Month: January 2012

What is a Seven Summits?

Seven Summits by Dick Bass, Frank Wells, and Rick Ridgeway

This is the book that began the whole thing. I read it quite a while ago, I think it was in the new books shelf of the library where I was living at the time. It sat there in the back of my mind, festering? percolating? stewing? until the day I was working out my future goals and aspirations, and my wife reminded me that it was there, waiting for me to get up the nerve to give it a shot.

In the intervening years however, there came to be a little split in answering the question:

“what comprises the seven summits?”

The Bass List, as it came be known is:

· Aconcagua, South America
· Mt. McKinley, North America
· Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa
· Mt. Everest, Asia
· Mt. Elbrus, Europe
· Vinson Massif, Antarctica
· Mt. Kosciuszko, Australia

Soon after, because any serious mountaineer would consider it a bump along the road, Kosciuszko and Australia, through a simple redefinition of what a continent is were replaced in what’s called the Messner List with:

· Karstenz Pyramid, Oceania

Because the line defining the European Continent is rather vaguely defined, and depending on which version is true at the moment, the Caucasus is either in Europe or Asia. This leaves one other inclusion to the list:

· Mont Blanc, Europe

Therefore, if you’re the kind of person who hedges your bets, and wants to guarantee that you’ve actually completed them all, you have Nine Seven Summits to climb.

Denali Cassin Ridge
Mt. McKinley/Denali - Cassin Ridge Route

My own opinion on the matter is a bit loose. For one thing, a list is a list, and fwiw, about once every 10 years or so, K2 ends up in some survey as being 11′ or so higher than Everest, causing a big stink in the mountaineering community until some geologists get together and declare the study in error. At least for another 10 years. 😉

Also, what happens when a country has some internal strife, strike, or etc. that causes it to close the borders? This has happened for at least three of these mountains, by various routes. Sometimes even just for climbers from only one country. So now you sit around and wait 50 years or so to complete your list completely at the mercy of the instigators, or whomever?

Some people talk about the difficulty and severity of the climb (hence the inclusion of Carstenz). Kosciuszko, Elbrus and Mont Blanc can all be done in a couple days from the comfort of a hotel. Kili, while not technically difficult requires at least a few days of trekking to arrive at base camp. Carstenz is considerably more difficult for the average wanna-be seven summit climber, requiring some rock skills, at least for jugging the fixed lines. You get to basecamp via either a scary helicopter flight, or a few days of rough trekking.

Aconcagua summit enshrouded
Aconcagua - summit enshrouded

Everest is looked down upon by some climbers as a relative walk-up, though it does require weeks of acclimatization (whether you trek in to the South side, or ride a bus in to the North side), and every year hundreds of climbers fail, and several die on a regular basis. Aconcagua and Denali can both be very cold with bad weather, though the normal route on each is considered a long tolerable slog with few technical difficulties, and both generally require a couple weeks acclimatization and then wait for a weather window. Vinson is “simple” but can only be gotten to by a very expensive flight, and is totally dependent on the weather window – sometimes forcing a couple weeks sitting and waiting for the plane.

Those are all generalities of course, and subject to intense debate by armchair mountaineers much more so than by the people actually attempting the Seven Summits Quest. Most of us have a list, attempt to gain at least enough skills and funding to pull it off, and don’t worry a lot about minor details. Others attack the list, and insist on trying each mountain where possible by a more or most difficult route, or without support (for those countries that allow it), or by running or speeding an easier route, or maybe tie one hand behind your back, or blindfolded, or in shorts.

Seriously though, it’s a very big commitment in time and money, and you do have to acquire some skills unless you want those pics to show up on Facebook of you riding up on the back of a Sherpa. Think long and hard about it. Pick a list. Do it if you dare.

Thank You Tomaz Humar

I’ve been reading this excellent book about a historic, tragic, and controversial modern climbing legend Tomaz Humar.

Last week I did a great toprope solo ice climb near home. The next day I fell down a flight of stairs in my own house, descending from my bedroom heading toward my training room. I was totally shocked and incapacitated laying in a huddle at the bottom of the stairs. I was dizzy for a day, and couldn’t bend or reach or pull anything. Even putting my socks on hurt.

I finally got in to see my doctor, who diagnosed at least one cracked rib in the rear, with some peripheral damage to my obliques and serratus, maybe some deep bruising in my intercostals. Could have been a lot worse I suppose. He did say that due my relative “youngness” compared to my age, and my excellent health, I had a great prognosis. But he did warn me about beginning training too soon, and recommended 4-6 weeks before returning to my current activity level.

This overlapped with my planned trip to Aconcagua, and after some heartfelt soul-searching, I cancelled Aconcagua 2012. I went into a little funk for a few days, and have started very slow treadmill walking and Ski Erg training just to flush blood and chemicals through my muscles and joints to aid in my recovery. But overall, yeah. Down.

I have spent some extra time reading my book, and got to the chapter about Tomaz’s 3 meter fall into the basement of the house he was building. I was struck by the relative similarity. An alpinist struck down in his own house in a simple easily avoided fall. Wow.

“When you are ill you have one problem. When you are healthy you have many problems” – Tomaz Humar

I read about the severe damage and the pain he endured for months, his struggle to recover and rehabilitate, to get back into the mountains, not knowing if it was all over and the wheelchair, his “red Ferrari”, would be his constant companion for life. He was mis-diagnosed by his local surgeons, then referred to a clinic in Germany, where he was operated on repeatedly, and given a painful and strict training and rehab program. Almost exactly two years after his accident he summited Shishipangma, an “easy” climb, to test himself, and while he would never fully “recover”, he was back in action.

My little cracked ribs seemed so small in comparison. So I won’t be doing Aconcagua this spring, I will have to cancel a few other events and things. Have to take a month off training. It won’t be the first time. It won’t be the last. Time to plan new goals, new summits, new objectives.

I can make it happen, and be patient.

Ouray Ice Fest 2012 Overview Recap

Had a great time attending the Ouray Ice Fest 2012. I had originally planned on not attending, but Angie convinced me otherwise, and I was able to get a day off work (Friday). I checked online and found two clinics open that met my ability level well enough – Intermediate Ice with First Ascent Athlete Chad Peele (bio here) and Moderate Mixed from The North Face, instructor TBD. I also managed to get a very reasonably priced room at the Best Western, much to my surprise.

I very quickly packed my bag Wednesday night, not having any idea what I would be doing there aside from the two clinics. Thursday was a heavy duty day at work, and I managed to get away about 90 minutes later than I would have liked to. From previous trips, I knew the front desk closed promptly at 9:30 (having had an issue with them before at 10:05 PM), and I rolled into town at 9:15 to find they were closed, but it all worked out anyway 😉

They were having the free Icebreaker opening party at the Ouray Brewery from 9:30 to 12:00 with SWAG, so I wandered on down about 10:00 – and I guess they ran out. They did have some free appetizers and lots of beer left (ironic, since I don’t drink). I didn’t see anyone I knew well enough to say hi, though I did recognize some faces here and there. The bouncer loved my Columbia Omni-Heat hoodie, said it was “fly”. Awesome. So I went to the room to sleep.

On Friday I went up to find my clinic with Chad Peele, Intermediate Ice, supposedly on Schoolroom 4/5 at 9:00 AM. No one there. I was told by the ice park staff to go down to the First Ascent tent in the expo area at the lower bridge. Only there is no First Ascent tent this year, so I was told to go meet them at the Schoolroom. Where I was told to go to the San Juan tent if there is no sponsor tent. There I was told they’d already left for the Schoolroom, and to fill out a waver, and head back up. WHEW! Minor glitch and now I know the system after a heck of a workout.

Guide Chad Peele
Ice Clinic with Chad Peele

So finally I met up with them at the bottom of the creek, hooked up with Chad, who said I looked familiar, so we discussed Rainier, Peter, and TEVA, and a few other ways of intersecting, and got our climbing on. Chad worked us on structure and pattern, two things I’d worked on with Dawn Glanc last year, with San Juan Mountain Guides. He said I was looking good and getting a good handle on it, gave me some tips, and I tried those out. Great learning session.

While down there we hooked up with some guys from Voormi, a new company with a line of outdoor clothing coming out this fall. My very good friend and fellow Liberty Ridge Survivor Anne recommended them to me on Facebook, so I yelled “any of you know Anne?” and Dustin said he did, so we chatted for a bit.

Dustin of Voormi clothing
Dustin, Anne’s friend from Voormi

I hung out in the expo tents for a while, then went down to take a shower and put on my street clothes. I went to the charity dinner, show and auction, where the Ouray Firefighters served up spaghetti and the outdoor vendors displayed their goodies. Got to handle some awesome Grivel tools, the new BD Lynx crampon, and a few other fun things. I met with Jim Davidson, author of The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier and we talked about writing for a bit. Great guy with lots of enthusiasm. Infectious.

Support the Ouray Firefighters
Ouray Firefighters serving up spaghetti

I spent some time with Mark Allen of IMG who is also a fellow Rainier Liberty Ridge survivor, and he introduced me to his better half, who thanked me profusely for not dying with Mark on either of the two epics we’ve endured together so far. I took my Silent Auction winnings back to the room and then returned for the Mark Westman Alaska slideshow. Very awesome and beautiful photography. I’d bumped into Shingo Ohkawa a few times over the day, and we chatted a bit before the show about mixed vs. ice climbing among other things. Another great guy.

The next morning at The North Face tent I got together with our group led by pro Heidi Wirtz. We were supposed to have Emily Harrington as the instructor, but she was busy winning the comp at the moment, and would be down later.

TNF pro Heidi Wirtz
Moderate Mixed with pro Heidi Wirtz

We headed down the ramp (wish we could have rapp’ed it) to the foot of Tic Tac and the one left of it (?). Heidi gave us some tips and techniques, and set us loose on the ropes. It was tons of fun. I ran up the snow at the foot of the rock climb, rested for a few minutes, then set my tools and started pulling. I made it to about 8′ shy of the ice in the upper corner, which was where a few others had fallen – that move was tough. I fell good, then came down to rest for a minute or two.

climbing Tic Tac M7
First move on Tic Tac – M7

We were climbing M7, which might not seem “moderate” until you recall that 5.10 is considered moderate in rock climbing, and back in the day 5.10 was considered the upper limit for what was climbable. Emily Harrington dropped in after her comp run, and we talked for a few minutes. Previously we had chatted at a couple gym comps when Angie used to work in charge of the women’s program for Momentum in Sandy.

2012 Comp winner Emily Harrington
Emily Harrington, winner of the 2012 Comp

I moved over around the corner to a short M4 I think they called “Little Sausage” – very fun tool placements with sloping feet. Did some good falling here too, with one cool Steinpull. We ran out of time way too soon, and I was pretty tired. I had planned on hanging around for a couple more hours, but it was getting windy, cloudy and I felt cold, so I just packed up the car and headed home.

I totally loved it and plan to return next year I hope …

Book Review: Die Trying

Die Trying: One Man’s Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits


By Bo Parfet with Richard Buskin

Bo Parfet “retired” as an investment banker at a pretty young age, and managing his savings carefully by taking shortcuts and going somewhat around the system, managed to complete the 7 summits (actually 8, hedging his bets on the Messner vs. Bass list) in a mere 4 years.

He began as an out-of-shape wanna-be mountaineer, and it’s fun to read about his growth as a human being, and the miserable failures he achieves along the way. His adventures are great reading, from his tryst with a Russian official to being smuggled into Carstenz past a blockade, one thing leads to another, and while at first I didn’t really like him, or his style, I eventually began rooting for him.

I highly recommend anyone interested in doing the 7 summits first read this, just to make sure. Especially if you’re doing the Messner list (includes Carstenz which until the recent activity near Elbrus was considered the least stable political environment for a 7 summit peak). The misadventures and mistakes alone are worth getting this book, if only to be sure that you don’t fall into the same traps.