Ueli Steck – My Hero

May 29th, 2011

I wanted to share with you guys some amazing climbing as done by Ueli Steck. I first heard of him from the movie “The Swiss Machine”, which we saw at the Best of Banff Mountain Film Festival when it made its stop in Calgary. I will not talk much about that but give you two clips to watch that show a part of that movie. Make sure to go full screen, set it to the highest quality, and enjoy the climbing along with the amazing cinematography:

Part 1:

Part 2:

While finding these clips online I found myself watching his climb over and over again, totally mesmerized. Crazy what this guy can do.

So now, why is he my hero? I don’t plan on doing anything like the above, don’t worry. What is inspiring is his most recent climbing attempt, where he was trying to climb 3 8000m mountains in one season, all alpine style, all without oxygen. There is no movie about this (yet, as far as I know), but he had some pretty great write-ups about it. I might talk a bit more about it in another entry, but if you wanted to read his first-hand account, you can find the entry on Shishapangma here, about Cho Oyu here, and Everest here. If you read just one, I think the Shishapangma one is the best. Crazy dude!

Update: Just found a couple more movies that show his preparation for climbing these 8000ers, find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

17 May 2010 – What did I do at the Summit?

May 17th, 2011

Today is the one year anniversary of me standing on the top of the world, and I thought I would share with you what I did during my time on the summit. When I read things like “First Tweet Sent From Top of Mount Everest” and people’s reactions, or what they think they would do at the summit, it makes me think back to when I was up there.

First Picture from Summit

So here goes. I think we got up to just below the summit at around 7:40 am. First thing I did was take off my backpack, kneel down, take a breath. Then I start thinking, OK, what did I want to do up here again?

One of the first things I did was take out my cell phone, which I had been keeping warm in a pocket close to my body. I turned on my Nokia E51 hoping to get a signal so that I could send a text message home. I had had limited success sending texts from Base Camp thanks to the new tower close by, and I hoped either that or the Chinese tower that was supposed to be nearby could give me a connection. I started typing the message, but I got a little cold in my fingers, and seeing that the phone wasn’t catching a signal I put it away.

One of the next things I did was check my watch for the absolute barometric pressure. People always say “the pressure on the top of mount Everest is 1/3 of sea level”, and I just wanted to see if that was true, and how close to 1/3 it was! Anyways, I checked, but didn’t write the number down, and the way altitude works is you easily forget. So I didn’t write down the exact number, but later wrote it down as what I remembered it to be approximately, and it was indeed right at the 335 hPa mark.

Next I took out my camera and checked to see if it was working. Unfortunately the battery was dead (due to the extreme cold), but I had one (or maybe even two?) spare batteries nice and warm in the same pocket I kept my phone (it was a crowded pocket). I popped that in and it worked! Pictures started to be taken at 7:45 am.

One of the things I did, it probably wasn’t next but sometime earlier, was disconnect my oxygen mask from the bottle. That way I could move around without needing my backpack on my bag. I had promised myself I wouldn’t do this after seeing the effect it had on me on the summit of Cho Oyu, but at this altitude it’s difficult to think logically. I guess I wanted to not carry my backpack, or maybe Lhakpa, my Sherpa, encouraged me to leave my pack on the ground. Whatever the reason, I disconnected it, but left my mask on my face (to keep it warm and prevent freezing of inlet and outlet ports).

Next comes all the picture taking. I took some pictures, first in the direction that the sun was shining on, then in the direction we came from, and kinda all around. Then I gave the camera to Lhakpa and he took some pictures of me holding the World Vision flag. This was all with me sitting just below the summit, and only at about 8:00 am I have pictures of myself on the actual peak. (Remember, Everest summit doesn’t count unless you get to that very point!)

Last Picture from Summit

We kept taking pictures and videos, swapping cameras, and the pictures stop at about 8:15 am. That’s when it seemed like there was nothing else left to do, or more accurately, I felt like I should get the hell out of there because it was impossible to knock the thought out of my mind that we still had a long way to go down; we started packing up. I took my second pair of goggles out of my bag so that I would have an unfogged set. I put everything in my bag, put a little bandanna around my face to cover the sun burn (I would later have to stop and have Lhakpa help me cut a hole in that bandanna with my ice axe so that I could breathe the oxygen more freely). When we were about to set off I remembered it would be cool to have a 360 degree panorama from the summit, so I filmed that, and kept my camera on me so that I could take pictures as we were going down. That last video was taken at about 8:33 am. So, I guess we spent just over 45 minutes on the summit.

That’s about it! Seems like a lot to write for a pretty uneventful stay on the top of the world. I didn’t quite get into what my thoughts were but that was all just altitude induced stupidity and not much else.

Best of luck to all the people heading up the mountain this year. Take care!

Everest 2011: Summits and Deaths

May 9th, 2011

Just a quick update on the things happening on Everest this year. May 6 saw the first Sherpa team reach the summit from the south (Nepal) side, fixing ropes to the summit as they went. This now opens the doors for any and all teams to follow and try reaching the summit when the next weather windows come.

Also, there have been two deaths already reported on Everest this year, both on the south side. One of them was an American, and you can see a story on him here. When I read a story like that it definitely brings things into perspective again of what can happen out there, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the family.

Anyways, now is a time to be staying on top of Everest action, as more and more teams plan for the summit, and more news should be hitting the streets as people do and don’t make it. For some of the latest news keep an eye on http://everestnews.com/, they usually have the latest.

Hope everyone is enjoying their May so far! For those coming to my presentation at the CPL this Saturday, see you there! That will be three days away from my one-year Everest summit anniversary.

Take care!

Presentation at Calgary Public Library

April 17th, 2011

I wanted to let those people know that have been wanting to see my presentation that the details are now out for my May 14 presentation. It will be part of the Calgary Public Library’s Summer Program. I think they have just released this program, and if you can’t get your hands on a hard copy, you can find it online here: Link to CPL Programs.

To see info on my presentation specifically, just type ‘Everest’ into the ‘Keywords’ field, and click ‘Search’. Looking at the online link, it mentions registration will start April 18. Not sure what that’s all about, but if you’re interested in coming make sure you stay on top of that. Otherwise, see you there!

Everest Presentation at CPL

Everest, day by day

April 13th, 2011

I have started a little project to try and share all those Everest experiences and emotions that I went through while on the mountain last year. I have been posting Twitter updates on a daily basis, kind of pretending that I am on the mountain now, every day posting (with a one year delay) what happened or what I was going through that day. April and May are the months that I was there, so doing it exactly one year later seemed fitting! Anyways, if you want to follow along you can follow me on Twitter, or if you’re like most normal people and not on Twitter, just check out this link once in a while and my updates should be there. I will also be posting photos that go along with the day’s events, many of them previously un-published. Any comments feel free to post here. All the best to everyone in the Spring to come!

Photos on Twitter

Pumping Oxygen Up Everest

April 8th, 2011

Man, how did I miss this? Aparently there’s a Canadian company that is about to make summiting Everest a whole lot easier, and safer too! Looks like they’ll be doing a pilot project this year, seems like I just missed it! Here’s the scoop:

Summit Air: New system for breathing oxygen high on Mount Everest

Note: see the date the article was published.

Photo Stitcher and Unite Hope Project

March 26th, 2011

Thought I would share a tool with you guys that I found for stitching photos together. I personally love to take a whole bunch of photos with the hope of later stitching them into a panorama. I think a lot of people that visit the great outdoors do the same thing, as it’s impossible to fit all of nature’s beauty into one picture frame. Though no panorama can ever do the original justice, we try!

The various stitching tools I have used in the past have been hit and miss. One I found just recently, called Hugin (link), which also happens to be absolutely free, seems to work the best for me. See an example below of something I threw together while experimenting with the program. I just left almost everything default, though later on I will dig more into the options as it seems like quite a powerful tool.

Panorama from Kalapathar

This picture is a view of Everest (the black pyramid that does not look like the tallest of the bunch) and the surrounding mountains (Nuptse is the one in the foreground that looks the tallest, hiding behind it is Lhotse), as seen from Kalapathar; most people that hike into base camp make this one of their objectives. As you can see, there is an angel standing there, watching over all that happens on the big mountain. I am sure the safety of a lot of people, including myself, can be attributed to this guardian that watched over us all. It was placed there by the UniteHopeProject, which placed them in various locations around the world.

Anyways, if you’re like me and have a bunch of photos from many trips that need stitching, try this program out! (I know the latest Sony cameras can create stitches just by panning, but I’ve heard mixed results with that. And this is for all those stitch pictures that you’ve already taken with old cameras!) Specifically what I found it did a good job in was correcting the vignetting on my individual photos that my lens always makes when zoomed out.

So there you go, give it a try, enjoy, and give me feedback if you have any comments or tricks with using it! I’ll also be posting more panoramas as I get them made, so stay tuned!

Save the Date

March 11th, 2011

For those that have wanted to see my presentation, but have not been able to make it to one, now is your chance to plan ahead a little. I will be doing a slideshow and talk about my Everest climb on Saturday, 14 May, 2011, in Downtown Calgary. Further details will be revealed later, but that should be enough to allow anyone to plan that wants to.

A little bit about my presentation. And why I do it. The reason I do it is because people ask me to, and when I’m done the feedback is usually quite positive. And I like to give the presentation because I can walk people through the entire journey, from start to finish, and I know I have their attention all along. And I think that way people appreciate it more for what it is, an entire journey, an expedition, an experience of personal development, so much more than just a mountain climb.

Wik's Presentation

Based on the feedback I’ve gotten, most (normal) people enjoy it, some get something out of it. I’m sure there are some that don’t think much of it, but I guess I’ve never heard their feedback. Some feedback I’ve gotten: “Okay, now I understand why you climbed Everest, it makes more sense knowing what you went through”, “That was an emotional presentation”, “You’re crazy, your parents must have been so worried while you were gone!”

And all that is a reason why I have been hesitant in writing down all my stories in this blog. When talking to people casually, socially, answering their specific questions, I tell just one small part of the story (to be honest even in my 45 minute monologue I only tell a small part of the WHOLE story). If you just take any small part of it, it’s almost nothing extraordinary. Out of context. Same would be on this blog. It would be quasi-Everest. It would be the margarine of Everest. It would be the Diet Coke of Everest. Just one calorie, not Everest enough. :)

So the presentation seems the best way to pass it along. The invitation is there. And to be honest, when I show my pictures and tell my story, I feel like I’m just showing slides from my last vacation to [insert comfortable beach destination], sharing my experiences with those that care to hear. And who doesn’t like to talk about their travels? I guess the only difference is the choice of vacation spots.

How to Train for Mount Everest

March 6th, 2011

As the next batch of adventurers get ready for their own attempts at Mt. Everest, I find myself asking them how they train for “the big E” (as some people call it). When I was preparing and training I did all the research I could, asked all the people that might know, so that I would be as prepared as possible. Looking back on it almost one year later I thought I would list the things that I thought helped me the most, and in general they can be applied to other circumstances also. In order if decreasing importance they are:

1. Listen to people that have done it before.

The fact is Everest has been climbed by thousands of people. Chances are if you are at all entertaining the idea of climbing Everest you’ve met someone who has done it. Hopefully you’ve climbed with them. Ask them all they know and take it seriously. I attribute a lot of my success to picking the brains of Ryan Waters at Mountain Professionals, who I climbed Aconcagua with, and Arnold Coster, who I climbed Cho Oyu with.

Squats

2. Climb an 8000m mountain before attempting Everest

One of the things I learned from point (1) above is this point. The company I climbed Aconcagua with stated that climbing Aconcagua was enough to qualify for Everest. However I was convinced by others it would be better to climb Cho Oyu first, and I’m glad I did. Aconcagua to Cho Oyu was a step up, a predictable one to be honest. And Cho Oyu to Everest was of course a step up also, but more that I thought it would be.

I have since developed my own reason for recommending that people climb Cho Oyu first. The straight fact is that nobody knows how their body will react to elevations of 8000m. And to put it bluntly, it’s much easier for others to drag your unconscious or otherwise disabled body from or near the summit of Cho Oyu than from most points on Everest. So as you learn how your body reacts to 8000m, do it in a place that has more room for ‘self discovery’ than Everest.

Another, less important reason, is to prepare one’s mind to long expeditions. Going from a three-week expedition like Aconcagua or Denali to an eight-week Everest expedition is a big jump. Most people that don’t summit Everest are not turned back by bad weather or from being too tired or not having enough technical experience. They choose to go home early because they don’t know how miserable an Everest expedition is, how taxing on the mind and body, how much they’ll miss their families (keep all family contact to a minimum when on the expedition to help with this point).

I have met a bunch of people, from marathon runners in tremendous shape to true Alpiniste mountaineers who make first ascents in the Alps and Andes, decide to go home early. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I also wanted to go home early at various points. But there is a way to be prepared for it.

Climbing Stairs with Pack

3. Train Mentally

I could write a lot about this but I think it has been said better by Ice and Mixed Climber extraordinaire, fellow Canadian Will Gadd on his own blog Gravsports. An excerpt is below:

Nobody wants to think about mental fitness. It’s a lot easier to keep track of physical improvement than mental improvement. To become stronger mentally you have to look inside yourself and realize that, even if you can do a one-arm pullup with an engine block in the other hand, the ultimate limiting factor is your head. And most people are simply too weak mentally to actually get stronger mentally. For many people the area between their ears is completely dark, off-limits and filled with soul-twisting demons that just can’t be faced much less slain. But, unless you know how to hit your ideal mental performance state, all your training is quite literally a waste…

How did I train mentally? By climbing Cho Oyu first (see point above). By going (several years in a row) on a ski trip with friends, which involved a profane amount of drinking all night, followed by extreme hangover pain the next morning, but going skiing anyways when I felt like dying, feeling that nauseating sting of yesterday’s alcohol still in my system course through my veins as my heart rate climbed as we skied. By following a strict diet in my training, eating things that were good for me but rarely good tasting, often the same thing day after day.

(Just to elaborate on a couple of those points above, my training specifically for Everest involved a strict diet and no alcohol at all, with the exception of that New Year’s ski trip I mention above. I jokingly called it part of my mental training as I took those few days off, but there was a lot of truth to it. Also, the discipline I learned from my diet of eating the same thing day in and day out helped me to eat whatever was available on Everest, to wolf down that tasteless bowl of Dal Bhat in Camp 2 and ask for another as I watched my companions play with their first serving even though I was sick of eating it as much as they were. I lost 25 pounds on Everest so eating all you can plays a big role.)

Ice Climbing

4. Everything Else

After those three points above comes the thing that most people focus on, the physical training, technical climbing ability, mountain experience, etc. I think they are still quite important, but there are enough other people that have written about them that I will defer to them. I say quite often, you have to come to Everest prepared physically. But once you show up physically trained, climbing the mountain is 90% mental.

That’s all for this post, I think it came out a little longer than expected. But I cannot finish before saying that this is just my experience and opinion. Your mileage may vary. Because honestly, what do I know; I have only summited Everest once, and I consider myself lucky to have done that. So chances are I might have no idea what I’m talking about.

Back on the Blog

February 14th, 2011

Hello all, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything, and even longer since I’ve written anything meaningful. Now that my life has come into some sort of order post Everest I think it’s a good time to start putting thoughts on [digital] paper.

I have been thinking about this blog and my life and I asked myself what topics this blog should cover. I am definitely into climbing, but I am also into many other things, trying to fill my life and be useful wherever I can. So for now I think I will stick to the climbing theme, but don’t be surprised if once in a while I post on things completely on a different topic. FYI, other topics I am into: charity work, photography, computers, energy industry. Maybe when I post on these other topics I will try to tie them into the climbing / outdoor theme.

Mountains Around Namche

It is now February 2011; people that are going to attempt Everest this year are in their final weeks of preparation. I personally know three people that are heading there this year, and I’ve exchanged emails with another few. It’s an exciting time for them, and I know what it’s like to be nearing such a big adventurous expedition. In fact, I find myself being a little envious of the big journey they are about to embark on; I find myself thinking that I would also like to be a part of an experience like that again.

This makes me remember a little conversation I had at the Calgary Airport with Calgarian and Everest Summiteer Andrew Brash. It was the day I was leaving for my Everest trip, we were on the same flight to Vancouver. When I told him I was heading to Kathmandu to start my Everest journey, he said how nice it would be to go and do the same, head back to Everest and go climb there. I thought little of it at the time, but later on as I hated my life in Everest Basecamp, I wrote a blog post where I wondered about people like that:

We all discuss and wonder about those people that climb this mountain more than once, or those that hear about us going and say “Oh wow, I’m envious, you’ll have such a good time, I wish I was back on Everest!” Maybe it’s the fact that after a period of time all the hardships selectively leave our memory, and only the good memories remain. Well let me go on record while I still go through all the bad things and say those people can go knock themselves out and have this mountain when we’re done with it. There’s not much fun to be had in climbing Everest.

(link to full entry)

Well, isn’t it funny, what goes around comes around. I am now one of those crazy people that, knowing how much pain and suffering is involved in climbing Everest, I find myself missing it (or certain parts of it).

For those interested in following along with the latest Everest climbers, here are some links:

http://www.everestnews.com/ News items are posted along the right side of the main white column. Everest and associated climbing news.

http://www.weclimbforkids.com/ Two fellow climbers I met on Cho Oyu that have established their own charity to raise money for Greg Motenson’s Central Asia Institute with their Everest climb. Best of Luck Patch and Eric!

http://sethwolpin.blogspot.com/ Seth Wolpin from Seatlle, Washington area.

http://www.borgerpeakandpond.com/ Bill Borger from Calgary, who swam the English Channel in 2000, is attempting to climb Everest while raising money for Calgary Handibus.

http://gavinvickers.com/ Gavin Vickers, fellow climber from Cho Oyu, is not actually planning to go up Everest (he’s already done that), but is leading an expedition up Lhotse, which shares the same route as Everest from Nepal up to Camp 4, where it splits off.