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Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A great thing about visiting mountain ranges you've read about and dreamed of all your life is to discover mountains you'd never even heard of. Visiting the Khumbu, I was interested to see Everest and Lhotse and Ama Dablam in the flesh, as it were, as well as lesser-known peaks that I'd written about but never eyeballed, like Kwangde and Tawoche and Kangtega. But there were also surprises, like Kwangde Nup, with its a gorgeous rock buttress splitting the north face, first climbed by Alex Lowe and Steve Swenson way back in 1989. And then there's this icy needle, spotted from the hills near the Thame monastery, looking due east past Kangtega. If there's ever a peak that gives one the urge (in the memorable Mick Fowler phrase), this is the peak. But what is it?

I had to consult with Lindsay Griffin, keeper of all mountain knowledge, who e-mailed the answer promptly: It was Melanphulan, of course, a.k.a. Peak 6,571m. The peak received its first known ascent in 2000, by Supy Bullard and Peter Carse. The AAJ note describing this climb pointed to a previous photo of the ice pyramid, by Ace Kvale, in the 1996 AAJ. The caption for the full-page photo was simply: "Unnamed, unclimbed, Khumbu region." As far as I know, it still has only one route.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Yaks and Mountains

Yak and the Nuptse-Everest-Lhotse massif.

Yak and Tengkang Poche.

Yak and big peak above Thame, possibly Teng Ragi Tau.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Solu Khumbu

The photo at right shows the jam-packed trail about halfway between Lukla and Namche Bazaar in Nepal, early one morning after the Lukla airport had been closed for two days because of poor weather. An estimated 80 flights arrived in Lukla the day the airport opened, dropping off more than 1,000 trekkers anxious to make up for lost time. They weren't making much time this morning. Fortunately, we were headed in the opposite direction, and once we'd pushed past the camera-wielding tourists, lumbering dzopkyos, and porters laden with 200 pounds of kerosene and San Miguel beers, the trail was nearly all ours again, just as it had been for most of our trek.

When we planned our Solu Khumbu trek, we were guided by time constraints (only two weeks in the mountains) and by more desire to experience a variety of Nepali culture than to see a constant panorama of high mountains. We quickly realized that we had neither the time nor the interest to hike all the way to Everest Base Camp, as most Khumbu trekkers do. Instead, experienced friends such as Jim Nowak, cofounder of the dZi Foundation, recommended that we follow the uncrowded, less-Westernized traditional Everest approach from Jiri. However, we also were warned that the Jiri trek begins with a series of punishing ascents and descents. Then we discovered that there was an airport at Paphlu, about halfway between Jiri and Lukla. We opted for the roller-coaster flight to Paphlu's hillside dirt airstrip ("Thank you for flying with us. Please pick up your heart by the gate") and began our trek there, and this proved to be a terrific compromise.

We were starting in the Solu half of the Solu Khumbu region, among lush, terraced hill farms and small Sherpa and Rai villages. Each day we saw only one or two other Western parties, and usually we were the only guests at the teahouses we used; we encountered only one other group of Americans in five days of trekking. Solu was a feast of unexpected delights. At the huge Thupten Choling monastery, we watched and listened to a broad room full of monks at prayer, and shared photos with the young monks and nuns. Creeks and flumes spun enormous water-powered prayer wheels. A family butchered a buffalo in the trail, the enormous heart standing on a wooden stake, the entrails hung on a clothes line to dry; later we saw porters carrying baskets laden with buffalo meat up the trail for celebrations of the Tihar festival; a crow landed repeatedly on one porter's basket and pecked at the meat as he walked along. We drank rich, brothy Sherpa tea in a home near Taksindu La. Young singers crowded into the tiny dining room of our teahouse in Nunthala to peform the "Bhailini!" chorus, sung on the third day of Tihar. The next day, young men and women in traditional dress danced in nearly every village. Slowly, unfamiliar peaks were revealed, including broad, sacred Numbur (below), just under 7,000 meters high.

When we joined the main Everest trail near Lukla, the character of the trek changed instantly. Suddenly there was a steady stream of large trekking groups—10 to 20 walkers and their guides. Arrows appeared by chortens, pointing out the correct clockwise route to walk around them. (Most trekkers ignored the arrows.) We celebrated our first flush toilets, and the broader range of choices on dinner menus. And, of course, the famed Khumbu peaks hove into view, including our first sighting of Everest and Lhotse. We were saddened about leaving Solu behind, but excited to see what the Khumbu would bring.


Friday, December 12, 2008

The Bargain Basement

According to a statement posted on Alpinist's website, the magazine and all of its assets (subscriber list, website, film festival, a ready-to-be-printed book collecting some of Alpinist's Mountain Profiles, etc.) may sell out of receivership for as little as $30,000, free and clear of all liabilities. An offer of this amount has been accepted, and the sale will close if no higher bid is received by December 22.

On the surface, this seems like a screaming deal, and no doubt will give many loyal readers hope that Alpinist might be resurrected. But consider this: A number of good, experienced publishers are known to have taken a look at Alpinist's books since it went into bankruptcy. Yet, so far, none has been willing to cough up more than 30 grand, which is less than it would cost to print a single issue of the magazine. Clearly, they must not have seen any hope of reviving the old business model. I have no idea who made the $30,000 bid, or what the bidder's plans are, but I'm quite certain the old large-format, limited-advertising Alpinist, in all its glory, will never grace readers' mailboxes again.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wednesday Morning Time Waster

Melissa Andrzejewski and Chris McNamara fly wingsuits between enormous cliffs on Baffin Island. I love her "fraid dance" on the lip and how long it takes to commit to the leap. Can you blame her?

This clip is from the bonus section of McNamara and Lincoln Else's new 15-minute BASE jumping DVD: Learning to Fly. The film covers McNamara's energetic (to say the least) first year in the sport, in which he did 400 skydiving or BASE jumps, from California to Kuala Lumpur. In this clip they jumped from a subpeak of Kiguti above Sam Ford Fjord and flew through a notch and alongside the 3,000-foot north wall of Kiguti, landing on the frozen fjord. Yikes!


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Top 10 Names for Climbers

10. Eddie Sender
9. Cam Burns
8. Chris Wall
7. Rok Zalokar
6. Dick Stone
5. Felix Berg*
4. Crag Jones
3. Chris Craggs
2. Steve Roper

And the No. 1 climber name: Dave Dangle!

Except for Eddie Sender, which, Alpinist revealed, was a nom de plume for the late Guy Edwards, these are all the names of real climbers. Got more good climber names? Add them to Comments.

* Felix Berg? The name means "fortunate mountain."


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Alpine Briefs

I've been working on a little side project for the past few weeks: a new website called The Alpine Briefs. This site is the brainchild of American Alpine Journal senior editor Kelly Cordes; I provided some grunt work, along with AAJ editor John Harlin. In our work as AAJ editors, we receive lots of very cool reports, photos, funny stories, and other material that doesn't fit into the AAJ's relatively rigid format. Some of this info ultimately will appear on expanded AAJ web pages, but while those are in the works Kelly inspired us to launch the Alpine Briefs, and, once inspired, we took it much farther than we ever expected.

The site is still new and will build slowly, but we think it eventually will become a much-needed voice for international alpinism, especially in the wake of Alpinist magazine's passing. (Devoted readers will notice some subtle influences on the Alpine Briefs.) We'll also be sending an e-newsletter to AAJ contributors and American Alpine Club members every couple of months, with updates on the latest content.

On a semi-related note, a new outdoor-sports magazine is launching in Colorado—something of a surprise in this economy, but definitely a niche waiting to be filled.  Elevation Outdoors will launch in February as a free bimonthly, edited by Doug Schnitzspahn, longtime executive editor of the late, much-underappreciated Hooked on the Outdoors.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Monday Morning Time Waster

Now that's speed climbing. Tip of the hat to Bill Wright for this link.