On Kilian Jornet, Alex Honnold and Ueli Steck: What comes next?

Kilian Jornet. (Sebastien Montaz-Rosset photo)

As the spring of 2017 unfolded, new frontiers in climbing and mountaineering were opened.

On May 21, Kilian Jornet set a speed record ascent of Mount Everest, climbing the world’s highest peak in just 26 hours. For most climbers, whether they’re paying clients of expedition companies or elite climbers in their own right, a climb of Everest is an endeavor measured in weeks, with the final pushes taking several days. Jornet did it from the lower base camp on the Tibet side of the mountain in a shade over a day.

As if that wasn’t amazing enough, Jornet did it again: Starting from Advanced Base Camp (10.4 miles up and 4,000 feet higher), he reached the summit in just 17 hours. Jornet climbed the mountain in a fast-and-light style that has served him well in setting speed ascent records on Denali, Mont Blanc and Matterhorn.

Alex Honnold. (NatGeo photo)

Meanwhile, back in the United States, another audacious plan was coming to fruition. Alex Honnold had quietly been preparing to do something that had never been done. Honnold is famous for his free-solo climbs of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. But the monarch of Yosemite, El Capitan, had never been free-soloed.

That changed on June 3, when one of the world’s best rock climbers set off to ascend the 3,000-foot tower without the benefit of ropes or safety equipment. In just under four hours, he topped out, standing alone with what might be the most impressive feat of climbing ever undertaken. Keep in mind, most people spend days climbing El Cap.

These two climbers, the greatest in their respective skills, have done things most of us cannot comprehend. Even their peers are in awe.

It begs the question: What comes next? Will someone else free-solo El Cap from a more difficult route? Or follow up Honnold’s feat in less time? Can someone race from the Tibet base camp to Everest’s summit in less than a day?

It’s hard to take stock in this. The passage of time has given us improved equipment, better climbing techniques, more knowledge of the mountains and advanced training methods that push the boundaries of mountaineering. But it wasn’t that long ago that mountains like Everest were unclimbed, and that scaling a face like El Capitan was unimaginable without climbing aids and a significant commitment of time.

So, what’s next? Can these feats be topped? One thing I know is that someone will try. If not these two athletes, then someone else, a name we might already know, or perhaps a climber currently cutting their teeth at some unknown climbing gym or perfecting techniques on their local crag. Or maybe there’s a trail runner burning up local races in the mountains we don’t know yet who is experimenting in mountaineering and climbing that, when he or she is ready, will give it a go.

Ueli Steck. (Jonathan Griffith photo)

And that leads me to a third mountaineering story from this spring: the death of Ueli Steck.

Steck fell and died April 30 during a solo training climb on Nuptse, elevation 25,791 feet, a peak in the same neighborhood as Everest. He’d been gunning for an ambitious climb of Everest’s west ridge, then traversing to the summit of neighboring Lhotse.

Steck was an athlete in the class of Jornet and Honnold, at least in his accomplishments. Credited for the only known solo climb of Annapurna’s south face, he’s also summited 82 4,000-meter peaks in the Alps in 80 days. And now he’s gone.

I’m not sure why the feats of Jornet and Honnold bring up thoughts on Steck and his demise, but they do. Perhaps it’s because these things happened within a couple of months of each other. Or maybe it’s the fact that pushing the envelope of mountaineering – and the risk that entails – makes me wonder what story we’ll see in the future.

The early days of alpine exploration were a strange combination of scientific curiosity and nationalistic drive. That’s not the case anymore. Corporate dollars are on the line, as many of the elite in the mountaineering world are sponsored by gear companies. Social media can fuel this further. I’d hate to think that dollars and likes are what drive us now, but these are different times.

But the common thread of what people do now and what they did decades ago is as old as humanity itself, that of seeing just how far we can push the limits of physicality, of mental steel, and of commitment to a goal.

So I say this knowing that it’s likely that someone will try to climb Everest faster the Jornet, and someone will climb something harder than Honnold. Most will fail, but a few will probably succeed. And as is too common in mountaineering, someone will probably die trying. At that point, we’ll be awed by the accomplishments and saddened by the loss. And asking ourselves again, “what’s next?”

Bob Doucette

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The Weekly Stoke: Alex Honnold does Fitz Roy Traverse, the death of Chad Kellogg, common running mistakes and how to avoid an avalanche

Fitz Roy, Patagonia, Argentina. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Fitz Roy, Patagonia, Argentina. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

It seems that maybe winter is beginning to lose its grip, at least in my part of the world. And that means more time outside. Not that you can’t have a good time in the snow. Anyway, here’s some more goodies in this edition of the Weekly Stoke!

It might seem like Alex Honnold gets a lot of attention in this space, but he keeps adding to an already amazing list of climbing and mountaineering accomplishments. His latest was a team effort with Tommy Caldwell to do one of the most radical traverses around, the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia.

Not all the news from Patagonia is good. Speed climber Chad Kellogg died from rockfall on Fitz Roy.

This post describes some common running mistakes — and how to avoid them.

This story is a fascinating account of what it’s like to suffer from a poisonous snakebite while in the bush of Myanmar.

And finally, there is this video on avoiding the dangers of an avalanche.

Disclosure: I’m not that rad, I’m just me

There is always a temptation to think more of yourself than you really are. But for me, the reality is that I'm just another dude. And that's OK.

There is always a temptation to think more of yourself than you really are. But for me, the reality is that I’m just another dude. And that’s OK.

A few years back, I bought a book at an airport news stand that, after I read it, I was sure would change my life.

The book became part of a reading list for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It hit the New York Times bestsellers list, and stayed there for months. When I read it, I was inspired about what one person could do to help people in war-torn places of the world.

I’m talking about Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea.” As wonderful as the book was, investigations by other journalists showed that Mortenson’s reported exploits in south Asia were at times exaggerated or unable to be confirmed. To be sure, some of the things he did in Afghanistan and Pakistan were true, but many other things claimed in the book – as well as certain facts about his life – are in dispute.

Mortenson’s accusers made him out to be a fraud. I think the final judgment is that his story was embellished to the point where he and his co-author made him out to be something that he was not.

To me, that is one of the scariest prospects any writer could ever face, particularly those of us who put ourselves out there with the things that we do. Nothing could be worse than representing myself as something I’m not; no greater breach of trust could be made.

So let’s do a little disclosure.

Conrad Anker

Conrad Anker

I am not Conrad Anker, Ed Viesturs or Simone Moro. No Himalayan summits here; no continent high points. In fact, no big mountain summits above a Class 3. Just 15 14,000-foot summits to my credit (including repeats) and four 13ers on top of that. I’ve done some Class 4 stuff closer to home, but I’m still cutting my teeth on this whole mountaineering thing; plenty of friends have done much, much more. It’s not to say I haven’t learned some things or gained some insight, but I am very much in the learning mode when it comes to the peaks.

Alex Honnold

Alex Honnold

I am not Alex Honnold. Not even close. I’m a 5.7 climber at best, and forget me setting any leads. You will never hear me dispense rock climbing or bouldering advice. I’m still a blank slate in this realm, but hoping to fix that over time. I’ll post links about climbing subjects, but that’s about it.

Scott Jurek

Scott Jurek

I am not Scott Jurek, Bart Yasso or Anton Krupicka. My longest trail race so far is 25k. My longest run ever is one marathon, and that was done just a few months ago. Oh, and I’m a 4:50 marathoner, not exactly fast. In other words, I survived it through the finish line. Yeah, I run a lot. I’m going to be in three good-sized races over the next few months and will look to improve my performance. But don’t mistake me for a long-distance coach or elite athlete. That ain’t me. I pass along what I know, but no more. Promise.

Ronnie Coleman

Ronnie Coleman

I’m not Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jay Cutler or Ronnie Coleman. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a gym rat for a long, long time. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve even coached people in fitness over the years. But there ain’t anyone in the gym looking at what I lift and saying “Dayum!” Anything I pass along is going to be something that I’ve tried and found successful; will be sourced from reliable, accomplished trainers; or a combination of both. But I won’t tell you how to gain mega-muscle mass, or how to win a powerflifting meet, or what it takes to win a bodybuilding competition. There are far better sources for that kind of thing than me.

lonelyplanet_1

I am not a walking library of Lonely Planet books. I’m reasonably well traveled, but I’ve never been to Africa, Australia or South America. I’ve been to about half the states, but as much as I love the West, I still haven’t explored Utah, Oregon, Nevada or Arizona. My exposure to Idaho is really limited, too.

There are a few other things you won’t see me writing much about. Skiing, for one. I’m a low-skill skier with few opportunities to improve. And forget about anything concerning skydiving, bungee jumping or BASE jumping. Maybe a link on those subjects, or perhaps a video. But no pontificating.

So what does all this mean? It means I’m an everyday guy trying stuff. Learning stuff. And when I learn something worth sharing, I pass it along. I do gear reviews after thorough testing, and I’ll let you know if they were sent to me by a manufacturer or retailer. Every trip report is based on what I saw and did during a particular ascent. Fitness and running posts will only go as far as my experience takes me, and even then, I’ll back it up with sources from people who are experts in their field.

Not that rad. Just me, trying stuff.

Not that rad. Just me, trying stuff.

You get the idea. No BS. What you see is what you get, nothing more.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Sherpa evolution, protein for runners, avalanche season, a BASE jumping tragedy and Alex Honnold on video

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Some of us are starting to come out of the thaw. Unfortunately, many of you are not. Cabin fever is setting in. You need an escape. So let me give you a little reading material to help you get through it. Let’s do the Weekly Stoke!

Scientists say new research shows that the Sherpa people of Nepal have evolved over the years to become the stout high-altitude climbers and hikers that we’ve all come to know and appreciate.

Are you getting enough protein? Everyone knows people trying to gain muscle mass need to up their protein intake. But even leaner athletes like runners need to seriously increase how much protein they take in per day. I can vouch for that personally.

This link takes you to some photos and a video about a guy’s project to build a wooden camper top on his truck. Seriously cool overland travel stuff here.

It’s been a rough winter in terms of avalanche deaths, and several have happened in recent days.

Another tragic note: A couple did a BASE jump together, but the woman’s chute didn’t open properly, causing her to fall to her death.

And finally, this amazing video of Alex Honnold doing what he does: Scaling ridiculously big walls with highly technical lines, and doing it free solo.

The Weekly Stoke: Running the Grand Canyon, Alex Honnold, climbing the 14ers, NFLer turns marathoner and a new video of Felix Baumgartner’s big jump

The Grand Canyon. (NPS photo)

The Grand Canyon. (NPS photo)

Another jam-packed Weekly Stoke where we ask why we climb mountains and how to get things done in the cold. Among other awesome things. Here we go!

Some Minnesota physicians who happen to be runners give their advice on how to train in the cold outside.

This writer answers the question why people choose to climb Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. I can relate!

Speaking of climbing, Alex Honnold writes about what it takes to go from a good climber to one who has reached the top of the free-solo world.

If you’re a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, you know who Alan Faneca is. But now out of football, this former NFL offensive lineman is now a sub-4-hour marathoner. Check out his story here.

Here’s a guide for trail runners who want to run the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim-to-rim.

This blogger provides some answers as to why marathoners often get sick after a big race.

And finally, one of the best videos I’ve seen of Felix Baumgartner’s historic supersonic skydive. The footage came from multiple cameras he had attached to his jumpsuit. Trust me, this is worth the eight minutes.

The Weekly Stoke: Alex Honnold’s latest feat, stuff runners know, a homicidal climber and extreme drought in the Sierras

Alex Honnold in the Sierras. (Alex Honnold Facebook page photo)

Alex Honnold in the Sierras. (Alex Honnold Facebook page photo)

How is everyone’s week going? Hopefully it’s been filled with adventure or just plain getting after it. Without further delay, here’s the latest Weekly Stoke!

Uber climber Alex Honnold is at it again, this time pulling off a multi-pitch, 1,500-foot free solo climb in Mexico. Mixed in this achievement were several 5.12 pitches. Did I mention he did this free solo?

Here’s a list of things only runners understand. Some are gender specific.

This post details some of the health issues that affect ultra marathoners.

This story is a weird one in which one climber allegedly killed another (who had been described as the suspect’s mentor) with a hammer.

A Crossfit coach and competitor suffered a devastating injury during a recent competition while attempting an Olympic lift.

And finally, while there are some parts of the country that are experiencing a cooler and wetter winter, that is definitely not the case n California, which is in the midst of a devastating drought.

That’s a whole lot of news. Now go make a story of your own. Have an excellent weekend!

The Weekly Stoke: Lost in the mountains, climate change, tips for ski season and Alex Honnold climbing in Yosemite

Flying over Antarctica. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Flying over Antarctica. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

A whole lot of ground to cover this week, so let’s not waste time. Enter the Weekly Stoke!

Some sobering news again this week from the high country as an Ohio man goes missing somewhere near Colorado’s Mount Harvard. This, plus another search (sorry, don’t have a link on that one) further south in the Sangre de Cristo range. Both involved solo hikers. Having just done a solo, the weight of these stories is not lost on me.

Climate change deniers are making some noise about a report showing growth in polar ice, but a recent study shows that the reasons behind Antarctic ice shelf growth is not the result in a leveling off of warming temperatures. That, and the arctic ice pack is still shrinking.

This report reveals how Americans prefer their exercise: Solo and brief.

Here are some tips to get you ready for the upcoming ski season.

And just for fun, who doesn’t like a video of Alex Honnold doing what he does best? Have a look.

Alex Honnold in Yosemite: National Parks Epic Challenge from National Park Foundation on Vimeo.