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

Annapurna I summit!

I walked down from Camp1 and on to a helicopter to Pokhara two days ago. On May 1st, 2016, we stood on the summit of one of the most challenging (statistically deadliest) peaks in the world, Annapurna I (8091m). An accomplishment about 200 people can claim and, I think, fewer than 8 Americans can. As with K2, it hasn’t sunken in. I’m not sure that it will any time soon. I appreciate the outpouring of love and support from friends, colleagues and family. I’m not sure it is deserved since we voluntarily subject ourselves to this struggle and the rewards of perspective from traveling to this place, this culture, this physical challenge are wholly gratifying. It is lovely to hear from you all though; the climbers I look up to, my family and friends that lit this passion, my coworkers that are covering my butt while I’m out and designing the gadgets that make this journey both safe and share-able. I stand on the shoulders of your support.

On this summit push, we expected the winds and snow to be low on May 1st so we left base camp on April 27th and took a day to get to each camp on the way up. The first two camps, as you know, are pretty easy to get to and relatively safe though lots of folks had to excavate tents from over a meter of snow at C2. The journey to C3 was, again, full of blue, nearly vertical ice and quite strenuous. The serac above the gully was relatively quiet though we hear it nearly got two Russians on their way out. What I wasn’t aware of was how, equally, tough the trip up to C4 would be on April 30th. Some teams used a lower camp 4 that still had some overhanging ice climbing to get to but in order to shorten our summit day, we opted to use an upper camp 4 around 7200m. After about 6 hours of climbing above C3, I strolled in to our C4 fresh and ready to tackle the mountain. And by strolled, I mean, hobbled, gasping and wheezing about 4-5 breaths for every step I took until I finally got to our tent site. We spent about 8 hours there warming up, making water and resting. I think I drifted off for about an hour before we woke up at 9pm for a 10pm push.

Once fully suited, harnessed, and packed, we stepped out in to the frigid night air. In the 5 minutes I spent standing outside the tent with the conductive steel spikes of my crampons stuck in to the snow, I could start to feel my toes numb, even with chemical toe warmers clumsily stuck to my socks. When Pema motioned for us to take off as a pair, we rocketed up towards the headlamps bobbing slowly up the hill ahead of us and I started to feel my extremities again. The Spanish had left lower C4 at around 7pm and had made it just past our camp. We caught them in just over an hour. It is a strange feeling climbing at night; living in a small sphere of light cast by our tiny, brilliant, white LEDs on our foreheads. Before moonrise, the only reference of movement and progress is the twinkling headlamps above and below you and the dim, static stars above. They are comforting though. As long as there are stars, there aren’t clouds and high winds pushing snow around the mountain or in to you. You feel this delicate sense of comfort in the quiet, soft warmth of your down suite as you feel the biting cold of the outside air on your face and the long trail of steam as you exhale in to the impossibly cold, thin air. I peel back the gauntlet on my mittens every 20 minutes or so to gaze at the tiny route line on my GPS watch. The dim backlight seems blinding in the dark night. Part of modern 8000m peak ascent is this night start but without moonlight, people are left to follow contours on the mountain that they know by daylight. This has led expeditions to loose their way at night only to have to make up lost ground or retreat when the sun reveals their location. As I wrote before, Lakpa and I sat down with mapping software and drew and approximate route I could view from my Ambit 3 without carrying a clumsy handheld device and exposing skin. It worked brilliantly. When the sun started to peek up from the horizon around 5am, we were just a few hundred meters short of the couloir we needed to ascend to the peak. (360° photo attached, around 7700m) You can see ice frozen on my eyelashes in this photo. We were also out of fixed line at this point. Fortunately, Pema was carrying a thin lead line. He pulled it out and without a word spoken, I figure-8-ed in and we were off. Untethered from the long, poly-pro, umbilical back to C4. And again, I enlisted my watch to drop a breadcrumb trail should we find ourselves back at this point in white out conditions in need of navigational queues. Digital bread crumbs are marginally lighter than a satchel of bamboo wands. 

We traveled up the couloir as it appears on satellite images and as planned but at what seemed like the top, appearances were deceiving, the summit was still a long way off, up and to the left. The actual summit might have been more difficult to find had we not had two sherpa with us who had been there (Pema, twice) and my GPS fix to follow. It was around there I think I could tell something was happening to one of my lungs. This is typical though. Small colds turn in to respiratory infections up here often but it was slowing me down. The Spanish and Korean teams passed us by after Pema’s heroic, alpine style trail breaking ahead of me and soon we saw the Nepali flag one of their Sherpa had planted on the summit! After what seems like an eternity (an hour), we waited our turn in line and joined Lakpa and Chris on the tiny, tiny summit in gail force winds for quick pictures and an even faster retreat. In the attached/linked 360° photo, you can see the spindrift howling off the summit point. I gazed down the east ridge towards Rock Noir and west towards Dhaulagiri for a few seconds and we were off; down climbing the same route we came up. Axe and front points in to the snow and head bobbing up and down to peer between our legs below and the person above us. The whole ordeal to the summit taking 12 hours, 30 minutes from tent to summit. The return trip was fairly arduous but uneventful. My lung continued to slow me down until it was wheezing but never stopped working. I was quite proud that we’d climbed without fixed ropes above 7700m to the top. I was really glad I could send a short message from my smartphone and satellite beacon to my friends and family notifying them when we were safely back in our tent at C4. There were a couple of cases of frostbite and a heli rescue at C1 but in all 26 people topped out and made it back to base camp over the next couple of days. 

You can see our heli ride out was an adventure in itself. Our pilot did a power/weight check takeoff first, then circled around back to base camp and flew at a ridge blocking our escape at full speed and cleared us by a few meters before dropping in to the exit valley. The astute may also notice his navigation aid is also an ARM powered device. When he realized we had the 77 year old Carlos Sr. on board, he took a selfie of himself with Carlos all while flying. 

I have processed some of the 360° video I have in to interactive mode but uploading it over the limited bandwidth to the Facebook interactive viewer from Pokhara isn’t going well. What I can do this time is link to still photos in the Google Photo’s interactive viewer so you can pan around the stills like you would view them in a VR viewer. If anyone else wants to grab the videos and put them an interactive viewer, you have my permission to do so. The Ricoh Theta software also works on your local computer.

Tomorrow, we make a 5 hour drive with a full, new expedition’s worth of supplies and start to find our way to Dhaulagiri base camp. This should take us much less time to climb as we are fully acclimatized but again, we’ll wait on weather. Thank you all!

Sat Beacon (location and short posts):

Chris’s blog:

Summit platform of Annapurna I, May 1, 2016 (8091m)

Camp 1, goofing off

Headed up to C1

Sunday, April 24, 2016

New summit window

April 25th: Just a quick note and some photos. We think we see a summit window and will leave BC the morning of the 27th and summit the morning of May 1st give or take a day. Of course, no guarantees but so far the forecasts agree. We had a resupply helicopter during a snow storm yesterday; henceforth referred to as the deli-copter. I'm pretty sure the pilot had less than 300m visibility in our little canyon but knew he could drop below the cloud right out of camp. Pretty exciting when all we've been doing is bouldering and eating for the past week. Speaking of, attached photos: We've got a dozen boulders with a couple dozen routes around camp and are ready to write the Annapurna I North BC bouldering guide book. I'm learning bad Russian, German, and Italian bouldering directions and supplementing bad Spanish and English. 1st photo should be our mini-climbing-UN 360° photo on a 10m traverse.

The next photo credit goes to the Spanish team from just above camp 2. The avalanche is in the infamous gully between C2 and C3. In my last blog, I mentioned this gully goes every few hours and we watched this river of snow pass just hundreds of feet beneath us. Well, one of the Spanish cameramen at C2 caught this incident I was too busy and wide eyed to get my own camera out for. 
The last 360° photo is right after the snow storm that the deli-copter landed in; sunset lit up the side of the summit and the 100kmph plum of snow blowing off the summit. I have video of this beautiful, fiery cloud in motion I'll share when I get back. Also, you can see my tent serving as an anchor to a set of prayer flags for a friend. Today is the 1st anniversary of the earthquake so we'll be holding a quick puja for fallen friends here. Sending love to Garrett, Alan and many others over at EBC today. 
It has been a long haul but we're all excited to start our push for May 1st. I'll post our progress on my sat beacon as long as it has battery:
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)

Chris's blog is here and has been picked up and re-printed by her home town news paper!:

Thanks to and Michael Fagin for weather! I'll check the report tonight and if the post-jetstream snow storm is kind, we're a go!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Camp 3 rotation on Annapurna I


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. 

Photo captions:

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. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Last bit of the route to camp 3, we hiked a ridge opposite the route with a scope. I'm getting a bit better at taking pictures through the scope since K2. :)

Hands free bouldering comp. There are some lovely bouldering problems around BC. Lakpa, who has won a national rock climbing competition and climbed with Anker, deftly solves this problem without hands and without rock climbing shoes. 

360° Photo of basecamp in the snow.

Annapurna I swimming pool. Mornings tend to be sunny but that is still ice on top of the lakes below BC. I took a very quick dip a few days ago. This counts as my shower for the week…

The Climb: It has been a while since I've posted. I'm firing up the sat modem to check weather but you're getting this brain dump in addition since so many people have been asking what is going on and want photos. Forecasted and observed winds above 6500m have been extreme; 70-100+kmph. A few forecasts have hinted at small breaks but have been unreliable. We've got another hint of a dip pretty far out (13th). We're not getting summit fever about it until we get a lot more data but some of the young climbers and climbers on a tighter schedule are. The old saying, "there are old climbers and bold climbers." We're hoping to be the latter. Along with Norwegian, Nepali, Swiss and other global forecast sources, our amazing friend and fellow Everest club member, Georgina at Altitude Seven, is correlating those and another, traditionally reliable, source we don't have access to. We'll hope to have a better idea of how closely a snow will follow this dip in the winds within 24 hrs. A lot needs to happen between now and then though. There is a huge serrac to cross between C3 and C4 that halted sherpa from another team a few days ago in high winds. The likely solution to this problem will be to descend in to a crevasse and then climb up the overhanging serrac. Winds at 8000m are forecasted to dip to 30-40kmph. This is not ideal but tolerable. Those winds will be cold and coming at the face we're climbing. All conditions need to be evaluated on the spot but in general, I turn around when winds get above 65kmph (40mph). Winds that high have a tendency to knock one off balance and the windchill makes me cranky. When we do make a summit push, we'll likely spend a night at each camp on the way up save camp 4. We'd arrive there in the afternoon and start a summit bid that night. 

The good: we're healthy and really well acclimatized to BC. Every day I run up the hill behind BC topping out close to 5000m. That might have taken 3-4 hours when we first arrived and I'd have a massive headache. Now it takes me one hour and that is with stops when I run across sea shells. Also, instead of pressure breathing to stave off AMS symptoms, I'm dancing like no one is looking because, well, no one is. The re-supply heli comes today bringing with it chocolate, cheese and wine. We'll stay in camp to claim our spoils since we're sharing the re-up with other expeditions.

The reminders: My climber friends know that when the annual Accidents in North America publication and podcast update, I finish them in one sitting. One of the Koreans took a tumble down a crevasse in C2 but besides being cold and banged up, he was able to walk out under his own power. Hindsight being what it is, when we were at C2, I quietly commented that they were building tent platforms without using an avy probe to check for holes first and that in Alaska, we wouldn't even come off rope until a site was probed and wanded. It was a benign, quiet observation made out of boredom as we stood next to our probe that doubled as a flag poll for our tents. Chris reminded me of this when we watched this poor guy limp back in to BC today. Had he not had his pack on to wedge him up high, it could have been much worse. I mention this not to denigrate anyone but as a reminder not to let your guard down in what appears to be a fairly safe spot. 

Housekeeping: I should start the summit push with all of my gadgets fully charged (headlamp, 2 cameras, phone, GPS watch, sat beacon) but a bit of moisture tripped a non-obvious temp sensor on my fancy, rugged solar battery which won't be named but start with "Goal" and ends with "Zero". I've taken it apart and isolated unnecessary higher voltage regulators and caps but it isn't a priority to fix (unless one of you has a Sherpa 50 schematic with the other temp sensor or GZ wants to mail me a new one). The panel still works but this all serves as a reminder that, "no news is good news." I'll report in from each camp with the beacon but don't expect long conversations as I'll be conserving battery incase we're up for longer than expected or need to coordinate between camps and assist others. If you don't hear from me, don't assume anything bad has happened.

The weird/fun: I brought dried Reaper, Scorpion and Ghost chillies with me to season my food. It turns out, they make really good lemon, chili tea! Also, Chris has made two really lovely chocolate cakes used for both our own enjoyment but also to endear ourselves to the Spanish team which is very aligned with our own style of climbing and their doctor (Carlos) is awesome. Quality chocolate supplies are dwindling and she offered to substitute in some peanut butter. I tried to keep my composure but I'm pretty sure she knows I'll carry an extra pack load up if this happens. Not having access to a scale, a mirror, the web, or TV has been lovely. The sound of snow on our tents and distant avalanches puts us to bed at night, the warm sun and Lapka singing promises of breakfast al fresco gets us up in the morning. I often joke that our connected state at home has led us to fear being alone with our own thoughts. I miss the ease of contact with all of you but in some zen states, have managed to solve some work related and personal thought exercises that I never expected to grapple with. Yes, I've even written some code without online references. Yikes! 
Thank you all for your kind 160 character messages every day. Houses bought, tragic losses, loves professed, bad puns, mysteries solved, climbing victories, exams passed, single malt promised, dirty minds, 'boops', yoga poses, niece's words, Disney trips, drunk texts, good wishes, music fests, virtual hugs. I feel the love. I am blessed. 

Chris posted a blog yesterday:
My beacon to track or message me:
Thanks to our friends at:

Friday, April 1, 2016

New prayer flags

For Courtney and Dan. You're in our hearts and minds.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Annapurna I, first rotation to camp 2

<draft: edit notes, I don't usually include the acclimatization, supply run and atmospheric info but since we have a broad audience, I've included it for context of rotations. Feel free to cut as much as you like. Also, using a different email client since Apple Mail attached in its own format. Picture captions are in alpha order of attached file names>

March 26th, 2016

We've just returned from a rotation to camp 2 on Annapurna's north face. For those not familiar with high altitude mountaineering; a series of camps are established on the mountain not just to cache fuel, food and safety gear for a multi-day summit push from base camp but also to acclimatize. As we increase altitude, the air becomes thinner. As little as half to one third of the air we get at sea level. Our bodies adapt by producing more red blood cells to absorb the limited O2 in our lungs so before one summits an 8000m peak, they must stress their bodies on several  climbing rotations. We climb parts of the mountain two or three times. Many of us check our O2 saturation with a pulse oximeter and register as low as 70%. This is normal but at sea level, you'd likely be hospitalized with O2 sats under 95%. On Everest and K2 we climbed as high as camp 3 on our first rotations before making a week long summit push. This also means that if we're successful on Annapurna, climbing Dhaulagiri may go much faster.

This particular trip, we spent two nights at camp 1 (approx 5000m) then moved up to camp 2 for 3 nights (5625m). Climbing the ice falls up to camp 1 took us about 8 hours this time. I expect we'll cut that time in half on our second trip thanks to the extra red blood cells. The ice falls on our route were a tricky mix of ice, snow and rock climbing, all of which changed considerably between our going up and coming down. A lot of it melted. Seracs collapsed, avalanches swept some of our fixed lines. We only intended to spend two nights at camp 2 but thanks to our trusty sat phone, we were able to get weather updates from a meteorologist back in Kathmandu and compare them with a swiss climber's (Guntis from Zermatt!) reports. A 3 day snow storm was predicted starting the evening of the 26th and worsening on the 27th. Better to stay high till the last minute and fix lines to our potential high camp 3 and descend as the clouds start to roll in. Camp 3 on this French/Polish modified route has sometimes been put in a very dangerous place up a steep wall of ice with hanging glaciers nearby. "Lower camp 3" was swept clean of its tents and supplies last year by an avalanche. Fortunately, no one was in camp when that happened. We're planning to make an upper camp 3, a half hour higher and above a towering block of ice that looks like it wants to succumb to gravity and heat pretty soon. This is the technical crux of the climb and can take about 9 hours to navigate. It is steep, blue ice, seracs, all near a beautiful, imposing hanging glacier that rains ice blocks in to a nearby chute every few hours. We don't dare cross this chute. Expeditions as recently as 2010 have lost climbers there in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lakpa, our expedition leader, is one of the most gifted ice climbers I've had the pleasure of watching climb. I recently learned that he was the first person to climb the 800m ice fall across the valley from Namche. Anyone that has trekked in the Everest area might recall what an imposing ribbon of ice that is. On the 24th, he and our "young Lakpa" hauled several hundred meters of rope to the base of the route and managed to fix half of a new route far to the right of routes in the past. It is steep, vertical at some points, but more direct. Chris and I hiked a few hundred meters above camp 2 to get a good vantage of their marvelous route finding and climbing skills. Check out her March, 26 blog for a shot of Lakpa on the blue ice. The next day, Norbu, another legendary Sherpa set the upper half of the route on a more historical line to lower camp 3. As difficult as it was getting to camp 2, watching them navigate this strange wall of moving ice makes me feel like a mountain tourist. The tongue-in-cheek difference between climbing and hiking is if you pull out a rope or an ice axe, you're climbing. I have two ice tools I use. I hope that counts. 

On our third night at camp 2, we grew from a meager 5 tents to 12 as the Korean team arrived along with a Chinese woman (Lowa Jin, we climbed K2 with), a Bulgarian, an Israeli, a Turkish climber (Tunç, an impressively strong climber whom I walked out on Baltoro glacier in Pakistan two years ago), a young German (Jost), a swiss climber (Guntis) and a Hungarian. Add Chris, an Aussie/Kiwi, some Sherpa and me, we're truly, an international crowd. Two Italians and Russians arrived by heli yesterday too. It is so much fun to put aside politics and other divisive topics and chat about adventures, motivations and loved ones as we build snow couches, toilets, steps and other futile sculptures that will be buried in the impending storm, like sandcastles ahead of a rising tide. 

With the thin air at this altitude, UV radiation is a bit more intense not just because there is less atmosphere to filter it but also because in some places, the light is reflected by the white snow on either side of a valley, an ascending glacier and the ground beneath us. I recall days at camp 1 on Everest where the temps could swing from the 90°s F (40°s C) to below freezing in a matter of minutes when the sun set. The health conscious among us tend to cover almost every square inch of skin with clothing. This can cause discomfort and danger at high temps. If you sweat, then stop climbing or have the clouds move in, you can become hypothermic quickly. We try to walk the line between being cold while stationary and just warm enough while moving. Fortunately, on our way up to camp 2, we had high winds cooling us and occasionally sending us cowering behind our packs because of blasting ice crystals. On our descent, the impending snow storm gave us some cloud cover as we crossed the worst parts of the glacier. The previous sunny days had melted out the route so much that new ice creeks had formed and lots of exposed rock had me wishing I had slender rock climbing shoes rather than my enormous, insulated, 8000m boots. It was fun mixing terrain though. Every facet of my climbing experience became useful from the big granite walls of Yosemite and Joshua Tree, to the ice falls of Colorado to the glacier travel and mountaineering in Alaska. Thanks to all of my friends who have patiently taught, learned or suffered each of these disciplines with me! 

That is the factual information of the first rotation. Emotionally, I am overwhelmed by the history of this mountain and the support of my co-workers, friends and family. I finished Ed Vestures, "The Will to Climb" while we were on the very same route he made his third and successful attempt on Annapurna to finish climbing all 14, 8000ers. His knowledge of the history of this mountain, style of climbing it and poetic insight of the greatest climbers in history left me feeling not worthy to be here. I must admit, getting a congratulatory email from him after being the 16th, 17th and 18th Americans to summit K2 was like an amateur painter getting a high five from Van Gough. Climbing this mountain as light, fast and cleanly as he did is an amazing feet. Also, I'm flooded with messages of love and support on my little satellite beacon. The 160 character limit is painful but getting a message from my brother on my nieces 1st birthday or my mom and dad and beautiful friends tucking me in at night makes me misty eyed. Also, my colleagues managed to not just ship a 360° camera to Kathmandu but managed to get it on to a supply heli to base camp yesterday. I'm already running it through its paces for our summit push on Annapurna I and, hopefully Dhaulagiri. Not just "Yay, Toys!" but more fun technology powered by the creative minds of my colleagues. And then there's this; right now, I'm sipping a lovely beer from the Sherpa Brewery while writing this novela after having my first "shower" in 13 days. Truly, this is luxury. Though we seem to have violated the climbing tenant, "Shower once a week, whether you need it or not." 

The incoming storm will be followed by another small one. If we get more than a meter of snow, we might be here as long as a week waiting for a good weather window. Another mountaineering quote, "You have to show to know." Some years on 8000m peaks, climbers will arrive at base camp and never get a weather window to climb higher but we're patient and our BC cook, Gomé, makes fantastic chili paneer, chili tofu, the best fries/chips I've ever had, and pancakes. Lakpa is life support for our live yoghurt culture as well. No small feet with the temperature swings. If we must stagnate, we will do it with full stomachs and full hearts. 

And again, Chris has posted to her blog. Each piece will focus on a different member of our expedition. Thank you all for your amazing support!


(Acclimatization hike up ridge opposite Annapurna north face with scope to view route)

(360° test shot taken from base camp, my phone is aware of geo sphere information encoded in this picture so when I view it with Google Photos, I can pan around with normal)

(Camp 2, Tunç, Guntis and Jost)

(Ice falls between Annapurna North Face Base Camp and Camp 1)

(Base Camp Puja Ceremony)

(Annapurna I, North Face from Camp 1 at sunset)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Life at Annapurna Base Camp


We managed to duck the clouds and wind and fly in from Jomsom to Annapurna's north base camp. Since a few people have asked, this isn't a camp that is trekked to anymore even though it isn't far from the famed Annapurna Circuit. My climbing partners, Chris and Lakpa, had to hike out last year because the earthquake in Nepal made for an unexpected shortage of helicopters. As their food began to run low, they elected to 'walk' to a nearby valley. It was obvious why, when porters attempted to ferry loads between Tato Pani and this base camp, quite a few gear bags were lost. The terrain is snowy and steep. If something is dropped, it does not come to rest until a few thousand feet below. We attempted to be conscious of the weight of the helicopter loads, especially in the thin air, but this is still the nicest base camp I've ever had the pleasure of settling in to for a month or so. We're not on a moving, melting glacier that will require constant tent platform maintenance like we were on K2 and Everest. And there is beer. We have a great dinning tent and personal tents we can stand up in, designed by Lakpa; what a luxury! As I write this, the sound system in our dinning tent is thumping away and Chris is setting up the satellite modem to check weather forecasts and send out her first blog.

Chris has her Australian and New Zealand flags flying. I have my ARM flag and solar panel is fixed to my tent, gear is sorted and ready for our first trip to camp 1 and 2 but first we acclimatize to BC. Base camp is about 14,000' and while the air is relatively thick here compared to Everest base camp (17,000') it still takes a while for our bodies to make enough red blood cells to feel strong. I've taken a few hikes around the area to get my heart racing and it doesn't take much. For Lakpa Timba and me, this is our first time here so we hiked up a high ridge to get a better vantage point on our route. We could see as high as where our camp 3 will go, just above a steep wall of blue ice. We've acquired a few colds and are recovering but expect not to make a carry up higher for at least another day or two. I'm optimistic a cool, new 360° camera arranged for by my amazing colleagues might arrive on a heli before we even make our first move. 

Besides our expedition leader, Lakpa, our other climbing Sherpa: Pemma, Lakpa Timba and Oong Dorji (I've probably butchered the spelling) have very accomplished climbing resumes. They are, as most Sherpa, incredibly humble, strong, smart, graceful and polite. The other teams at base camp are a veritable who's whom of the high altitude mountaineering world. Many I met in Pakistan two years ago on K2 or our trek out from their various peaks and other climbers I've heard of in books, gear sponsorships and mountaineering blogs. It is very humbling to be amongst them and yet, I have no sense of egocentrism as we make introductions around camp. We feel optimistic about our cooperation fixing lines and sharing camps up higher. Some days, I wonder why I'd ever put myself through this stress of leaving loved ones to live in a tent on an exposed, unforgiving hillside for a couple of months. Then, I look out of my tent in the morning I see the most beautiful, spectacular hanging glaciers and towering rock walls, thrust up from the ocean floors millions of years ago. I meet the brilliant people that are called to this alter to gain perspective and test their will and I think, why don't we do this as much as possible? It is a lovely break from the daily stresses and grooves we wear in to our lives. We all have our releases. This one makes me teary eyed often, feel greater exhaustion and greater sense of accomplishment than just about anything I've done. It is part engineering, part athleticism, part survival, part cooperation across many cultures and many, many hours left with our own thoughts as we proceed up, together, to touch the sky. I want to thank my lovely friends and family for their support. As distant as we all are in time and space, I feel connected to my loved ones. I can't imagine what early climbers and explorers felt as they left home for years on end with almost no contact. Today is my new, baby nieces first birthday. I'm sad not to be there but was blessed to be able to text my family and receive many kind notes back. 

Our ride to base camp.

The view from my tent door this morning. Annapurna I actual summit is just behind the the highest rocky point. This would not be a good summit day…

And since Chris is a more thoughtful writer than me, check in on her blog periodically:
And check in on us when we're making interesting moves on the mountain or message me from:

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Proposed route

Rain in Pohkara and snow and clouds in Jomsom kept us grounded today. While killing 4 hours at the airport this morning, I broke out Google Earth, Chris's route photos from last year and picked Lakpa's brain as we zoomed around the mountain virtually. We came up with a highly detailed route line I'll be loading on my phone and my watch. This is what happens when you take nerds and their toys camping. I'm including a photo of the route we drew but if you like playing along with Google Earth, here is the KMZ file.



My climbing partner, Chris, has written a lovely summary of our intended route, schedule and plans on Annapurna I:

I don't have much to add but my thanks to her and Lakpa for allowing me to join them. They've done a stellar job with the logistics of getting all of the fixed lines, O2, tents, food and supplies to the foot of our route, the permits and me this far. They've a massive accumulated wealth of knowledge I'm slowly beginning to comprehend as my brain adjusts to this time zone. I'm lucky they are sharing it and looking forward to learning more and, hopefully, contributing soon. Chris has informed me that the final summit push on our Annapurna route involves some guess work picking a line through undulating terrain. I've managed to cache terrain data and plot some waypoints for our summits on my watch in order to optimize our route and in case of low visibility conditions. We also have questionable taste in movies and shows so I'm making sure we have Zoolander 2 and The Expanse on a portable wifi disk station I'm taking to base camp. Also, the sat modem is up and running with a new SIM card so I'll be able to post updates and get weather regularly. That is no less than 4 satellite systems (Thuraya, Iridium, GPS, GLONASS) we're using with 4 different devices. I'm glad we have all of these satellites whizzing above our heads and gadgets to talk to them so I can focus on what I do best; putting one foot in front of the other and repeating. A lot. 

Today, as we flew in to Pokhara, we caught small glimpses of the Annapurna range through the clouds. I'm in awe of the explorers who came here a decade ago and even considered setting foot on the flanks of these giants and humbled by the fact that our plane was cruising around 20,000' and we were still looking up at the peaks.

After some successful provisioning in Pokhara (purchasing of all of the chocolate in town), we'll finally get some altitude tomorrow. If all goes well, we'll end our day in Mukanath and start to stress our bodies so they'll make more red blood cells. 

(Phewa Lake and the World Peace Pagoda)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Arrival, KTM

Arrival, KTM. Destination, jet lag. It is 4AM back home in California and 5:45PM here. Yes, there is an extra 15 minute offset of time from the Indian and Chinese time zones. I attribute all typos to that 15 minutes of extra jet lag. This is my third trip to Kathmandu. The third time seeing the pollution, litter, and traffic, hearing the chaos, commerce and commotion of it all. It is also my third time in 10 years seeing its resilience. Kathmandu's government has changed hands more times than I can keep track of. It changed hands while I was here trekking my first time in 2006 with the Mathys, Phelps and friend Ryan and again when I was climbing Everest in 2009 (shout out and love to the entire AAI 2009 Everest team). Maoist extremists changed peoples lives forever with their brutality and perseverance in the countryside. The population of this city swelled from 3 million to 6 million in a handful of years and did not rebound even after the political dialogue greatly improved. The infrastructure is crumbling but power is less intermittent now and life goes on, with a smile. The various incarnations of Shiva temples buzz with tourists and pilgrims. The cremation pyres burn non-stop. The busses and scooters flow in and out on barely navigable streets. Even in the 1000 year old squares that were decimated by the earthquake last year, sacrifices are made for good fortune, monkeys play, businesses pop up to serve the religious and the tourists and friends meet to socialize. They are rebuilding. Tibetan refugees continue to expand their villages in concentric circles draped with beautiful prayer flags around stupas. Buildings go up everywhere, not quite finished. People make a living and game the system wherever they go. If you don't finish your building here, you don't pay taxes on it. So, magnificent temples and shrines are surrounded with rebar and support columns to "add another floor someday".

What strikes me as beautiful and different about all of this madness; political upheaval, and natural disasters. The Buddhists don't just embrace the Hindu traditions, they incorporate and celebrate them. The Hindu, mostly Shiva worshippers around here, people are also just as likely to celebrate the upcoming birthday of the Buddha along with their Tibetan transplants. No one claims absolute understanding of the world around them, they simply listen, contemplate and incorporate. It is a beautiful quilt of philosophies and people; all trying to be happy. It is a lovely place to wander about and eat and drink and trade stories. I have friends here now; favorite places to shop and walk and take pictures. This isn't a home-coming but it is a comfy place to start and end a journey.

Our permits and supplies are gathered, and in two days, we will fly to Pokhara, Nepal's 2nd largest city, 200 miles to the west. It is also only miles from 3 of the highest 10 mountains in the world; Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu. If the weather, conditions, people and mountains grant us their grace, we will attempt to climb two of those starting with Annapurna I. 

Chris and Lakpa picked me up at the airport and have informed me there are at least two major expeditions on the same route as us as Annapurna and as many as five on Dhaulagiri! Fantastic news! Our base camp team also arrived by helicopter 3 days ago and were spared the arduous task of carrying thousands of meters fixed lines between base camp and the base of the route. The helicopters managed to drop all of the fixed lines for several expeditions right at the base of the route. Also, fantastic news! Tomorrow morning, we will receive blessings from a lama in Kathmandu, do our gear check and make sure I can activate my SIM with the sat modem that my lovely colleagues at ARM have been so kind to take care of for me. Of course, this is great for sending photos and blogs but even more importantly; it allows us to consult with weather forecasters and see pictures of my new, baby niece as she is about to turn 1! 

p.s. My brother, Todd, got me started on Ed Viesturs, The Will to Climb, in which describes his own experiences and interest in Annapurna. He gives a great history of the mountain.

update 12 mar 2016 photos of blessing and rebuilding of Boudhanath stupa, Kathmandu
Links to images of modified Polish Route

Polish Route Images (purple line and line 4)

Schedule update:
13th - fly to Pokhara
14th - fly Jomsom, drive Muktanath or surrounds, acclimatising
15th - day in Mukanath and surrounds, acclimatising
16th - drive early back to Jomson, catch helicopter to BC

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thank you all for your wonderful support as we attempt Annapurna and Dalaguiri

My lovely co-workers are picking up my slack and even sponsoring some of my gadgetry and bandwidth to make this a safer journey