Everest News.com Interview with Peter Green
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Q.) Does it present a problem in mountain climbing when your clients
have never met before you begin climbing?
A.) I guess you're assuming I guide mountains -- which I have never
done. In association with university clubs in my student days I did take novices
and/or less experienced climbers on 'teaching' outings, but nothing all that
serious. I was raised learning about mountains and mountaineering from family and
friends, and simply continue doing the same. (My 2-year-old son started backcountry
skiing last winter, and I just had him rock climbing in Yosemite Valley last week. I
don't spend as much time climbing as I would if it were my job, but I believe I
enjoy the time more for the quality.
In general, climbing with strangers presents complications,
especially at altitude where everyone is struggling at best.
Q.) Is it important for the clients to know what the others
capabilities are? How about on a Himalayan mountain like Everest?
A.) Of course! How can you rely on someone -- or be able to
best help them -- if you don't know them? On my big expeditions, much of the fun has
been doing 'familiarization' outings beforehand to be sure we all know each other.
Q.) Should Everest guides require their clients to climb at least
one smaller mountain together before tackling a mountain like Everest?
A.) Businesses will generally do whatever works, same as
anyone. It helps (for both success and safety) to have climbed a lot before, but in
practice with the Sherpa's help even virtual novices can be dragged up Everest. And
in the busy modern world, plenty of wealthy folks in the West want instant
gratification regardless of cost. I recommend enjoying many years of climbing
at increasingly higher altitudes and/or on more challenging routes. Much more gratifying.
Q.) What do you think about ITA ? Should it have been written ?
A.) Ah, another three-letter-acronym: Into Thin Air by Krakauer, I
I still haven't brought myself to read it. I read the
preceding article in Outside -- maybe half as long -- and found that sufficiently painful.
Acquaintances of mine died. As I recall, he made a lot of good points that needed to
be made. (Crowds are bad; being late is very bad; running out of oxygen near
the summit when the sun goes down and the weather is deteriorating is very, very bad;
novices can't help themselves
much less anyone else; money considerations interfere with clear judgment.)
More commercialization/glorification of Everest and climbing in
general isn't my preference for the world's society, but he's not the only one doing
it. Ironically, he's keeping the attention all on one place, which leaves many other
nice places less trampled! (On the approach trek to Makalu last fall we saw a total
of one Western tourist.)
Q.) Tell us about Chantal Mauduit on K2 in 1992. What was her
condition when you saw her?
A.) She was a strong, confident climber with good equipment and a
knack for sponsorship. She and her June companions had quite boldly tackled the
Abruzzi without adding any fresh fixed lines, and gotten a bit over 7000m before giving
up. She quite patiently waited nearly a month for us to climb, fix and acclimatize
before heading up. We played a lot of cards in our dining tent -- I think she was
fairly good at 'Bridge'. She took a nice picture of me and my brother at 8100m
before we headed down. She summitted late, but also started later that day than Thor
I was quite sad to hear she had died in her tent last fall -- though
her determination to climb all the 8000m peaks meant a lot of risk remaining in her
Q.) tell us more about Ed Viesturs and Fischer there?
A.) Both very strong and very friendly -- well-suited to guide big
peaks. With Thor, they reached our base camp a week early and stayed in the lead for
weeks (being more acclimatized and motivated). They appreciated my carrying ropes
and wands high for them. It was amazing that Scott made it after dis-locating his
shoulder early on.
Q.) The book "In the Zone" implies that Fischer was a
little reckless on K2. Did you see it that way?
A.) He's a bit more of a risk-taker than some (such as myself,
obviously) though not in his guiding. To summit K2 without being a little reckless is
nearly impossible -- the weather simply isn't that good for very long. You either
wait out a storm up high (and hope it doesn't dump deep snow or set up slabs) or descend
in a storm (ditto) or both. Charley Mace put it very well in his Rock-and-Ice
article: to have even a chance takes total commitment. My wife read ITZ too, and noticed
how the different personalities do show through. She noticed that Scott and Ed didn't
climb together again. I suppose one could ask Ed if he would have risked it without
Scott's go-for-it enthusiasm. To Scott's credit, his assistant guides got their
clients, and some others', off Everest alive.
Q.) Rob Hall and Gary Ball were also on K2 that year which gives the
whole season an eerie foreboding for 1996 and for 1998. Did you see anything in any
of these Mauduit, Fischer, Ball or Hall etc that would lead you to think that they may
have serious trouble in the future?
A.) Well, they're all professional high-altitude mountaineers (and
perhaps some of them more risk-taking than average) which just isn't a career that tends
to be long-lived. Gary was sick on K2, partly exhaustion from being on big peaks nearly
year-round, and he and Rob began an incredibly lucky streak of guiding Everest that simply
had to end eventually. One could forebode. Climbing big mountains is dangerous, and the
money connection makes it more so. I only climb for fun and to enjoy the scenery, so
I do less and can be more selective and careful. Ultimately, we will all die, and need to
live in the meantime -- nothing is completely free of risk.
(I'm not sure what the connection to 1998 is -- maybe I missed
something that happened this year?)
Q.) How much more physically demanding is an ascent of an 8,000
meter peak as opposed to an ascent of a lower, but long, climb such as Rainier?
A.) The duration of the approach, the period of climbing, repeating
carries, the thinness of the air, and the inevitability of being high in stormy weather,
are all totally beyond anything like a 14er -- even Rainier.
Only the Andes and Alaska begin to give the kind of experience
needed for the high peaks of Central Asia. I was very glad I had several trips to
those before flying to Pakistan.
Q.) Did K2 require a level of physical exertion that you had not yet
experienced in the mountains?
A.) Actually no, though the climatic and cultural shock of my quick
trip home was a new record! My hardest effort in the mountains was rescuing a guy
from high on Aconcagua (comparable to camp II on K2, say) and then making a quick hike
out; my throat was raw from dehydration and my legs remained sore for weeks. With
fixed ropes and thorough acclimatization, the Abruzzi Ridge is not so bad until you get to
the higher camps or try for the summit. And my brother and I were lucky to get good
conditions for the higher camps, and then descended as the bad weather returned rather
than risk a summit attempt with the others. They were all lucky to survive, so I am
sure going with them would have been a personal record in terms of 'epic exertion'.
I have no regrets at having enjoyed perhaps the most pleasant descent from high camp on K2
that anyone has ever had!
Q.) What is your favorite type of reading when stormbound in a tent?
A.) Nothing too heavy -- literally or figuratively! Seriously,
I shop in the used bookstores for light paper -- easier to carry. A friend did bring
a hardback on the card game Bridge to Dhaulagiri -- but only to base camp. He also
brings heavy literature (his Mom has a Ph.D. in literature) so I guess that fits -- smile.
I'm not much for the blood-and-guts reading, nothing worse than Tom
Clancy. His books are really long which is an advantage; I read fast -- 500 pages a day
sometimes. I bring Tolkein's Silmarillion for approach treks, the Trilogy for base
camp and the Hobbit for higher up -- easier reading as the air thins. I also like
stories about hot places like jungles or the Australian outback -- makes a nice escape
from the cold reality of big mountains.
Q.) Also, what is the longest you have been stormbound and how
did this effect the morale of the group?
A.) I guess 5 days in the Yukon as we ran out of food was pretty
bad. One day my breakfast was a vitamin pill and lunch was a cough drop. We
were awaiting a helicopter pick-up (plane got damaged bringing us in three weeks earlier
and still wasn't fixed) and simply had to start a 100km walk to the nearest road.
Kind of fun, though my family back home was worried because the radio dispatcher had not
successfully forwarded my message. No problem with morale -- these were great
friends who really love spending lots of time in the mountains. Waiting 5 days for
our gear to arrive at Makalu, or a week in Islamabad for our Russian permit-holder, were
Q.) Can you recommend some of your favorite mountaineering
A.) Joe Simpson's Touching the Void, Heinrich Harrer's Seven Years
in Tibet, Greg Child, Kurt Diemberger, John Muir, Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams, Eric
Shipton, Francis Farquhar.
Q.) I have read quite a bit of mountaineering literature but haven't
been able to find much written about Cho Oyu and Aconcagua--do you have any
recommendations on either of these?
A.) Never found much on Cho Oyu and haven't looked much for
Aconcagua. I guess there's a current guidebook by RJSecor that might have
references. An account of a trip there might be called Stone Sentinel? And there
could be a new book about a successful breast-cancer-survivors trip.
A.) (This is from a climber). How hard/easy/enjoyable/bothersome
etc. is it for them to be part of a 'small elite' for which climbing is so terribly
important. I find for example kind of hard to deal with co-workers who are at the same
time fascinated and horrified by my adventures.
Emotions can run high, and in both directions, I agree. I just
climb for fun and scenery, and having done so many trips I guess I am used to the ups and
downs -- my own and others'. Getting to be around fine folks like Ed Viesturs is a
treat. Others like Vladimir may not be 'fun', but are an interesting
experience. Kind of nice that an average guy like me can do all right! And I
tell co-workers I feel safer in Nepal than in US Cities!!
I hope that answers your question (s) -- maybe I am not reading them
Q.) Peter Green: perhaps he could give his thoughts on Chantal
Mauduit abilities especially, given the recent minor controversies surrounding Ed
Viesturs reporting on her death. I seem to detect a recurring, though not
specific, slight against her abilities in many reports, a lot of which originates from K2
and the Rob Hall Everest incident.
I guess I am not well-informed about the controversy, nor did I know
her very well at all, but I'll say the following: she may not have been the strongest or
fastest, but was clearly strong and fast enough to climb a bunch of big peaks. Her
patience and determination rated with the best, and she could clearly find the sponsorship
to get her trips going. If her cheerfulness, and carefree nature came across to some
as carelessness or being too happy-go-lucky, so be it. She was climbing for herself
(not guiding) so there is no one who should be complaining. Let her rest in
peace. I am sad that she is gone -- as I am when any nice person passes away.
Many people die in the Alps every year, so Europeans aren't as
sensitive to risk as Americans.
Q.) Tell us more about Makalu 97 !
I have a great slide show that I enjoy sharing. We had a fun,
simple outing but a windy season prevented anyone from getting near the summit. Lots
of stories to tell but nothing exciting, happily. I didn't get my skis in time to
use them, which was a bummer. Our old friends (sirdar and cooks) took excellent care
of us. The trek alone is worth the trip. Two in our group went home via three
passes to the Khumbu and loved it. Our mail never got in or out, due to successive
snafus. I finally got one letter just a couple months ago -- picked up by a friend
of a friend in Kathmandu on his way home at the end of last spring's season -- hilarious,
but frustrating since my wife stayed home with our baby that trip.
Q.) Did you know A.Boukreev ? How good was he? Could he have
been in the elite few ?
A.) I never met him, but clearly his record was among the
best. Being on Annapurna in the winter after deep snows had barely settled means
taking the very highest risks.
Q..) Tell us about Dhaulagiri 94 where you were the leader....and
four reached the summit ! Very good, who was on the expedition. This must be a huge job
leading an expedition of this kind?
A.) Actually, I was only the climbing leader and another guy who had
trekked in Nepal a dozen times did most of the organizing. And my life-long style
has been to never have organizational hierarchy on outings. So, I only agreed to be
climbing leader for purposes of permit paperwork (which turned out to be quite helpful)
and as long as no one ever asked me what they should be doing on the mountain! No
one did. The group was simply a loose collection of friends, all of whom did their
best for themselves and the group. I got giardia (or something similar) and was
losing weight even though I felt great and acclimatized very well. I'm a small guy,
so a summit attempt was out of the question -- too little fat in reserve. So, I just
enjoyed the cheap vacation and helped clear the lower mountain at the end when almost
everyone else was exhausted.
Q.) I heard that there was talk of putting up a hotel at the base
camp of Mount Everest. But then nothing ever happens, any ideas what is going on with
A.) I don't keep up with Everest much -- just enjoyed good views of
it from Makalu last fall. Everest is Everest. If the hotel has a good sewage
system, I suppose it would reduce impact. Impact is so different elsewhere: it took
us only a day to clean the entire Makalu lower base camp; on the mountain, the sum total
of trash we found was only a couple of pounds.
A.) The regular NE ridge is probably one of the easier 8km routes,
but seasonal conditions of either the icefall approach or snow slabs high on the route,
could make it impassable. Also, weather can shut off any route any season. The
'easiest' 8km routes (a bad term, see below) are climbs in Tibet and Pakistan. We
tried Dhaulagiri because Nepal is such fun and it appeared to be the safest route there --
I still think so.
Historically, it was the last 8km peak to be climbed -- aside from
the one located entirely in Tibet (Shisha Pangma = Xixabangma = Gosianthan) but only
because the best route was not figured out. In 1950, Herzog's group couldn't even
figure out the approach (maps were terrible back then) so went to find Annapurna and made
the first ascent of any 8km peak. That peak has terrible avalanche hazard on the
main route, and they were lucky to survive. Though a recently completed difficult
route via the west ridge is safer, it may rarely get attempted due to length and technical
A group of Americans was killed on Dhaulagiri's east flank in the
early 1970's, and an early book on the peak was titled 'Mountain of Storms'. It does
sit quite far into the lowlands and is completely open to approaching storms. The name may
translate to be 'white mountain' since it is often seen snow- covered from the
lowlands. In the 1800's it was for a time thought to be the highest on earth --
published on maps and in books as such!
Spring may be less avalanche-prone but icier. And one storm
can change conditions in any season.
Q.) Who were you with on Dhaulagiri and who made the summit ?
A.) I went with my brother and a loose collection of 6 of our
friends and climbing acquaintances of recent years. None of them had ever been on an
expedition to an 8km peak before, but most had Alaskan experience.
My brother and three others, one aged 50-ish, and another who had
only one trip to the Mexican volcanoes as high-altitude background, made the top. Two more
reached 8000m about 9am one day but could not move higher due to wind -- not even crawling
with two ice axes! They had plenty of time!!
Q.) Dhaulagiri, has always been a special mountain in my heart. Can
you give us some background on how many summits, some of the more exciting ones, and the
death toll. Cheers Sherri
A.) I don't have many statistics, but will do my best. The
American Alpine Journal has nearly complete records on all the peaks and routes, though
starting a couple years ago, they stopped covering every attempt of the normal
routes. Our year was probably a typical fall season, several groups of several
climbers each, one with sherpas, two quasi-commercial/unguided, maybe 20 out of 50 made
the top, one fatality, one other injury, two benighted on descent with surficial
frost-bitten big toes resulting, one porter fell in the base camp pond, no ponies
hurt. An American with a mixed European group summited earlier than us and set the
age record for the 10 or so Americans who had ever climbed it. Then our leader
topped out and beat his record by a few months! He dropped a glove descending from
camp II and got frost-nipped.
The Japanese were all over 50 years old and called themselves the
'Silver Tortoises'. They had a cook to camp 1 at least, thermos' of tea set beside
the route by Sherpas, and even bottled oxygen for the summit! Left a mess, too,
The south face is among the most enormous in the Himalaya but hasn't
been climbed anywhere near directly that I know of.
Early attempts up the east icefall were perilous (see above) and
then the north face was pushed higher and higher, with even dynamite brought to blast out
Q.) Dhaulagiri ! 4 summits ! Did you group climb as a
"group" or as individuals ? Maybe you can enlighten us on how these expeditions
really work? I am a outdoors person, but have never done any "mountain", so
forgive us and I find it hard to picture in my head. These books vary. cheers Joan
A.) Our style has always been simple and flexible. We bring
1-2 good sleeping bags and 1-2 tents each to share on the mountain and then simply go for
it. With fixed ropes at tricky spots one can just about climb alone, though
companionship is pleasant and safer, obviously. We pair up as the season progresses
and people fall into cycles (or out of friendship -- just kidding). The highest
camps are quite briefly set up and have minimal 2-person tents so finally we are in pairs
or solo. All my trips to the Andes (3) and Alaska/Yukon (5) have been with
pre-planned compatible pairs fully self-sufficient and independent traveling together for
mutual safety and trail-breaking efficiency. Works great. We carry our own
food, clothes, a share of fuel, whatever, and lug it all out at the end. Kind of
a big, long repetitious backpacking trip in the beloved Sierra Nevada back home.
(Except as cold as the dead of winter and with far less air to breathe!)
Q.) On Dhaulagiri, did any one die ? Can you tell us more about how
climbers react to death on a mountain. "As the viewing public" we see some just
climbing past people and is other cases people helping out.
A.) A Ukrainian woman disappeared after we had gone home. And
a Sherpa carrying for the Silver Tortoises took a huge fall from near Camp II early on --
he was lucky to limp home with only cracked ribs and bruises. By chance our doctor
(who does emergency room -- the most relevant skill) was at camp I, checked him out,
and provided morphine so he could be helped to walk and not have to be carried out.
I have been lucky never to be near a fatality in the
mountains. I rescued a guy high off Aconcagua who would certainly have died, and
there was a body right on the summit that year. One of my companions was Catholic
and went over to close the poor souls' eyes. The family (wealthy Argentinians) had
commissioned the Army to retrieve it but after a month a guided group dragged it off and
buried it under rocks. That is what I would want for myself. I hope not to die
in the mountains, but if so, I don't want anyone troubled.
Q.) Do you think all climbers on guided climbs of 8000 meter peaks
should have radios? It appears many guides do not think they should. I still don't
A.) I can see both sides to the argument. Presumably cost and
weight are no longer big problems, but confusion between groups and over-dependence are
bad. There is no substitute for simply staying together. Splitting up is a
very common factor contributing to accidents. We always have a radio at each camp
and find that fine. Just check in at breakfast and bed-time, sometimes more often if
a schedule is tight. Radios are no substitute for competence, experience, and
knowing that high altitudes are wickedly dangerous.
Q.) Did you use a Sherpa support team on Dhaulagiri ? Who were they?
How strong are these Sherpa ?
A.) No, we've always carried our own stuff up. Sherpas are
incredibly strong, and work very cheaply, but we prefer doing it (or not) ourselves.
I could never have anyone taking such serious risks on my behalf. Carrying is an
important part of the acclimatization and the whole experience. I like being in the
Sherpas are clearly the best Himalayan climbers when it comes to
repeating ascents. Some day they'll get to return to Pakistan and we will see how
they fare on K2. Only one person (a Czech) has climbed K2 twice, while Ang Rita
retired after 10 ascents of Everest and perhaps 20 other summits of Nepal's other 8km
peaks -- of which Manaslu, Annapurna and Kangchenjunga are among the most dangerous.
Far more than any Westerner.
Q.) We have Chantal Mauduit die on Dhaulagiri this year. Ed,
Guy Cotter and Viekka failed to get even very high on Dhaulagiri this year. But, your
group had four summits ! Can you speculate of why the difference in resulting ?
A.) Camp II is prone to burial by spin-drift -- ledges just off a
ridgeline with broad snow slopes beside and above. We saw a tent completely buried
from sight -- on a day with a storm, just the right wind after some moderate
snowfall. If you don't set and alarm, check and dig, you'll suffocate too --
especially if the stove is left running.
Our first location of Camp II on Makalu last year got buried -- I
dug all night. Then we moved camp. Our Camp III on K2 was put a bit low and
got crunched, too.
As for Ed, Guy, etc...ust have been bad weather -- nobody got
anywhere on Makalu last fall, no one climbed K2 all this year -- blame it on El
Nino! (smile). Or if the ice fall or rock cliff above it were acting
badly, getting to camp I would be horrible. Expecting a 100% summit rate
invites disaster -- obviously.
Our year all the groups did well, except one late-arriving (Belgian
military macho maniacs trying to got super-fast -- take your time, its a vacation!) so the
weather was ok. Sometimes the mountain says no; you better listen!
Q.) What is the distance between camps on Dhaulagiri ?
A.) Long walk from Base to I, but then very efficient.
Elevations are good: Base is 15k-ish or so, I is 19+k, II is 22k, III is 24k depending on
location. Some folks have camped higher, some use a lower or preliminary II (safer from
spin-drift), and some a fourth camp or even more (especially in the old days -- our camp
IV on K2 was once a camp 9!) and a 0.5 camp or cache is common when starting up.
A.) I have a hard time with some writer saying mountains like
Dhaulagiri are easy. These guys seem to make anything but K2 sound easy. They make Everest
sound like a yak route. I have a real problem with this. In that when climbers like us
goes climbing now, we run into more and more of the "ITA group", and we spend
half of our time teaching them to use their equipment. How do you think we tell the
public, how hard these mountain are, and wake the public up? These mountains are not for
rookies? Don't you agree or not ?
A.) No 8km peak is easy. Reinhold Messner took 30 tries to
make his 18 summits (4 repeats) and even the best get turned back or killed in the
'modern' era. Look at the statistics. It is true that rookies sometimes touch the
top of Everest, but plenty of others don't get near it, or die trying, even on
descent. Mountains are challenging and dangerous, with altitude (and latitude)
increasing both quite consistently. People who take big peaks lightly do so at their
own peril -- and I don't want to be around such folks.
Q.) Show Everest be guided? We see climber/guides such as IMG (Eric
Simonson and Heather Macdonald) stating something to the effect that they don't guide
Everest to the Top. This has always been their view as far as I know. They will assist
you (or guide) you to a certain point but then you need to be responsible for your
actions. Others, such as Rob Hall, believed otherwise. What are your thoughts?
A.) Until the chair-lift and tramway system is completed to the
summit (just kidding) no one can promise to take you there (and back). One friend
who guides says the client can choose the objective, even if rather out of their reach;
then the guide does her/his best and calls a halt when it is necessary for safety's sake
to head back. I suppose a would-be Everester, paying so much cash, might insist on
continuing at their own peril. Guiding has its place in the world, but I greatly
prefer doing my own thing with my own skill and my own family and friends.
Q.) For Peter Green: As an "amateur", how do you fund your
trips around the world and get the time off to take them?
A.) I have to take time off without pay, sell t-shirts, and live and
travel frugally. I did all my south America trips as a graduate student.
Eating peanut butter and homemade jelly for lunch for a year easily saves up the
$1k. And on my big expeditions, t-shirts have generated about $1k. I drive a
bottom-of-the-line, manual transmission car. The net savings there over what most
folks drive pays for a trip or two. Someday, I may have to quit a job to
travel. I am lucky to work at a university where extended travel is not so
rare. And I happened to be planning my first Asian expedition when I got this job,
so they had to accept that as part of me. I find the long break a good thing
anyway. It costs a little extra in health benefits bridging the un-paid leave, but
Q.) Tell us what you think is in Rob Hall's mind on May 10th, at
3:30 ? Why did he not turn around? Everyone else has speculated, what do you think ? You
knew him. I am not sure in was for the reasons Krakauer stated.
A.) Oh, boy that's tough. I don't think my speculations would
be anything new. He was a nice bloke. And no one thinks clearly that high,
even with the help of some bottled air. Accidents happen; mistakes happen; and
sometimes Nature simply dominates. The bigger the mountain, the smaller the humans.
Q..) Can you tell us more about this fixing rope issue? You know
Lopsang Sherpa was blamed by Krakauer in some ways for deaths because he did not fix the
ropes that day. This has never made sense to me. Why would only one man have this job? And
why would he need to fix the ropes for the other team? Makes no sense at all. What do you
think about this issue?
A.) Sharing duties makes sense, and dumping them on the strongest is
common. Depending on any one person at any crucial time for such a large group's
success (and perhaps survival) is unwise. For guiding relative novices, lots of
fixed rope is necessary, and helps everyone. But that means being sure the job will
done right and in timely fashion.
Q.) If I am an amateur, where do I start (besides getting myself in
shape) climbing in California ?
A.) Hike, backpack, rock climb, ski backcountry, winter camp,
mountaineer, then head for the bigger stuff: Rainier, Mexico, Andes, Alaska. Have
fun and develop good partners! Learn how your body handles it all, especially
altitude, get familiar with gear, etc...
Q.) Can almost anyone get to Everest Base camp without a guide? Or
do you need to hire porters? I hear it is somewhat rough.
A.) Carrying a full backpack to those elevations is rough
indeed. Hire a porter, treat them as a friend, and you will have employed someone
who will work hard for decent pay and help you out. Nepalis are among the nicest,
most hard-working and adaptable people in the world, and tourism is the nation's biggest
source of income. Carry a light day-pack, take it slow, and enjoy some of the most
spectacular scenery on this planet.
No need to go macho -- that's what gets people altitude sick!
Q.) The rescue issue. You might or might not know an American woman
was on the North Side on Everest this year at about 8,200 meters , while 10 to 12 climbers
climbed pasted her over a two day period and reached the summit and came back down pasted
her, and left her for dead each time, even though, even on the second day, she was in good
enough shape to talk. These climbers were not from her team. Help us understand how
climbers could do should a thing?
A.) Well, I couldn't, but can offer some comments. It is
impossible to carry someone -- even at sea-level on easy ground. Beck Weathers was
passed over, too, but somehow he got up and walked. Lopsang had to abandon Scott
Fischer to save himself. Now passing someone on the way up is a bit different, but
again the decision may be they have to help themself -- at least partly.
On Aconcagua, we actually passed a guy sitting beside the route on
our summit morning. But we thought he had simply started earlier and was resting.
When we came down from the top several hours later, and he had only moved about 50
yards, it was only then we knew he must be in trouble. We gave him our remaining hot
drinks and got him stumbling down the trail. It is nearly a trail there, and 'only'
22,000', but Charley and I couldn't carry him much -- we tried. Coaxing him to walk
himself with a little shoulder support was the only way. Really, that is all you can
do except for a fixed rope route that goes fairly directly down the fall line. North
side of Everest is a long ridge -- very committing.
Finally, for the money already spent and the glory of the summit,
some folks will decide not to ruin their own attempt with a serious rescue effort (which
may not succeed anyway). And some societies/cultures are more tolerant of risk and
death than others. Americans tend to glorify heroic rescues -- but I nearly left
that poor, benighted Peruvian to his doom without realizing the problem at first.
(He was too cold to talk -- as we warmed him up he spoke a little but only in Spanish --
lower in the thicker air he had pretty good English!) The American Alpine Club gives
an award for selfless rescues -- but not that often. I nominated Ed and Scott for
rescuing Chantal and Ed, Scott, Charley and Rob for rescuing Gary Ball. These are
the sort of people you want to have in your group.
Q.) You list ski ASCENTS AND DESCENTS: Forgive me for being another
"armchair climber": You list: Southern California (from summits of):
San Jacinto, North Face (Snow Creek drainage) complete from summit
to desert 9500' below (net 6000' on skis) 45 Degrees at steepest; done four times (perhaps
most by anyone)
Mt. San Antonio (Baldy) North Face once each randonee & telemark
Mt. San Gorgonio (11,400') North Bowls twice tele, and one-day range
traverse Mt. Baden-Powell, East Ridge, probably a first descent Telescope Peak
(overlooking Death Valley) 4000' summit to car
Ok for the really stupid question; how do you do an ascent with
A.) With either cross-country (three-pin telemark) bindings where
the heel of the boot is free to lift, or 'mountaineering' (randonee) bindings where the
heel is optionally locked (as in resort downhill alpine skiing - for descent control) or
free. Then either wax or 'skins' (historically seal fur but now nylon or other
synthetic) strapped or glued to the bottom of the ski for traction yet reasonable glide.
And when it is too steep or icy, one carries the skis and climbs in
crampons. Sometimes on part of the way down, too!
Q.) Continued.. And (I live in Ca), do you need permits to climb
these mountains, etc.
Very interested in anything more you can tell us. Thank You very
much for coming here.
A.) Some yes, some no. And I am usually there off-season,
don't see rangers (or anyone else for that matter) and forget about paperwork in the first
The Sierra has a quota from each trailhead in summer, with spring
and fall extensions for the Whitney area.
My pleasure, ask away!
Q.) Is all the Rob Hall's and Scott Fischer's and others destiny to
die? Why do the few (6 men) live with the 14 8000 meter peaks? Do they climb safer, or
were they just better and possibly luckier. Or both?
A.) #2 of those 6 died on Lhotse. And another died on what
would have been his #14. If everyone retires immediately after finishing something
so tough, it will seem -- very falsely -- that they were all somehow safer. Luckier,
and darned dedicated (and skillful) is correct. If one keeps going to those peaks
endlessly, eventually one will die there. Messner had close calls -- he is very
lucky to have survived his first 8km ascent! (His older brother died on that trip.)
Forgot to add another novel bit of history for Dhaulagiri yesterday:
the successful 1st ascent actually used a ski-plane to land supplies at Camp I (which is
in a very broad saddle) -- outrageous! For 8km history, two good books are Sivalaya
and Messner's All 14.
Q.) When you go on Makalu type climb what do you think the chances
of dying are? One percent? ten percent? Ed Viesturs has said that he feels
that he only has about a one percent chance of dying on each 8K peak. Raw
statistics suggest the risk is far greater. What do you think the risk is and for
you at what point is the risk too great?
A.) Be careful about statistics. Folks often divide fatality
totals by summit numbers, when it should really be divided by the total attempting.
Messner tallied all 8km peaks in 1986 and came up with a 3-4% death rate. K2 is about 5%,
but half the deaths are after summitting.
Ed and I are hopefully more careful than average, so the risk is
closer to 1%, depending on the peak. Several 8km peaks are unavoidably more
dangerous. Makalu is pretty straight-forward, which is why my friends and I chose
it. Low success rate, but very few deaths have ever happened on the normal
route. There was a heart attack in Camp I last year, which I wouldn't even
count. The risk of living in a city and not getting out into the mountains (small
and big) is too great!
On a creaking icefall below a huge avalanche face in Alaska, I
started to think my desired percentage of dying had been exceeded. My partner agreed
shortly thereafter -- we had reached an impassable section, and the weather was too warm.
I quote: from Feeding the Rat, by A. Alvarez... "...But to
snuff it without really knowing who you are, what you can do, I can't imagine anything
sadder than that." -Mo Anthoine
Q.) I don't think anyone reached the summit of Makalu this autumn.
Not sure about the Spring. It appears to me as a "armchair climber" that the
Sherpa support on Everest is making the difference in the number of summits on Everest vs
these other mountains. Do you agree?
Definitely. A big, strong team of sherpas is a huge
asset. Though this fall and last only a very small number are topping Everest, so
the season's weather can stop nearly everyone on all peaks in a region. (Makalu and
Everest are only about 12 miles apart, though the approach is in a different world.)
I prefer climbing for myself, and not hiring anyone to take risks for me, and I fully
accept a smaller chance of reaching the top. I still have great fun.
Q.) Tell us more about Ed Viesturs. Tell us about some riskier times
he has had.
A.) He climbed Kangchenjunga in 1990 (or so) and I bet that was
scary at times. He still has Annapurna, Nanga Parbat and Manaslu left on 'the list', so
there is risk ahead. Ed is an exceptionally strong and nice guy -- may he forever
avoid close calls!
Q.) Didn't Viesturs almost die on K2? What did he say after he came
A.) I had already traveled home; he and some others stayed late for
one more try. They went for the summit with deteriorating weather at their heels --
the classic K2 situation that my brother and I carefully avoided. His comments in 'In The
Zone' are minimal. I bet he was happy to have made the top, very relieved to be down
alive (especially with rescuing Gary Ball), and not planning to try the peak again.
(Remember, only one person has been to the top of K2 twice.)
Conditions getting down after the summit were bad, but not as bad as
other years where some people did die. I bet everyone getting down from K2 feels
like they nearly died!
Q.) You seem to put Hall and Fisher is the same class. Krakauer
pictured them as much different. Help us understand more.
A.) I haven't read Krakauer's book, and his article that I borrowed
was a couple years ago. They were both full-time big mountain guides using sherpas
and oxygen dependence to get relative novices up Everest. They were both nice guys
who I met on K2. They were both guys I had gotten back in touch with by email in the
spring of 1996. I know they have many differences; everyone is unique. I guess
they are far more similar to each other than the assortment of friends I climb with, so
that may be why I sort of put them in the same 'class'. I am sure from Krakauer's
perspective in 1996, their styles contrasted quite strikingly. I never saw either
one guiding -- that whole business is quite foreign to me.
Q.) Where do I begin ? What is your favorite climb of all you have
A.) Hard to say. K2, even without the top, was very
special. Putting a new route on the 4th highest peak in the US and coming down to
ask a woman to marry me was great -- I figured if she would say yes when I hadn't had a
shower in 3 weeks we had a good margin for tolerance in the years ahead! Leading her up
the east face of Whitney to camp on top while we were engaged. My first trip to Alaska,
climbing Denali with my brother and two friends was very special, though the relative (or
complete) solitude on the other peaks up there may be more so. Oh, did we have great
weather and skiing on Logan (highest in Canada) in June 1996.! With El Nino, several
of my best backcountry ski outings were last spring, and none were more than 24 hours
long! And just last week, with winter storms (on their way to hammer the mid-west)
threatening, I got to re-visit Yosemite with a friend to help us actually climb while
alternately watching the kids: sometimes solid granite feels like the best substance
I hope my favorite climb is yet to come: when my son (about to turn
3) is able to carry a heavier pack than me, and my daughter (9 months yesterday) leads the
Q.) Was Rob the planner that Krakauer made him out to be? Did Hall
and Fischer have a fixed turn around time on K2?
A.) Anyone guiding Everest repeatedly and successfully must be a
great planner. (But then, even the best laid plans...)
I imagine all the guys had turn-around times on K2, who
wouldn't? Hall and Ball turned back due to Gary's illness, and according to In the
Zone, Ed and Scott planned to start for the summit at 1:30am, and actually did get
going not much later, and topped out at 1050am, well before their agreed turn-around time
Everyone fudges when that time comes. I am grateful that I
usually find myself ahead of schedule, or so far behind (or in such bad weather) that
there is no hesitation turning back. With novices a turn-around time is all the more
important, but with big money, all the more painful. And the conditions can be even
more important. One of the worst US climbing disasters was a bunch of guided
high-schoolers on Mt. Hood in Oregon. The weather turned real bad, but they kept
going because there was time and they thought they could dig a snow cave. They were
too wet and tired when they finally began to dig in, and didn't have nearly enough shovels
Q.) Tell us more about the rescue on K2 by Hall and Fisher of
Chantal Mauduit ! Did they just find her, or did they have radios, and she call?
A.) Sorry I don't know the story, probably should read the book. But
you was there, so this is better. I was in base camp having just come down from our best
attempt, and recall a variety of radio contacts -- hourly instead of twice a day. It
was chaos, and even with radio help they were lucky to find her, and also lucky not to be
avalanched. And the rescue was by Ed and Scott (not Rob Hall). Thor and Alexei
were coming down at the same time and sounded so exhausted over the radio. My
brother and I were pretty fried, too, but were ready to un-pack (we were planning to start
the trek out the next day -- to keep on schedule for flights to get back to our jobs on
time) and go back up if they asked us to come up and help. Vladimir was packed,
rested, and seemed un-inclined to consider helping. He was pretty hard-nosed.
A couple others in our group were rested and in camps 1 and 2 (or moving thereabouts) so
there was strong help.
Now the really tough ones !!!
Q.) How does your wife handle this climbing ? Does she ever go with
A.) We met when I was packing for K2, so she must simply think
of me as someone who climbs big mountains sometimes. We climb and ski a lot
together, and she considers me very experienced and careful. She rock-climbed and
downhill skied for many years before we met. She came on one Alaska trip, though
only for the scenic lower elevations, not the cold and difficult climbing, and she
cleverly managed to be between jobs when we went to Dhaulagiri so she could be base camp
manager. On that trip we couldn't find any other spouses/women/family/friend to tag
along and provide company and/or do side-treks. The same was true for Makalu, so she
stayed home with our toddler. Everyone is too busy in this
Q.) We heard stories of women of these treks, seems like there is
always affairs. Tell us more !
A.) Blecch. I've heard stories, too, and can't care much about
it. Lorraine and I are happy, and count ourselves lucky to have a double sleeping
bag and keep each other warm -- at least the sweaty smell is a familiar one.
Q.) Drinking. I can't believe that people drink at 6000 or 7000 feet.
Do these guys have a mind ?
A.) Do you mean meters? (Most North American ski areas have
full bars at 6-7k' or much higher.) And I assume you mean alcohol, not water.
Does anyone have a mind at 6-7km? A little splash is ok --
Vladimir even snack some into (dry) Pakistan, though I assume it went no higher than 5200m
base camp. I would think smoking would be far worse yet the guidebook author
chain-puffs all the way on Aconcagua and some Sherpas brag about lighting up on top of
Everest. Crazy what culture, nicotine addiction, etc... makes people do.
Human nature, not a simple thing is it?
No one has asked me about acclimatization or food -- next week!
Q.) How do you handle sweat?
Seems like no matter how carefully you dress with all the exertion sweat will
happen. Then when you get to camp cold sets in. If you change into dry
underwear is it in a tent or before a tent is put up? Thank you, Ed Tawas, MI
A.) I sweat like crazy so I dress
pretty light and un-zip a lot during the day. I wear waterproof socks to keep the
sweat in, then air out inside the tent. Yup, smelly. The weather is rarely
pleasant enough to change outside. On the other hand, returning to an existing camp
means getting out of the wind and cold immediately. Folks who tend to sweat less are
Q.) How do you combat the anxiety
that always seems to come at night, in the tent, on a big mountain. I seem to
spend half my time at night worrying about edema, avalanches etc.--the imagination seems
to be so much more vivid at night. Any thoughts?
A.) May I recommend to you the land
of the midnight sun? On 5 trips to Alaska and the Yukon (all in June), I have yet to
bring or need a flashlight! Of course, the avalanches up there are immense and
common, so that doesn't help. But it is a real treat to always wake up and be able to see.
For any sleeplessness, I bring lots
of reading material, a short wave radio to listen to the BBC World Service, and plenty of
Q.) Okay.......tell us about
food. Do you carry food from home or buy it all when you get to where you are
going? Also, what exactly does one eat while climbing in the Mountains?
A.) The last part first: eat
anything you want! I mostly bring food from home, though a new store at the entrance
to the Thamel district in Kathmandu carries an amazing amount -- far more in 1997 than
1994. I avoid the specialized freeze-dried meals and performance/power/type chewable
bars. The former are expensive, don't cook well at altitude (where water boils quite a bit
less hot than sea level) and taste so-so; the latter can be rock hard when cold. Go
to a regular supermarket and get all your favorite instant and snack foods. It is
easy to find affordable variety in cookies, crackers, candy, dry fruit... for one pound
per day. Add Pop-tarts, cocoa and hot cereal for breakfast, dinners of
soups/noodles/potato flakes with leftover crackers and sweets for dessert and you're all
set. Avoid caffeine (also a diuretic), especially at bedtime. Coffee itself is
a laxative, best saved for base camp rest days.
Tea bags are the only 'food' that
is a heavier trash item to carry down after use -- I had a pound of them to lug off my
first Alaskan climb!
Instant powder drinks are best, and
for goodness sake don't bring diet versions -- the goal is to maintain weight.
On K2, people offered me huge
trades for my Pop-Tarts -- no deal!
Q.) Have you read Kaufman's book on
the 1939 K2 tragedy? The author, himself a very famous mountaineer, says that
in the 1930s climbers were far more cautious about going for the top than they are today
and that is a main cause of so many of the deaths these days. Have you found it to
A. ) I read it, but lent my copy to
someone a few years ago and haven't been able to find it. I think he is generally
right, though 1939 had a preventable series of fatalities. Part of the deaths these
days are simply the numbers -- a certain percentage die, perhaps a decreasing fraction but
an increasing total. In the 1930s, gear was far more primitive and the routes more
unknown -- those folks were remarkable, and perhaps bolder than they realize -- or than
they feel in the face of modern commercialization/dramatization. Nowadays,
anyone who takes big mountains lightly, goes innumerable times, or is trying to establish
new and harder route, is certainly at increased risk.
Q.) It seems that many of the other
mistakes made in 1939 continue to be made today. Do you find that mountaineers
continue to make the same mistakes over and over?
A.) Yes, since the hazards keep
coming back, and certain risks must be taken repeatedly. Mis-communication is
inevitable; staying too high too long shouldn't happen any more, but it will. I keep
regretting not bringing a warmer down jacket and bigger strolling boots for hanging around
in base camp.
The key mistake on Everest is 1996
is a modern but recurring one. Having folks on oxygen from camp III all the way up
means that if it runs out high on the mountain their acclimatization is even more
terribly inadequate. The lower you start O's, the more rigid must be your schedule.
Q.) How far do you usually space
your camp sites on a Himalayan mountain and how long does it take to climb from one to
A.) 2000' to 3000' -- a long day
the first times, easier as you acclimatize. Also, one uses the best sites (flat,
safe, etc...). In the old days, some camps were only 500' apart, which just means
too much stuff to carry up, and later down. Better to go light and quickly.
Q.) In the 1930s they were afraid
that descending the mountain would cause them to lose their acclimatization. How
long do you spend at each camp before descending? and then what do you do on summit
A.) Nowadays most folks agree there
is little gained after one night at a new height -- better to go back down, regain
strength and conserve precious supplies up high. On the summit and all days, keep a
steady pace and stay on or ahead of schedule. Don't be late. Up or down, but
don't sit around.
And we usually take a minimum of 2
days in base camp between trips 'up the hill' to be thoroughly rested. And some
folks even go walk down the valley to enjoy thicker air for a night or two -- helps get
rid of coughs and build strength, if the hike isn't too harsh.
Q.) In 1986 several of the finest
climbers in the world died in their tents while caught in a storm high on K2. Is it
possible to descend in a storm to avoid the hypoxia and hypothermia that caused
A.) They did not have the route
adequately wanded and/or roped, and the conditions may have been too fierce to move --
that terrain is very steep and treacherous. Regardless, they should have tried
harder and sooner to descend -- later is far worse. They also spent too much time
high before the summit, and had inadequate tent space -- all due to over-optimism. One had
diverted from attempting a difficult new route, thinking that a repeat of the normal one
was barely worth doing. His body is still there.
Q.) How do you keep from going
crazy when you are stuck in a tent for days at a time high on a mountain? Greg Child
tells how one climber passes the time but it is a method that I would not find exciting.
A.) Books and (in base camp) a
radio. Some carry personal audio above base camp, but I've not done so yet. I
try to pop out during lulls, especially sunrise and sunset, to take pictures.
Compared to the hectic pace of life and work at home, some boring days are welcome, I
find. I try to keep a diary, but never manage to write much.
And my favorite diversion is
playing cards -- even above 7km! (That high, carry the small-sized decks).
Only trouble is, some folks don't play, and fitting four in a tent for Bridge is crowded
-- warm, though!
Q) Peter- Great Interview so
far!! Have you ever climbed any North Side Routes on Mt Shasta?
A.) I tried taking some relatively
inexperienced friends up via Shastina once. We turned around when it proved too
technical for them and for the hardware we had brought. One guy said his instinct
was to keep trying until disaster actually occurred! That's what experience
successfully helped prevent.
Q.) Have you done any climbs in
Colorado meaning any 14er's?
A.) No. I was driven up Mount
Evans at age 7, but don't think that counts.
Q.) What is the route like to
A.) Easy until the loose gully for
the last 1000' -- where crampons on snow may be preferable. (Some folks don't even
bring them!) Vicious winds and cold are the main obstacle -- especially in the
1997-98 El Nino, apparently. Also, going up too fast.
Q.) On Aconcagua a person doesn't
hike all the way in do they?
A.) Or ride a horse. The walk
is nice if a burro has your pack.
Q.) How technical is the climbing
on Aconcagua and on the Mexican Volcanos?
A.) Minimal, assuming snow not ice
is on your slope.
Q.) What is your opinion on novices
attempting Denali and Everest?
A.) Mighty dangerous. But, I
concede free will on the part of humans -- and hey, some of them make it. Those I've
seen, however, don't seem to be having much fun at the time. Experienced folks can
enjoy big climbs a lot more.
To avoid being around them, I like
going to less popular places or popular ones off-season.
Q.) Don't you feel $$
shouldn't be the overriding factor on selection of clients, but a clients abilities and
A.) Yes, but the nature of business
is that $$ count for a lot. That's why I prefer (and count myself lucky) to only
climb with friends and family.
Q.) On my previous climbs on some
14er's I noticed that one has to hydrate quite a bit, how much fluids did you carry on
your Himalayan climbs from camp to camp?
A.) 2 liters, usually one as
Gatorade. Then a liter at breakfast and another at dinner makes 4. Also a warm
one in the sleeping bag at night for comfort and sipping. (Don't confuse it with
your pee bottle!)
Q.) Where do you believe a person
with less experience on high altitude climbs would begin to need bottled oxygen? Does it
depend on that person's past experience or a certain elevation?
A.) I don't know that it depends on
experience level, or past experience. Some folks seem to respond consistently (like
a ski buddy who always gets sluggish above 11k') but I think it depends.
No one should start oxygen until
they are going to stay on it until returning, with certainty, to that elevation.
(Regardless of experience -- it is a matter of acclimatization physiology.)
High altitudes always feel pretty
weird, but experience helps one deal with it, and not panic.
To give an example of how
unpredictable Acute Mountain Sickness can be, consider this: my worst bout occurred a
little below 12,000'! Seriously, during my second year of college I got quite out of
shape, tried to keep up with my brother and two strong friends of his, made the top of an
easy scramble but felt terribly nauseous on the descent. One's breathing naturally
slows on the way down -- I recommend adding some voluntary deep breaths. I could still
walk, but couldn't imagine eating anything or sleeping that night. By the 10,000'
trailhead, I felt much better, and down in the 7000' town I ate a big dinner and slept
well at 9000' that night. Rapid recovery thanks to a rapid descent.
Q.) Where do climbers that attempt
K2 commonly start to use oxygen? Peter Thanks again for you time
A.) We breathe as hard as we can
even before base camp. (Just kidding, a favorite tease of mine.) We lugged
bottles but never used them. I could either get them to the high camp, or myself
with energy left to still do something. Most K2 ascents have been done without
extra O's, I think. If Sherpas were allowed back to the Karakoram, that might
Those using oxygen probably follow
what was our original plan -- some for sleeping at high camp, then the rest for the summit
day. So, starting about 8100m = 26,500'. (We camped quite high.)
Q.) Do Sherpa speak much English ?
A.) Yeah, though usually
poorly. (The world's most universal language --bad English.)
Q.) How do you communication to
these Sherpa ? Is it a problem?
A.) I've never had high altitude
porters, so all I know is from the trek and base camp with our non-Sherpa (Lama)
crew. Their English is poor, and they may not be literate in any language, but they
are smart and adaptable. We often can't figure out how, but things get taken care
of. Once in a while, we step in realizing we need to correct something that got confused,
but rarely. How's this for being capable: when we got to Kathmandu, our sirdar only
needed to know two things: how many days in base camp for the climb, and did we wish extra
porters to put up our tents for us each night on the approach trek? Everything else,
he knew what to do, and brought it in under budget. These guys are superb
organizers. (And no, we put up our own tents!)
Q.) What are the skills of high
altitude mountain leadership ?
A.) The same as at low altitude,
with the great complication of thinner air. Even leaders become weakened -- physically and
in terms of judgment. Having relative novices dependent on a single leader is even
When I take less experienced
friends or family members on an outing, I try to increase the margin of safety and make
sure I have the ability to do a lot of extra things as necessary (judge the weather, route
find, break trail, encourage them, camp chores, even carry their pack,...)
Q.) What does it take to be an
effective leader in high altitude ?
A.) I suppose knowing the
difference between the summit and safety is first and foremost. Beyond that, it
comes to experience. Since I mostly climb with family and friends, we all bring all
our skills to the outing, and everyone is involved in decisions -- no one is dependent on
a leader. I find this the safest and most enjoyable way to pass time in the mountains.
Q.) Do you enjoy reading books
about past mountaineering adventures and disasters?
A.) Yes, I used to buy one every
month (maximum budget as a student). Now that I have kids, I have little time to
read for myself -- just to them. (So, I bought a children's book about a cartoon character
trying to climb Mount Everest -- seriously!)
Q.) Do you learn anything practical
from them? If so can you tell us some specific things or ideas you learned from one
of these books?
A.) Certainly the writings about
the 1986 season on K2 made some things clear (that I mentioned a couple days ago): don't
be over-optimistic about time, don't skimp on tent space, don't linger up high,
turn-around early, and mark (wand) your ascent route so you can find it later even if
stormy and/or dark.
Everest 1996 is similar:
turn-around, watch the weather behind you, get the route ready on time, and if using it,
don't run out of supplemental oxygen. I keep a collection of favorite quotes -- several
pages now. Perhaps the all-time best is John Muir, solo explorer, naturalist and
scrambler: "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will
flow into you as sunshine flows into trees, the winds will blow their freshness into you,
and the storms their energies, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
Comment: Thank you for all of
your answers so far and to Everest News for enabling us to ask questions to such
fine mountaineers as you and Heather and all the others who so graciously answered all of
Peter: You're very welcome.
The popular media tends to spread misconceptions, so it is nice to be able to provide a
more realistic perspective.
Q.) On Everest we have found from
Everest News that these teams are from all over the world. How do they communicate with
each other ?
A.) With difficulty or not at
all. I startled a Ukrainian woman at 20,000' Dhaulagiri by saying 'Good Morning' to
her in Russian. (I had learned a few words on K2 two years before.) She
responded with a long inquiry about me -- none of which I understood! And in howling
winds, even sharing a common language isn't enough -- you have to know what each other is
trying to indicate with vague hand and arm gestures. That is why each team, and
person, must be as independent as possible. The real trouble happens with sharing
fixed ropes and small campsites.
Q.) Hi! You said that your wife got
a job as base camp manager for a particular climb of yours. How does one obtain such a job
and what credentials do you need?
A.) Not much of a job,
really. She had to pay all her expenses and only received fun as
compensation! And the requirements are comparably negligible -- you just have
to want to go and hang out somewhere. I have a great picture of her knitting with
avalanches crashing down in the distant background. (And some people vacation at
In truth, she is friendly,
self-sufficient, an experienced traveler, and has enough mountaineering and altitude
experience (camped on top of Whitney at 14,5k' in comfort) -- and owned a warm enough
sleeping bag and down jacket. Those are the 'job requirements'.
Q.) Tell us about acclimatization,
these seems to be more ways than ice cream !
A.) It does vary, so you have to
know your self. I have climbed above 14,000' for 20 years in a row (since the middle
of high school) and that gives me a frequent refamiliarization. Of course, from trip
to trip, or day to day, I still never know. If things feel wrong, descend fast and
far. Remember, my worst Mountain Sickness occurred at about 12,000' -- I was going
too fast, and maybe dehydrated as well.
Q.) Can you compare Fisher to Ed
Viesturs in climbing strength ? Compare them the best Sherpa climber you have seen.
A.) I haven't seen many sherpas,
but imagine that Ang Rita would seem beyond any non-Sherpa. Scott and Ed topped K2
together (with Charley) so must be well-matched. Strength on a given outing, or day,
isn't necessarily what counts -- either in assessing greatness, or choosing companions. If
Pakistan ever lets Sherpas back to the Karakoram, then we'll see.
Q.) Viesturs seems to be made into
an American hero with IMAX. But other numerous non-American climbers has far greater
resumes? Do you agree?
A.) Movies need heroes (and
heroines) and Ed is both photogenic and a really nice guy. Others may go down in
history with bigger resumes -- Ed isn't much of a technical, new-route type of
climber. (Neither am I, really.) Americans need an American hero, I suppose.
He is certainly qualified!
Q.) This fixing rope issue. Much
was made about this on K2 this year. Krakauer put much of the blame on "One
Sherpa" in Everest 96, for not fixing the rope on the Hillary step. I know you have
commented on this. But could you go into this issue in more detail.
A.) As I recall, the problem
started even lower down -- where the relatively inexperienced clients depended on a fixed
line. Regardless of where, if you are going to need the ropes in place, they have
got to be on time. Leaders and sherpas all need to make things work, and there is little
to be gained blaming the deceased. The lesson of turn-around time (as well as
turning around to see if the clouds are bringing bad weather behind you) remains
paramount. Being late, especially if your oxygen is going
to run out, can be deadly. If the evening's storm didn't pause at midnight for Neal
to guide most of the survivors in the right direction, several more would have died.
On my outings, the whole group is involved in leading, so the dependence on one
person doesn't weaken us.
Q.) On Denali via West Buttress,
how difficult of climb is this ? How steep is it?
A.) Mostly gentle, but sometimes
narrow (either on a ridge or between crevasses). The upper bowl at 16,000' reaches 45
degrees, and if icy (often in early season) with a heavy pack, high wind and low
visibility, you will find it very challenging. The approach to the mountain is long,
requiring patience and endurance, but also providing time for acclimatization. The
crevasses are very big and scary -- soloists are crazy. And I recommend not mixing
skiers and snowshoers.
Q.) Can you tell us more detail
about the Denali climb ?
A.) The regular route is a very
nice one: fairly safe from avalanches and ice-falls, but plenty tough and long.
Mostly, the mountain is incredibly cold with vicious storms. A friend described it
as 'getting kicked in the teeth by mother nature.' A bit harsh, perhaps, but then a
slow companion prevented him and his partner from seeing the find view from the top.
Q.) How do you choose a route to
climb on a mountain the size of K2? Why choose the Northeast ridge instead of the
southeast spur for example?
A.) Some people choose a route for
reasons of challenge or potential fame, other considerations might be a route more
difficult (longer and/or more technical) but safer in terms of icefall or avalanche.
For K2, the 'easiest' route is also relatively 'safe'. Since I would say the
challenge is adequate for me, and fame not a consideration, the choice is obvious. I have
tried two routes in Alaska that were not the easiest on the peak, and made it up one of
them. Otherwise, for big mountains, the easiest is always my choice since I avoid
peaks with bad icefalls or high avalanche risk on their 'standard' routes.
Q.) Can you see the climbers on
other routes while you are climbing? Do you ever get in each other's way?
A.) My trips to 8000m peaks have
never involved having climbers on other routes, at least that I know of. Due to
paperwork reasons, other groups had signed up for non-standard routes, but ended up on the
regular one. With fixed ropes, one certainly gets a little bit in each other's way
-- sometimes knocking rock and snow on each other, too. The trouble is when one
group goes home and removes fixed ropes (sometimes not even their own)! I'm all for
cleaning up at the end of the season, but not hazard-producing theft. Worst can be
when a camp location is tiny -- then sharing gets very tough.
Q.) How long does it take to
walk around the mountain? Or at least from >the Godwin Glacier to the Savoia
Glacier? I have never seen a big mountain up close and really have no grasp of the
A.) It is several hours walk, much
more if crevasses make trouble. I wish we had not been so delayed in our arrival --
I could have enjoyed ski touring around on the lingering spring snow-pack !
Q.) Do you coordinate summit
attempts with people on other routes so as not to clog up the summit and create a
A.) There wasn't anyone else there
our year, though 1986 or 1995 could have been crowded up high. After all the deaths
in 1986, and then the Persian Gulf War, not many folks were visiting Pakistan in the early
1990s. K2's route isn't so cramped near the summit as Everest's Hillary step.
Nor are there nearly so many people up there. The total number on top of K2 to date
is perhaps 120? That could be just two Spring's on Everest! Also, the K2
season is longer, with people eyeing the weather all summer long, rather than a one or
two-week burst like Everest.
Q.) It seems to me that without some
people staying back and manning the lower camps the summiters may not survive, especially
if the summiters are trapped in a storm or have other serious problems. Is there any
bitterness in not being able to go for the summit but in staying behind in support?
A.) Certainly having support is
ideal, though often there is little one can do. If there are fixed ropes and lots of
Sherpas and other strong climbers (as on Everest in 1996) people can be helped down from
the high camp. But, they pretty much need to get themselves that far down promptly,
and the weather can't stay severe. The friends I climb with make their own
decisions, with overall strategy by consensus, so bitterness is hopefully impossible.
Usually what stops people is their health (me in 1994 on Dhaulagiri), the weather (many
people on many mountains every year), or perhaps individual gear failure (one guy's boots
on K2 wouldn't take both overboots and crampons, and his feet were too cold even by Camp
II). I enjoy the scenery for the entire climbing season, so don't mind a support
role when I can help my friends. If a dictatorial leader told me what to do when, I
am certain I would be bitter !
Reader's Comment: Thank you.
Your kindness and patience in answering the questions, no matter how basic, is greatly
My pleasure. I enjoy chatting
about mountains, big and small.