Friday, January 3, 2014

Mountaineering Solo

Mountaineering alone is hard. First of all, there is no one else to break trail. Every single knee deep step in the snow has to be done alone. Secondly, if anything goes wrong there is absolutely no one within hearing distance. Yesterday I was probably one to two miles away from the nearest human the entire day over very rugged terrain. There is a mental challenge to being out there that is both rewarding for every step that I take, and also scary because I know I have to do things perfect. No one would have even attempted to find me until today had anything gone wrong.
The South Face of Mt. Quandry's West Ridge January 2nd, 2014
I have some interesting videos I took and I'll get around to editing and releasing them this weekend probably. The point is, it's hard climbing alone. Both from the mental difficulty and physical safety point of view as well as the physical work point of view. I turned my GPS watch on when I left my car yesterday, the battery died after four hours, but in that time my heart rate averaged 137, including the stops I took to put on more clothing and my crampons. I like to imagine I kept close to that intensity the whole eight hour day because I was post holing up to my waist on the descent just like on parts of the climb. That's a pretty sustained hard effort.
Mt. Quandry's West Ridge
I really enjoy a solo adventure every now and then. I like the feeling that it is just me responsible for the climb. I have been thinking about Mt. Everest all week, and I thought about it a lot yesterday too. I had to break trail, climb without ropes, route find, and carry all of my own equipment. Mt. Everest will be totally different. I doubt I will ever, in the whole nine weeks, be more than 100 meters away from multiple people, have to break trail, climb without a fixed line, or carry much more than my clothing and sleeping bags.

In climbing and mountaineering the ability to do something is largely based on the confidence to just try it. Confidence is typically increased by having other people around, by having ropes, by a beaten trail, and not having to carry all of the equipment. As I compare this past week of training to the likely experience of Mt. Everest, in some respects, yesterday was harder. There was no fixed line for me like I anticipate on Everest, a fall might have been 1000 feet down. I had to do all the trail breaking. On Broad Peak one day I did about 200 meters of breaking trail up the fixed lines that had been buried by a snow storm a few days before. It was terribly exhausting! You try breaking trail at 19,000 feet! On Everest there will be so many climbers that I do not anticipate ever being the one out in front breaking trail. I would enjoy it if I was, but the reality is I doubt I will be. At the point yesterday when I pulled a class four move over some blocks and knew I was in the wrong place, there was fear about which way to go. On Everest I really really doubt I will ever get off route. In fact, I have heard that in places they even have two up (ascending climbers) fixed lines and one down (descending climbers) fixed line to accommodate all the people. The Hillary Step has an up and a down line. Try getting lost with three ropes all going the same direction. Finally, for every hard section I anticipate crossing there will be someone else around me to discuss with, probably to watch that person tackle the difficult portion, or at least to help me if I screw up and get hurt. That is so different from being at 13,000 feet more than a mile over rugged terrain from the nearest person.

Mountaineering solo is hard, but in the hardest endeavors we often find the most satisfaction. Don't only do what is easy, do what is hard. 


  1. Mountaineering alone at high elevations = lack of friends and/or unmitigated stupidity. I truly hope no public funds will ever be required to rescue you when someday something goes unexpectedly bad. Your hubris surpasses that of Bush Jr.

    1. You sir are a total jackass. You have no right to criticise this person for what they choose to do. You also have zero perspective on this world. Smokers waste public tax dollars and strain our health care system and it is solely their decision to put their life at risk. With your flawed logic, we should not help any of those people or anyone else who injures themselves because of their own choices. I could list endless ways people put their own lives at risk and waste public money. For you to criticise this person and not even recognize the countless other things people do that puy themselves at risk shows very low intelligence. Get off your high horse jackass.

    2. follow up to my previous post...

      Not only that but we might as well never rescue anyone who is a mountaineer or waste public resources. 9 People died on K2 one year, it is totally irrelevant if they were alone or in a group... With your logic they all chose to put themselves at risk so they should all be left to die. You're such an ignorant ass.

  2. Thanks for the article, was a good read.

  3. Great read! Thanks for the information and outlook.
    Jordan A....thanks for your input too! I've seen people in the back country die with and without people during high mountain rescue.
    Thanks again to both of you.


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