The list: Pros and cons of backpacking

Backpacking is awesome. Sometimes. (Matt Carver photo)

Backpacking is awesome. Sometimes. (Matt Carver photo)

If you’ve ever spent any time in a wilderness, you know there are good and bad sides of the experience. All of it makes for some fun stories, fond memories and more than a few laughs.

I just got back from a short backpacking trip in the San Juan Range of Colorado. Aside from not being used to the backpacking thing (it’s been awhile since I’ve truly been “backpacking”), there are a lot of little things that stand out to me. So what follows is a list of pros and cons to leaving home and heading out into the bush for awhile…

Pro: Leaving behind all the bad news you get inundated with via TV, websites and social media. For four days, I didn’t hear a word about war, Obamacare, shootings, the tea party or any of that other crap that drives people a little crazy. My biggest debate was whether or not I would dare to leave my tent and go out in the rain to go pee or just hold it awhile longer.

Con: Coming back to civilization and being run over by war, crime, Obamacare, the tea party and all of the other crap that drives people crazy.

Pro: Not really having to worry about what you look like or smell like for several days.

Con: Smelling yourself in your clothes and sleeping bag, and then seeing what you look like when you come back into civilization. Nothing quite as unsexy as the underbeard, otherwise known as the neck beard.

Pro: Being overjoyed by the little things, like the taste of summer sausage your campmate shared, the sound of a nearby creek, and nailing it when it comes to taking the perfect poop (don’t judge until you’ve done it).

Con: Having to poop in the woods. Eww.

Seeing wildlife is cool. But sometimes wildlife is annoying. And gross.

Seeing wildlife is cool. But sometimes wildlife is annoying. And gross.

Pro: Seeing wildlife, like mountain goats, marmots, deer and other critters you otherwise might see outside of a zoo.

Con: Putting up with their behavior in camp, whether it be marmots stealing food/clothes (they do that) or mountain goats ravaging that bush you peed on just for a taste of salt. Again, eww.

Seeing stuff like this is why I hike and climb mountains. I kinda wish it wasn't so hard, though.

Seeing stuff like this is why I hike and climb mountains. I kinda wish it wasn’t so hard, though.

Pro: Summit  views. No explanation needed.

Con: The physical thrashing it takes to earn that summit view. Nothing quite like being out of breath for three hours straight. Note to self: Next time, run more and run more hills. Sheesh!

Pro: Having awesome gear that keeps you warm and dry during an alpine downpour.

Con: Being stuck in a dry but cramped tent for 12 hours during an alpine downpour.

There are many, many more. So I invite you to share your list. What are your pros and cons to backpacking? Share ‘em!

Bob Doucette

Preview of what’s to come: A Wetterhorn Peak trip report and a gear review

Heading up Wetterhorn Peak.

Heading up Wetterhorn Peak.

Been away for a bit, but plenty of good stuff to come. A quick trip to Colorado gave me the opportunity to climb a peak I’ve been eyeing for quite some time — Wetterhorn Peak. Best yet, I got to do it with a very cool group of people. What do you think of that view? They only get better the higher you go.

I’ll post a full trip report later (complete with video!) — today is going to be a travel day. Needless to say, the weekend’s hike and climb had its share of hard work, fun, and some adventuresome moments. I’ll also be posting a gear review related to a pair of hiking pants that I was able to test over the weekend.

Have a great start to your week! We’ll talk soon.

– Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Mount Shasta, vanlife, why we climb mountains and the baddest ultramarathon around

Mount Shasta (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Mount Shasta (Wikipedia Commons photo)

It’s Friday the 13th, and a full moon is gonna be out. But that won’t deter me from getting out there, and giving you some reading material before I go. So let’s get started!

Ever thought about climbing Mount Shasta? Blogger and outdoor enthusiast Landon Faulkner walks you through it via this trip report.

The Coast Guard released its report on the sinking of the Bounty during Hurricane Sandy. Can’t say I’m surprised with its conclusions.

Living on the road, driving to new adventures: Sounds like the life, right? But this writer puts some perspective on vanlife.

Another one from the Adventure Journal: A musician stuck in a rut takes some time in India to find a little inspiration. Travel has a way of doing that, right?

With all the bad news from the mountains this spring, world-class mountaineer Conrad Anker writes this opinion piece about why he climbs dangerous mountains.

Last one: This link takes you to a video which describes what might be the toughest, wildest ultramarathon on the U.S., the Barkley 100. This ain’t your average trail race!

The Weekly Stoke: Cheating on Everest, a really young climber, trail running tips and a new run streak record

Mount Everest. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Mount Everest. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Happy Friday everyone! National Trails Day is tomorrow, so I hope you all get out there and enjoy some outside time. Until then, here are some links to get you going.

It seems that beyond tales of heroism and tragedy, Mount Everest also cannot escape controversy. A Chinese climber who stayed behind after everyone left Everest’s south side is taking some heat after her successful summit, with allegations that she “cheated” to get to the top.

More from Everest: A 13-year-old girl from India became the youngest female to climb the mountain.

Thinking about making the switch from road to trail running? Here is a list of 21 tips for beginner trail runners.

And finally, here is a story about a California man who set a run streak record — he ran every day for 45 years. And change.

Proof that my friends are pretty rad: Mountaineering in China

Just in case I needed a reminder, I have some pretty rad friends. A couple of them live in China. And a couple more are visiting them.

The fellas decided to go on a little outing, up the slopes of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The mountain stands more than 18300 feet above sea level, and hasn’t been climbed since 1987, when an American team saw the top.

My friends, Johnny and Ben (I’ve climbed more than a few peaks with these guys), got to about 15,000 feet before high winds and cold turned them back.

rad1

Around that point, this was the view as conditions began to deteriorate.

rad2

No successful summit, but one heck of an adventure, and in an amazing part of the world. I think about China quite a bit: the parts that I’ve seen, the many more that I have yet to see, and the people I know who live and work there.

Maybe one of these days I’ll get to go back and see this scene of glaciated awesomeness for myself. More certain is that someday soon I’ll get to hear more details about this trip, and all that these guys experienced.

In the meantime, I’ll make do with finding adventure a little closer to home and find some inspiration in what my buddies did. Hopefully, you will too. Have a great week everyone!

Bob Doucette

 

 

Everest, ethics, and dying in the name of adventure tourism

Part of a line of hundreds of climbers make their way up Mount Everest. (Guardian photo)

Part of a line of hundreds of climbers make their way up Mount Everest. (Guardian photo)

I’ve intentionally laid off from writing about what happened on Mount Everest a couple of weeks ago, when 16 Sherpa guides were killed by a massive avalanche while hauling loads up the Khumbu Icefall.

To get a couple of preliminaries out of the way, the icefall is considered the most dangerous part of the mountain on the Nepalese side, and those going up the southern standard route are required to go through this treacherous place multiple times.

This is even moreso the case for Sherpa guides and Western outfitters — they’re the ones hauling loads, setting fixed lines and establishing camps higher up the mountain. In particular, the risk undertaken by Nepalese guides is the highest, as they go up and down the peak much more frequently than their Western partners and their high-paying clientele.

Certainly, there is a lot about the Everest scene that is different from what most of us know as “mountaineering.” Maybe it’s time to have an honest discussion about that.

If you look at the photograph below, I don’t think any of us would mistake what going on there as “mountaineering.”

A conga line of hikers going up the cables on Half Dome. (NPS photo)

A conga line of hikers going up the cables on Half Dome. (NPS photo)

That’s Half Dome, one of the iconic peaks of Yosemite National Park. Cables attached to bolted-in rails assist hikers up its steep, bare summit pitch, making it possible to ascend what would otherwise be a very difficult and dangerous climb. Thanks to the cables, any hiker with the mettle to hike to that spot and the nerve to finish the task here can stand atop Half Dome and enjoy some pretty amazing summit views.

So take a look at the next picture below.

The Everest conga line. (eightsummits.com photo)

The Everest conga line. (eightsummits.com photo)

What you’re looking at is just part of a line of hundreds of climbers — all attached to fixed line — heading up Mount Everest. To be sure, the air is thin, the pitch is steep and they are all carrying the gear needed to ascend (though most of these folks will go up and down the peak without ever having to use the ice axe affixed to their packs).

But is what they are doing really mountaineering? Are they using any of the required skills of mountain climbing? What percentage of them would know what their ice axe is for, and how/when to use it? Surely a lot of them would, but I’ll bet there are others who would not.

In any case, the overwhelming majority of the people who make a summit attempt on Everest are not the folks we’d normally associate with the term “mountaineer.” They may have mountaineering experience, but more likely they are people with a lot of money who pay others to do the bulk of the work to make a summit attempt successful. What’s left for the paying client is the task of 1) doing what you’re told by your guides; 2) getting dressed and geared up each morning; and 3) physically willing yourself to the top.

I want to stop here to note that for these climbers, a successful Everest summit is a real accomplishment. It takes a lot of heart, toughness and discipline to make that trek.

But I’d also say that if not for the huge levels of support they receive, almost none of them would ever sniff the summit. Instead, Everest would be left to the Ed Viesturses and Simone Moros of the mountaineering world — the people who could actually plan and execute a climb by way of their own skills and experience.

So that leads me back to where I started. What would you call the Everest climbing scene, if it is not really mountaineering?

In a word, tourism. Very expensive ($60,000 per person and up) and very dangerous tourism.

Paying clients risk their lives doing this. All of them could be injured or killed by avalanches, pulmonary edema, cerebral edema, hypothermia, a fall or any number of other pitfalls that come with scaling the world’s highest peaks. But they keep signing up, in bigger numbers, paying handsomely for the privilege.

Guide services in the U.S, Europe, Australia and Asia reap the rewards of this, and the guides they employ find work doing what they love as well as opportunities to advance their careers. Those guys also risk their lives, and as we saw in Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air,” sometimes they die.

But the biggest risks fall on the Nepalese and Tibetan guides. They haul more loads, fix more ropes and cross dangerous terrain more times than anyone else. They’re also paid the least, and unlike the paying clients, they don’t get to go home to lives of affluence. Sherpa guides earn far more money than their non-climbing countrymen, but their wages are significantly less than what you see in the developed world.

And now we have 16 dead Sherpas, buried by snow and ice as they were hauling loads and fixing ropes while traversing the nastiest part of the mountain last month.

These guys left behind families who, despite the insurance they may have had, are facing difficult times without the main wage earner around anymore. And lest we forget, economic opportunities for surviving family members in Nepal are far, far fewer than what we experience here.

The morality of this system looks a little questionable. Never mind the semi-imperialistic feel of it all — wealthy Westerners hiring locals to do the heavy lifting for small wages, all for the sake of earning a shot of personal glory before returning home. People are making their livelihoods — and risking their lives — all for the sake of what is really just tourism.

Read that again: Sixteen Sherpa guides died trying to satisfy the personal goals of tourists.

I don’t know what the answer is. Certainly, I’d like to see people continue to climb the world’s biggest peaks. I’d like to see folks who make those dreams happen get compensated fairly for what they do. But maybe the money involved in Himalayan adventure tourism is pushing people to take risks that are unfairly costing those who can least afford it.

A lot of high-paying clients on the south side of Everest went home disappointed this month when Nepalese guides shut down operations for the season. No doubt, many of them are wishing they had signed on to climb from the north side, where expeditions are still going on.

But at least they got to go home. Sixteen Nepalese men did not.

I’m going to keep climbing mountains, but it’s going to be with my friends, on much lower-profile peaks here in the U.S. Funds, time and limitations in my own experience/skills dictate that. If I had the ability and resources to try one of the Himalayan giants, I’d sure be tempted to go.

But I’m just not sure I’d feel right about going to Everest in light of what we know of that scene today.

Bob Doucette

In Ice Axe We Trust: Check out this mountaineering and hiking website

Starting out on Mount Sneffels' southwest ridge, here's a view down into Yankee Boy Basin.

Starting out on Mount Sneffels’ southwest ridge, here’s a view down into Yankee Boy Basin.

Some of you may be familiar with In Ice Axe We Trust, but for those of you who are not, let me give this website a little plug.

The site’s origins come from a cool podcast in which the hosts talk to outdoor enthusiasts about some of their high country adventures. I’ve been a guest on the podcast a couple of times, and I’ve enjoyed the show quite a bit.

The site is expanding, and includes trip reports from various peaks across the United States and around the world. It’s turning into quite the resource. There aren’t many places where you can find solid beta on places as diverse as, say, Gannett Peak, Wyoming, or Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. We’re talking about trip reports and route information from the Cascades, Sierras, Rockies, Appalachians and more.

I’m also happy to say that the guys who run the site, Matt (@thepeakseeker) and Chris (@last_adventurer), have asked me to be a contributor. If you go on there, you’ll see some of my stuff on Colorado’s Mount Sneffels, and more will come later. It’s definitely an honor to be publishing stuff alongside some hikers and climbers who are far more seasoned than me.

So check out their site here, and tune in to the podcasts. If you’re into mountaineering, you’ll dig it.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Trail runner gets very lost, the best running dogs, Boston Marathon tips, and the half marathon selfie gal tells her story

The Grand Canyon. (wikipedia commons photo)

The Grand Canyon. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

April means different things to different people: Late-season turns on the slopes, breaking out the backyard grill, ramping up for all those spring races. And so much more. So in honor of all those possibilities is this rather extensive collection of links. Time for the Weekly Stoke!

This trail runner took a wrong turn and spent a few days lost on the Sierras. The story has a happy ending.

Remember the gal who took a bunch of funny selfies during a half marathon in New York? She elaborates on her story here.

And for those of you getting ready to run the Boston Marathon, this blogger has some helpful race day tips.

If you’re a runner and you like dogs, here’s a list of the 10 best running dogs.

Another good top 10 list: Things you need to have on a river trip.

And finally, a list of some of the best negative Yelp reviews of America’s national parks.

The Weekly Stoke: Marathon tips, Utah BASE jumping deaths, interviewing Chris Davenport and why a Grand Canyon theme park is a bad idea

Zion National Park, Utah. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Zion National Park, Utah. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Man, it hit 81 degree here yesterday. So I guess winter really is over. Time to get out there! But first, a collection of links for the Weekly Stoke!

Got a spring marathon or half coming up? Here is a good list of common mistakes to avoid, as well as solutions.

Speaking of things to be careful about, this post has links from bloggers who describe some of their more notable errors they made in the outdoors, and what they learned from it.

There has been a spate of BASE jumping deaths in the desert towers of Utah.

The Adventure Journal posted this op-ed about plans to build a theme park at the Grand Canyon, and I have to agree.

And finally, there is this piece about a conversation with big mountain skier Chris Davenport.

The Weekly Stoke: Blackwater rafting, half marathon tragedy, exploring the North Pole and what it (now) means to be a man

Frozen wilderness at the North Pole. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Frozen wilderness at the North Pole. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

It’s the second day of spring! More daylight, better temps, and fewer excuses to not get outside. It will be an abbreviated list today, but a good one on the Weekly Stoke. Let’s get to it.

You’ve heard of whitewater rafting. But what about blackwater rafting? There is such a thing, and it’s not for the casual outdoorsy-type.

A Virginia teen died after completing her first half marathon recently.

Here is a Q&A with Eric Larsen, who is attempting a North Pole speed record.

And here’s a humorous take on what it (now) means to be a man.