Archive for the Jake Category

Expedition Log

Posted in Jake on August 4, 2011 by charakusa 2011

June 24th

We made the first carry up to the base of Nafis’ Cap. I had a feeling of incredible awe and gratitude when I popped out through the first few fins and cracks at the base of the glacier and had the first unobstructed view of the tower. I sat there a while and looked at it. Willy came up. He looked. There is something sublime about first coming into view of a goal held for so long. The size impressed us. The scale of the work ahead of us impressed us too.

Nafis' Cap - the route we attempted is on the left hand skyline of the prominent pillar that drops from the summit

June 26th

moving gear around... when do we get to climb?

Willy and I carried some more loads up to the base of Nafis. Ben and Josh were feeling much more fit so they took a large portion of the rack and a couple of ropes ande went up to tackle the first few pitches of the route; see what’s in store for us. It took them five hours to get up through the icefall to the start of the climbing. We hoped we could cut that time down as time went on…. we cut the time down, but the approach never got funner. They got a pitch up before ice started falling from above – golf balls, footballs. They hung the rope and went down. The pitch they climbed was the first pitch of an uncompleted German line. In the end, we decided on a route that went farther to the left.

Meanwhile….. Willy and I made like donkeys and carried a bunch of garbellion up to the gear dump we’d made two days before. We dropped our loads there and went up to explore a route through the icefall.

in the icefall

The partial route that we found was somewhat direct, and kind of steep. In one spot we fixed a rope to aide the huffing and puffing. We found a good staging area mid-way up and made two carries to there. Hopefully we’d return for our stuff before a serac fell on it.

As we were on our way down we encountered Ben and Josh, who’d found a good route through to the base of the wall. We all walked back to camp together.

June 27th

By this time our heads weren’t feeling so headachy and our appetites were getting pretty healthy. And we’d had several good days of activity so we decided to take a rest day. Read: eating day.

working out a topo

We had two goats between our expedition and Matt McCormick’s crew, so Zahid, Fita and Abas butchered up some fresh meat. Josh and Ben worked on drawing up a topo which we would never use in the end; Willy helped Zahid cut up meat. We talked itinerary for the wall. Strategized. Made a list of food to carry up. Decided what more gear we’d need up there. Talked about how we’d dispose of human waste. Ate rice and Goat Boy curry for dinner.

This is about when the weather began to really deteriorate. The clear blue skies we’d had while we hiked in and carried loads went the way of all flesh. We were packed and ready to go with the last carry up to Nafis, but we waited a few days before departing:

July 1st

I woke up 4:45 and 5:00 but I didn’t crawl out of my sleeping bag. Little droplets of the past night’s rain were frozen in place on the fabric of my tent. It was overcast but the clouds were at least high. K6, Kapura, Badal, Beatrice – all covered in a robe of white. Vanilla ice. Bling. Gangster rappers dressed up for the Grammys. They emanated austerity. Cold. Unwelcoming. Beautiful. I sat up in the doorway of my tent and looked out to behold the country. Tent zippers ripped the still air to my left and a second later Ben and Willy walked over. We had a truncated conversation about the weather. The upshot was to wait a while and see what the weather did – see if the walls would have a chance to shed some of their white coating. That didn’t turn out to be the case.

July 2nd

I'm a little butterfly...

We decided to hike up to Nafis’ Cap for Good. The hike up was much the same except with lighter packs. It started snowing about the time we arrived at the base. Figures. We stood straining our eyes up into the snowflakes. We talked about switching to a different crack system to the left of the German line we had had in mind. We settled on a beautiful curving corner system that carried the whole height of the wall. To look up at it is stunning.

For a while, we dickered around in the snow. There wasn’t much water to be had. Ben chopped two stills out of the icicles in the bergschrund and set the jetboil pots under the drips. Clearly we would have to come up with something better.

Josh went up the rope they’d fixed the other day to clean in and I busied myself with hauling up the portaledges and tents. The German team had placed a few bolts at the base of the rock, just above the bergschrund in a spot that made a decent ledge camp, but was a little exposed to ice falling from above. We hung our ledges from those bolts. I was hauling off of one of the bolts that were there, just to pull our gear across the ‘schrund and up the easy snow pitch to the rock.

the bergschrund at the base of our route. a good place to drop some things, but not your tent.

The ‘schrund itself was about 10 meters wide at the spot where the load ledges and tents flopped across and banged into the lip on the uphill side. I hauled away and they dug into the overhung lip and the rope cut it’s way into the snow and Josh and I simul hauled for all we were worth (dumb) and the rope cut still deeper and the load beneath the lip dug and crushed itself into the snow until one of the tents ripped free and dropped into the silent blue-black bergschrund and disappeared into the abyss.


There were a few minutes where we were all kind of quiet. So much for forcing things. Ben climbed down in there after the runaway tent, as Josh and I carefully finished bringing up the ledges and began to set them up. Every now and then we’d get an update from below: “I can’t see ’em” “There’s two different channels where it could have fallen into” “Ah, I see it” “I can’t reach it” etc. Willy belayed him from above. I fooled around with a ledge, applying my sluggish mind to untangling the mess of poles and straps which are a dismantled portaledge. The snow never stopped falling. Ben eventually did fish the tent out of the crack, and we were all psyched. He didn’t have any kind of a sense of humor about it though. I know because I asked him if he was ready to go down there after a ledge. He didn’t laugh.

I don’t think it’s been mentioned yet that we found out when we arrived in base camp that the flies we’d brought didn’t fit the new model BD ledges. Due to the confusing nature of how we all arrived in Pakistan, Ben had been sent the flies and Josh the ledges, and they’d never been set up together. So when we hung one from a boulder on our first day in base camp we found out the good news: THEY’RE NOT COMPATIBLE!! Luckily the little tents that Rab had send us were. So that’s what we used.

Josh and Ben teamed up in one ledge and Willy and I took the other – unintentionally spooning. We had a jetboil for both ledges so the setup was that J + B would fix food, W + J fixed drinks and we passed back and forth – snow sifting inside as we did so.

Hmmm...feels a little cramped in here.

Another anecdote: when you want to set a tent up on a portaledge, you have to remove the outside middle suspension strap. Take it out of the equation. If any of you hardcore wall dudes are reading this you’re probably thinking “Well…yeah. Duh.”. But somehow this wasn’t super intuitive to us as first, and we spent the first night or two dealing with a sagging dilapidation of nylon and twisted poles. We were up around 5000m at that point. This of course was the highest we’d slept and we all had splitting headaches. So between the the headache, and the wet sagging body of the tent hanging in my face and being crammed up next to willy with his legs on top of me and vice versa… I didn’t sleep much and I’m sure none of the others did either. Not allocating a piss bottle for the 2am call was a sad oversight as well. All night I listened to Willy fight for air – 3 or 5 shallow breaths then a tremendous gasping, like Chain-Stokes Syndrome.

Naysa Brakk

Posted in Jake on August 1, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Naysa Brakk - the north ridge is the right hand skyline

Naysa Brakk means arrowhead tower. It’s a fitting name because that’s what the peak appears like. Or a pyramid; a symmetrical, three-dimensional triangle. Willy and I climbed the north ridge on the 25thof June. We left camp at first light, just after 4am. It took us 4 ½ hours to huff and puff our way up the gully to the notch where the route starts.

Willy making his way up to the base of Naysa Brakk

We wasted about an hour when Willy took my suggestion to find a detour around a spot where the gully bottlenecked and steepened to form a small waterfall. I had climbed up it; icy water running down my sleeves and soaking my pants took my breath away. I tried to climb quick as I could but it was trickier than it seemed from below. There was ice on the rocks and everything was slippery. I got to the

top and yelled down to willy to go around. But he couldn’t hear me too well and I was too winded to holler down any details. When he yelled back up to ask: “WHAAAT???” I just made some vaugh circular gesture with my arm and went to find a place to sit for a second. Willy disappeared…. for a while. He had angled to climbers’ right, up a low angled corner. But he got dead ended by a muddy chimney. I waited for some minutes – 20 maybe. Then I started to yell to figure where he’d gotten to. When I finally heard him reply, I realized he was in the next gully system over, and I climbed up to the top of the arrete that separated us. He was down there drying to creep his way up a sandy slab that would take him around and above the chimney that stood in his way. I was carrying the tag line, and eventually I threw that down to him and gave him a hip belay up to me. That little adventure probably cost us an hour.

Jake seconding the first pitch

We started climbing around 9am. A sharper ridge I’ve never seen. There were one or two face traverses that were exciting since the gear was a little tricky. Maybe the hardest moves were 5.10a – that’s what the Alpine Journal calls it. But there wasn’t much of that. Most of the route is really cool ridge climbing. The final 150m or so, on average, are not far off of horizontal. But the crest of the ridge itself is so sharp, that you just hand traverse the ridge with lots of air beneath you on both sides. I heard it compared to Mathers’ Crest, but I haven’t climbed Mathers’ Crest so I wouldn’t know. I just know that if the north ridge of Naysa Brakk were to be in the Alps or the Sierras, there would be a queue on it all summer long.

We were on top around 2pm. Sweet views of K7, K6 and out to Mashabrum II.

Willy coming down the upper ridge

We simul down-climbed the upper section of the ridge, then made 4 or 5 30m rappels and one 70m rappel back to the notch.

It only took us an hour and forty minutes to descend the gully. It wasn’t long before we were back in camp sipping tea. That would be our only Karakorum summit.

The World of Hajji Zahid

Posted in Jake, Uncategorized on August 1, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Hajji Zahid...

The evening we arrived in Hushe, we had dinner with Zahid in the house of his second wife. In the guest room the walls are lined with memorabilia from past expeditions… Peter Croft’s backpack, Jimmy Chin’s headlamp, etc. We sipped chai as we sat on the floor, and he pulled out an old binder that contained all the recommendations of climbers he has worked with. He held it out with obvious pride and we read through them; a had written note from Steph Davis, formal type written letters from famous Japanese climbers, some scraps of paper torn from anything handy with a few lines of praise scribbled on them. Zahid’s logbook.

The house is small. Livestock are kept in the cellar. The front door opens to a small dirt floored courtyard as it were, open to the sky, with a ladder going up to the roof where firewood is kept. Small rooms branch off to the left and right. The guest room floor is covered with blankets, and foam sleeping mats from expeditions. Zahid’s brother is the porter sardar – the boss. He’s in charge of hiring the porters – sending word to people’s houses saying: “you’re strong…. we want you.” He collects their ID cards and brings them to Zahid’s house where we are visiting. Zahid scrutinizes them. Gives his OK.

Zahid has six daughters, one son, two wives. In Pakistan – as he explained to us – the custom is for the daughters to go to the household of the husband’s family, and sons stay with their parents to look after them as they grow older. It is not common for polygamous relationships to exist in Pakistan, but it is acceptable in special cases; the burning cultural need for sons constitutes a special case. Zahid took a lot of pressure from his extended family, after his first wife bore him four daughters. So reluctantly he took a second, who gave him a fifth daughter, then a son, and finally a sixth daughter. His sixth daughter was born with cystic fibrosis. If a child in Chicago has this condition, this is reason enough for sadness. But Hushe is far from Chicago and within the context of life in Hushe, this little girl’s struggle for life is heartbreaking. Zahid poured his heart and soul and energy into finding a way to heal her; to make her stronger. The many trips to visit doctors in Skardu sucked away his savings, made his hair go white, broke his heart. Zahid says that now, in a way, he doesn’t care about his long awaited son, the five other daughters. Only for his one broken child. A climber from Czech Republic, or Poland (I don’t remember) who Zahid worked with on an expedition, arranged for a doctor to travel from Europe to Hushe to examine her. He sent an exercise machine for therapy. It doesn’t help much.

Zahid’s son is first in his class at school. He brought home a small trophy for that. This makes Zahid very proud. His other daughters tend to the cows and Dzos up in the high pastures on the way to the Charakusa Valley. The dry, rocky soil strains itself to support the needs of Hushe, and each year the crops and milk and butter that some households produce are not excessive enough to sell any. It becomes harder to find pasture land to rotate the livestock to and from, and this, interestingly is the second edge of the tourism sword. Because travel to high valleys to climb or trek, and base camps are often located in the same places where people from Hushe have been bringing their livestock for years. It’s impossible for the daughters who traditionally tend the livestock up there, to coexist with expeditions full of foreign men and porters. Once upon a time, Zahid spent months with his mother at Galen Rowell camp on the way in to K7 base camp. The grazing there is good. But no one takes their cows there any more. At the same time, Hushe is inhabited by porters – men who do little or nothing else to make a living. Many of them worry that they and their families would starve if climbers and trekkers cease coming.

In 1992 Zahid traveled to British Columbia to act as an extra for the movie “K2” which was filmed on Mount Waddington. The producers paid for a certain number of Balti porters to be flown over from Pakistan, then made up the difference for their movie porters by hiring a bunch of Native Americans. What North American would know the difference? Now this little episode was a stroke of luck for Zahid because he came in to some cash. So, he went back to Baltistan and took his aging father and mother to Mecca – something very unusual for a Muslim from Hushe to be able to do. They stayed in Mecca for 40 days. Every morning they would arise at 3am and begin to pray. They would pray all day until 9pm at the Mosque, with only a short break at noon for lunch. So Zahid has the title Hajji,and when he speaks of Mecca, it’s with great reverence.

On our way to Hushe

Posted in Jake on July 29, 2011 by charakusa 2011

standing by for visas to be sorted out

Leaving Skardu turned out to be complicated.  Because of a colossal oversight, and falling short of  basic competency and commons sense, the Pakistani Consulate in New York failed to issue them enough time on their visas.  So we found ourselves on the day of our departure to the village of Hushe (I forget, but maybe it was June 19th or 20th) with the Jeep loaded to the gills and sitting there in the parking lot of the Concordia Hotel while our little team sought to deal with our own personal crisis of jumping through the Ministry of Tourism’s unapologetically inconvenient hoops.  Another way to say this is that we – or really Ben and Josh – had a good buggering by the Pakistani Government.  The concerned members will probably be a better source of truth about this little episode; however, I, being little more than an observer and bystander, could afford to see probably a little more humor in the situation than they could.  justifiably so.  This all took place more or less in the lobby of the Concordia Hotel, with little forays to the office of the Deputy Commissioner (I didn’t go, but I’m told he was a regular swine), or to the passport agency, and many many trips to the copier place on the corner to repeatedly make copies of our passports and visas.

the big boys working their contacts

Normally, in the past, visa extensions could be issued in Skardu within 15 minutes by the Deputy Commissioner.  But now, thanks to Raymond Davis and SEAL Team 6, this is no longer the case.  In any case, as I heard it, the Deputy Commissioner said he needed a letter, requesting a letter, requesting permission to extend their visas, which would be sent to Islamabad and dealt with there.  Well.  So, somehow, and this is beyond my comprehension, we had to wait for some form to faxed to us from Islamabad, which Ben and Josh needed to fill out for the Ministry of Tourism (we’ll just call them the MOT).  Well, naturally the ink quality was too poor to read, and it had questions on it like: What’s your Father’s husband name?  Weird.  We didn’t know what to make of it.  So a long journey was made down the road to print out the same form, and we didn’t know why that couldn’t have been done in the first place.  And again, naturally, one copy of the form was printed, and brought back….

“so we’re good to go.  let’s get it filled out”

“we need to go to the copy place.  we need two copies… one for you and one for you”


So like the Keystone Kops, the little entourage moves off to the copy place for the third or fourth time, and again we weren’t sure why there hadn’t been two copies printed out in the first place.


Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.  At last, some sort of complicated deal was worked out where Mr. Sultan Kahn of Nazir Sabir Expeditions would try to get their documents taken care of while we would be in the mountains… but we all needed our passports to get through police checkpoints on the way to Hushe.


At this point, you may well guess that you have not hear the last of this issue.  You would be right to guess that, but we’ll move on for now.

The drive to Hushe is incredible beautiful.  We saved some cash by hiring only one jeep – instead of having one for luggage and one for passengers.  So we four were tangled up in the back of the Land Cruiser atop a pile of food and gear.  Zahid rode in the front, and we could hear trippy eastern music floating out of the cab through the canvas roof.  We suspected they were having fun in there.  Once you get through Kaphlu, the road turns to dirt and gets pretty rough.  But as you head down the road towards Hushe, there sits Mashabrum squared up on the center of the track, and towering over everything in all of it’s rugged

Mashabrum in all it's splendor(!)

spendor.  That makes up for the added discomfort of having your spine smashed over and over on the steel bars that enclose the bed of the jeep, and the occasional low branches that try to rip your eyes from your face (and they will if you’re not paying attention).

There was a bridge out.  One that spanned a turbulent drainage.  Zahid had told us about this; said that we might not be able to get the jeep across and would potentially need to ferry all of our crap about 100 meters to the road on the far side; said that then we’d need to send for a jeep to come Hushe to get us.  One word: pain-in-the-ass.  But, he also said that he’d tell the driver that we would give him a healthy tip if this didn’t have to happen.  It occurred to me, and probably also my compadres, that this little monetary nudge might not be quite the right incentive if the creek turned out to be truly dangerous.  But we decided to wait and see what would happen.

When we pulled up to the near side of the drainage in question, Matt McCormick and company had already arrived.  Our driver got out and joined the drivers of the two other jeeps in the flow to scope it out.  We got out and sort of winced at the look of the water.  The jeep drivers had their pants rolled up to their thighs, and were wading around sticking their arms into the water up to their shoulders to reposition large rocks on the bottom.  There were all kinds of people out there yelling and gesticulating; the water boiled and roared.  twenty or thirty people from a nearby village had come out hoping to make some money helping to ferry gear.  Zahid was standing out there on a rock with his hands on his hips, supervising.  He had this little smirk on his face when he turns to us and says:

“He say he give it a try!”

the Supervisor

“Yeeah…. what if the jeep flips?”

“He say he have good jeep.  He ask to me he try.  He good driver… have big heart!”

How can you argue with that?

We went back to the jeep and pulled our money and passports out.  Just in case.  And he rolled right on through the torrent.  The water was up to the running boards – maybe a little higher – and moving fast.  He had to execute sort of a sharp left hand juke around a boulder, which was more cruxy since it looked like there was a hole there, right at the key spot.  Then at the instant the tires were at the deepest, the hood of the jeep cleared the eddy and took the full force of the water on the far side of the rock.  He lugged the engine a bit, then down shifted and a thick cloud of black smoke puffed out of the exhaust pipe.  He kept right on trucking… made the road on the far side, lit a cigarette, and walked back to spot and shout directions to the two other drivers who came after him.  It was a proud thing to see.

the crossing

We made Hushe that afternoon, maybe around 4:30 or 5:00.  Zahid brought over his son in law, and said that this was the only person who could be trusted to carry out the task of bringing the passports of Ben and Josh back to Skardu so that they could be mailed to Islamabad.  The son in law was bummed because he had been hoping to make a little baksheesh by working as a porter for us.  Se la vie.  Josh dug out his passport and handed it over.  “Good luck”.  And that was that, for now.

Grocery Day in Skardu

Posted in Jake on June 18, 2011 by charakusa 2011

A few anecdotes aside, I’m just gonna sort of mime the last two days of supply shopping adventures with a few photos that will sum up the excitement.


Food Explosion

Funny how you don’t need a full acre or two of aisles upon aisles to contain just enough of what you need.  We bought ninety percent of our food in this little general store that was one 20’x20′ room.  The shelves were like little bottomless pits, and when we got done, our clutter filled the store.

Easing on over to the next shop

The little stands that sell the nuts and dried fruits are the funnest.  ‘Cause you get free samples.  “Now this ap’ercot tastes purty good, but not sure if it’s better than those dates over there.  Better get me a few more of those dates to be sure.”

Test driving some delicious dried apricotts

And how blissfully chaotic to save the fruit market for the end of the day…………….

'Those spuds look a little old..... like..... rotten'

Just three white dudes tryin' to blend in

Haji Zahid - pulling no punches

'Yeah dude... those potatoes are definitely kinda' old'

And base camp fuel…

'ok, so.... wow..... this is a lot of kerosene'

Expedition “Climbing”

Posted in Jake on June 16, 2011 by charakusa 2011

By this point, to some folks who have shown enough faith in this venture to take a look at this blog, maybe the DJ just stopped the disk:  BHBHBHRRRRRP.  Wait a minute.  I though you guys were going climbing.  What gives?  Where is the ACTION?  Huh.  Good question.  The answer to that could be as prosaic as [in the voice of the worst incarnation of a tenured ivy league professor] “Well, often we find in the cosmic outworkings of existence that the reality of our most treasured dreams, becomes tedious and slippery like oil…..”  Ok, you lost me.  We’re talking about climbing.  Or lack thereof.

So, I can’t help but see the humor in expedition climbing.  To illustrate this, I can’t think of a better way than to will borrow a line from one of my heroes, Warren Harding.  (Ethics Police, please stand down!  Calm yourselves…. Harding knew how to call a spade a spade, and he, above all, realized the ultimate folly in this game we play at – scrambling up rocks.  For that, he warrants hero status in my book.)  In his book, Downward Bound: A Mad Guide to Rock Climbing he has this line about climbing being “the hardest way to get absolutely nowhere”.  (If I didn’t quote verbatim, I apologize.)  And, addressing the age-old, beaten dead horse question of ‘why do people climb’, he says in so many words – Mallory was right, but he was too snobby to get to the real truth.  We climb because it’s there, and because we’re mad!!  Harding also was portrayed as Satan.  literally.  So maybe a grain of salt is in order.  But I can’t help but think how appropriate Harding’s rebellious quips are to this thing so many climbers just can’t help themselves with.  This being: choosing to climb something that one must mount an expedition to get to.

Climbing itself becomes such a small part of the whole that in order to not become impatient, frustrated, aggravated, pissy, difficult to be with, causing interpersonal strife amongst the brethren of the climbing team…. the climber must in some way become the processor.  Because, really, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, it’s the process that is so compelling.

The crumbling streets crawled with the rancid offings of humanity.  Smell of smoke.  Burning waste, plastic, diesel, decomposing animal carcasses.  Noises.  Overwhelming, otherworldly.  Horns of trucks, cars, rat-a-rat-a-rat-a-rat-a sound of little Yamaha motorcycles es speeding by.  In all of this, there is an explosion of color, images from ancient times still today very much alive and vital.  A snake charmer sits in the bazar, hypnotizing serpents from a basket as easily as he hypnotized the thick crowd of onlookers to buy his quack medicines.  The heat beats down like a hammer.  On the corner, a small wrinkled man in rags sits on a mat and repairs shoes.  His eyes shift quickly up, then down and away.  The cell phone explodes.  It’s a message from Faisal Ali…..

A scene from Indiana Jones?  Bourne Supremacy?  Star Wars?  No it’s us!  It’s just three gawky North American dudes walking down the street in Skardu, trying not to look too out-of-place (HA!), as they go to meet up with their tour operator to discuss plans for a fast approaching climbing expedition.  (Ok, maybe just one of those dudes is gawky.)  The thing about expedition climbing, is that, let’s face it: everything sounds way more badass if you can say you did something, then tack on a nice little postscript like: in Pakistan.  When, really, what you’re actually doing is finding the hardest possible way to get absolutely nowhere!

Everything becomes way more engaging.  For example figuring out what food you’ll take.  To do this, you need to have a few things in mind such as: what kinds of food will give a high calorie to weight ratio; what kinds of meals will you actually be able to eat day after day for a month or so without forming some sort of hateful/barf reflex sort of relationship with that food; what kind of food do know how to cook; how many pounds per person per day based on activity, expected weather or altitude.  But here, first of all the diet is different.  Rice and chappatis breakfast and dinner.  (In some form or another.)  It’s difficult to get a feel for how much rice, how much flower will go how far.  And forget finding sausage or cheese – which are two indispensable sources of fat and protein (and soul comfort).  Actually there is cheese.  But not in the sort of quality many might be excited to find.  Chocolate… choco-who?   Ah, peanut butter!  Yes.  Well, in lieu of sausage and chocolate, we’d better take a bunch of peanut butter.  20 jars sound reasonable?  They’re small jars…. sure, 20, why not?  Coffee.  Hmm.  We could take lots of tea.  (We did bring a bunch of coffee, but there is no way it’ll last clear through.  We have some yerba mate as well.)  Let’s see, what else is on the list…. cloths for serving chappatis.  Do we need those?  Well, when in Rome, I guess.  Maybe our guide will like having them.  Table (for the mess tent that is)?  Absolutely not!

And so the process of climbing goes.  And we haven’t even addressed mountain weather yet.  My point is that, sometimes, there’s so much to see and experience outside of the bone crimps and finger locks, that maybe it’s refreshing to have to do some processing now and then.  There’s much to see.

P.S. Since I’m sure some readers may be wondering who Warren Harding is: He was a visionary and rebellious climber during the “Golden Years” of Yosemite rock climbing in the 50’s and 60’s.  He is most known for the first ascent of the Nose on El Capitan.  Some of his climbs continue to be controversial to this day.

Passengers of Chance

Posted in Jake on June 9, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Inevitably all things are connected.  That’s basic ecology, right?  So during a mountaineering trip, the intrepid traveler will need his faculties tuned, and his ninja skills sharp in all disciplines of life to overcome the many roadblocks and obstacles that will be encountered.  Actually, what he really needs is a sense of humor.  Otherwise, it’s just too sad and frustrating.

Well, ok, things are connected.  So, that being the case, we had a good business class presented to us by Pakistan International Airways today.  All you entrepeneurs pay attention.  Here’s a fail safe formula to a lucrative enterprise as modeled by PIA:

-Charge as many people as possible for a hypothetical service.

-Charge as much money as you can possibly get away with for that hypothetical service.

-Set up rules whereby foreigners must pay foreigner rates (read as: regular rate multiplied by 2.  But also, maybe just make up a new and much larger number when you find out that your customer is: pssssst…. he ain’t from around here!)

-(OK, now it gets really exciting) because your service is hypothetical, don’t actually provide any service!!

Willy Oppenheim, Passenger of Chance

-Never provide the possibility of refunding cash.

-If someone asks for a refund to a credit card, have them directed to the other counter, where…

-At the other counter, inform the customer that they must do all refunds over the phone, where…

-On the phone, inform the customer that they can only do refunds at the actual office or desk where the hypothetical service was purchased.  (Of course care must be taken to ensure that the caller is nowhere close to the place of actual purchase.)

-Hire a staff of employees who are dedicated to the company mission of complete helplessness to solve problems or think outside the box  and who always, always, ALWAYS pass the buck!

-But provide just enough customers with an actual service, (it doesn’t have to live up to what they paid for; just has to cut it) so that there always remains just a glimmer of hope, that maybe, just maybe if I’m patient enough, if I wait in line long enough, if I’m longsuffering and kind enough, or maybe if I lose my cool once or twice with the jellyfish composition employee, that in the end I will obtain that long sought after thing that I paid for.  It has to be exciting, like a roulette wheel.  Has to give the customer a rush so that he or she just wants to keep on spinning that wheel, taking the chance, riding that white streak of electric thrill just to play the game, to be all in, everything on the line and riding all the way that slim emaciated little wraith of chance.

I hear that booking your tickets with the company who did such impeccable role modeling for us, extremely! early helps to eliminate some of that uncertainty.  But I doubt it.

A Journey Through the Blender

Posted in Jake, Musings on June 6, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Sometimes the final days or hours before departing on a big trip can resemble a blender with the lid popped off; or better yet, one of those hot-air popcorn makers that a little kid can’t resist opening up just as the little kernels are at their most explosive point, when they’re gaining momentum and going off like a fireworks finale.  At some point, one can reach a critical point of personal growth and accept the reality of what is.  If anything’s missing, we just don’t need it!  Departure time is fast approaching and I for one have felt a certain level of this blender effect.  But that probably has everything to do with my own personal disorganization and general junk show of a life, and nothing to do with a Karmic and/or Cosmic vendetta against me (Jake).  Willy can speak for himself, but judging from the past 96 hours or so, I’m sure he’ll agree to that as well.

Ben and Jake will depart from the States tomorrow eve; and Willy, after a harrowing few days of dealing with the Pakistani Consulate in London which resulted in his visa in hand just hours ago(!), will peace out from the UK on Wednesday.  We three will rendezvous somewhere at the airport in Islamabad on the 9th.  That same day, we are scheduled to take a flight to Skardu (won’t even leave the airport in Islamabad… Inshalla!)  Josh is still fighting the good fight in Peru; we hope he’s sending awesome mountains and enjoying killer weather.

But now, in the end as I sit here and try to think about what actually I’ve been doing for the past few days, I realize that: it hasn’t been that much!  And the small nagging things are only just that; little yapping dogs, barking at the heels of the mind, and denying peace -for sure – but ultimately not causing any real harm.  We’re in good shape; the news from Willy this afternoon about his personal epic and ultimate victory were a huge boost, and now that the last minute of last minute things are done (bank has been called, passport and visa have been copied, equipment sorted/culled/packed) with nothing but the ticking of the clock to bother my piece of mind, I feel like, yes… things have come together at last.

The Seed

Posted in Jake, Musings on May 28, 2011 by charakusa 2011

At what point in time does an expedition begin?  With the lacing of the boots and the first few tentative steps forward toward the unknown?  Is it when you walk down the muted gateway and enter the belly of the plane – with butterflies floating in your own stomach – the plane that will take you far away from your familiarities and comfort zone?  I wonder if it goes back further still to the inception of the idea, the first inspiration, the glance at the photo that became a stare and then a trance and an obsession.  Or even far, far back, when climbing was new and unfamiliar; when the reality of “climbing” in the mind of the starry eyed novice was a collection of images gleaned from magazines and books; images of haggard and bearded types clinging to small holds with bloody finger tips, determination glinting palpably in their steely eyes and thousands of feet of rarefied mountain air yawning wildly beneath their feet in one fell plunge to the grim and uninviting ice of the glaciers below.  Those pictures – the mind images – that set fire to the imagination, that, separated from the reality of experience in the imagination of the novice, seemed so glorious and far away and unknowable to the inspired beginner that they spawned no specific plan; just the thought: that looks so awesome!  And too, the first step to getting there: finding the nearest climbing gym and discovering just what this world called climbing actually is.  If you can imagine the beginning of a puzzle as the cluttered act of dumping the box of pieces on a table, then maybe this jumble of inspiration in the heart of the novice can be likened to that dumping.  Then carefully observing the mind image of what the final product is to be; we begin carefully pawing through the mess and selecting pieces one by one.

Wow, where to begin?!  Well, if it hadn’t been poor weather in the Bugaboos of the Canadian Rockies, Ben Venter may not have had an excuse to find himself in Golden, Canada, and may never have had a random conversation with some Belgian hardmen who had gone the the Charakusa Valley in 2007 and climbed the first route on Nafee’s Cap (Nico and Oliver Favresse and Sean Villanueva).  He may not have ever seen their photos and learned firsthand beta from them, and possibly would not have been so impacted with the idea of going there.  [Ben, please correct me if this info isn’t accurate!]  If I hadn’t worked along side of the indomitable Willy Oppenheim on a challenging NOLS course in the Coast Range of British Columbia, we may never have had the chance to part ways with an obscure suggestion that “we should try and do a trip in Asia sometime”.  And if Willy hadn’t been close friends with Ben, Ben’s seed thought may not have had the chance to germinate in the way it did.  Finally, if Ben and Josh hadn’t run into each other in a bus station in Argentina, Josh may never have considered cramming his already full year (he’s in Peru at the moment leading a course in advanced expedition training), with yet another epic adventure.  There we are… the seed is germinated; small tendrils of roots are spreading into the fertile soil of our imaginations and the snowball is commencing it’s downhill roll.

Visas!  Joy!  How fun!  My personal office from which I (Jake by the way) executed this complicated maneuver of compiling and sending such a mountain of personal information, was the Redmond, Oregon Public Library.  And I want to take the time here and now the thank Eva, for her undying patience with my stressed out condition at that and other points in time and climbing along side me in the thick and the thin; and also my awesome Mom for playing mail catcher and forwarding on my passport to me; since with my lack of physical address I had to default to the timeless default: Mom and Dad’s house!  To perform such exciting tasks as printing papers and making copies, I needed much help from the proverbial “Grid”.  And to do that I needed to crawl a long way out of my dark little hole of dirtbaggery.  But I still found such obstacles as: Office Depot doesn’t cut passport photos to size…. the librarian was kind enough to lend me an extremely(!) dull pair of scissors which mangled the edges of my beautiful photos to a point that it was with some concern that I stapled them to the front page of the visa application; the nagging idea in the back of my head being: what if they turn me down on the grounds of having unsuitable passport photos?  God forbid.

Team Building and Fitness Preparedness:  I call it that because to call this training would be overstating the reality.  When Ben and I met up here in Yosemite we had no spreadsheet annotated with training blocks.  We just wanted to climb our faces off!  And that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do.  For a while we had kicked around the idea of climbing the Nose of El Cap in a day.  This is routinely done here in Yosemite, but no matter how you look at it, it’s a large undertaking.  Especially having done the route in the past, and knowing first hand just how immense the Big Stone really is.  (Ben soloed the route last year(?), and I spent four days of epic groveling on it in 2008.)  We decided to climb a shorter route on The Captain called Lurking Fear, as a warm up so to speak; to work out systems and dial in our teamwork.  So that’s what we did on Monday.

We got up at 4am, choked down some food and tea, then hiked up to the base of the route.  It took us about 14.5 hours to climb those 2000 feet (by no means record setting!), and we were topping out as the sun was turning crimson in the west.  What we discovered was: what incredible fun it is to climb that much rock all at once!  No haul bags!  No sucky bivvies!  (well, there could be if you don’t make it)  Just one long day.  So, our confidence bolstered, we took two rest days and began to strategize for our push on the Nose.  We topped out with food on Lurking Fear… we could shave a little there.  The tag line was a pain in the tookus… leave it behind…. one rope and no way to retreat…. “fail upwards!”  Puffy jacket or no?  Forecast is looking a bit chilly…. we’ll take one for the follower.  4 liters of water…. a few bars…. some gels…. a sandwich….. an orange.  Yesterday we got up a 4am again.  We started climbing at 5: 37; topped out at 6:20pm.  Now, it’s worth mentioning that a certain friend named Zach, had told us the previous evening that if we were down in time for dinner he would buy us pizza.  I wrote that off as highly unlikely.  But as we neared the top in the afternoon, as the biceps began to cramp, and energy wavered between “just enough” to “just not enough”, the thought of pizza was a nice added piece of motivation, on top of the motivation to not be stumbling down in the dark.  So… Thanks Zach!  The pizza was awesome!

On top after The Nose in a day

Thus, the pieces of the puzzle come together.  I’d like to echo Willy by saying Thank You to Chicago Steel and the American Alpine Club for the significant monetary support, without which, this venture might not have been possible.  Also to Rab and Patagonia for the new clothes and equipment!  We’re psyched!