Thursday, November 30, 2006

Seven Summits Skied (For Real)

Slovenian Davo Karnicar skied from the summit of Mt. Vinson in Antarctica this week, thus becoming the first person to do complete ski descents of the Seven Summits. Karnicar, 44, was the first and only person to make a complete ski descent of Mt. Everest, on the south side, in October 2000. He also has done a complete ski descent of Annapurna.

American Kit DesLauriers was hailed last month as the first woman to ski the Seven Summits. But in the mind of most purists, her two-day ski from the summit of Everest, while laudable, can't be counted as a ski descent of the mountain. DesLauriers earned headlines and interviews across the country. Karnicar? A search of Google News this morning revealed not a single story.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Separated at Birth?

Does anyone else see it? That's a young Jim Bridwell on the left and Tommy Caldwell on the right. Is it just a coincidence that two of the most influential American climbers of their respective generations looked so much alike? Or are deeper forces at work?

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Gobsmacking

Views of the Earth from space are nothing new, but this one of the Everest region in the Himalaya blew me away when I stumbled upon it today. That's Everest in the middle, Makalu on the left, the barren Tibetan hills in the foreground, and Nepal in the clouds in the back. You can get to any even bigger mosaic of images from space depicting an 80-mile span of the high Himalaya through this NASA page, but you'll need a huge monitor to do it justice.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Where Do I Clip In?

These photos have been bouncing around the internet in recent days without being identified: This is the Changkong zhandao "plank path" on Huangshan peak, a Unesco World Heritage site in east-central China. The plank path is a sort of via ferrata across the near-vertical granite slabs of the south peak. Not too worried about litigation here, are we?

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Skiing the Eiger (Sort of)

More madness with parachutes! Check out this short helmet-cam video of "speed riding" the Eiger. The guy screams down the snowy western flank of the peak, bumping off the occasional slab of limestone, and then swings right and hucks over the north face. OK, yeah, he's paragliding, but this is no tourist flight: The guy turns the Eiger into a bump run, his skis slicing off the tops of snow patches glued to the north face. This run gives new meaning to the term "rock skis."

But wait, there's more! This video has helicopter footage of the Eiger descent. And this one shows a speed-riding descent of Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe. (If you have a fast enough connection, skip to the middle for the best stuff.) What will these kids think of next!

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wingsuit Madness

Remember when B.A.S.E. jumping seemed crazy? Compared with flying a wingsuit, simply jumping off cliffs with a parachute is like a gentle ride down an Otis elevator. Check out this amazing video of wingsuit-flying wingnuts jumping off the north face of the Eiger and other huge European cliffs. (One of these wingnuts is an old friend, the climber and SuperTopo magnate Chris McNamara.) Amazing to see how much forward distance they cover, how close they fly along the walls, and how late they wait to pop the chute. A good pilot can fly 90 to 120 mph and achieve a glide ratio of 2.5 to 1—that means flying about 3 miles straight ahead in a jump off the Eiger. Jeezum crowbar! This has gotta be one of the wildest videos I've ever seen—maybe it's old hat if you've seen a lot of this stuff, but to me it was a real mind-bender.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Yummm.... Spindrift!

Greg Sievers ducks for cover on Sunday as he starts the crux fourth pitch of Pipe Organ (far-right variation), Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park. Pipe Organ is the route to the right of the popular All Mixed Up (on the left of the picture, with climbers on it). We climbed two pitches to a ledge system, did a fairly sketchy full-rope traverse to the right, and then climbed a dihedral with very thin ice to reach thicker ice and exit through a short rock band.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Everest + Gift of Gab = $$$

Ever wonder how much money celebrity adventurers get for doing those corporate speaking gigs? Actually, not very many climbers and skiers make anything—most of the climbers I know rake in a few hundred bucks and some free beer, at best, at the shows they do, and they often give the proceeds to the Access Fund or the AAC. But for a few people there's real money in delivering 45 minutes of after-dinner inspiration and bon mots to the salarymen, along with some stirring images of climbing ladders over crevasses.

The big money is on Everest, where even the faintest stardom commands a healthy speaking fee. A quick, unscientific survey of speakers' bureaus shows that Everest vets Ed Viesturs, Jim Whittaker, David Breashears, and Peter Hillary all ask $10,000 to $20,000 per speech. Sharon Wood, the first North American woman to climb Everest, might be available for as little as $5,000, but Stacy Allison, the first American, gets $20,000 to $30,000, more than all the guys except back-from-the-dead Everest ’96 survivor Beck Weathers. In fact, triumphing over adversity trumps fully abled success every time. Aron Ralston's speaking fee went from 0 to as high as $50,000 after he lopped off his arm in Blue John Canyon. Blind climber Erik Weihenmayer commands $30,000 to $50,000 for his inspirational talks.

Rock climbing, meanwhile, is too hard to explain and too boring to watch to make it big in the corporate world. The only highly marketable speaker whose claim to fame was primarily rock climbing was the late Todd Skinner (fee range: $10,000 to $20,000). In any case, we all know that adventure sports pale in comparison to mainstream celebrity when it comes to bringing home the bacon. Lance Armstrong's fee for a single speaking gig? $150,000 and up.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

G is for Grovel

Kelly Cordes, who always has something to say about—well, about just about anything—filled me in on an alternative grading system while we were walking down from Eldorado Canyon's upper West Ridge yesterday. The G System, he explained, is the most useful way to rate mixed alpine climbs, because it gets at the hardest and sketchiest part of alpine climbing: snowed-up, thin-or-no-ice rock climbing. The kind of climbing where nothing sticks, there are no holds to grab, and pro is nonexistent, and the keys to success are determination, boldness, and the ability to oonch up slick, snowy granite. The G stands for "groveling". Turns out that a lot of climbers who are extremely talented when measured by the Yosemite decimal system or water-ice grades or even the M scale for modern mixed climbing can't always master G climbing. "I know people who are solid M10 climbers who get shut down by G4 groveling," Cordes says. Never mind that there's no way to explain what G4 feels like. If you have to ask, you haven't done it.

Cordes has done big routes with some of the best alpine climbers in the U.S., Jonny Copp and Josh Wharton among them. But he says the best G-climber he's ever tied in with, hands down, is the relatively unknown Scott DeCapio. "It's unbelievable how quickly Scotty can climb that stuff," he says. DeCapio served a rugged apprenticeship: He lived in his VW Fox hatchback for five years, traveling around to climb. He and Cordes have done some great new routes and speedy ascents in Alaska, and right now they're mulling over the right overseas project to attempt next summer or fall. A climb, that is, with a G-rating that won't get parental approval.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lessons from Todd's Death

Here it is: The first round of my Todd Skinner Memorial Gear Dump. After Todd's death from harness failure last week, I started going through my old gear with a newly suspicious eye. I know for a fact that the slings on those Friends are 20 years old! I almost never use them—they're third- or fourth-string units for Indian Creek cracks—but why take chances? (And no, I'm not dumping the old cams, just the slings. Some things are just too hard for a Scotch Yankee to do.) Some of those quickdraws are probably 15 to 20 years old. One of the daisy chains is probably pretty good, but the other was retired a long time ago; I just use it as a dog leash now and then, but we've got plenty of other leashes—what if someone mistakenly assumed this was safe to use for climbing? That beater harness is really embarassing: We kept it around to loan to friends who might not have a harness! With friends like us...

I'm sure most of this stuff would be just fine. Kolin Powick, quality assurance manager at Black Diamond, did an amazing series of tests on "distressed" belay loops following Todd's death. You've got to see this. He found that loops sliced 50 percent and even 75 percent of the way through retained much of their strength. He cut bar tacks and abraded the stitching and webbing so seriously that most climbers would immediately junk their harnesses if they looked this bad. The result? Still strong. Makes me think something (chemicals? UV damage?) must have seriously compromised Todd's belay loop, maybe even the day before his fatal rappel. Likely it was a combination of age, wear, and some mystery factor. The loop was found at the scene and no doubt will be analyzed. Meanwhile, I figure, why risk it? This junk is just cluttering up my gear room anyway, and I'm sure I'll find more like this when I dig deeper into the boxes. Today's trash day on my street, and it's time to toss this pile.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Yamabushi Slide Show

In mid-October, the day before I climbed at Yamnuska, Will Gadd completed his longtime project to create what's now the hardest route on the big limestone cliff near Canmore, Alberta: Yamabushi (8 pitches, 5.13a). There's a really good annotated slide show about the climb on the Arc'teryx web site. Gadd and photographer Cory Richards, who took this shot of the crux second pitch as well as the others in the show (and also helped Gadd work on the route this fall) will be doing some live slide shows in coming months. Catch it if you can: Should be really good.

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