Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Everest bound

The night sky to the north, over the Bering Straight, was the surreal blue of another planet – perhaps the methane-rich atmosphere of Neptune, with all the red sucked out of the light. I was halfway through a fourteen-hour flight, itself only the second of three. Step by step, they were transporting me from the familiar surroundings of Calgary to the alien chaos of Kathmandu. It’s on the plane that a big adventure first becomes alarmingly real. For months we dream, plan, train and organize. Then one morning we wake up, make one last espresso, load bulging duffels bugs into the car trunk and head for the airport. The future becomes the present.

What was still in the future, but a very near one now, was my first experience of the highest mountain on the planet. Everest? Really? How is it that after saying for years that I was too much of a climber to have any interest in that massive, graceless peak, I was headed there? What had changed?

Photo: Gunther Goberl.

Everything is change. For many years I’d remained contentedly local in my beloved Rockies. Some friends had even started calling me a Rockies rat. But, I argued, why bother going to Alaska or the Karakoram, when you could get a lot more climbing done within a few hours of home? Then, ten years ago, something changed, and I went on back-to-back trips to Alaska and Pakistan. I found out I’d been right: if I’d stayed home, I’d have climbed a lot more. But I also realized there was something in those faraway places I couldn’t find in the Rockies. I’m still not quite sure what it is. It might be the violet Alaskan twilight, or maybe a porter caravan snaking up beside a rubbly glacier. It’s probably not the gurgling bowels on a twenty-four-hour drive up the Karakoram Highway.

And so, last summer, when a friend suggested a Himalayan double header, I was intrigued. Perhaps here was a chance to experience the surreal world above 8000 metres, a world I’d been especially curious about since Ian and I’d gotten a taste of the air above 7000 metres on K6 West two years ago. A chance to experience that world at least partly away from normal routes, fixed ropes and crowds. In the end the double header got distilled to just one peak – Everest. Why Everest? I’m still not sure. It wasn’t my idea, but it seemed like a good one. It didn’t matter now. Daniel, David and I would acclimatize on the north ridge, the normal route from the Tibetan side, then try a new variation on the northeast face.

Photo: Gunther Goberl

My training for K6 West consisted of hiking really fast on my way up to sport-climbing projects at the Lookout. The thought of trying to go almost two kilometres higher must have had me worried, as for the first time in my life I drew up a training plan. It was the real thing: a spreadsheet with activities planned for each week three months in advance. It was squats and pull-ups instead of plastic bouldering after work; solitary hikes with a pack full of rocks instead of drytooling with friends on weekends. The temptation to go play was strong at times, but any lapses would have left glaringly obvious gaps in the spreadsheet. Besides, I was curious to see if structured training would make me fitter than the usual just-go-climbing approach. I suppose I’ll find out in the coming weeks.


An expedition, even a relatively small one, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Many people are involved: people who, one way or another, help us pursue our passion. Before I disappear into a world without readily available wifi, I want to especially thank some of them.

Louis R.: Thank you for the very idea of this trip. I look forward sharing one of your dreams with you sometime.

Laura F., Nathalie M. and Tony R. at Arc’teryx: Thank you for believing in this project, and at times making it your own.

Kevin L. at Scarpa North America: Thank you for helping to make this trip happen from the start.

Doug H. and Kolin P. at Black Diamond: Thank you for your friendship. I look forward to getting out with you next winter.

Grant D. at Feathered Friends: Thank you for helping Daniel and me stay warm on the mountain.

Jim P. at Elevate Me Bars: Thank you for tasty energy food for all three of us.

Evin C. at Suunto: Thank you for a great training and climbing tool.

Scott J. and Steve H.: Thank you for patiently explaining to me the basics of training for alpinism.

Janusz M. and Artur M.: Thank you for giving me the benefit of the hard-won wisdom of Polish Himalayan climbers.

Robert S.: Thank you for generously sharing your high-altitude medical expertise with a stranger.

Jeff G. and Manuel D.-A. at Mount Royal University: Thank you for supporting this rather non-academic passion of mine. 


Wifi might not be readily available on the north side of Everest, but this being the 21st century, we won’t be completely without it. While I might find it hard to update this blog, I will be sending updates to my sponsors, as well as simply pushing the button on my Spot. The links are on the right side of this webpage. Namaste.