Entries By alex barber

RMI Guide Alex Barber Recounts His Cho Oyu Expedition

Posted by: Alex Barber | November 13, 2013
Categories: *Guide News

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.

Looking up towards the summit of Cho Oyu from Camp 1.

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.

A hidden temple in Kathmandu.

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.

Looking up at the summit of Cho Oyu from Advanced Base Camp.

A climber talks on the radio at Camp 2 on Cho Oyu.

Looking down at Camp 1 on Cho Oyu.

Summit Day

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.

RMI Guide Alex Barber topping out on an ice cliff on Cho Oyu.

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.

RMI Guide Alex Barber after the Puja Ceremony.


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.

Looking up at Cho Oyu from Camp 1. A hidden temple in Kathmandu. Cho Oyu as seen from Advanced Base Camp. A climber makes a radio call from Camp 2.
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Congratulations Alex!

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Posted by: Jen and Nick Boekenoogen on 11/26/2013 at 9:53 am

Alex - I am so impressed and proud of you!  What an extraordinary journey and story.  But I guess I should expect nothing less from you as you are an… read more

Posted by: Linn Perkins on 11/16/2013 at 9:07 am


Mt. Rainier: July 20, 2013 Summit!

Posted by: J.J. Justman, Alex Barber, Chase Nelson | July 20, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount Rainier
Elevation: 14,410'

The RMI Four Day Summit Climb team led by JJ Justman reached the summit of Mt. Rainier early this morning.  The team reported a beautiful morning with clear skies and light winds of about 20mph. The ascent to the summit took about 6 hours and 10 minutes. The team left the summit and will descend back to Camp Muir and then continue to Paradise.

RMI Guide Billy Nugent led a team of climbers in the North Cascades.  They reached the summit today around 2 pm PT.  They returned to camp around 5 pm and will spend their final night in the mountains.  Tomorrow they will descend to the trial head and complete their trip.

Congratulations to today’s team!

Today's Summit Climb Team on the Muir Snowfield - Photo: JJ Justman
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Great job guys! I have enjoyed seeing the pictures on facebook. Anxious to hear the stories. Congratulations!

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Posted by: Jeff Lindmark on 7/20/2013 at 2:36 pm

You guys rock! I never thought I’d see my mom in shorts while in the snow..must have been working hard. Congratulations on summit!

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Posted by: Erica on 7/20/2013 at 11:05 am


Mt. Rainier: Summit Climb on Top July 7th!

Posted by: Brent Okita, Alex Barber, Lance Colley | July 07, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount Rainier
Elevation: 14,410'

The Four Day Summit Climb led by RMI Guide Brent Okita reached the summit of Mt. Rainier this morning with 100% of their team members.  Brent reported perfect conditions with light winds and clear skies.
They started their descent from the crater rim shortly after 7 a.m. and will return to Camp Muir for a short break before continuing down to Paradise.

we look forward to seeing the group at Rainier BaseCamp this afternoon.

Congratulations to the entire Four Day Summit Climb June 4 - 7, 2013 Team!

An RMI Team approaching the summit of Mt. Rainier.  Photo: Seth Waterfall
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Way to go Ian and Jack and the entire team. Such a wonderful accomplishment. mom

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Posted by: pat white on 7/7/2013 at 4:04 pm

Congratulations Matt & Scott & the entire team! What an awesome achievement!

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Posted by: Anne Kinate on 7/7/2013 at 9:45 am


Justman & the Emmons Seminar Complete Their Week on Mt. Rainier

Posted by: J.J. Justman, Levi Kepsel, Alex Barber, Bryan Hendrick | June 19, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount Rainier

RMI Guide JJ Justman and team returned to Ashford today after completing their six-day Emmons Expedition Skills Seminar.  JJ captured brilliant views on their summit day.  See the video below.


Mt. Rainier: Emmons Skills Seminar at Schurman and Ready for Summit Bid

Posted by: J.J. Justman, Levi Kepsel, Alex Barber, Bryan Hendrick | June 17, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount Rainier
Elevation: 9,440'

The Expedition Skills Seminar – Emmons has reached Camp Schurman.  JJ reports that the team is doing well.  The weather is currently sunny with some clouds above and below.  The team is planning on making their summit attempt tonight.  Wish them well!

RMI Guide JJ Justman

Mt. Rainier's Emmons Glacier. Photo: RMI Collection
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Very proud of you - be careful.  In the meantime, I am enjoying a glass of cabernet and some doritos. Love, Generalisima

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Posted by: Maria Owens on 6/17/2013 at 3:25 pm

To all ‘you fools’...can’t wait to see the go-pro pictures. Have fun, be careful.

Sam

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Posted by: Sam Cribbs on 6/17/2013 at 2:20 pm


Mt. Rainier: Emmons Skills Seminar at Glacier Basin

Posted by: J.J. Justman, Levi Kepsel, Alex Barber, Bryan Hendrick | June 16, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount Rainier

The Expedition Skills Seminar – Emmons is soaking up the sun and setting up camp in Glacier Basin.  The team is doing really well and everyone is excited to be on the mountain.  There are clouds building so taking advantage of the sun is the number one priority for training this afternoon.

RMI Guide JJ Justman

An RMI Emmons team hiking out to the training area. Photo: RMI Collection

Mt. Rainier: June 15, 2013 Summit!

Posted by: Pete Van Deventer, Alex Barber, Geoff Schellens, Nick Hunt | June 15, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount Rainier
Elevation: 14,410'

RMI Guides Pete Van Deventer and Geoff Schellens and the Four Day Summit Climb team reached the summit of Mt. Rainier at 7:28am this morning.  The team reported clear beautiful skies, steady winds of 10 mph, and cool temperatures. The group spent some time on the summit enjoying the views and are now en route back to Camp Muir.

Congrautations to today’s teams!

Mt. Rainier - RMI Photo Collection
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Congrats to our nephew Ben and the team.  We’ll enjoy the pics and the stories.  Nancy and Sherman

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Posted by: Sherman Kahn on 6/16/2013 at 6:42 am

Great job Ben!  Can’t wait to see the pictures and hear about the climb.

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Posted by: Barry on 6/16/2013 at 3:47 am


Mt. Rainier: May 25, 2013 - Update

Posted by: J.J. Justman, Eric Frank, Alex Barber, Nick Hunt | May 25, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount Rainier
Elevation: 10,200'

Hi everyone!

The team today awoke to conditions that are not ideal to climb in. With all the new snow it just has not settled enough to allow safe climbing. So to enjoy and have a full mountain experience the team went up to Muir Peak to watch the sun rise. It’s my favorite part of climbing. The photos simply do not do it justice.

We are safe and we are happy and we are still laughing and having fun!

RMI Guide JJ Justman & Team

The view from Muir Peak at sunrise May 25th. Photo: JJ Justman Today's Summit Climbers on Muir Peak. Photo: JJ Justman
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Hope you all are safe & in good spirits…enjoying the immense beauty & good company.  Praying you have safe conditions for a successful climb. Love to you, Brian!  Your sis,… read more

Posted by: Laurie Huck on 5/25/2013 at 2:22 pm


Mt Rainier: Expedition Skills Seminar Technical Training at Muir

Posted by: J.J. Justman, Dan Windham, Alex Barber, Katie Bono | June 07, 2012
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount Rainier
Elevation: 10,080'

Today we are training at Camp Muir.  The weather is not cooperating with our training, but we are having fun teaching and using advanced techniques for our very advanced clientele. It is very winter like here at Camp Muir a lot of snow and a lot of wind.  Our last session will be navigation, and that will come in handy tomorrow getting down the Muir Snowfield.

JJ, Dan & the Expedition Team

Technical Training inside the hut at Camp Muir. Photo - JJ Justman
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Guys had a great time, so much so I’m booking for Mexico.  I want to make sure JJ brings the fat finger ascender just for me…

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Posted by: Louis on 6/11/2012 at 1:31 pm

We had a fantastic time learning mountaineering skills and hanging out in the hut at Camp Muir.  What a great group of clients and guides!  Thanks to JJ, Dan, Tim,… read more

Posted by: Jim on 6/10/2012 at 2:18 pm


Mt Rainier: Expedition Skills Seminar - Muir

Posted by: J.J. Justman, Dan Windham, Alex Barber, Katie Bono | June 05, 2012
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount Rainier
Elevation: 10,080'

The June 3rd Expedition Skills Seminar Team safely reached Camp Muir yesterday afternoon.  Here is a video from their ascent to Camp Muir.  The team will spend the today training at Camp Muir.

 

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Love and miss you, Dad! We all know that you’re doing great. Good luck tomorrow! We’re all praying for you!
-Logan

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Posted by: Logan Boicourt on 6/6/2012 at 8:04 pm