International Man of Mystery...

My photo
I grew up in the Boston area and lived there until my junior year in high school when I attended the Mountain School, a semester program run by Milton Academy in Vershire, VT. I then attended Colby College in Waterville, ME. During my time at Colby I studied anthropology, spent a semester in Northeast India, and became fluent in Nepali. Before I became a guide I earned my black belt in kenpo karate and taught karate for 6 years. I began guiding in college on the rocky coast of ME with Acadia Mountain Guides and on ice at the International Mountain Climbing School in NH. After graduating I took to the highway and drove from ME to WA for the big mountains and glaciers. I spend my winters in lovely Ouray, CO guiding in the famous ice park. I am currently working towards becoming a certified guide through the American Mountain Guides Association. I live, work and play in the hills and on the rocks. On the rocks both literally and, well, with ice.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mount Rainier: When to Pull the Plug

In retrospect one could predict a strange trip from the first few hours up the Muir Snow Field. The Nisqually Cleaver, a route Hannah and I climbed last May was spitting rocks as the team marched our way up the snowfield. The rock fall was bizarrely active and seemed sizable. Until we watched the whole rock terrace that makes the upper Nisqually Cleaver collapse and take out a chunk of the Nisqually Ice Cliff. Car, bus, and house size blocks flowed like twigs in a riverof mud, ice, and snow down the Nisqually Glacier and the dust cloud billowed over the Muir Snowfield raining brown snow down on our team.

After our training and the move to high camp we set out for the summit at around 1:30 am. As we went up, the cloud layer came down and the team pushed through 40 mph winds, snow, and a whiteout to the summit crater of mount Rainier. If it were not for the strength and tenacity o
f the team we would have "pulled the plug" and turned around much sooner. Rainier veteran Craig Van Hoy with nearly 400 summits under his belt said it was the worst weather he had ever summited in with clients.

On our way down the Snowfield, an apocalyptic cloud layer settled over the mountain and will likely remain in place for days. The Nisqually Cleaver gave us a final send off with another massive rock fall bigger than the first. It was surely a unique trip up Mount Rainier I will never forget.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cassin Attempt (or When a Weather Window is no Window)

After successfully guiding 5 climbers to the summit of Denali (20,320'), my co-guide, Eric and I thought we would try to have a little personal climbing fun on a massive and famous route called the Cassin, a steep ridge climb on the southern side of Denali.
The weather this year in Alaska has been mild. That means no huge storms, but also no strong high barometric pressure systems. While low pressures systems bring precipitation, wind, and general problems for climbing trips in the Alaska Range, high pressures generally bring clear, crsip, sunny weather to the mountains. With mild highs and mild lows all spring, it seems, the weather has been mostly in-between.

Eric and I knew we were not likely to have a strong high
pressure move over Denali and provide us with a perfect weather window for our climb. The weather seemed good enough, and when we got word of a weak high moving into the range we decided to launch.

We climbed up over the Balcony on the West Rib route and descended the Seattle '72 ramp. After a thousand feet of down soloing, we navigated though seracs and crevasses in a whiteout. When we finally got to the bivy at the base of the Cassin, the gentle snow got heavier and we watched avalanches tear down our route. It was clear climbing would be suicide. We climbed back up the Seattle 72' ramp and got to 14,000' camp.
Though we were disappointed to not be able to climb the route, had we tried, we would have likely been swept off it in an avalanche or stuck in the poor weather up high without food or fuel. There is no doubt in my mind we made the right decision by turning back.
In this case it was not the climbing that was the challenge. The challenge came from managing the inner conflict between our personal (and financial) investment in climbing the route and making objective decisions for the sake of safety. I am glad we made objective decisions even though they cost us the objective.

Friday, June 3, 2011

To the Summit of Denali

Over the past 19 days I had the pleasure of guiding a group of climbers to the summit of the highest mountain in North America, Denali (aka McKinley). The climbers braved the extreme cold of a high peak so close to the arctic circle as well as the extreme heat from the sun's reflection off the snow.

The team hauled sleds up the glacier to 14,200' and then clipped into the fixed lines to ascend to high camp at 17,200', the staging area for the summit bid. We enjoyed relatively good weather through our carrying and caching supplies up the mountain and moving our camp.

By the time we were in position to summit the good weather had lasted an eerily long time. We knew it could not hold forever. Weather reports predicted a prolonged storm on its way. Fearing the closing of our weather window we made our summit bid the day after arriving at high camp. The weather was terrific and we enjoyed pleasant temps with little wind on the summit.

The drama was not over. We made our descent to 14,200' and rested for a day before hiking to base camp through the night. We were running ahead of a ghost storm that could materialize any moment and pin us down. we spent one night at base camp before the incredible pilots at Talkeetna Air Taxi snuck us out of the mountains through a tiny gap in the weather and landed us to steaks and beer in Talkeetna.

Congratulations Alp 4: Team Blueberry on our summit of Denali!