Our Adventures and Political Instability

The recent insurrections in Egypt and Libya changed a lot of people’s travel arrangements and earlier this week, Russia closed off tourism around Mount Elbrus (18,510 ft./5,642 m.) in the Caucasus mountains near Georgia because of increased violence.  Several were attacked, others were killed and bomb plots were discovered.

Political instability has always endangered our adventures.  Mountaineering accomplishments practically ceased globally during World War II, except for a few rare exceptions.  Nepal’s recent communist insurrection caused some hiccups for the climbers heading in-country, though most were unfazed.

It upsets me whenever regulations, fees and politics gets in the way of me enjoying wilderness on my terms and schedule.  I realize that’s probably indicative of the selfishness of this era (and I am trying to fix that about me, really.)  But the political dangers are risks that have to be considered.  For instance, when Argentina’s economy deflated several years ago, that nation was on the brink of an even greater crisis.  It was possible, though a lower risk, that we might not have been able to safely camp near El Chalten.

One’s nationality (and the implied loyalty to a cause that comes with that) is always an issue that needs to be considered; not know what the level of risk is could put a traveler at great risk of succumbing to the violence because the proper precautions were not taken.  American citizens should check the State Department’s website before any international trip (except I never check before visiting our great friends in Canada, who does?)  Other governments provide similar resources on their websites or through their embassies.

Be careful out there!

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The AAC: Support for Achievement

If you climb regularly and are already a member of American Alpine Club (AAC), you know the value it brings.  If you don’t climb regularly, you might be tempted to think the US$75 dues are not worth it for you.  Even if you don’t enter the vertical world frequently, your passion for the mountains and the sport will benefit from membership. 

I wanted to join in the late 1990s to join the ranks of its members like Bradford Washburn, Charles Houston, Steve House and others.  But the dues were expensive for me, when I was still a high school student.  Now I am a working professional and a proud member that benefits from the AAC even though I hardly hit the steeps as often as I once did. 

The AAC offers climbers a great deal of support, even if you’re the Suburban Mountaineer in Peaklessburg.  The AAC works to ensure climbers maintain access to climbing sites in conjunction with the Access Fund and will engage in regulatory advocacy; it was quite active in the negotiated rulemaking in Denali National Park regarding climbing fees this past fall. 

The club also has adopted the spirit climbers embrace: Only through adversity and challenge can accomplishment truly be appreciated.  The membership ranks are climbers with the same adventurous spirit.  We may hike and fly fish, work in cubicles or outfitters, be introverts or extroverts, but we share the desire to solve vertical challenges.  And while the name implies alpinism only, today members are boulders, trad climbers, sport climbers, ice climbers and alpinists. 

Enjoying mountaineering from my desk and armchair these days and rarely visiting New England’s hills or the Pacific Northwest’s peaks, I enjoy the access it offers to the Henry S. Hall, Jr. American Alpine Club Library, the online issues of the American Alpine Journal, issues of Accidents in North American Mountaineering,  invitations to climbing community events in my region or across the country, discounts  to huts and lodges, as well as the support the AAC provides to climbers in rescue insurance, conservation efforts (including efforts in Los Glaciares National Park in Patagonia) and grants to the truly adventurous members. 

I enjoy the network a great deal, but the borrowing privileges at the library and access to the AAJ really impresses me.   I considered joining the Friends of the American Alpine Club Library for US$50 in order to borrow books for the Suburban Mountaineer site.  With that I would have had to pay shipping from the library and the return postage.  And I would not have had access to the AAJ back issues available only to members.  The membership dues seemed to be a significant bargain suddenly!  With membership, books are shipped to you as part of your dues; you only pay to return them. 

If you are not a member already, I recommend it.  It might even inspire you. 

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Adventure’s Purpose

Alpinist Willi Unsoeld was a great mountaineer, best known for being among the first Americans to summit Mount Everest and also for the tragic story of losing his daughter, Nanda Devi, on her namesake mountain.  He was also a professor or religion and philosophy (but I’ve heard different explanations of what he actually taught.) 

Here is one quote from Unsoeld that struck a cord with me about hiking and climbing.  I always had this thought whenever I was going back and forth to the Adirondacks in high school and in college.  I think it may be even more resonating now:

” …Why not stay out there in the wilderness the rest of your days? Because that’s not where men are. The final test for me of the legitimacy of the experience is ‘How well does your experience of the sacred in nature enable you to cope more effectively with the problems of mankind when you come back to the city?'”

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Lessons from an Ignorant Climb on Mount Kenya

Happy Friday, all!  The weather got warmer here in Peaklessburg.  Some friends in cold New England said it was up to 40 degrees (F) and they were downright giddy!  I hope you got out and enjoyed it as much as they did.

I finally read No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi at long last.  As everyone probably knows, it is the story of three prisoners of war from World War II interned at a camp by Mount Kenya (17,057 ft./5,199 m.) on the equator.  Through a great job of story telling, Benuzzi and his companions break out of the camp to climb the mountain and willingly return to life as POWs.

The part that interested me the most was that these climbers did not have much research on their target before venturing off.  They had a pair of contraband binoculars to study the mountain.  They had no reliable maps.  They had no idea about the climbers hut at the base of its primary spire.  They had no intelligence on the climbs by other alpinists before them.  This lack of knowledge, or little knowledge that they did acquire, allowed them to experience the joy and the struggle of exploring the mountain as if for the first time in history.

Today, it is not often that we as climbers, or even hikers, stumble upon a target on our travels and go off without a lot of planning and research.  There is a wealth of information today about the majority of mountains on the Internet, in outfitter’s book section, professional mountain guides and the American Alpine Club Library.  Sometimes we’re lucky to find a gem that no one has written much about and it is up to that explorer to lay down the first ascent (FA), if he or she is fortunate and gutsy enough.

While research is prudent, approaching a well-known peak or a little-known mountain with a degree of ignorance can open up opportunities.  Be analytical.  Be objective.  Think through the challenges on the ridges, walls and slopes.  There might be something worth trying, even if it has already been done and written about.  It will still be the first time, even if not a FA.

Well, thanks again for visiting.  Remember, you can follow the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook and Twitter (@SuburbanMtnr) to learn of new posts and obtain other news and information.

Guideless in the Backcountry: First-Time Hikers

When I started travelling in the backcountry I was fortunate to have my uncle, the original Suburban Mountaineer, be my mentor when I was only eleven.  Having a mentor like my uncle was an advantage because of all the trails he’d covered and his talent for sharing lessons like I was a buddy rather than a nephew. 

As I have noticed from ads at the local outfitter around here in Peaklessburg, a lot of people new to hiking learn how to be prepared for a day hike or an overnight trip through instruction at an Eastern Mountain Sports, REI or Erehwon, for example.  Despite the way I learned, a lot of people don’t just go hiking.  They prepare — as they ought to. 

While we all need to know the Ten Essentials, how to navigate, how to tend to blisters, and how to keep our food and ourselves safe, which can be taught in the classroom, getting the feel of a hike — especially a long one — can only be gained truly by experience.  I always recommend new hikers read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.  His thoughts and reactions of the trail are true.  I also recommend Jeff Alt’s A Walk for Sunshine.  Both are about hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Regardless of whether a new hiker plans to do a through hike, the lessons and experiences from a long hike can be analogous to our shorter hikes. 

Author and Thru-Hiker Jeff Alt has done a number of slide shows, particularly in Shenandoah National Park, where he shares pictures and his stories from his hike. He has also come out with a DVD of the slide shows, A Walk for Sunshine Appalachian Trail Show.  It is definitely something I would have enjoyed watching when I was just getting into hiking; maybe I would have shared something with my uncle. 

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Alpine Trivia Quiz

I thought I’d try to brighten up the day here in dull, flat Peaklessburg with a little alpine trivia quiz as we start heading into the weekend:

1. What was the name of the route behind Helmcken Falls in British Colombia climbed by Tim Emmett and Will Gadd?

     A. Psychic Envy

     B. Spray On

     C. Soaked Through

2. Who are the first alpinists to top out on Denali in the month of January?

     A. Artur Testov and Vladimir Ananich

     B. Barry Blanchard and Steve House

     C. Peter Croft and Matt Ciancio

3. Who was the first alpinist to use glacier landings in Alaska?

     A. Allen Carpe

     B. Bradford Washburn

     C. Charles Houston

4. Oh Eun-Sun would be the first Korean woman to climb all 14 8,000ers if she climbed this peak without dispute:

     A. Shishapangma

     B. Nanga Parbat

     C. Kangchenjunga

5. What year did Lionel Terry make the first ascent of Fitz Roy in Patagonia?

     A. 1951

     B. 1952

     C. 1961

Answers in reverse order: B, C, A, A, B.  How did you do? 

Thanks for dropping in.  Remember, you can also following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook and Twitter (@SuburbanMtnr) where I also share some other interesting news and information about hiking and general mountaineering as quickly as I can share it.