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Entries By joe horiskey

November 19, 2015

Mt. Everest Southside


At their teacher’s request, the 7th grade class in Crystal River, FL, Skyped with RMI guides JJ Justman and Joe Horiskey for 60 minutes yesterday. We discussed mountain climbing in general, and fielded questions about Mt Everest in particular.

The class was doing a novel study of the book “Peak” by northwest author Roland Smith, which centers on a 14-year-old boy climbing Mt Everest.  Their teacher, Sarah, had inquired by email whether RMI would be willing to Skype with her class.  Of course the answer was a resounding “Yes!”

The students, obviously well-versed in their subject, asked pertinent questions on topics such as: the effects of altitude on the human body, requisites of food and gear for climbing Mt Everest, necessary climbing experience, and surviving for an extended period of time in potentially hostile terrain.

Being familiar with the tragedies which had befallen the mountain the past two consecutive years, the class was riveted to hear JJ’s first-hand account of actually being at Camp l last April 25 when the earthquake struck.  He also presented video of his evacuation by helicopter to Base Camp.

One student asked how climbers deal with being separated from loved ones, friends and family, for extended periods of time. Another inquired about our “scariest moments” as mountain guides.  But throughout, our message to the class emphasized safety, and while mountain climbing does involve accepting a certain amount of risk that is the case for many activities in life (sports, driving, etc). 

Sarah noted at the conclusion of our presentation the kids’ favorite photo was of the abbreviated ‘runway’ in Lukla (at Tenzing-Hillary Airport)!  JJ and I really enjoyed talking with Sarah’s class and look forward to similar presentations with hers and others in the future!

RMI Guide Joe Horiskey

Thank you for taking the time to extend our students’ learning. It was great hearing their excitement and discussions after you signed off. You did a great job connecting with them.

Posted by: Lori Casalvieri on 11/19/2015 at 3:15 pm

July 18, 2015

Mt. McKinley - Then and Now

My climbing/guiding career on Denali (Mt McKinley) spanned four decades.  Some of the most memorable trips were independent ventures with friends in the early 1970’s.  I have been witness to innumerable changes over the years, and always find it fun to look back at the way things were.  The mountain hasn’t changed, but we have certainly refined and improved our means and methods of climbing it!

Dateline 1972

  • My friend, Dave Campbell, and I drove a VW bug up the Alaska Highway, which in those days included 1200 miles of unpaved surface (dirt!). His V-dub gave up the ghost in the Yukon, about 100 miles short of the Alaska border, so we hitch-hiked to Anchorage and took the Alaska Railroad to Talkeetna. Two guys in a pick-up, moving to Alaska after time there in the army, went hundreds of miles out of their way to deliver us to Anchorage. That anybody would pick up two straggly dudes along with 1,000 lbs of backpacks, food and gear, left a most favorable impression with me.
  • Later in April, my first day in Talkeetna. It was snowing mightily as I stepped from the train and observed a wedding procession passing by the Fairview Inn on Main St.  The bride and groom were mushing a sled dog team to the delight of revelers lining the street.  Being a ‘Cheechako’ (tenderfoot/greenhorn/newcomer) I couldn’t help but wonder if the couple planned to honeymoon in a nearby igloo.
  • Our 4-man team brought 30 days of food: breakfast, lunch and dinner for four, packed inside two dozen 3-gallon metal containers (to thwart cache-raiding birds).  As it turned out, we needed every morsel as we were on the mountain a total of 33 days (and didn’t make the summit; must be some kind of record!)
  • We had elected to fly with Don Sheldon’s competitor, Cliff Hudson. Cliff headquartered out of his home; a quonset hut, strewn to the absolute brim with various electronics and innumerable airplane parts (plus, his wife Ollie, and four young sons).  There was no Talkeetna State Airport that I remember.  Rather, we took off and landed from the ‘village strip’ across the street from the Fairview (a wind sock was strategically placed on the roof).
  • Climbers did not pay a Special Use fee, but the NPS required each party to have a radio capable of reaching Talkeetna from Base Camp. It was rented from ABC Communications in Anchorage, and required a $500 deposit (a fortune to us at the time).  Cliff Hudson provided the necessary 12-volt car battery and jumper cable to power the radio, as well as a dozen 12’ spruce boughs (which he crammed into the fuselage of his Cessna 180, along with our food cans, group and personal equipment, and finally, us!). The small Cessna’s that pilots preferred in those days meant multiple trips to and from the mountain, transporting climbers.
  • Base Camp was approximately 7300’ on the SE Fork of Kahiltna Glacier.  We dug a snowcave for leaving the radio, battery, spruce boughs, and misc. personal affects.  We marked the roof circumference with willow wands and a 15’ section of PVC pipe (it snows a lot there), adorned with a small flag, to denote the cave entrance. Over three weeks later we returned and located the cache (which required extensive digging to excavate).  The spruce boughs were lined up in a row on the glacier surface, and radio antennae wire strung from the cave to each, like a telephone pole in the middle of nowhere.  Power was connected to the radio, and we commenced trying to reach Cliff in Talkeetna to inform him we were ready to be picked up.  If the radio didn’t work (some years it wouldn’t) our backup was the CB radio (Citizens Band), potentially capable of reaching a passing aircraft.  In those days, bush pilots were acutely aware of location and progress of ‘their’ groups on the mountain, in order to guesstimate when pick up from Base Camp would be needed (in case the radio didn’t work).
  • In 1972 sleds were not in vogue, and the four of us carried back and forth in between camps to fully stock the next, higher, site.  That required as many as three days of stockpiling. In retrospect, we wasted a lot of good weather while low on the route, and experienced unsettled conditions during the time we spent at high camp.
  • Underway, we observed three people descend from Kahiltna Pass, early-on in the trip.  It turned out their fourth member had been evacuated from 14K with suspected pulmonary edema.  These were the last human beings we saw for the better part of the next three weeks, until we were descending the ‘infamous’ fixed line between 15,000’ – 16,000’ (we met a party coming up the rope; worst spot on the whole route to pass!).


Dateline 2015

  • All nine RMI Denali expeditions reached the summit of Mt McKinley (May, June, and July).
  • 87% of our 2015 Denali clients reached the summit.
  • The vast majority of guides and climbers jet to Alaska and ride a shuttle to Talkeetna.
  • K2 Aviation’s fleet of de Havilland Beavers and Otters can transport an entire team to Base Camp in a single flight.
  • Satellite phones and daily dispatches of expedition progress take the guess work out of when to pick up climbing parties.
  • RMI expeditions averaged 18.4 days roundtrip this season.
  • Guides and climbers alike raved about the new Expedition Sleds.
  • There were no accidents or injuries requiring evacuation or hospitalization on any RMI Denali expeditions this season.
  • _____
    Joe Horiskey began guiding for RMI Expeditions in 1968 at the age of seventeen. Since that 1972 expedition, Joe has participated in 23 Mt. McKinley expeditions and has 235 summits of Mt. Rainier along with expeditions to peaks across the globe. Joe is a co-owner of RMI Expeditions and director of our Mt. McKinley expeditions. Have a question or thinking about climbing Mt. McKinley? Call our office and talk to Joe; he loves to talk all things Alaska!

August 25, 2013

Joe Horiskey Recounts his First Mt. Rainier Summit of 46 Years Ago

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!

RMI Guide Joe Horiskey

Photo Captions:
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.

Great story, thank you for telling us about it. I loved the part when you said “lo and behold someone decided to call it quits after passing through the DC”.This part was where three of my team members last year decided to turn around too ( and I will admit I was about ready to also if guide Bridgette B. hadn’t coached me through my anxiety). RMI has great guides that put their lives in jeopardy so people can achieve their personal goal of reaching the summit. Thank you so much! And Joe, congrats and a high-five for your very first summit at age sixteen!

Posted by: Stephanie Antich on 7/20/2015 at 12:03 am

Joe,  You drug my butt to the top in 1990 and even let me go on through the crater to the real top.  One of the greatest experiences of my life.  Thank You!  You’ll always be one of my heroes.  Sincerely,  Joey Kaney Warrenton, Ga

Posted by: Joey Kaney on 1/19/2015 at 10:10 pm

June 6, 2012

Recap: Tribute to Nawang Gombu Sherpa

On Sunday, June 3, the historic Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier National Park hosted a Tribute to Nawang Gombu.  The much-anticipated event promised to be a memorable gathering and, despite the fickle weather, it definitely lived up to expectations! 

By 4:00PM the grand lobby was overflowing with family and friends gathered to honor the memory of the man who, all agreed, was a remarkable individual in terms of physical strength, mental determination, and above everything else, humility.  Several family members even journeyed from India to attend.  Gombu’s daughter, Yangdu, received a plaque from Mt. Rainier National Park Superintendent Randy King, recognizing her father’s years of service at Mt. Rainier. 

Needless to say, the climbing community was well represented, with Lou & Jim Whittaker (along with their families) topping the bill.  Jim recounted a story when he and Gombu were on the summit of Mt Everest in 1963:  He asked the soon-to-become-famous Sherpa what he was thinking; what was going through his mind in that historic moment; and received the succinct reply, “Getting down!” 

In the crowd were numerous professional mountain guides who worked with Gombu on Mt Rainier, as well as past clients of RMI fortunate enough to rope up with him during their summit climbs.  Phinjo Gombu, Gombu’s son and also a former RMI guide, accepted a special plaque from RMI’s Lou Whittaker, Peter Whittaker, and myself.  Phinjo then delivered a moving account of his father’s life, from boyhood to becoming a mountaineering icon.  Through it all, Phinjo recalled, Gombu remained humble and unassuming.  As he put it, “He [Gombu] simply loved the mountains.”  Everyone in the building related to that sentiment. 

2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the 1982 American Everest Expedition, led by Lou Whittaker, of which Gombu was a member.  Several former RMI guides and participants on the expedition were in attendance, including Larry Nielson, the first American to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen (1983).  Gombu used to refer to Larry as “the Animal” and with good reason!

Near the great fireplace at the west end of the lobby easels displayed photos from numerous expeditions on which Gombu participated: Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu, and Nanda Devi.  He also guided an RMI Mt. McKinley Expedition in the late 1970’s, with his friend Phil Ershler.  A silent auction was ongoing throughout the evening, bidding on famous photos and mountaineering books autographed by Lou Whittaker, Jim Whittaker, and Dee Molenaar among others.

Of course, nothing elicits memories more effectively than film and the medium was presented in abundance:  Gombu as a young man on early expeditions; the electrifying final steps to the top of Everest on May 1, 1963 with Big Jim; the ’82 China-Everest North Wall and ’89 Kanchenjunga expeditions. These clips represented but a few snippets of a lifetime spent in the high mountains.

Then suddenly, shortly after 9:00PM, someone burst into Paradise Inn proclaiming, “The Mountain’s out!  The Mountain’s out!”  Talk about your mass exodus.  The lobby all but emptied in a matter of moments as everyone grabbed cameras and cell phones or simply went outside to look for themselves.  The summit of Rainier, hidden behind clouds throughout the day, was there in all its glory.  The Tatoosh Range was bathed in shades of evening’s glow, while Rainier’s distant summit loomed stark and foreboding.  It fit the occasion.  Mt Rainier’s upper reaches are the realm of the mountaineer, of which Nawang Gombu represented the highest ideal.  As guide and climber, husband and father and very special friend, his memory will be kept alive in the high mountains.   

Special thanks to Ingrid & Lou Whittaker for all their efforts in organizing and promoting this truly memorable event.

- RMI Guide Joe Horiskey

Thanks for the fine recap, Joe.  Wish I could have been there for the celebration of Gombu’s life.  He was a giant. My hero and my friend.

Posted by: Dave Hahn on 6/7/2012 at 6:39 am

I have such great memories of climbing and travelling with Gombu.  Whether on Rainier or on the way to Kanchenjunga and Chomolari, Gombu always had the right words to help the slower travelers and to deal with the task at hand.  I especially remember his families kindness and generosity when they hosted a traditional Tibetan wedding for Heidi Pletz at Sita and Gombu’s home in Darjeeling.  All the great work he did with the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute will be long remembered along with all the climbs and guiding.

Posted by: Keith Roush on 6/6/2012 at 7:47 am

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