Here's a shot from daybreak at Illumination Saddle on Mt. Hood. Before this picture was taken, we endured over 12 hours of freezing fog in a whiteout. This summit attempt ended in failure when we were unable to find our way across the Yocum Ridge, but I began to realize that I might be ready for the psycological challenges of Himalayan climbing.
On that trip, our bad luck continued during our attempt to climb Mt. Adams via the very technical and somewhat treacherous Adams Glacier. The adventure began when we had to stop our car 4 miles from the trailhead due to felled trees blocking the road. We suffered one crevasse fall and numerous route finding challenges on this broken up chunk of ice and got to the top of the route in a near whiteout. Down climbing the NE Ridge was fraught with loose, unstable snow and rock and high avalanche risk. When we got to the hotel that night after a 25 hour day and 23 hours of movement, I still had more fight in me and I knew I was ready to head to Cho Oyu.
When you live on a mountain, you get to know its personality. I returned to Mt. Hood in July and successfully summitted via the Hogsback Route. The mountain had changed significantly since I was last there. All the brown, volcanic rock you see in this photo had been covered in feet of rime ice only a few months prior.
In the background are Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams
The mountains encroach on all parts of Nepali life. Machapuchare ("Fishtail Peak") has never been summitted. Just like Mt. Kailash in Tibet, the mountain is considered a sacred peak and is closed to climbers.
There is a seamless blend between Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal. Squares enclosing temples and stupas punctuate the otherwise tortuous network of Medeival streets.
Once you enter Tibet, you immediately understand that this is region has been subjugated by China. Police patrol the streets in groups of four - two with automatic rifles, one with a shotgun, and one with a fire extinguisher to deter self-immolation. The Potala Palace was the Dalai Lama's home before his exile. The Chinese constructed the Monument to the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet in a square immediately adjacent to Potala Palace. Over 5,000 Tibetans died defending their homeland from China's invasion.
This road used to be an ancient trade route between China and India. Merchants would travel over the Nangpa La, a 19,049' (5,806m) pass across the Himalayas, trading Tibetan salt for Nepali produce and spices. In 2006 the location was the site of an incident where the PLA fired upon a group of unarmed Tibetans refugees attempting to joint he Dalai Lama in India (link).
High altitude expedition climbing involves a lot of waiting around in miserable, claustrophobic conditions. I spent more nights than I cared to at Camp I on Cho Oyu. Excursions out of the tent were limited to trips to the bathroom - a pit dug into a snow bridge over a crevasse - or to the mess tent to get more hot water for tea or ramen. Once we had to spend 36 hours in our tent waiting for a snowstorm to pass. (That was lucky. We could have been stuck there for a week.) Things are guaranteed to get more savage on Mt. Everest.
Any time you venture above base camp, you're exposing yourself to extreme risk. The chance of death on Cho Oyu is about 1 in 200. The chance of dying on Everest is about 1 in 100. In order to break up the tension, I've decided to bring costumes on any high-risk excursions. Things got a bit cold in the -10F (-23C) weather but I think my hair looks fabulous.
While the expedition to Cho Oyu was effectively a dress rehearsal for Everest, my trip to Argentina to climb Aconcagua in a solo, unassisted, speed ascent was mainly psychological preparation. It worked. I was incredibly uncomfortable during my first few excursions into the mountains, but then I realized that the challenges presented by the terrain and weather were nothing I hadn't overcome before. This section in the Andes above Mendoza reminded me of the High Sierras in California.
During the Austral summer, the Andes are lashed by fierce storms where wind speeds can exceed 80mph. Climbing on technical terrain becomes very difficult in winds over 35mph and nearly impossible over 60mph. During these storms I passed the days touring the wine country around Mendoza. The price of a full meal consisting of the juiciest, biggest cut of steak you've ever seen and the nice bottle of Malbec: $20 USD.
I didn't want to get up on summit day for Volcán Maipo. The sense of remoteness had really started to get to me. I was all alone. I don't mean that no one else was in my climbing party. I mean that no one else was on the mountain. Fear latches on to nonspecific adversaries. It feeds on the unknown. I knew what I was up against - high class-4 climbs on loose rock, a solo glacier traverse, the grating effects of hypoxia - so I wasn't scared, just really discomforted. Whatever adventure I found, I'd have to deal with myself.
In preparation for Aconcagua, I summitted Cerro Plata (19,580'; 5,968m) in a relatively easy and painless two day push. On the way back to my high camp, I happened upon the nest of a baby bird and spent the next few minutes wondering if this bird was a condor and, if so, what is the best way to defend against an attack from a condor, a vulture with a 10' (3m) wingspan. Momma bird showed up, but she was a falcon, not a condor, and after making a few low passes by my head, decided that I wasn't much of a threat and headed back to her nest.