2012 Banff Mountain Book Competition Winners

The reception and ceremony around the Book Competition portion of the 2012 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival was held last night. A few people may be disappointed Wade Davis’ book hadn’t won, but the competition was tough evidently. Then again, few should be surprised that Fred Beckey’s book received a special mention by the international jury.

Here are the winners in each category and the grand prize winner:


Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa
Richard Grant, Free Press/Simon & Schuster (USA, 2011)


Fiva: An Adventure That Went Wrong
Gordon Stainforth, Golden Arrow Books (UK, 2012)


Squamish Select
Marc Bourdon, Quickdraw Publications (Canada, 2012)


Tibet: Culture on the Edge
Phil Borges, Rizzoli (USA, 2012)


Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout
Philip Connors, HarperCollins Publishers (USA 2011)

Thanks for dropping by again. Don’t forget to enter for the limited “It Lives” Hueco Rock Ranch tee that I am giving away courtesy of the American Alpine Club. Contest ends Monday.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.

Clint Helander and Alaska’s Revelation Mountains

I received my 2012 American Alpine Journal in the mail shortly before I left for vacation with my family. It barely made it. I’d been planning on dropping whatever I was working through and taking the journal with me as my sole reading material. It was delivered just days before we drove north and I was thrilled to find several features that I had already been seriously daydreaming about (obsessing might be more appropriate.)

One of those topics was the first ascent of Mount Mausolus (9,170 ft. / 2,795 m.) in the Revelation Mountains, a southern section of the Alaska Range. It’s relatively little known and remote, though I suspect more ambitious alpinists seeking first ascents — the kind on virgin peaks, not virgin lines — are becoming tuned in to the history and opportunities of the region.

There have only been two key figures for the “Revs,” including author and climber David Roberts, who was the first to explore the region, and the current and active expert, Clint Helander. Helander wrote a featured article on his FA on Mausolus and I caught up with him earlier in the season over email after another FA in the Revs — Golgotha (7,930 ft. / 2,417 m.), which David Roberts essentially called his secret climb. Helander has had some significant first ascents in the Revs, in addition to Mount Mausolus including the Ice Pyramid (9,250 ft, / 2,902 m.) and Exodus (8,385 ft / 2,556 m.), Golgotha, a notable second ascent on the Angel, as well as several new ice and mixed routes in the Chugach Range.

I wanted to know a little bit more about what made him who he is and how he has become a leader in this range so I reached out to him and he consented to answer a few questions. You can learned more about his climbing accomplishments on Alpinist.com and in the American Alpine Journal, but here are some answers that give us insight into the influences that lead him to be a first ascentionist. Here’s our brief conversation:

TSM: Your climbs could be characterized as aggressive. Did you have mentors lead the way?

CH: I have always had an IMMENSE amount of respect for Mark Westman and Joe Puryear. It brings me endless amounts of pride to have been able to call Joe and Mark friends. They just accomplished so much in Alaska, no one else can really even compete with the overall volume of climbs they have completed. They learned together, climbed the hardest routes of their lives together and always remained humble and clear to their morals. They didn’t seek fame or self-promotion. They both climb(ed) for the pure love of the endeavor itself.

TSM: You have a core group of friends. Were they influential?

CH: My group of friends in Alaska is so unique. I met them in college as part of the Outdoor Club. I was 18 years old and didn’t know two shits about anything when it came to the outdoors. They took me out rafting, sea kayaking, ice climbing, mountaineering, rock climbing, hiking, etc. They had climbed Denali, traveled around the world. They were all so accomplished in my eyes. Now in many ways I have surpassed many of them in technical pursuits, but it is purely because of them that I am who I am today.

TSM: Who are your heroes?

CH: My friends are my heroes. From those who shaped me from a know nothing 18 year old punk to the Mark Westmans of the world. It makes me beam with excitement to be in so much awe of my friends. I love sharing laughs with Westman and then looking down and thinking to myself “why is this guy climbing with me? Am I worthy???”

TSM: What does alpine climbing mean to you?

CH: I feel like alpine climbing has given me a different perspective on every day life. My heart sings when I am in the mountains. My body pulses with a feeling of complete happiness. I love the bite of the cold air, the ice, the extreme vertical relief, the risk, and the reward. I love going into the unknown and pushing myself in the mountains. I love confronting my fears and doubts. I hate the failure in the moment, but I love the desire it gives me to better myself for the future. I love succeeding at a long awaited goal. It is the most meaningful form of personal expression that I have.

TSM: Will you climb forever?

CH: At this point, I honestly cannot see outgrowing climbing. I have no intentions of slowing down. I want to find a way to work seasonally or on my own time and still make a decent living, while still being able to devote a significant amount of time to climbing in Alaska and beyond.

TSM: What is your next big challenge?

CH: After my Revelations trip, I attempted the Moonflower Buttress on Mount Hunter. We climbed very well, but a broken crampon and core-shot rope forced a retreat from 15 pitches up. I plan on returning next year stronger, faster, and with more time to succeed on the Moonflower. There is another route in the Alaska Range that terrifies me, but I think that with a year of training, I will be ready to give it a shot if I maintain my focus on training.  I also will return to the Revelations and attempt what I imagine will be my most difficult route yet. I plan to go to Yosemite in the fall. In the winter I will enter some endurance ski races and perhaps the Winter Alaska Wilderness Classic.

TSM: Thanks for indulging my curiosities, Clint. Keep up the great work, and stay safe out there.

Thank you for dropping by yet again. If you got something out of this post, you might want to consider following me on Facebook or Twitter because I believe climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.

Below the Peaks through a Child’s Eyes

Natalie and I recently celebrated Wunderkind’s first birthday. She’s walking — almost running now — getting more expressive, and has an awareness about the natural things around us that has reignited something in me too.

Her mother and I love to be outdoors and we’ve seen other kids just a little older than our Wunderkind (pronounced with a German “v” sound, by the way) react quite negatively to being placed on the grass. It seems the affection for nature is either innate or it isn’t. (Grass, by the way, is a great surrogate babysitter for our little girl. Natalie and I have managed several important business discussions in the grassy parks by the Potomac.)

I recently started carrying her in a child carrier backpack, which resembles the old fashioned external framepacks — like the one my Uncle Tom, the original Suburban Mountaineer, swore by. She loves the vantage point of being high up, nearly as high as if she were riding my shoulders. When we went blueberry picking last month, she was able to reach the branches from the carrier and pick (then squish) her own. The juice has pleasantly marked the carrier.

I’ve been trying to take her around in her child carrier backpack more often, like on our evening walks to get she and I ready for when the three of us will hit the trail for some brief day hikes on our upcoming vacation from Peaklessburg (less a vacation from work than the city).

On a recent Sunday morning I “packed” her up and we went for a short nature walk in a local woods (maybe only six or seven acres) in between the homes in our neighborhood. She brought her favorite stuffed friend and I used my compass mirror to check on her. She babbled periodically as babies do, but more so when we got to the woods, as if identifying every “exotic” plant that doesn’t exist in her room or condo. I picked up a stick to point to things but that was hardly necessary; she reached for leaves and noticed the birds on her own. The expressions on her face were… not sure how to characterize them… But they were better than expected.

Our Wunderkind was clearly benefiting from all of this and so was I. I am normally focused on big mountains and big ideas associated them. I make things complex, or at least I seek complications and mysteries to unravel. It’s stimulating, but it has its limits. Sometimes I forget to smell the flowers on the approach or appreciate the birds, so to speak. I’ve found that taking my daughter outdoors helps me separate from the hectic qualities of everything in life.

As she looks at a leaf, branch or insect for the first time, I feel like I am too. Or rather, her wonder in such little things ignites the feeling that these little things are not so little. The most interesting result is that I feel alive and alert to our world at a level that seems almost spiritual.

It sounds cliche, but I get what people mean by the idea of looking at the world “through the wonder of a child’s eyes” in a new way. While it’s not the high mountains, this experience compliments them.

Thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.

Craft Beer and off to Alaska

Craft beer and the 49th State are two things close to my heart. They both have an intoxicating influence. Their powers came into play once again, this time for a friend…

If you’re a member of the American Alpine Club, you can’t miss the communications on their Facebook page, Twitter, emails and blog from AAC staffer and ice climber Luke Bauer. He’s got a style that is engaging and amusing; you’re compelled to read his posts. He’s also leaving for Alaska and the chance to work for one of the well-known breweries in Juneau. How do you beat that?

The AAC staff and Luke in particular have been very helpful to me in becoming an active member, engage with the climbing community and, in some indirect ways, establishing The Suburban Mountaineer over the last couple of years. While the AAC will most likely fill his position, he himself is irreplaceable.

Good luck in Alaska, Luke!

Patagonia North: Baffin Island

There have been stories of two impressive new routes on Baffin Island in Nunavut Province. In late July Bill Borger Jr. and John Furneaux of Canada have free climbed a new route on the southwest face of Mount Thor (5,495 feet) that they named  “The Great Escape” and rated 5.10+. And back in May, Marek “Regan” Raganowicz and Marcin “Yeti” Tomaszewski of Poland, put up a new route on Polar Sun Spire, which they named “Superbalance” and rated VII/A4/M7+.

Both were epics for different reasons and like all good climbs they have the element of responding positively when faced with adversity. Borger and Furneaux dropped relatively early in the climb a bag with all pitons meant for their descent, which sunk their hearts momentarily; they knew they were committed to reaching the top and getting down another way. They were about half way up the world’s highest vertical drop: 4,101 ft. / 1,250 m. at 105 degrees.

Raganowicz and Tomaszewski on Polar Sun Spire struggled against all conditions to put up the route. It took 24 days to establish the 37 pitches necessary for a reasonably direct route to the summit. Alpinist.com reports that they were proud — and rightfully so — that they did so without any “excessive aiding and drilling,” as Reganowicz told them. Cold was their ally and their hurdle to the top. The cold held the chossy portions of the wall together but the bitterness at night made resting conditions difficult. Occasional days of rest mixed with gear hauling made progress possible, and gear had to be fixed daily: “We cut five ropes, one of which cut 4 times in the course of 2 days. All because of falling stones,” Reganowicz told Alpinist.com.

It appears the suffering here was marginalized because the teams embraced it or at least their patience overcame it.

I’ve been thinking of the climbing in Baffin Island — or at least their stories — as the new Patagonia. I’m as enamored by Patagonia as every other romantic rock and ice climber, but I love destinations that people, upon hearing the name of the destination, say “Where?”

Baffin Island is as remote as Patagonia had once been before El Chalten basecamp was pitched and the buses rolled through carrying all sorts of visitors. I’ve heard that some residents are compensated to live their to ensure Canada’s claim to the land. Most of the residents are First Nations — Iniuit. There, it is easier to travel in winter than summer and the snow machines are the preferred automobile between settlements.

Then, around a seemingly barren arctic landscape, rising high, are vertical walls of opportunity. Mix a little adversity of conditions for the chance at greatness and or enlightenment.

It’s my Patagonia. What’s yours?

Thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, I’m sure you’ll enjoy following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook and/or Twitter, because if you’re like me, you believe climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.

Bedstand Climbing Reading

Did you see the New York Times piece by Thomas Easley of the AP titled “Elation and Heartbreak on the World’s Highest Peaks”? If you haven’t, don’t bother looking it up. It’s not worth the irritation if you are passionate about mountain climbing the way I am.

To me, the bottom line was Easely asking whether our sport is too dangerous and ought to be outlawed or at least regulated. The same question was asked publically in 1865 when four fell to their deaths after summiting the Matterhorn! So expect that we’ll be dealing with this question of whether society should permit people to take such risks at all, or to what extent, as long as we as a species climb… sky dive… or do anything someone else might consider dangerous.

Now with that out of the way…

I had a donut and red wine extravaganza for Fathers Day this past weekend. I didn’t do much reading — one of my favorite activities whenever I have down time — but there wasn’t any down time. Still, I took an inventory of the books and magazines laying around my home — literally laying around my home. So I thought I’d update you on what I’m reading now and why:

I picked up Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald (2011) about a month ago at long last! It’s a terrific story of the Poles climbing exploits while held under Soviet control. I’m reading it because it’s won several awards, including the 2011 Banff Mountain Book Competition and the American Alpine Club Literary Award this past March. I’m also reading it because I am half Polish on my mother’s side. While my grandparents immigrated to the United States in the 1920s when they were children, it was hard to ignore what was happening in Poland in the 1980s when I was just a young kid growing up. I never understood why, but this book sheds some light on it for me. As an aside, it also shows how climbing matters to us as human beings and why Easley is missing the point!

I’m also reading John Long’s story of the rise of real rock climbing in the United States: Rock Jocks, Wall Rats and Hang Dogs (1994). The first climbing book I ever bought and read was by Long and was his how-to guide on face climbing. It was a fantastic book that opened the dispelled the myth of magic equipment and illuminated the importance of technique! Edelweiss gave this to me, along with several other books by Long, for Christmas one year. I’m reading it now to help close my knowledge gap on rock climbing.

Yes, unfortunately I am still trying to finish Alpinist 38. Editor Katie Ives said she was editing photo captions for 39 over the weekend (with the help of lattes,) so I have to hurry up and finish. This is only magazine I literally read cover-to-cover. The best piece in 38 was Jerry Auld’s tribute to the long ice axe (mainly since that is my antiquated tool of choice.) However, the Mountain Profile — a part II — on K2 has been bogging me down in the most pleasant way. Mainly, I just haven’t wanted to rush.

Eric Hörst said alpinism is closely related to big wall climbing. I’ve known that

in terms of the scope and size of the challenge are comparable, however, but I hadn’t thought of looking at alpine climbing through of prism of lessons from the big walls. So I scanned through some of my old issues of Climbing and pulled Issue No. 289 October 2010. On the cover is Tommy Caldwell and attempting the Dawn Wall on El Capitan. I don’t know that I have gleaned anything directly, but the logistics and intimidation factor of an aid climb like this, well, excite me.

I’m going rock climbing at the gym this weekend with my friend Chris so I took Rock Climbing: Mastering Basic Skills by Craig Luebben (2004) off my shelves. I thought I might refresh my memory on a few knots but I’ve barely looked at it. I’ve been too busy with other things and when it comes to reading, there are just more exciting stories to read… like the ones I just mentioned!

So I hope that was time better spent than reading Easley’s NYT’s piece. Remember, if you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Happy reading and carpe climb ’em!