International Man of Mystery...

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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.

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.

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