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Expedition Dispatches From Around The Globe!
Posts for every team can be found under the drop-down menus at the right of this page. We have organized our expeditions into Denali, International and Mount Everest categories, with further organization by their Team Meeting Date.
Click on the audio dispatch icons to hear phone calls from our climbers and guides, so that you can better enjoy the experience through their words, not ours. Above all, have fun and dream big!
The Mountain Trip Vinson Team flew down to the Union Glacier base in Antarctica yesterday in the big Russian jet, and then continued on in a smaller ski plane to Vinson Base Camp. They settled in and spent the day making preparations to head on up to Camp 1 tomorrow. We’re pretty proud of our base camp amenities, and the team has a big base camp dome tent for our team to enjoy for a communal space, which makes the -20 temperatures much more bearable.
Listen to the call from Mount Vinson Base Camp:
J.Y. and Jacob are waiting out the weather at Camp 2 again today. Yesterday and last night were quite windy, but it has eased up a bit today and allowed them to et out of camp for an acclimatization hike. They plan to move up to high camp tomorrow!
Listen to the call from Camp 2 today.
Jacob called in today to report that they are hunkered down at Camp 2. Blowing snow and high winds prevented the team from moving up, but they are doing well and resting. We’ll hear more from the team tomorrow.
Hello everyone! This is Joe Butler, Vinson guide for Mountain Trip.
Our team is in Punta Arenas and enjoying the last bit of civilization before we head to the Ice and work our way to the top of Mount Vinson. We have a very international team, including Joe Cuervorst (Colorado), Sandra Leduc (Canada), Basia Gorska (Polish American), and Saeed Al Maamary (United Arab Emirates).
Punta Arenas is the southern most city in Chile, situated along the Strait of Magellan and is the starting point for Mount Vinson climbers and folks heading to the South Pole. Although Punta Arenas has many modern conveniences, it still has a remote feel, reminding you that you are near the bottom of the world! Over the past couple of days we have enjoyed burgers and beers at Lomito’s, my favorite local burger joint, and taken in the sights. Most notable are Cemetario Municipal de Punta Arenas with its impressive tombs honoring important pioneers and families from the area and the Memorial to Ferdinand Magellan in the Plaza Central. Here it is good luck to rub or kiss the toe of the statue of the native. (See team pictures) To round it all out we had an amazing dinner at La Marmita where they serve things like guanaco and Patagonian hare stew. Delicious!
Today we went to our safety briefing at Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE), the company that provides flights and logistics for all Mount Vinson climbers. We then weighed our bags and ALE is currently loading them onto the Ilyushin. The Ilyushin is the Russian cargo jet we use to get from Punta Arenas to Antarctica. Now that we have checked our bags it really feels like we are starting our expedition!
Tomorrow we are scheduled to fly from Punta Arenas at 4:45am local time. We will don our expedition boots and synthetic clothing and head to the Punta Arenas airport and go through security and customs before we board the massive cargo jet waiting for us. Seven hours later, with a fuel stop in Ushuaia, Argentina, we will land on the blue ice airstrip at Union Glacier. Next we board a DeHavilland Twin Otter and fly to Vinson Base Camp. From here it is boots on the ground and human will power to bag the summit and return.
As a guide, I could not ask for a better group! Everyone became instant friends making group dynamics an easy process. I am very excited to be climbing with a group with so much experience in the high mountains and I am honored to lead these folks on such a remote and beautiful expedition! This is truly living life to the fullest!
We will call in updates and podcast daily and we will also be tracking our progress via the DeLorme inReach. There will be a link available on the Mountain Trip website to see where we are on a map and everyone will be able to watch us move in almost real time!
I want to thank everyone at home supporting these climbers as they challenge themselves on a trip of a lifetime! Your love and support allows these folks to focus on the objectives and return home safely and successful.
Thanks for following our trip and we will post again once we reach the Ice.
Team J.Y. battled a stiff wind today, but they persevered and they are now resting safe and sound in Camp 2. J. Y. reports that today’s ascent was a fairly rough go, but he is feeling well and doing well and staying focused on the goal. The team can view the summit from Camp 2, so I’m sure they will spend some time today visualizing their path to the top of Aconcagua.
Mountain Trip guide extraordinaire Jacob Schmitz called in a team update today. The team climbed up to Camp 2 at 18,000 feet to cache some equipment and supplies. Jacob reported that it was a bit windy today, but regardless he and J.Y. did very well and felt good, making the round trip in approximately 6 hours. If the weather cooperates, the team plans to make the move up to Camp 2 tomorrow.
J.Y. called today from 16,000 feet at Camp 1. The team is doing really well, feeling good and relaxing and enjoying the beautiful scenery. From Camp 1, the team can see the switchbacks that lead up to a pass on the route to Camp 2, located at 18,000 feet. The climb to the pass is a tough day, but the views from Camp 2 are well worth it!
Jacob called in tonight’s update after he and JY made a trip from Base camp up to Camp 1 at about 16,400′. It sounds like they had a great day, with beautiful weather on the way up and light snow as they descended back to BC.
The plan is to spend tomorrow at Base Camp, building up their foundation of acclimatization before packing up and heading to make their camp at Camp 1.
Here is Jacob:
JY called in from base camp this evening after arriving this afternoon and settling in. They’ve trekked for three days and have arrived at the relatively civilized base camp where they will enjoy catered meals in a nice dining tent. It’s a great place to rest, recover, and acclimatize in comfort before moving up higher on the mountain. They’ll take a rest day tomorrow, and then continue on up the mountain.
Listen to JY checking in from the Plaza Argentina base camp on Aconcagua!
Guide Jacob Schmitz called in to give the report on the team’s progress. In a nutshell, the team continued their hike up the Vacas Valley to camp at Casa Piedra, or “stone house.” Tomorrow they will take a big westerly turn and continue up the Relinchos Valley. Everyone is doing well and the team sends out a big hello to friends and family back home.
This morning, J.Y. and Jacob got an early start from Penitentes and headed up the Vacas Valley. It was a bit cold and windy during the latter portion of the hike, but the weather didn’t slow them down and they made it to Pampas de Lenas in just over five hours. This is the first camp on the approach and it’s located at about 9,000 feet. The arrieros (mule drivers) prepared a traditional gaucho dinner of grilled meats and the team feasted! Everyone is doing great and right now they are snoozing under the beautiful Argentine night sky.
Tomorrow the team will continue up valley to Casa Piedra (stone house), camp 2 of the approach.
As the days grow shorter in the northern hemisphere, why not chase the sun and head south?!? J. Y. Jones and Mountain Trip guide Jacob Schmitz are headed to the western edge of Argentina to attempt to climb the highest peak in all of the Americas, Cerro Aconcagua. Rising to almost 7000 meters, this peak is known as the Stone Sentinel and the moniker makes sense to this climber, as you can gaze all the way to the Pacific Ocean from the top of the mountain. The team will climb a variation of the classic route known as the Polish Traverse, which approaches the peak from the southeast, ascends the east side and drops down the the west after summit day. The climbing is not technical, but the high altitude and the notoriously windy weather make the route very challenging.
J.Y. and Jacob met in Mendoza, Argentina last night for Mountain Trip’s first Aconcagua expedition of the season. The guys ran through the final gear check, then went out to dinner enjoying the steak and wine that Mendoza is famous for. This morning they headed down to the Aconcagua Provincial Park offices to pick up their permits, then the plan was to depart for the mountains. They’ll drive into the Andes and spend the night in Penitentes, a small resort area located at 9,000 feet.
We will endeavor to post daily updates while the team is on the mountain, but please understand that, due to the complexities of communicating from such rugged terrain, this is not always possible. Feel free to contact our office for the latest news, but if a day or so passes without an update, hold onto the age-old axiom of, “No News is Good News,” because less than good news always finds a way to get communicated.
Please post comments to support your friends and family members. We cannot always convey those comments to climbers on the mountain, but they will really enjoy reading them once they are back down in “civilization.”
I recently caught up with Karen Bockel, one of our go-to guides and someone I am proud to call a great friend. Guides come in all forms, each with a unique story. Karen is a reformed rocket scientist (literally!), who has followed her passion for being in wild places, a passion that has led her into the mountain guiding profession. I asked Karen a few questions in the hope that we might help you understand a bit more about what it is like to be a guide.
-Todd Rutledge, Ophir, CO
T: Why did you choose to become a Mountain Guide?
K: I love being out in the mountains and sharing that experience with others. To be a mountain guide was also a childhood dream of mine, but I never thought I could actually do it… until I started to work as a guide and realized I was good at it! To teach climbing skills, summit a big peak, make powder turns in fresh snow, and inspire a climber to reach new heights, that’s what I love about guiding.
T: What experience did you have when you started guiding?
K: I went on an expedition with three girlfriends (Sonja Nelson, MT guide, Kim Grant, MT guide, and Kim Havell) to ski from the summit of Denali. I learned a lot about expeditions from the girls on that trip. Along the way I got to see quite a few Mountain Trip teams on the mountain, got to know them and their jobs, and see how they were working. I liked the commitment, hard work, and friendships formed on expeditions. The Mountain Trip teams were like a big family, all working together toward a common goal. It was awesome to see that, and I wanted to be part of it.
Before I started guiding, I had already spent a good deal of time in the mountains. I had been exploring the local ranges in Colorado, climbing long multi-pitch rock routes and skiing lots of peaks and awesome descents. I also honed my mountain sense in remote places like the Andes in South America, and the Rockies in Canada.
T: What sort of courses, education or certifications have you taken along the way (in and out of guiding)?
K: Wow! I have been pretty busy taking courses and working towards earning my American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Certifications. So far, I have taken the following:
AMGA courses would include my Rock Instructor Course (with you, Todd!), Ice Guide Course, Alpine Guide Course, Rock Guide Course/Aspirant Exam, Ski Guide Course, Ski Mountaineering Guide Course/Aspirant Exam, Rock Guide Exam.
Additionally, I am American Avalanche Institute Level III certified and hold current certifications for Wilderness First Responder and Outdoor Emergency Care, and CPR for healthcare providers. I am also an American Avalanche Association Professional member and have taken a Rigging for Rescue Seminar.
On the academic front, I hold a M.S. in Atomic and Laser Physics. Oh yeah, I speak English, French, and Spanish, which is really fun.
T: Where have you guided?
K: I have guided in some great places: Denali and the Alaska Range, my favorite stomping grounds; of course my home range, the San Juans in Colorado; the beautiful Tetons in Wyoming, as well as the Wind River Range; and Red Rocks, a world-class rock climbing destination outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.
T: What is the most rewarding part of the job?
K: I think I answered that in the first question? When my climbers are stoked at the end of the day, then so am I!
T: What is one of the greatest challenges of the job?
K: Being a guide is a serious job! I always think about the potential hazards of the day, be it the potential for a crevasse fall, or a slip on the ice, loose rock, or something else. I try the best I can to minimize those risks, and guide a safe and rewarding climb. On top of that, there are constantly decisions to be made, about the route, the way we climb, when to start, to stop, or to turn around, evaluating the conditions, the weather, and so on. Sometimes, it can be stressful to make decisions when the stakes are high, for example when you’re in a remote place and don’t have all the information you would like.
T: What are your goals in the profession?
K: To be the best I can be! I seek out opportunities to learn from other guides, and gain insight from their experiences. I am continuously learning and growing as a guide, and I love the challenges of guiding out in the mountains, they keep me young!
T: Oh yeah? How old are you? NO WAIT- I’ll retract that question!!! OK, how do you train and/or keep your skills fresh?
K: I used to be a professional athlete, so training is in my blood… I often go out for a trail run after a day of work, or a mountain bike ride. Rock climbing is my passion, and when there is a break in the guiding season, you can usually find me on some rock somewhere. This fall I went to Yosemite for a few days and climbed Half Dome and El Capitan. As far as technical skills go, I love working with ropes and carabiners and pulleys! I try to keep up on rigging techniques and new ideas for guiding technical terrain. I am involved with the local Search and Rescue team and run some of their trainings. Also, I am working on getting internationally certified as a mountain guide, which provides me with lots of education and training.
T: You have been coming up to work with us on Denali for years now. How do you return to the same venue over and over, yet still keep it fresh for your guests?
K: Every expedition is different, and the mountain shows a different face each time I visit it. The beauty of the Alaska Range alone draws me back every season. New friendships are formed, new trails are traveled…
T: How do you manage risk on big, cold mountains? If that is too vague, maybe give me one instance of how you managed risk on a recent trip.
K: Being on a remote mountain for a 3 week expedition is a serious undertaking. I try to plan ahead and anticipate what might happen on a given day. By thinking about the risks that we might encounter, I am better prepared to deal with them should they occur. On my second trip last year, we had to descend a long section in a complete whiteout. Even though we could hardly tell whether the next step was up or down, I was able to descend safely from 11,200′ to Ski Hill (7,800′) using my navigation skills: I had my GPS in one hand looking at the waypoints I had created on the ascent, and my skipole in the other, probing as I was forging ahead… By planning ahead, my systems worked and we made it to basecamp the next day.
T: Do you have any tips or advice for people who are considering climbing a big, cold mountain? Give us one specific thing that you do to take care of yourself in an unforgiving environment.
K: My number one tip is to have an open mind and a good attitude. It is hard to imagine what it’s like to be up high, and being able to deal with the unexpected is a huge part of expedition climbing. If you can keep a cheerful attitude, and sometimes lend a hand to a team member when they need it or accept a favor from one of them when you need it, you will have a good experience. Expedition climbing is all about teamwork, and an expedition team who works together well has a much higher chance of success.
I really try to take care of myself on an expedition. Eating and staying hydrated as well as getting enough sleep is important. Something I bring something for myself that’s not on the equipment list: a puffy skirt! It’s kind of a girly thing, but fun to wear, super comfy and keeps me warm around camp.
T: What do you do for fun in your spare time?
K: Spare time, what is that?! Just kidding… When you work hard, you also have to know how to relax. In the winter, I like hanging out in the little cabin I rent in Telluride with a second cup of coffee and knitting a hat.
T: Who is you favorite boss?
D) All the above! Bill and Todd. I am so lucky to have you guys as my friends and my bosses.
T: Thanks a ton, Karen! Enjoy your autumn and let us know when you hear the results from your Rock Guide Exam you recently took.
What to wear, what to wear..? Layering has arguably gotten more complicated in recent years, as the traditional layers that we all grew accustomed to have changed with technological advances. Not new on the market, but better than ever, are the latest generation of “hybrid” garments. This past Denali season, we outfitted numerous guides in the Piton Hybrid Hoody from Patagonia, and after a long season in the Alaska Range, the guides are all smiles!
We have long been fans of mid-weight layers with hoods. An integrated hood allows us to wear lighter weight hats, or even a baseball hat or visor, and still have the option of easily accessible warmth when the wind picks up. The addition of the hood gives you a broad range of temperature regulation at different activity levels allowing you to easily remain comfortable without having to stop and add or take away a layer.
A favorite system is to wear a lightweight Capilene or wool t-shirt base layer and the Piton Hybrid Hoody on top. You can drop the hood and zip it down for maximum ventilation and cooling, but quickly zip it up and flip up the hood giving you a reasonably warm system for high output activities in the cold. Add a featherweight Houdini wind jacket and you’ve got a super lightweight system that can keep you comfortable across a huge range of temperatures and activity levels with a minimum of messing around.
It’s important to have the gear to stay warm enough when climbing big cold mountains, but it’s easy to forget that it can get hot fast when you are working hard and the sun is baking at 20,000ft. Your clothing system needs to allow you to adjust quickly, without stopping excessively to change layers, so you can keep from getting cold, or from getting overheated. Your body simply does not work as efficiently when you are overheated, so simple ways to vent and cool off are as important as ways to keep warm when the weather changes.
The Piton Hybrid Hoody is constructed using panels of Polartec Windpro, which helps cut moderate breezes, letting you wear the hoody longer than you might a traditionsl light fleece. This piece does a great job in the mountains, but one of the most common guide comments was that it wasn’t too “techy” looking to wear around town after the climb!
Patagonia introduced the Piton Hybrid Hoody a year ago in both men’s and women’s styles. For fall of 2013, only the men’s version is available, and it looks like it will not continue to be in their line for Spring 2014, so if you are looking for a nice layer to compliment your kit, you might not want to wait!
We’ve distilled the recommendations of our guides and climbers from years of expeditions down to our “Ultimate Alaska Equipment List”. Click the link and check out all of our gear and clothing recommendations for a climb in Alaska, or anywhere in the big, cold mountains.
Last December, our Office Manager, Laura Duncan, joined a Mountain Trip team on an Aconcagua climb, her first venture into the big mountains. Laura had worked with us since April 2010, and is definitely an “outdoor” person, but her Aconcagua climb was a big step. I sat down with her and tried to get her perspective on the expedition, in the hopes that some of the lessons she learned might help prospective climbers.
T: What was your first concert (to borrow a question from our friend Lucky Lindy)?
L: I thought we were going to talk about Aconcagua! The Boss, “Born in the USA” tour – am I dating myself?
T: Why on earth did you want to climb Aconcagua? As a mother of two, with a full-time job, why would you want to be away for a month?
L: I have spent a lot of time in wild places over the years but I’d never been higher than the 14’000′ peaks we have in Colorado. I kept hearing you and Bill talk about high altitude and I wanted to find out how I would fare up high. The climb was an opportunity to challenge myself in a wild place, and fortunately, my family was very supportive, my boss gave me the time off , so I went for it!
T: What prior experience in the mountains had you had before Aconcagua?
L: Most of my outdoor experience was on backpacking trips, fly fishing trips, and on 14′ers. I’d used crampons and an ice axe a little bit, but had not had formal training until just before my Aconcagua climb. If I were to self-identify, I’d say that I was a hiker and a backpacker.
T: How did you train for the trip?
L: I like to hike, and I try to get out at least 3 times a week on hikes that average about 3-4 miles, with about 12-1400 feet of elevation gain. In preparation for Aconcagua, I added running to my regimen, and just continued to go outside, sneaking in longer hiking and backpacking trips. All in all, I didn’t really change my routine all that much, I just added a little more time to each activity…
T: How did your training prepare you for the climb?
L: I felt great about how I had trained for Aconcagua. I had one rough day on the approach, which was a bit disconcerting, as it wasn’t really a “hard day,” we hiked with light packs and only gained a bit over 1,000′ over the course of 8 miles. The following day I felt great, so I’m not sure why I wasn’t feeling strong on that particular day. Above Base Camp, I felt great each day, and stronger, and I felt that I had some reserves after each day. Summit day was physically challenging, but honestly, it felt a bit easier than I had anticipated. I was pleased with my body’s ability to perform at altitude.
When I climbed Denali six months later, I wished I had been stronger, as that was a physically more difficult climb for me.
T: What was a highlight or a low point of the trip?
L: Well, our team got hammered by a serious wind event that destroyed some of our tents, which led several team members to decide to leave the trip and return to Mendoza. A definite low point was when we made the decision that some of the team would descend after the storm. I had really enjoyed the team-building aspect of the expedition and it hurt to say “adios” to some of my new friends.
I guess high points would include that team aspect of the expedition. I have made life-long friends and have visited some of my team mates in recent months. Also, it felt great to finally descend down the west side of the mountain and arrive at Plaza de Mulas. I felt a real sense of relief following our arrival at that crazy camp that made me realize that I had unknowingly been living with some degree of stress while on the upper mountain. Oh yeah! Another highlight was calling my daughter’s class from the mountain and filling the group of First Graders in on my adventure!!
T: How did the realities of the trip jive with your expectations of the trip?
L: I had a great time!! I felt that the whole experience was in line with my expectations. The lack of snow on the mountain was a bit surprising, even though I had been told that we might not encounter any. Mendoza was wonderful and a great place to begin and end the trip. I know that I had almost daily access to picking your brain, but I felt that I had a pretty realistic expectation of what the climb would be like.
T: How did the experience prepare you for your Denali climb 6 months later?
L: Denali was harder, for sure. It was a bit easier to train for Aconcagua because I had all summer and autumn to get out for hikes. In training for Denali, I skate skiied a ton and I felt that I was more fit than I had been immediately before Aconcagua. I spent time refining my crampon and ice axe skills before Denali, and was glad that I had, because you spend a lot of time using those tools up in Alaska.
I think that my personal kit was in good order when I climbed Denali, and my experience on Aconcagua helped me do a better job of looking after myself in a sometimes hostile environment. Also, I suppose that I had some degree of fear or perhaps just uncertainty about how I would feel at altitude. My experience on Aconcagua definitely eased that concern, and I felt more relaxed on Denali. Summit day on Denali was scarier for me than any day on Aconcagua because of the terrain we would climb through, but at least I wasn’t stressing about how I would feel and perform at altitude.
Laura is in the office most days and is happy to help share her experience with anyone interested in venturing forth onto a big, cold mountain. Give her a ring!
What do we do when we aren’t climbing mountains? Just like a lot of you, we think about our next trip. We’ve just updated our latest greatest Alaska Mountaineering Gear List with the input of our guides and climbers. This is a compilation of what we think is the ultimate gear list, with recommendations of our current favorite items. There is a ton of good quality clothing and equipment out there, but if you got everything on this list for a climb on Denali, you’d be set. If you have comments about some clothing or equipment that you really like, or has worked great for you, please comment!
Check it out!
A couple of our guides, Jacob Schmitz and Josh Garner, are off on a personal adventure to climb the 5th highest peak in the world, Makalu (8481 meters/27,825 ft). They have arrived in base camp, and had their Puja and they are ready to climb! They are with a couple of climber/guides from Argentina and plan to climb without the support of Sherpa, or Oxygen. This is going to be a great adventure and we are wishing them the best. We were able to help out a bit by loaning some Mountain Trip tents and equipment for their climb, and Josh sent us this picture from Kathmandu of him modeling a down suit he is borrowing from our Himalayan gear.
We hope to get updates from the guys periodically and will pass on updates when we can.
Here’s Josh trying on the Mountain Trip, North Face Down Suit in Kathmandu.
Hello and thank you for following the 2013 Mountain Trip Mount Elbrus expedition.
Earlier today we all drove from Azau to Min Vody for our flights to Moscow, with the exception of Jung Mi and Masako, who flew on to St Petersburg. I’m looking forward to spending one or two more days in Russia exploring the amazing city that we briefly saw before flying south to climb Mount Elbrus.
I want to thank all of my team mates on this trip as it takes really good people to make a great team. We truly had a great team! Time flew when we went on acclimatization hikes, ate out at cafes and played cards for hours while waiting for the weather to improve.
Elbrus is now one of my favorite trips. It has everything, from varied cultures, beautiful cities to explore, and is steeped in a rich history. Virtually everyone we met was really friendly and eager to talk about where we were from and share their stories with us. And of course, there are a ton of big mountains that are easily accessible! Being able to acclimatize in old ski towns was a lot of fun and what a treat it was to go on acclimatization hikes with a shower at the end of the day! Staying at the Barrel huts was a lot of fun. We shared good food with a lot of friendly people.
After a day of bad weather up high on the mountain that turned many teams around, we woke up at 4am for breakfast and left for the summit at 5:30am after a nice breakfast of cereal or oatmeal with yogurt (it’s good to have choices!) and eggs with a selection of fruits. We then took a snow cat up to where we had climbed a few days earlier. What a great way to start a summit push!
At first we had a little bit of wind, but it then turned into a beautiful day with amazing views of the Caucus Mountain Range. We made the summit around 1:30pm and were back in the Barrel huts by 5pm for tea and coffee! Later, we all sat down for a celebration dinner then we enjoyed our comfortable beds. At least I think the beds are comfortable, but what do I know? I spend over half the year in a tent! (Ha ha!)
I think we all have made new friends during the last week and a half. I look forward to climbing with them all in the near future. I can tell everyone in the group is as excited to get back to the mountains as I am.
Hope to see you in the mountains!