Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hey Everyone,

It is hard to believe that after all we have done to prepare for this climb, my dad and I will actually be boarding a plane on Saturday and flying to Kathmandu to start our Everest climb.  For the first post, I wanted to give a little bit of background on how I got to this point:

Throughout my entire life, the outdoors had a certain allure that I pursued at every chance that I had.  My family camped a fair amount when I was younger.  Throughout most of my childhood I was active in the boy scouts which gave me many opportunities to spend time in the outdoors and learn a wide variety of skills that have benefited my climbing career.  In 1998, the Everest IMAX movie was released.  I remember watching it at the Norwalk Aquarium and being absolutely captivated throughout the entire film.  I knew I wanted to go out and climb, but I didn't know how to realize that ambition.

The summer before sophomore year of high school, I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.  Since the book is one of the most commercially successful mountaineering accounts of all time, I am sure that many of you have read it or are at least familiar with the 1996 Everest Disaster.  If you have read the book, you may be wondering how reading about one of the worst mountaineering tragedies of all time made me want to go out and pursue mountaineering as a hobby.  Irrational as that may be, before reading the book I viewed mountaineering as a realm explored strictly by professionals.  Reading Into Thin Air gave me the knowledge that climbing is more accessible than I thought, and with the right amount of training, preparation and ambition I could go out and (carefully) pursue my dream.

After talking it over with my dad, we decided to take a trip up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire to do some winter hiking.  The first day, we decided to hike Mt. Eisenhower.  It is still one of the most memorable hikes for each of us though, because (as anyone who has been to the Whites in early April knows) there is a ton of snow up there, and our equipment was pretty inadequate for the conditions.  The most striking memory I have is getting blown around on the final approach to the summit trying to climb through the snow and ice with no crampons and then finally looking out together at the beautiful view of the entire Presidential Range.  I think this more than anywhere else is where we got hooked onto the sport.  After we got down, we went and immediately bought some crampons and trekking poles, and spent the next couple days hiking the Franconia Ridge Traverse and Mt. Washington.  Overall, a successful first weekend.

The summer before senior year, we took it a step further by going out to the Cascades for a 6-day mountaineering course on Mt. Baker.  This was the first time either of us set foot on a real glacier, and I have to admit it was fairly intimidating.  Crossing close to ten snow bridges over crevasses in the middle of the night on summit day was truly exhilarating, albeit terrifying, and breaking above the clouds on the Roman Wall from a snowstorm to a clear blue sky was breathtaking.  The trip was a big challenge, especially because we were learning new things constantly which was exhausting.  I'll never forget coming back from the summit and resting for only one hour before we had to do more than 5 hours of crevasse rescue training!  Still, we came back from the trip eager to go back to the mountains.

The following summer, we did two climbs.  The first was climbing Mt. Rainier via the Emmons Glacier route.  Overall, we both did well on the climb, although the summit day was exhausting and we encountered very high winds once we broke above the crater rim.  The next climb we did was Kilimanjaro which, although it is not a technical climb, is still a very tall mountain (19,340' above sea level), and one of the most commonly underestimated mountains in the world.  One of the most notable things about that climb was how everyone in our group got sick at one point or another, to varying degrees.  My dad and I caught the bug pretty badly, and worst of all we caught it during the climb itself which was very draining.  I won't go into all the details in case anyone is eating, but we'll just leave it at the fact that it wasn't entirely pleasant but that I am glad that we both made the summit, and we made it together.  Here is a photo of my dad and me on the summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa:

After Kilimanjaro, we were eager to get more experience climbing on glaciated peaks.  Climbing heavily glaciated mountains requires a certain set of skills, including proper use of an ice ax and crampons, efficient walking techniques, self-arrest, and travelling in rope teams.  To get more experience, we traveled a year and a half later down to Ecuador to attempt several peaks there.  All in all, the trip was phenomenal.  It was my first chance to see South America, and the trip schedule allowed us a lot of time to explore the country and stay in cool haciendas.  I was pretty much in love with the fact that filet mignon only cost $6 so that was my preferred meal option while we were in the towns.  As far as the climbing went, it was the perfect trip for us to have taken at that point in our mountaineering careers.  The mountains were challenging, and we got to attempt three big mountains in 2 weeks (Cayambe, Cotopaxi and Chimbarazo).  We also got to try our hand at other things such as rock climbing and ice climbing, which was a cool experience.  Bad weather and avalanche conditions prevented us from summitting two of the three peaks, but we were both able to top out on Cotopaxi and enjoy the beautiful view of the inside of a cloud.  For those of you who have never experienced this before, you simply need to wrap yourself in a white sheet and you'll get the idea!

After Cotopaxi, we took another year and a half before our next climb, but when we decided to climb Denali it was a big step up for us.  Still, we were eager for the challenge and we would have to climb it some day if we wanted to accomplish our goal of climbing the Seven Summits (highest peak on each continent).  The climbing on Denali was very challenging, particularly the section from 14,200' camp to 17,200' camp, and of course the summit day.  We had both trained hard for the climb though, and it paid off throughout the 3 weeks on the mountain.  After a long summit haul, we both reached the top of Pig Hill, traversed the summit ridge, and topped out at the highest point in North America.  

Our most recent climb was in this past January on Aconcagua, which at 22,829' is the tallest mountain in South America.  This climb took us to Argentina, which was an amazing country.  From beginning to end, this was a fantastic trip, and we were lucky to get very good weather.  Although the climb was not technical, it was still incredibly draining--especially the summit day.  For the first three hours of summit day, I was not entirely sure if I would be able to make it, but I was very determined.  I had been training very hard prior to the climb, and I needed to find my groove in order to get into a rhythm and work my way to the summit and back.  Around halfway through the traverse between Refugio Indepencia and the start of the Canaleta, I finally got myself going and knew I could make it up and down.  After that struggle, finally reaching the summit was extremely gratifying and our entire group was rewarded with amazing 360 degree views as we stood on the top.

  On our way down from the summit, our group encountered several people suffering from moderate to severe HACE (high altitude cerebral edema), a life-threatening condition caused by fluid leaking into your brain cavity at altitude.  This was a sobering reminder of the dangers of high altitude mountaineering, but fortunately we were able to help the people and everyone was okay in the end.  After 13 hours of climbing, we finally arrived back at high camp.  The next day we descended to base camp, and the following day hiked all the way out to the trail head near Los Penitentes.  

Thanks for reading the first post in our Everest blog.  There will be more to come as our climb progresses, so keep checking back for updates!