Category Archive 'Mountaineering'
07 Jan 2022

Different Weather on Two Sides of Mountain


10 Nov 2020

Mont Blanc, circa 1901

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Vintage American Stereoscopic Company Studio Photo.

22 Apr 2019

If You’re Going to Die on Everest…

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You want to choose a strategic position on the route to the top, and you want to be wearing something distinctive.

The Epoch Times:

Crumpled near a rocky alcove (Green Boots’s Cave), jacket pulled up over his face as if still shielding from the wind, Green Boots serves as a popular marker for climbers ascending into the “Death Zone,” on their way to the summit. There are around 200 such body “guideposts” on Everest, becoming indicators of altitude more than anything else. As time passes, they literally freeze to the mountain and become hard to remove.

At heights where even taking a few steps takes great strength, using a pickaxe to free a body seems crazy, let alone hauling one back down.

It is believed that his real name is Tsewang Paljor. At one time, Paljor was an Indo-Tibetan border policeman from a small village called Sakti. He had summitted several other mountains in his career. He hoped to bring benefits to his family by summitting Everest as well, his mother told BBC after his death.

Accounts tell of how Paljor and two of his comrades, Tsewang Smanla and Dorje Morup, had either ignored or failed to see the signal from deputy team leader Harbhajan Singh to turn back when they were nearing the summit. Singh had sensed impending danger. Yet his colleagues pressed on.

One of the fatal mistakes that sometimes occurs in the Death Zone (near the summit, above 8,000 meters) is a euphoric “summit fever” that possesses some climbers. They are overcome by a desire to reach the top and disregard vital concerns for safety. This, according to Singh, seems to be what happened to his fellow climbers on that fateful day. Singh had turned back to camp, while they had plowed on. He received a radio call from them announcing that they had reached the summit, and there was momentary celebration. But the victory was short-lived. A blizzard hit during their descent, and they never returned.

For some 20 years, Green Boots remained where he had fallen. Ambitious climbers came to recognize his frozen form, his boots in particular, as a landmark, having to literally step over his legs along their push to the summit.

In 2014, Green Boots’s body was respectfully shoveled up and deposited on the lee-side of the mountain, perhaps out of respect. While retrieving a body is possible for the mountain Sherpas, it is both costly and dangerous. Over the years, the problem of visitors to Everest morbidly encountering bodies has led to some efforts to deal with the issue. Fallen mountaineers have traditionally been “committed” to the mountain, meaning their bodies were ceremoniously dropped into crevasses, pushed down steep slopes, or perhaps placed under a rock.

02 Nov 2018

Alex Honnold Free Soloing El Capitan

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HT: Althouse via Bird Dog.

29 Aug 2018


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It’s easy to sell me $1.99, even $2.99, eBooks for my Kindle reader, but I generally avoid newly issued titles costing $13.99. Susan Froderberg’s essay on how she came to write her new mountain-climbing novel Mysterium has a lot of the same kind of over-the-top enthusiasm I like about the writing of my friend Steve Bodio. And she sold me. I’m buying both of her books.

In 2008, one of the climbing heroes I had read and heard tales about, John Roskelley, led the way for a group of us to the 17,000 foot base camp of Gangkhar Puensum, in Bhutan, the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. In 1978, Roskelley was one of the first Americans to summit K2. An American expedition team had first made an attempt in 1938, but it wasn’t until 1954 that the Italians would be the first to arrive to its summit. I still have the 1979 National Geographic Magazine with Roskelley’s K2 photograph on the cover: Rick Ridgeway looking like the tin man shackled in a high altitude suit with face covered by a silver mask, walking a knife-edge snow crest. (And looking relaxed!) Every time I gaze at this picture it blows me away.

For three weeks I followed behind Roskelley on the Bhutan trek, and when I wasn’t thinking through this or that notion or ambition or life complication, or simply letting my mind wander not pondering at all (what is walking for, after all?), I was listening to his stories. I still recall details of a few that will forever stick in my mind, even when I reach the age of not being able to recall my children’s names (or remember that I don’t have any). For example, he did not change his clothes at all (at all!) on one two-month-long expedition, day or night, for the sake of carrying less weight, and when he got off the mountain and finally had a chance to bathe he discovered the fabric of his clothing had embedded into his flesh and could not be washed away. Another time, he and a friend showed up to the base of a mountain in the Canadian Rockies they had hoped to ice climb the next day, and found the floor of the women’s restroom in a park campground a suitable enough place to bivouac for the night in below zero cold. (The men’s room was, evidently, unacceptable.) Roskelley was full of anecdotes like these, but he was reticent about incidents having to do with the Nanda Devi expedition. His hesitancy to speak about the Unsoelds or what happened on that trip fascinated me all the more. He had written a book and published an account of the team’s ascent (he and Lou Reichardt made the summit) and maybe there he had said all he wanted or needed to say.

Willi Unsoeld was one of the first Americans to summit Mount Everest on an expedition in 1963. He and Tom Hornbein traversed the west ridge—a legendary climb that has not since been accomplished. (Ueli Steck, the famed Swiss climber, plunged 3,200 feet to his death in 2017 on an acclimatizing climb for an attempt on the Unsoeld/Hornbein west ridge route.) Unsoeld taught philosophy and theology at Evergreen College. He died at the age of 52, two years after the death of his daughter on the Nanda Devi expedition, as he was guiding a group of his students on a summit climb of Mount Rainier. He and a student, a young woman who would have been about his daughter Devi’s age when she died, were killed in an avalanche on the descent.

Unsoeld named his daughter Nanda Devi after what was once the highest peak in India (it is now the second highest peak: in 1975 Sikkim joined the republic of India). “I dreamed of having a daughter to name after the peak,” he said. He did, and she grew up wanting to summit the mountain for which she had been christened.

It was the irony of the naming that compelled me to write the story. How would a father manage such a tragedy? A philosophy professor. What did he feel? How did he think? How did he carry on?

What would it be like to be him?

What would it be like to be Devi? To follow an ambition given to her by the name she had been named? To climb with her father, one of the most highly regarded climbers in American history? To meet and fall in love with a fellow team member on the trip and halfway up the mountain be engaged to be married to him? To be young and in love and at the top of the world with all of everything ahead of you? I don’t know, I can only imagine. No one can know. She is not here to tell us. I realized I would have to write the book I had been hoping to read.

23 Feb 2015

Climbers Heard Screaming on Ben Nevis

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Comb Gully where Christopher Sleight was climbing


In recent weeks, we’ve seen some of the best ice climbing conditions in years in the west of Scotland, especially on Ben Nevis.

Day after day of gentle freeze-thaw cycles have created vast swathes of thick, sticky ice of the best quality – choking gullies and dripping improbably over steep buttresses.

The corries of the Ben have been busy with climbers seeking out these incredible conditions, and a few days ago I joined them, setting out with a good friend to climb an ice route called Comb Gully – a gully high in the corrie that’s bounded by the Trident Buttress on one side and the steep walls of Tower Ridge on the other.

The ice was perfect and we were climbing well. I was on the the crux pitch – about 10m or so of very steep ground – and I had my back wedged against a rock wall as I placed an ice screw when I heard the first scream.

It started indistinctly, slightly muffled, but quickly came sharp into focus. It pierced through the mist – the most visceral, awful sound.

People talk about bloodcurdling screaming and for the first time I understood. That noise sent a stream of cold blood around my veins and chilled the back of my neck.

My first thought was simple but terrible: I was listening to someone who had just watched a loved one – not simply a climbing partner, but a loved one – fall to their death. There was so much pain and loss in that dreadful noise.

I froze for a moment, barely breathing, still perched on that vertical wall. I wasn’t in a secure position, hanging off a few millimetres of metal hooked into the ice. At that moment I just wanted to be gone – off the climb, off the mountain.

This screaming had brought home to me the possible consequences of getting something wrong, of making a mistake. That was honestly what I’d thought I’d heard – the consequences of someone getting it very wrong and losing their life.

But there was no way to make a quick retreat – the fastest way out of this gully was up. I finished the crux and secured myself to three solid ice screws and brought my partner up.

We discussed the screams, trying to work out where they had come from, speculating on what might have happened, and agreed we needed to finish our climb as quickly as we could.

We completed the final, easier pitch, and ended up on the Ben Nevis plateau in the mist, in complete silence. …

A brief search close to where we finished our climb revealed nothing. We headed down to Fort William.

I later spoke to another climber I knew who had been on a route in the same corrie. He had abseiled off his route and gone to investigate, but found nothing.

Other climbers did the same. Nobody could find evidence of an accident and the police said no-one had been reported missing.

So we don’t know who was screaming. We don’t know what happened to them. We probably never will.

Complete story.

15 Sep 2013

Ice Climbing


The gif constitutes the last 8 seconds of a 1:08 video.

Hat tip to Gangman.

11 Jun 2011

Alex Honnold: Solo Free Climbing

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Caution: Watching this video produces strong sensations of fear.


Wikipedia bio

31 Jan 2011

Scots Climber Falls 1000′ and Survives


Telegraph story.

07 Oct 2010

Kurt Albert, January 28, 1954 – September 28, 2010

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Though Albert claimed to have strong feelings about climbing safety, one famous photograph showed him, clad in lederhosen, dangling from a precipice by one hand, while brandishing a stein of beer in the other.

German climbing legend Kurt Albert succumbed to head injuries suffered in a 60′ fall from a climb equipped with permanent technical aids.


Kurt Albert, who died on September 27 aged 56, invented the “redpoint” or free style of climbing – in which the ascent is performed without technical aids.

He developed the idea in the early 1970s on expeditions to the Franconian Jura mountains, when he would paint a red “x” on each piton he could avoid using for a foot- or handhold. Once he was able to complete a route avoiding all of them, he would paint a red dot at the base of the climb so that others could have a go. Albert’s “redpoints” sparked the development of the sport climbing movement and the term “redpoint” is used as a measure of performance.

Albert marked new redpoint routes from Patagonia to the Karakoram and from Greenland to Venezuela. In Alpinismus (1977, with Reiner Pickle) he recalled that “we managed to apply the red dot even to some climbs where pitons had previously been considered essential. Handles and steps appeared that had never been noticed before.”

His more audacious feats include the first ascent of “Eternal Flame” on Trango Tower (6239m) in Pakistan’s Karakoram Range – one of the finest big-wall rock routes in the world. He completed the climb in 1989 with Wolfgang Güllich, managing most of the route free, but using aids for a small section; it was a feat which marked the beginning of the craze for free climbing on high-altitude peaks. It was left to Albert’s compatriots, Alexander and Thomas Huber, to redpoint the climb last year.

Albert’s other pioneering climbs included the first ascent of the aptly-named “El Purgatorio” up the North Pillar of the Acopan Tepui in Venezuela (2006), and the “Royal Flush” on Mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia (with Bernd Arnold, 1995). The newly-opened route was named “Royal Flush” for a reason: statistically a climber in Patagonia will have only two to three continuous days of good weather before violent storms make the ascent impossible. The route up the 1,400m North Wall is one of the most difficult in the world — and Albert always considered the climb to be his most important.

Kurt Albert was born on January 18 1954 in Nuremberg and started climbing, at the age of 14, with a Catholic youth group in his local Frankenjura mountains. He soon progressed to more challenging climbs, such as the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses and the North Face of the Eiger, which he climbed aged 18.

A turning point in his life came in 1973 during a trip to the Elbsandstein in Saxony, where he met climbers who were more interested in pushing the physical limits of rock climbing than in conquering peaks. From then on the ascent became the main challenge, and the more craggy and vertiginous the route the better. As he explained to an interviewer, he liked his climbs to be 80 per cent rock face. Trudging through snow held little appeal.

Albert was not a typical fitness fanatic. He liked strong coffee and cigarettes, and confessed to being “lazy” at home. His commitment to redpointing, however, extended to his mode of travel to and from base camp. He considered it a point of honour to get to the rock face which he intended to climb using “natural”, non-mechanical means of transport and using no advance supplies or porters. …

He died from injuries sustained after falling 18 metres from the Höhenglücksteig via ferrata in Bavaria.

The scene of the accident is featured in this unrelated YouTube video of the Höhenglücksteig:

24 Nov 2008

Scary Footpath

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Built in 1901, and currently in considerable disrepair, this walkway, called El Caminito del Rey, serves as an entrance to Makinodromo, the famous climbing sector of El Chorro in Spanish Andalusia.


The walkway has now gone many years without maintenance, and is in a highly deteriorated and dangerous state. It is one meter (3 feet and 3 inches) in width, and is over 200 meters (700 feet) above the river. Nearly all of the path has no handrail. Some parts of the concrete walkway have completely collapsed and all that is remaining is the steel beam originally in place to hold it up and the wire that follows most of the path. One can latch onto a safety-wire to keep from falling. Several people have lost their lives on the walkway in recent years; after four people died in two accidents in 1999 and 2000, the local government closed the entrances. However, adventurous tourists still find their way onto the walkway to explore it.

The regional government of Andalusia budgeted in 2006 for a restoration plan estimated at € 7 million.

6:26 video.

10 Aug 2008

11 Deaths on K2 Tie Record For 2nd Worse Himalayan Climbing Disaster


K2 – More Dangerous than Everest

Freddie Wilkinson, in HuffPo of all places, gives a climber’s inside perspective on the recent K2 tragedy, critiquing some mainstream media accounts in places like the New York Times and National Geographic.

Roughly thirty people left the high camp in the predawn hours on Friday, August 1st, bound for the summit. The climbers were counting on the use of fixed ropes, set by an advance team of climbers. Delays quickly ensued when they realized that the fixed ropes weren’t strategically placed in the most difficult sections of the climb; more ropes needed to be leapfrogged from below. A Serb climber fell to his death and an aborted body recovery cost more time and took the life of a Pakistani porter. While some decided to return to high camp, as many as 17 climbers summited. The catastrophic serac avalanche caught the first climbers descending from the summit, sweeping several more climbers (the exact number has been variously reported as 3 or 4) to their deaths. Five to six more climbers perished who were stranded above the Bottleneck couloir at the time of the avalanche.

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