The 11,000ers of the Canadian Rockies 2nd Edition

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Bill Corbett’s latest book. (Szalay, All rights reserved)

Until now, Jonathan Waterman’s High Alaska was only practical climbing guidebook that I would consider suitable for a long flight or for pleasureful beach reading. It told the first ascent stories, as well as the technical aspects of the routes, of the Alaska Ranges’ three most significant peaks, Denali, Beguya, and Sultana. But Bill Corbett updated his earlier guidebook of the Rockies with a new edition. It’s exquisite and practical.

Corbett’s The 11,000ers of the Canadian Rockies 2nd Edition is rich with the history and stories of the climbers that made the first ascents. With Rocky Mountain Books, Corbett produced a beautifully illustrated book with the maps required of a top-notch guide, with well-chosen color photographs of the mountains, and insightful commentaries that goes well beyond the route.

Steep

Mark Twight, with his terse ways, said that if you have to train in North America for high altitude climbing and the hardest climbs elsewhere in the world, you must train in the Canadian Rockies.In fact, when I was a boy, it was Twight’s elitist assessment of North American climbing, in general, that made the 11,000ers of the Canadian Rockies stand out in high relief. The Canadian Rockies are not the tallest, but they were cold and were begrudgingly steep.

Corbett’s book doesn’t attempt to make a claim of the Canadian Rockies like Twight’s, but he illustrates over and over again how unique these mountains are, and perhaps more technically challenging than many other mountains throughout the continent. It certainly lends fodder to Twight’s point.

By comparison, Corbett compares the 11,000ers of the Canadian Rockies to the 14,o00ers of the Colorado Rockies. Here’s my paraphrase: While Colorado’s are sloped, requiring some advanced upward relentless hiking, the northern high peaks of the Rocky Mountains were cut by receding glaciers leaving great walls and exposed alpine ridges, demanding technical skills, equipment, and more courage. Corbett also observed that the guy that “ran up” all of the Colorado Rockies in 2015 was a mere 10 days. Meanwhile, the speed record for climbing all of the 11,000ers “is more than seven years,” and only 11 climbers have completed the circuit.

A Quest for a Lifetime

The new edition lays out a plan for adventure, similar to the heralded Fifty Classic Climbs of North America by Steve Roper and Allen Steck (1979), but seemingly more stirring to the imagination.

Corbett updated the book, in part, because the list of 11,000ers have changed, at least at the bottom of the list. I learned a great deal, without getting stumped with mysterious technical terms, about why this is and why the highest mountains are undisputed. In fact, the story of the initial and successive measurements were part of a good introduction (and perhaps the beginning of the allure of these mountains, if you’re familiar with the legends of Mounts Hooker and Brown.) In the end, the “original” list of 50 peaks at or over 11,000 ft. (3,353 m.), has expanded to 54. In fact, there are 13 on the fringe based on modern measurements, with Mounts Murchison (10,997 ft.) and Cromwell (10,994 ft.) in the zone for error.

The book lays out the challenge of each peak first with a color photo of the objective and Corbett’s own commentary of climbing the mountain, which is particularly useful, as he might share that waiting for the route, like those on Mount Alberta 11,873 ft. (3,619 m.), to come into shape requires patience. Next Corbett shares the unique history of the mountain’s earliest and most important ascents. He closes each passage on these mountains, which can go on for several enjoyable pages, to the route, including the approach, and some details about how much time one might expect to take in decent conditions.

Like High Alaska, you do not have to be planning an expedition to the Canadian Rockies to enjoy this book if you love mountains, adventure, and have some interest in climbing them. In fact, I imagine one day when my children are bit older, I would come home from work and things would be quiet. I would find one of them having discovered this book, drawn in first by the photos, and now reading about Conrad Kain, Don Forest, and Nancy Hensen. If nothing else, they might get a sense of adventure and the sense of being committed to a long, big, rewarding endeavor.

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Why Kyle’s and Scott’s Stories Aren’t Over Yet

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Baintha Brakk II. (All rights reserved)

The obituaries are the underrated part of the American Alpine Journal. They cover lifetimes of climbs, and speak to the people that make each edition of the Journal what I have loved to pour over since I was a kid in high school.

But reading them requires different tolerances: The 71-year old and the 91-year old that passed away at home from old age or poor health covers climbs, careers, marriage, children, are about a degree of fulfillment and respect. Reading the ones of younger AAC members, like Dean Potter and Justin Griffin are more difficult to read through without getting choked up.

Justin was originally from Kentucky but got into climbing and moved to Bozeman, Montana. He finished college and became an architect/builder. He was married to a woman he loved. He helped buy her a stable, where she could train horses for clients. Justin and his wife also had a young daughter and lots of plans for the future. He died in the fall of 2015 on descent after putting up a new route in the Himalaya. His climbing partner Skiy DeTray, was unable to revive him, and had to come home alone.

There seemed to be fewer early deaths of young climbers in the last couple of years (or so it seemed to me.) But then something unique, in my experience, happened; News of two climbers I admired were missing, and not only that, the news came with a plea for help. I gave a little money and urgently helped spread the word about the need for a search and rescue for Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson. What happened next was simultaneously wrenching and inspiring.

A Vigil

Once or twice a day I scan the climbing news headlines and feeds on Facebook or Twitter. It’s usually a pleasant distraction and helps me shift gears between big tasks at work of managing a team and a network of stakeholders fighting for affordable housing. I mainly look for inspiration for daydreams and an innocent attempt to live vicariously.

Yet, at a little before 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 31, 2016, I read an unusual headline on Adventure Journal: Alpinists Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson Missing in Pakistan.

Normally the headlines are about an accomplishment (like “team makes first alpine style link up”), or about controversy or conservation (“President names new national monuments”), or someone was heli-evaced or died. But this time, two well-known climbers were overdue and the AJ article included a link to the GoFundMe campaign page that their family and close-friends had set up. Thousands of us waited hoping for news that Kyle and Scott were coming down Baintha Brakk II. Perhaps they were coming down the wrong side of the mountain, and maybe a little hungry and scratched up but alive and well. The GoFundMe campaign page, as of yesterday, September 11, 2016, reported having over 15,000 shares.

For three days, we collectively held a quiet vigil. Not at temples, churches, bars, or living rooms, though some of us may have done so, but mostly through our phones, waiting for updates and good news on Facebook and Twitter. We all shared in hope and put our money down as an act of faith and friendship.

The actual giving was another story by itself.

Giving of Alms

In 16 hours, the friends and fans of Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson gave $100,000 (US) toward their search and rescue. The giving didn’t stop there. The money kept coming. The “positive thoughts” and prayers carried on too.

The search and rescue efforts blossomed from a sole helicopter reconnaissance and a neighboring expedition pausing its efforts to look for Kyle and Scott, into multiple flights and assistance from the Pakistani military. The bill expanded as well, and the goal increased from $100,000 to the current goal of $250,000.

Kyle and Scott had rescue insurance, however, it would only cover a small portion ($10,000) of the massive bill accumulating as more resources were enlisted. The helicopters and pilots were the greatest cost. And the final total, according to Black Diamond Equipment, 11 days after the public call for help was made, still hasn’t been realized with some costs and fees still coming in and payments being made. (Unspent money will be repaid to contributors, but how that process will work will not be decided until the debt is paid, which it might not fully be.)

The cost is hefty and heftier still because we couldn’t find Kyle and Scott. The hole in the pocket is deeper than financial, and sadly the momentum to keep the money flowing in may be dwindling. After eight days, over 4,900 people gave $198,000. After three more days, fifteen other contributors have given an additional $400, still hundreds away from the amount currently necessary to settle the debt.

But what has amazed me, and amazed so many others, how 4,980 people (as of yesterday, September 11, 2016) have opened their wallets; many of whom after the family and immediate friends of Kyle and Scott called off any further searches.

As much as we wanted Kyle and Adam to succeed on Baintha Brakk II, we also wanted them to come home safely. We wanted them to come home safely even more. Even in the era of social media in climbing, it’s still about the climbers not the climb.

Keep Giving

Had Justin Griffin still been with us, his wife and his daughter, he would have made the number of individual contributors as of yesterday 4,981. Justin climbed with Kyle in Alaska and the Canadian Rockies. Kyle was the more experienced alpinist, and Justin was catching up quickly.

And I think there are dozens more stories like this about Kyle and Scott. They probably are underlying the individuals of the final tally. I never met Kyle but I remember the first time I came across him. It was of a photo of him leaning on a table in the coffeehouse he co-owned in Utah advertising Outdoor Research, I think. While his Piolet d’Or and grants validated him, it was that photo that made him out to be a role model or hero to me. He ran his own business, an admirable accomplishment by itself, and he managed to climb at a high level.

On top of that, everyone who actually knew him liked him. One of his editors recently told him that he was extremely likeable and he really listened to people. For Kyle, life was not about him or an ego, but the people around him. He was the type of person that is given the grand, rare moniker of being “just a good guy.” That’s someone I can tell my kids about; they’ll know him as the guy that climbed mountains and owned a cafe, but I want them to remember that he was a good guy to everyone he met.

Climbers are not a wealthy bunch, generally speaking. And their family and friends shouldn’t get stuck with the bill for our mistakes, accidents, and risks that don’t play out as we want. If Scott or Kyle’s lives have touched you, or this story has affected you in some way, please help their families grieve and don’t leave them with a bill. I’m going to give a little more. Maybe you can too.

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Inside the Real Fight Over Bears Ears

Straight lines. (All rights reserved)

Once, only vertical columns of ice and knife-edge alpine ridges enraptured me. Then a brief visit to the American southwest started to change that. Soon after, photos of the crack climbs around Indian Creek grabbed my attention.

It has also been impossible for me to ignore the pleas for us to write President Obama to create a new national monument around the Cedar Mesa Plateau, roughly where Indian Creek is tucked away: Bears Ears National Monument. This proposal comes from an Inter-Tribal Coalition in Utah, and conservationists from across the U.S., including the Sierra Club, Access Fund and the American Alpine Club, among many others, have supported. I recently sent my own note to the President and I joined another organization, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, to support the ongoing advocacy efforts. Here’s why:

Game of Tug-of-War

The future of climbing in Indian Creek is now in the midst of a political game of tug-of-war. U.S. Representative Rob Bishop of Utah is proposing a bill that, among other things, would preclude any executive order by a president to name any further national monuments in Utah. He points out that the whole Utah Congressional delegation opposes the Inter-Tribal Coalition’s proposal.

That last point is important, because, as I know from my days as a Congressional aide, the President is well aware that he should not take action affecting a particular state without support from the state’s elected representatives. If Obama uses his executive authority and designates Bears Ears National Monument without due process, without input broader than the Congressional delegation, then Obama’s actions could be contested, overridden, and ridiculed as poor governing.

Bishop has cleverly complicated efforts by introducing legislation that involves how federal public land in Utah would be managed in the future. (An updated version of his “Utah Public Lands Initiative” bill comes out today.) So long as this proposal is under discussion, the President has to tread extra-carefully; Congress has the power of oversight, spending, and authorizing. And most of Congress is staying on the sidelines, for the most part, in order to leave Utah’s delegation to have its say about its home turf. In addition to prohibit designating a new national monument, the bill alleges to “balance” industrial development and conservation efforts, but in reality it conserves new land in Northern Utah, not the canyon county in the south of the Cedar Mesa Plateau.

Key Moment

This is why a meeting on Saturday, July 16th at 1:00 p.m. PT in Bluff, Utah is so important. The Obama administration has called a public meeting to hear input from the region on whether there is sufficient public support for Bears Ears National Monument. It’s a critical test, if not just more input, for whether Obama can and should use his executive authority. Or is there enough input to render the Bishop PLI bill dead in committee (a harder thing to do.)

As a lobbyist with a large national nonprofit, I recently attended a similar public meeting, on a different subject (payday lending), in Kansas City in June. But the reasons for the meeting were similar. It was about the Obama administration wanting to take action it felt was shared popularly by the public, but opposed by Members of Congress. The meeting documented the statements from ordinary people and people with a direct stake on the topic on both sides of the issue. The forum also generated press, which made people speak up and take sides. It was a critical moment to drive and expose public interest and support for where it genuinely lies.

From my perspective in DC, this is the highest profile public lands fight right now. And it has ramifications for other proposals, like turning back larger swaths of federal public land in multiple states back to state government control that could turn it over to industry for resource extraction, rather than the recreational and conservation purposes Americans from coast-to-coast rely on.

There will be more key moments in the effort to make Bears Ears National Monument, but this is the time to either show up and speak in Bluff (RSVP here), even if just to say you support the Inter-Tribal Coalition’s proposal, or write to President Obama by clicking here. And join the Access Fund, American Alpine Club, and/or Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, because the work won’t end here.

Speak up for Indian Creek, Bears Ears National Monument, and conservation, because there is more at stake than just Bears Ears.

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Bold Alaska: Colin Haley’s Infinite Spur Solo

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Infinite Spur Solo. (All rights reserved)

Go ahead and grumble, if you want to, that mountaineering and climbing isn’t what it was in the 1960s in Yosemite or the Himalayas of the 1950s, or even that exploration is actually dead. Go ahead. But you might be missing some of the more amazing things happening in climbing.

For instance: fast-and-light ascents are being claimed with greater frequency (that’s not necessarily taking the fun out of sufferfests, for those of you fans of alpine suffering), routes like the Compressor on Cerro Torre have gone free, long traverses are being claimed from the Mooses Tooth to the Mazeno Ridge, lengthy linkups are dispatched in hours rather than days, and women are demonstrating an unquestionable prowess in alpinism.

Still, for the last couple of years, nothing has wowed me more than the solo ascent by Ueli Steck of Annapurna’s South Face in October 2013. I actually found it chilling. I think I lived on a happy high over it for some time. So it’s been relatively dull, by comparison… until yesterday.

By now you should have heard about Colin Haley’s solo ascent of Mount Foraker’s — er, well, since McKinley is going rightly by Denali now we ought to call Mount Foraker more formally Sultana — Sultana’s Infinite Spur. If you haven’t heard click here for the recap and here for Colin’s personal take.

Flash

Just over a year ago, I named the first ascent of the Infinite Spur by Michael Kennedy and George Lowe in 1977 as an Honorable Mention among the top five Boldest Climbs in a Alaska. That climb took Kennedy and Lowe 14 days to navigate and deal with the conditions before topping out on Sultana’s north (and higher) peak.

But as Colin points out, no one had yet soloed the Infinite Spur. Other significant lines on Denali had, of course, been done alone. But Sultana has often been overlooked.

Colin’s experience here was also a powerful footnote to say that the climb is only half done upon reaching the summit. He got to the top in under 13 hours, but it took days in low-visibility to descend to safety.

Bold Solo Ascents

I have always been attracted to great solo feats and performances. I like goalies in hockey and pitchers in baseball. They’re unique and critical role to their team can’t be overplayed. A shutout and a perfect game are the pinnacle for those athletes.

In climbing, partnerships are highly valued. Teams are celebrated. And most of all, they are best experienced with teammates; because there is always more to climbing than climbing, just as there is more to fishing than fishing. And in regards to the Infinite Spur, even Steve House and Rolando Garibotti pulled off a lightning ascent in 2001.

But once in a while, someone like Reinhold Messner, Johnny Waterman, Ueli Steck, and, heck, even Alex Honnold, need to try something different.

Climbing is a game and the scenarios and the rules change (perhaps terms is a better word than rules), and the challenge is different. The failure and the accomplishment is weighed differently. Decisions are praised and criticized in that context.

It’s a matter about style, ultimately. Colin demonstrated boldness and style. I don’t recommend anyone follow his footsteps and approach, but when the next climber is ready, hopefully their judgment is sure and fortune will be with them.

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How Your Mountain Dreams Might be a Trap

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Suburban sprawl. (All rights reserved)

Death from a climbing or skiing accident is hard to swallow. Suicide, by anyone, let alone a climber or skier, is more difficult because, well, it wasn’t an accident.

Which made Kelley McMillan’s piece in National Geographic’s Adventure Blog, “Why Are Ski Towns Seeing More Suicides?“, alarming. The piece is focused on the ski towns, yet the data presented didn’t demonstrate that it was unusually higher in those communities than others, but I agree that the suicides were higher profile anecdotally. And it had an extra dose of being unsettling: How could people in paradise, living the dream, want to end it all? Was paradise killing us?

North to Vermont

My whole life I have wanted three things: A family, to be involved in politics and policy, and playtime in the mountains. With the first two down, several years ago I committed myself to make a big change.

With every ounce of my being, shortly after Natalie and I had our first child, I tried to relocate us up north to the land of mountains and snow. I dreamed of snowy days like in a Patagonia catalog where my kids and I would cross country ski after I finished work, and where chopping fire wood would be my favorite chore.

I networked like mad from our home in the Washington, DC metro area for eight months and traveled to Montpelier and Burlington to do informational interviews with Vermont housing organizations, the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, and some mortgage companies. I even submitted applications to Ben and Jerry’s parent company and Green Mountain Coffee.

I began to have back pain that came only in the night. I would sleep for a few hours and had to sit up, or better yet, stand up. Even being up at 2:00 a.m. with Wunderkind, feeding a bottle, brought pain relief, but then I suffered from sleeplessness.

I had X-rays. I went to physical therapy. I thought the pain was from not being strong enough. I though it was from the stress of being a new father. If the job hunt was the cause, it never occurred to me. I got interviews for open positions. It excited me; I felt that I was in control.

But during the last day of my “informational interview tour,” I literally made a wrong turn. I saw some neighborhoods with some young Vermonters and they didn’t look happy. They didn’t look like skiers or even boarders. They were in a different Vermont, where it was cold, and dreary, and the urban music scene they craved didn’t exist.

Days later I quit my job hunt. I knew I could call Vermont home, but would my kids find it as fulfilling? I didn’t want to test it now. Hardly noticing, my back pain faded away, at first, inexplicably.

We Want a Change

I still think that regularly ice climbing in Smugglers Notch or hiking sections of Long Trail would make me happy. Not to mention stopping in at the Alchemist in Waterbury for a Heady Topper whenever it was freshest; it sounded too good to be true. Yet I’ve recommitted myself to the Washington metro area — and I’m good with that for now.

While I love the things I go to Vermont to visit, the reality of the day-to-day might be different than I imagine. The job market is weak, and even then I know people move to the state and buy a house near their job in one neighborhood only to change jobs and be forced to commute an hour one-way. And what would the length of winter and mud-season do for my family being inside more; would we really play outside as often as I think we would? Would we feel cabin fever?

Vermont’s suicides have risen in the last two years. In fact, the suicide rate has risen to a 30-year high, and it is the leading cause of death for young Vermonters (among those aged 10-24).

Since settling on — or, perhaps better put, re-committing to — Washington, DC, I’ve been diligently accepting it as home. It has taken some work; I had to embrace the humidity of summer (baseball games help). And I finally think of the subway as a luxury. I also started planning more regular getaways to New England despite the long-haul drive up north.

My family and I might, one day, still move to the mountains. If we do, it will be because of the mountains are the “bonus” to so many other things that we want, including good schools, an affordable home, steady income, and healthy lifestyle options for all of us. For now, I’m working on making it work here in and around the big city and visiting the mountains in almost sacred pilgrimages during breaks spread out in between.

While we might want a change, the change of surroundings isn’t always what we need. Sometimes the change we need is all in our head.

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Conjuring Up the Mountain High through Art

Baffin Island in color. (All rights reserved)

I risk embarrassing myself quite a bit with my new interest in drawing mountains and climbing scenes, but I figure if I don’t share them I might not keep practicing and working on improvement. So here’s the announcement: you can follow me on Instagram and see more of my drawings of the mountains.

I draw for similar reasons for keeping this blog: Trying to hold on to the feeling of being at peace of some degree of bliss from being among the mountains is generally elusive. But I have found that mountain art has helped make the mountains come to me, even in the Washington, DC metro area. And writing on this blog has always conjured up the mountains and most of those feelings.

Alpine start. (All rights reserved) Alpine start. (All rights reserved)

Until recently, I have just been taking in other people’s art, like Renan Ozturk‘s paintings. But with some nudges, including from my wife and friends, I finally gave in and started to try drawing again.

Generally, I try to use as few lines as possible and use colors that capture a feeling of the landscape more than accuracy. What do you think of that approach?

So come follow me on Instagram and please comment, let me know what needs improvement. Let me know when the low-lying fog looks more like lava. Let me know if you like the combination of colors.

I draw whatever interests me at the time, but I want to connect with you too, so please don’t be shy.

The shriek that was turned to stone. (All rights reserved) The shriek that was turned to stone. (All rights reserved)

 

Good morning, K2. (All rights reserved) Good morning, K2. (All rights reserved)

 

Denali rising (All rights reserved) Denali rising (All rights reserved)

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