On March 25, 2010, nearly two years ago now, I was climbing the north face of Mount Temple when a hold broke and I fell some eighty-feet. Far enough to break my ribs in 20 places and my pelvis twice.
As I lay on the ledge near my partner, Bruce, I quickly got very very cold as my body shunted blood away from my hands and feet and into my core and brain. I felt the agonizing sensation of my own breath getting shorter and shorter as my chest cavity filled with blood due to the numerous fractures.
By this time, Bruce had used our cell phone to call for a rescue, and two hours later I was plucked off the wall by a warden (and coincidentally a friend of mine) on a cable 100 feet below a Parks Canada helicopter.
Two hours is a long time to think. Long enough for the adrenaline to wash away, long enough for it to feel like a very long time. Long enough to weigh your regrets. To tell Bruce all the things you’re thankful for. The names of all the people you Love.
During the ensuing months of convalescence I remembered one particular question that had come to me during my wait: Were there climbs I’d wished I’d done, and hadn’t? As the summer rolled by in a blur of narcotics, wheelchairs, and physical therapy I kept coming up with the same answer to my question: No, it was not more climbing that was missing from my life. Chief on the list was to do more for my community, and from this intention Alpine Mentors was born.
[Above: Steve House, Barry Blanchard and Joe Josephson, from their 1996 attempt at Mount Robson’s Emperor Face. "Though unsuccessful, the trip was my rabbit hole into the world of high-end alpinism with climbers who had done it before." Photo: Steve House Collection]
How could we possibly give voice to marine mammals and other life threatened by one of the largest industrial projects ever conceived? After all, whales, dolphins and the like – as intelligent as they are – cannot mount their own defense against the oil industry.
Oil giant Enbridge Inc. and its international partners have proposed the Northern Gateway Project, a massive pipeline that would cross nearly 650 miles of Canadian wilderness, hundreds of fish-bearing streams, and dozens of First Nations territories. This oily tentacle would stretch west from the Alberta tar sands to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest where the raw crude would await transport by tankers to Asia and, potentially, California.
Never before have oil tankers dared to travel along this stormy and largely unspoiled coastline. Most vessel traffic consists of modest fishing boats owned by people from remote aboriginal villages that dot the shores. These people continue to depend on the abundance their ocean provides them. Not surprisingly, their opposition to Enbridge and the Northern Gateway project is fierce.
Late afternoon January 16, Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk sat on the summit of Cerro Torre, making a decision.
Backup. For starters, let’s be clear: None of us has an inalienable right to summit anything. If you aren’t capable of climbing a peak after a manmade path has been removed, nothing has been stolen from you.
“If there is such a thing as spiritual materialism, it is displayed in the urge to possess the mountains rather than to unravel and accept their mysteries,” wrote the great Polish climber Voytek Kurtyka.
[Cerro Torre, with the southeast ridge roughly ascending the spine, facing the camera, in the center of the frame (the route approaches around from the right, out-of-view, to reach the huge snow blob at the base of the ridge). Photo: Kelly Cordes]
I’m specifically referring to yet another raging controversy on Cerro Torre, the otherworldly Patagonian spire. In my 11 years at the American Alpine Journal (where I’m the senior editor), I’ve educated myself on Cerro Torre’s bizarre and complex history. I also have first-hand knowledge – in 2007, Colin Haley and I climbed a new link-up on the south and west aspects of Cerro Torre, before rappelling down the controversial Compressor Route (which ascends the peak’s southeast ridge).
Scott scrambles up to Cache Col and drops his pack besides mine. We've been moving just over two hours since the trailhead and have stopped to get our first glimpse at the route before us. Our goal is the Ptarmigan Traverse – a 35-mile off-piste, haute route traversing the southern upheaval of the North Cascades.
This terra incognita was first explored in July of 1938 over a period of 13 days. The Ptarmigan Climbing Club made numerous first ascents along the route – an effort that is still recognized as one of the greatest feats in the North Cascades… ever. Their report was never published, and due to tumultuous world events, the traverse wasn't repeated for 15 years. In September of 1953, Dale Cole, Bob Grant, Mike Hane, Erick Karlsson and Tom Miller reversed the route and published their report in The Mountaineer. It was this second traverse that turned the Ptarmigan Traverse into the classic it is known as today. Miller’s photos were published as a book, The North Cascades (1964), and later submitted as supporting documents in a bill sent to Congress that established the North Cascades as a National Park (1968).
[Above: The author jogs up to Cache Col from Cascade Pass. All photos courtesy of Steve Graepel]