- 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
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.
RMI Guide JJ Justman reached the summit of Mt. Rainier on Wednesday, June 4th, 2013, marking his 200th summit of the mountain. JJ has been a mountain guide for eighteen years, leading climbers on climbs and expeditions around the world, from Mt. Rainier to Alaska to the Andes to the Himalaya, including Mt. Everest.
“People often ask me how I can climb Rainier day in and day out year after year, if it ever gets old? And my answer is always the same. No,” said Justman. “I climb Rainier to share the experience with first time climbers. I see the emotion on people’s faces as they come down from the mountain as they say, “I can’t believe I did that”! And now with 200 summits I have seen and heard that a lot from hundreds of people. And it never gets old. I look forward to sharing the unforgettable experience with many others as I climb towards 300!”
Below is a compilation of photos from JJ’s climbs over the years. We wish JJ a big congratulations and many more safe climbs to come!
- The RMI Team
On May 8-10th RMI Guides Zeb Blais and Tyler Jones took advantage of the good weather in the Pacific Northwest to do a multi-day ski mountaineering tour on Mt. Rainier. The duo spent three days on the mountain and skied an incredible total of 21,000 vertical feet!
We caught up with Zeb and Tyler before their next mountaineering adventure.
RMI: On the first day of your trip you left from Paradise and skinned to Camp Muir. What were the conditions like?
Zeb Blais: The conditions getting to [Camp] Muir were ideal with fast-gliding and supportable corn snow that made for quick travel.
Tyler Jones: The warm afternoon snow conditions gave us a chance to get in a nice ski run in on the Cowlitz Glacier after we reached Camp Muir. At the same time, it provided us with a good trail for the morning to climb the Gibraltar Ledges Route to the summit. From there, our plan was to traverse to Liberty Cap to get a view of the big runs!
RMI: That night you left Camp Muir with the intention of skiing Liberty Ridge. Were you able to ski that line?
Zeb Blais: The key to skiing big exposed lines is always the snow conditions. When you’re looking at skiing a line like Liberty [Ridge] you can only know what the conditions are like when you get there. We were hoping that the north and northeast facing snow would be chalky, smooth, and wind packed, but when we looked at the entrance to Liberty it was clear that it wasn’t going to be skiable. The Liberty Ridge Route looked like mid-summer, maybe good for ice climbing, but certainly not skiable. The Liberty Cap Glacier was down to blue ice with lumps of rime glued to it, which I imagine is fairly common since it is so steep, but the skiing below looked the same. Rappelling the Liberty Cap Glacier and skiing the rest of the line did not look like an inviting option.
RMI: What did you end up skiing instead?
Zeb Blais: After realizing that Liberty was not suitable, we turned our focus to the Mowich Face - an amazing, steep face on the northwest side of the mountain. This looked tempting at first, but it was heavily rimed with blobs of water ice. It was not a place to be on skis! We retreated back to the ridge above and decided we needed to focus on warmer, spring like-snow. We decided on the Sickle, a west-facing chute on the Tahoma Glacier. The snow in the Sickle was prime for skiing!
Tyler Jones: On our ski we had nice soft spring snow down to 8,500 feet. From there we were able traverse to our objective for the next day: Success Ridge between the South Tahoma Glacier and the Success Glacier. We spent the night on the ridge, getting some well-deserved sleep, with the magnificent 4,000-foot Success Glacier Couloir above us waiting to be skied. The conditions on the Success Glacier were superb. The snow was firm for climbing and soft for skiing. After the amazing fall line decent, we continued traversing to [the trailhead at] Paradise. As we hit the Nisqually Glacier we added more vertical to our trip and finished at the Nisqually Bridge. In total Zeb and I traveled 24 miles, gaining 19,000 feet and skiing 21,000 feet in 3 days.
RMI: How does being a Guide help prepare you for trips like this?
Tyler Jones: Being a guide helps to develop your intuitive mountain sense, which is very important for making good decisions in the mountains. It is that gut feeling that can make all the difference.
Zeb Blais: Guiding also gives me a good base-line fitness for doing long days in the mountains. Mountaineering is a unique sport that requires specific techniques and fitness to be efficient. The more you do it the better you get!
RMI: What was your favorite part of this ski trip?
Tyler Jones: My favorite part of this trip was seeing a few new places, skiing a new run, and enjoying the views of the Tahoma Glacier from Sunset Ridge.
Zeb Blais: A huge part of the trip was sharing it with Tyler. Moving in the mountains with a partner who you enjoy and trust makes all the difference. There are thousands of big and small decisions to be made when doing a trip like this, from what gear to bring to what line to ski to ‘do we go left here or right?’ Making these choices and learning from other experienced climbers or guides is always something I enjoy.
Can’t forget skiing! Maybe I should have said this first, but the skiing was awesome! Steep, exposed skiing with great snow is one of the most exhilarating things a person can do.
RMI: What adventures do you have planned next?
Zeb Blais: I am guiding a mountaineering trip on Shasta at the end of the month, and then I’ll be back on Rainier for the climbing season with a Denali West Buttress trip at the end of June.
Tyler Jones: I am guiding a Denali trip in June. After that I am planning on flying back onto the mountain for a ski trip with my fiancé Laura. After that I will return to guiding on Rainier and the Grand Teton. Then, I am getting married in September!
Posted by: | May 12, 2013
Categories: *Guide News
RMI’s guides would like to recognize the special women behind the scenes at RMI Expeditions.
Autumn, Sarah, Lacey, Melissa, and Bridget are our office support system, ensuring that all of our trips run seamlessly. Thank you for your hard work, reliability, and flexibility. Your contributions to RMI are appreciated and recognized by all of us.
Other special mothers on staff include our shuttle drivers, Mara, Jennifer, and Lola! We could not be more grateful for your enthusiasm, support, and for your treats on warm summer days!
Finally, a special thank you to our mothers. Thank you for continually supporting our passion for exploring the mountains.
From Everest to Ashford, we wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day.
- The RMI Guides
Mark Tucker here at Everest Basecamp (EBC). Home away from home. I recently completed an Everest Basecamp Trek and Island Peak climb. Always a pleasure to share this amazing place with adventure travelers. I had a great time. Hope the return home for my team went smooth. Thank you all.
Back at EBC, I am settling in. Getting organized is always a bit of work but much appreciated as our team’s prepare for the rotations to the upper camps. Now that the organizing is done, I opened up the local grocery store for the team. They went shopping for their food to be consumed at Camp 1 on their upcoming nights. They plan to head full force thru the Icefall in the early AM, looking at three nights on the hill. The team looks great, ready to get into meat of the climb. We did take time out to build the horseshoe pits and get in a couple games. Burrito night tonight. A favorite meal here at EBC.
On The Map
In February 2013, I spent several weeks in West Papua with the express intention of connecting with villagers who live along the trek followed by our Carstensz Pyramid climbing programs. I traveled with two translators - one a long-time friend who grew up in West Papua and the other a member of the Moni tribe, a man who truly has a good heart for his people.
I visited about ten villages and had numerous trailside chats. I spent many hours chatting (as well as eating, and playing soccer & table tennis!) and had opportunities to share our vision with various folks: government officials, village elders, tribal chiefs, pastors and school teachers.
The constant thread throughout the conversations involved villagers expressing frustration with tourists who came to “take photographs” and “take summits” but who did not (as it was described to me) “give relationship.” It is understandable that folks were upset when they weren’t paid as promised by unscrupulous outfitters or when they felt unsafe being asked to porter into the high country (the tribal peoples have not traditionally traveled above the jungles, see story below), but it truly resonated with me that when they felt most disrespected was when they were treated as if they were nothing more than pack animals. Quite frankly, they explained, why should they leave their tribal community and upset their daily lives only to be mistreated or underpaid?
|The Moni name for Carstensz is Mbai Ngela. It means “Forbidden Egg.” The story is that in years gone by when the mountain was snow covered, it resembled an egg, and the fore-fathers forbade their people from going there because it was the hunting grounds of evil spirits and those spirits always killed those who ventured there. Even today, villagers have a very difficult time understanding the science of hypothermia and often will point to and tell of places along the way where the spirits have killed a poor wayfarer!|
I knew that in order to eat this elephant, I would need to take it one bite at a time, so I started with small bites of “giving relationship.” I found that when I played soccer (which I am convinced is the lingua franca of relationship) with the local men and boys on village airstrips, that we had laughs to share (mostly at me tripping on the uneven surface!); when I offered to show folks photos of my family, they showed me their village (!); and for all my “otherness” (some folks, I was told, had never seen white-skinned people), I was never denied the hospitality of a meal or a hut as respite from the rain.
Another small bite was the creation of the protocols (below) to be posted in a church along our route. The pastor in this village of twenty people, a good man named Atan, had initially wanted to run me off. I agreed to keep walking, but in deepening the conversation as to why, I learned that an earlier group of tourists had – in his word – “desecrated” the church by leaving garbage there. I whole-heartedly agreed that such practices were unacceptable, and offered to create protocols to instruct tourists how to behave. Through my translators I was able to build a simple list of what it would take for his village to feel respected. They fully wanted tourists to stop for the night but they also needed tourists to respect that privilege.
As I look forward to my next trip, I hope to take a few more bites of the elephant!
THE SUGAPA ROUTE VISITOR PROTOCOLS
This church serves an important role in the community. Guests are welcomed to find refuge here and are asked respect the following requests. This will help ensure use of the building for future travelers.
• Please stay off of the raised area which surrounds the altar. This area is for local religious personnel only and it is considered offensive if others trespass there.
• Please keep hot water, stoves & cookware out of the building. This helps keep the area clean.
• Please hang a trash bag just outside the building to collect your garbage. Villagers will burn your trash for you.
• Because of the importance of Sunday worship, travelers should not expect access to the building on Saturday evenings or Sundays.
• Please do not use the church grounds or property for toilet needs. Ask the Pastor of the church where it is appropriate to wash and use the bathroom.
• Please offer a donation for your use of the church. This is an appropriate and considerate way of expressing thanks.
Download a multi-lingual copy of the Sugapa Route Visitor Protocols here.
In every part of the world where we travel, some RMI individual is tasked with developing & maintaining the quality program presented on the web. Whatever their role, that individual typically has a personal attachment, investment and history with the lands, mountains or peoples visited during the program. Their effort includes much more than simply creating an appealing itinerary and a glitzy web presence. The behind-the-scenes work includes addressing RMI’s environmental responsibilities, social responsibilities, and the development of solid logistical support, from understanding local customs to establishing a safety net. Most importantly, this effort involves building relationships with the local community, helping to ensure that we operate as partners wherever we travel with whomever we work. For Carstensz Pyramid in Papua, New Guinea, I get to be that individual.
The description of our program strikingly claims that we are the only outfit in the Western Hemisphere to partner exclusively with indigenous Papuans. Does it make you wonder how that came to pass?
Papua’s somewhat notorious reputation extends beyond the daily rain, and slick mud and logs of the jungle trek, and beyond the remote nature, sharp rock, and high altitude of the actual climb. And that’s already a lot! Truthfully, for those who research their objectives carefully, Papua’s reputation extends even beyond the uncertainty and flexibility required to visit an area where political tensions and security concerns exists. Shouldn’t you choose your outfitter most carefully?
In February I spent approximately three weeks in New Guinea’s “interior” with the intention not just to climb Carstensz Pyramid again, having guided a recent trip, but, as I enjoy saying, “I went to meet people.” Most of my time was spent among the Moni and Dani tribes of the highlands, but I also had the opportunity to shake hands with Indonesian government officials, Papuan regency representatives, folks with the Freeport mine, school teachers, pastors and missionaries, both Indonesian and expat, village elders, and even folks who were likely associated with the freedom movement (though that was difficult to tell because it seemed like politics was on everyone’s lips.)
I met a lot of people, explained what I was up to, and had many discussions with many people (with both tribal and Bahasa Indonesia translators helping me). Some folks expressed utter amazement that I was walking through their lands. This is predominantly because I was off the beaten path, i.e., not on the traditional, historical routes which have seen a good bit of use (and abuse). My presence also elicited appreciation (something I didn’t necessarily expect) because I was choosing to walk through the land rather than helicopter over it. Very practically speaking, people explained, flying over their lands excludes them from the benefits tourism can bring. I was already convinced that the model for sustainable tourism needed to include the indigenous peoples who inhabited the lands we wish to travel though en route to Carstensz, and spending all these weeks on the ground emphasized my sense for following socially responsible practices.
RMI’s commitment to Responsible Climbing pursues environmentally and socially responsible practices. This is simple enough to say, but a significant investment of time, energy & money is required to make good on those words. I have been told by many of the people with whom I connected in Papua, that my “relationship building” excursion (which included porter and trekking guide training, as well as discussions regarding tourist behaviors and expectations for each of the villages along the trek) was the first of its kind by a Western outfitter.
Sadly, the people of Papua (whether indigenous or Indonesian) have become accustomed to transactions which center solely around the exchange of money. I would suggest that for a tribal culture, where community is highly valued, to encounter trekkers & climbers with expectations to “take” home interesting stories, photographs and a summit, who repeatedly fail to “give” relationships, virtually guarantees a poor experience for both sides. I’m not trying to paint too broad of a picture because the truth is that each individual Papuan also wants what is best for his/her own person, family or tribe, just as we do in the West. I do, however, suggest that our social responsibility must encompass more than just paying porters well for work done well. Failure to build strong relationships will lead further down the present path experienced by many Western outfitters: where porters feel poorly treated and are sometimes not paid, and where tourists feel exploited and are sometimes extorted. Looking further down that path, do you wonder what it might look like? It looks just like the tensions which closed the route through Beoga years ago after hostages were taken. It looks just like the tensions which are currently threatening the Illaga route following a hostage/extortion situation in July 2012, or the abandonment and subsequent death of a sick Danish climber by a highly experienced outfitter. It looks just like an increasing number of operators who no longer have the option to peaceably travel through tribal lands and now offer helicopter transit up and over “tribal tensions.” And honestly, with some of the political and societal tensions which exist, unless outfitters work to develop relationships which are in line with indigenous tribal cultures, tourists will have no options other than to hire armed police or military to escort them through tribal lands. Wouldn’t it be more culturally and socially responsible to build relationships with the native peoples in which both parties collaborated to build a sustainable model of tourism?
I encourage you to follow my blog at http://climbcarstensz.wordpress.com as I continue to share stories of what I have learned and of what we seek to build over time.
RMI Guide, Robby Young, recently completed the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Ski Guide Course, held in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains under the tutelage of IFMGA guide Erik Liedecker and Sierra ski guide, Peter Leh. Over the duration of the 12-day course, a wide array of skills was covered including uphill and downhill ski guiding techniques, technical rope skills, snowpack evaluation, winter camping, backcountry rescue, and risk management in alpine terrain. Despite Utah’s challenging snowpack and over two feet of fresh snow that fell during the course, Robby and his colleagues were able to put these skills and techniques to use in Utah’s easy-to-access alpine world. While skill development was the primary focus of the course, the famous Utah powder skiing made for a very enjoyable educational experience!
AAIRE Avalanche Level 2 with Wallowa Alpine Huts
There has not been any recent snow accumulation in the last week leading up to my course. I am hoping to see characteristics of an intercontinental snowpack, only time will tell. The drive into the Wallowa Mountains in Eastern Oregon is flat with Oregon’s “Little Switzerland” rising out of the horizon. The temperature is in the single digits and the sky is clear. Re-crystallized snow, I think to myself, could mean good ski touring.
Through out the course the weather stayed cold and clear, which allowed our group to tour in several different areas digging snow pits and discussing travel techniques from a guide’s perspective. For me the most compelling aspect was comparing our morning observations, forecast and trip plan with what was actually happening in the field area. Our instructors, Lee and Mike stressed the need to hone our snow test skills to perform instability tests with accuracy and detail.
I leave the course with one phrase embedded in my subconscious, “does this slope have the propensity to propagate?” All I can do is continue digging and looking at snow, at least there is no shortage of that as a mountain guide.
Follow this link to Tyler’s blog for more exciting photos!
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