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Ten-year-old Selah Schneiter leads the bolt ladder to Boot Flake on the Nose, El Capitan, Yosemite. [Photo] Schneiter family collection
Ten-year-old Selah Schneiter of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, summited the Nose of El Capitan (VI 5.8 C2, 2,900') on June 13 after a casual five-day ascent with her dad Mike Schneiter and their close family friend Mark Regier.
Selah appears to have the youngest documented ascent of the Big Stone--Scott Cory climbed the route twice in 2001 at age 11; more on that later--but the age record wasn't part of Selah or her parents' incentives.
"We did this climb for us; it was her energy and her idea," said Mike, who has done the Nose in a day twice before and is an AMGA guide who has owned and operated Glenwood Climbing Guides since 2011. "If anything, I'd been trying to talk her out of it. I think El Cap has been so much a part of our story as a family that she's wanted to do it for a long time."
Mike and Joy Schneiter met on a climbing trip 15 years ago and roped up together for their first time when they did Lurking Fear (VI 5.7 C2, ca. 2,000') on El Capitan as a group of four that included Regier. "[Mike and I] stopped using the divider on the portaledge by the third night," Joy said. They were married eight months later in a ceremony officiated by Regier, and in 2009 they took Selah to the base of El Capitan when she was two months old.
Mike Schneiter holds 2-month-old Selah below El Capitan in 2009. [Photo] Schneiter family collection
Selah--who has three younger siblings: Zeke, 7; Sunny, 5; and Salome, 17 months--started climbing on toprope in a body harness at 18 months old, and began ice climbing at age 5 with small custom tools crafted by her dad. "She only truly got into ice climbing this year because it takes some strength to swing the tools," Mike said. She climbed her first desert tower, Otto's Route (5.8+, 400') in Colorado National Monument when she was 7, something that had been her birthday wish as a 6-year-old.
Up until recently, if you asked her about her favorite activities, she would have likely told you, "climbing, skiing and miniature golf." After El Cap, she told her dad that she's decided to focus less on golf and more on climbing and skiing.
To prepare for the Nose, Selah practiced leading trad and aid pitches, lowering out on pendulums and jumaring. She spent a night in a portaledge and got a feel for hauling a bag up the cliff. "They climbed all over Colorado and Utah, and also practiced in the garage," Joy said.
Even though Selah still hadn't really climbed anything taller than Otto's Route before she launched up the Nose, her practice paid off.
"She showed Mark [Regier, who hadn't practiced those skills in a while] how to lower out," Mike said. "Another climber above us said, 'She's schooling me!'"
Ultimately, Selah led the start of the route (Pine Line, a 5.7 variation to the original start); the bolt ladder from Texas Flake to Boot Flake halfway up; and the final pitch of fourth class to the tree on top.
Selah casts off on Pine Line (5.7) to start the Nose. [Photo] Schneiter family collection
She wanted to lead more, but Mike said he was concerned about her being able to reach the widely spaced bolts on the final bolt ladder--she had to use two stoppers hitched together as a mini cheat-stick to reach the bolts going to Boot Flake--and in general he just wanted to err on the side of being cautious. "I feel like we've been really conservative," he said.
That doesn't mean Selah didn't do her share of the work. Mike estimates that she cleaned 80 percent of the route.
"She weighs about 60 pounds, and a kid's harness only has two gear loops, which isn't enough to carry all the gear, so she wore a sling to clip gear to as well--that's a lot of weight for anyone to carry, especially her," he said.
Selah jumaring on the Nose. Her dad estimates that she cleaned 80 percent of the pitches on the route, which freed up the two adults to haul the bag. [Photo] Schneiter family collection
With Selah often jumaring as the second, the adults were freed up to rig and haul the bag. Sometimes she helped with hauling, too, and a couple times she arrived at a short-fixed belay and put the leader on belay. They were actually moving faster than the party ahead of them.
"We were originally intending to do a four-day ascent," Mike said. Instead they embraced the slower pace and enjoyed casual mornings and long lunch breaks. "It was a relaxing time," Mike said.
Joy Schneiter posted this photo on Facebook with the caption, "When you're 10 and 25 pitches off the deck, you're still 10." [Photo] Schneiter family collection
When asked if there were any moments of adversity, Mike said, "Early on the bags were heavy and the pace was slow, which made it feel overwhelming, but then our motto became, 'How do you eat an elephant?' We had plenty of food, water and clothing, so we just broke it down to the individual steps and took our time. There were a couple moments where she was exhausted, sore and sunburned, but she was never really scared. She was comfortable sleeping up there. She said the hardest part was the hike up and the hike down because of all the gear we had to carry."
Mike and Selah FaceTimed with Joy a few times during the climb.
"I wanted to be there so bad; I hope I get to go back eventually," said Joy, who climbed the Nose in 2008. "Zeke is climbing on the woody in our garage everyday, and he really wants to climb El Cap now, but I'm not sure if he understands what that means."
Selah near the top of the Nose. [Photo] Schneiter family collection
When Mike started sending Joy photos from the climb, she couldn't resist posting them on Facebook, which tipped off the media and subverted Mike's plan for an undercover mission.
"My friend Chris Van Leuven lives in Mariposa [just outside the Valley] and I didn't even tell him what our plan was when we arrived," Mike said. (Van Leuven ended up writing the breaking story for Outside Online.)
After summiting the afternoon of June 13, Mike, Selah and Regier spent the night on top. They made a beeline down the next day to get pizza and swim in the river.
Selah takes a selfie in front of the famous tree on top of the Nose. [Photo] Schneiter family collection
"My favorite part was the whole experience, and I don't think it's even over yet," Selah told Alpinist during their drive home. I asked her if any other El Cap routes caught her fancy: "Zodiac might be fun," she said. "I'd also like to do Lurking Fear because of the family history." She agreed that the odds are good that she will eventually climb both routes.
"Having a climbing guide for a dad helps," Joy said.
It's worth noting that Mike wears many hats that pertain to teaching and guiding. He's been a high school teacher for 20 years; he coached track for quite a while; and in addition to his guiding company he is also an adjunct professor at Colorado Mountain College, where he teaches climbing-related skills, and he certifies single-pitch instructors for the AMGA. During that time he has completed first ascents of quite a few single and multipitch routes, especially near his home in Glenwood Canyon.
Young Climbers on the Big Stone
Scott Cory is the previous official record holder as the youngest to climb the Nose. He first climbed it with Hans Florine, Beth Rodden, Tommy Caldwell and Steve Schneider over three days, topping out September 9, 2001. Two days later, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened, and the foursome decided to climb the route in a day on October 2 to raise money for the victims and first responders of the attacks. A 2002 interview with Cory can be found here.
According to YosemiteSpeedClimb.com, Tori Allen ascended the Nose in 2001 at age 13, which made her the youngest girl previously to have done the route. The youngest team to complete it was Bill Price, 14, and Kurt Reider, 15, in 1977.
Chris McNamara climbed Zodiac with his younger brother at ages 16 and 13, respectively. There are rumors that a foreign guide brought his 9- or 10-year-old son up the Nose in the 1960s, but no one has been able to verify this and it seems unlikely because the route did not see many ascents during that time, so there's a good chance that a father-son team would have been noticed.
Regardless, it's clear that today's generation of climbers has a lot to look forward to.
"I hope [Selah's ascent] inspires other girls!" Joy said.
Pete Takeda is pictured here on a 2005 expedition to Nanda Kot with the east face of Nanda Devi East / Sunanda Devi in the background. The latter is just in front of the main peak of Nanda Devi. Takeda authored a two-part Mountain Profile about the area in Alpinist issues 62 and 63 (Summer and Autumn 2018). [Photo] Pete Takeda collection
Eight climbers are presumed to have been killed in a large avalanche on the flanks of Nanda Devi East / Sunanda Devi in the Indian Himalaya while attempting an unclimbed satellite peak referred to by its elevation as Peak 6477, which is to the south and connected by a ridge to Nanda Devi East / Sunanda Devi (7434m).
The Indian Mountaineering Foundation reported that photos from a helicopter search conducted by the Indian military on June 3 showed evidence of five bodies in the avalanche debris, which was near their last known camp at around 5400 meters. The other three members of the group are presumed dead. Rock and Ice reported the names of the eight climbers: Martin Moran (UK), Anthony Sudekum and Ronald Beimel (US), John McLaren, Richard Payne and Rupert Whewell (UK), Ruth McCance (Australia), and Chetan Pandey (India). The Times of India reports that "plans are now being made to retrieve the bodies." [The spelling of some of these names has been corrected from the inital report mentioned above.--Ed.]
Four other climbers from the expedition were also evacuated by helicopter from a lower, advanced base camp because of avalanche risk.
According to the British Association of Mountain Guides, the original team of 12 split into two groups after reaching their base camp on May 18. One group of eight, led by Martin Moran, left for an acclimatization climb on an unnamed, unclimbed summit known as Peak 6477m. The other four climbers, led by Mark Thomas, went to prepare the route to Nanda Devi East, the lower of two adjacent peaks on the mountain. They were rescued on Sunday by Indian forces.
This photo shows a view of Peak 6477 from the South Ridge of Nanda Devi East / Sunanda Devi. [Photo] Pete Takeda
We are deeply saddened by the tragic events unfolding in the Nanda Devi region of the Indian Himalaya.
As a family, we share the same emotions that all next of kin are experiencing in not knowing the whereabouts or wellbeing of those closest to us.
We are grateful to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation who is coordinating search and rescue efforts on the ground and in the air under extremely difficult conditions in a very remote area of the Himalaya.
The climbing group had set out to attempt an unclimbed, unnamed summit, Peak 6477m, and the last contact intimated that all was well and a summit bid would be made from a camp at around 5400m.
It is not entirely clear what happened from this point onwards or indeed the timeline of events. We do know that a British Mountain Guide who was in the area leading a trekking group, as part of the same expedition, was informed that the climbing group had not returned to basecamp as expected. He immediately went on the mountain to search for the missing climbers. There was clear evidence that a sizeable avalanche had occurred on the mountain and it seemed to be on or very near the route that would be taken by the climbing group. The Mountain Guide gave instructions to base camp to alert rescue authorities. The alarm was raised early on Friday morning 31st May....
We are grateful for all the support that has been offered to us and we will be sure to release any information as and when we receive it. In the meantime please respect the privacy that the next of kin of the climbers need as they seek solace at this harrowing time.
Moran is well known for leading many exploratory expeditions in the Himalaya and other Indian ranges since 1992, and Thomas was with him on an attempt to climb a new route on Nanda Devi East / Sunanda Devi in September 2015, via the northeast ridge. They reached a high point of 6865 meters on a ridge where they were stopped by dangerous snow conditions. Moran's report in the 2016 American Alpine Journal reads:
Our hopes were high, but 100 meters higher the ridge narrowed into a sensational knife-edge of unconsolidated snow. Faced with a 500-meter horizontal section with 65-degree powder-snow flutes to the north and overhanging mushrooms on the south, the decision to retreat was obvious and immediate. Our high point was at 6865 meters. Through the night we descended 1300 meters to the bottom of the ridge, with 14 abseils from ice threads and much down climbing. With more stable snow conditions and careful assessment of the state of the summit seracs, the alternative line up a broad couloir to bypass the fluted section of ridge could be feasible.
The east face of Nanda Devi East / Sunanda Devi (right) and Peak 6477. [Photo] Pete Takeda
Moran wrote an essay titled "That Subtle Thrill" for Part II of the Nanda Devi Mountain Profile in Alpinist 63 (Autumn 2018), in which he recalled his time in the Sanctuary:
Away from pilgrim trails and honeypot peaks, the solitude of the Indian Himalaya draws me back every year, and I find genuine adventure in guiding groups to these places....
Seventy-five years after the Polish team climbed the South Ridge, no other team had established a new route on Nanda Devi East.... In September 2015, Mark Thomas and I found an easy way from the Lawan Valley to the starting col at 5334 meters. We spent a week unraveling the mysteries of that ridge in alpine style, sitting out blizzards each afternoon. At 6600 meters, we had to choose between a long ridge traverse or a direct couloir to gain the summit pyramid. With nearly a meter of fresh snow underfoot, we dared not risk the couloir, so we took to the crest with bivy gear and two days' worth of supplies. Nowhere could I spot the sliver of a ledge or the chink of a crack-line. This must be one of the greatest untouched walls in the world, I thought, and we're the first to see it close up....
We modern explorers are aware that we follow in the footsteps of others. Yet my experiences in the ranges of Nanda Devi East and Nanda Kot have made me think of Eric Shipton's words upon reaching the Inner Sanctuary in 1934: "At each step I experienced that subtle thrill which anyone of imagination must feel when treading hitherto unexplored country...."
The American Alpine Club is hosting its annual Excellence in Climbing Celebration on June 1 at its headquarters in Golden, Colorado. This year features a block party format instead of a gala. Tickets start at $20.
The day starts off with the party from 3 to 7 p.m. A VIP Patron reception is from 6 to 7 p.m., and at 7:30 p.m. Laura Waterman and Ken Yager will be inducted into the Hall of Mountaineering Excellence. Kelly Cordes--this year's recipient of the H. Adams Carter Literary Award--will deliver the keynote address.
"We completely revamped the event!" said AAC Senior Events Manager Heidi McDowell, referring to the outdoor festivities, which will feature carnival games and an open-air vendor village with food trucks and beer. There will also be opportunities to attend climbing workshops hosted by the AAC's education team and tours of the Mountaineering Museum.
As with past events, there will be a raffle and silent auction to benefit the Henry S. Hall American Alpine Library and the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum. A press release for the event reads:
Established in 1916, the AAC Library has long been a launchpad for expeditions, a place to share stories, and a resource to inspire the future and protect the past. With the addition of the American Mountaineering Museum in 2009, these artifacts found a home where anyone--from the most seasoned Everest climber to the third-grader with her first harness--can soak in the stories of the past.
Inductees come from all disciplines; mountaineering, rock, ice and mixed. Inductees have had a significant impact on climbing history, but have also made contributions of meaning in other areas relating to the mountains and their vibrant communities. The multi-dimensional inductees have made lasting contributions in the areas of culture, environmental responsibility, community, the arts and sciences--ultimately making the world a better place. And now we celebrate the 2019 inductees and their legacies!
Laura Waterman climbing at Whitehorse, Yukon. [Photo] Ken Hopper
Laura Waterman--As a climber, conservationist and author, Laura Waterman climbs and writes about the mountains. Together with her late husband, Guy, the Watermans' authored books covering climbing, hiking, environmental ethics, and mountain history. In 2002, Laura founded The Waterman Fund grants program to support trail work, stewardship, education, and research.
Ken Yager--Ken Yager, a climbing guide and founder of the Yosemite Climbing Association, loves Yosemite. In 2004, he started the [Yosemite] Facelift, a nonprofit responsible for removing over 1 million pounds of garbage from the park. The event continues to be the largest volunteer cleanup in park history.
Ken Yager on Freestone in Yosemite. [Photo] Kevin Worral
Waterman is quoted in the press release: "The conservation work Guy and I did in the mountains came naturally, like climbing. It was just something we felt strongly about and it was important, more than that, essential, to spread the word. Frankly, I think--I hope--all climbers feel this way about their favorite places, the [places] that keep us sane."
Waterman wrote an essay for Alpinist 61 (Spring 2018) titled "On Becoming a Mountain Steward," which can be found here.
Yager is also quoted in the press release: "As a young climber I read about the adventures of Tom Frost, Royal Robbins, Arlene Blum, Fred Beckey, Yvon Chouinard, Richard Leonard, and many of the others that have received this award. To be included with my climbing heroes is an honor that is hard for me to fathom."
Keynote speaker Kelly Cordes was selected for the H. Adams Carter Literary Award last December. The award will be presented to him at Saturday's celebration. Cordes edited the American Alpine Journal for 12 years and published his first book, The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre, in 2014. That book was selected as the winner of the Mountain and Wilderness Literature award at the 2015 Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival as well as a National Outdoor Book Award. Cordes also co-wrote Tommy Caldwell's 2017 memoir, The Push. Cordes' writing has appeared in publications ranging from climbing magazines to the New York Times. (He reports that his "first-ever" long-form feature article, "Painted Blue," appeared in Alpinist 3.) Past recipients of the Carter Award include Alpinist Editor-in-Chief Katie Ives, David Roberts, John Long, Bernadette McDonald and Alison Osius. A complete list can be found here.
Getulio Felipe reaches the end of the via ferrata, which is buried in snow, on Punta Penia's Normal Route, Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy. He is belayed by guide Alessio Nardelotto with his friend Pedro McCardell offering support from behind. [Photo] Stefano Fabris
Doctors predicted Getulio Felipe would never walk after a complication at birth left him with cerebral palsy. But the 14-year-old Brazilian learned to walk at age 7, and on Sunday, April 21, he summited the Punta Penia (3343m) on the Marmolada, the highest point of the Dolomites in Italy.
"For every problem, there is a solution," he says in Portuguese on a video with subtitles that is on a GoFundMe page for a documentary film titled, "Driven--A story about (Im)possible." The video shows him walking, running and playing soccer.
Felipe summited the Normal Route on Punta Penia, which ascends a glacier to a via ferrata on a rocky ridge and then up a final snowfield to the summit. He was accompanied by his good friend Pedro McCardell, who organized the expedition, and a guide, Alessio Nardelotto. A backup team was also nearby.
Felipe took nearly nine hours after leaving the Pian Dei Fiacconi refuge (2626m) at 6:15 a.m., according to a press release.
Before the climb, a storm cycle deposited a fresh layer of snow. Katrina Rast, Lyfx's community coordinator, was along to document the events and wrote a blog for the Lyfx website:
To try and help with walking in the deep snow, they wore snowshoes...which turned out to be impossible to use for someone who can't lift their feet. In one hour, Getulio made it 50 meters. If he were to make the summit, he would have to walk at this pace for 40 hours, and the climb only got more difficult. We all thought it was impossible....
Felipe labors up fresh snow on the Marmolada with Nardelotto and McCardell. [Photo] Stefano Fabris
That night we saw a somber Getulio. I think the reality of what he was trying to achieve weighed hard on him. Many discussions were had for escape routes and helicopter pick-ups. We wanted so much for him to succeed, but how could this ever happen? He had taken one hour to walk 50 meters on low-angle snow and here we were faced with much steeper terrain and a 700-meter elevation gain....
One step at a time, Getulio pushed on. Four times the guides suggested going back and they could call for the helicopter, but Getulio demanded that they continue....
The press release reads, "From the top of the steep climbing it took another two hours to reach the summit where Getulio sat down looking at the view and declared, 'what a good life.'" A helicopter took him down.
Felipe with his team of guides, supporters and friends on the summit of the Punta Penia (3343m). [Photo] Stefano Fabris
After the climb, Rast wrote:
As a gift, he gave a signed flag from his favorite soccer team to the guides, getting all involved to write on it, a gift that meant everything to Getulio. As if this wasn't enough, the boots that he had been given to climb the mountain, he gave to the guides so that other people may have the opportunity that he had. Getulio had only an old pair of shoes himself, and these boots could have lasted him a lifetime, but he thought it more important to share and give the opportunity to others. He said, it's not about him; it's about giving to others, to inspire and to create opportunity.
[Alan Rousseau wrote the following story about a new route he completed on the east face of Mt. Dickey in Alaska with Jackson Marvell on April 3-5. Their new line follows a prominent corner system between Blood from the Stone and the Wine Bottle; they named it Ruth Gorge Grinder (AI6+ M7, 5,000').--Ed.]
The two red stars indicate the bivy locations and the smaller red dots mark the approximate line of Ruth Gorge Grinder (AI6+ M7, 5,000') on the east face of Mt. Dickey. [Photo] Alan Rousseau
"What's your plan for Alaska this year?" is a question I get more times than I'd like to recall. This year, Jackson Marvell, and I had hoped to repeat Blood from the Stone (A1 M7+ WI6+ X, 5,000'), a route put up by Sean Easton and Ueli Steck in March 2002 on Mt. Dickey. However, this route rarely forms and has the reputation as being one of the hardest routes in the range. I felt like I might as well have been saying I was going to slay the Loch Ness Monster. Even if it's there, do I stand a chance?
I first visited the Ruth Gorge in 2012, it was my first experience with mixed climbing on truly large faces, and I did not have the skillset to manage the terrain and conditions that surrounded me. We landed under the east face of Dickey. I was enchanted by the unrelenting nature of the face that soared a mile overhead. It became clear to me that I was not ready to step into that kind of ride, but man, someday I wanted to be....
This past autumn, when Jackson asked me if I wanted to do a 2019 Alaska trip, "east face of Dickey" reflexively came out of my mouth. "Dickey, April 1," Jackson replied, extending his hand. As I shook it, I could see in his eye a contract had just been signed. Having never roped up together before, we had some climbing to do, and we made a point to climb together once a week before we left. Our days ranged from bolting new lines to big linkups. Our confidence in one another grew quickly.
"Which one should we do man? The chimney system left of The Wine Bottle? or Blood from Stone?"
"I don't know, can't see much ice in Blood from Stone."
"The top of it looks so good, though!"
"Yeah, we gotta try it, it looks insane, and that's what we came here for."
The author approaches the east face of Mt. Dickey on the morning of April 3. [Photo] Jackson Marvell
After skinning up and down the Ruth to get a few angles on the face with our scope we decided the next morning we would head up Blood from Stone. Even though there appeared to be a large gap in the ice. We figured a wall rack would still allow for safe passage. With that decision we packed up two backpacks with three days of food, cooked dinner, and tried to calm down enough to get some sleep.
April 3: our approach was dreamy, and an hour after we left camp we were debating which iced-up corner system to climb. Jackson made the mistake of following my advice and ended up a bit higher than planned after a runout M5 pitch. But a pendulum and two steep pitches of M6+ and M7 gave us passage to the hanging snowfield where we planned to bivy.
Alan Rousseau traverses over to Blood from the Stone on the first snowfield where they bivied on their first night. [Photo] Jackson Marvell
We chopped out our ledge on a snow arete just left of Blood from Stone. Leaving packs there, I took the rack with hopes of fixing a few hundred feet higher on Blood from Stone. The first pitch was excellent AI4+ M5 climbing and landed us below a huge water groove with a thin drip of ice in the back of it. I made it maybe 80 feet higher shuffling a chicken wing, heel-toe cam and an ice tool in the drip. I had placed a Spectre, a tied-off stubby screw, and both my ice tools--not a recommended tactic. Without confidence in anything I had clipped, and no protectable cracks or ice visible for at least a ropelength, I hit the eject button by drilling a shallow 10mm bolt and lowering off.
As we rappelled back into our bivy there was a raven going to town on Jackson's food. When I got 10 feet from it, the raven hucked the sack of food off the ledge into the bergschrund below, where the ravens of the Ruth could feast on the ProBar and Gu bounty. This was not a high point of the adventure.
We sat on the ledge in the fading light and discussed our options. We came back to a pact of sorts that we had made before leaving base camp: "We will not return to base camp unless we are out of high pressure or food." With some quick math we figured we had enough for two more days at 1,500 calories per person per day. That afternoon we had traversed past a corner system that appeared to lead us into an unclimbed ice hose left of the Wine Bottle (Bonapace-Orgler, 1988). We melted snow that evening and crafted a new plan, for a new route.
We had a slow morning of drying out in the sun. Around 9:30 we started simulclimbing back across the snowfield to the corner system. The corner began as an amenable shoulder-width chimney at AI4 M4. Then got into some fairly serious M6+ AI5 terrain for a couple rope lengths. We passed through a bit of the "cracker jack" granite for which the Ruth is infamous. After around 250 meters of mixed climbing, we reached a pendulum point to reach the deep chimney system we were gunning for.
Rousseau leads a pitch of AI5 M6+. [Photo] Jackson Marvell
We now stood below the real business, the section of wall that truly overhangs when viewed from the glacier. At the base of the chimney we clipped into a couple cams, sorted the rack, and Jackson got psyched for his block. A big snow release came down as he was about to leave and we were "pitted" in the white wave for a full 30 seconds, hardly able to stand in the forceful energy surging around us. A bit shaken, but forever the optimist, Jackson expressed how he was happy it didn't hit him on lead, he then clapped his tools together and headed up into the white ribbon. Each time I heard the sharp crack of steel piercing neve it was hard to not let out an audible cheer. Jackson calmly led a most impressive 240-meter block of steep ice that afternoon in four pitches of AI6+, AI6, AI5+, AI5.
Jackson Marvell leading through the meat of the first 240-meter ice hose. [Photo] Alan Rousseau
That evening clouds spilled into the gorge and twilight soon followed, we were glad to have gained the next snowfield. Our forecast called for 4 inches of snow that night. We knew there was still close to 2,000 feet of steep terrain above us. We anchored into the most protected spot we could find and chopped another ledge. Proud of what was below us and prepared for what lay ahead, we anchored down the tarp and got ready for a memorable night.
Around midnight it became obvious our tarp fortress was no match for the spindrift attacks. I spent most of the night trying to keep snow off my face. Jackson spent most of the night sitting up clapping his hands, and trying to keep his sleeping bag from completely filling with snow. Around 4 a.m. we sat side-by-side and brewed up water, followed by some coffee. Eventually the sun started a new day. Its heat kicked off a 30-minute avalanche cycle. For a half-hour we were enveloped in snow and air blast from the walls shedding around us. Watching the river of white funnel into the meter wide hose we had climbed up was good motivation to continue up and over Mt. Dickey.
The second bivy. Rousseau writes: "We gave up sleeping; this is a photo I took of Jackson while we were waiting for the sun." [Photo] Alan Rousseau
Starting up from the second bivy, the ice above looked surreal. I kept telling myself "It can't be as steep as it looks." It was. The first pitch of the upper tube was maybe a couple degrees overhung in the mid section. But the second pitch was the steepest ice I have ever encountered. It was planar and overhung at least 10 degrees. I felt like I didn't know how to swing into ice that steep. Every stick took numerous swings to shell out a divot and then I could get a stick into the depression. With a pack on, third day on route, it felt like work. I climbed another two pitches of AI5. Then Jackson took over and completed the upper 340-meter ice hose, which was surprisingly consistent and sustained at AI5.
Marvell follows a pitch on the second ice hose that was even longer than the first, which the author estimated at 340 meters long. [Photo] Alan Rousseau
After climbing 600 meters of ice hose, 350 meters of engaging mixed climbing, and a couple of snow patches that happened to be in just the right places. We were on top of the headwall, and it was time to switch gears from steep ice and granite to 60+ degree faceted snow and shale bands. We simuled up and right to the wine bottle ridge, did a short rappel on the other side then excavated our way up through another long simul-block to the moderate glacial summit slopes of Dickey. The upper portion of the route was time consuming, and mentally draining with long stretches between gear, deep unconsolidated snow and suspect rock up to M4. We hit the summit of Dickey at 6 p.m. and were beyond relieved to arrive back in our base camp below the east face three and a half hours later, just as the day's last rays of light were fading.
Simulclimbing about 500 feet vertical below the summit. [Photo] Jackson Marvell
Rousseau cruising to Dickey's summit. [Photo] Jackson Marvell
Topo of Ruth Gorge Grinder (AI6+ M7, 5,000'). [Photo] Alan Rousseau
[On April 15, the author was 3,000 feet up a new route on Mt. Bradley when a falling piece of ice hit him in the face and injured his left eye, ending his trip early. He is now recovering at home and is unsure if there will be permanent damage to his vision. Rousseau wrote a story for Alpinist.com last year about the first ascent of The T&A Show on the north face of Rungofarka in India's Zanskar Range.--Ed.]
The east face of Howse Peak, Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada. [Photo] Courtesy of Parks Canada
Parks Canada reported in a press conference today, April 22, that Jess Roskelley, David Lama and Hansjorg Auer started climbing M-16 (VI WI7+ A2) on Howse Peak early Tuesday morning, April 16, summited around 12:30 p.m. and were likely killed in an avalanche while descending the east face of the mountain that day.
The bodies were found in a field of avalanche debris on Sunday, April 21. Roskelley's phone was also recovered and contained a photo of the three climbers on top of the peak. They were reported overdue on Wednesday, April 17, but weather and increasing avalanche danger slowed search efforts.
Parks Canada Visitor Safety Manager Brian Webster said that when the men started the climb, the avalanche safety bulletin rated the potential hazards as "spring conditions," which means "the danger is variable and can range from low to high." By Wednesday, when the search began, the avalanche danger had increased dramatically. Helicopters flown by Alpine Helicopters found evidence of the climbers' location and dropped a beacon to mark the spot. On Saturday, April 20, a searcher was deposited on the ground with a long-line and he remained attached to the helicopter the entire time to enable a fast evacuation if another avalanche were to occur. A search dog and handler were deposited via long-line the next day and found the bodies.
All three men were considered to be some of the best alpinists in the world. Jess felt incredibly honored to be an athlete on The North Face global team.... We would like to send our utmost gratitude to the first responders and assisting agencies of Parks Canada including their Visitor Safety Specialist and the entire Incident Command Team, Lake Louise RCMP, Lake Louise Fire Department, Bow Valley Victim Services, the skilled pilots of Alpine Helicopters, and Brooke, the avalanche dog who located the climbers, and her handler. Additionally, we would like share our appreciation for the climbing community and the myriad of friends, family and acquaintances who have offered their sincere love and assistance to our family during this time. We would also like to send our deepest condolences to the families of David Lama and Hansjorg Auer of Austria. Jess was ecstatic to climb with these two men, who he looked up to and highly respected.
Search team. [Photo] Courtesy of Parks Canada
The search dog with handlers. [Photo] Courtesy of Parks Canada
This mountain, Howse Peak is among the most powerful mountains I've ever known. She changed many lives this week; in tragic ways. I lost three friends, three brothers. That is the least of it, I'm sure. I knew all three, but I knew [Auer] best of all. He was a both a friend and a God to me.
The greatest confusion for me personally in this moment is the role of the route M-16. A route I climbed over five days, now so vividly remembered, over 20 years ago. That climb took myself and Scott Backes and Barry Blanchard to the limits of skill, power, judgment, and yes--luck. It challenged our very life force and we nearly lost. I climbed one of the most difficult and dangerous pitches of my life. Barry was very nearly killed by collapsing snow. Scott held us together as a team far more powerful than it's parts, then, and forever after. And now that power we knew, has killed.
I wish I had words to help the mournful understand who this mountain is. What climbing Howse Peak's precipitous East Face means. It is simply this: The truest testing place of the most powerful men on their very best days.... These were great men. The true .01 percent. This is something each of them proved with actions over and over again. These men were immeasurable....
David dedicated his life to the mountains and his passion for climbing and alpinism shaped and accompanied our family. He always followed his own path and lived his dream. We will accept what now happened as a part of that.
We appreciate the numerous positive words and thoughts from near and far. Please understand that there will be no further comments from our side. We ask you to remember David for his zest for life, his enthusiasm and with a view towards his beloved mountains.
Our thoughts are with Hansjorg's and Jess' family.
A post from Auer's "family and friends" on his Instagram page begins with a quote from his website:
"Climbing and mountaineering on the borderline of possible is a game--a risky game...but one that I cannot live without. The game is simple, the rules always the same. The present moment counts for everything. I want to do things that push me. With all my heart or not at all. The more intense it is, the more enriching it is, and the stronger the feeling that I am heading in the right direction. I do however begin to ponder. Especially when I am injured or after a close call. I think about my friends. I think about what it would be like if one day I didn't return, if I had to pay the price for the mountains. And yet I cannot resist to take on the challenge time after time. I will never stop searching because what I find fascinates me every time I head out."
Thank you to all for your kind words. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of David and Jess.--Family and Friends of Hansjorg
An earlier report with more details about the climbers and the route they were climbing can be found here.
Hansjorg Auer, David Lama and Jess Roskelley are presumed to have been killed in an avalanche while attempting M-16 (VI WI7+ A2) on Howse Peak, located on the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada.
Parks Canada officials confirmed in a press conference today, April 18, that a helicopter search was conducted after the climbers were reported overdue on Wednesday morning, April 17. According to Parks Canada Visitor Safety Specialist Stephen Holeczi, the search crews observed signs of multiple avalanches in the area. In one particular "Size 3" avalanche "there was strong evidence that the climbing party was involved and that the victims were deceased," Holeczi said.
David Lama during acclimatizing on Fox Peak, October 2018. [Photo] David Lama/Red Bull Content Pool
Hansjorg Auer during an attempt of Annapurna III's Southeast Ridge, Nepal, April 2016. [Photo] Alexander Bluumel/Red Bull Content Pool
Jess Roskelley during the first ascent of Canmore Wedding Party (AI5 M7, 2,625') in Montana's Cabinet Mountains, November 2018. [Photo] Scott Coldiron
Canada uses a different rating system for avalanches. On the Canadian scale, a Size 3 is powerful enough to "bury a car, destroy a small building, or break trees" and is around 1,000 tons and about 1,000 meters long.
Holeczi said that there is currently a rising avalanche danger in the area and attempts to recover the bodies will have to wait until conditions stabilize.
All three men were highly accomplished, well-rounded alpinists.
Auer, 35, of Austria, was especially known for his solo climbing. He completed one of the boldest free solos ever done in 2007 when he climbed Via Attraverso il Pesce (The Fish Route: 7b+/5.12c, 37 pitches, 850m) on the south face of the Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy. In 2017 he soloed three huge climbs in the Dolomites, enchaining them together by paragliding. He also completed first ascents on several 7000-meter peaks.
Lama, 28, of Austria, started his career as a competitive sport climber and branched out into expedition climbing around 2009. That was when he started his bid to free climb the Compressor Route, a notorious bolt-ladder up a sheer headwall on Cerro Torre in Patagonia. He was met with skepticism and criticism over his tactics but he ultimately achieved that goal in 2012 even though Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk had removed many of the bolts that he would have used for protection on what ended up being runout pitches of 5.13 climbing. Last October he completed the first ascent of Lunag Ri (6895m) in Nepal as a solo.
Roskelley, 36, of Spokane, Washington, grew up under the tutelage of his father John Roskelley, who himself was a legendary climber. The pair climbed Chomolungma (Everest) together in 2003 when Jess was 20. At the time, Jess was the youngest person to summit the world's highest mountain, but he was more interested in pursuing alpine-style climbs that were more technical. In 2016, with Clint Helander in Alaska, he achieved the first complete ascent of Mt. Huntington's South Ridge, which they dubbed Gauntlet Ridge (Alaska Grade 6 M6 A0 95-degrees, ca. 8,500') because of the hazards they faced knowing that retreat was next to impossible past a certain point. Last summer Roskelley completed first ascents on two 6000-meter peaks in Pakistan with Kurt Ross and Nelson Neirinck.
Some of the better things I've climbed have been on the fly. Someone calls, and I shuffle commitments around and make it work. Maybe it's better that way. When the opportunity presents itself, I simply drop whatever I'm doing to head into the mountains.
Prior to the avalanche on Howse Peak, Auer, Lama and Roskelley had been steadily ticking off several of Canada's classic testpiece climbs together, including a fast ascent of Andromeda Strain (V M5 WI5) on Mt. Andromeda and Nemesis (WI6) on the Stanley Headwall.
M-16 was first climbed by Scott Backes, Barry Blanchard and Steve House in March 2000. Blanchard's knee was injured on the descent when he was caught in a deluge of spindrift and he was ultimately evacuated by helicopter. In the 2000 American Alpine Journal, House wrote:
[The line] follows the exciting-looking ice formations on the east face of Howse Peak in Alberta, Canada. The route consisted of about 15 pitches and we ended at the top of a striking couloir, some distance below and to the south of the summit....
We named the route M-16 in reference to its difficulty and seriousness and in allusion to Barry's experience of being "under the gun," and also partially in objection to the "new" sport of mixed climbing on bolted crag routes, which alpinists have been doing for centuries, just not at the crags and without the bolts.
"It's just one of those routes where you have to have the right conditions or it turns into a nightmare. This is one of those trips where it turned into a nightmare," John Roskelley recently told The Spokesman-Review.
Four recipients have been selected for the second annual Kyle Dempster Solo Adventure Award.
Cassady Bindrup, Gabe Dirksen, Talley Kayser and Max Neale are each receiving $1,000 for solo trips, respectively, to the Scottish Highlands, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Sierra Nevada Range, California, and Baranof Island, Alaska. Last year, a total of $4,000 was distributed among three recipients.
Dempster's family, friends and sponsors created the grant to honor his legacy after he disappeared on the north face of Ogre II (6980m) in Pakistan with Scott Adamson in August 2016. Each year, the KD Award recipients are announced around Dempster's birthday on March 27; this year would have been his 36th birthday.
This year's recipients proposed exciting and challenging trips that embody Kyle's creative spirit and his desire to explore wild places, and they demonstrated both a willingness to push their personal limits and a passion for storytelling that will inspire future adventurers. We are excited to support the following adventures in 2019 and to hear the stories that come from them.
Max Neale, Anchorage, Alaska
Max will make his third attempt at a complete ridge traverse of Baranof Island, a remote island of rugged mountains, glaciers, temperate rainforest, and pristine salmon streams on the outer coast of southeast Alaska. Max's route traces 120 miles of off-trail ridges and technical mountain terrain from north to south, with over 120,000 feet of vertical gain.
Cassady Bindrup, Ogden, Utah
Cassady will travel to the Scottish Highlands, where he plans to make a coast-to-coast kayak journey from Inverness along the famous Great Caledonian Canal Crossing to Fort William. From Fort William at sea level, he'll backpack through Glen Nevis before climbing the famous Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK.
Talley Kayser, State College, Pennsylvania
Talley will attempt to backpack the nearly 200-mile Sierra High Route solo. Most of the route covers off-trail terrain above treeline.... This rugged and remote route features around 62,000 feet of elevation gain and goes over 33 high passes.
Gabe Dirksen, Deadwood, South Dakota
Gabe will attempt a roughly 300-mile backpacking and biking loop in the Black Hills of South Dakota that links two existing north-to-south routes. Gabe hopes to highlight the value of close-to-home adventures that lessen our impact on the environment, as well as raise funds for Smile Train, a non-profit foundation that helps children with cleft lip/palates.
The East Face of Jannu/Kumbhakarna. The actual route is shown in red, while the intended route is shown in orange. [Photo] Courtesy of Anna Piunova
Two Russian alpinists, Sergey Nilov and Dmitry Golovchenko, spent nearly two weeks attempting a new route in alpine-style up the unclimbed main east face of Nepal's Jannu/Kumbhakarna (7710m). After heavy snowfall and in anticipation of incoming bad weather, the climbers made the decision to retreat just below the final summit block, roughly 400 meters from the top. Though they did not reach the summit, Nilov and Golovchenko have set a new high point for a route up the direct east face of 7310 meters.
Jannu lies in eastern Nepal in the Kanchenjunga Himal along the Indian border. When asked what he thought about the mountain, Chomolungma (Everest) first ascensionist Tenzing Norgay replied, "That is not a mountain, it is a ferocious giant."
The steep, serac-littered east face overlooks the Yalung Glacier and has seen a number attempts. All previous attempts on the east face, according to Rodolphe Popier of the Himalayan Database, have been by the right, east side. No parties had yet attempted a route up the main east face. Slovenian expeditions attempted the right side of the face in 1991 and 1993, but bailed higher up the mountain, citing that it seemed possible under better weather conditions. On a solo attempt in 2004, Slovenian alpinist Tomaz Humar reached 7000 meters on the same portion of the route, but found the ice too delicate to continue.
The east face of Jannu/Kumbhakarna. [Photo] Courtesy of The Wall of Shadows Film Facebook Page
Nilov and Golovchenko aimed to climb a direct route up the main east face to the summit. Marcin Tomaszewski of Poland had originally intended to join the climbers on the mountain and accompanied them base camp, but when Nilov and Golovchenko decided to begin their ascent without a formal acclimatization period of climbing high and sleeping low, Tomaszewski elected to stay in camp. Nilov and Golovchenko left base camp on March 16 and spent their first night at 5520 meters. On March 18 heavy snow fell, and strong wind was forecasted for the coming days, but the men were able to continue up in decent weather the next day according to Mountain.RU. Due to the conditions the men chose to deviate from their planned line directly up the summit tower to an approach on the left, along the south ridge. On March 19 through March 24 they moved at a pace of about 100 to 200 meters per day. A foot and a half of snow fell on Jannu on March 26, but the following day the men were able to move a few rope lengths up to the south ridge.
Anna Piunova, editor of Mountain.RU, received a message from the climbers that they'd climbed the east face, and connected with the Southeast Ridge (Desmaison-Keller-Gyalzen-Mitchung-Paragot, 1962) on the peak's south shoulder, but decided not to attempt the summit due to bad weather. The men started descending on March 28 from 7310 meters, not via their route due to concern over the serac hazard, but by the original 1962 route. Piunova received another message on March 29 that said, "It's hard," from a location at 6995 meters. The next day she got a message from 6409 meters, a point at Buffer Peak, saying that "everything is ok." The climbers made it to base camp on April 2 after spending some 18 days on the mountain.
Nilov and Golovchenko are experienced alpinists who have made many first ascents together. In 2012, along with Alexander Lange, they spent seventeen days opening up a new route on Pakistan's Muztagh Tower (7284m) via the north-east spur called Think Twice (ED: 6a A2 M6, 3400m). They were awarded a Russian Golden Axe and a Piolet d'Or for the ascent. In 2016, along with Dmitry Grigoriev, Nilov and Golovchenko put up a first ascent of a route they named Moveable Feast (ED2: M7 WI5 5c A3, 1400m) on the north buttress of Thalay Sagar (6904m) in the Indian Himalaya. That route also received both a Golden Axe and a Piolet d'Or.
Sergey Nilov, filmmaker Eliza Kubarska, and Dmitry Golovchenko by Marcin Tomaszewski. [Photo] Courtesy of The Wall of Shadows Film Facebook Page
Since the first ascent of Jannu/Kumbhakarna in 1962, according to the Himalayan Database, there have been fifty-two expeditions to the peak, seventeen of which were successful and yielded sixty-five summits. For years the north face was "arguably amongst the hardest unclimbed, unattempted walls worldwide," says Popier. In 2004, a Russian expedition made the first ascent of the North Face using established portaledge camps. The North Face still has yet to be done in alpine style.
[For more about Jannu, see Alpinist 57 for a Mountain Profile on the peak or read a selection here. --Ed.]
2019 Grit and Rock grant recipients. [Image] Derek Franz
Grit & Rock recently announced six teams as recipients of its 2019 First Ascent Award. The grant, which distributes $10,000 a year for women-led expeditions, aims to level the playing field in alpinism by encouraging first ascents by women. This year's award will support climbs in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Canada and Kyrgyzstan.
Mountaineer and businesswoman Masha Gordon founded the UK-based nonprofit in 2016. She told Outside magazine that 99 percent of high-altitude first ascents are done by men. Gordon created this award to address that disparity. It is a cause she's so invested in that she has committed to personally endowing the award for 10 years.
The teams must be at least 50 percent female, and awards are given out in three categories: performance, exploration and apprenticeship. The jury for this year's award included Gordon, Lydia Bradey, Christian Trommsdorff and Victor Saunders.
2019 Grit and Rock grant recipients. [Image] Derek Franz
The Performance Award is for ambitious high-altitude ascents. This year two teams were selected to receive support in this category.
Chantel Astorga, Anne Gilbert Chase and Jason Thompson of the US received $1,000 to attempt a new route on Pumari Chhish South (7350m) in Pakistan's Karakoram. The first ascent of the peak was made in 2007 by Trommsdorff and his partner Yannick Graziani. The pair spent five days ascending the remote peak in the Hispar Muztagh region, and Trommsdorff called it "the most beautiful unclimbed peak I know of." In 2018, Astorga and Chase made the first female ascent of Denali's Slovak Direct (5.9X M6 WI6+, 9,000'). And together Astorga, Chase and Thompson made the first ascent of the SW face of India's Nilkantha [aka Nilkanth] in 2017. Astorga also received a $6,000 Cutting Edge grant for this climb from the American Alpine Club. The team plans to attempt the 2700-meter south face where they anticipate mixed climbing conditions.
Lise Billon and Maud Vanpoulle (both of France) and Caro North (Switzerland) were awarded $2,000 to try a new route on Mt. Arjuna (6230m) in the Kishtwar region of India. Billon became the second woman to receive a Piolet d'or in 2016 for her first ascent of Hasta Las Webas (ED- WI5 M5 90 degrees), a 1,000-meter route on Cerro Riso Patron in Patagonia. North made the first female ascent, along with Christina Huber, of the Ragni Route (M4 90 degrees, 600m) on Cerro Torre in 2015.
The Exploration Award is for well-thought out projects, such as exploration and mapping of remote new routes. Three teams have been selected.
Szu-ting Yi and David Anderson (both of the US) are receiving $2,000 to attempt the unclimbed Starikatchan (5904m) in the Zanskar Valley of India. The husband and wife duo have previously established a new route together, Secret Moon Cake (5.10 R, 760m) on China's Eagle Peak East (5300m), and made the first ascent of Mt. Dayantianwo (17,126 feet), also in China. Yi wrote a feature story for Alpinist 63, titled "Ride the Wind," about a project to enchain 43 summits in Wyoming's Wind River Range.
Sonia Casas Torcida and Mikel Zabalza Akona (both of Spain) received $2,000 and will try a new route on the west ridge of Chobutse (6685m) in Nepal's Rolwaling Valley. In 2015, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa of Nepal put up a new route during a solo ascent of the peak, which is also known as Khang Tagri.
Beth Goralski and Mary Harlan (both of the US) will attempt a new route on Mt. Marcus in British Columbia's Waddington Range. They received $1,000. Harlan is an AMGA-trained rock, ice, snow and ski guide, and Goralski is a professional climber.
The Apprenticeship Award is for advancing alpine skills and independence. Two thousand dollars was awarded to a team of young Swiss alpinists: Florence Nikles, Anne Flechsig, Rahel Schonauer, Lisa Pfalzgraf and Ramona Volken. They'll head to Kyrgyzstan's Peak Granitnyj (5278m).
Past expeditions supported by the grant since it started in October 2016 have resulted in the first ascents of three peaks and two new routes. According to the Grit & Rock press release, the judges hope these journeys will inspire applicants for next year's awards.