Friday, May 19, 2017
Climbing has let me share drinks and stories with some of the greatest adventurers of our time. It has forced lessons in situational awareness while traveling, medicine and physiology while caring for self and others, strength and humility, generosity and reciprocity, ego and death. We break language, economic, gender and social barriers; all without plumbing or even the basics on the hierarchy of needs at times. I won't pretend to have some great perspective on life but I can tell you a lot of the noise fades away when, in the cold, silent, vast, beauty of your surroundings can be summarized by grunt and a laugh. The thin line between safety and comfort is there to be pushed; by technology and mindfulness, by brute force of will and ego, by human fragility and creativity. And as much as this curmudgeon would love to stagnate in front of a screen for a good while; there are friends and family, technology and science conferences, pets and new projects (boy, do I want to build an electric skateboard for Burning Man), food and music to cherish. Then, when we've become too comfortable and start to lose the perspective this deprivation has wrought, the right people will assemble in the right place and time and we will collectively stare up at another hill and hatch a plan... Some will be selfish, some will have learned an expensive lesson, and some of us will just be in it for the stories to share at cocktail hour and the helicopter rides. I will be there with my toys, ready to learn, solve problems and climb until suffering and contentment become one and the same.
I appreciate the tireless efforts of friends at work that supported me with technology and time.
I appreciate the friends that inspire adventure and build their business and dreams on appreciating life under the big blue dome.
I appreciate all of the weird, wonderful and kind short messages sent to my sat beacon. Someday, you're all going to get published...
360° Photos at Camp 4 and about 8000m on the Southwest route (interactive Google Photos viewer)
Just hop over the crevasse (looking south at ridge that boarders Bengali India and Nepal)
Not all that glitters at 7200m...
View from a tent at 7300m, almost sunset (then setting out at 10:30pm for summit)
Finally looking down a Janu just after sunrise (with a few of the other big ones way in the distance)
I can see my tent from here... (8000m on Kanch looking down at C4)
"Nearly Dinner Time, come in and wash up", near C2 after summit push
Growing with every step... into a yeti.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
The deli-copter made it in today in a small gap in the snow storm to pick up an injured Italian expedition cameraman and brought in supplies including fresh veg and toys! My lovely colleauges managed to deliver a pocket sized drone that is packed with acoustic and stereoscopic vision sensors and really cool computer vision systems to allow for amazingly stable, autonomous flight. Thanks to everyone who's contributed to OpenCV ARM, NEON and Mali optimizations. Aside from just being an amazing camera platform to shoot the beautiful rugged terrain with, it is also small and light enough to carry in a backpack and orders of magnitude less expensive than using a manned helicopter or tasking a satellite for updated images of the route. Those that remember our expedition on Annapurna last year might recall that we have a difficult time finding a route through the winding seracs, crevasses and towering ice blocks between camp 2 and 3. It took several dead-end attempts in the falls to find safe passage. We even hiked up the mountain across from Annapurna with a telescope to see if we could spot a clean route from a distance. Our camp 3 is situated under a similar ice block (see photos below) and the trip up to camp 4 looks like it will involve descending in to a giant crevasse and climbing up the other side (Ascent of Rumdoodle style). I'm hoping to pre-scout some better lines in real time from relative safety behind my smart phone screen. This type of technology is already being used to inspect infrastructure from bridges to power lines to buildings, even deliver packages. I expect we'll see much more of this autonomous, inexpensive ARM powered technology doing everything from improving safety in dangerous environments to making and sharing art.
Tonight is the full moon which means today is Buddha's birthday. We woke to several camps playing chants and all of the Sherpa are in high spirits today, playing card games, burning juniper and playing on the giant boulders around camp. It is a fun atmosphere with fresh snow on the ground and dozens of prayer flags criss-crossing our camp, floating on the wind. I celebrated by taking my first 'shower' in two weeks and doing laundry while it was snowing. Ahhh, the glamorous life of base camp.
Lakpa building furniture and melting snow at our C1 just before the "down jacket" (first sunlight) hit our tents.
Giant ice blocks above lower Camp 3
Nearly full moon night lights up the mountains around base camp as a sea of clouds floats up the valley
360° photo of lower C3 under construction. (Best viewed interactively using Google Photos on a smartphone, VR headset or desktop)
You can follow our progress and send me short messages via my sat beacon:
@why_mutate_dup on Twitter and FB
Thanks to @ARMCommunity for the support and technology that drives my training, safety, communications and photography; all with a couple of tiny solar panels. I can't wait to get to an unmetered internet connection to share video and full res photos!
Thanks Altitude-Seven.com for weather forecasting support and adventure inspiration.
Thank you all, friends and family, for the kind electronic epistles of support, bits of news from the real world and overwhelming kindness. They are much needed, appreciated and entirely undeserved.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Monday, May 16, 2016
I've just descended to basecamp at 4600m from 5700m on Dhaulagiri. We went up on a summit push yesterday and I managed to keep up with some of the Sherpa all the way to camp 1 (of 3) but I pushed too hard in the heat. I could list losing half of my gear, blisters, significant muscle and weight loss, that 80% of the fixed lines from BC to C1 have been swept by avalanche, a persistent cough that rattles my ribs and back but those things are part of every summit push on an 8000m peak in some way or another. When I found a guide in Yosemite Valley to teach me how to climb big walls, he told me he takes most trad, rock climbers new to big-wall up the Washington Column because it has a huge ledge to sleep on and a positive angle all the way up but when he saw I'd climbed Everest, he offered up the Leaning Tower as my first overnighter on a big wall. A completely overhanging slab of granite with a very small bivy half way up. He said, "you know how to suffer;" a high complement from a big wall expert. High altitude mountaineering is many things at different times. It is cooperation, planning, strength, endurance, rehearsal, safety systems, technology but it almost always requires suffering. One doesn't get up high on a mountain and then decide they're too tired, sick, scared, cold or injured to quit. You just keep moving, carefully, no matter how much you want to stop, or you lose the game. Of the excuses I listed above, the simple reason I turned around was I had used up my willingness to suffer and still be able to make good decisions while on Annapurna. I'd hit my personal tolerance for risk. I'd never attempted back to back 8000m peaks but since Dhaulagiri was right across the valley from Annapurna, it seemed like a nice plan B or bonus peak that Chris and Lakpa were planning on anyway. Chris and Lakpa are truly bad-ass to continue up. Of the 21 people that made a summit push on the 15th, yesterday, all turned back. Lakpa had the same respiratory problems I had after getting sick at high altitude. The Spanish team, our friends, are now less than half their size after Annapurna took its toll and the remaining are burnt out after 75+ days of expedition so they aren't even going above base camp before flying out. Still Chris and Lakpa go up! I'll monitor the radios and forecasts from here and report their status on my sat beacon site.
And if I still have a job (I didn't expect Annapurna to take more than my sabbatical time), I look forward to dissecting some of the other cool technology I've seen up here. The British joint military expedition have heart rate/blood O2 sat chips implanted in their chests, an ARM powered quad-copter they've used to film the route above 7000m and more weather forecasting technology and tracking systems than I've ever seen on a mountain before. And be warned, we're past my 1 month absence threshold required before hugging co-workers and I miss you all. Even you Brits that hate hugs.
I have now summited Everest, K2 and Annapurna, 3 of the deadliest, most written about mountains in the world, each on my first try. I'm not sure that has been done. I owe so much to the teams that helped me climb each. I'm still an amateur here, a mountain tourist but I understand the wisdom, experience and morale those teams shared to contribute to all of our success. If you'll allow some chest-puffery; I'm the 17th American to summit K2 and the 5th (6th or 7th?) to summit Annapurna but I know I have a lot to learn and look forward to the chance to climb with friends and the greatest climbing masters of our time. So, thanks to my brilliant friends that taught me the best climbers have the wisdom to recognize when to turn around. The connections we form while climbing and traveling together makes us family. The support I get from all of you in 160 character chunks (and occasional photos of my niece learning to walk) fill me with more joy and gratitude than I could ever express. The months spent in tents, on glaciers without modern conveniences is a welcome reboot of perspective and privilege. Well, except for the riding around in helicopters part. I may not have a shower, microwave, full internet, clothes washer or even a toilet but I have 360° cameras and satellite beacons and GPS watches and a tiny solar panel to keep it all alive, record and share the journey. I look forward to sharing more when I get home in a week or two. Thank you for indulging this silliness and watching my "what I did for my summer vacation" videos. I miss and love you all.
Friday, May 6, 2016
Sunday, April 24, 2016
I'll try to repair its broken link to some social media but it looks like it is still posting to MapShare and Twitter just fine. (@why_mutate_dup)
Sunday, April 17, 2016
April 16th: We descended from camp 3 to base camp today. After several forecasts showed a slight lull in the winds for the 15th and 16th from 5 days out, every expedition on Annapurna 1 decided we'd been sitting at base camp for far too long and that even if the summit winds were a bit higher than we'd like, we should at least put ourselves in position to summit in case they were tolerable. During our two days at C3, we wavered back and forth on going up to C4 and beyond at least half a dozen times. We went to bed both nights expecting that we'd get an early start to head up the next morning only to be met with higher wind gusts than expected. Half a dozen members of the 7 Summits international team went up to C4 yesterday and started for the summit around 10pm. When we woke up, we were just receiving word that they had turned around at dawn after walking all night, facing in to 65kmph (40mph) winds. With forecasted wind speeds rising, two nights of acclimatization at C3 and a tent and gas dropped off at C4, we decided to descend and wait for a potential weather window next week. As we descended, we watched as the plume of spindrift off the summit extended further in to the deep blue sky, confident that we did not want to be up there.
The journey up to C2 from C3 was intense (camping, it "in tents"). With over a dozen climbers expected to move up on the 14th with us, we got a jump on them and started before dawn. The good part of this decision was we weren't stuck waiting for slower climbers in difficult sections; of which there were many. The bad part was, Lakpa and I were number one and two breaking trail in the deep snowy sections and kicking front point, steps in to bullet proof, blue ice on the steep sections. This is both a point of pride that I had the energy to do so but also pain as using your crampon front points on steep ice with a heavy pack for 9 hours is a trial of body and will beyond most activities I know. The only test of will I can compare it to is playing Chutes and Ladders with a 4 year old for two hours straight. Those familiar with Annapurna know it is one of the deadliest mountains due to its high risk of avalanche. My brother asked me about my opinion about our exposure moving up to C3 and I responded; this route has improved over time to minimize crossing the very obvious avy lines. The gully alongside the route lets a few hundred tones of ice go every few hours and being 100' above the intense mass of ice, snow and air when it does go by is like watching a flash flood pass beneath you. The sound, pressure and speed have us both reaching for our cameras and clinging to the rocks and ice around us with wide eyes and mouths agape. We are relatively safe on this route but the margin might require a few folks to change their pants at C3.
Speaking of… things not to write home about until safe at base camp. On this rotation we had some close calls. I mention them not to dramatize what we're doing but as cautionary tales that we were able to easily navigate thanks to lots of reporting, sharing and reading about adventure and climbing in journals like AINA from AAC, Explorers Web, etc. We had a near tent asphyxiation, a near rappel off end of rope and did some glacier travel in gym shoes. Ok that last one is just showing off. We ditched our giant 8000 meter boots at 5000m because 8000m boots below 5000m are a fashion faux pas. Really, because the ice falls back to BC were so melted out, it was almost no challenge to do in approach shoes. Some of the crevasse jumps grew to nearly two meters (with a pack on) so we got to reroute the fixed lines a few times. Tent asphyxiation can happen when too much snow piles up on the tent and isn't cleared to allow ventilation, usually at night when people are sleeping. My 2009 Everest expedition team members will recall the two meters of snow we got in one night after we summited and thought we were out of harm's way at base camp. We owe Mike Horst for staying up all night an rattling our cages to clear our tents every few hours. It also occurs when stoves are used in the tent without enough ventilation. In this case it was a little of both. Ceiling and floor vents on our tent were wide open but with two stoves on full blast and snow piling up, Lakpa an I started to feel really sleepy and got symptoms of AMS. Situational awareness prevailed. We reacted quickly when we realized the symptoms were shared. I used to be baffled as to how people would burn stoves without proper ventilation. Now we know just how much ventilation two stoves going full blast need when it is snowing. And, I didn't almost rappel off a fixed line but again, countless reports of this and a similar, easily avoided tragedy by far more experienced climbers have left us with a hyper awareness not to let our guard down when exhausted or doing something routine. I was rappelling a fixed line from C3 over a shoulder of steep blue ice and couldn't see the bottom anchor from the top but I kept glancing behind me rather than just at my crampon placement in front of me. When the dangling, severed end of the rope came in to view I was none too pleased but left a safe-ish margin from the end and then pendulumed over to an older fixed line, pulled up the end of my current rope and with one hand always braking my belay device, tied a knot on the end with my teeth and load transferred both my backup safety and belay device on to the older rope all while on the front points of my shiny new crampons. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to stand and transfer loads in this precarious position but lots of reading, engineering and training from my big wall guide in Yosemite became very useful. This is all to say, what we're doing can be dangerous but climbing safely is as much problem solving, reading and awareness as it is training and athleticism.
Many of my friends and colleagues noticed I was a bottomless eating machine the month before heading out. I'd like to think the the 9kg (20lbs) I packed on in advance of this expedition was all muscle but with the San Diego craft beer scene being what it is, I'm not that naive. The best part of prepping training for any expedition is trying to get the scale to go up instead of down, all while enjoying cycling and bouldering. Every cheese plate and fair-trade, chocolate desert on the menu fell victim to my 1st world gluttony. With all of the time spent eating our lovely base camp food, I was starting to question this pre-game weight gain. In the last 5 days, I'm pretty sure I've shed almost half of it. I had to adjust the velcro band on my soft shell pants but I'm still glad I don't have a mirror or a scale. No need to obsess, just eat good food. This is emotional well being and perspective over petty, ethnocentric social norms. Also, we look strangely on those that smell like soap and laundered clothes.
Since this rotation was a possible summit push in bad weather, we carried a C4 tent and enough food and fuel to spend a few extra days at C3. Its a bummer we have to repeat the arduous trip above C2 again but the great news is, our camps are well stocked and we even cached some gear that is specialized to specific parts of the climb. We may only use a camp 4 tent for about 9 hours but it is nice to know it is waiting there with our fuel an O2. Our next trip, we'll be lighter, faster and better acclimatized. I expect we'll make it to camp 2 in less time than it took us to get to camp 1 on our first rotation.
All of this is just putting one foot in front of the other and repeating. I guess balance, temperature and hydration awareness are pretty key but it when we're up here for a month, it is easy to lose perspective. On the exhausting single push from C3 to base camp through familiar terrain, it is easy to put your head down and push through it. There are those moments where you stop and smell the ice though. As this mountain melts around us and we were walking through the expanding crevasse field between C2 and C1, I snapped out of the routine-ness of it all for a second and realized where I was. How often does one get to walk amongst these giant blue cracks over a flowing sea of ice below one of the most famous, beautiful mountains in the world? This is not the walk in the park my vessel has adapted to. This is a dance, an adventure of a life time. We all struggle to spend our intellectual and physical currency on experiences instead of things. I'm impossibly lucky to have the support and wherewithal to chase this silly dream. Whatever happens, this energy well spent. Thank you all.
1. Arrival at Camp 3, 360°; You can see Chris arriving by Jost's tent at C3. You can see there is very little space. The flattened, distorted jpeg can be used in various image viewers to pan around an undistorted 360° space. i.e. Google Photos app on any touch screen device (even more fun with an accelerometer or VR device).
2. Stop and smell the ice; Pemma crossing the glacier above the ice fall between C2 and C1. It has melted considerably in a few days which is why the climbing season on Anna I usually ends with April. You can see the line we take up to C2 very clearly, the ice fall up to C3 (and gully) directly left of C2, the broken snow ramp to C4 in the upper left of the photo and the snowy traverse to the right and summit in the middle, top.
3. I'm with the band (photo credit: Lakpa Sherpa). From left to right: Oong Dorji, Matt Du Puy, Lakpa Timba, Chris Burke. At the edge of the icefall below C1. Windy Anna I summit in the background.
As always, Chris's blog, more thoughtful and less egocentric than my own:
Thanks to Georgina at:
And Michael Fagin for the most accurate forecasts and staying up odd hours to communicate them.
Thanks to my colleagues at ARM for, well, everything. The time and understanding to chase this experience. The gadgets powered by ARM to record them. The bandwidth to share them.
Follow interesting moves from my sat beacon:
and short but more frequent updates from that beacon on Twitter @why_mutate_dup (yes, it is an anagram)
Thanks to my family and friends who always encourage, find the positive and tolerate my BS. I love you.