear it didn’t go to plan…but heading home afterwards safe and sound is a successful trip! The hill will be there another day.
- Gilles Cote I am happy to read your analysis…
i am inpired by your journey, for me the mountain is not important what counts is what the mountain represents… a chalenge to push yourself… to reach your limits… getting to the summit is not and should not be the the achievement… i am going to say a very classic lic but it is so through the success is not in the success but in the journee… you know it so much more than we all do. We just went through the Olympic and only 3 individuals won medals for each competition but all the other athletes have achieved so much… The journey is what counts and your journey is so impressive I am in awe of your achievements, your willpower, your capacity to set objectives out of the reach of normal individuals… but this is not important these are objectives to chalange yourself and if tou were to succeed all the time then it may mean your objectives may be too low for you… failure is a success you have set objectives that challenged you and this to me is the success…
i am happy you are safe succeeding or not this climb is something internal within you…
congratulation for all your achievements as an individual .. we are all privileged to know you…
- Matthew Gordon Almost there!
- Cheryl Bart What a mighty effort ! As the Sherpas say “ the mountain will be there another day “… and I’m positive you will be successful another time . You are so inspirational Ted … and this expedition too. And safe and sound for the next adventure !
- Martin Husar Glad you’re safe Ted ?? And because of that, your journey is still in progress — Ojos will welcome you another day ✨
- Elaine Kitteridge A wise decision Ted. You conquered the mountain either way!
- Steve Acre Ted, you are my Hero. Just the fact that you give it all, is inspiring. God Bless and hope to see you soon in Montreal, Steve Acre
- Tiea Rudyk Theodore Fairhurst your such an inspiration! You set goals and you achieve them! Your amazing and I’m so proud of you and everything amazing that you do! ❤
- Freda Sideroff You are resilient Theodore Fairhurst
- Hal K. Myers What a valiant effort. Knowing your resolve, you’ll be back at it soon.
- Hal K. Myers Looking forward to your return.
- Darren Fairhurst This is going to be your story! So proud of you Ted!
Can’t wait to talk with you!
- Jacques Wibrin What a challenge, the only thing i can tell you is respect. The mountain did not let you wins her summit, and you respect the situation. It’s all at your honnor. But soon, you will be able to get to the summit safely. Thumbs up Ted.
- Gaële Cluzel-Gouriou Bravo!!! You obviously keep making sound decisions. You are indeed an example of determination, wisdom and persistence.
- Jimmy Vls I am sure you are going to finish the 7 Volcanic Summits, so I will too.
- Jimmy Vls Next July I am going back to Mt. Giluwe for sure and then December Mt. Sidney hopefully
- Jimmy Vls Let’s keep in touch dear Ted
- Chris Burrows Well Ted it was an incredible and inspiring story you shared with us the past twelve months. Welcome home.
- Michael Hamill Well said Theodore Fairhurst and way to stay tough and positive! The only way we know we are pushing ourselves in life is to risk failure. You’ll get it eventually. We’re all in awe of what you do!
- Greg Harris Great expedition recount and congrats on the other summits. You’ll get Ojos next time.
OJOS IS MY NEMESIS - ATTEMPT 3 - SUCCESS - 2018
DECEMBER 9 2018 3rd ATTEMPT SUCCESS
After 3 attempts on Ojos del Salado, I finally reached the summit tower – 6893m – at 3:30 pm Sunday, December 9, 2018. I have now completed the Volcanic 7 Summits and am almost certainly the oldest person to have accomplished both the 7 Summits and now the V7S at 71.
My Australian friend Dan Bull who I climbed Carstensz Pyramid with in Papua New Guinea 2014 has been recognized by Guinness World Records for being the youngest person to climb both the 7 Summits and the V7S. Hopefully, I will now be the oldest.
According to James Stone website http://clachliath.com/, only 15 people have climbed the V7S to date.
The last 12 days living in the dry windy environment of the Atacama Desert of Chile sleeping at higher and higher altitudes acclimatizing (:3800 to 5800 meters)and climbing several mountains (5000 to 6000m) as preparation. Yesterday 4 am risking high winds my Chilean guide Ismael Sepulveda and I made the call to go. 14 very tough hours that pushed me to the edge, but I persevered and reached the technical summit at 3:30 pm.
It felt really rewarding to me to complete my goal to climb the Volcanic 7 Summits. Ojos shook me up having attempted it twice and I really had doubts. Now in my hotel room in a small mining town, Copiapo near the coast enjoying simple pleasures like a shower, bed, no sand and wind in my face, coffee, I’m feeling great and extremely lucky.
- Dia Coetzee Carstens Well done and congrats Ted!!!!!!!!!!!
- Jessie D’Aigle Congratulations Ted this is amazing and a Guinness world record
- Philippe Lefebvre Well done Theodore, you’re a real inspiration to me.
- Oksana Galchanskaya Congratulations Ted!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Kent Stewart Well done Ted!
- Tim Igo Well done Tedski!!! Congratulations!!!
- Alex Shoumatoff Ok Ted, you made it!
- Thierry Quenette waaooo félicitation!!
- Adrian Rohnfelder Congrats Ted, I am really glad you made it with that 3rd attempt, you did an amazing job!
- Mohan Kumar Kafle congratulations
- Al Hancock Fantastic news Ted” congratulations , well done!!
- Carole Hamel Congratulations Ted!
- Bravo pour ta détermination et ta persévérance!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Rosanna Grande Bravo Ted -inspiring!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Emmanuel Daigle BRAVO Theodore Fairhurst! Perseverance is one of the key to success. Now it’s time to recuperate and have a coffee together ;) Write me when you’ll have time.
- Peter J Watkins Totally inspiring
- Eric L’Esperance Awesome!
- Veronica Baruffati Bravo!!!!
- Sonia Pivetta Congrats Ted! You are truly amazing!
- Christophe Reinauld Félicitations Ted!
- Veronique Landry Congratulations! Your commitment and perseverance is phenomenal!!!
- Silvia De la Melena Congratulations!! you are amazing! it was impressive to see you climb mount Washington with our cohorte from Esprit de corps some years ago! I’m very happy for you!
- Mirza Ali congratulations Ted! You are Awesome!!
- Jennifer Ford-Fairhurst We are so proud of you!!! Much love ❤️
- Andrew Thomas Congratulation Theodore Fairhurst!
You are a champion!
- Gordon Finlay Great job Ted! Congratulations
- Gilles Cote Congratulation… you are indeed a special man.
- Martina Stillman Congratulations!!!
- Robert Gervais That is awesome!
- Katherine Snow Wonderful – I never doubted you.. and more importantly.. you never doubted yourself. Congratulations!
- Tina Aldous Congratulations!!!!!!!
- Yøhan Lamurias Wow! Congrats Ted “the man” Fairhurst!
- Mathilde Hervieux Congrats! :-)
- Sajish GP Massive!
- Nick Cole Congratulations Ted! Fantastic achievement! You are inspiration to all of us!! ????????
- Sandhosh Kumar Amazing and never had any doubt you will
- Go Gene Congratulation, you are awesome!! Take care.
- Paul Davidson Michelle Hanna
- Michelle Hanna · Friends with Paul Davidson
Congratulations!! What an inspiration!
- Samuel Ostiguy Bravo Bravo Bravo!
- Jean-Michel Ghoussoub Awesome!!
- Tavia Tolleson This is so fantastic! Your perseverance is an inspiration.
- Drew Harrison a blue goose moment. no wig required. Congrats
- Mike Chapman Congrats – Sumitee as our Tibetan cook would say
- Babak Kheirjoo Oldest very important.I am waiting you
- Adrian Rohnfelder Babak Kheirjoo Did you join him at Damavand?
- Maria Pappas WOW!!! Congratulations.
- Shevy Warren Congrats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Alex Kavanagh CONGRATULATIONS Theodore Fairhurst this is an amazing accomplishment and am so grateful to have met you earlier this year when you were heading Antarctica.
You’re an inspiration to all mate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- James Stone Well done. Absolutely brilliant. So pleased for you. Yes, you are the 16th person to complete the V7S. And you are the oldest person to complete both the V7S (beating me!) and the 7S/V7S combination. I will be updating the completer list on my website shortly. There are likely to be at least another couple of V7S completers in January when the next Sidley expedition is run. Congratulations again.
- Ann Marie Hewlett Congrats!
- Barbara Kreklau Gonzalez Amazing accomplishment! Congratulations!
- Bud Hansen Testament to never giving up! BRAVO!
- Craig Little Fantastic Ted, what an inspiration. Great to see you doing so well. Enjoy a beer now.
- Maryam Dawn Fleming · Friends with Al Hancock.Wow…. what an incredible view. Congratulations on reaching the top!!!
- Colin Schworer!!!!!!!!! Congratulations on your perseverance and conquest of this elusive summit and the culmination of your ambitious dream!!!!!!!!
- April Hichenens You are the definition of awesome, Ted. Congratulations and so much love and admiration your way!!
- Doreen Hewlett Great to hear the news. Congratulations Ted!!
- Paul Garry Congratulations. Third time is the charm.
- Freda Sideroff Congratulations Theodore Fairhurst!
- Rodney Parsons · Friends with Al Hancock. Congratulations!!!!
- Patrick Messier Bravo Ted!!!
- Geneviève Bousquet Amazing!!! Congratulation!
- Moises Nava Congrats
- Julie Fairhurst You’re one of a kind Ted! Incredible effort! Congratulations !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!⛰!!!!!!!
- Greg Paradis Amazing, congratulations Ted!
- Véronique Labbé R-E-S-P-E-CT !!!! what an achievement Ted I’m very happy for you !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Gilles Barbot Amazing !!!
- Elaine Kitteridge That’s beyond wonderful!! Now I know someone in the record books. Congratulations!!!!!!!!!
- Jesika Starnino Wow Ted! You did it! Congratulations!
- Allan Fairhurst Truly amazing and inspirational!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- John Gradek Wow! What perseverance, Ted! Congrats and here’s to the Guinness recognition! Going to have to celebrate that. Safe return home…
- Pam Rolph-Romeril Absolutely amazing! Congratulations
- Robert Kay Congratulations Ted! You da man!!
- Josée Groulx I have now Word you are just the best of all .Toute mes felicitations
- Vicky Kostolias Amazing incredible TED!!!!
- Cheryl Bart Congrats Ted!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Guillaume Le Prohon Congratulation Ted, you’re such an inspiration. Have a safe way back home
- Jean-François Beauchamp Congrats Ted!!!
- Ken Ruffell CONGRATS Teddy. Way to go SUPERSTAR !!!!!
- Danielle Hirsh CongratulationsTed ! Knew you would make it…
- Alana J. Hansen I so admire your dedication & perseverance! Comgratulations on realizing your goal! Love you, Alana and Bud ❤️‼️
- Tina Ferrara Haney Amazing! Congratulations!!
- Andrés Alcayaga · Friends with Ismael Sepulveda
Congratulation Theodore, we meet in laguna verde, happy to hear that you got to the summit with my friend Ismael Sepulveda well done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Nicolaus Irunde Amazing! Well done. It’s Nicolaus your mount Kilimanjaro Guide.
- Michael Halbig Fabulous!! Congratulations!!
- Amanda Stephenson What an INCREDIBLE feat. Was going to say achievement but it doesn’t seem big enough. Congratulations Ted – what’s the next thing you’ll challenge yourself with, I wonder ….
- Alexandre Forgues Bravo Ted!!!! I’m very happy for you
- Darren Fairhurst We are so proud of you Ted!!
- Wendy Harrison Greenberg Another awesome Accomplishment!!!
- Francois Langlois Bravo Ted! Great achievement!!
- Derek Kattas Congratulations Ted.
- Maria Macarena Prieto Silva · Friends with Ismael Sepulveda que grande Ismael Sepulveda!!!!!!!
- Rosy Gucciardo · Friends with Judy Silva and 1 other
You go Ted !! Congratulations on this amazing accomplishment!! God bless ♥️
- Pascale Daviau What an accomplishment! Congratulations to you Sir!
- Stephen Hart Myers · 4 mutual friends. Wow!!!!!!
- Lori Perkins Congratulations!
- Daniel Alfaro Araya #andesdeatacama
Theodore Fairhurst Daniel Alfaro Araya Daniel is the logistic genius for Ojos.
- Stephane Dumont My idole!!!!!
- Marisa Di Lillo Amazing Ted! Congratulations
- Jannett Pechmann Congratulations Ted what an achievement.
- Greg Harris Way to go! Congratulations!
- Sylvie Lafreniere Bravo. Well done. You persevered.
- Emmanuel Chenail Bravo très inspirant!!!!!
- Joan Cowell McKinnon How wonderful!!
- David Bryson ·Amazing Ted!
- Pina Daluiso You are simply awesome Ted congratulations!!!!!!
- Mackenzie Snow This is incredible Ted!! Congratulations!!!!!