Friday, December 11, 2009


And now it´s Argentina. I had about six days in Seattle to unpack, repack, and connect with friends there. But nonestly, the hardest part is switching automatic languages phrases, at least the little that I know them. I keep trying to use Hindi words for simple things like now and yes, and taking a moment to realize why they haven´t understood me. Ha! My spanish is limited enough, but this is definitely making it less useful!

Fortunately, I´m pretty used to packing for these expeditions by now, so was able to spend a lot of time socializing with people I haven´t seen for two months and won´t see for another two. A screening of films from the traveling Banff Film Festival, tea with Mary, a tromp in the snow to get the feel of the Northwest again. The snow was hard from warm weather followed by a clear cold snap, so it was more of a hike, but good to remind my toes and fingers how to stay warm after two weeks of 90 degree weather! Freezing cold and windy, but great to get out.

Now in Mendoza, I´m getting food and logistics prepared for nine climbers and a few guides for almost three weeks on the mountain. I´m working with a local guide for the first time instead of all Alpine guides, and he seems to be a great guy. The best part is he knows where to find things it would take me hours to do with my broken spanish. (¨Do you have ... something ... for ... umm, uno momento.¨) But at least it´s warm again...

We´ll be posting cybercasts for Team 3 on Aconcagua at:

Catch you on the flip side!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A five-hour delay in the Delhi airport

Is it possible to miss a place before you've even left??  How do you reconcile yourself to your world, to your own choices, when they exact their toll?  Oddly enough, I'm not talking about love, though the parallels are certainly there.  Love or life, the loss is part of the having.

These last three trips to India have been spent developing stronger and stronger ties to a place that's literally half a world away, that doesn't hold lucrative work for me, that is in many ways diametrically opposed to the culture I call home.  But each time I come I meet more cool people, those I want to see again, and find more things I want to do with those I already know well.  In Indian parlance, "what to do?"  The only answer is to keep coming back.

OK, enough of the philosophical rant.  This last week in Bangalore has been exactly what I've needed at the end of every trip here, a little time in a place I'm coming to know better, with no demands except those I willingly submit to.  To and from a climbing area, I rode pillion (second) on a motorcycle for only the second time, with just my bicycle helmet - better than nothing.  A friend generously loaned his road bike, this time the perfect size, and I learned how to get around (just a tiny bit of) the city by bicycle - while traffic is chaos, at least that means drivers are somewhat used to looking out for motorcycles, cyclists, cows, etc, and won't run you over without even noticing!  Ironic.

I did manage to go rock climbing (sometimes no one's available, and you just have to hire a guide :-) at one of the more beautiful locations I've been to, Ramanagar, about an hour outside Bangalore.  The city is in one section of a huge plateau punctuated by tall rounded rock outcroppings, around 500' high.  Many of these have ruins of forts, or temples on them.  Ramanagar supports a temple and a few other structures, pavilions.  It has also been developed by the local climbing community into a climbing area, complete with new bolts for leading and anchoring, and a variety of routes from easy to extremely hard.  It's not a terribly large area, but one wall was plenty to remind my fingers that they haven't done much climbing recently!  Fortunately that allowed for some time to look around, out at the plateau and the other rock bumps in the greenery.  A beautiful day.

So now, headed back to Seattle, I'm mentally preparing for the shift in time, culture, friends, and the little interactions that make a place home, looking forward to briefly seeing good friends there, but missing those here I won't see for a while.  Ah, well - til next time...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


That's right - more me time! I mean really, if I'm going to work on my vacation time, I should at least get a vacation while I'm here. *grin* Lin joined me at the last minute for a trip to Chennai to see a new friend and her family check out the surrounding areas of southern India, a new locale for me.

Chennai (named Madras by the British, corrected relatively recently back to a more local moniker) is a bit different than most of the places I've been so far. Furthest south, and close to the ocean, it's incredibly humid and warm, even in "winter", which is now. It actually reminded me strongly of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, a strange connection that took a day or two to shake off. Lots of temples of various architecture and age, including many older ones (600 AD?) in a place called Mamallapuram, a tourist town that did little to dispel my Mexico schizophenia.

Most interesting, however, was getting to stay with my friend and her husband and son - altogether an incredibly talented family. She is a very accomplished Indian Classical Dancer, and we were treated to a short private performance. There are many styles of classical dance, but I'd never seen any of them, and to get such an amazing performance up close was perhaps the best introduction one could hope for. Her husband is a well-known Classical Vocalist who performs with her as well as in his own shows; she played a commercially-produced CD of him for her mini-performance. And last but not least, their son is a budding western-style guitarist, inordinately fond of Jimi Hendrix, who we got to hear play in his school's "western music assembly" the day we arrived. Wow. Best of all, they are all incredibly warm and welcoming, a pleasure to get to know individually as well as part of a family.

Also met up with a new friend from this year's MTB Himachal (funny being on the same trip and meeting back up with people from previous activities...) and cycled to Pondicherry, about 150km south on a beautiful coastal road. My first trip on a road bike was great - so different than the grinding you do cycling up and down rough mountain terrain. No crazy pictures, but it was great to just ride through the greenery and salty air. A quick stay with other cycling friends there and back the next day - nice tour.

Now off to Bangalore for the last stop on this tour - a little climbing, a little cycling, and some good face time with friends.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


But that's not all... being an official-type organization, there was lots of time to be spent tidying up official loose ends.

We spent about a week back at the main NIM campus de-issuing gear, doing a bit more rock climbing, practicing the graduation ceremony, and, most importantly, going into town so the long-deprived students could have some junk food. Junk food in this case means chaats, street food, often fried, frequently sweet, and, as required by the definition of street food, largely without redeeming nutritional value but fun to eat! Tikki burgers (fried potato patties on a roll with chili sauce), dahi puri (fried crunchies with sweet sauce and chili sauce and yogurt), and jalebis (fried swirls of batter subsequently saturated in sugar syrup)... sense a trend?

But the more important graduation ceremony was carried out in good style, followed by a "cultural" presentation - everything from Bollywood-style dance numbers to skits about decompressing from the NIM experience to local dance and traditional music. Students returned their stylish NIM graduation sweaters and were suddenly faced with that inevitable end of such an intense ordeal and bonding experience. Hasty goodbyes and early-morning departures left some relieved, some hoping to see new friends on the Advanced Course next year.

I personally am ready for some down time, and am looking forward to a visit with two new friends, one from the mountain bike race, one from the Basic Course, in Chennai. Mmm... warm weather.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Made it...

Wow - that was definitely interesting.  I learned a ton of old-school and expedition-specific techniques, a bunch more Hindi, and the names of about a quarter of the students.  I thought remembering eight English names on a 3-day Rainier climb was hard...

A three-day march brought us to Base Camp, complete with generator and electric lights, 10-person canvas tents, a stone shelter with propane stoves, a cook staff, and the biggest pressure cooker pot I've ever seen.  Porters carried up daily fresh vegetables and eggs, and the ten goats I watched being weighed at our first camp were regularly made into mutton stew.  (I love the idea of being able to pet my, or my fellow climbers', dinner's fuzzy nose.)  Once a week there was even a "mail run" - money could be given to a porter who would bring back sweets or TP the next day!  Crazy expedition stuff.

Over 18 days of hiking in and practicing around Base Camp we covered ice climbing, crevasse crossing, basic snow skills, navigation, and height gain.  Some things were the same, some from about 20 years ago, and a few things were just straight-up new to me.  Such a strange mix of old and new techniques.  Fortunately, a guy who works with a climbing-certification organization paid a visit as well, so I wasn't the only person insisting on crazy things like manufacturer-specified angles of ice-screw placement.

And despite being the "slow" instructor, both in the speed of my students and my non-understanding of daily instructions in Hindi, everyone was great, super helpful and largely indulgent of my ignorance of daily camp workings.  On top of it, I had to take my turn as Duty Instructor, responsible for making sure everything happens on time and in line.  But I don't know what I'm supposed to be ordering or finding out during morning parade, let along the Hindi words for "attention" and "at ease"... (Actually, I do now - Sabdan and Vishram, in case you ever need to know.)  One of the hardest things I've ever done, truthfully - maintaining a (relatively) even keel through not knowing what's going on, trying to suggest improvements while not being condescending, and generally having to sit back and watch a situation I would normally be at least partially in charge of run completely differently.

My basic goal of understanding more of how climbing works here has definitely been accomplished.  Larger goals will come with time - I intend to do more with the programs here, though I'm not sure yet in what capacity or timeframe.  Down from the mountains now, we're back to more ceremony and logistical management than activity, and I'm about ready to go.  A couple more days of graduation rehearsals, assessments, etc, and I'll be on my own again, in charge of my own time.  Amazing how important that is when you don't have it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

79 Rock-Climbing Students on the Wall

(...sung to the tune of 99 Bottles of Beer)  A week here at NIM's Basic Mountaineering course has gone relatively smoothly and we're about to head up into the mountains for 18 days of mountain skills.  The last week has been spent on logistics and basic rock climbing skills, and it's time to find some snow.

All in all, I'm actually pleasantly surprised by the whole system.  I'd heard many things about the army-based teaching system and the comparative isolation of the climbing community and techniques here.  But despite some rather old-school equipment (gear is not only subject to up to 50% import duty, but comparatively very expensive relative to earnings) and techniques (I've never actually done a shoulder-body rappel!) the teaching progression is quite good and remarkably effective for a group of 79 students!

This group is broken into rope teams of 5-7 students, each with an assigned instructor for practice sessions.  So there's a lecture on rappeling, for instance, then I take my 6 ladies (17-40 years of age, 3 different languages) and we practice the skill.  Always with some time constraint, but with the ability to show details and ask questions.  Turns out, this is the first Basic course that has been offered co-ed.  There is always (has been since the founding in 1968, admirably) a women-only course, but just one a year.  So this is an experiment in mixing the Basic course; usually only the very advanced courses like Search and Rescue are mixed.  So far it seems to be going well - my group is usually slower (than the guys or the other women), but the instructors have made the logistics work around this really well.

On the flip side, I've learned things like how to rappel with a rock hammer, normally used to place pitons (amazed picture with one of two foreign students, right), pack with canvas stuff sacks, and sit separately from the students.  I've gotten slightly used to being addressed as "madam" in India, but it's proscribed here by the military setup of the place - students and instructors/staff are very much separated.  They get their cafeteria food (Indian curries and chappatis) by standing in line past a serving window, we get to sit at a table and have it brought to us.  I understand why it works this way, and it does work, it's just tough for someone who never (never?) thinks of herself as better or more worthy of not sitting on the ground than anyone else.

So things are good, and we're headed up into the mountains for 18 days tomorrow.  Porters, canvas tents, afternoon tea, and some time up high!  See you soon...

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Really, this isn't as selfish as it sounds. But rarely do I (do any of us!) get a complete break from others' demands on our attention, time, or schedule. So I've got a week in Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas that produce the Ganges river, to just read and run and hike and... do whatever then heck I want! When I want to! OK, so I'd love a fresh hummus sandwich with lettuce and tomatos and pickles and onions and mustard (yum!), but you can't have everything.

Rishikesh the tourist town is separate from the actual town, suitably populated by weathered beard-wearing men dressed in the holy color of saffron, variously wandering about, reading languages I can't (yet), and/or asking for money along the well-traveled pedestrian corridors. There are more Hindu temples here than I can pronounce, which means there are as many Indian tourists as foreign ones, all targeted by sellers of an assortment of jewelry, sandalwood, cowboy hats (really!), clothing and blessings - a tikka mark on your forehead, say these words, here's your string bracelet, donation please?

But it's close to the mountains, so there are some beautiful places. A twenty-minute hike reveals two waterfalls, dammed up to make pools to swim in, and just beyond, a valley filled with rice fields and simple houses. Locals as well as tourists come to swim in the falls; I watched three skinny local boys swimming in their underwear once a middle-aged white couple had gotten out, followed by the too-cool boys from Delhi who were still silly once they jumped in and ruined their styled hair. The air was cool in the shade, and the forest green and teeming with butterflies, so different from the dust and smells of the city.

I hiked most of the way to a temple, deciding I didn't need to hike the rest of the way downhill to actually get there. (Who builds a temple halfway down a mountainside, anyway?) Funny how even a simple walk can feel like a story, like you're in a pilgrimage or travel essay if you let it... Two stoned men sitting in the path feeding monkeys ("good monkeys", I was informed) with monkey snacks so I could feel their tapered fingers on mine, then offers of various versions of a smoke. A little further on a couple shyly posing for pictures with their camera and mine, delighted at my offer, likely because they knew I wouldn't disapprove of their intimacy. Reached the top of the hill to find cell towers and a farm but no temple - that was downhill again. Ah, well - maybe next time.

Rafting, reading, and just enjoying my own quiet space here. Next up, headed to the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering to see what I can contribute there. I'm supposed to be helping instruct their basic mountaineering course, starting with walking uphill and ending with ?? but I'm not sure how I'll fit into their military hierarchy, especially as a woman in a relatively conservative region. Huh. Well, some of us are going to learn something, not sure who...

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Hindi for: Finished! I managed to stay healthy, the ribs do seem to be fully healed, and I learned a ton about how to fix and maintain my bike in response to various breaks and failures. Brakes? Who needs 'em? Oh wait - I do, and now I know how to adjust my disc brakes to keep riding the crazy downhills we were sent on. The generosity of two French- and English ex-pats living in Pondicherry kept me in spokes (four broken over nine days!) as I bombed my way down that uneven terrain, and lots of TLC kept the rear shifter working despite needing a new cable. The bike needs a new chain, brake pads, shifter cables, and derailer spring, but it made it. Whew!

The course from Shimla to Manali was largely the same, but with harder climbs and longer days than last year, a challenge to be sure. I felt like a stronger rider this year, though - that hillclimb up Mt Baker and paying attention to my technical riding helped. Around 60 people (mostly Indian) started the race, and only 35 finished! A few downhill accidents early on, but mostly just the daily grind of so much vertical gain and mileage, about 75km and 5,000' of gain per day on surfaces of varying quality, from beautifully smooth tarmac to (mostly) broken tarmac/gravel to these obnoxious cobblestones that slow you down on the descent, let alone an uphill effort!

As with last year, my favorite part of the ride is just getting to know people over 10 days of being tired, happy, hungry, discouraged, relieved, impatient and resigned. You can't fake it for that long, especially working that hard. So a few more friends here, people I'll look forward to meeting up with again, either on a bike or not. And of course, there are the random people you meet along the way - a woman who took care of my cold soggy self by the fire on our one day of rain waiting for the other riders to come, an old village woman delighted to have us take pictures with her flowers, the hoardes of kids endlessly amused by the instant gratification of digital images, and all of the people who made this event happen, many of whom didn't really know what to make of this crazy mud-covered lady riding with a bunch of men.

There were only two women riding, and the sponsored Nepali mountain biker was far stronger than I. So I managed to get second - sweet! We found out later that the organizers had tried to cancel the women's prizes since there were only two of us, and were informed of the error of their ways. So all went as advertised, and the prize money nearly covered my plane ticket over. I would have been happy just to complete the event, but racing for position is a good change for me. I don't think I need to do this event again, especially trying to schedule work around it, but might do more bike touring here in the future.

Back in Delhi, I'm sitting in an "American diner", complete with old CocaCola advertisements, car memorabilia and rock-n-roll playing for ambience. There's Heinz catsup on the table, but menu offerings like "Chips and Salsa - Pringles, Dorritos chips and Potato wedges served with jalapeno salsa" and pomegranate smoothies. Close...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Off to a fantastic start

So I do seem to have largely avoided jetlag - don't know quite how.  A little tired, certainly, but not falling asleep in the middle of the day.  12 1/2 hours is a lot to get used to!

It seems surprisingly normal to land here on my fourth trip.  Not like home, exactly, but without that sense of excitement of going to a new place.  I pretty much know how things work (or don't, as the case may be) and where I'm going.

But that doesn't mean things aren't going to be interesting.  The bike I loaned out at my departure from Sikkim in the spring is here in one piece, but some of those pieces are a little... missing.  Missing part of the headset (bearings and top cap) and the nut on the end of the quick-release skewer for my back wheel.  Really, when you're disassembling it, it IS important that all the little pieces get in the box!  So a miracle part supply by friend Dickie and an hour drive later, I'm trying to figure out how much I really know about bike parts - I know what this bike mechanic is doing is wrong, but not quite what is right.  In the end, I took most of the pieces home and put it back together myself - hope this works!!!

We'll find out.  Heading up to Shimla in an hour and the 10-day race starts on Sunday.  Hope my bike works, hope my ribs are truly healed, hope I can manage not to get sick... definitely always an adventure.  Here goes!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Up, down, over!

Three more laps on the mountain and a great hike with some friends to finish off the season.  The good weather continues to hold, at least mostly...

Didn't miss much up on the mountain, in fact it was a great time to be gone.  There had been some pretty horrendous weather on the mountain, and between that and the resulting avalanche danger, no one had summitted for over a week by the time we arrived.  Garrett and Lhakpa Sherpa went up and kicked in part of the route the first day, and Lhakpa and Seth went up the second day and did more work.  Turns out all the snow and wind actually filled in some of the big crevasses we'd had to use ladders over.  They took the ladders out and we walked over the snow again!  I turned around with a climber on this first trip - the potential disappointment inherent in any climb.  But with the help of some other guides in breaking trail, they tagged the first summit in 9 days.

One last hurrah in the Northwest before heading off for many months: hiked the 18-mile Enchantments loop with several friends in one long day.  Perfect weather - it got really hot just once, and we managed to jump in the closest alpine lake for a quick swim.  You know the water's cold when there's still snow melting in the other side... Walked out in the dark, but had a great time through some beautiful terrain.

Last two trips: I ended up staying in camp on the first one with a climber who suddenly realized he's not a climber, and got more sleep than any other three day trip this season.  A beautiful sunrise.  That group went down and I stayed to meet the next group, a crazy bunch of Brits  who had just climbed Mt Adams.  The forecast was completely bad for the next morning, so we took our strong group and did a sunset climb the second night.  Beautiful and, even better, a great call because the weather was in fact crappy when we woke up - no one summitted that morning.  That's what we call sneaking it in.

One day in town and off to India!  Let's see how this one goes...

Monday, September 7, 2009


Mmm... a nice long break, and only a mini-expedition.  Took a few days off, then cycled up to Port Townsend to visit a friend there, and on to Bellingham to see a couple more people.  A few sprinkles the first day, but otherwise nice weather, and the blackberries are out!!!  Plenty of time to stop and enjoy roadside berries, perfectly ripe and more than I could possibly eat.  At one point I was picking faster than I could eat - double-fisting it!

Then, because working the body hard sometimes feels better than not, up to Mt Baker, site of a regionally-famous hillclimb race.  I had to pack the panniers (bike bags) for a combination of social and recreational destinations, so went pretty light on the camping gear.  It's 35 miles from Bellingham to the town of Glacier, at about 1000' elevation.  From there the road goes UP, gaining 4,000' in another 25 miles, much of it right at the end.  So I went as far as I could the first day and camped at the higher campground, 52 miles from Bellingham.

That made the next day a little easier, only 12 miles (but UP) to the end of the road at Artist Point, then all the way back to Bellingham, making 72 miles, but largely downhill.  A friend joined me for the last 30 miles back, psyched on a new roadbike and looking to ride.

The funny thing is, I can feel the difference in my legs from only a few days of cycling with weight - went for a run and felt strong on the uphills.  MTB Himachal here I come!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Rainier and more Rainier

Yes, it's the bread and butter of the summer season, especially now that it's late in the season, when most mountain climbers have moved on to rock or other objectives not dependent on glaciers to get where we're going.  But not here - we have trips scheduled through the end of September.

The problem is, well, the mountain is falling down.  We've had such amazingly good weather this summer that I actually haven't taken my goretex out of my pack for the last two months!  Very uncharacteristic weather for the Northwest, and it's telling - the glaciers are in the condition that they normally are at the end of September, not August. 

We saw a major rockfall go over the trail to high camp that we had been on only two hours before, and I've had not one but two rocks, one melon-sized, the other microwave-sized, cross our rope (ie: go between two climbers!) on their fall-path down the glacier.  Rockfall = not cool!  Just keep walking, and let's walk a little quicker through this area, please.

In addition, the route itself has gotten interesting as we've tried to maintain a safe path through the many crevasses that have now opened up on the route up the mountain.  
As of my last trip, there were two ladders (one consisting of two lashed together!) and a very narrow scoot-around with a line to clip into in case you fall.  Who needs the Himalaya - we've got it right here!

I'm not tired of the mountain, in fact it has been fun to see it change so much over the course of the season.  But I'm tired of only having three days to try to get to know people, be involved in their lives and goals, and then say goodbye again.  It's time for a break or an expedition, or both.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Here and there

From Bonanza straight to Rainier, then a little time off and do it all again...

I also got to teach a private 5-day skills course on Mt Baker, the last of the variety scheduled through the end of my season.  Two guys wanted to learn all about snow travel and safety as part of their skiing excursions and possible future glacier trips.  Quite refreshing - it's not often that we get people who say, "yeah, the summit is cool, but we really just want to learn more skills."  Sweet!!  A fun week.

In between, a friend and I volunteered for a local cycling event near Mt Rainier to gain admission next year.  Driving back we had to stop for this:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Mary and I had been talking about this mountain, highest non-volcanic peak in Washington, for a while, and she had been there previously with a friend who convinced them not to bring the right equipment.  It's located on the eastern side of the Cascades, and we decided to go the long way,  22 miles through an area called Spider Gap which I'd heard was beautiful, instead of the "short" way up Lake Chelan and through Holden Village.

Forecast: Hot and sunny.  Sweet!  We crossed over Spider Gap early the second day to some amazing clouds pouring over the mountains to the east.  Beautiful meadows down below, amazing alpine lakes, and dramatic peaks for a backdrop.  Hmm.  Wonder what those clouds are going to do...

On the third day we bushwhacked around the head of the lake and up the classic Cascade configuration of scree field, rocky cliff, start of glacier, crevasse navigation, and dicey transition to rock.  We'd heard many things about the rock - loose, hard, easy... In the end, it was a great 4th class scramble (ie no ropes needed, but don't fall) up fun features to the sharp ridge and summit.

Unfortunately, the vista that greeted us as we gained the ridge included a big thunderstorm not too far away and headed, yes, directly for us!  We don't get thunderstorms much here, hardly at all, but the unusually hot weather was breeding cells in the east that were moving west.  
After a few minutes on the summit trying to convince us both that it wasn't headed straight toward us, we got off there as quickly as possible - I had never had a near thunderstorm experience, and was entirely OK with that!

The rain started as I headed down the first rappel, light and sound coming closer and closer together as the storm moved in.  I was at the next station getting the rope sorted out when that characteristic buzzing started (more like a series of tiny pops between the metal in my helmet) and saw and heard the strike at exactly the same time.  Looking up 150' of rope to where Mary was still perched on the ridge, just 40' below the summit, I yelled up, "Are you OK??"  She was, though we're both pretty convinced it hit the summit, just meters from where she was.  Wow.

She came down and we continued rappelling as the rain eventually stopped and the storm moved on.  Another cell just side-swiped us, dropping a little rain but no big strikes.  Whew!  We took our time down the rest of the route, making our way back to camp in the dark.

The walk out gave us more of the afternoon-rainshower experience as we passed many dayhikers from nearby Holden on our hike out the long way.  My favorite image: five cotton-clad hikers smooshed in next to a tree trunk, doing their best to hide from the downpour and stay warm before making a 6-mile dash for it.  I donned my garbage bag-cum-rain skirt and we walked on...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Back in the saddle

Two weeks, four climbs, and my faith has been restored in guiding.  Back in Seattle and the Cascade mountains for the summer, I finally had some good trips and am ready to go.

The nice things about the DC route are that we don't have to carry much equipment (read: light packs!), there are lots of people to see and talk with on the mountain - our guides, other guides, rangers, enthusiastic independent climbers - and with a little work the route is short and sweet.  Throw in some in-shape, prepared and interesting climbers, and climbing Mt Rainier is fun again!

The weather is beautiful in Seattle, even hot, and it's peach and cherry season.  Cotton dresses and amazing fruit - what more can a gal ask for??  

Monday, July 6, 2009

First summit of the season!

Had to take some time off and climb on my own with friends Mary and Erin.  And anyone who knows us individually, let alone collectively, could probably guess that this would not be a very serious affair...

The ladies' climb somehow ended up incorporating the ridiculousness of plastic tiaras, and the Independence Day holiday necessitated flags and pinwheels as well for camp decoration.  My theory: You don't see too many all-women climbing parties, for whatever social reasons.  If other climbers see us climbing with such silly accoutrements, they must realize we aren't too concerned about our chances of making the summit, and are comfortable in this mostly-male environment.  Plus it's a good conversation starter.  *grin*

The Emmons route on Mt Rainier is less travelled than the other common route, the Disappointment Cleaver (the one I'll be on the rest of the summer) for two reasons.  One, you can't see the trodden path leading all the way to camp from the most popular visitor center in the park - it's a hidden path leading through the trees to a camp you can't see until you're there.  And two, it's longer, with more elevation gain - over 10,000' from trailhead to summit.

We hiked up 5,000' to Camp Schurman on the first day, then took the next day, July 4, off to talk with the rangers, sleep, enjoy the view, and watch the fireworks twinkling down below once dusk fell.  You can see the balloons of sparkle from Seattle and the casino in Auburn, and countless little fountains of light from countless small towns and private homes.  It was windy, but we occasionally dashed out from the ranger hut to check it out, then bundle back in where it was warm.

And we almost didn't make it out of the hut.  Warm and cozy and full of people to talk to, we almost just stayed and hung out in the tin-and-stone ranger cabin - summit schmummit.  But Mary rallied us, we went and made our "breakfast" oatmeal, and set out into the wind for our climb.  Seven hours later, as the sun rose higher over the Cascades and Puget Sound, we wandered onto the summit and had some kind stranger take our (slightly ridiculous) picture.  Yay!  Cold - let's get down!

Back to Schurman, four-hour nap, and a long slide down the snow slopes to the three-mile hike back to the car.  Stinky (it's amazing how smelly you can get in three days) and tired, I slept in the car while Mary and Erin stayed up for the drive back (thanks!!).  Good to be out with friends...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Konichiwa ... Sayonara

Wow - that was an interesting trip.  Three weeks on the glaciers, two different languages, one very frustrating trip, and no summit.  Actually, the weather was not too bad (one 5-day storm at high camp, but not crazy) and everyone seemed to leave OK with how things went, but we had the perfect summit day and weren't able to capitalize on it.

The problem: an older group with inaccurate expectations combined with a trip leader/translator who wasn't willing or able to guide effectively.

Denali is perhaps the hardest of the well-known mountains to climb.  Everest is higher, harder to make it to the top, but Sherpas carry all your gear - you don't have to haul heavy loads, just stay healthy.  Denali is two weeks of carrying 60+ pound packs, often coupled with 40-pound sleds - not an easy thing even if you've trained for it.

Instead, several of our climbers kept asking for lighter loads and slower travel speeds.  But you can't leave your food behind (and I'm not paid enough to carry a 120-pound pack), and we were already the slowest group on the mountain.  There are some things you can't change if you want to make it.  35-pound packs were referred to as "heavy" and our already conservative pace was too fast.  Not a good sign.

We lost one climber on a carry to 16,200' to chest pain - not good in an older smoker!  His teammate went down the next day when he couldn't make it to the first break without sitting down in a heap in the middle of the trail.  The rest of us made it to high camp (17,200') just in time to wait out the storm, but in all honesty it wasn't brutal, just long.  Our fearless interpreter nearly lost heart, but our last possible summit day dawned clear and calm.  Sweet!

Unfortunately, one of our climbers pooped out after half an hour, and park regulations require that clients be accompanied by a guide even in camp.  I turned around with him and another we didn't think would make it and warned repeatedly: If anyone else has to turn around, we're out of guides and the summit bid is over.   If you don't think you will make it the whole way, spin now or risk the group's success.  Sure enough, two hours later another climber was done and the only person who actually should have been on the mountain (the guy with the vodka below) had to come down without the summit.

What to take from this?  Robert and I are both pretty culturally sensitive, have travelled extensively, and want to get people to the top if it can be done safely.  But we couldn't communicate directly with the climbers, and the translator often wouldn't manage the group as we knew needed to be done to have a successful climb.  He hadn't been on the mountain before and didn't like to be the bearer of bad news - a bad combination for a place as demanding and potentially dangerous as Denali.

But I met a bunch of other guides and rangers I'd seen in passing before, built some relationships with them and got more comfortable on the mountain.  Robert was great to work with, and everyone came back with all their fingers and toes (how do you ask if someone can feel their fingers if you don't know their language?).  My nose didn't fall off this year, and we flew off the mountain just in time.  So we'll send some extensive notes to the office, hope there are more realistic expectations next year, and avoid the Japanese trip if not!

It's beautiful in Seattle and I'm back, and life is good.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Off to Denali, round 2

I had gotten time off this past weekend to go do a triathlon with Mary, but this spring's injury meant I couldn't train.  So Mary, after an epic time getting a functional bike at the race location, rocked the house without me.  (Nice work!!)  Instead, I did a reprise of last year's glacier skills weekend with some friends I'll be climbing Rainier with after Denali.  More beautiful weather in the mountains!

This stretch of sun is more than a little unusual for Seattle, and everyone is a little loopy with it.  The highs in town were up into the 80s, and the day I flew to Alaska the forecast was 90 degrees!  Heat advisories were being issued, skirts and shorts and bikinis were being wantonly flaunted, and I finally wore the pink dress that I bought in India last fall.  Yes, pink!  Especially crazy is that 90 F (32 C) is relatively balmy in most of India, but in Seattle, a heat advisory is actually probably a good idea.  Ha!

A few days here in Talkeetna, packing food and getting ready for our expedition, however, has made us ready to fly into the land of glaciers just to escape the mosquitos.  Mosquitos!  So many of them it's hard to sleep; I'm looking forward to being in a tent just so I'm not woken up by their signature whine and inopportune landings.  The lack of night in town means eyeshades are a necessity; on the mountain it means we don't have to bring headlamps.  Ever.  It's so light at 2am you could read a book outside!  Wierd.

Track us at  We're Team IX, Rob and Suzanne with the all-Japanese team.  Yep - should be interesting.  See you on the flipside!