Weekend Alpinism and a New Patron Saint

This Memorial Day weekend tested my New Year’s resolution to not complain so much about the heat and humidity in Peaklessburg. This was tough since it was consistently about 90(F)/32(C) and very humid. If you were in the cooler mountain air — even if the conditions were cloudy or rainy — remember, I think you had it made!

If you are a weekend warrior, you know these three-day weekends are great. You can get out there in between work and have an extra day to go farther or perhaps add a recovery day before returning to the 9:00-to-5:00 grind. Still, escaping responsibilities of family and friends, let alone work, can be difficult. I keep thinking of what alpinist David Burdick said in the Smash and Grab video: “Our life windows are shorter than our weather windows.”

This particularly rings true for a weekend alpinist, where high, steep, snow and ice routes mixed with blue skies are sought but often do not coincide with the free times when we don’t have to be there for plumbing repairs, graduations, and family quality time — the things that often can’t be rearranged on the schedule. This also makes me admire John Frieh all the more. Let me explain…

Burdick, Frieh and partner Zac West made a weekend dash from Seattle to southeast Alaska on the Stikine Ice Cap to attempt of Burkett Needle near Devil’s Thumb. It was a first ascent to boot that they named Repeat Offender (IV 5.9 AI3 M5).

You’d expect that on an ascent like this, two days before they topped out, that they would be climbing, waiting out weather in a camp somewhere or at least hanging around a tarmac for the weather to clear so their plane could taxi them to base camp. Nope, they were home, in Seattle able to sleep in their own beds, and in the case of Frieh, with his family. They went from home to summit and back in three days!

Compare Frieh to Ed Viesturs. While a lot of aspiring climbers with family have admired Viesturs for his balance (better word might be arrangement, really, since balance doesn’t always necessitate a 50/50 split) with his family over the place climbing plays in his life, I think John Frieh could be the new contemporary role model here. Frieh has a family and works a full-time job in the Pacific Northwest. He’s consistently a part of establishing challenging first ascents in some great locations in Alaska and he works a “real” full-time job as an engineer and he is a husband and father.

While Viesturs worked as a veterinarian and then a carpenter when he wasn’t climbing, he was essentially a full-time professional climber by the time his children arrived, where work was guiding, giving slide shows and planning the logistics for the next ascent. I don’t know what kind of support or agreement Frieh has from his family, but he’s fortunate to have his family and be able to explore some of the most amazing mountaineering challenges today.

On a related note, one of my good friends Chris McGurn — a solid guy all around — got out this weekend with panache. On Saturday, he took a plane as a passenger to several thousand feet above the Virginia countryside, looked out the window and took the express way down with some friends. I’m really glad he got to jump and for the support he got from his wonderful wife! (And by the way, there is no jealousy here; I would have preferred the long way down and a wait on the tarmac before getting to the terminal, like usual.)

I’m also really glad the chute opened and that he didn’t bust an ankle on contact with earth. He’s my climbing partner for a rare day at the gym next month!

Well, thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Happy reading and carpe climb ’em!


2 thoughts on “Weekend Alpinism and a New Patron Saint

  1. Memorial Day weekend.. I thought of this very same Smash and Grab video when I roped a friend into going up to do a Presidental Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hamsphire. We got very lucky in that weather window/ life window aligned perfectly. Wish that could happen more often. I agree 100%, Frieh is the new role model.

  2. Glad you got out, ClimbingBetty!

    The window is sacred for those of us that only occasionally get out and hike and climb. But when it works out so well in a great location like the Presidentials… Well, words don’t do it justice, does it?

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