From Polluted Air to Thin Air: Thorong La Pass Nepal

by Ananda Vardhana

Traveling from Portland, we landed at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal on September 24, 2018. Ten of our group headed off to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), but the remaining three of us had set our sights on Everest Base Camp (EBC) at 17,598 ft. Our team was comprised of Deepa, an ultra-marathon runner, Anil, an intermediate hiker, and me, Ananda, a 62-year old veteran hiker and Mazama member.

Stepping off the plane in Kathmandu, we were engulfed in the pollution, dust, and chaos of a typical Nepali traffic jam. Only the promise of thin, clean, Himalayan air kept our spirits high. When our flight out of Lukla was canceled due to bad weather, forcing us to abandon our goal of reaching Everest Base Camp, our consolation was to hike even higher than EBC over Thorong La Pass (17,769 ft. ) along the Annapurna Circuit.

Our guide, Mr. Khim Raj (KC), proposed a new trekking plan that started in the town of Besisahar at 2,493 ft. and slowly wound its way up to the pass. Starting at a lower elevation would allow us to acclimatize as we passed through other villages along the route, including Chame at 8,694 ft., and Manang at 11,545 ft. However, we were familiar with hiking at lower elevations in Oregon, and insisted on starting in Manang.

Once we’d determined our starting point, we took off on the 12-hour, 107-mile drive to Besisahar. Kathmandu is famous for its traffic jams, which dwarf those in LA, and these roads were bad! The following day, we had to take multiple 4-wheelers and drive another 12 hours between Besisahar and Manang along some of the world’s most dangerous highways. Due to frequent landslides, our two porters had to carry our luggage across the debris and hire another jeep on the far side before we could continue. I would not recommend going without a guide—they know these roads and allow for safe passage.

From what I saw, Nepal is very community-oriented. The people are friendly and help each other survive. Since the three of us know Hindi, we made good friends during our multiple jeep rides. The jokes, bantering, and singing inside the vehicle combined with the astounding views and narrow roads outside helped us forget the dust that enveloped us.

Thus, after multiple landslides we reached the thin and pristine air of Manang. This meant we’d essentially gone from Beaverton at 120 ft. to Manang at 11,500 ft. in one go. We’d been swallowing Diamox (altitude pills) since arriving in Nepal, 125mg twice a day. At Manang we could feel the effect of the thin air, but this was what we wanted. Just walking 10 steps let us know we were at high altitude. Our appetites shrunk greatly, but we nonetheless pushed ourselves to have a grand dinner followed by a fitful sleep.

A long time ago, when trekking was not a fad, people lived their lives in all parts of Nepal and the surrounding region. As trekking became popular, the local people realized the potential tourism could have and converted their homes to teahouses. Now villages, including Manang, have 2-3 star hotels with hot showers and comfortable beds. You order from a menu and can even get pizza at 16,000 feet! And Wi-Fi is available all over Nepal.

The next day, KC advised us to roam round Manang and get acclimatized. Manang valley is like a dreamland. In Nepal, many of the mountaintops have a Buddhist shrine. It is amazing what faith can do. People have built massive structures on the tops of mountains where every stone and beam had to be carried up manually or by horse. Our hotel in the valley looked up at the Annapurna Massif on one side followed by Gangapurna. In the distance towered Manaslu, Chandragiri, Dhaulgiri, and Chluha. We saw these titanic mountains for the next ten days; they astounded us with their unbelievable massiveness. In Oregon, looking down from Mt. Hood or Mt. Defiance, the rolling mountains fascinate us—so just imagine mountains twice the size of Mt. Hood! All of them over 20,000 feet, with live avalanches happening as you watch... such was the grand spellbound beauty that beheld us daily.

Early in the morning with high spirits, we took off from Manang. Our plan was to hike to Ice Lake at 15,256 ft. the first day, followed by a hike to Tilicho Lake at 16,138 ft. the second day, then continuing on to Thorong La Pass. The route to Ice Lake has no designated switchback trail, so we simply had to climb straight up a crumbling mountainside. Being the oldest, the altitude and strain from hiking hit me fast. Deepa and Anil encouraged me, slowing to my pace so we could crawl up together. Deepa and I were going steady, but Anil, who had a slight residual cough when we left Portland, began to slow down. Anil’s occasional cough became persistent and much stronger as his lungs tried to keep up in the thin, high altitude air. We were three-quarters of the way to the lake, at around 14,800 ft., when Anil started getting breathless and feeling slight lung pain. He decided not to push it any further, fearing AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) or worse, HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). I decided to escort Anil back down to the hotel along with a porter. Deepa continued to Ice Lake with the guide, and joined us back in Manang a few hours later.

That night, Anil could not sleep well due to breathlessness and coughing. I intently kept an eye on him, hoping the night would be uneventful. We consulted a couple of doctors by phone, spent some time researching on the Internet, and finally decided that he needed to head back to lower altitudes. That broke our spirits—it was sad to see our partner off, but we would meet him at the end of the trip.
Deepa and I re-strategized, deciding to abandon our hike to Tilicho Lake and instead just do Thorong La Pass. The pass was three days away and should give us ample time to acclimatize. The next day, we trekked from Manang to the village of Thorong Phedi at 14,895 ft. No one measures the distance of a trek in Nepal. If you ask, they will look at you, then make a judgment and give you an estimate in hours. This trail was gradually uphill and took us 5-6 hours. It was quite busy with people from all parts of the world. Germans by large dominated, followed by Australia, China, New Zealand, and the UK. Much to our disappointment, we didn’t encounter a single hiker from the US, our adopted country, or from India, our country of origin.

Hundreds of yaks dotted the mountainsides. Nomad yak herders live at these great heights sleeping out in the open. They drink yak milk, eat yak meat, and warm themselves with coats made of yak hair. Right in the middle of the trail, we were surprised to see a roadside trinket trader. The old man claimed all his goods were authentic Tibetan. The yak herders, trinket traders, and brave people who tend the tea houses make it possible for us from the polluted air to survive up in the thin air.
By the time we reached Thorong Phedi, Deepa had lost her appetite, and we both had splitting headaches. However, we had increased our Diamox dosage to 250mg twice a day. We didn’t want to take any pain medication because our stomachs were empty, so we just applied a strong topical ointment called Tiger Balm onto our foreheads and bore the pain. I am a strong advocate for fewer pills and more will to fight altitude sickness.

The next day, we made the grueling climb from Thorong Phedi to Thorong High Camp at 16,010 ft. Deepa, who had little appetite, started to feel weak and nauseated. At Thorong High Camp, we realized the real scarcity of oxygen. We had hiked in India at 15-16,000 ft. without much trouble, because the forest abounds everywhere. Manang valley is totally arid, a dry high-altitude desert with no trees for generating oxygen.

The moment Deepa entered the dining hall she began to feel nauseated. Two hundred or so lungs and five open-flame kitchen stoves all competed for the oxygen. So our choice was to stay warm and suffocate, or go outside and freeze! Sitting here in Beaverton, these things cannot even be imagined. Our guide said we had three options; head back to the city, stay where we were at Thorong High Camp, or continue on but take a horse as insurance. We went for the third option without even considering the first two, and hired a horse for $150. At that point, we didn’t know who would need the horse—Deepa or me.

Since the winds pick up by noon and can practically pluck you off the mountain, we had to leave before 5am to cross Thorong La Pass by noon. Thorong High Camp has minimal accommodations—five common toilets for two hundred or more people. So, with splitting headaches and anxiety about using the toilets, we hardly slept, got up at 3am, and were ready by 4am. With the horse following dutifully behind, we put our heads down and started the final phase of our climb. Every 100 feet KC would ask “Deepa-ji, would you like to take the horse?” to which she would answer “no.” He was afraid she would fall off and increase his responsibility. At 60+, I go very slowly but steadily, and kept up a steady stream of encouraging accolades. Deepa’s only job was not to lose the sight of my heels.

Neither the words I’m writing nor the camera on my phone can capture the dry beauty that surrounded us. The trail disappearing into thin air was what we had hoped to conquer. On any hike, there are always people well ahead of you and others far below. The people ahead represent the goal yet to be achieved, and those below are the challenges conquered. In the end, it all depends on the mind to push the mechanical devices we call legs to move one step up at a time, up and up.
Finally, in the distance, we could see the colorful streamers that decorate the pass. With a fresh surge of energy and enthusiasm, we chugged on. Deepa, the ultra-marathon runner, crossed the finish line at a full sprint, as I slowly crawled up to the top of the pass. From there, it was a rollover hike, down and more down, to Muktinath Temple at 12,171 ft.

We stayed in Muktinath that night, and drove the next day to TatoPani (6,010 ft.), which is famous for its hot springs. After an overnight at TatoPani and a refreshing bath in the hot springs, we trekked up to the village of Chitre at 6,988 ft., were we stayed one night before making it up to the village of Ghorepani at 9,429 ft. the next day. The Ghorepani Poon Hill overlook is a famous scenic spot, and is flooded with trekkers. Since we’d been immersed in Annapurna I, II, III, Dhaulgiri, and many other mountains, we skipped Poon Hill. The final day, we trekked to Naipaul, where the ten Annapurna Base Camp folks joined us. We all drove back to Pokhara, met up with Anil, and flew back to Kathmandu—back into the polluted air! We ended our trip by flying back to Portland on October 8.


Flora Huber, Native Oregonian and Lifelong Mazama

by Rick Craycraft

The family roots of Flora Bertrand Huber in this area go back to before there was an Oregon. In 1809, just a few years after Lewis and Clark had explored the land, Flora’s great-great uncle, Etienne Lucier, moved north from California to a territory occupied by French and English settlers and the various First Nation tribes of the area.

This same man was present in 1843 at the Champoeg Meetings in the French Prairie area of the Willamette Valley. There a group of settlers voted to align themselves with the United States (instead of Canada) and formed a provisional government that a few years later would become the state of Oregon.

Two generations later Flora’s father was born in Portland to a family whose business was building sternwheelers to navigate the local waterways. On a trip to Washington state in 1930, he met his future wife and Flora’s mother-to-be on the Quinault reservation on the Olympic peninsula. She describes her father as French, Chinook and Cowlitz and her mother as English, French, Cree, Quinault, and Sioux. The couple returned to Portland and settled on the Willamette River, on the west bank across from what is now Swan Island. Flora was born there in 1935.
She grew up in a Portland far different than we know today. Bordered by the river in front and Forest Park out her back door, the natural world was Flora’s playground from an early age. She hiked the trails of the park, took the family rowboat out on the river to explore, hunted, dug clams, and picked “hundreds” of trilliums.

She entered Lincoln High School (according to her, the only high school on the west side of the Willamette at that time) in 1949 and came under the influence of iconic Mazama member Margaret Obertueffer, who was her English teacher. At that time Lincoln had a ski program and students would go to Mt. Hood en masse to enjoy the slopes. Flora was part of that group for the duration of her high school stay. Eventually though, she got to looking up at the upper reaches of Mt. Hood and wondered, “What would it be like to climb up to the top?” Already under the tutelage of “Miss Obie,” and now friends with the Obertueffer family, Flora had that question easily answered. On July 18, 1954, Flora joined a Mazama Acquaintance Climb (67 people!) led by Harold Scharback. Later she also attempted Mt. St. Helens (“when it had a top”) but was forced to turn back when her kapok sleeping bag proved to be inadequate for bivying.

Flora enrolled in the Portland State Extension Center (now Portland State) with an interest in chemistry and enjoyed strolling downtown to the Mazama clubrooms, then in the Pacific Building at 5th and Yamhill.

Her future husband was the best man at her sister’s wedding and they married in 1958. Thus began a long hiatus in Flora’s hiking and climbing career with the Mazamas. She and her husband had five sons and Flora introduced all of them to the outdoors and especially to skiing. She was a Cub Scout leader for 16 years and received an award from the state for her efforts. She drove both the school bus and the ski bus for a living for a while, introducing hundreds of young people to recreation on Mt. Hood.

Flora finally returned to climbing in 1992, making it up Mount Adams on a Ray Sheldon-led climb. From then on it has been gung-ho. Flora estimates that she has participated in at least 40 successful Mazama climbs and received her Guardian Peaks award in 1992. She became a hike leader in 1996 and is on the schedule several times a month to this day. One of the benefits of joining Flora on a hike is that she draws from a lifetime of experience in the woods and has extensive knowledge of the plants and trees of our bio-region.

In the Mazamas Flora has served on the Trail Trips committee, First Aid Committee and currently leads the Classics in their many activities. She is also a proud recipient of a 50-year membership pin.
But Flora does not just rest on her climbing and hiking laurels. She has volunteered at the information center at Multnomah Falls Lodge for twenty years, and knows more about ice hockey than any 83 year old woman you’ll ever meet, having had season tickets to various local teams since the 1960s.
And Flora is very proud of her Native American background. She is considered an Elder (“that just means you’re old” she says) in the Quinault tribe and travels to the reservation with regularity to attend events there.

Climber, hiker, skier, native Oregonian, mother, nurse, naturalist and adventurer, Flora Bertrand Huber has led a rich life in the Northwest.


Daring to Be Lydia

by Lisa Kostova

Photo: Lydia navigating in a white-out on the Tasman Glacier

Thirty years ago this October, something extraordinary happened. A lone 27-year-old girl set off in the middle of the night from Camp 4 to climb the world’s highest peak. It was dark and she had never been there before. Unlike today, there were no fixed ropes to guide the way and since she was climbing without oxygen, the only other party that set off at the same time as her, a group of Catalan climbers, quickly surged ahead, leaving her alone with the darkness and her thoughts.

As she describes in her book Going up is Easy, Lydia Bradey got to the South Summit and had to make a life-and-death decision. She knew she had enough energy to make it back down to camp. She also knew she had enough energy to reach the summit. But what she didn’t know is if she had enough energy to do both. At that moment, she recalls flipping her thinking from “If I climb Everest, I can survive” to “If I survive, I can climb Everest.” She told me that she was in effect reasoning with herself, convincing herself that she was capable of climbing her mountain. Less than 24 hours later, Lydia became the first woman to climb Everest without oxygen. This would be the first of five Everest ascents so far and according to Lydia, she’s still got at least one more Everest in her.
As I quickly came to find out, most of the world and certainly New Zealand knows Lydia as much for the controversy that surrounded her first Everest ascent as for the achievement that was a major landmark for women and mountaineering. Which I find incredibly frustrating. Long story short, the two male Kiwi mountaineers that Lydia was climbing with at the time, Rob Hall (portrayed by Jason Clarke in the movie “Everest”) and Gary Ball accused Lydia of lying about making it to the top. According to them, she hallucinated the whole thing. In short she was “confused.” But more on that later.

The She’s On Ski’s group in the helicopter (author is on the left).
Photo by Lydia Bradey.
I’ve come to New Zealand for the winter with my partner Brent and his daughter Inez. Brent somehow learned that Lydia is leading a women-only ski touring group in the glaciers of the Southern Alps with Elke Braun-Elwert, the talented guide who taught us mountaineering. The trip is aptly named “She’s on Skis”. In typical fashion, Brent becomes my biggest cheerleader, “You HAVE to do this!” he says emphatically in the spring as me make our way to Alaska to climb Mt Fairweather. “We have to come back to New Zealand and spend the (Southern Hemisphere) winter climbing and ski touring. And you get to tour with Lydia!!!” His enthusiasm is infectious.

As a Kiwi, Brent tries to impress me with how much of a badass Lydia is, even by New Zealand standards, and I take note. I’m also excited to try ski touring. I’ve already watched the trailer of Symphony on Skis, a movie about a ski touring journey made by Elke and her sister. I’m entranced by the idea of putting my skis on glaciers, exploring some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery and being in the company of tough women, including of course Lydia, whose story fascinates me.
So here I am, in August of 2018, with my trusty downhill skis hastily configured with touring bindings. I’ve got a few days under my belt of touring experience in the The Two Thumbs range, where I’ve learnt avalanche prevention and avalanche rescue with Pete Ozich of Alpine Recreation. But this is the first time I’m ski touring on glaciers. And for the first time in my climbing and skiing experience, I’m surrounded by women.

Lisa Kostova and Lydia at Aylmer Col above
the Tasman Glacier.
The cast of characters includes, Jade, an Aussie with a quiet determination; Carla, a bubbly Brit who is a hardcore ultra marathoner and is smoking all of us up the hill; Anna, a gentle but strong Kiwi mother of two whose husband, a helicopter pilot, has gifted her this trip as a birthday present. And of course, there’s Lydia herself. Wearing a pink hat with a canary yellow jacket and a purple undershirt, she has mischief in her eyes. Those eyes have seen the glory of untold mountain peaks. They have scanned vistas that few humans have experienced, but have also seen tragedy and loss. Her voice is strong, commanding, and unapologetic in taking up the space around her. Her laughter is infectious. She’s bubbly and chatty and will talk endlessly about beautiful clothes and mountain fashion. And yet she exudes the authority and discipline that only comes from years of breaking trail and pushing herself to the extreme. I quietly marvel at the enigma that is Lydia.

There’s so much I want to know. I somehow score the bunk right next to Lydia in the leaky attic section of the unheated Kelman Hut, the second highest structure in New Zealand, perched above the Tasman and Murchison Glaciers. In the evenings, after the exhaustion of a full day of touring, making dinner and cleaning up, we have a precious few minutes to relax on our bunks. I’m conscious of not bothering Lydia who has the rare moment to read and focus on herself, not the group. But as I lie there, next to her, reading her biography, reliving her emotions and her achievements from long ago, my mind is swirling with questions. Was she afraid up there? Did she think she was going to die? How did she feel when her Kiwi teammates abandoned her? How did she feel when they and the media turned around and attacked her viciously, calling her a liar and a “confused” woman who had hallucinated her life’s crowning achievement?

 Lydia in front of Kelman Hut. 
Confused—a word used to describe women who are brave enough to live their dreams, speak their truth, and who dare to break out of the social norms of what a young girl should be able to do. With the stroke of eight measly letters, a woman’s life is reduced to a hallucination, to something not tangible, not able to be proven, measured, or verified. Confused. Not loud, and established, and endowed with society’s automatic and blind trust that is conferred to male climbers and Supreme Court nominees who throw around that word easily and freely at anyone who threatens their comfortable perch. Confused. Why would it be that the word of men carries so much weight that not even the preponderance of evidence in her favor could shield a woman from the maelstrom unleashed by this dismissive term?

I read Lydia’s account of how she was practically left to die by her male Kiwi teammates. But she was stronger than that. “As soon as I reframed my thinking, I knew I wasn’t going to die.” She says that while she was very much afraid of dying, her experience helped her “manage her way away from it.” But there’s no way her Kiwi partners could have known that. Instead, the day she was having her life-and-death mental moment on the South Summit, Rob Hall and Gary Ball packed up all the expedition’s gear and left Base Camp. They didn’t know if she was dead or alive. They weren’t manning the radios, leaning in and straining to hear her voice, waiting for confirmation that their partner was among the living, up there somewhere near the top of the world, still clinging to life in the “death zone.” They weren’t ready to send help for her if the radio went silent or she sounded sick or hurt. They simply left.

Having read the chapter on her first Everest journey, I sit with Lydia over steaming pasta with veggies, our breath visible in the frozen air of the hut. I share with her that what struck me about her Everest climb is that she spent most of the chapter, multiple pages, describing the relationships that she formed on the mountain and the experiences she shared with the Slovaks and other climbers. And the actual summit took only a paragraph and was over within two sentences—short and to the point, much like her communication style on the glacier where, she is all about safety and survival. She seems to appreciate that observation and her eyes grow heavy with sadness as she says of the Slovaks: “I lost all of them. None of them made it back.”

There is pain and heartfelt love in Lydia whenever she talks about the Slovaks. They were a team of young men who climbed without oxygen, attempting a new technical on Everest. None of them came back from their summit climb and nobody knows what happened to them. I realize suddenly that at the heart of Lydia’s climb was not the “Lydiagate” scandal that surrounded her upon her return, courtesy of the self-assured men she was climbing with. The defining experience for her was her friendship and love of the Slovak climbers and her subsequent loss of that intimate connection with people who saw her for who she was. That’s the part that is raw and powerful and meaningful for Lydia in her Everest journey. Not the noise and resentment of her Kiwi teammates.

Lydia summarizes the whole scandal succinctly: “I set myself up to be bullied.” She tells me as we watch over melting pots of snow that the deepening relationship with the Slovak team was the reason for her being ostracized by Rob and Gary (who were climbing with oxygen, and did not manage to gain the summit during that trip). I open the book to a place where a pretty, bright-eyed girl stares back at me from the page. It’s easy to imagine her shifting sympathies causing intense feelings of jealousy in the young males on the mountain. It’s primal and it is ugly. The female chimp gets punished by the alpha males for daring to stray from the tribe. Especially if she dared to outshine them.

Despite all of this, Lydia doesn’t climb with fear. She lets out a rip-roaring laugh as she recalls being described by one of her book reviewers as an “eternal optimist despite her series of failures.” Lydia knows a thing or two about failure. There is the time where she survived no fewer than SIX (!!!) subsequent avalanches in the same day and the time when she had to turn around on K2, the “savage mountain” that claims the lives of a third of the people who attempt it. Lydia loves talking about failure as a necessary ingredient for success. In fact, until the rise of guided Himalayan climbing, failure rates of 50-60 percent were common and were considered standard for mountaineers. So while they reached their objectives “only” 40 percent of the time, they spent the rest of their climbing careers getting stronger and more experienced, gaining that survival mechanism, so they could live to climb another mountain.

As an experienced high-altitude mountaineer, Lydia talks a lot about mindset. During an impromptu prusik self-rescue demonstration, I ask her what type of mind-frame she thinks is necessary to climb Everest. I ask her to think about what makes her best clients successful and what makes it difficult for other people to adjust. It all comes back to the personalities of people putting Everest on their bucket lists. Lydia prides herself on creating strong connections with her clients and I can see that. Nowadays, in addition to guiding groups on Everest, most of her time seems to be spent with repeat clients who book her on private climbing adventures around the world.

Having said that, Lydia also describes a type of Everest bucket-list climber. “Insecure overachievers,” Lydia calls them. She knows, she considers her younger self to have been an insecure overachiever too. And she adds that true preparation matters. The type of preparation that comes from doing non-glamorous climbing trips like the one we’re on. Remembering to dry your inner boots and dry your socks. Prepare, pack, unpack, rinse, repeat.

She has lost count of how many times she has been expected to take care of people, especially clients who are used to other people running their lives. “They’ve got armies of nannies, housekeepers and personal assistants. They outsource their lives.” Taking care of your needs yourself, including simple things like packing your socks and gloves and paying attention to the essentials is a habit you develop when you climb often, you climb for many years and you climb for the joy of climbing. There are many valuable resources and support that money can buy on the mountain. But a climber’s common sense cannot be bought, it can only be developed.

On our ski-touring trip, Lydia teaches us what to pack for all kinds of emergencies—from prusiks and slings, to spare parts for our ski poles, skins and skis, including tape, and a tool set with different sets of tool bits. I’m feverishly taking notes—up on the mountain, a climber has to be her own repair shop and rescue resource. Lydia gets everyone to practice crevasse self-rescue on the rope in the hut and drills people through transceiver search - quickly locating a buried avalanche transceiver. She is relentless when it comes to getting the details right - whether it’s the technical turns when you ski down, the efficiency of your skinning technique and how to improve it, your transition times and how to cut them down. She’s also a perfectionist when it comes to housekeeping. She delegates tasks around the hut that keep the whole place sparkling clean and running smoothly during meal prep and clean-up. I swear we left the public hut in a much better shape than we found it.

Ski touring with Lydia is the ultimate ego-buster. Watching Lydia plow up the slope in a relentless pace, I get used to the feeling of trying to keep up and failing. My only solace is that everyone else seems to be in the same boat (with the exception of Carla, who’s a true energizer bunny). Nonetheless, I grit my teeth and forge on. My heart pounds and I focus intensely on the sequence of movements anytime we stop for a transition. Yet, I always seem to be the last one and I’m told to “transition faster next time, please.” I talk to my fear while perched on a hill, feeling the heft of my backpack. Lydia coaches us on how to ski the stickiest snow cement I’ve ever experienced. Turning would be difficult, “a knee buster,” so “watch out and don’t fall.”

After the mental check of making sure none of my boots are in walk mode, I brace myself for the leg burn of executing the turns as smoothly and in control as is possible, working my willpower and concentration more than my muscles. Lydia seems to have evaluated my technical skiing skills and found them lacking. The cold matter-of-factness of her assessment is non-partial—she also extends it to her own skiing, which she deems “competent” but far from great. After years of resort skiing where I’ve skied double blacks, chutes and trees, I find myself a beginner in the art and craft of backcountry skiing. I have to pick myself up over and over again, playing the mental game of just getting by to the best of my ability.

As soon as I let go of my identification as an “expert skier,” I am free to move about the mountain and enjoy the whole experience. I also notice that on the last day everyone, including Lydia and the more technical skiers—Carla and Jade—are survival skiing. Lydia deems the snow to be “the worst she’s seen on the Tasman” and is proud to have delivered the whole group back to base without any knee injuries.

Once everyone is out of the danger zone, Lydia somehow manages to miraculously turn a difficult time into a funny moment, lightening the situation with her ability to laugh at herself and whatever it is that may have seemed scary. With a glint of mischief in her eyes and wise crack of a joke, she infects everyone with her laughter, releasing all stress and tension like an escape valve. That smile, that laugh, that ability to surmount any obstacle and find joy and share it with others is the memory of Lydia that will stay with me forever. And as much as my confidence in my skiing has taken a hit after the trip, I know that touring with Lydia has cracked me open and elevated my game as a climber, skier and human being.

Check out Lydia’s book Going up is Easy and keep an eye out for a movie about her life coming out soon. The She’s on Skis trip was organized by Alpine Recreation —a family-owned guiding and climbing company out of Tekapo, New Zealand.

About the Author: Lisa Kostova is an entrepreneur. She blogs about her mountaineering, skiing and outdoor adventures at www.dispatchesfromthe45.com.


Glacier Phenology

Elizabeth Kimberly is a graduate student at Western Washington University. This year she received a Mazama Research Grant for her project titled “Testing the viability of using structure-from-motion photogrammetric surveys to Track glacier mass balance and meltwater discharge on the Easton Glacier, Mt. Baker, Wash.” Below is a reflection on her recent field work.

Article & photos by Elizabeth Kimberly

In the past, I’ve associated the concept of phenology with flowers and trees undergoing seasonal transformations from buds to blooms. However, conducting research on the Easton Glacier the past several months for my Masters thesis has shown me the remarkably striking ways in which mountain-scapes, too, change with the seasons. These are the abiotic parts of nature that we typically think of only being subject to change over centuries and millennia, not days and months ... so much for a “glacial pace.” Here, I write about the phenology of the Easton Glacier through the spring and summer of 2018.

Early May

It is early May and the birds are chirping dawn choruses and the winter rain has diminished. The disparity between the snowy alpine and the verdant lowlands is increasingly stark. Stubborn patches of snow still make the trailhead’s rugged forest road impassable and when we arrive, the snowmobile crew has finagled a winch system to pull their burly trucks and sled trailers across. We giggle at their innovation as we attach skins to our skis, complete a most unusual gear check (duct tape? steam drill? PVC pipes? avalanche gear? snacks?), and finish our coffee.

A team of 8, all members of the Northwest Cruisers Snowmobile Club, has united to help us transport our heavy, bulky research gear up the Easton Glacier and nearly to the summit of Mount Baker. In less than 20 minutes our crew has zoomed from 3,000 feet to 8,500, across cobble-filled creeks and dormant underbrush and unconsolidated glacial till and deep crevasses, all obscured by meters of snow. The undulations of the topography are softened by the snow-laden landscape and the terminus of the glacier is indistinguishable so early in the season.

Niki and I follow a pre-set GPS track to find our first site. Our goal for the day is to use a steam drill (not to be mistaken for a sasquatch-sized espresso-maker) to drill five stakes into the snow and ice, which we’ll revisit through the summer and fall to measure changes in the surface elevation. We probe each survey site to ensure we don’t inadvertently install a stake into a crevasse, and to approximate the depth of the snowpack. When we’re finished, we enjoy the payoff: a ski through thousands of feet of soft spring corn to sites 4, 3, 2, and 1, where we repeat the installation process.

Mid June

By mid-June, the snow bridge across the Easton Glacier’s outlet creek has melted and the low albedo of the cobbles has revealed interwoven stream channels and vegetation. The glacier is no longer accessible via snowmobile and so we approach the ice with an awkward tango of skiing, skinning, hiking, and bush-whacking. We’re wearing shorts and we are disoriented because the glacier’s foreground has morphed into a mosaic of snow, dirt patches, and moving water. “Didn’t we ski right over that waterfall just a month ago?”

We arrive at the first stake and measure 127 centimeters worth of snow-melt since its installation a month ago. There’s a spider perched on the stake, totally unaware of the climatic changes unraveling around it. We continue up the center of the glacier, moving more delicately and swiftly in certain, seemingly thin places. Sometimes we straddle deep crevasses and peer down into the frozen abysses. Like stratigraphic columns that reveal a chronology of shorelines, the cracks expose layers of snow, firn, and ice from seasons passed.

It’s 3 pm and we’ve made it to stake 3. The snow appears to have gone through a melt-freeze cycle recently and the corn tempts my skiing instincts. On a whim, we decide to pause our research efforts and jaunt up toward the summit of Mount Baker. After all, it might be our last chance to ski volcano corduroy. Around 6:30 pm, we strip our skins and fly down the glacier, at the mercy of gravity and with the current of a disappearing frozen river.

Late July

It’s late July and now we’re wearing hiking boots. There’s a heat-wave in the valley, the trailhead is packed with day-hikers, and we’ve replaced ski poles with crampons and avalanche gear with glacier ropes. The goals of our visit are varied, but first on our list is to install a second stream gauge and measure the creek’s velocity. What’s the diurnal variation (i.e. How much does the streamflow change as the day warms? Can we attribute its velocity changes to snow-melt and/or glacial-melt?)?
After an afternoon of drilling holes into rocks (to install our “level-logger,” a device that continuously measures the stream’s height, which we use to make a curve that relates stream stage to velocity throughout the summer) and standing in glacial streams, we find ourselves sprawled in a wildflower-filled alpine meadow, eating macaroni and cheese and talking about unscientific things. Does the full moon pull on the glacier the way it pulls on the tides?

On our second day, we return to the highest stake for the first time since May. We’re attached to the same rope, five meters apart and moving simultaneously across the ice, navigating mazes of crevasse fields and ice-fall. Sometimes we rearrange our rope’s trajectory to ensure we remain perpendicular to the visible crevasse patterns. We scan the glacier for stake 5 and Katie spots it at the mouth of a widening crack. Oops.

We arrive at stake 3 and the snow has melted a total of 355 centimeters in two months. The untouched field of white snow from a month prior is now striped with fissures. The crevasses concentrate in places where the glacier is moving most quickly, typically along convexities in the topography. Stake 1 is guarded by a cliff of unconsolidated sediment, the remnants of the glacier’s path, and it’s inaccessible from above. We contemplate what climbing Mount Baker will be like in 50 years, and the recently revealed uneven, unstable rocky terrain at the ice’s edges offer compelling evidence.

As we leave the glacier and return to our campsite, I baffle at the delicate heather buds waltzing in the wind. This sea of wildflowers is a product of millennia of eruptions and glaciations and burrowing marmots. I can reasonably predict what this landscape will look like when we return at the end of September, and again in February. But I can only speculate how long it will take for the summit of this glaciated volcano (currently a bright white beacon in the sky and only accessible with crampons and ice axes), to become a cirque with an alpine lake, shaded by subalpine firs and fit for hiking boots and sunset picnics.


First Crack: Ice Climbing in Lillooet, BC

by Wendy Marshall

While my family was neither wealthy nor outdoorsy, I’ve always had a passion for being in nature. As a result, I easily landed in Geology studies at Western Washington University, yet “extreme” sports like snowboarding still felt as distant as Mars despite my PacNW upbringing. That changed the day I spotted a weekend trip posting on our Outdoor Club board. Lillooet Ice Climbing, it said. As a figure skater who hoped to work in Antarctic science, I already had a deep love for ice—but ice climbing? A little research, and I had the facts. This wasn’t just any ice-stomping, but straight-up frozen waterfalls. One of those sports. Here was my chance, to enter a world of edgy skills, glossy magazines and pure alpine adventure. I knew I had to go. After paying the fee and tooling up on boots, axes, crampons and clothes at my very first used-gear sale—my head bursting with brands from Charlet-Moser to Grivel, and terms like monopoint crampons—I was ready.

On February 12th, eight of us plus Ryan and Dave, the young but competent leaders, piled into the vans and set off. A hub of interior British Columbia, Lillooet is a tiny place whose economy still utilizes extractive industries like logging and mining. It also offers some of the best vertical ice terrain in the area, plenty of it easily accessible by road for short excursions. First, of course, you have to get there. We wound deep into the Canadian Rockies on the Trans-Canada Highway, passing towns with names like Hope and Spuzzum, and by the time we reached Hell’s Gate—a thin, sketchy red bridge and air tram swaying precariously above the little river that thundered through rocky Fraser Canyon—we felt alike nervous, excited and surreal. Our target destination: Marble Canyon, barely an hour north of Lillooet.

Marble Canyon shelters clusters of frozen waterfalls, which we could see from the road, clinging to rock faces between ridges of snow-dusted conifers. We craned to look, our necks cricking. Then suddenly we arrived. Grabbing our mix of owned and rented gear, we hiked a short way across the frozen Crown Lake, up a slope to a popular family of icefalls, crowned by the famous 3-pitch route named Icy BC.

This group offers routes rated WI3-6, from fat chunky well-bonded ice columns, to thin glaze mixed with bare rock and hanging sheets. Saving Icy BC for later, we started from the left, at the broad Deeping Wall. Ice climbing with a group, I learned, is great fun and camaraderie, but you also stand around waiting. A lot. Nervously, if you’re a rookie. I picked up what tips I could, befriending Allison and Jen and the rest of our team. We watched Ryan and Dave climb to set up topropes, inserting ice screws as they went. The first volunteers followed, and cries of “Ice!” “Ice!” (or in the case of Andrew, a Brit, “Oice!”) rang out whenever somebody knocked loose any sharp ice chips or plate-sized “death cookies” with axe or crampon, at which we ducked our helmets.

But nothing compares to that virgin attempt at a new skill. Everyone was so encouraging, and I tried to feel reassured by the tug of the toprope at my waist, when I’d never even climbed with a toprope on rock. Soon, my forearms were burning. Tiny ice chips stung my face and plinked off my helmet, as the wicked-looking recurved technical axe I’d proudly purchased ricocheted maddeningly off the rippled blue ice time and again. Now I couldn’t get a foothold—what was wrong with me? My crampon had popped off my foot! Time to descend. I felt a bit discouraged, weak and clumsy, not to mention sweaty, my pumped arms like jelly. Back to waiting and watching in the cold. But it was hard to feel sad for long in such a beautiful place. I got a sweet photo of Allison and Jen hugging for warmth, grins and pink cheeks and nose-ring barely peeking out of cozy winter woolens. Then I wandered over to look at a stunning pillar of ice that emerged magically from beneath an overhang, creating a glowing cave of translucent blue like a temple of ice. Crawling in, I felt awed and exhilarated.

That night, we camped in tents, in the coldest night I’d ever faced. One by one, we drifted from the cheerful campfire, filled by a tasty dinner of sloppy bean stew, and to bed. The thermometer dropped to 10 degrees F. Morning came, and the last thing I wanted was to poke more than my nose from my sleeping bag, but I knew I’d be warmer moving. I couldn’t feel my foot, so I shoved it hard into my boot, heard a crack, and thought, “Oh well—I might’ve broke a toe, but I can’t tell!” (I hadn’t.)
Over the weekend, I learned valuable techniques from our leaders, which we practiced between climbs. A bent-kneed “monkey hang” from extended arms will save them from fatigue. Coupled with the hang, wrist straps offer added support when your grip becomes tired on the ice axe. Using the weight of your lower leg pendulum-style, kick straight in, drop your heel and try not to wiggle your foot. Aim for the pockets of dense-looking blue ice between the lighter-colored prominent bulges, which are often highly aerated and/or fractured. But the greatest feeling came from a properly-executed swing of the axe. After being shown how to line up my shoulder, elbow and wrist to transmit the force of my swing with maximum efficiency, the serrated pick sank home with a solid, satisfying ssthunk. Chills flew up my spine. “Yeahhh,” Ryan growled, to cheers from my teammates.

On the third day, we hiked a bit further to a beautiful route called Cherry Ice, where victory found me at last. My axes landed solidly more often than not, and my hands and feet found their rhythm: Thunk-thunk, followed by the chip-chip-chip of crampon steps. My teammates grew tiny below. Too stoked to stop, I rounded the waterfall’s sloping crest until the rope topped out, then looked out at the amazing view. I felt fantastic, wishing I could climb again immediately. But as I handed off the rope at the bottom, a tiny ice chip whizzed by and cut my ungloved hand, as if to say: “Don’t get too cocky, now!” I felt the respect, but my joy was undiminished. The others shared my sentiments. “We chopped this to s---,” one guy said happily. Then all too soon, we were leaving, me sitting next to Dave as the van pulled away, and by accident we broke into the same song at the same time: “On the road again ...”

A few years later, this same trip was again offered. Then I would climb Icy BC itself, stay at the Mile 0 Hotel, and try the notorious Figure-4 move just for fun. Since moving to Portland, Oregon, I’ve discovered the Columbia Gorge offers some exciting water-ice possibilities, while the Mazama Center’s new ice climbing wall provides a place to work on techniques. But I will always treasure my first ice climbing trip, most of all for what it represents: The courage of trying and the joy of being.
Wendy Marshall found the Mazamas in 2014. She loves herbs, nature, and mountain sports, and supports the latter through a budding career in writing, aided by a steady supply of Fig Newtons and dark chocolate during rough stretches.


Meet the PAFletes: Elyse Rylander

Come out for Elyse's workshops during PAF. Get all seminar info at portlandalpinefest.org/seminars/

So I heard you have a knack for perfectly-timed message GIFs. Do you have a favorite? 

I pride myself on not using the same ones every time—I’ve gone so far as to download a couple of different apps in addition to the gif keyboard to shake it up. I like to keep people on their toes.

On a more serious note, what does it mean to you to be a queer woman in the outdoor industry? 

It’s super complex and multi-faceted. Some of the less fun things are often being the only one in the organization or team with that identity, having to speak up for yourself all the time, and dealing with a lot of microaggressions. But on the flip side, I think women, queer women, and other marginalized folks can be the best guides for kiddos or those experiencing the outdoors for the first time. I think these identities can make you really good at understanding what it’s like to be the “only” (or maybe one of a few), and what it’s like to not fit in all the time. It’s also given me the opportunity to meet some really amazing allies and to cultivate friendships I didn’t necessarily think I would be able to. It’s been such a privilege. But it also means having to be tough and to deal with having to be the smartest, the fastest, the best all the time. And having to figure out how to give yourself a break and practice some good self care. Those last two I’m still very much learning how to do.

Tell us about your organization OUT There Adventures. What do you hope to accomplish? 

On an organizational level, I think we’ve already achieved some of our goals. In the last 5-7 years that I’ve been doing this work with OTA so much has changed in the world. I think the work I’m doing right now will be culturally irrelevant in the industry in the next 3-5 years, which is pretty darn astounding. I think any social service non-profit is ultimately striving to work themselves out of a job. Rarely do we see that actually come to fruition, but I think we might actually play a pretty key role in helping to shift the overall paradigm in the industry. On an individual level for our participants, my goal has always been to provide them with an opportunity to be around other people like themselves and to be outside. That rings most profoundly true for me in our youth programs. We do an affirmation circle at the end of all our youth trips, and it always takes hours because they just gush about themselves. It’s so amazing to see and hear them, and to see the change they’ve experienced.

Why do you think the outdoors in particular are a great place to bring people from minority groups together? 

Queer youth in particular are overrepresented in statistics of homelessness, mental health problems, social stresses, depression, and anxiety. We’re continuing to add to the body of research that spending time in nature helps to lessen all of those things (maybe besides homelessness). I think nature provides an amazing opportunity to try and assuage some of those negative experiences. Also, there’s the idea that queer folks are really disruptive to culture and society because they don’t follow prescriptive linear paths—you’re born and “it’s a girl!” which means you wear certain clothes and you act a certain way. In the natural world, I think it’s amazing to be able to see how much queerness and disruption is reflected all around us because things are not linear. It’s basically impossible to travel in a straight line—you have to step over something, or the trail is going to twist, or you’re getting pushed and pulled by the tides. So even in the way you move your physical body you’re able to see that disruption and be celebrated. I think it’s even better than socially constructed urban spaces for showing queer folks that they’re totally natural, more natural than these rigid boxes we put ourselves in. We’ve been told for so long that we’re the unnatural ones, nature is a really empowering place for queer folks to be.

What are a few things those of us who have privilege could do to make the community and the places we love more inclusive? 

I think the first step is just recognizing that you have privilege. We struggle as a culture to have a conversation around bias and privilege because those who have a lot of it don’t want to admit it. It’s really hard for folks to own the fact that the system is rigged and that some of us have been given advantages we got simply because of the color of our skin or the gender we were born with. It’s just sheer luck. If you can’t recognize that, the best you can hope for is achieving a place of tolerance, and that is not an ideal at all. From there, it’s making sure you are doing what you can to educate yourself and aren’t putting the emotional labor and expectation of education on marginalized communities.

You don’t want to ask your gay friend all the questions about being gay—that person has to deal with it all the time, and unless they’re down for it you shouldn’t just expect people in these marginalized positions to do the educating for you. We can educate ourselves. Just like with anything, when you’re practicing a new skill you have to put yourself out there and mess it up a bunch. You’ve gotta go back to the drawing board if it didn’t go well, just like when you’re learning how to climb or mountain bike or snowboard. There’s tons of failing involved, and that’s part of the process. Reflect and do it better next time. I think those are probably my three top things: check your privileges, educate yourself as much as you can, and put yourself out there, fail, and learn.

Is there anything I missed that you’re dying to share? 

Well, OUT There Adventures is a non-profit so we always appreciate support in the form of donations. And the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit will already have passed by the time this gets published, but we’ll be doing it again next year and would love for queer folks and allies of all genders to join!

Elyse's Workshops:
Climbing Towards Inclusivity: A First Step Into Exploring Allyship
Roundtable Discussion: How to Climb 3 Grades Harder with Diversity & Inclusion


Meet the PAFletes: Yassine Diboun

Come out and see Yassine at Expect the Unexpected on Nov. 13 at Base Camp Brewing Company.

With Moroccan-based heritage, it’s no wonder Yassine Diboun’s dream was to play in the World Cup. As time progressed and he found himself trying sport after sport, his teenage years focused largely on basketball. Having competed overseas and even in Division III college ball in Pennsylvania, Yassine moved westward where the allure of the Rocky Mountains and, eventually, the Pacific Northwest, lead him to transition to endurance sports. Since 2007, Diboun has truly hit his stride, competing in numerous ultramarathons and trail running races.

You’ve tried many sports over your lifetime. Do you think you’ve settled on ultra-running as “the one”? 

It has appeared to be the one, for now anyway! I’ve settled on ultra-running for the past dozen or so years, but as we know, nothing is permanent. I will do it as long as my body will allow me, and for as long as I still have the passion for it. If I ever lose the love for it, I will obviously follow my heart to what is next....just like when I moved from team sports to endurance sports earlier in my life. I think what has kept me so firmly rooted in the sport of ultra-running is its simplicity and multi-faceted “health”. As a health professional, and business owner in the fitness industry I am always conveying to people that health is not just your physical health. It is a combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Ultra-running, especially in the mountains and forests, fills me up in all of those areas, and living in the Portland, Oregon area allows such amazing access to such places.
It is said that ultra-running is as much physical training as mental training. Do you think they’re equally important?

The mental part of ultra-running is one of the most important aspects. It is very important and I work on it a lot for myself and for the athletes that I coach through Wy’east Wolfpack. The physical training is obviously important and when you do lots of physical training and get strong and fit this builds confidence which in turn gives you a mental edge, but the physical aspect gets all the spotlight. 

I feel that the mental, emotional, and spiritual side of ultra-running is underrated if you will. Ultra-running is one of the most irrational things you can do. There is a mechanism in the human brain called the central governor. It is a self-preservation mechanism that tells us to stop, rest, walk, sleep, etc. when we push the limits of endurance. The thing about the central governor is that it is always very conservative, so as to leave a reserve of energy for survival. Endurance athletes and ultra-runners have found that they can override these signals and push the limits of human potential. The more you push through, the easier it gets and you recognize certain signals. Sometimes it’s not the most healthy option and I have pulled out of races in my career because my mind was pushing through but my body (especially my internal organs) was not having it on that particular day, and I didn’t want to damage myself. The race is not that important! I feel like that is why/how I have been able to race at a high level for over a decade. I am very much in tune with my body and mind because of my lifestyle today. In ultra-running you can’t get too cerebral about the task at hand. It becomes too irrational and overwhelming. Some tricks that I use are mantras, visualization, and imagery before and during competition, and breaking the race or adventure down into bite-sized chunks, otherwise it gets too overwhelming. A little story that we love (and is part of the reason we named our company Wy’east Wolfpack) is the story of the two wolves. It’s a Native American (Cherokee) legend that works well for both life and for endurance sports and it goes like this:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil—It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good—It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’”

In other sports, the gear seems to evolve nonstop (skiing technology, climbing technology, camping/backpacking equipment, etc) and you can easily spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to feel properly equipped and to progress in the sport. In your ultra-running career, have you seen big leaps in running technology? Do you think better technology is important to the sport? Do you think that will change in the future?

There have been great advances in GPS watches, headlamps, and cameras (drones) etc. but I still think at the core of ultra-running is its simplicity and practicing a sacred transcendence. One foot in front of the other moving through wild spaces and tapping into something bigger. I think the technology muddles it a bit and I like to take it all with a grain of salt. I say that because of social media (Instagram, YouTube, FB, etc.) changing the sport a bit. People are going to these amazing places on foot and are focusing a lot on trying to get the perfect shot for their Instagram and missing out on so much of the authentic experience. I am guilty of this sometimes too. We go to such breathtaking places that we want to share the inspiration with others. Also, if you have a big following on social media channels you are more likely to be sponsored by companies so it creates another dynamic which has shown some changes in the sport and growing pains if you will.

In climbing, there are many athletes that push for “firsts.” First ascents, first free ascents, first descents (in skiing/ski mountaineering). Is there as much of an obsession in the ultra-running community for these “firsts”? 

Yes, I think it is human nature to want to be the first or the fastest, etc. There is a trend in ultra-running called FKT’s which stands for Fastest Known Times. There is a website and protocol for people to follow to set a fastest known time on a particular route, or create your own. It’s pretty cool and I have participated in this type of self-organized adventure running. For example, I set the FKT for the Pacific Crest Trail (supported) through the state of Oregon a few years back. I think it’s a fun way to set your own parameters on a project, state your intentions, and go for it without the structure of a race or sanctioned event. It just gives you the freedom without all of the hoopla! I invite you to check out the FKT website.

What has been your toughest race to date?

I think the toughest race I’ve attempted and did not finish, unfortunately, was Badwater 135. This is 135 miles on roads through Death Valley in July. The temps topped out at 127 degrees Fahrenheit. I made it 100 miles and my body was cooked and I was having some internal issues with kidney dysfunction and dehydration/heat exhaustion, etc. I pulled the plug.

Probably the most difficult race that I have finished would be the HURT 100 in Hawaii (I finished 3 times) and it is extremely difficult w/ lots of technical terrain such as slippery roots and rocks and tons of climbing through the mountains in Oahu, Hawaii. Again you deal with heat and humidity of the jungle and it’s in January, so it’s difficult for us PNW’ers to get ready for. The other is UTMB which stands for Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in France. You start in Chamonix France and run around the biggest mountain in the Alps (Mont Blanc) and pass through three countries (France, Italy, Switzerland) and climb over 30,000 cumulative feet. It was very difficult and took me 28 hours to finish in 89th place out of over 3,000 runners.

Have you participated in running events outside of the United States?

Ultra Trail Torres del Paine in Chile—I was leading a 110 kilometer race through one of the most beautiful places on earth in my opinion, and just before sunrise saw a puma. We checked each other out and he jumped over a log and ran away. Pretty exhilarating!

What are your ultra-running goals in the next few years? What do you hope to accomplish?

There are a few races I would like to complete such as Hardrock 100 in Colorado. There are so many self-organized adventures that I would like to do such as the Washington PCT, Tahoe Rim Trail, etc. so I will likely continue to break my season up with self-organized adventures and local and international races as much as I can!

Come out and see Yassine at Expect the Unexpected on Nov. 13 at Base Camp Brewing Company.


Meet the PAFletes: Libby Sauter

Come out and meet Libby Sauter at The Summit, on Nov. 16 at the Melody Center. Get your tickets at portlandalpinefest.org.

It’s sometimes hard to imagine our climbing heroes outside of their vertical worlds. If not spending their time crushing it on a big wall, setting speed records, or putting up first ascents, their lives must purely be spent training for those big projects, right? While for some that may be true, for Libby Sauter, there is much more to her than just a talented athlete. Although she is a highly-accomplished rock climber, Libby has devoted a significant part of her time to her job as a pediatric cardiac ICU nurse. If that isn’t enough, her job has seen her work in places like Libya, Ukraine, and Iraq. So what does it mean to be so motivated on two very different fronts? Let’s find out…

You are best-known in the climbing world for holding a speed record on the Nose of El Capitan. Talk about what holding that record means to you. 

The Nose speed record was the ultimate avenue to test my ability to reach for lofty goals. The routes meaning has changed significantly for me over the years from triumph to rather bittersweet in the wake of the accidents that have transpired on El Cap around speed climbing.

Being a world-class rock climber can be all consuming at times and, as we all know, life is about balance. How do you find the balance in your life that allows you to succeed in and outside of rock climbing? 

I was lucky enough to not fully become obsessed with rock climbing until after I completed my university degree in nursing. Having a flexible, well-paying career has giving me the ability to bounce between my two greatest passions.

Is there a particular moment amongst your experiences as a traveling nurse that sticks with you more than others? 

Pediatric cardiac nursing is a very intense field of health care so there are lots of moments that stand out. One time I watched a little girl’s heart start beating again after we had cracked open her chest in the ICU. Those scenarios don’t often end so happily in the developing world. I was in Benghazi when ISIS was defeated and watching the final moments of that battle from the hospital rooftop will stay with me forever. As well, all the countless tears I shared with my nursing best friend Lisa after particularly tough days are pivotal moments in my life.

Which personal qualities are transferrable between being a successful climber and a successful nurse? 

Basically, any trait that involves working harder than you could ever imagine, going past extreme physical and emotional exhaustion. These traits are helpful in both fields.

Perhaps more interestingly, which personal qualities would you rely on during one activity but never call upon during the other?

Nursing and climbing have so much in common to the point that I can’t really think of a trait that is important in one, but not in the other: fear control, check. Responsibility for someone else’s life, check. Calm under pressure, check. Tolerance of other people’s bodily fluids, check.

Do you usually try to combine a climbing trip with a work trip (i.e. go and climb in the country you’re working in once your contract is finished) or is there a bit of a break between the two?

I haven’t been nursing abroad this year but, previously, I would often try and combine trips. Work was already paying for my transcontinental ticket so I could easily just book little flights around Europe or Asia in between. The Middle East airport hub is Istanbul so I’ve spent lots of time in transit there. I made a really rad climber friend there through the couchsurfing.org website so anytime I had a long layover, I had a partner to get out with. He just opened Istanbul’s first full-fledged climbing gym, DuvarX. Check it out if you ever find yourself in that part of the world!

As climbers, we’re often fortunate to be in incredible places that the majority of people will never will be able experience. Do we, as outdoor enthusiasts, have a responsibility to those places that extends beyond “Leave no Trace”? 

I think we as humans have a responsibility to take care of the planet on which we live, regardless of whether or not we are climbers. But since we have such an intimate relationship with many remote places we have the ability to be extra conscious about leaving no trace, to addressing our trespasses on tribal land, to dealing with our industry’s hypocrisies regarding green living.

What are your future projects (whether climbing related or not)?

My projects of late have more revolved around mountain running and academics than climbing. Losing a really close friend to climbing just a month after Quinn Brett became paralyzed on the Nose last year has really taken the wind out of my climbing sails. I started a grad school program in Global Health that I am very excited about this fall.

Here is an easy one. What is the one food that you crave the most after a few long days in the mountains?

Salty, crunchy! That usually means cheddar popcorn and chips and salsa/hummus/guac! YUM!

Come out and meet Libby Sauter at The Summit, on Nov. 16 at the Melody Center. Get your tickets at portlandalpinefest.org. Get Libby's full schedule at portlandalpinefest.org/libby-sauter/


Meet the PAFletes: Alan Rousseau

Before Alan Rousseau disappeared into the mountains for a month-long trip, he was kind enough to spend a few precious minutes in Ladakh responding to some questions via email. Our exchange is below:

First, you were given the 2013 Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award. Please explain what that award is and how it came to influence your climbing.

The Lyman Spitzer award was the old name for the AAC cutting edge award. This is a grant that funds climbers for expeditions that are attempting to push the modern standard in alpine climbing. In 2013 Tino Villaneuva and I received this grant to try the west face of Tengi Ragi Tau in the Rolwaling valley of Nepal. This is a huge fin-like mountain that is nearly 7000 meters tall. We walked below it the year before while nabbing the first ascent of Langmoche Ri (6611m) in a seven day push from the village of Na. Getting the grant made it possible for us to return to the Rolwaling. It was our first experience trying to solve a puzzle of this scale. We were turned around real high up on the face, about 1000 feet below the summit. We could not find a spot to sleep without subjecting ourselves to serious objective hazards. We rappelled 6,000 feet in 8 hours to get off the face only leaving 40 feet of cord and a few stoppers. After this experience I took a couple years off from climbing in Asia, not because it was a bad experience, but because I saw the gap in where my climbing was, and where I wanted it to be to set myself up for success on these big committing
features. Last year in 2017, Tino and I returned to the Himalayas and completed the first peak ascent of Rungafarka (6495m) via the 50-pitch north ridge (VI M6 A0 WI4+).

Second, you were given the 2018 AAC Cutting Edge Award. Please explain what that award is and how that also influenced your climbing.

It’s a bit too early to say how it influenced my climbing as I am in India now about to head on the expedition we received the funding for. It feels like we are in a good place, after our success last year, we are hoping to apply a similar formula to the objective this year. For me getting a grant is a big motivator. I know lots of other people applied, and it makes me want to do everything in my power to be as ready as possible for the objective. I don’t want to feel like I wasted an opportunity.

Third, as someone who is clearly at the front of the pack in terms of changing climbing, where do you see the new frontiers of climbing being?

This is an interesting question largely because I don’t see the climbing I’m doing as changing the sport. I have always aspired to be a well-rounded technical climber, to apply a diversity of skills into completing large alpine objectives. As a result I’m not leading the sport in any single technical aspect. My hardest redpoints are 5.13 and M10. I see kids warming up on these grades! My only reasons for success have been 1) I try really hard, and 2) mentally I have been able to climb near my limit in the alpine. I’m just taking a relatively moderate skill set and applying it to big terrain.

Perhaps that means I’m one of the people changing the modern culture of alpinism. However, I see the future of alpinism in the climbing gym. When I see a 15-year-old kid tie in, casually talk about who has a crush on who, while floating 5.13, it makes me think there will be very little aid climbing done in the future. The hardest traditional ground up routes completed in the alpine from a technical standpoint are easy for most adept young guns. With a reduction in aid comes a faster ascent. The end result is a bigger route completed with a smaller kit required.

Fourth, as climbing is moving forward into new ways of thinking about what climbing could become, in your mind, is there any danger that we are losing something, maybe a connection to the past? In your own experiences, what is that link between the past and the future of climbing?

On this I have somewhat of a limited perspective. I’m 32 years old and my introduction to climbing was only 15 years ago. I don’t think there is much of a danger in losing the past. I think there will always be respect and intrigue for what each generation accomplished with the equipment available at the time. Skill sets will evolve, equipment will adapt, but at the end of the day the goal remains unchanged: climb the hardest thing you can and get down safe. As long as people remember what was done to get the sport to where it is today, I believe the connection to the past will remain strong.

Fifth, talk a little about the role that technology impacts your climbing. With the advent of social media, the proliferation of beta, and the continual evolution of the equipment itself, what do you see to be the general trajectory of the sport?

Even when I started climbing, I didn’t think technology (other than equipment changing) would play much of a role in climbing. I think the online information sharing is incredibly valuable to the progression of our sport: conditions updates, access issues, new route development, better directions, rack recommendations. I think they are all great. The end result is we all climb more. I know for myself I find enough adventure on route. I don’t need to get lost on the approach and descent to get my fill of uncertainty for the day.

Social media is another facet of this realm. A lot of info sharing does happen here as well. As does a spread of stoke and stories (I swear more people like ice climbing in July than January). Stories of climbing have always been told, in one form or another. I hope as social media’s presence continues to shape modern society, climbers continue to tell stories with an emphasis on authenticity, and not ‘how should I frame this to get the most likes’. I think social media presents a very interesting example of intrinsic motivations pitted against the human desire for peer validation.

Finally, talk about your process. How do you work to create a consistent evolution for your climbing such that it is always progressive.

I think I’ve always been good at setting goals and finding out what work I need to do to obtain them.

The first time I remember doing this, I wanted to run a sub-seven-minute mile while I was seven years old. I remember my dad working with me on pacing, logging laps on the track, eventually hitting a 6:55 and being totally stoked. I think that has stuck with me. The work you put in is what you get out. I approach my climbing goals with this same mentality, although breaking down an unclimbed face in the Himalayas is a bit more complicated than calculating split times in a mile. I also get bored when things feel stagnant, or like I’m at a plateau. I think this has motivated me to keep pushing my limits, as well as exploring new styles of climbing.

Now, some really “important” questions

Tacos or burritos. Which one do you prefer and why?
Burritos. When it comes to food and drinks, I have always been a quantity over quality kind of guy.

Head to toe or head to head sleeping in a tent and why?
Head to head. My feet smell waaay too bad.

Name a totally bone-headed mistake you made when climbing. Can you laugh about it now?

When I was 19, I climbed Mt. Hood. I forgot my sleeping bag in the car, and at the first break managed to drop my puffy jacket after putting it in a compression sack. It flew down the mountain.

That was a cold trip for me. And yes I can laugh about that as well as just about every other “bonehead” move I did at that time.

Knickers. They’re old school. Some have tried to bring them back? Defend them or ridicule them!

They seem pretty silly to me. Maybe if I were “Portland hip” and could grow a sweet moustache, I would embrace them!

Are you stoked? Head on over to portlandalpinefest.org to get tickets to see Alan at The Summit on Nov. 16 at the Melody Center, and/or check out his clinics & seminars.


Meet the PAFletes: Marcus Garcia

This will be Marcus' second time as a PAFlete. His energy last year was infectious and we knew we had to have him back for PAF18. This year you have the opportunity to learn more Marcus in his clinics: Good Enough Anchors, Movement, Rigging for Photos, and Better Crack Climbing. He's also teaching our first ever kids climbing clinic (ages 9–14)with Dawn Glanc.

If you’re looking for the definition of an all-around climber, Marcus Garcia may very well be your man. From an impressive list of more than 200 routes put up all over the USA and Mexico to a spot on the UIAA Youth Commission pushing to bring competitive ice climbing to the Winter Olympic Games, Marcus’ ambitions don’t stop at “simply” projecting a new, difficult line. As his climbing career evolves, he finds himself undertaking a new era of mentorship. In this interview, we get a brief glimpse into the mind of someone whose commitment to the climbing world goes beyond establishing hardcore 5.13 trad routes.

Can you put a finger on the moment when you felt the transition from student to mentor happening? Was it one moment or more of a slow transition?

The moment I felt the transition from student to mentor was after losing my mentor in a climbing accident. I was ready to quit climbing altogether. After mourning the loss, a friend asked me to climb a big ice route. I was off the couch and had not swung a tool in a while. That year, the first pitch was steep, really steep. I chose to start the route. Soon, I found myself pumped and run out. Too steep to stop and place an ice screw. So I calmed myself down and remembered what my late mentor taught me: “Enjoy the movement.” I just focused on the climbing and topped the pitch. At that moment, I realized I have something to teach others, just as I was taught myself.

You’ve put a lot of emphasis on mentorship and coaching. There are plenty of excellent, world-class climbers out there that never take the leap from student to mentor. Why do you think that is?

To be a mentor for some means putting aside personal goals as a climber and focusing on helping others achieve their goals. I feel this scares most climbers, as climbing in itself is a selfish sport when you look at it as a whole. Mentoring is a lot of work and a lot of challenges. It takes a lot of dedication to be a good mentor and some world-class climbers are just not ready to let go of their goals. Nothing wrong with that, it is just not their time. I was there and now I have learned to balance my goals and blend them into how I mentor others.

What is your personal drive to offer mentorship to younger, up-and-coming climbers? Why is it important?

Over the years, balancing my goals and mentoring had to become one. My goals became what I learned by watching the mentees grow into their full potential, not only as a climber but as a young human being. Along the way, I realized I, too, am still the student. As the years go by, I am still learning how to be a great mentor. Everyone I encounter is different in learning how to climb. What is important to me is watching the growth of an individual. This can be during a 4-hour clinic or it can be watching one of the youth members graduate from high school, travel overseas, and become their own person. To me, that is the most rewarding feeling a mentor can have.

How is the bid to bring climbing to the Winter Olympics coming along anyway? What are the next steps to continue to bring the sport to the ultimate world stage?

Unfortunately, the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea did not choose to host an ice climbing exhibition during the games. The next steps are to grow the sport here in the USA and focus on the youth side of it, as I do, because they are the future of the sport. We need more US support from brands and the climbing community. We need to put on more ice climbing competitions that showcase the physical challenges of this sport and educate the climbing community to take time and teach it to people.

You’ve put up numerous routes during your long career as a climber that involve using all sorts of equipment. During this time, you must have seen trends in climbing gear come and go. What are some of the pieces of equipment or methods you are glad did not stand the test of time? What about old technology or methods that have been used for decades and are still around today that you find yourself using over and over again? 

As far as ice climbing, the days of the straight shaft ice tool are gone. They were notorious for the bashing of knuckles. Also, the ridiculous forearm pump you got came from from holding onto the slippery handles with a strap around your wrist that restricted the much needed warm blood flow. Even with all the latest training techniques around, nothing beats the good old basic dead hang. And focus on good technique. Footwear has changed but it does not replace good footwork or understanding how to climb using the least amount of energy.

How do you find the balance between devoting time to mentorship and still pursuing your own personal climbing endeavors? 

There lies the most challenging quest. My time between teaching others and still pursuing my own visions has been merged into the same goal. My goal is to be a great mentor and if I get to go out and chase my own objectives from time to time, then that is a bonus. To do this I had to develop a workout that keeps me in top form so that when I do get out, I am ready. That is easier said than done. But having a great climbing partner and the kids I coach keep me motivated.

Now that you’ve begun this “master” stage of your life (as opposed to student), what do you envision for your future? Is there another step beyond mastery or mentorship?

Over the years, I have been asked if I would write a book. I really never thought of being a writer. This year I took the next step and began writing and putting together about 20 years of research copied in journals into the computer. I wrote a little workout for Rock and Ice and loved the process. So now to find the time. Early mornings and dedication, just like I would if I am training for a goal, have become the norm.

Looking backward, what do you feel is your most significant achievement (either as a climber or as a mentor)? Looking forward, what is the thing you most hope to accomplish?

Looking back over the years, I find myself thinking about the times I have helped other world-class climbers achieve their goals while at the same time helping young, up-and-coming climbers find their own path. In 2017, I was able to achieve some of my biggest achievements as a climber. One was helping a strong Chelsea Rude find herself in trad climbing. Then, during the same week, establishing a FFA in Yosemite, a place that has been a stepping stone for many climbers. But to be able to leave my own mark in a place that had done a lot for me is a highlight. This was only to be topped a few days later by free climbing a big wall as a mentor, photographer, and climber in a day with Jon Cardwell and Sasha Digiulian. Leaving the valley after giving back to the climbing community will be one of my favorite times. What I hope to accomplish now is to watch my protégé chase their vision as a young climber.

And the question that I ask everyone: What is the one food that you crave the most after a few long days in the mountains?

Over the years, for some reason the food I crave most is Thai noodles covered in peanut sauce washed down with Thai iced tea without ice. Yes, without ice. Funny, I do not like ice in my drinks, nor do I like plain chocolate.

Get to know more about Marcus and sign up for his clinics at portlandalpinefest.org.