December 24, 2007

Pico de Orizaba

December 18th, 2007 was a monumental day for the team of climbers from Idaho and Utah attempting a summit of Pico de Orizaba, the 3rd highest mountain in North America! This expedition became a story with all the elements you would expect from high-altitude mountaineering; from determination and courage to frostbite and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema.
With wind chill, the temperature on the summit was -25F when Garon and Chad, first to reach the summit, stood at the roof of Mexico. A few hundred feet below them, Rolf, Karl, Andrew and David, a climber from British Columbia who had joined our team, were all enjoying views from the glacier-capped North Summit. Thirty minutes later the team from the North Summit arrived at the highest point - the South Summit. Despite the freezing temperatures, the entire group spent time on the summit enjoying the magnificent vistas, taking summit photos and even testing the new MSR stove (reputed to work efficiently at any altitude).
Below us, at 17,500 feet, a drama was unfolding. Bill Lewis, who had been complaining of fatigue and difficulty breathing, was experiencing High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid because of the extreme altitude. If not treated quickly, HAPE is deadly! Also feeling the affects of the extreme cold and altitude were Jeff Hopkin and Scott Hurst. And though he had received several hours of sleep the night before, Doug Mason was just running out of steam. All four wisely chose to descend from 17,500 feet - a high point for all four climbers. The slope of the glacier steepens abrubtly at 16,000 feet to nearly 65 degrees in spots. The final 3,000 feet of climbing is over bulletproof alpine snow and ice on a slope of at least 60 degrees. The accomplishments of all the members of our team cannot be understated!
We climbed during what we later learned from local guides was the coldest period of weather in 10 years or more! Bill suffered frostbite on the tips of one or two fingers, Jeff was temporarily blinded by a frostbitten cornea, and all four who descended from 17,500 had climbed several thousand feet even under the strain of AMS symptoms (Acute Mountain Sickness).
The story of nine climbers from Idaho and Utah who went to summit one of North America's highest mountains is one of determination, courage, drama and success. Every member of our team achieved a new highpoint! But most importantly, we worked together and achieved the most important goal... everyone returned home safely.
The fact that, in spite of encountering the types of illnesses, cold and fatigue that most people believe only happen on Mt. Everest, our team employed years of mountaineering skill, talent and technique exhibited by the worlds best mountaineers!
Our team will never be famous, but the things we accomplished can never be taken from us. Individually and collectively we acheived a monumental feat in the battle between man and nature...the battle known as mountaineering!

November 20, 2007

A Good Cause

The local climbing gym, Stick & Stones, is where we go to climb when it's lousy weather outside, and when we want to fine-tune our ability to crank some wickedly hard moves while hanging upside down!
We're pretty blessed to have a place where the gang can kick back, crank hard and enjoy each others company a couple of nights every week. While we've all been getting stronger from our workouts on the climbing wall, our friendships have also been getting stronger. So we owe alot to the weekly sessions at the climbing gym, and in that spirit, we want to give something back.
The climbing wall needs some serious renovation and we're trying to raise money to make that happen. You can join the effort by enjoying a totally cool slide show by professional climber, Dean Lords, and help us raise money while snagging some really great stuff from Mammut, Black Diamond, Petzl and more.

Whether you've ever enjoyed pulling moves at the gym, know someone who has, or just want to help keep the local climbing on the cutting edge, join us Saturday, December 8 for a slide show and raffel that promises to be a great time for a good cause.

If you can't attend and would still like to make a donation to the cause, please contact Garon Miskin at the e-mail address below. Your support will help us keep this vital part of the local climbing community alive and well.
When: Saturday, December 8th
Where: Sticks & Stones - Rexburg
Time: 6:30 PM Doors Open - 7:00 PM Slideshow

email: to donate or for more information.

November 5, 2007

"Hanging" Around

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, even though the air temperature was still pretty chilly until lunchtime. We decided to take advantage of the beautiful fall weather and head to Blackfoot Canyon and "hang" around the cave a bit.

After warming up on some vertical terrain, we took the ropes inside the cave to see if we could hang upside down a little. Blackfoot Canyon cave boasts some great cave routes put up by Dean Lords, Chuck Odette and Mat TeNgaio. Ranging in difficulty from 5.11a to 5.13d (that's wicked hard in laymans terms) they are great test peices and lots of fun!

Chad figured out the sequences to Bride of Crankenstein (5.12), and Heather made the redpoint while hanging the draws. Jordan brought his younger brother, Tyler, who found out that there is more to life than X-Box 360.

Speaking of 360...Chad and Jordan both took some fun falls on Crankenstein, getting some sweet airtime and necessitating the use of the "batman" technique to get back on the route. I hung upside down below the lip of Free Fallin' (5.11a) and figured out the crux move.

Mysha hopped on some routes and focused on her breathing and movement, making her ascent of the 5.9+ route look like a lesson in finesse.

Kenna and Jarik joined us for the day and also got some time on the rock, pulling "liebacks" and pushing "mantles".

As the sun melted into the foothills and the evening chill returned to Blackfoot Canyon, we drove toward Idaho Falls, anticipating the sweetnees of a Cookie Monster dessert from Craigo's; and relishing a great day of late fall climbing with friends.

October 24, 2007

?Habla Espanol?

For the past week, I've been so bilingual that I'm even beginning to dream in Spanish! With multiple e-mails written to Government officials requesting permits and advice on logistics, I've had plenty of practice on my Spanish-speaking skills!
Our expedition will include attempts on Pico, La Malinche and Izta. Iztaccihuatl is next to Popo, an active volcano which is restricted from climbing. Permits are necessary to enter the IztaPopo National Park and require passing a military checkpoint along the way. For these reasons, the logistics involved in climbing Izta are far more involved than for the other two peaks. Were it not for the fact that at 17,159 feet Izta is the 7th highest peak in North America, we probably wouldn't be interested in climbing it. But another chance to exceed 16,000 feet is just too tempting to pass up. The real complication at this point is that in addition to the typical governmental bureaucracy, I have to communicate solely in Spanish - that makes things progress very slowly!

We're actually on target with logistics, though. We've pretty much settled on butane fuel canisters which can be secured in our checked baggage. All of our technical gear has been O.K.'d by the airline as well (Doug took some things down to the Idaho Falls airport and asked security to tell him what was legal to carry onboard or check, and what was restricted. A great idea when the majority of your gear is so unusual.)

Bus scheduling is 50% complete. Specific reservations just need to be made once we determine a concrete daily schedule. Medical forms are being completed and Jeff will secure group medications such as Diamox for severe altitude illnesses, antibiotics for infection and whatever else the good Doctor sees fit. (Probably a few canisters of Oxygen for the older crowd!!!)

Tents, sleeping bags, personal technical gear and clothing as well as food have been arranged for. An exhaustive gear list was e-mailed to everyone today so a complete checklist of items can be made prior to our "gear check" day. Gear check is an event that takes place a day or two before we leave for the expedition to ensure that everyone has the essential personal gear and all group gear is packed and accounted for. We also compare the individual weights of our backpacks and other non-essential gear and try to come as close to each other (and a pre-determined "ideal weight") as possible. In this case, all essential gear for Pico, the longest climb of the three, should weigh approximately 50 lbs or less and fit in a compact backpack of no more than 65 liters. In comparison, we had 75 liter packs and an average weight of 68 lbs on our trip to Mt. Rainier. The difference is the total number of days we intend to spend on Pico: 2, versus 4 days on Mt. Rainier.

Of course we also plan a light food and fuel contingency for the possibility of 1-2 days more in the event of bad weather or emergency bivouac. The formula's for how much gear, what is considered essential, and what defines a contingency supply comes from a combination of the amount of personal experience and specific physical needs of each climber. That is one huge reason why expeditions tend to include teams of similar experience and fitness levels. The more homogenous the team in all aspects, the easier the planning and the more realistic the preparations.

October 19, 2007

Logistics, Logistics, Logistics

At this point I'm really glad that I spent 6 weeks being trained by the best in Outdoor Leadership. My NOLS expedition earlier this spring taught me so much that I have begun to use in helping the team plan for our Mexico expedition.

We are very fortunate to have a Doctor, Communications Specialist and other teammates with technical expertise. Most expeditions search nationwide for climbers who also possess such abilities. We are fortunate to have all of these things provided by members of our group, who are also friends. A rare thing indeed when it comes to expedition teams.

Jeff is handling Medical planning, Scott and Doug are on top of stoves, tents and gear. Bill and I are working out transportation logistics, and Chad is trying to catch up! We're really excited to have Chad join our team. Even though he came aboard a little late, he's working hard to get into shape and he brings a strong work ethic and solid technical abilites to the group.

Scott and Chad head to Borah Peak tomorrow, which will be a huge benefit not only from the altitude gain, but also in acclimating to bad weather. At 12, 970 feet, Idaho's highest peak is notorious for wet, cold, windy weather.

Since I've spent the last 2 days working in the rain and cold, I have opted to stay home from this trip. I'm battling some chest congestion and headaches and don't want to get sick this late in the game.

Everyone else seems to be at the peak of health and fitness. As always, this is the period in expedition planning where time is in a headlong race with preparation. We're all working to keep our preparations ahead of the quickly passing time.

Stay tuned...things could get interesting!

October 10, 2007

Expedition: Mexico - Training Day

Along with all the running and sprinting up and down the stadium stairs, I decided it was time to head out and train on the real thing - a snow capped mountain. So Monday I got together with Keith Larson and Bruce Neilson to make a summit attempt on Diamond Peak.

At 12, 197 feet, it offers some good altitude. Being covered in snow made it a worthy challenge and put our mountaineering skills to the test. The upper ridgeline is extremely complex and requires some technical use of an ice axe. We moved efficiently and made GREAT time! At the summit, the wind was gusting near 50mph and we figured the temperature to be near 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Don't let the sun in the pictures fool you - we got a moderate dose of Old Man Winter!

It was a great day and I couldn't have asked for better company. The only casualty of the climb seems to be Bruce's wallet, which may have fallen on the ground when he got out to open a cattle gate down on the flats. I'm sure the jackrabbit I teased on the way out has found it and is on his way to Mexico courtesy of Bruce's debit cards. As always, my big, blue Suburban crashed through the snowdrift on the road to the base of the peak in fine fashion. I think we exceeded 40mph in 4-wheel drive while going uphill. That just goes to prove that the journey is half the adventure!

October 3, 2007

Expedition: MEXICO

On December 12, I, along with my climbing partner, Scott Hurst, will embark on a 12-day expedition to climb the 3rd highest peak in North America, Pico de Orizaba. At 18,701 feet above sea level, base camp on Pico is nearly 1,000 feet higher than the summit of Mt. Rainier. Only Mt. Logan and Mt. McKinley surpass Pico in height.

Joining our expedition are Doug Mason, Bill Lewis and Jeff Hopkin, M.D. All three were a part of our hugely successful Mt. Rainier climb in July 2006. This expedition marks a milestone for Scott and I - both in altitude (it will be the highest either of us has been to this point) as well it is a marker in our personal progression to summit some of the worlds highest peaks.

To give you some idea of what goes into planning an expedition of this magnitude, stay posted for updates on everything from physical training to logistics and strategy planning!

For more information on Pico, visit and click on "mountains and rocks" then enter "Pico de Orizaba".

The Ultimate Expedition

We take many side trips during our journey through life, but remember, your life is unique and the outcome each day is up to you. Find greatness every step of the way as you undertake the ultimate expedition - your life!