On June 2, Monday, the blogs at About.com will be going away. Past blog posts will still be available on the Climbing site, with the posts archived as articles and redirected to relevant categories. I still may continue writing blog posts of timely and important climbing news and updates but the central part of the landing page will promote new articles.
Thanks for reading my blog for the past six years and leaving insightful and interesting comments. The adventure continues...
Here are links to several new articles published this month in case you haven't found them yet:
Accident Analysis: Climber Falls and Rope Breaks in Eldorado Canyon
The Life and Climbs of Riccardo Cassin
Climber Craig Luebben Killed by Icefall in 2009
2011: First American Woman Climbs Kangchenjunga
Photograph above: Ian Green cranking the perfect aręte of Bullet the Blue Sky at Penitente Canyon in southern Colorado. Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Today, May 29, is Mount Everest Day in commemoration of May 29, 1953 when New Zealander beekeeper Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepali Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first humans to stand atop the 29,029-foot (8,848-meter) summit of the world's highest mountain on the border of Nepal and Tibet at 11:30 in the morning.
The final ascent up Mount Everest's summit pyramid was on a sunny day with low clouds obscuring the valleys below the great mountain. The two men, they later related, climbed the last few feet to the summit together so that neither would be able to claim the honor of being the first to stand on the roof of the world.
The expedition, led by John Hunt, was the ninth British expedition to attempt an ascent of Mount Everest. A 1924 attempt, culminating with George Mallory and Sandy Irvine disappearing on the Northeast Ridge, was the third British expedition to the mountain. Mallory and Irvine, reportedly climbing strong, fell from the ridge, leaving questions and a continuing debate whether the two reached the summit and fell on their descent.
The 1953 expedition was not to be denied Everest's untrodden summit. The climbing army that attempted Everest included a dozen climbers, 35 Sherpa guides, over 350 porters, and 18 tons of equipment and food. The group left Kathmandu on March 10 and trekked to the mountain, arriving at Base Camp at 17,900 feet on April 12. Climbers pushed the route up through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall, scene of a massive avalanche in 2014 that killed 14 Sherpa climbers, creating six camps on the mountain. On May 21 the route had been pushed to the South Col and the final camp for the summit push.
Leader John Hunt had picked two pairs of climbers for two attempts on the summit of Mount Everest. Tom Bourdillion and Charles Evans, the first pair, left the South Col for the summit on May 26. They climbed past the 28,700-foot (8,750-meter) South Summit before having to retreat 300 feet below the summit due to oxygen problems, lack of time, and exhaustion.
The next pair up--33-year-old Hillary and 38-year-old Tenzing--left the next day, May 27, on their summit attempt, climbing from low on the mountain to the South Col. Early in the morning on Friday, May 29, the pair headed into the darkness. They slowly climbed over the South Summit, surmounted the Hillary Step, a 40-foot-high cliff on the ridge, before working up the sharp snow-covered ridge above to the summit. They didn't linger long on top, taking time only to make photographs, including the iconic image of Tenzing Norgay holding his ice axe aloft, and to bury some candies to appease the mountain gods and a small cross in the summit snow. The only thing left to do was to turn around and descend back down the mountain to public adulation and fame.
Photograph above: Tenzing Norgay stands on top of the world on May 29, 1953.
If you're traveling and don't have a climbing partner then check out Backcountry.com's new Detour site and find a local climbing guide to get you out climbing. Detour currently offers adventure guides in four different regions--Colorado, Utah, California, and New England--with over 100 adventures which include, besides rock climbing, fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking, ice climbing, rafting, and mountaineering.
Detour is a great concept to help you find a great guide who has been vetted by Backcountry.com and to maximize your time on vacation so you can get up some cool and fun climbs.
Read How to Find a Climbing Guide for lots of info and beta on how to find a great local guide and why a climbing guide is sometimes a good idea.
Here are some great sample adventures at Backcountry.com's Detour with local guides that jumped out at me:
Photograph above: Guided climbers are on top of the world on South Gateway Rock at the Garden of the Gods. Photograph © Stewart M. Green
The Organ Mountains, a ragged 20-mile-long range of spires and rough peaks, forms the skyline of Las Cruces in southern New Mexico as well as one of the best adventure climbing areas in the United States. Today, May 21, the Organs as well as the Dona Ana Mountains, Potrillo Mountains, Robledo Mountains, and Uvas Mountains will become part of America's newest national monument--the 496,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
President Barack Obama, using executive authority, will sign the proclamation which will "preserve the prehistoric, historic, and scientific values of the area for the benefit of all Americans." The new national monument will protect big climbing cliffs at both the Organ Mountains and Dona Anas, as well as ancient Native American sites, petroglyph panels, lava flows, historic sites including Billy the Kid's Outlaw Rock, Geromino's Cave and the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail route, training sites for the Apollo Moon missions, and numerous sites from World War II.
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, despite some opposition from ranchers and law enforcement, is overwhelming supported by southern New Mexicans with 83% of Dona Ana County residents and 82% of New Mexicans strongly favoring the monument designation. BBC Research & Consulting estimates that the new national monument could generate $7.4 million per year from visitors and business opportunities.
Most of the rock climbing in the new national monument is found in the Organ Mountains, a high, wild range of sharp granite peaks, sharp cliffs, deep canyons, and lots of solitude and wilderness character. The Wheeler Survey described the range in the 1870s as "lofty, rugged, and inaccessible," a description still true today.
Climbing in the Organ Mountains is real adventure climbing that requires careful hiking and navigating through canyons, couloirs, scree slopes, and slopes covered with cacti and yuccas to reach the base of the proposed climbing route. Climbers need a full arsenal of skills to safely and successfully ascend the cliffs, including routefinding, creatively finding and placing gear, climbing multi-pitch routes, finding solid belay anchors, and downclimbing and rappelling to get back down. The Organs is not a beginner climbing area but instead a place that requires good judgment and the ability to self-rescue since any emergency that requires assistance is difficult and time-consuming.
Besides the adventure climbing, there is the place itself. The Organ Mountains rise out of the harsh and dry Chihuahuan desert, a land of little rain and extreme heat. The mountains are rocky, prickly, and lots of critters that bite and sting, like rattlesnakes, live here.
All that said, the Organ Mountains offer great climbing and some wonderful isolated mountain summits. The best cliffs for climbing are: the 400-foot-high Citadel with one- and two-pitch routes; the easily accessed Southern Comfort Wall; the Tooth, best climbing on the range's west side with Tooth or Consequences (III 5.10a/b), the best route in the Organs; The Wedge with its 1,000-foot South Face; and Sugarloaf, a 900-foot-high slab with its classic 14-pitch North Face route (III 5.6+) on the east side of the range.
The Dońa Ana Mountains northwest of the Organ Mountains also offer some good climbing on coarse granite. The best climbing is found on the 500-foot-high Checkerboard Wall as well as some fine bouldering areas scattered around the range.
Photograph above: Sugarloaf Mountain in the new Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument offers great slab climbing. Photograph courtesy Jumacdon/Wikipedia Images
I climbed to the summit of South Gateway Rock at the Garden of the Gods early this afternoon. The air was warm and still. To the west towered Pikes Peak, its 14,115-foot bulk still blanketed in winter snow. High swirling clouds surrounded the great peak, with veils of snow obscuring its high slopes and curtains of rain hanging over its lower mountains.
The sun faded as clouds scudded overhead and a lightning bolt stabbed Cameron Cone to the southwest followed by a rolling peal of thunder. The afternoon thunderstorms were building like clockwork as the day warmed and began spreading down along the Front Range. I said to my climbing partner, "Time to rappel. That lightning was too close for comfort."
While the lightning strike was about three miles away, that's too close when you're sitting on top of a high isolated summit. Lightning, like climbers, likes to play on high places. If you're out climbing and you see a thunderstorm moving toward you, it's best to descend to a lower elevation where you're out of the strike zone.
It's easy to be cavalier about lightning and thunderstorms, thinking that a distant storm isn't hazardous but the fact of the matter is that every thunderstorm is potentially lethal. Where I live along Colorado's Front Range is particularly known for its high number of lightning strikes--second only to Florida in the United States. And once you have a close call with lightning, you will always retreat rather than risk frying.
If you want to know more about lightning safety for climbers, read these five articles about lightning, tips to avoid lightning strikes, and first aid for lightning victims.
Photograph above: Lightning plays over the Right Mitten Thumb at Monument Valley Tribal Park in Arizona. Photograph © Hans Strand/Getty Images
Lots of animals are fabulous rock climbers. Like monkeys, who scale cliff faces effortlessly, making spectacular dyno moves that leave the best human climbers like Chris Sharma shaking their heads in amazement and awe. Even mountain goats, who appear like ungainly barnyard animals, are in their element on slabby cliffs, dancing up 5.10 moves and making precarious four-footed jumps from hold to hold.
Add bears as the latest animal climbing rage with the widespread viewing of a viral video. The pair of bears in the video are mama and baby Mexican black bears, a black bear subspecies that inhabits the southern United States, including the border of Texas and Mexico in the Big Bend National Park area.
The sure-footed mama bear works up a corner on a volcanic cliff in Santa Elena Canyon, stemming her feet and finding paw holds. The baby follows behind but can't use the mother's beta, leaving him stymied. The little one retreats down to better holds, reevaluates, and forges a new sequence up left, moving with deliberation from hold to hold, alternating between being both insecure and solid, before launching up the finishing jugs onto a ledge above. Very cute...just a couple bears climbing for fun.
Read more and watch the video at Wait...Bears Can Rock Climb at sierraclub.org
Photograph above: Mexican brown bear enjoys a climbing route at Big Bend National Park. Photograph courtesy Stephanie Latimer/YouTube
Happy Mother's Day! Yep, it's that special May day to celebrate our moms, those steadfast women who supported us all these years, maybe generously with well-given wads of cash but more importantly by letting us believe in our dreams. Those crazy climbing dreams of hanging off big walls like El Capitan in the Valley, of camping and trudging through snow and ice and glaciers for days and days so a month later we could stand on the shining summit of Denali, or just understanding that we had this compulsion to climb cliffs and boulders and travel across the country to sate our thirst for the vertical.
Mothers are like that, they believe in us with an almost religious fervor, or they should, and they overrate us, thinking we're the next coming of Einstein or Michael Jordan or Meryl Streep or Chris Sharma. It's that uncompromising belief in our innate goodness and outlandish abilities that help motivate us to do better, to reach the pinnacle, and to not disappoint mom.
My own mother, turning 91 in a couple weeks, still worries about my climbing adventures after 46 years.
Our usual conversation goes like this: She'll ring me on the phone, "What are you doing?" Hey ma, I'm climbing at Garden of the Gods. I'll need to call you back, I need to concentrate. "Oh, well you be careful now, okay? You don't want to fall." Yeah, sure, of course ma, I'm always careful. Whaddya think? That I'm trying to kill myself? I'll be fine. Talk to you later.
Happy Mother's Day mom! I promise I'll be safe and not do anything too risky...
Photograph above: Mom can keep track of Brian. "Yeah mom, I'm out climbing. Yeah, I'm tied in. Okay, love ya too." Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green
I was on the airy summit of South Gateway Rock in the Garden of the Gods a couple weeks ago enjoying the last light of the day and belaying my partner up the climb. After sitting for a few minutes I became aware of a buzzing and minutes later a pesky drone flew over me and hovered above my partner on the ridge below. If I could have swatted that mechanical mosquito I would have knocked it out of the air.
Drones or unmanned aircraft have become increasingly popular with flying enthusiasts as well as aspiring photographers in the past year, leading to conflicts between the grounded pilots and their drones and the users of parks like climbers and hikers as well as rescue personnel.
Last week Yosemite National Park reiterated that the use of drones is against federal law at not only Yosemite but also all national parklands across the United States. Likewise their use is illegal in many state and city parks like the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs.
Read the new article Drones Banned in National, State, and Local Parks to find out more about drone use, why their use is against the law in so many places, how they interfere with wildlife, and how drones invade your privacy and personal space.
Photograph above: Drones are used for military surveillance in Afghanistan rather than buzzing climbers. Photograph © Miguel Villagran/Getty Images
As climbers, we want our children to be adventurers in the world, to seek outdoor challenges, and to learn how to move in the world with confidence and safety. Climbing is one way that we can encourage our children to grow as human beings and to take responsibility for their actions. That said, climbing is also a dangerous activity with peril and injury lurking just around the corner.
Read a new article Take Your Kids Rock Climbing: How to be a Responsible Climbing Parent and learn more about taking your children climbing, how to mitigate some of the dangers, and how to pay attention to the needs and desires of the kids. Climbing is about risk and making judgments about what is acceptable to risk and what is hazardous at cliffs, especially when you take the little ones climbing. The article may seem a little harsh but remember that climbing is dangerous and I am making the point that you need to pay attention when you take kids climbing.
As a lifelong climber, I was all about taking my sons climbing when they were youngsters in the 1980s. They started off bouldering when they were three and later learned to love climbing by toproping routes and climbing in safe environments. It was up to me to provide that climbing safety net and to put aside my own climbing when I took them on the rocks.
When we went climbing, I regularly told the boys that climbing may seem like it's always fun but it's not, because every time you go climbing there is the possibility that bad things can happen. That's being a responsible parent. That's teaching your children how to step into the world with confidence but also how to understand and assume the risks of risky behaviors and activities like rock climbing. Have fun and be safe climbing!
Photograph above: Take your kids climbing at Red Rock Canyon...just be a safe and responsible climbing parent! Photograph © Stewart M. Green.
It increasingly appears that little climbing will happen this spring on the Nepalese south side of Mount Everest after the avalanche and tragedy ten days ago, which killed 16 Sherpa climbers in the early morning. A week after the tragedy, many of the Sherpa guides, which other climbers rely on to fix the South Col Route and to ferry loads of supplies up Everest, have packed up and are leaving the mountain.
The Sherpas are not only honoring their dead comrades, three of whom are still buried in the Khumbu Icefall, but are also calling for better compensation and life insurance for their families. Sherpas are regularly exposed to lots of danger on Mount Everest, traversing up and down the deadly icefall as many as 40 times in a season. Most of the other climbers, especially paying customer climbers, go through the icefall from one to five times.
Earlier this week the Everest Sherpas issued a "seven-day ultimatum" to the Nepalese government to meet their demands or Mount Everest climbing would be shut down on the Nepal side of the peak. Previously the government said it would compensate the families of the dead Sherpas a mere 40,000 rupees or $415. The Sherpas said they needed more for the loss of life and future income as well as regulations to protect the rights of the Sherpa guides.
The government of Nepal, making $3.5 million from Mount Everest climbing fees, says they will also increase the insurance payout for avalanche victims to 2 million rupees or $15,620, up from $10,400. The Sherpas demanded a payout of $20,800. Most Sherpas make around $6,000 for guiding in the spring season, along with tips from clients.
As these negotiations between Sherpa climbers and the Nepalese government are taking place, the window for climbing Mount Everest this year in the spring season is rapidly closing. The peak season for climbing Everest is from May 15 to May 30 when the weather is stable, so right now the Sherpas and other guides are fixing the mountain in preparing for hundreds of climbers, most of them paying adventure tourists, to assault the mountain via the South Col Route.
Alan Arnette reports on his blog today that International Mountain Guides (IMG), the largest single guide service on Mount Everest, has officially ended their spring climbing season. IMG employs many Sherpas to fix the route, which other guiding companies rely on to get their clients up the peak.
International Mountain Guides issued the following statement:
"IMG leaders Greg Vernovage and Ang Jangbu Sherpa have been forced to end the expedition due to the perilous conditions resulting from the April 18 Icefall avalanche. After several days of intense meetings at Base Camp and in Kathmandu among climbers, sherpas, and representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, no agreement was reached on restarting the 2014 Everest climbing season. The Icefall route is currently unsafe for climbing without repairs by the Icefall doctors, who will not be able to resume their work this season. We have explored every option and can find no way to safely continue the expedition."
For more information about the avalanche, the dangers that Sherpa guides face, and the Mount Everest spring climbing season, read these excellent articles:
The Blog on alanarnette.com: Climbing the World to End Alzhiemers
Death and Anger on Everest by Jon Krakauer (The New Yorker)
Climbing Everest shouldn't just be an item on someone's bucket list (Los Angeles Times)
Photograph above: Mount Everest, world's highest mountain, suffered its worst tragedy last week and now expeditions and Sherpas are departing the sacred mountain. Photograph © Alan Kearney/Getty Images