Seven Summits

Carstensz Pyramid & Kosciuszko

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Mount Carstensz Pyramid 

 

It has been an 8 year project – climbing the Seven Summits – highest mountain on every continent – but I reached that goal on the 19th March 2014. Carstensz Pyramid, 4884m, is in the western Indonesian half of the 2nd largest island in the world Papua New Guinea but simply called Papua. The other half is known as Irian Jaya or Papua New Guinea, an independent country. I left Montreal on the 7th March and flew to Bali with stopover in Doha. On the night of the 11th, I met my team of 2 Indian twin sisters, a Pakistani brother and sister, an Australian, 2 guys from United Arab Emirates, 2 other Quebecers and myself a Quebecer. All team members, as I would soon realize, are solid strong mountaineers. A rather large team but the diversity of us as it turned out worked beautifully. We caught a flight after midnight from Bali to Timika in Papua. In Timika we again flew on 2 eight passenger prop planes to Sugapa where we landed on a high mountain airstrip. Motorcycles were waiting to transport us to the local village nearby.

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A short lunch later and we were off bouncing down a really rough dirt rocky road on the motorcycles occasionally encountering roadblocks manned by locals demanding passage money. A big negotiation would then pursue until finally something was reached and we pushed on.

We finally arrived at the end of the road and then a short walk to a tiny village at the edge of the jungle. We stayed the night in a wood shelter surrounded by round straw huts and a native population awed by our presence. We felt a bit like being in a zoo – watched by all the curious.

Next morning we started hiking through the jungle and for the next 2 days we were prodding through mud at times almost knee deep. Rarely the terrain was flat, usually climbing or descending and mostly gaining altitude. Jumping rocks or balancing across fallen trees to cross over raging rivers. The first 2 days were 9 sweaty very hot humid hours.

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Day 2 it poured rain in the dense very primitive forest until we arrived at camp 2 drenched and cold but out of the deep jungle.Day 3 we climbed up to a ridge and crossed over multiple connected hills until we at last saw those spectacular white-capped mountains – our objective in the distant horizon. A short descent brought us to camp 3.

Several long days followed winding ever up, down, or around valley or hilltop constantly dealing with slippery mud, rain, steep ascents or descents until we spotted our serene Base Camp bordering a turquoise moraine lake. We had arrived into such natural beauty surrounded by towering peaks. Carstensz was now partially in view and the magnitude of the technical climb became apparent. These mountains recently formed by geological standards and are straight up very sharp rock, great for hand and foot holds but bad for slicing ropes.

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The 18th March we rested at Base Camp enjoying such phenomenal beauty.

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Next morning at 3 am on the nineteenth we hiked to the foot of Carstensz and literally began climbing 60° to 90° walls. By 10am we were high on the ridge preparing for the Tyrolean Traverse (crossing a 30m huge gap in the rock leading to the summit. Upside down but roped into our harnesses, we pulled ourselves across with our hearts pounding furiously. Next followed a few more committed suicidal jumps across gaps and around ledges until we finally reached a rocky steep pinnacle and climbed to the absolute summit.

It was a ‘slice.’ Photos, hugs and glory for a while but the obvious was still awaiting us. Down climbing factually is the most dangerous. Back over all the same obstacles, and then rappelling down +80% of this steep mountain. Some 12 hours later exhausted but relieved we rejoiced our success in Base Camp.

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Next day began the long return back out through the mud, rain and tough terrain.

At about 3:30 pm the following day (day 9), I reached the top of the ridge I earlier mentioned (day 3), had a snack and drank most of my water, expecting to make the long traverse over the ridge and descent to our next camp at the edge of the jungle in about 1 ½ hours. It didn’t go that way. Unknown to me, there was a 2nd older trail leading off in another direction that unfortunately I followed. I was exhausted after a very long day yet happily visualizing dinner and my warm sleeping bag.

By about 5 pm I came to realize I was off-track. I also realized I did not have enough time left in the day to retrace my steps back up the ridge to my last absolute reference point. My best gamble I decided was to continue climbing down the mountain and hope this trail would merge with the correct one before or near the valley river below. I decided I had nothing to lose following this strategy provided I went slowly and did not hurt myself. Evidently, a twisted ancle or broken leg could end up fatal since I would unlikely ever be found.

At 6:30 pm the game was over. Darkness had set in, and I knew I was spending the night out alone without shelter, food or water. After a couple of expletives, I was resolved to my fate. Essentially, I had been preparing myself for years for such an event. Often back home in Quebec in winter, I would go out snowshoeing or back-country skiing and purposely get myself lost, and then about an hour or two before dark I would sit down and calmly evaluate all the signs using my compass, shadow of the sun, etc. to decide on a strategy to find my way back out of the woods before dark. I have spent a huge amount of time alone in nature hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing so I was not afraid. In fact I was pretty psychologically positive about this new experience. I put on my Gore-Tex jacket and pants, emptied my pack so I could lie on it, opened my umbrella and got under it. Of course, the rain started immediately.

It became very clear to me what plan of action I needed to put in place at dawn. I must stop descending into the unknown and re-climb up to the ridge and over to the last known reference point. I figured it would take about 2 ½ hours which would also coincide with any rescue effort by my team starting at dawn. I would properly place myself in view and/or return to the correct path.

The night was long but the sweet amazing sounds of the alpine / jungle were an amazing delightful symphony to my ears. It rained off and on but I managed to keep relatively dry.

At first light I was marching back-up to the ridge according to plan. It was sunny, I was in good spirits. I was convinced I would be found or find the right trail.

Not far below the ridge I heard human voices. I immediately yelled out. Poxi, our guide and some of the porters had been in shifts during the night and early morning searching for me. Some had tears in their eyes when they saw me. Not only was I relieved but deeply moved by these people. They may live a simple life but peoples values and emotions are the same the world over – people are people, regardless where they live or what education they have. It touched me deeply.

The balance of the trip was mostly uneventful save for the constant mud and rain and long days.

More photos and a video will follow when I get home.

Team: Francois Houde, Catherine Dupasquier, Tashi & Nungshi Malik, Mirza Ali, Samina Khayal, Dan Bull, Saeed Almemari, Hamad Almazronic, and myself Theodore Fairhurst. Guides: Poxi Dainga, Meds Pesak, Pegi Landah.

Carstensz Pyramid

Mount Carstensz Pyramid- Tyrolean Traverse
Mount Carstensz Pyramid- Tyrolean Traverse
Mount Carstensz Pyramid- Tyrolean Traverse
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Mount Carstensz Pyramid near summit
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Mount Carstensz Pyramid near summit

 

April 10, 2014

Mount Kosciuszko

As mentioned above, there is some controversy whether Mount Kosciusko 2,228 meters (7,310 ft.) in the Australian Mainland or Mount Carstensz Pyramid 4,884 m (16,024 ft.) in the Australian Continent on the island of New Guinea which lies on the Australian Continental Shelf is really the 7th Summit. Most serious climbers will now climb both mountains.

I summitted Kosciuszko April 10, 2014 with my partner in life Rosanna Grande. It was a miserable cold, rainy, windy April day with very little visibility. We were soaked to the bone and only descended the mountain after dark.

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Mount Elbrus

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Great News

Wednesday August 8th 2012 just after noon I reached the summit of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. We had really harsh and dangerous conditions particularly on the descent. This successful summit gets me one big step closer to achieving my goal to climb the 7 Summits. I have now climbed 6 out of the 7.

Flying half way around the world August 3 – 4 from Montreal to Moscow and then on to Mineralnye Vody, I was met at the airport and driven another 3 hours to a tiny village at the base of Mount Elbrus called Azau in the Caucasus. For the next 2 days I did acclimatization hikes first to 3500m (11,500’) and then up the glacier to the Pastaho Rocks at 4400m (14,500’). Advanced base camp was at 3800m. Tuesday was a rest day to prepare gear, organize and evaluate weather for a summit bid that night. Weather is always a big issue on Elbrus. It changes on a dime and often goes from one extreme to another in minutes. That said, Tuesday evening the clouds cleared and the skies were beautifully clear.

At 4am next morning weather had moved back in and there were low winds, some snow and moderate visibility. We started up the mountain in the clouds and frankly I struggled in the thin air. I really should have had one extra acclimatization day to develop more red blood cells. My heart raced to get enough oxygen to my muscles, I paced myself to 50 steps and then rested to allow my heart to quiet down a little.

My guide, Dasha Chuenko, a local young female climber and snowboarder set the pace for us in the dark and misty night. Her passion for the mountains to guide and excel was truly inspiring to me. Her father had introduced her to climbing and mountaineering at a very young age. At 21, she is already a natural in the mountains.

Elbrus, a dormant volcano, has 2 summits – east and west. The west summit at 5642m is 21m higher. A col or as it is called ‘saddle’ separates the 2 cones. After reaching the ‘saddle’ we diagonally climbed up the snowy route to a rocky outcrop and soon found ourselves on a rather flat plateau. A long gradual traverse brought us to a steep rise and on the small ‘table top’ peak. We were in the clouds with little visibility and no views but we made it.

On the climb up above the saddle we met Ahmed from the Republic of Abkhazia, climbing Elbrus to represent his young country situated on the Black Sea bordering Georgia. Together we reached the summit and made a special connection between Abkhazia and Canada.

The real fun began on the descent back at the saddle. The winds picked up to 50+km with blinding snow and practically zero visibility. The route down was not especially steep but one miss-step could be fatal. My experience has taught me that with that mix of low visibility and new snow the eye easily gets tricked with what is real ground or an illusion.

Best of all back in Azau the next night, Nicolai Chernny, a legend in Russian mountaineering took Dasha and myself out for a celebratory dinner with the best champagne and local Kabardino-Balkaria cuisine. Nicolai at 73, still leads climbers up Elbrus and other high-altitude mountains. He was leader of the K2 Russian Expedition West Face 2007.

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Mount Elbrus village

 

Kilimanjaro

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My 5th mountain of the ‘Seven Summits’ challenge.

Mid-January to mid-February 2012 I spent a month in Tanzania first hiking Kibo (Kilimanjaro)

Immediately after Kili I went on safari in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara. It was simply extraordinary. I could never have imagined that suddenly I would be plunged into such an amazing world of wildlife on the African plains and savannah. It was a National Geographic TV series but in real life. Witness the incredible footage and imagery I took with my small G9 Canon. Literally I was only 1 1/2 m from a lion using our vehicule as camouflage concentrating on making a kill. Maasai Warriors jumping, hippos charging, lions mating, etc, etc. At night I heard hyenas in our camp. I was truly in awe.

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Mount Kilimanjaro high camp
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Mount Kilimanjaro summit
Mount Kilimanjaro summit
Mount Kilimanjaro summit

 

Mount Everest

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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.

Read full account at: EVEREST   www.daretoreach.ca/adventures/everest/

 

Climbing Everest is physically tough. You get up often at 2am when it is the coldest and climb all night when the ice is more solid, so there is less chance of avalanche. Day after day, you climb higher to acclimatize, and then after a week descend back to base camp for several days of rest to solidify your physiological gains. You do this week after week.

Everest demands that you manage fear. Climbing up through the treacherous Khumbu Ice Fall; crossing ladders over deep crevasses with your crampons on; getting blasted by 100km an hour winds on the steep, rock-hard icy slopes of Lhotse; being holed up for 30 hours in our tents precipitously carved into the Lhotse Face and feeling like any moment we would get blown off the mountain; finding bodies melting out of the glacier ice.  Summit day you are on your own in the death zone and there is no room for error. No one can help you. It is just you, the mountain, and your life.

Everest demands your psychological tenacity. You must be stubborn; you must hold fast; you must know why you are there. You must see what you don’t want to see, but be able to remove it from mind’s eye. You must focus on one thing or you will die. Your world is exactly one step at a time.

Mount Vinson

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ANTARCTICA – WOW, 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. 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 78o latitude and only 1190km (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 natural formed runway. Cross winds descend over the Patriot’s leeward side creating a perfectly flat and icy landing strip parallel to the hills. 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 9pm, 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 3am. It is sunny and bitterly cold. We eat in the Camp dining tent and put up our own 2 man tents and sleep to 11am. At 1:30pm 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 130km (80 miles) and is drawn up like pieces on a chess board 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 land mass, 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 is 24 hours of daylight, the sun simply rotates in the sky 360o just above the horizon.

At about 2:30pm we land on the Branscomb Glacier at 2100m (6900ft) and make camp. Next morning we saddle up the sleds and haul up to intermediate camp, cache and return to base-camp for a 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, 7:45am 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 3pm, 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 table top summit. It is rocky, icy and corniced. We all made it. It is 4pm, 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 40oC 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, this is Antarctica – the most unknown and untouched land on the planet. We are very privileged. I want this moment to last forever.

Mount Vinson

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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 travelled 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 weather. Back at base-camp on Tuesday, there was heavy cloud cover. No planes could fly. 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 3pm 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 3pm we heard that ‘Big Bird’ was in the air. What a sigh. At 9:30pm 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 important, 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.

 

Mount Denali

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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 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, weather extreme, excessively glaciated and unpredictable.

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My climb began on the 8th May 2007 as 7 of us plus guides boarded 3 Beaver prop planes equipped with snow landing pads to land us with a huge amount of gear and food onto the Kahiltna Glacier at 7,200 feet. 30 minutes after take-off from Talkeetna airfield as we approached the mountains word came via Base-camp that weather had closed in so we did a 180o and returned to Talkeetna. Four hours later we re-boarded and this time succeeded to land on the glacier 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 travelling 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 burned calories later.

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 2 feet.

Denali (218) Denali (220) (Copy)Denali (224)

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. This day was 8 1/2 long tough hours.

May 17 we moved up to Camp 3 at 14,250′ with the rest of our loads. Camp 3 is advanced base camp in so much that you are within striking distance of Camp 4 and the summit and the weather is still moderate. 14,000 feet 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. Ultraviolet sunlight increases 5% per 1000 foot gain. Since oxygen pressure decreases 3% per 1000′ gain the summit will have only 40% of the oxygen pressure we get down below. Also weather becomes considerably more severe above Camp 3 on the ridge and higher. It will be preferable to spent as little time as possible at camp 4. 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 me that the high daytime temperature was 37o 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 by the weather at Camp 4. Our weather at Camp 3 was up and down but higher on the ridge it was nasty. It started to seem like our summit bid was rapidly dissolving. 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 try for the summit. We were reduced to lying 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 1/2 hours long before we start dinner. We are totally exhausted.

May 26. Summit day. Again it is sunny. Strange, two good days in a row. This is our 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 or so to Denali Pass. Above this pass we start climbing a steep ridge. We are far above all 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 & 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 cliffs 600′ on your left & thousands of feet down on the right we set foot on a 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 a 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.

Few minutes later reality sets in. The weather is closing in. Their 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 the 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 and stronger, the snow deeper and visibility difficult. It becomes hard to spot the wands. The wind knocks us down at times. It is hard to get a footing in the loose deep snow on this steep slope.

Finally we arrive at Denali Pass. There is only 1000 feet more of altitude. That exhausting 1000 feet down the steep Autobahn is intense and we fall many times. Finally, we make it down to camp. It has been 13 hours for us and 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 summitted 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 are raging all night. Half a foot of snow has fallen and visibility is poor. We stay in our tents all day resting and recovering.

May 28 we break Camp 4. The wind has decreased but visibility is poor. We slowly descend the steep, narrow ridge to the headwall. Descending the headwall on the fixed lines is always a feat. At Camp 3 we eat and continue 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 finally at 6pm to Basecamp. To our huge disappointment, snow starts falling and the Beavers are grounded. Next morning our worst fears are realized. Visibility is horrible and it is snowing hard. Will we be socked in here for days? Almost everyone has already missed their flights home 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 plane banking around the awesome mountains of Foraker and Hunter with massive tongues of glaciated ice 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 memoires to savour. I know that each climb I do takes me out of my Comfort Zone in many ways. The lessons you learn are the great lessons of life. I know I have been lucky on this climb. I also know, even with my success, I have been humbled..

Denali

Mount Denali summit 20320'
Mount Denali summit 20320'
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Mount Denali Kahiltna Glacier
Mount Denali Kahiltna Glacier
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Mount Denali base camp
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Mount Denali summit
Mount Denali summit
Mount Denali summit
Mount Denali summit 20320'
Mount Denali summit 20320'

 

 

Aconcagua

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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 fill 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 in to Base Camp to add a little extra luck to your summit bid. Wondering if you can manage hauling 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 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 nite below you on the mountain, hoping three days of snowfall will finally stop for summit day, worrying about not getting enough sleep at nite. 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 stormy snow laden clouds open and the last rays of a setting sun slam into the golden rock around your tents. Regardless how exhausted you are at the end of the day, seeing such brilliant firery 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 judgement 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…

Aconcagua

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Mount Aconcagua, camp 4
Mount Aconcagua, camp 4
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Mount Aconcagua, camp 4
Mount Aconcagua, camp 4
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Mount Aconcagua vista
storms on Mount Aconcagua
storms on Mount Aconcagua
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Mount Aconcagua camp 4
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Mount Aconcagua sunset
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