Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Krazy Kozzy

Our hopes for "mildly adverse conditions" (for purposes of a more exciting story as mentioned in our last blog post) were indeed realized! On Monday we picked up our right-hand drive car in Sydney and veered onto the left-hand side of the road heading southwest for the 6-hour drive towards Thredbo (elev. 4,500'), the alpine village at the base of Mt. Kosciuszko in the National Park bearing the same name.

Half-way between Sydney and Thredbo is the nation's capital of Canberra which happens to be the home of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). AIS is where the Olympic and Paralympic athletes train so we decided to see the expansive facilities for ourselves. Prominently displayed in the front of the main building is the "Basketballer" created for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and spotlighting all the Paralympic athletes.

Since we were doing a "walk in the park" on Kosciuszko the next day we figured we could squeeze in a supplemental workout in the 50-meter pool where legends like Ian Thorpe (aka the Thorpedo) trained. After our refreshing laps in the Olympic pool, we continued on to the Snowy Mountains where our next challenge awaited.  We checked in to the Thredbo Alpine Hotel and began sifting through our gear to get ready for our next "expedition". The primary challenge was determining which sun visor and sunscreen to take and whether or not to throw in some sandals for our walk in the park. 

We awoke the next morning December 30th to sunshine and blue skies which looked to be a great start for Denise's birthday. As we started our walk in the morning the wind gently announced itself and the clouds blew in. The majority of the hiking path is comprised of steel grates perfectly constructed to easily lead both young and old straight up to the summit. 

The higher we progressed up the mountain the higher the winds gusted so we switched our sun visors for wool hats, gloves and warmer jackets. Luckily we brought some foul weather gear for these possible "adverse conditions" and we piled on every layer we had with us. We heard from Thredbo mountain staff that temps at the summit were -10C and gusts were reaching 80km/hour...and they were absolutely right! After the requisite photo with the Challenged Athletes Foundation flag on the summit at 7,310 feet, and a quick video to document these crazy conditions, we quickly descended back towards the village to celebrate our 8th Summit. It was a fitting way to celebrate Denise's birthday and also finish out 2014 on a high note!  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

G'Day from Down Under

Greetings from Sydney, Australia where we are beginning our final adventure of 2014.  Located in the Snowy Mountains six hours by car from Sydney, is Mount Kosciusko or "Kozzy" as the Aussies call her.  It's the highest peak in Australia and is considered by some as one of the Seven Summits.  It all depends on how you define the continent, the Australian land mass, or the true continent of Oceania, which also includes Indonesia.  We chose to climb Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia in Sept. 2008.  Carstensz is over 16,000 feet high and involves considerable technical climbing.  See blog archive for details: Carstensz Summit Day
The mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner and other purists count Carstensz as one of the Seven Summits, but we figured we should also climb Kosciusko to be absolutely thorough.  

It's really more of a hike and there is no "climbing" involved other than climbing out of bed at an early hour in order to make it up to the 7,310 foot summit and back to the lodge in time for lunch and a cold beverage! 

It may be a tad bit more of a challenge than my overconfident description may sound, as Denise is still in rehab mode from her knee surgery less than two months ago. Nonetheless we'll go slow and hopefully will encounter some kind of mildly adverse conditions to weave into our next blog post to make for a more exciting story! ­čśÇ  We'll report back sometime in the next few days to let you know how it goes, and meanwhile we hope you are enjoying your holidays.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adios Andes

  • 3 countries, 34 days
  • 14 different hotel rooms and 8 camp locations
  • 57,693 feet in altitude climbed, and...
  • 1 amazing photo of our new amigo Marcelo, racing in the wheelchair that we were privileged to deliver to him:

Marcelo Mansueto, Lima, Peru - competing with determination in his first race in his new chair!

The last five weeks have certainly been an exciting whirlwind journey that has very much lived up to its label: Ambitious Adventure to the Andes. After spending 14 days over 13,000 feet and at an average elevation of 10,900 feet for the duration of our South American trip, we are now home, happy to be back at sea level again. We are also once again enjoying the many comforts and conveniences we left behind, and taking stock of the many photos and memories we brought back. ...along with a few bruises that Denise brought back as souvenirs from Chimborazo!  She is healing very nicely by the way, and thank you all for your interest, comments and concerns.

It's times like these that we appreciate what we have, the functionality of our bodies and the amazing things they can do and places they can take us. Sometimes we take our bodies for granted and forget the miraculous gift we were given. The Challenged Athletes Foundation and its inspirational athletes who overcome disability or loss of limb, serve as a wonderful reminder to the rest of us to use the gifts we were given. And for all of you who have given the gift of sport and mobility by supporting the CAF and its mission, we thank you. And we also thank you for following along on our journey through this blog.

Until the next adventure, we wish you all the best in the continued climb to your S.U.M.M.I.T. ! 
Buena Suerte!
- Paul & Denise
Base Camp below Nevado Sajama, Bolivia
One of our llama friends at Machu Picchu

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chimborazo Bruise'n

Chimborazo view with Vicu├▒a in foreground - Sat. July 19 before storm
What started out as a perfect summit night with a star-filled sky and no wind, turned out to be the calm before the STORM. At 11:07pm after a few hours rest and "breakfast" we walked out of the refugio at 15,748 feet behind our guide Fausto, with all of our gear and enthusiasm in tact. 

As we steadily gained altitude we actually commented to one another how lucky we were to finally have ideal climbing weather. ...not long after the wind appeared. We were climbing the Castillo Route and by the time we reached the ridge line around 18,500 feet above the "castle" shaped rock tower, the wind had intensified into a full-force winter storm. 

We decided to continue on a bit in hopes of the wind abating but it only grew stronger. Around 2:30am, after Denise was almost knocked over by a powerful gust, we decided it was too dangerous to continue. 

The wind persisted as we descended back down the route and we estimated the gusts at 70-80+MPH. About halfway to the refugio and shortly after we unroped and removed our crampons, it happened. A strong gust blowing from behind, combined with a mixture of downhill rock and ice illuminated only by a headlamp, caused Denise to slip and fall! She tumbled forward letting out a scream and rolled downhill! Since we just untied ourselves from the climbing rope there wasn't much I could do other than watch from behind in pure terror. 

Fortunately, the rocks prevented her from rolling too far, but they also inflicted quite a bit of pain to multiple places on her body.  After assessing the damage and realizing nothing was broken, she regained her composure and we continued the downhill march slowly.  By 5am we finally reached the refugio and took shelter as the storm raged on. A few other groups were also on the mountain, all of them retreated as well, including two Germans whose tent was ripped and flattened by the wind. 

After daylight, we gathered our gear, took this photo of the mountain, and headed down to pamper Denise's bruised body in the comfort of a nice hotel, leaving Chimborazo to be climbed another day...  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chimborazo Challenge

The climb up the third and final mountain of our "Ambitious Adventure to the Andes" is about to begin!  We arrived in Ecuador's capital city Quito on Wednesday and were treated to our first home-cooked meal in over a month courtesy of family friends, the Galarza/Segovia's. It was a welcomed change from eating in either a restaurant or a tent, and we enjoyed the Ecuadorian hospitality immensely! 

We now find ourselves four hours south of Quito in Riobamba, a bit tired yet ready to tackle the highest mountain in Ecuador: Volcan Chimborazo at 6,310 meters or 20,703 feet!  Our summit day will be a long one, climbing 5,000 vertical feet, so we plan to start before midnight and hope to reach the top by sunrise Sunday morninng. 
View of Chimborazo along road to Riobamba
Fun fact: Chimborazo is taller than Mt. Everest!? ¿Que? Well, apparently when measured from Earth's center, Chimborazo's close proximity to the equator and the fact that our planet bulges at the equator, makes the summit approximately 2 kilometers farther from the center than the top of Mt. Everest!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

P.S. Post-Sajama Report

The wind violently shook our tent hour after unrelenting hour since the time of our last post at High Camp. In fact it had intensified with gusts over 70MPH, making a summit attempt foolish and unrealistic. Around 7pm on Thursday evening we discussed with our guide Eloy that if the winds do not die down by 1:00am we would not go up. This was yet again a difficult decision because although we had extra contingency days built into our schedule, we learned Eloy had another climb booked and wouldn't be able to wait out the weather, so we would have to go back.

With this weighing on our minds (and that fact that Eloy told us about tents being blown off Sajama just last week) we hoped that our own tent would remain tied down, and attempted to get a few hours of sleep.

A few minutes before the 1:00am alarm was set to go off, we awoke and listened for the familiar thunderous noise of the nylon walls of our tent being thrashed by the wind. Much to our pleasant surprise, the sound was not there! With great excitement (and a bit of dread for the long ordeal of a summit day) we began the process of emerging from our sleeping bags and putting on all of our climbing gear. At 2:33am with ice axes in hand and headlamps lighting our way, we left our tents at High Camp at ~19,000 feet and followed Eloy up the mountain.
The wind remained with us but at a more manageable rate, and we wore every layer of clothing we had to keep warm. The climb was steeper and more challenging that we thought with one section in particular at ~45 degrees for several hundred vertical feet with rock solid glass-like ice that deflected the sharp end of our ice axes like it was Kevlar.

Next was about 20 minutes of rock climbing (always interesting while wearing crampons) and then into the penitentes. 

Around 6:00am and nearing 21,000 feet the dark began to turn to dawn and the climb became much easier (notwithstanding the thin air at this altitude of course!) But there were no more technical obstacles to overcome, just a steady climb, albeit with significantly labored breathing considering the last time we were at this altitude was on Everest four years ago.

The sun finally began showing its rays and cast an amazing pyramid-shaped shadow of Nevado Sajama across the valley below and projecting the image adjacent to the neighboring volcano Parinacota straddling the Chilean border. 

By 8:40am, just over six hours after leaving High Camp, we were relieved that the winds did not stop us, and we were able to reach our goal! We stood atop the highest mountain in Bolivia at 21,463 feet, and proudly raised the Challenged Athletes Foundation letters in honor of our mission. 

The rounded top and large flat area was unlike any other summit we had experienced. An interesting first-ever event took place here in August of 2001, and given the Argentina vs Germany World Cup Finals taking place today, we figured it was worth mentioning. A football (soccer) match as actually played here on the summit by two teams of Sajama villagers and Bolivian mountain guides in an effort to protest against the FIFA decision to discontinue the use of La Paz as a location to hold international football matches because of its high elevation. Adios, for now, time to watch FOOTBALL!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Saludos from Sajama High Camp

Our climb of Nevado Sajama is well underway and we have reached High Camp at apprx. 19,000 feet! We flew to La Paz on Tuesday, and at ~4,000 meters (~13,000 feet) it's the highest capital city in the world.
Early Wednesday morning we drove apprx 5 hours south to the trailhead at apprx. 14,500 feet (that's like driving to the top of Mt. Whitney and starting your hike up from there!)  Next it was a short 1.5 hour hike to Base Camp at ~15,700 feet where we spent a chilly night. The warming sun finally hit our camp by 8:30 and we were packed and hiking by 9:15 heading for High Camp where we are now.  We're taking shelter in our tent from the fierce wind that started blowing on our way up at 40-50 mph with gusts at least 60 mph!

Now for a few factoids: Nevado Sajama is an extinct stratovolcano and at 6,542 meters (21,463 feet) it is the highest peak in Bolivia.  The mountain is located ~ 10 miles from the border with Chile and it's located in the Cordillera Occidental range of the Andes.

We've enjoyed spectacular scenery along the way, including this group of alpacas and llamas that was kind enough to stop and pose for this photo near the base of the mountain.  Adios, it's time for us to rest and hope the wind dies down, otherwise, sadly our chances of reaching the summit may be slim. :(

Monday, July 7, 2014

Planes, Trains, Automobiles & Incas

Since we last left you we have been on the move and also had an opportunity for some R&R (& getting some laundry done) after our time up on Huascaran.  Before leaving Huaraz we had our last chance to take in the beauty of the Cordillera Blanca by hiking high above Yungay (the town completely buried by the landslide of 1970) and seeing some pristine glacial lakes. 

Laguna Llaganuco in Huascaran National Park
Next was an 8-hour bus ride south to Lima during which I managed to get some meaningful work completed on one of my oilfield service M&A deals back home along with the help of my colleague Jason Orr.  Thanks Jason!  We stayed 2 nights at a fabulously unique B&B called Second Home Peru which is the personal residence of Peruvian artist Victor Delfin who converted part of his property to a handful of guest rooms. It's perched above the Pacific Ocean high on the cliff side in the Barranco District of Lima, to us it seemed somewhat reminiscent of Santa Monica. 
In the wee hours of Saturday morning we flew to Cusco then boarded a train for a scenic 3.5 hour ride to Aguas Calientes on the banks of the Urubamba River. For those who haven't been to Machu Picchu this is the last town for visitors to stay before boarding a bus for the steep, windy road that crawls up the 2,000 foot vertical feet to the entrance of the Inca Ruins. We opted for the convenience of the train/bus rather than hiking the Inca Trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu as some do, figuring we will be hiking enough during our entire lengthy adventure. The ruins and their improbable location atop steep mountains were, simply put, AMAZING!  Watching the sunrise illuminate this fascinating creation of an ancient civilization was even more impressive. 

However, staying at the only hotel located RIGHT AT Machu Picchu, the 5-Star luxury Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, was equally impressive. We decided staying here ourselves was an important prerequisite for inspection of the property for the benefit of executives who may join us on future STEP Outdoor Adventures trips we may plan. Yes, this is a tough job but somebody has to do it. To ease the burden of this type of work, somehow we were upgraded to the Presidential Suite, the only room of its kind in the hotel with views of the ruins from the bedroom, sitting room, and the expansive private patio & lounge area. 
Jacuzzi at Sanctuary Lodge - with views of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu
This is definitely going to make it more difficult to return to our more typical accommodation - inside a 3-person North Face tent!

Next stop and next mountain, Bolivia and Nevado Sajama.....

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Difficult Decisions

Summit attempt aborted, here are the details:
At 2:57 AM on Sunday June 29, we woke up and crawled out our warm sleeping bags and tent at Camp 1 and into the cold and dark of night.  By 4:30 AM we had our climbing harnesses, helmets, and headlamps on and we roped together and followed Nacho into the infamous and feared "Canaletta."  It was particularly daunting given the fact that the storms of the past few days left no trace of a logical path through this labyrinth of building-sized seracs and deep crevasses, but Nacho navigated our way through the dark like trailblazing pro. The waist-deep snow also presented a challenge but the three of us were strong and persevered despite a disconcerting reality: so far there has only been one successful summit of Huascaran this year. It was in May, and Nacho has estimated that 10 other expeditions have tried but failed for various reasons.

Phil Crampton from US-based Altitude Junkies was among this group and we spoke with him when we arrived at Base Camp last Wednesday (we first met Phil on Everest in 2010).  Phil told us about another team that just left the mountain as well without reaching the top, it was a Czech team on their way to Pakistan to climb K2, so he felt pretty confident of their skills and abilities, plus he said they were just tough Czechs!

Nonetheless we tried not to think of these long odds as we continued to trudge through the deep snow that was also very light and of a non-compacting, sugary consistency (i.e. avalanche-prone). Meanwhile the weather once again began to turn from good to bad and the wind picked up blowing cold snow onto our faces. All three of us independently began contemplating the decision whether we should turn around. About that time, now 6:30 AM at an altitude of approximately 18,000 feet Nacho turned to us and asked, "What do you guys think?" It was pretty obvious to all three of us that the only smart decision was to turn around, so we did.

Nacho leading us up through Canaletta near our turnaround point

Only once before in the past 12 years of climbing big mountains, have we not been able to reach the summit on an expedition. Given the conditions, it may seem to an observer that it was an easy decision to make, but from our perspective it would have been far easier to minimize the risks in our mind or hope the conditions would improve, and just keep climbing. However, it was a valuable lesson for us and reinforced the fact that we love life, and our friends and family back home far more than to take undue risk for the sake of reaching a summit.  There are many more S.U.M.M.I.T.s to reach in life!  ...couldn't resist the reference to the acronym in chapter 10 of :-)  Plus we have two more peaks to attempt in Bolivia and Ecuador as our Ambitious Adventure to the Andes continues!

 Late afternoon at C1 while weather was still nice, Canaletta in background

 Nacho and Denise plowing through snow in Canaletta with crevasses in background

 Storm clouds engulfing Huascaran several hours after turning back, confirming the right decision was made

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Stormy Nights on Huascaran

Greetings from Huascaran Camp 1 at 16,800 feet where we are huddled in our tent as the wind and snow blows all around us outside. This is our second stormy night on the mountain but we are managing to stay happy, warm, and relatively dry.  We left Base Camp Thursday and had about two hours of somewhat technical "bouldering" with some exposed sections, until we reached Morraine Camp at ~15,500 feet. It was a matter of moments after we set up our tent, that it began to rain, then sleet, then snow. 

Fortunately the morning brought clear skies for our continued upward march to Camp 1.  The majority of the climb was on the glacier and we travelled roped together with our guide Nacho who was vigilant to avoid any dangerous crevasses. We arrived at Camp 1 around 3 pm and like clockwork the dark clouds moved in and it began to snow again. 

We have a rest day and one more night scheduled here at C1 to adjust to the altitude of nearly 17,000 feet, and then we will make our way up and through the "Canaletta." This is one of the more dangerous parts of the route, similar to a mini version of Everest's Khumbu Icefall with seracs hanging above that could come crashing down without notice. However, Nacho and one of the other guides we spoke with felt the Canaletta looked ok this season, but we will be safe and of anything looks too risky we will turn back. Until next time...
Hasta la Vista,
Pablo y Denise

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Base Camp - Bueno!

After acclimating in and around Huaraz the past few days, our expedition to Peru's highest peak, Nevado Huascaran, has now officially begun! We drove north this morning about an hour and a half to the tiny mountain village of Musho where we packed our gear and eight days worth of food onto donkeys. We began hiking at 10,000 feet and enjoyed the fabulous views surrounding us and the imposing slopes and glaciers of Huascaran high above. We followed our skilled guide Nacho, at a leisurely pace and approximately four hours later we arrived at our current location at Base Camp at apprx. 13,700 feet. Our tents are situated near a picturesque stream, we are feeling good, and are looking forward to a nice meal being prepared by our cook Hernan.

We thought you might also enjoy learning a little background on the single most notorious event in Huascaran's history, as many people here talk about it. In 1970 a 7.9 magnitude earthquake triggered a massive avalanche causing a 3,000 foot wide section of the mountain and glacier to break off and slide 11 miles down the slopes below. The towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca were entombed in 40 million cubic meters of debris and more than 20,000 people were killed, including all 15 members of a Czech climbing team who were on the mountain at the time.

Well, that's it for now, we will do our best to send updates later as we are able. We are thrilled to have a cellular data connection, but it is painfully slow - therefore sorry no photos.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hola from Huaraz

We can't think of a better way to kick off our active and sporting adventure enjoying the freedom of the mountains, than by sharing the gift of freedom and sport with some deserving Peruvian challenged athletes.  Early Saturday morning in Lima we met with Miguel Rodriguez (another great connection from the fabulous Beth Sanden) who in turn introduced us to two athlete representatives from Miguel's organization Achilles International.  Edwin, 25 years old pictured on left, lost the use of his legs at an early age due to polio, and Marcello suffered a similar paralyzation although he can walk with the use of crutches.
As we presented the two wheelchairs we brought down from the U.S., the look of excitement and pure joy on the faces of Edwin and Marcello was absolutely priceless.  Marcello kept thanking us profusely for what this means to him and the other athletes who will use this race wheelchair and feel the wind in their face and the exhilaration of competing in a marathon as if he had full use of his legs.  Denise said to Marcello: "Es un regalo del Dios" - "It is a gift from God."

Eight hours later by bus heading north from Lima, we found ourselves in Huaraz, in the Cordillera Blanca, the climbing Mecca of Peru. Along with the neighboring Huayhuash Range, this region contains some 22 impressive summits over 6,000 m (19,800 feet) making it the highest mountain range in the world outside the Himalayas.  Huaraz is situated at 10,138 feet so we have scheduled several days to acclimate here and hike in the mountains surrounding the city before the big expedition begins. Yesterday was a short hike to Pukaventana, winding up through a beautiful canyon 1,500 vertical feet offering a spectacular view of Huaraz and off in the distance, the main objective - Huascaran!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ambitious Adventure to the Andes

5 weeks, 3 countries, 3 highest mountains in each country totaling 64,533 feet, and 2 wheelchairs.
…one of our most ambitious climbing adventures yet (certainly from a logistics standpoint) and it all begins this Thursday! In our quest to explore new and exciting high altitude destinations for future Step Outdoor Adventures programs, we are heading south to Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Our plan is to climb the highest mountains in each of those countries – Nevado Huascaran: 22,262', Nevado Sajama: 21,590' and Chimborazo: 20,681'.  Each one is higher than the highest peak in North America, and Huascaran is less than 600 vertical feet shy of Aconcagua, its less technically challenging neighbor to the south and the highest peak in the world outside of Asia.

During our journey we will also visit some spectacular sights along the way like the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu (located at a comfortably lower altitude of ~8,000') and the beautiful Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. We’re not sure if our bodies will hold up to such an active itinerary, or if we can actually pull off all of this, since it seems like we just planned an episode of the Amazing Race. Nonetheless we’re super excited for the adventure, and also enthused to be delivering two customized wheelchairs to some deserving challenged athletes in Lima along the way!
We would love to have you follow along on our “Ambitious Adventure to the Andes” to see how it all unfolds. So if you're not already receiving e-mail updates when new posts are made, please subscribe by entering your e-mail address in the box in the upper right portion of the blog post (and don't forget to verify through the automated email you will receive immediately after subscribing - check spam filter if you don't see it).
Adios y Hasta Luego!
Paul y Denise

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ararat Action-Packed Adventure!

Of all the interesting places we have experienced while climbing in the far reaches of the seven continents, I would have to admit that Do─čubayaz─▒t and the region surrounding Mt. Ararat has made us feel the most "on edge" from a cultural "unease" perspective. (Even more so than the battle-hardened Kashmir region in northern India bordering Pakistan.) Denise and I were easy to pick out of the crowd walking down the main street in town among the 95% plus bearded men and the occasional woman in traditional Kurdish attire with a "tesett├╝r" head dress and overcoat. If you were to sling a Russian Kalashnikov rifle over the shoulder of any one of these men, a Hollywood producer would be thrilled to cast them in the character of an Al Qaeda member in their next action movie. This would include Mustafa, our Kurdish mountain guide who we met Saturday morning and who spoke absolutely zero English. However, as soon a smile cracked through his hardened exterior, you could tell he was a kindhearted and caring man. Since we spoke zero Kurdish and a similar amount of Turkish, our communication with Mustafa was extremely limited as we began our Ararat adventure.

Our food and climbing gear was loaded on to pack horses at the trailhead at 7,770 feet and a short two hours later we arrived at our first camp at just over 10,000 feet.  Communications improved later that afternoon once Hazal, the operator of the expedition company Ararat Adventures, arrived at camp. Originally from Poland (with a given name of Agnieska) Hazal quit her job working as a tax accountant for the Polish Ministry of Finance after vacationing near Ararat and falling in love and marrying a Kurdish mountain guide named Safet. 

The next day was another short, easy hike up to our second camp at 11,500 feet. We would have preferred to go higher, thus making our summit day shorter, but due to the early time of year and the amount of snow, our camp was located at this lower altitude.

Our time on the mountain was immeasurably more peaceful and scenic than the city scene of Do─čubayaz─▒t ...until the early morning hours of Tuesday May 6th.  We awoke at 2 AM, switched on our headlamps, and dressed in our warmest clothes for the anticipated wind and cold temps of 16°F forecast for our long summit day. We packed sufficient food and water knowing we would be climbing over 5,300 vertical feet (our single greatest summit day altitude gain ever, even more than Everest which is 3,000 vertical feet from camp 4 to the summit). Fortunately we were already well acclimatized after coming from Everest Base Camp at over 17,000 feet just 10 days prior, otherwise I'm not sure I would attempt such a significant one day altitude gain so quickly.

We finally got out of camp at 3:30 AM and followed Mustafa up the increasingly steep snow slope, step-by-step through the dark, illuminated only by our headlamps. After about five hours of climbing in almost complete silence other than the crunch of our crampons in the hard snow or the occasional exchange with Mustafa that consisted of "OK? / OK" or "Good? / Good"), the peaceful calm of the morning was abruptly broken. All of a sudden without any warning whatsoever, we heard an alarmingly loud "BOOM!"  It was the unmistakable sound of a large ballistic artillery round. Who the heck is firing at us way up here on Mount Ararat? Immediately I looked up at the slope above us to assess whether there was a possibility of the missile fire triggering an avalanche? Mustafa responded with a phrase from his English repertoire that we hadn't heard before: "No problem."

Knowing we were only a few miles from the Iranian border, and knowing about history of strife and violence with the Kurdish PKK organization in this area, a response of "no problem" wasn't entirely reassuring. Nonetheless, we continued to climb towards the summit and tried our best to keep warm as the wind and clouds blew against us at 30 to 40 mph at times. Then again, another BOOM! this time followed shortly after by another BOOM! Did we somehow time our vacation with the start of a new conflict with Iran and Turkey or the PKK? The exchange of missile fire continued as we made our way up the last stretch through the clouds and finally to the summit at an altitude of 16,946 feet at 11:00 AM.

Notwithstanding any of this "unease", our experience on Mt. Ararat and with the Kurdish people has been wonderful and we are extremely happy we stepped out of our comfort zone and embarked on this adventure. Now for a little relaxing, daily showers, and enjoying the sights and Turkish food in Istanbul!

Ishak Pasha Palace, above Do─čubayaz─▒t and near Mt. Ararat

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Up Next - Mt. Ararat!

After our celebration dinner in Kathmandu and emotion filled farewells to our Sherpa friends and fellow team members, Denise and I turned our attention to Turkey. We flew to Istanbul yesterday at the western edge of the country (Istanbul is a rare city in the world with the distinction of sitting in two continents) and today we took a flight to Van located near the eastern edge of Turkey. Syria and Iraq are to the south of us and now we are quite near the border of Iran to the east. The Kurds are the predominant ethnic group here so we aren't exactly waving the American flag around to make friends.

Nonetheless, this region is the site of Mt. Ararat, the highest peak in Turkey at 16,854 feet and its summit is our next objective. It is higher than any mountain in the continental United States or in Europe, outside of the Caucasus. Ararat was a part of Armenia until the Armenian Genocide in 1915 when Turkey took over that section of Armenia. The mountain is a dormant volcano with the last eruption in 1840, so at least we should be safe on that front!

Mt. Ararat is also known for its historical significance as the likely final resting place of Noah's Ark. It is specifically referenced in the Bible in the book of Genesis, Chapter 8, 1-5. Over the years various groups have explored Ararat in the hopes of finding remains of the Ark. Both Josephus in about 70 A.D. and Marco Polo about 1300 A.D. mention its existence on the mountain, but conclusive artifacts have yet to be discovered. If we come across any telltale pieces of wood from the hull, or anybody who looks like Russell Crowe (from the movie Noah) we'll be sure to make another blog post about it! :-)

Although Ararat has a glacial cap year round, most people climb it in August, when there is much less snow on its flanks. As a result we will be using crampons/snowshoes and ice axes far closer to the base of the mountain this time of year in May. Hopefully the weather will cooperate with us as well, it's currently cloudy up on the mountain and looks like snow from here at our current location in Do─čubayaz─▒t.  We drove apprx. 2 hours north from Van to get here, and in the morning we will drive a bit further to the trailhead and begin the climb!

Downtown Do─čubayaz─▒t, across the street from our hotel.

Note: We're not sure whether we will have the ability to post from the mountain, so it may be three or four days until our next update.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Back To Kathmandu

It's hard to believe how many miles we've travelled and the change in temperature and elevation since we last left you four days ago at Everest Base Camp. In a nutshell we hiked from EBC at 17,500 feet back down to Gorak Shep, partway up 18,450 foot Kala Pattar for some great photos of Everest, then down to Pheriche (site of the Himalayan Rescue Association hi-altitude medical clinic) hiking as snow fell upon us until we reached Pangboche for the night. After a needed rest we continued on retracing our steps to Tengboche, Namche Bazaar, and eventually to Lukla at 9,350 feet where we celebrated our journey of approximately 85 miles by foot through spectacular Himalayan scenery and culturally rich experiences.

Along the way we also met some great people such as Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Charley Linville who lost his leg in Afghanistan but is back in action in a big way thanks to the Challenged Athletes Foundation. A small world and fortuitous encounter indeed!

One of the many rewarding aspects of this adventure has been the team's participation in our "Higher Education" curriculum throughout the trip. Thought-provoking questions and discussion topics have given each member of our team an opportunity to "Take a Step Back" (see - Step #10) and reflect upon values, life purpose, and both short and long-term goals. Being with an incredible group such as ours in an amazing outdoor setting like the Solukhumbu Valley, and away from the typical distractions of home and office, has fostered a wonderful environment for introspection, sharing, and growth. I am pleased to report that our Everest Executive Challenge has not only helped to achieve personal breakthroughs and memories of an adventure that will last a lifetime, we have also proudly made an impact through our fundraising efforts for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Thank you all for following along and for your support!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Everest Base Camp!

We made it to Base Camp! Today was a stunningly scenic hike from Lobuche along the moraine of the Khumbu Glacier with views of Pumori, Nuptse, and Everest towering above us. After a better part of the day we finally set foot onto the Khumbu Glacier and arrived at the colorful pile of prayer flags marking the entrance to Base Camp.  

It is here that climbing teams perform a Puja Ceremony to ask for permission and blessings from the gods to climb the mountain. This ritual is typically quite elaborate and it must be performed by a Lama. A trekking team like ours would normally not have an opportunity to participate in a Puja at Base Camp, but since we have Dawa (our very own Lama) leading our group, we made special arrangements for a private Puja Ceremony for the Everest Executive Challenge team. It was yet another spiritual treat that none of us will soon forget.

Since we are not climbing, this Puja was an opportunity for us to pay our respects as a memorial service of sorts to the 16 Sherpas who lost their lives here eight days ago.  It was also a time for us to remember Heidi Kloos. 

The best way to do this is to re-post our April 17, 2010 blog entry as this was meaningful news four years ago, and still today a relevant description of Base Camp and an important memory to honor a wonderful woman lost doing something she loved.  

Base Camp & Tribute to Heidi Kloos

We have two exciting developments to share with you. First of all, we made it to Base Camp! Over the past few days we progressed to the village of Lobuche and then through Gorak Shep and on to Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. Arriving in this tent city built atop a moving glacier is a fascinating site. We estimate that there are about 200 climbers here who will attempt the summit plus 300-400 Sherpas and support staff. The magnitude of our expedition's camp, food & supplies, communications equipment, tents, and staff of 20 Sherpas will take your breath away. And believe us just walking around or bending over to tie your shoes at this altitude will leave you gasping for air!

The second major development we have for you is the anticipated arrival of the 23 members of our Everybody to Everest group in to Kathmandu within a few hours. This wonderful & supportive group of friends & family will soon be following the path we just hiked from Lukla all the way up here to meet us at Base Camp.

Unfortunately their guide, Heidi Kloos will not be accompanying them on this once-in-a-lifetime journey. Heidi was very much looking forward to meeting the Everybody to Everest team and leading them through their Himalayan adventure. Quite tragically Heidi was killed in an avalanche near her home in Colorado just a few weeks ago. However, Heidi will be guiding the Everybody to Everest team from above as they make their way to Base Camp and enjoy the majestic beauty of the Himalayas in her honor.

Heidi was actively involved with the Telluride Adaptive Ski Program helping disabled individuals learn to ski with specialized equipment - equipment that frequently is funded by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. It was no coincidence that Mountain Trip selected Heidi to lead our group that is raising funds for CAF. In memory of Heidi Kloos we would like to honor something she believed in so strongly, and dedicate every additional donation made to CAF in her name. Upon our return from Everest we will send a letter to Heidi's family acknowledging any donations you are kind enough to make. Even if you have already contributed to CAF please consider an additional contribution of any amount at all as a symbolic gesture to an individual with a passion for helping others, but who is no longer able to do so.