We've done it again, we've let an entire year go by without writing
to you. We hope its been a fun and happy year for all of you,
as it has for us. This year we spent probably a record amount of time
away from home, and the coming year looks like it will be a virtual
repeat of the last in that sense, though we have some new and different
projects lined up as well as returning to some of our favorite haunts.
We hope some of you will be able to come along and help keep us out
of the bars.
THE PAST YEAR
Last year at this time we were each doing different trips in Chile
and Argentina, again for our friend Rodrigo Mujica and his company Aventuras
Patagónicas. Mark guided Aconcagua, while Kathy was about 20
miles to the southwest, on 20,163 foot Nevado Juncal. From the upper
camps, she was able to see the South Face of Aconcagua quite clearly,
and if we had known each others movements, we probably could have even
made radio contact.
David Johnson of Lincoln Nebraska and Jeff Stowell of
Salt Lake City joined Mark for this climb. At their high camp they played
host to a lost Spanish climber, a member of the Spanish Royal National
Guard trying to descend from his summit attempt. He wandered into their
camp just after sundown, and the four of them spent most of the night
huddled and cramped, but warm and safe, in their 3 man tent. The Spanish
climber spent much of the night on the radio with his captain down in
Plaza de Mulas, conferring about another teammate who was also unaccounted
for (he turned up later that night, lower on the mountain). Though slightly
inconvenient, it was nice to feel helpful.
In the end an extremely serious but fortunately unusual medical condition,
a pulmonary embolism, forced our team to retreat without the summit.
All eventually arrived safely home again.
Meanwhile, Kathys group on Juncal consisted of Jane Sheldon
of Ashland, Oregon; Jennifer Wolfe of Bothell, Washington; and
Kevin Weed of Lake Stevens, Washington. They enjoyed good health,
and relatively good weather, some fun climbing and exploring, but not
much better luck with their summit.
An unusually dry winter season and lots of resulting solar metamorphosis
of the snow high on the peak, created amazingly developed "nevé
penitentes". These toothlike flanges of frozen snow create little
forests of knee to hip high, leaning fins. Too tough and thick to kick
over, each one must be clambered over or around. At high altitude and
on steep terrain, this adds a lot of work to the process! To make matters
worse, a light, windblown snowfall virtually buried and hid the biggest
ones on the steep slopes below the 18,000 high camp. The snow
did not have enough time to pack in and settle, so all it did was hide
these shin-bangers, hold deep cold soft snow in the troughs, and make
it impossible to step from top to top (hard enough to balance even when
you can see them). The mode of travel was to swing a leg over, stomp
until you found the firm bottom and could get your foot placed somewhere
solid in the trough, hook the next edge with your ice axe and then haul
the other leg over. Grab the next one with your mitten or hook your
arm over the top, swing your leg over again, and so on. Very tedious
In these conditions, the group had to attempt the summit from the 15,000+
foot "camp 2.5", instead of the 18,000+ camp 3 as originally
planned. This made for a summit day elevation gain of nearly 5000 feet,
but was more promising than to try to haul even light weight overnight
gear up these slopes from hell. Summit day being very cold with a strong
icy breeze and most of the traveling in the shade, the factors keeping
them from summitting were the inability to keep warm enough for a decent
rest, and time running out.
Jane and Jennifer are giving it another try with Kathy this year (on
the mountain as you read this!), along with Roseanne Engelhardt.
Guides Meetings & "Chicks
Starting in mid January, a flurry of activity began which really only
came to an end in mid September. We started with meetings, in Canmore,
Alberta, of the Technical Commission of the International Federation
of Mountain Guides Associations (UIAGM). This might sound pretty official
(read, boring), but it was actually a great "boondoggle",
a chance to meet and play on the ice and snow with friends new and old
from all over the world. Delegates from Japan, Germany, South Tyrol,
France, Switzerland and more, compared teaching progressions, latest
research, methods and news from their respective guides associations.
From Canada we drove to Salt Lake City for more skiing, more meetings
(the AMGA Board of Directors meeting this time), and the Outdoor Retailer
show, before Kathy headed to Ouray for the First Ever Annual "Chicks
with Picks" ice climbing seminars for women. Hosted by San Juan
Mountain Guides and with the proceeds benefiting a local womens
shelter, there were slide shows by Kitty Calhoun and others, and instruction
provided by a great group of top women ice climbers and guides. It was
a smashing success and a really good time. Kathy even ended up with
a big color cover photo in the Denver Post. The event will be repeated
this February, and Kathy has been invited back.
Kathy went straight from Ouray to Denver then to LA International Airport,
where she was met by Andy Latham of Kalamazoo, MI (becoming a
familiar name in these pages!) for a long flight to New Zealand. They
spent about a week climbing and soaking, in the Mount Cook area of the
Southern Alps. They flew in to the Tasman Saddle Hut near the head of
the enormous Tasman Glacier, where they had 2 days of great weather
and climbing on Hochstedter Dome and Mount Green, followed by several
days of sloppy warm rain and zero visibility. The company of some very
amusing Australians helped fend off cabin fever as the forecast improvement
kept getting deferred.
Andy had to leave for home, and Kathy stayed on to climb some more
with Mike Christianson of Bozeman, MT (another familiar name
to some of you). They flew in to the Pioneer Hut on the west side of
the range, and climbed Mount Tasman as well as several other peaks in
the vicinity: Haidinger, Glacier Peak and Von Bulow. After that it was
a few days of sight seeing around the Tasman Sea and the rainforest,
before heading home.
Mark meanwhile was teaching an avalanche course for the Sierra Mountain
Center here in Bishop, and later got together with Chris Kulpyet
another very familiar name and face!for some ice climbing in the
area. He also served as an instructor for an AMGA Ski Guides Course
in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada.
skiing into the Argentière Glacier
Skiing & Banff Waterfalls
Mark and Kathy took off together for France and Switzerland almost
the moment Kathy touched down from New Zealand, in fact she didn't go
home from LA. We joined Sierra Mountain Guides colleagues Chris Fellows
and John Cleary for some spectacular skiing. We did a Chamonix
Ski Week and another week in La Grave with a group of skiers from Chris'
company, the North American Ski Training Center.
From there it was back to the home continent and straight to CanadaKathy
still getting no nearer home than LA!where we both climbed ice
for about a week. Joining us were more old friends: Jean-Claude Latombe
from Stanford, CA; Mike Rhodes of Amherst, MA; Tim O'Brien
from Redmond, WA, and again Chris Kulp. Among other ascents Chris
and Mark had a great day climbing Polar Circus, a long Canadian classic.
Joshua Tree & Guide Training
We parted ways for a couple of weeks in April, Kathy going off to Joshua
Tree to teach a womens rock climbing seminar with Marian Marbury
of Adventures in Good Company, getting in 3 days at home, the first
since mid January! Mark meanwhile was helping Mountain Madness of Seattle,
WA with their annual guides training seminars, on his way back
to Bishop from Canada.
to Zermatt Haute Route
Later in April we was off to the Alps again for some more great ski
mountaineering and off piste skiing. Joining us were Stefan Saldanha
of Amsterdam, Holland; and Terry and Jonathan Hurt of Truckee,
CA. Stormy weather early in the trip forced us to short cut the avalanche
prone terrain at the start of the Haute Route, joining it at the Dix
Hut near Arolla. After a couple more blizzard-like days we were able
to push on and complete the rest of this incredible route under sunny
skies and in untracked powder. Because we shortcut the start we had
a few extra days to play with and used them to good advantage, first
skiing the Schwarztora great one day outing from Zermattthen,
a ski ascent of Monte Rosa, and, finally, continuing over the Adlerpass
with a fantastic 6600 foot run down to Saas Fee.
Then once again home to Bishop, for a whole week this time! Kathy was
joined by Hooker Hildreth and brother Tom for a springtime
ascent of Mt. Whitney, before both Mark and she headed off to climb
Illampu in the Cordillera Real of Bolivia with Dick Dietz of
Greeley, CO; and Leigh McGuigan of Columbus, OH. Some of you
may recognize Leighs name as Kathys partner in Mountainwoman.com.
News on this front too by the way; Mountainwoman has partnered with
Mountain Gear, which allows us to offer a wider and more reliable selection
of technical gear while keeping our focus on advice, content, information,
and networking among outdoorswomen.
We started out on nearby Pico Schulze for acclimatization and good
fun. This turned out to be a technical, varied and interesting climb
in its own right with both steep snow and ice slopes and moderate 5th
class rock climbing on an exposed ridge crest. The climb of Illampu
a couple of days later turned out to be technically easier but in other
ways a real bear: a very long day starting with about 8 pitches of 40
to 45 degree neve, weathered by the sun to an interesting, "stepped"
texture which made it seem both less exposed and less steep than it
actually was. Fun climbing. This led to the crest of the SW ridge, which
we more or less followed to the summit, spiraling around to the south
and east from time to time. There was some exhausting, deep soft snow
under an aggravating breakable crust, interspersed with a couple of
quite strenuous steep slopes of loose, granular packing peanuts. The
descent also proved to be a bit tricky, as we anticipated, due to the
necessity of descending the nearly due east-facing ice pitches at the
bottom, in the heat of the early afternoon. We had been able to scout
a line that seemed relatively safe from rocks melting out of the ice
along the edges of rock features, but it was still the occasional stone
whizzing by on either side as we rappelled into the fog near the bottom
of this slope, definitely unnerving, that. We puzzled over how to reduce
this hazard, and concluded that a fixed rope or two on the lowest pitches
would make everything go a lot faster and safer.
More Bolivia and a Huascarán
Kathy stayed on in Bolivia to guide a Huayna Potosí and Illimani
trip for Mountain Madness. She had a great time working along with their
guide Cecelia Mortenson. Mark meanwhile headed off to Peru, also
working for Mountain Madness, to climb Pisco and Huascarán working
with two other MM guides. They had a successful climb, but found the
icefall zone approaching the high camp to be rather more active than
usualsee the "Huascarán" page on our website
for current conditions. Climbers attempting Huascarán must be
able to move quickly through this section. Being thoroughly acclimated,
and a small, fast team is especially important here.
Summer in the Alps
A few short days at home, and it was once more off to the Alps for
another summer there. Kathy began the season once again with Debbie
Richman, who came for a well deserved break from a new job in Chicago.
They didn't have the luck of last year with the weather, in fact Debbie
had the misfortune of hitting the Alps along with the worst storm of
the season. It lasted a full 10 days with only a few short breaks, most
of which lasted less than a day. They did manage to be in position to
make several "dashes for it" in each several-hour lull, but
the snowfall was copious, came with high winds creating unstable slopes
up high, and cold temps brought the snow to an unseasonably low elevation,
putting even rock peaks lower down out of condition. This made everything
Very memorable however was their ascent of the Cosmiques Arête
on the Aiguille du Midi. This is a climb we do often, and usually among
crowds of other people enjoying this very scenic, accessible, short
but quite challenging mixed route. This time Kathy and Debbie found
themselves waking up in the Cosmiques hut after a two day blizzard,
to blinding sunshine and calm blue skies, and the whole Vallée
Blanche practically deserted and wintry looking. Almost as an afterthought,
and with little confidence at first that they would get very far, they
started up the ridge, breaking trail sometimes waist deep in steep new
snow. The effort of breaking trail was made up for by the rare solitude
and the unusual sense of wild remoteness and adventure. It was a beautiful
and memorable day, one of those unexpected gifts from the mountains.
on the Lagginhorn South Ridge, Switzerland
George Lefont of Atlanta then joined Kathy for a "Spaghetti
Tour" of the Breithorn, Castor, and Monte Rosa group. More cold
wind and mixed weather, but also much enjoyable climbing in spectacular
Kathy then met friend and colleague Ramsay Thomas, for 5 days
climbing in the Mont Blanc massif with a group of 4 buddies: Jim
Morriss from Austin, Texas; Mark Schmittle from Pennsylvania;
Stephen Fink from Dallas; Jerry Krause from Minneapolis.
After acclimatizing on a peak or two they climbed Mont Blanc via the
traverse, then headed over to Zermatt where the group was joined by
Mark and another guide from Switzerland, Freddy Grossniklaus,
for a successful "mass assault" on the Matterhorn. We had
great weather and great luck, with everyone making the summit and equally
importantly, catching the last lift into town in time for a beer!
of Les Courtes, Mont Blanc Massif, France
Mark climbed in the Grindelwald and Chamonix areas with Ken Duncan
of Palo Alto, CA (in the same sloppy week in July as Debbie enjoyed!)
and then had another fun-fest with Chris Kulp, continuing his
fine alpine tradition. Their travels took them to some new heights;
the Lagginhorn, Dri Horlini and Weissmies near Saas Fee; Piz BerninaMark
says its the best AD route he has ever done!and Piz Palu way down
in the south of Switzerland near St. Moritz; back to Chamonix for the
North Buttress of the Chardonnet and a traverse of the Courtes; as well
as a couple of amusingly unsuccessful attempts on the fast-becoming-redoubtable
"Petite Aiguille Verte". Formerly considered a short and moderate
climb, doable even in bad or snowy condition shortly after storms, this
peak can still show a fearsome aspect, repulsing the advances of our
"dynamic duo" twice this year. There was lightning, there
was fog, there was drama, there were lost climbers to rescue. The moral
of this story is, never underestimate the mountains, even small ones
near a lift!
Emery Dameron from San Francisco also joined Mark for the Traverse
of Mont Blanc, the Midi - Plan traverse, the Matterhorn, and some great
rock climbing on the South Face of the Aiguille du Midi and in the Aiguille
Rouge. They had fantastic weather for this week of fun.
Kathy had more sorry luck with the weather when she headed over to
Grindelwald to meet Jennifer Rood for the Mittellegi ridge on
the Eiger, timing it perfectly for a very large wet storm with lightning
storms, the first nasty weather for some time. They managed instead
to climb the Monch the day before the storm arrived. Jennifer later
got the climb done with a Swiss guide, as Kathy had to leave to meet
someone else, so the Mittellegi continues to elude Kathy. Grudge match
Mark Morgan of Tennessee and Larry Santoro of Connecticut
then teamed up with Kathy and Mark in early September for another attempt
on the Matterhorn late in August with . We almost made it in under the
wire, but the winter was already shutting down, and we were all turned
around well up on the peak in a very cold storm. This snowfall pretty
much ended the season for the Matterhorn, as it stayed cold and snowy
through the first half of September.
Despite the impression North Americans commonly have of uncertainties
and risks involved in traveling to Africa, of which undoubtedly there
are plenty, both of Kathys experiences there have been overwhelmingly
positive. Organizing the trip ahead of time in order to spend a minimum
of time in the cities helps, as does spending the money to hire a reputable
and reliable agency for local travel and logistics.
Since returning home in October, Kathy and Mark have been guiding near
home and doing the usual autumn guides meetings and family visits. Steve
Eggert of Sacramento CA came over for some introductory instruction
and climbing on North Peak and Crystal Crag, and Hooker Hildreth
was back along with Brett Lambert from Washington, DC for a long
weekend. We were hoping for the V-Notch Couloir in the Palisades, but
a monster autumn storm forced us to settle for a good day on North Peak
as the seasons "door" slammed shut behind us as we walked
hurriedly back to the car, pushed along by the new blowing snow. Brett
and Hooker then retreated to sunnier rock climbing elsewhere.
Now were catching our breath for another year that looks pretty
similar to the last, with a few notable exceptions.
Marks continuing education: Mark is planning on spending 4 months
in France this winter and early spring, taking an intensive course in
French and living in Chamonix. Hell have plenty of time for skiing
when hes done with his homework! He plans to play hooky for a few
days before and after their week-long "break", in order to do
a little bit of guiding, but for the most part he will be busy with this
until early May.
Kathy will return to Ouray, Colorado for this event, working for San
Juan Mountain Guides.
Kathy returns with Andy Latham this year. They hope to climb Mt. Aspiring,
if the weather is more cooperative than it was last year.
Kathy will be working again with Marian Marbury of Adventures in Good
Company, for the Womens week of rock climbing in Joshua Tree, California.
Mark will also be returning to Banff with Chris Kulp for more waterfall
Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route: Kathy will join Mark in France where
they will repeat this classic hut to hut ski tour, April 4 to 11. We have
4 skiers lined up, so there is still room on this trip. Kathy will be
staying on in the Alps to keep Mark company for a few weeks, and so she
will be available for guiding ski tours there until mid May.
We are both going to be back in Peru this year, and we already have our
Alpamayo trip full with four climbers. Kathy will stay on with two of
them to climb Huascarán or Chopicalqui, while Mark has some special
Alaska plans with Chris Kulp. Kathy will also help lead an introductory
alpine course in the Ishinca group of the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, again
with Marian Marbury of Adventures in Good Company. If you want to sign
up for any of these womens programs, please visit her website at
In July and August we will return to the Alps. We still have time available
for guiding there, but its a shorter season than usual, so if you
are thinking you would like to join us there (we hope so!), then you should
contact us soon to get the dates that are best for you.
Our big new plan for this coming year is another foray into 8000 meter
territory. We have a trip already booked for the fall of this year, leaving
the States on August 31, and returning home October 14. Actually only
Kathy will return home, as Chris Kulp will again join Mark there in Nepal
for some more fun on another peak or two. Kathy can be available for guiding
here in the Sierra in October.