- Melissa Arnot
- Alex Barber
- Gabriel Barral
- Jake Beren
- Zeb Blais
- Katie Bono
- Anne Gilbert Chase
- Sean Collon
- Leon Davis
- Elias de Andres Martos
- Cody Doolan
- Paul Edgren
- Mark Falender
- Leah Fisher
- Eric Frank
- Steve Gately
- Josh Gautreau
- Thomas Greene
- Casey Grom
- Dave Hahn
- Walter Hailes
- Tim Hardin
- Mike Haugen
- Andy Hildebrand
- Mike Hinckley
- Joe Horiskey
- Nick Hunt
- Tyler Jones
- J.J. Justman
- Levi Kepsel
- Mike King
- Adam Knoff
- Katy Laveck
- Ben Liken
- Josh Maggard
- Paul Maier
- Linden Mallory
- Lindsay Mann
- Andres Marin
- Jeff Martin
- Erik Nelson
- Billy Nugent
- Brent Okita
- Logan Randolph
- Tyler Reid
- Dave Reynolds
- Kel Rossiter
- Geoff Schellens
- Shaun Sears
- Garrett Stevens
- Jason Thompson
- Mike Tomlinson
- Mark Tucker
- Mike Uchal
- Pete Van Deventer
- Alex Van Steen
- Ed Viesturs
- Maile Wade
- Mike Walter
- Seth Waterfall
- Solveig Waterfall
- Peter Whittaker
- Win Whittaker
- Bryson Williams
- Dan Windham
- Robby Young
Posts from 04/2012
Posted by: | April 17, 2012
Categories: *Guide News
RMI Guide JJ Justman began guiding for RMI in 1998 and his climbing and guiding resume includes a long list of notable peaks from all corners of the world. We recently caught up with JJ to hear about his guiding career and his latest pursuits.
RMI: Where have you been climbing this winter?
JJ: This winter I have been climbing in a few of my favorite places. I first went down to Argentina to lead another expedition on South America’s highest peak, Aconcagua. It was nice to stand on top at 22,841 feet and it was my 14th summit. Unfortunately I was only able to do one expedition there. Usually, I like to climb Aconcagua twice. Instead in February I returned to the States and led a Winter Expedition Skills Seminar on Mount Rainier. We had a great team of climbers and in the beginning the weather was fantastic. We made it up to Camp Muir on a beautiful day but in typical fashion, winter crept back in and it was nasty as ever. This may seem like a downer when on a climb but it’s actually a lot of fun to be in that kind of weather. You end up learning a lot about how to survive in bad conditions. That winter expedition ended on a Friday and the next day I flew to Mexico to guide the Mexican Volcanoes Ixta and Orizaba, another favorite climb of mine. It had been awhile since I had been down to Mexico and I simply forgot not only how fun the climbing is but how amazing the food is. You don’t know Mexican food until you’ve been to Puebla.
RMI: You’ve been guiding for the better part of two decades, what are a couple of highlights from your guiding career?
JJ: Boy, that is a great question. I have many highlights. The first is having guided on Rainier since 1998 pretty much day in and day out for the summer season. I have 188 summits but what I love is having shared those summits with literally over a thousand people. I love climbing Rainier so much for that reason. You are always climbing with new folks, many of whom are mountaineering for the first time. Another highlight has been my Himalayan career. I’ve climbed on 6 of the 14 8000 meter peaks. I did not summit on all of them. On the contrary. However, I’ve guided and led safe and successful expeditions in some rather inhospitable environments. Simply experiencing those landscapes is something that cannot be explained, you have to literally do it and see it for yourself to understand its beauty. Out of all the Himalayan expeditions I have done, Dhaulagiri, which is the seventh highest in the world stands out for me. It was 2002, my first Himalayan 8000 meter peak. It is a mountain not many people attempt and our small climbing team was the only expedition there that year. Talk about cool! It felt like we were the original explorers in that region to discover and attempt climbing the mountain. It was steep, the weather was relentlessly horrible and we tried to summit on three separate occasions. And every time the weather screamed at us “No”. Regardless, we made it up just shy of the summit and our team was one of the greatest teams I have climbed with. A well knit group. I could go on and on but I’ll stop it there. Those are a few of my highlights.
RMI: How has guiding changed for you over the years?
JJ: Guiding for me is like any other industry. Things change. Things evolve. For me, I have taken the attitude of being a life-long learner. Every year there are new tips, new tricks, new methods about short roping, anchors, crevasse rescue, and emergency medicine. I enjoy learning new ways to do things and most of the time I am learning these things from younger guides who are going through their own official education in guiding. I don’t want to be the “old guy” who is stuck in the past thinking “my way is the best way”. There is always something to learn. I’ve also been fortunate to be mentored by some of the best mountain guides in the world. And I find the most important skill a guide can have and often the most difficult to learn is the “soft skills” of communication. Great guides have great empathy. Personally I learned this on my summit of Everest in 2004. Coming back down off the summit I was utterly exhausted! And I remember thinking, “this is what my clients on Rainier feel like after making the summit!” I climb Rainier so much I am used to it but for someone who has never done it, well, they get exhausted. A good guide can empathize with their fellow climbers because we have all been there, we have all felt that uncomfortable pain of exhaustion. It’s a bitter sweet aspect of standing on top of big mountains, whether it is Rainier, Denali, Aconcagua, or Everest.
RMI: You create some great short videos from your climbs, how did you get interested in creating those?
JJ: I became interested in making videos of my climbs because of the dispatches I used to do for my Himalayan climbs: it was fun to share photos and videos of the climbs. Families and friends of the climbers enjoyed seeing their loved ones and the environment they were in. On Rainier, one of the things guides would hear is about how people wish they would have taken more photos. Of course the main objective is to summit and climbers have enough to focus on. So I shoot video throughout the climb and then do a quick down and dirty edit and post the video for anyone to see on a Facebook Page called “The Guiding Life”. For me, shooting video on a climb is just part of the job. My camera is connected to my ski pole so all I have to do is push a button so it doesn’t distract from my main responsibilities of guiding. And people have really enjoyed and appreciated being able to see themselves in action on the mountain.
RMI: What do you enjoy most about being a mountain guide?
JJ: What I enjoy most about being a mountain guide is taking people into one of the most beautiful environments in the world. When you look at a mountain from down below like 99% of people do, they think it is beautiful. Spectacular even. However, when you stand up on that mountain looking down below, it is a completely different world. And it is amazing. Again, it is something you don’t understand until you see it with your own eyes. In order to stand on any mountain’s summit a person has to be tough. You must break through that mental barrier that says “I don’t know if I can do this.” Keeping climbers safe in an environment that can be dangerous and coaching them through tough situations to accomplish great things is what I love about guiding. For some folks climbing Rainier is the most unbelievable thing they have ever done. For some others they get the climbing bug and have to go higher. No matter what, I love sharing the raw power of just being in the mountains. Experiencing one of the most beautiful places you can be.
RMI: You’ve done over 15 Expeditions to Aconcagua, what advice do you have for climbers looking to climb South America’s highest mountain?
JJ: To date, I have done 16 expeditions to Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America. For many climbers, Aconcagua is the first real “expedition style” climb they do. So there is a little bit of learning you have to do, some subtle differences from a typical climb. One of the biggest obstacles people face is boredom. Expedition climbs like Aconcagua are all about patience. You have to have patience. You have to acclimatize properly, which means on days you are feeling great, you may have to rest and just take it easy. Weather will always come in and you will have to wait out a storm. You have to be patient. Again, it is the mental game that gets most people on climbs. You have to be tough. Tough beats Strong every time. And if you are tough and hang in there you will be rewarded with the most amazing view South America has to offer.
RMI: What does your upcoming climbing season look like?
JJ: My upcoming climbing season for 2012 is another whirlwind but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I will be on Mount Rainier from beginning to end, May through September. However, I am excited to have a two week stint where I will be going back to Russia to guide Mount Elbrus. I am really looking forward to that climb because it is with some folks I have climbed with a lot all over the world. I missed that point when talking about what I enjoy most about guiding. I love developing friendships where over the years I get to share in more and more climbing experiences with the same people. After my tour in Russia and on Rainier I will be leading a Mexico’s Volcanoes trip in October before I head back to Argentina in late November where I will be leading two expeditions on Aconcagua, one starting December 3 and the other starting January 2. It’s still early in the game but there is already talk of the Himalayas, a place I always want to return to.
We had some high winds during the night. At dawn the winds deteriorated and we barely had any wind today. Great morning of training with self- and team- ice axe arrest and cramponing. With our crampons on, we roped up and went to the nearby glacier to train. Our tentative plan is to do crevasse rescue training tomorrow. The forecast is for more high winds coming in tomorrow. The winds are supposed to decrease tomorrow night, which looks like the best summit bid window. We’ll have an exploratory team go up later today or tomorrow to check out route conditions.
We had a beautiful hike down to Lukla today. Lots of greenery and local folk working away in the gardens that abound down here in the 10,000’ region. The airport was shut down early this morning due to clouds but as we approached there were a few flights that went in the afternoon. John and Kim are set for the second flight tomorrow weather permitting. The commute from our lodging for the night to the entrance of the airport is about thirty feet, no excuse for missing the flight.
Kim here. . . wow, this has been quite an experience. It was an amazing adventure that I won’t forget anytime soon. There were some hard days, some disappointing days, and some really wonderful days. Overall, it was definitely a worthwhile experience. Thanks to all for the comments and good wishes. I’d like to spend my last blog opportunity answering the questions posted yesterday and March 31st from Mrs. Hartman’s and Mrs. Jerome’s classrooms:
Q: How high are you? A: We were at different altitudes each day. Today we are back in Lukla where we started which is about 9,900ft. The highest we got was about 19,000ft. That was on Island Peak. Q: Did you summit? A: We did not make it to the summit. I am disappointed about that since I was the one who could not make it. The air was very cold and each time I tried to breathe deep, it hurt my lungs. So, I couldn’t get enough air to have the energy I needed to keep going. The rest of the team decided to turn around with me. Q: How high is Island Peak? A: Island Peak is 20,300ft, so we still had a long way to go. Q: Have you used your ice ax and climbing harness? A: We did not use our ice axes or crampons on Island Peak because we didn’t get high enough, but we did use them during our training session at Everest Base Camp. I’ll try to include a photo from that for today. We did have our climbing harnesses on. Q: Which is higher, Island Peak or Everest Base Camp? A: Island Peak is higher than Everest Base Camp. Island Peak is about 20,300ft, Everest Base Camp is 17,575ft. Q: How are you feeling? A: I was feeling pretty sick up high. It is common for people to not feel good when they get that high because of the lack of air pressure and limited oxygen. I am feeling much better now that we are down low again. Q:How many tea houses have you been in? A: Too many to count. We stopped at one or two each day for lunch and afternoon tea. Then we stayed at one each night. Q: What was your favorite dish to eat? A: It depended on the day. Up high, the only thing that sounded good to eat was popcorn. So, I have been eating a lot of that. Down lower, we all like the chicken chilly (spicy chicken. . .spelled differently on every menu). We also liked to eat daal bhat with pappad and veggie curry. Tell Ranish that I like the curry fine, but I prefer it to be a little more spicy than they make it up here. I also forgot to mention the dumplings that are popular here called mo-mos. We had a lot of veggie mo-mos. Q: Are you staying warm? A: I was SO cold many days up there. It was the coldest I have ever been. . . especially while on Island Peak and at Everest Base Camp. I am warmer now that we are lower. Q: Are you having fun or do you wish you were home? A: Both. I have had lots of fun, but when I was cold and sick, I was wishing I was someplace else. I am still very glad that I went to Everest Base Camp, though. It was an amazing place. Q: Are yaks carrying your bags? A: No. Porters are carrying our bags. Those men are really strong. I am impressed by their strength and speed. Q: What is the name of the peak behind you in the photo from today (4/9/12)? A: We all looked at the photo and we think that was the side of Ama Dablam. We have seen so many peaks, it is hard to tell for sure.
Hopefully we will fly out to Kathmandu tomorrow and then to India for a few days after that. Again, thanks to all for your good wishes and your support. We have enjoyed reading your comments the few times we have had internet service.
John here: It’s been a while since I made an update. Too long to try to recap the last few days. Like Kim, this has been an experience of a lifetime for me. The Nepalese people are so genuinely warm and welcoming and the scenery is unmatched by anything I have ever experienced. Kim mentioned that we didn’t summit Island Peak. While that is a disappointment for all of us, Kim and I did reach a new high. Along the way I learned a lot about myself, my abilities and what’s really important. There will be other peaks in our future and we’ll both be better prepared to face them.
We hiked out from Namche Bazar today. It was bittersweet. While it meant this part of our journey was coming to an end, it also meant we had hot showers and clean clothes to look forward to. We also have all the wonderful experiences and memories that we worked so hard over the last few weeks to create. Thanks to Tuck we’ve also met tons of folks along the way, all who added to the texture of the experience.
Thank you to all of you who followed our journey, we look forward to sharing our experiences and pictures with you when we get back. Pop some corn - we have LOTS of pictures.
On The Map
The Expedition Skills Seminar - Winter reached Camp Muir this afternoon. They started from Paradise at 9:45 this morning and pulled into Camp Muir at 4:45. The weather was fantastic! It was like a summer day for much of the hike. The snowfield was in great shape. As they gained some elevation, some high clouds came in and they entered into a cloud cap. Presently it is fairly nice and a little windy but they are enjoying Camp Muir at just over 10,000’. The team looks forward to doing a bunch of training tomorrow.
We are back in the big city of Namche Bazaar. What a great shower! The feet are a bit tired but here in Namche life is sweet. In fact we just finished our lunch at the bakery topped off with some apple strudel.
What a whirl wind it has been since we left Everest Base Camp. Seems to me that once you get above 15,000’ time goes by a bit quicker. We had a grand time at Base Camp. So fun to show the team my office for the weeks to come. We had great training at the base of the Khumbu Ice Fall, such a historic setting and perfect location for technical ice climbing training and team dynamics for the Island Peak climb.
Our travel from one amazing valley to another went without a hitch, once in the Imja Khola Valley with views of Island Peak, the excitement level rose. The storm we had to deal with at Island Peak Base camp was felt throughout the region. Although the conditions on the route were less than perfect, the night we went for the summit was pretty nice. The moon was so bright I didn’t need my headlight till we were higher up into the tight rocky area. It is such a unique experience to climb at heights like these in the middle of the night surrounded by bitter cold, working hard and breathing hard with every step. Why do I call this fun? Tough to express what a special time we had looking out at the high Himalaya watching the sunrise at over 19,000’. With so much earth below but amazed at how much still loomed above was hard to take in.
It’s been a long march in the last three days to get here. We were just ahead of the big seasonal traveler push up to Everest on the way in, but now it is peak time for large groups. It’s been fun to see lots of old friends going up to Everest Base Camp.
After all these miles with no feet problems, my toes go out to Jeremy Foust and the crew at Whittaker Mountaineering for the fantastic job they did fitting me with a great pair of Asolo trekking boots and LaSpotiva climbing boots. Thanks so much.
It’s not over yet. We are off to Lukla tomorrow and flights for John and Kim the day after.
RMI Guide Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker checks in after Island Peak Climb.
On The Map
RMI Guide Mark Tucker left a message, which was too garbled to transcribe. We did hear that the team is doing well and back in Chukung.
On The Map
Hey Mark Tucker here checking in from Island Peak Base Camp. Well, know sooner than us signing off from the dispatch yesterday that it started to snow and pretty much continued throughout the night. Had a pretty good blanket when we woke up. You know…. was enough so that our move up to high camp was probably not the best idea. So we stuck around down here… Now I’m looking down….. So we did a little hike up towards Camp 1 just to kinda get a feel for it and the conditions so we’re all ready for that. Now we’re packing and adjusting and fidgeting with gear all day today. Resting, eating… a little bit earlier than normal because being down at Base Camp so we are going to start looking at the weather around midnight. Just finished a nice dinner and we’re going to crawl in the bag. Start resting and hopefully get a few hours of shuteye. We don’t really need to sleep for this event, we just need to rest. We’ve got a bunch of batteries stored up so we are looking good… We’ll check in with you guys progress in the near future.
Mark Tucker checks in from Island Peak Base Camp.
On The Map
Mark Tucker here calling here from Island Peak Base Camp. We had a 3-hour hike up from Chukung to a nice lunch. Beautiful day. Nice and warm until the sun set and now a little bit of clouds and wind. Came out to a little ridge here to get a better signal. I’m in three layers, heavy down and it is chilly. I guess it could be worse. We’ve had a great day so far. Everybody’s doing well. We have a fabulous staff assisting us so overall, as a mountaineer goes, we’ve got it pretty easy. It is still a tough environment to handle. We are all doing well. We are all looking forward to a late start tomorrow up to our high camp. Beautiful, beautiful day. Peaks surrounding us, just awesome to stare at. Had a nice dinner and it is into the sleeping bag with my favorite water bottle to get me through the night. All’s well.
RMI Guide Mark Tucker checking in from Island Peak Base Camp.
On The Map
We woke up to the sound of rain pounding on the roof and a sinking feeling descended over me: rain meant cloudy weather and no flights into Lukla and I began to wonder if we would be forced to spend the day waiting for clearer skies in order to fly back to Kathmandu. I hesitantly looked out of the window of the teahouse and much to my relief it was only a light rain falling from a thin layer of clouds above. By the time we packed up our bags and sat down for breakfast the skies cleared and soon airplanes began making the harrowing approach into the narrow strip of runway in Lukla.
After wrapping up breakfast we said goodbye to our porters and Sherpa staff and walked the hundred yards up the trail into the Lukla airport where we checked in for our flight. We reweighed all of our bags, once again amazed at the loads our porters were able to carry for the duration of our trek, and then found a seat in the waiting area. Every loud roar accompanying the landing of an airplane we would jump up to stare out the window to see if the plane arriving was ours. Finally, after a couple of planes came and went the green tail of our Tara Air appeared on the runway and and we lined up outside of the idling aircraft to take our seats.
The flight back to Kathmandu lacked the views of our flight in and the plane was forced to take a long route around all of the clouds already building by mid morning before we finally began the descent back into Kathmandu. We landed safely and stepped out into the thick and warm air of the city, a very different feel than the mountains above. Once all of our gear was loaded into the back of the van we set out for our hotel. Needless to say, the melee of cars, motorbikes, horns, buildings, and throngs of people is a radical change from the relative quiet and calm of the Khumbu and it is taking us a good bit to make the shift back into the scene here in Kathmandu.
We arrived at our hotel but not all of the rooms were ready so we sat down next to the pool behind and ordered lunch: fresh salads, vegetables, and burgers (even in Nepal!). It was a feast. We then turned our attention to showers and clean clothes - another luxury for us. By late afternoon, showered and dressed in fresh clothes, we headed into Thamel, the heart of Kathmandu, and spent a few hours wandering the streets and taking in the scene. It feels great to be back in Kathmandu but hard to believe our adventures are over; we’ve settled into our trail and routine and it’s a bit strange to not have to wake up tomorrow, pack the duffel bag, and start walking. It’s going to take a bit to readjust. We are heading out for our celebration dinner tonight, looking forward to another good meal. Tomorrow is our contingency day, just in case weather prevented us from moving at some point during the trip, and we are using it to check out a few of the sites in Kathmandu before our flight home the following day. The team is all excited to get home and share their stories, thanks to everyone for following along with us.
Mark Tucker here calling from Chukung. I’m not sure which one I like better Phakhing or Chukung. Pretty tight-laced. The teams in great shape up here. It was a nice about two and half hour about 2000-foot gain hike from Dingboche. It was just enough to get the blood flowing and breathing level up and still making that acclimatization effort. It’s going real well, real happy with how the team is doing. The weather socked in once we got here to our tea house, and perfect timing for that. We hung around and had some food and fuel and did fine there. And then just in time it cleared up for perfect views and photos of fresh snow, on the white, tall Himalayan peaks that are surrounding us. We met up with our local guide, Perba and assistant/cook, Raz. We got a couple of nice guys. They helped out with Linden so they got all the recent information for the route, so that is great to have as well. Couple of nice guys and so thankful to have them with the team. So back in 1953 was the first ascent of Island Peak. It was made by a prestigious team. They were training in preparation for an ascent of Everest. One of those guys was Tenzing Norgay, who accompanied Kili on that famous day. So it makes you wonder if things go well here for Kim and John, could this be a stepping stone for the Big E? Maybe next year? I guess time will tell.
RMI Guide Mark Tucker from Chukung
On The Map
Previous Page More Entries