- Melissa Arnot
- Alex Barber
- Bridget Belliveau
- Jake Beren
- Zeb Blais
- Katrina Bloemsma
- Katie Bono
- Nick Brown
- Adam Butterfield
- Anne Gilbert Chase
- Lance Colley
- Sean Collon
- Leon Davis
- Elias de Andres Martos
- Paul Edgren
- Mark Falender
- Leah Fisher
- Eric Frank
- Steve Gately
- Josh Gautreau
- Casey Grom
- Dave Hahn
- Walter Hailes
- Mike Haugen
- Bryan Hendrick
- Andy Hildebrand
- Joe Horiskey
- Nick Hunt
- Tyler Jones
- J.J. Justman
- Levi Kepsel
- Mike King
- Adam Knoff
- Ben Liken
- Zach Lovell
- Josh Maggard
- Paul Maier
- Linden Mallory
- Lindsay Mann
- Andres Marin
- Jeff Martin
- Robert Montague
- Chase Nelson
- Billy Nugent
- Brent Okita
- Tyler Reid
- Kel Rossiter
- Geoff Schellens
- Shaun Sears
- Garrett Stevens
- Jason Thompson
- Mark Tucker
- Mike Uchal
- Pete Van Deventer
- Alex Van Steen
- Ed Viesturs
- Mike Walter
- Seth Waterfall
- Solveig Waterfall
- Peter Whittaker
- Win Whittaker
- Bryson Williams
- Dan Windham
- Robby Young
Posts for Guide News
“You can’t win if you don’t play” is dubious encouragement often doled out by Las Vegas casinos and the like—but it is solid counsel in the world of alpine climbing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve plodded through a milk puddle of clouds on the Muir Snowfield only to rise above it all upon reaching Camp Muir. Indeed, even in the face of slim weather odds, you’ve got to at least put yourself into position for success and be ready to maximize it should those slim odds work in your favor. Time and time again that alpine advice held true during my recent American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) Alpine Guide Exam (AGE).
Arriving in Seattle in mid-September for my 10-day AGE, I stared at the bright screen of my smart phone and steeled myself for the grim weather forecast it proposed…my First Ascent BC-200 had seen me through many a maelstrom on Rainier, but ten days of that? Like any climber of peaks like Rainier, Denali, Cotopaxi, or Orizaba, the wheels on this particular bus had been set in motion many, many months before and there was far too much invested to pull it over to the side of the road due simply to predictions of a deluge. The AMGA is the premier training path for America’s professional climbing guides and the 10-day AGE is the culminating exam that guides take in order to become Certified Alpine Guides. Along the way toward that test, hopefuls must first take a 10-day Rock Instructor Course, a 9-day Alpine Guides Course, a 5-day Ice Instructor Course, an 8-day Advanced Alpine Guides Course, a 3-day Alpine Aspirant Exam, a 6-day American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education Level 3 Course and Exam, and a then—finally—the 10-day Alpine Guide Exam.
In case you weren’t counting, that’s 41 days of training in all—and that doesn’t even begin to include the climbing resume you have to develop in between courses. All in all, that’s a triple wallop of a lot of tuition, a lot of travel costs, and a lot of opportunity costs in the form of lost wages. Fortunately—and very, very thankfully—RMI, Whittaker Mountaineering, and Eddie Bauer/First Ascent helped to take some of the sting out of the tuition costs, but that aside, there was still no way I was going to let a grim weather forecast rain on my parade! Now the only problem was: “Would the grim weather forecast rain on the whole AGE parade?” You see, in order for an AGE to be valid, the examiners need to see you in a variety of terrain and situations—and if the weather doesn’t allow those windows to open…
Fortunately, time and time again, in the face of doom, gloom, cats, and dogs we put ourselves into position for success and just barely, and just somehow, squeaked it out. For the first few days we enjoyed the relative “rain shadow” that the Washington Pass area of the North Cascades provides. Washington Pass doesn’t allow for glacial travel though—an integral part of the AGE—so after two days we had to leave that safe harbor for the shores of Mt. Shuksan. We arrived in the Lake Ann/Fisher Chimneys trailhead in a steady drizzle. By the time we packed up, things had improved, but the rest of the day was something of an ongoing “fashion show” as we put on a rain shell, took it off, added a warmth layer, and tried to predict what the weather would look like in five minutes. And in the backs of our minds all imagined how things might unfold. Happily, we were most certainly rewarded for our efforts: By the time we topped out on Fisher Chimneys and rolled into our bivvy site, we were high above the roiling sea of grey valley clouds. So often it’s the case on Mount Rainier that we’ll radio down to Ashford and hear that they’re thick in the rain while up at Camp Muir we’re above it all. Such was the case on Shuksan, and the next day we managed to circumnavigate the Upper Curtis, Sulphide, and Crystal Glaciers and climb the summit massif’s Northeast Ridge—my first time doing that particular route and highly recommended!
As the forecast shifted from grim to grimmer, we again decided to head over to Washington Pass. Driving over Highway 20 toward our meeting point at the Cutthroat Peak trailhead, my windshield wipers clicked a steady rhythm in time with the electronic music I was listening to to try to psych myself up. I arrived early at the trailhead and the rain continued. I cranked more psych music as I attempted some gear-sorting-inside-the-car-yoga poses. Then, miraculously, it began to clear. Not the swift and sure kind of clear that let’s you know a new weather attitude is on the way—more like the resistant backing away of an angry dog that’s just been called by it’s owner, but enough to make a climb seem viable. We racked up, packed up, and headed for Cutthroat Peak’s South Buttress. While it is true that “you can’t win if you don’t play”, it’s also true that it’s a bad idea to climb yourself so far up an objective that retreat becomes untenable. Fortunately, the South Buttress offers plenty of bail options, so with one eye on the clouds and the other on my rope coils, we moved upward, steadily gaining another plum Cascade peak.
By then, we’d heard reports from a group of Advanced Alpine Guide Course participants that the Boston Basin area (home to West Ridge of Forbidden, Torment-Forbidden Traverse, Sharkfin Tower, and Sahale Peak, among others) had already received six inches of the new winter’s snow. Fresh snow poses it’s own set of problems in the alpine world, but deciding that fresh snow was more palatable than dealing with the reported dousing on the way, so up we went!
These days, I’m climbing on snow for at least a part of almost every month of the year, but it’s not often I’m dealing with fresh snow in September. Skis or snowshoes weren’t a part of our packing list, so lift-kick-step-sink-lift was the interminable process as we moved up through the now 10 inches of fresh snow covering the Quien Sabe Glacier. A circumnavigation/summit of Sahale Peak was our goal, and we eyed the valley clouds warily as we proceeded in dogged pursuit. Soon the clouds enveloped us and in between breaks we attempted to plot the best path ahead. After some steep, snow-laden slopes, a bergschrund crossing, and the final rocky summit scramble we were on top of our last AGE objective, Sahale Peak!
By day’s end I was back in a Bellingham motel room, enjoying the comforts of a shower, eat-in Thai Food, and 581 channels. On every weather channel, stoic looking forecasters delivered the report with the delicacy of a cancer ward counselor: the patient’s condition was not improving. I spooned the last bit of tofu out of my box of green curry and grinned: For the last ten days we’d prevailed in the face of such gloom and doom forecasts, and now, with the AGE wrapped up I was much more than just a survivor, I was finally an AMGA Certified Alpine Guide!
Achieving AMGA Alpine Guide Certification only occurred through a lot of support. Thanks to RMI/Whittaker Mountaineering/Eddie Bauer-First Ascent for their solid support of guide professional development. Thanks to all of the RMI guides who, through their sharing of skills, techniques, and approaches, have honed my own alpine guide skills; and particular gratitude to Andres Marin, Geoff Schellens, Jake Beren, Levi Kepsel, Eric Frank, Leon Davis, Elias De Andres Martos, and Rob Montague who shared with me their time and talents in the field as I worked toward this goal.
- RMI Guide Kel Rossiter
This past autumn I left the surf and sand of Southern California to attempt my first 8,000-meter peak, solo, and without supplemental oxygen or Sherpa support. I don’t quite remember when the idea came about, but climbing a Himalayan giant is something I’ve dreamt of since an early age. This project always struck me as a rematch of sorts, as my first foray into mountaineering as a teen was a botched solo attempt on Mt. Whitney in January. That first climb put me through the ringer and I departed for this expedition fully expecting the same.
With expeditions like this, the unknowns are bound to be many; I heard differing opinions on just about everything. “Kathmandu is modern and you can buy all your supplies there,” one person would say, and then the next day I would hear the opposite. For the record, Kathmandu is definitely not modern - but all this can be fun. I found adventure in the 21st century and that seems to be rare. So I planned for what I could and insulated myself from what I couldn’t. It was exhilarating to know that I had no concept of everything I’d face.
Near midnight on the 1st of September, I hit the tarmac of Kathmandu International Airport. The city of Kathmandu sits within a large valley at the foot of the Himalaya. Its streets are crowded and its buildings somewhat dilapidated, but the people are kind and the food is fantastic. Surely much has changed since the first westerners arrived, but there is still a sense of lore about the place. Hindu temples, large and small, are strewn about, and filled with worshipers while Buddhist monks’ roam the streets. The entirety of this scene is cast against the gear shops and bustle of everyday city life in a place steeped in climbing history.
On September 10th I arrived at Chinese Base Camp, the “end of the road”. Over the previous week I’d driven through the alpine rainforests of Nepal and into the moonscape of the Tibetan Plateau. At the Tibetan border it is necessary to leave your Nepali ride and walk across the “Friendship Bridge” flanked on either side by the Nepalese and Chinese military. Once across, I met my Chinese Liaison and Tibetan driver. We quickly departed and speedily wove through the streets of Zhangmu, a border town perpetually stuck in a dense fog of clouds as they collide with the rising Tibetan Plateau. At Chinese Base Camp (BC, 16,300’) I still was 2,400’ vertical feet and an unknown distance from Advanced Base Camp (ABC). I spent 3 days at BC waiting for yaks (pack animals that would move my supplies to ABC). While waiting, I developed a terribly bothersome head cold; unfortunately this was not the only time I got sick during this expedition. Days later and sick as a dog, I trekked the last distance into ABC, low visibility, snowing hard with a frigid wind in my face.
We erected ABC (18,700’) and soon I fell into the rhythm of establishing higher camps mixed with days of leisure. Everything seemed to slowly come together, as I prepared my body and my supplies for a possible summit window in the beginning of October. I think what kept me most sane during the expedition was my focus on the immediate. An undertaking such as this can be daunting if you try to grasp the sum of the next 20-day span, including the challenges yet to be overcome. So I’d only spool out as much time as was immediately necessary in my mind, and kept my thoughts off the many days ahead of me to reach the summit.
Throughout the climbing period of the expedition I kept a brisk pace between camps, taking care not to push myself so hard that I couldn’t construct camp and take care of myself adequately afterwards. It’s a fine line up there; it’s far too easy to push yourself past the limit. I saw this countless times with other climbers but they had the safety net of Sherpas, guides, and teammates to assist them when they took on too much. I had no such safeguard and this was something I had to always take into account. I wouldn’t want to put a negative connotation on climbing solo though, because it was gratifying in its simplicity.
On September 30th I pulled into Camp 3 at 24,500’. I recall constructing camp atop a small ridge of snow perched beneath the notorious Yellow Band. Here I definitely felt the altitude. Beneath me two Sherpa friends were digging in a platform for their team’s arrival. I’d look over at them as I was catching my breath and they’d be doing the same, smiling and laughing with each other at the ridiculousness of it all.
Climbing without supplemental oxygen and solo (or as solo as it gets on Cho Oyu) has dangers that are heightened, namely the two forms of edema: HAPE and HACE. These affect the lungs and/or brain and are deadly if they persist without descending to lower altitudes. These conditions mainly strike during the night as your breathing naturally decreases. Being on your own when this happens can be mortally dangerous. I took measures to lower my risk by staying hydrated, well feed, comfortable, stress free, and I always kept a wary eye on my breathing and short term memory. The year prior I’d seen firsthand the grim realities of high altitude mountaineering on Argentina’s Aconcagua, after a rescue of another team turned tragic. Cerro Aconcagua was my previous high point at 22,841’. Everything beyond was unknown and I was well above that now and pushing higher. In hindsight, perhaps maybe I should have been more nervous at these altitudes, but I suppose I never felt threatened by them. As was the case in all my previous expeditions, the altitude only seemed to leave me breathless and nothing worse, not even a headache. And so I hydrated, ate and went to bed excited for my summit attempt only hours away.
I awoke at 12 midnight; outside I could hear guides addressing their climbers, the hiss of oxygen bottles as the regulators were spun on and the crunch of crampons engaging the firm snow as the first teams departed. Climbers’ torches faintly lighted my tent as they passed and the walls were lined with ice that rained down with the slightest nudge. I gave myself a once over, everything felt good and I was ready. I roused and started my stove, opened a few vents to ensure proper ventilation and stuck my head out the top of the tent. I had spoken to the leaders of the other expeditions and they were leaving quite early, at 12 midnight which meant they had woken up hours earlier. My plan was to leave as late as 2 am for two reasons: firstly I wanted to meet sunrise sooner as I would be running colder without O’s (oxygen), and secondly to give the other teams a large enough head start to ensure I could keep warm by continually climbing. But this night would be hapless from the moment I spilled my hot water all over the tent.
As the other teams passed, and in a moment of carelessness, I fumbled a liter of water in my tent. Luckily, everything required for the summit push was outside in my pack. But with the threat of getting my boots or down suit wet I decided to depart for the summit immediately. The time was 1 am, an hour earlier than I had planned, and as soon as I left my tent I saw a traffic jam forming at the Yellow Band – a formation of rock above Camp 3. Hoping that their supplemental oxygen would see them through with some speed I continued on, but as I ascended it became apparent that they would not climb as hastily as I had hoped. As I sat in line below this technical rock step my extremities lost feeling. Swinging them in circles - something we call “windmills”, easily reinvigorated my hands. But climbing through the chilly night, I wasn’t able to completely regain feeling in my toes, this was a constant concern. However, I had not lost the ability to wiggle them as I took each step so I continued climbing into the night.
After the Yellow Band, I threaded my way through a steeper section comprised of rock and snow, unclipping from the fixed lines and passing other teams as often as I was able too. The process of passing other teams at that altitude is quite tiring, as I had to abandon my efficient rhythm for a faster pace outside of the beaten in route, at times breaking into the snow up to my knees. Luckily I only had to do this 3 or 4 times as the majority of the climbers were moving faster than I was, with their bottled oxygen giving them more stamina. I recall one moment at 25,800’ when I became exceedingly nauseous. But it quickly passed and I continued on. This was the only moment I felt the altitude affect me.
At Camp 3, when I left, it was warm and still with high clouds touching the summit, but now, at 26,000’, a light wind had picked up and the last of the high clouds were blowing over me. My suit was covered in ice and I had to stop periodically to rewarm my face by burying it in the cowl of my hood. As I reached striking distance of the summit (or so I thought) the horizon became faintly lit. And I encouraged by what it signified!
As I came over the top onto the summit plateau I saw a high point off to my left, but Liz Hawley, an elderly woman who keeps the records of the Himalaya, warned me against this. I met Liz in Kathmandu, and discussed my plan for the expedition. She instructed me, “When you enter the plateau you’ll see a high point off to your left that seems to be the obvious summit, but go forward and slightly to your right and continue until you see Everest. This will be the true summit.” I recalled her words and continued on straight. Those last 45 minutes plodding along at 26,900’ for what seemed an eternity, a quarter of a mile, the summit not even visible (or so I thought) was the hardest for me. I had nothing to hold onto. The plateau seemed to stretch beyond the visible horizon. Despair mounted at the thought of having to start grid searching for the damnable thing. I scanned the plateau again. It was then that I noticed a single string of prayer flags off in the distance to my right; on a mound no higher than 3 feet from the point I was standing. It was the summit, maybe one of the least climactic summits I’ve experienced, but I was deeply relieved when I got there and found myself standing at the summit of Cho Oyu!
Alex Barber on the summit of Cho Oyu
I was on top for about 15 minutes. Most of the time seated on my pack eating peanut M&Ms and washing them down with warm Tang from my thermos. I made a speedy descent to Camp 3, quickly packed and made the entire descent to ABC, arriving soon after dusk. Dawa, one of my cooks waited outside of ABC for me with hot tea and a huge smile, after a celebratory embrace we descended the last 15 minutes together into ABC. I felt relieved to be finished. The day was October 1st, I had summited at 8:20 am that morning Nepali time.
You know, I’ve been asked what it felt like for everything to culminate and be on top. That feeling of accomplishment or exhilaration - what was it like? But I think what draws me isn’t that singular moment at the top or any feeling of exhilaration from being there. Instead it’s the quieter and constant sense of contentment that comes from the simplicity of mountaineering, the journey along the way and being surrounded by extraordinary beauty that challenges you to conquer – not the mountain – but yourself. For me the journey is the destination.
Alex Barber is a mountain guide for RMI Expeditions and splits his time between the beaches of Southern California and mountains around the world. Alex will be guiding an Expedition Skills Seminar – Winter in January before returning to the Himalaya this spring to attempt Lohtse and Shishapangma. Read more about his climb and follow the upcoming adventures on www.alexanderbarber.com.
Guides and climbers often struggle with sitting still, so RMI Guides Jake Beren, Leon Davis, and I quickly decided on a personal trip into the Alaska Range this spring. The three of us have guided Denali many times - and as any climber who has been to the Alaska Range knows, it is difficult to travel past countless beautiful peaks, ridges, and faces and ignore the siren call to come climb them. This trip was all about pulling the wax from our ears and sailing directly towards the siren’s song. With no clear plans or objectives, we decided to simply climb what looked enticing. After ten days in the Ruth Gorge, the three of us were picked up from the Ruth Glacier and flown to the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. In early May we climbed the Southwest ridge of Mt. Francis, an excellent ridgeline that offered quality alpine rock and steep snow climbing. With good weather holding, we rested and restocked for the West Ridge of Mt. Hunter.
On May 9th Jake and I departed from Base Camp around 8:00 AM, skiing down the Southeast Fork through the cold, crisp morning air to the main flow of the Kahiltna Glacier. We continued down the glacier for another half hour and reached the West Ridge of Mt. Hunter. Here Jake and I cached our skis and began climbing. We approached this objective in a light and fast technique, known as “alpine style,” bringing four days of food, a small stove, a lightweight tent, and no comfort items. As we started climbing we found a very nice boot pack leading up the ridge that made for extremely efficient travel. At first we felt guilty drafting behind someone else breaking trail, but soon decided that each of us has done our fair share of trail breaking on other peaks and that we ought to just enjoy this one. As the two of us climbed higher on the West Ridge with ear-to-ear smiles we decided on a plan, “Lets climb until we’re not having fun and then camp there.” Well, the climbing on the West Ridge was extremely fun and after twelve hours of navigating the corniced ridge, peppered with exquisite sections of rock, steep snow and ice, we found ourselves at the 11,400’ bivy - tired but still smiling. We set our tent in a small notch and ate freeze-dried dinners with a fantastic view of the Alaska Range. It was truly an awesome place to be.
The next morning brought beautiful weather and a sense of excitement for where we were and what lay ahead. With our approach of simply having fun, we enjoyed the morning views and a few cups of coffee before breaking camp at noon. Moving quickly relishing every step and with a swing of an ice tool we ascended steep snow pitches and navigated gaping crevasses. Soon we found ourselves on the summit plateau at 13,000’ walking across the largest stretch of horizontal terrain we had seen in thirty hours. From there we ascended the final 55° slope that took us to the summit ridge. From there, forty more minutes of easy climbing gave way to the summit of Mt. Hunter. While standing on the summit Jake and I hooted and hollered with excitement, “What a fun climb!”
Soon we began our descent with the same approach we used on the ascent - climb until it is not fun and then set up camp. Down the ridge we went back to our bivy site, where we decided to descend via the Ramen Route. Quickly Jake and I realized that we had made a wrong turn into the entrance of the Couloir. This meant that we had to do a few tricky rappels and down climb through seracs to get ourselves back on route. Once we were back on track, we had a few more rappels before softer snow conditions allowed us to down climb to the base of the 3,300’ Ramen Coulior.
Now, for the second time in two days, we found ourselves again on flat glaciated terrain. At this point it was getting late in the day, but we were still enjoying ourselves and decided to continue our descent. Due to the time of day we chose to navigate the extremely broken-up glacier since it provided more camping opportunities if we needed to set up camp. This was a time intensive descent however as Jake and I soon found ourselves in a world surrounded by incomprehensible seracs and crevasses. A couple more hours brought us back to the main flow of the Kahiltna Glacier and our skis. After forty-two hours we arrived back at Base Camp exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and smiling. Employing our tactic of “climb until we are not having fun” had been the perfect strategy for this route.
RMI Guide Geoff Schellens is a senior guide leading trips on Aconcagua, the North Cascades, Mt. Rainier, as well as, guiding Ice Climbing and Mt. McKinley. He is currently preparing for his next adventure this spring on Dhaulagiri, an 8,000 meter peak in the Himalayas. See more of Geoff’s mountain photography on his website.
RMI Guide Bryan Hendrick took on a little side project this summer: between his climbs of Mt. Rainier, Bryan built a portable tiny house on a 16’ trailer that he can tow behind his truck. Working in the yard in Ashford, Bryan took 3 months to build a 192 square foot house. A few days ago Bryan packed up his climbing gear - and his house - and headed off to Leavenworth, WA, where he is planning on parking it for the winter.
“Driving the house to Leavenworth was exciting to say the least. With the recent snow fall, Chinook Pass had less than ideal driving conditions the day I drove the house over. The road was snow covered and a little wet in places. At 8’6” wide, it’s not something you want to tow too often,” said Bryan.
Below are a few photos of the house being built:
Bryan Hendrick is a mountain guide for RMI Expeditions. When not climbing mountains or building houses, Bryan works for Naturalist at Large and the Stevens Pass Ski Patrol. He will also be out in the mountains preparing for several AMGA courses this spring.
When the summer climbing season is in full swing, RMI guides look for every opportunity to get into the mountains. RMI Guide Robby Young took advantage of a few days off from guiding recently to climb the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak in the North Cascades.
With the summer climbing season on Mt. Rainier in full swing, it has become a bit more difficult to sneak away and enjoy the classic alpine routes in the North Cascades. My climbing partner, Mike, recently came to town and I wanted him to experience the beauty of the North Cascade Alpine Rock. Given that it was Mike’s first time in the range, we instinctively set our sights on the classic pinnacle summit of Forbidden Peak.
The beautifully long and committing North Ridge fit the bill for a true alpine adventure. Unlike its prestigious West Ridge neighbor, the north ridge route involved a more indirect approach, which required climbing up and over the Sharkfin Col and across the remote and broken Boston Glacier. It gave the route a more remote alpine feel. Once on the ridge proper, the climbing soon became uninterrupted and classic as we made “quick” work of the never-ending knife ridge and vertical gendarmes. As anticipated, the summit of Forbidden did not disappoint, gifting us with views of some neighboring North Cascade summits like Eldorado, Torment, Boston, Sahale, and Buckner. Our descent down the West Ridge and back into Boston Basin ended as often long North Cascade routes do, in the dark; leaving us exhausted but eagerly anticipating future adventures in this beautiful range.
RMI Guide Robby Young leads climbs in Washington’s Cascades and the Alaska Range. Robby is an an accomplished ski mountaineer, ski patroller and photographer.
46 years ago, August 24, 1967, I began my first summit climb of Mt. Rainier. I was a paying customer. The cost was $25, which included a One-Day Climbing School. Nevertheless, as many have, I contacted the Guide Service (it wasn’t RMI yet) and pleaded my case to avoid the training and lessen the price. I pointed out I had backpacked earlier in the summer and encountered snow, which I successfully negotiated. Alas, the manager informed me I needed the Climbing School, but proposed I carry a load of food to Camp Muir to work out the cost. Terrific! John Anderson drew a rudimentary map of the ‘route’ to Muir one Saturday morning at Paradise in early July and my only question was “how many round trips?” (I was totally serious). His deadpan reply was that one ought to do it. My trip to Muir is another story for another time. I managed to deliver the supplies and participated in Climbing School the following day.
The evening of August 23, 1967, some neighbors from Lakewood dropped me off at Paradise. My folks had provided money for a hot dog at the snack bar, but a room in the Inn was out of the question. Not a problem, so I headed to the Inn to kill the evening before finding a suitable campsite. Employee Talent Shows were a nightly occurrence at Paradise Inn in the good old days. The hotel management hired people oftentimes based primarily on musical or other talent. At the conclusion of the show a juke box was cranked up, and employees and guests alike hit the dance floor for a couple of hours. I was content to watch. At 10:00PM I donned my waiting pack (a wooden frame Trapper Nelson) and walked up the Skyline Trail a short distance above Paradise Inn. There I settled in beneath a cluster of sub-alpine fir and spent the night.
Dawn on Saturday, August 24th, promised a perfect day for the trek to Camp Muir. Guide Service headquarters was located in the basement of the Visitor Center (the flying saucer) and there I met the other clients and our two guides, Tony Andersen and John Rutter. There were five clients, including myself. I can’t remember details about the trip to Muir, other than I positioned myself in line directly behind the ‘cabin girl’ headed up to cook for the guides. There was no client Bunkhouse, instead the guides on each trip would pitch and strike White Stag car-camping tents (the guides headquartered in the tiny, rock Cook Shack). Dinner was provided as part of the fee: beef stew & mashed potatoes (from #10 cans), as well as breakfast when we awoke to climb (#10 can peaches). Even a sleeping bag was supplied (I had no concern of when it may have been cleaned last).
Summit day took 12 hours round trip: nine hours up and three hours down. There were three ladders to cross on the Ingraham Glacier. We left Muir at midnight and about half-way across the Cowlitz Glacier, I realized I’d left my gloves in camp. No big deal; I would tough it out. On a side note, it goes without saying we weren’t wearing helmets, beacons, harnesses or headlamp (we carried flashlights), or even gaiters. I wore wool army pants, my ‘parka’ was a Navy pea coat (heavy wool), and we were tied directly into the 150’ goldline rope with a bowline on a coil or bowline on a bight.
Above the first rest break, we negotiated the ladders and traversed north onto Disappointment Cleaver. My hands were pretty damn cold (the guides hadn’t noticed my predicament) as we ascended the spine of the Cleaver. On top of DC we took our second rest break and lo and behold, one person decided to call it quits. Before resuming the ascent I screwed up my courage and asked the person staying behind if I could by any chance borrow his gloves… of course I could!
High on the summit dome I was really starting to run out of gas, and we were still more than an hour from the crater. Could I/Should I drop out?! John Rutter’s emphatic answer was a resounding NO! I kept plugging. Now the rim was in sight, and slowly getting closer. But then… what the hell?! Instead of halting for a much needed break we didn’t so much as pause, traversed through the rocks, dropped into the crater and crossed. Sign the book. Un-tie and reach Columbia Crest. Hero shot. The weather was perfect. It was 9:00AM, Sunday, August 25, 1967.
Occasionally over the years I have wondered if I blocked our descent from memory; was it that much an ordeal?! I recall very little, other than being incredibly thirsty. In retrospect, we took some wrong turns on the DC (Disappointment Cleaver), which necessitated backtracking uphill (killer). At Muir we were plied with Kool-Aid. The descent to Paradise took forever, but at the parking lot I was one happy, exhausted 16-year-old.
I didn’t play organized sports in high school; I grew up with parents who hated camping (but enjoyed road trips and appreciated National Parks); to suggest I wasn’t particularly studious is a gross understatement; but I had just discovered something I loved, that would stay with me for the rest of my life: climbing. Over the next winter I bothered Lou incessantly about becoming an Apprentice Guide (I even applied for work at Paradise Inn, but evidently lacked a requisite talent). At some point (maybe just to put me off), Lou and/or John Anderson said to show up at Paradise in June, and see if there was work. I did; there was; and, there still is!
August 25th, 1967 - Joe Horiskey, age 16, on the Mt. Rainier summit. Mt. St. Helens, pre-1980 eruption, in the background.
1968 - Jim Whittaker, Joe Horiskey, and Lou Whittaker on Mt. Rainier. Joe’s first year working for the guide service, which became RMI the following year.
Valdez, Alaska, is an incredible place to be in April. Long hours of daylight make for excellent opportunities to log massive amounts of vertical in the backcountry. When the skiing is good on Thompson Pass, there is no shortage of dramatic peaks and aesthetic lines.
Taking my AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guides Exam there this spring, I spent a majority of April in the area training with friends and fellow guides becoming familiar with the Alaskan terrain and snowpack.
The days leading up to the exam were filled with anxiety and endless “what-if’s” and “well-maybe’s.” Soon the other exam candidates and I found ourselves in the thick of eight days of late-into-the-night tour planning, strategizing, and pouring over weather forecasts, raw remote data, weather models, avalanche hazard forecasts, and various other slightly cloudy crystal balls. The general idea being to sort through all the data until you find a summary you like. Forecasting for an area as large as Alaska is quite difficult and many times during the week we were reminded that the forecasts were never quite wrong, but that the timing of the forecasts were usually off.
Conditions varied from thigh-deep powder in the east facing couloirs of the Iguana Backs zone, to some of the stiffest, carvable wind-board I’ve ever skied on the Berlin Wall and Odyssey.
The last few days of the exam we had great weather and flyable conditions. We employed the mechanical advantage of Valdez Heli-Skiing to get a ride into the Hoodoo glacier area for an overnight ski tour. We started with a descent of Acapulco Peak in the sunshine and finished with a long ski out of the Worthington Glacier in whiteout conditions.
Going through the process of being examined by your peers, learning from other exam candidates, and dealing with the stress of guiding new terrain and on-the-fly tour planning has been invaluable in helping me excel in all other facets of my guiding and personal endeavors.
Passing the exam and becoming one of only a handful of certified women in the U.S. is a huge honor and I am proud to represent RMI Expeditions.
- RMI Guide Solveig Waterfall
Andres Marin: I guided the Alpine and Expedition seminars in Alaska, where our teams had an incredible time climbing and learning. When the seminars ended, I had a few days to spend climbing around Base Camp.
Katie Bono: Both Andres and I had time at the end of our trip for some personal climbing. We bid adieu to our team in Talkeetna and the next morning flew back into Kahiltna Base Camp.
Kahiltna Base Camp sits in the heart of the Alaska Range, surrounded on all sides by peaks such as Denali, Mt. Foraker, and Mt. Hunter. With the plethora of climbing options the pair decided to climb the Kahiltna Queen (12,380’).
AM: Around Base Camp there are so many cool peaks to climb and one of those is the rarely climbed Kahiltna Queen. This peak is located at the end of the southeast fork of the Kahiltna glacier. It is the only peak in the range that divides three different glaciers: the Kahiltna, the Ruth and the Tokositna.
KB: Andres and I spent a day skiing up the Southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, stopping along the way to look at different climbing options and to do some ice climbing. Kahiltna Queen looked like a gorgeous peak to climb and both of us were stoked about trying an unclimbed route.
The following night Katie and Andres began their climb up the West side of the Kahiltna Queen.
KB: The line we took followed a rib splitting the west face, starting from where the rib emerged from the glacier. The part of the climb was mostly steep snow climbing on some great and not-so-great neve (granular snow that accumulates near mountain tops from wind and precipitation). The route then transitions into ice climbing with some rock mixed in.
AM: The mixed climbing was great all the way to the summit. The day was incredible and the views were just amazing. At the top we stopped to melt water and high five. Then it was time for us to start descending the West Couloir Route. The descent ended up being longer and more difficult than I expected as we had to do over fourteen rappels.
Following the successful climb, Katie and Andres, skied two hours back to Base Camp. After 25 hours of climbing they returned safely to Base Camp.
KB: Seeing the moonrise while we were climbing was awesome! It came up for maybe an hour or so and just skimmed the edge of the horizon. For the whole way up we had splitter weather and were basking in the sun at the summit. After this trip I can definitely understand why my friends are excited about Alaska. It was great to be able to climb the Kahiltna Queen after guiding the Alaska Seminar since it enabled me to spend so much time in the Alaska Range. Andres has heaps of experience in the Alaska Range and I learned a lot from working and climbing with him.
AM: All and all it was a great climb with a great partner. I am already looking forward to next year’s seminar and more personal climbs in the Alaska Range.
Andres Marin is a senior guide at RMI leading programs in Washington, Alaska and Colorado. He is an off-width specialist and an accomplished ice and mixed climber. One of his recent achievements includes climbing the five hardest mixed lines in Ouray, Colorado, in a day. Andres is a fully certified alpine and rock guide sponsored by Millet, Blue Water Ropes, 5.10, Petzl, GU and Ice Holdz.
Katie Bono is an RMI Guide and accomplished climber with impressive ascents in North America and Canada. A retired Nordic ski racer and Millet athlete, she currently holds the women’s speed record on Mt. Rainier.
To see more of their climb check out Andres’ Kahiltna Queen video.
Posted by: | June 16, 2013
Categories: *Guide News
Happy Father’s Day from RMI! Our fathers played an influential role in getting us involved in the outdoors and appreciating the experience of the mountains for many of us. Thanks to all of the mentors who inspired our climbing dreams and support our mountain adventures.
Below is a compilation of photos of RMI climbers and guides climbing with their dads. Thank you to everyone for sharing your pictures with us!
I climbed Mt. Rainier with my father last summer. After a memorable summit, my dad - a man of little words - expressed his confidence in my abilities as a mountain guide, a compliment I did not take lightly. He told me that he trusted my decision-making in the mountains and wanted me to be a part of his dream trip: combining his passion for the water and the mountains with a sailing and skiing trip in the Lofoten Islands of Norway.
I immediately approached fellow RMI Guide and good friend Pete Van Deventer to see if he was interested in joining the crew. Without hesitation Pete and his wife committed to the trip. Besides being a great climbing partner, Pete had spent time in Norway in college and was eager to return. Additionally, he suggested that we invite one of his Norwegian friends to accompany us. Magnus had already completed a similar trip and was able to offer great suggestions about boat charters and finding a competent captain for our voyage. The dream trip was starting to take shape.
After months of training and preparation, we headed to Norway in April. My dad and I flew to Oslo where we spent two days sightseeing before flying above the Arctic Circle to a fishing village on the west coast to meet our team. A few hours after arriving in Svolvaer, we heard ski bags rolling on pavement. Pete, Katie, Magnus and Maria, Magnus’ girlfriend, arrived at the boat and our seven-day adventure began!
The next morning we woke up to partly cloudy skies and the realization that a 44-foot sailboat is a tight space for ski gear, sailing gear, and eight people. After organizing our gear in waves, we left the boat with skis on our packs and walked toward a favorite local ski touring peak. Successfully navigating the Svolvaer neighborhoods, we finally reached snow. With climbing skins on our skis we began our ascent up the south side of a peak named Blåtind. Partway up the mountain, it began to rain and visibility dwindled. Too excited to turn back on our first day of ski touring, we decided to continue. A few minutes after reaching the saddle on Blåtind the sun came out and we focused our attention on a ski line on east side of the peak. The conditions were spring corn snow. After a close to 2,000’ descent we put our skins back on and toured along the water to the nearest road where we hailed a taxi back to the sailboat.
The following morning we set sail to the Trollfjord. The Trollfjord is an area accessible to skiers only by boat. With our sails up and Katie Van Deventer at the helm, we sailed to the entrance of the Trollfjord - a dauntingly narrow waterway surrounded by steep walls. We docked amid howling winds and a mix of rain and snow. Reaching the TrollfjordHyatta, a cabin in the Norweigan Hut System, would have to wait until the next day.
We woke to improved weather and loaded our ski gear and a night’s worth of food onto the dock. The boat sailed away promising to return the following afternoon and we spent the morning skinning to the TrollfjordHyatta. The hut turned out to be a small majestic wooden cabin surrounded by peaks in every direction. Inspired by the mountains around us, we headed out to ski Peak 975. We had great views of our climb ahead and discussed our route and ski options. After an hour the terrain became too steep to skin. With skis on our packs, and clouds rolling in, we reached the top of Peak 975. Since the light was flat we used our bootpack to guide us as we skied down the same route we ascended. The visibility improved and we were reminded of the natural beauty of the Trollfjord. Taking advantage of the good weather we added a few laps to finish our day on a smaller peak just above the cabin. From there we could see the dramatic entrance to the Trollfjord and the unlimited ski options for the following day. The night in the hut was filled with wine, laughs, and Ludo, a Norweigan board game. In the morning we were able to get a few runs in on some steep north facing chutes before returning to dock where we met the boat.
As we sailed away, inspired by the endless quantity of peaks around us, we discussed the multitude of ski options for the day and remainder of the trip. The next few days were unlike any trip I have known. The terrain and sailboat allowed for ultimate flexibility. If the weather was good, we would ski; if the weather was marginal, we would set sail waiting for the conditions to change. Once we decided upon a peak the question then became: how do we get to shore?
This was often time and energy consuming. We would either dock the boat or, if that wasn’t an option, we would get ashore via dinghy. If we went by dinghy Frederik, our captain, shuttled us and our gear ashore while Iselin, the assistant captain, handled the sailboat. From the dock or shore we would skin or walk a few miles to a skiable peak, climb and ski it, and make our way back to the boat. This sometimes meant walking, other times we were able to ski within a few hundred meters of the boat. Other times it meant taking a cab to where the boat was docked. Each day was a new adventure with a new set of options.
As the days passed, the weather improved and we finally had the perfect Norweigan ski descent on the last day of the trip. For the first time during our adventure we woke up to bluebird skies and decided to ski a peak called Storgalten. Upon reaching the top of the peak could see mountains, water, and our sailboat. Thrilled with the descent, Pete, Katie and Magnus celebrated it with a plunge into the fjord. We then set sail back to Harstad, our final destination, with Storgalten still in view. Weeks later, I’m still amazed by the diversity and accessibility of the terrain found in the Lofoten Islands. I have been lucky enough to ski and climb in mountains all over this world and this trip was truly unique. What made it all the more special to me was being able to share it with my father and a group of close friends that got along seamlessly on a 44-foot sailboat for seven days.
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