The MountainWorld Blog by Jake Norton

The MountainWorld Blog by Jake Norton

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#tbt to 2006: It was a dream…

#tbt to 2006: It was a dream trip to the world’s 34th highest mountain, Gula Mandhata in Western Tibet. It was easily one of the best expeditions I’ve ever been on; we made the summit – one of them only a handful of teams to do so – but more importantly the climb was really only a small part of a great physical, spiritual, and cultural adventure. We spent roughly 50 days in Nepal and Tibet, only nine of which were on the mountain, trekking along the Karnali River, doing a sacred circumambulation – or Kora – of Mount Kailash, making a pilgrimage to Tirthapuri and then onward to the ancient Kingdom of Guge. For me, the best expeditions are always like that: the mountain, the climb, is really little more than an elaborate and convenient excuse for profound adventure and experience that goes well beyond the objective at hand. Also called Naimona’nyi, Gurla Mandhata was first climbed on this day in 1985 by a Japanese party. | In this photo, our team is about two-thirds of the way up the peak headed towards high camp. In the distance, you can see the sacred Lakes of Manasarovar and Raksas Talk, and Mount Kailash just barely visible on the horizon. #liveyouradventure

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Watching the season on #Everest from afar…

Watching the season on #Everest from afar has been an exercise in mixed emotions. I’m incredibly proud of the efforts and successes of my friends and teammates – @coryrichards & @melissaarnot for reaching the summit without oxygen, & @adrianballinger for making the perhaps bolder (certainly tougher) decision to listen to his body and turn around; @thom.dharma.pollard for realizing a long held dream to reach the top, and doing it with the usual poise and prose; @kentoncool for tagging the top again (#12), and Brent Bishop @chadpeele too; Lhakpa Sherpa for breaking her own world record with a 7th summit; and so many more. And yet, mixed in with pride is the sorrow of more needless loss of life, souls snuffed in the pursuit of something on the one hand abjectly meaningless, and on the other profoundly essential. It’s perhaps not the desire to climb that is to blame for this melancholy, but instead the fixation on the summit as the sole index of success and validity. As #Mallory said: “Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves…” Or, in the words of Rob Parker: “In a sense everything that is exists to climb. All evolution is a climbing towards a higher form. Climbing for life as it reaches towards the consciousness, towards the spirit. We have always honored the high places because we sense them to be the homes of gods. In the mountains there is the promise of… something unexplainable. A higher place of awareness, a spirit that soars. So we climb… and in climbing there is more than a metaphor; there is a means of discovery.” #liveyouradventure

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Four years ago, I was in quite…

Four years ago, I was in quite a different place: rappelling from just below the West Shoulder on #Everest with @davidcmorton after our final, failed attempt to get into the West Ridge. It was the last effort of a long-but-great expedition trying to tell the story of 1963 and the historic West Ridge climb by Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld. While we weren’t even close to successful in climbing the route, we were able to produce an award-winning film, High & Hallowed: Everest 1963, which hopefully shed some renewed light on an oft-forgotten, monumental ascent of a highly challenging route. (If you haven’t seen it and would like to, High & Hallowed is available on @vimeo on demand – link in my profile.) Incidentally, rising from the clouds behind Dave in this photo is #Lhotse, which was first climbed on this day in 1956 by a Swiss team. #liveyouradventure @charley.mace #brentbishop

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Looming over #Everest Basecamp in Nepal, the…

Looming over #Everest Basecamp in Nepal, the iconic, conical summit of Pumo Ri is unmistakable. In 1921, during the first reconnaissance expedition, George Mallory spotted the peak and wanted to name it Mount Clare after his young daughter. The expedition rightfully decided not to, so Mallory and his teammates found a suitable alternative in Pumori, meaning “Unmarried Daughter” or “Daughter Mountain” in Tibetan and Sherpa. (Fortunately, with the exception of Kellas Rock Peak, named in 1921 after Dr. Alexander Kellas, and the Norton Couloir, named in 1924 after Col. Edward “Teddy” Norton, the expedition chose local names where possible – like Gyachung Kang – and local descriptors otherwise, like Changtse or “North Peak”, and Lhotse, or “South Peak”.) While technically fairly easy by its standard route, the mountain is known for avalanche danger, and by 2005 had seen 42 deaths on its slopes out of 500 successful summits. During the 2015 earthquake in #Nepal, a massive avalanche swept off the ridge connecting Pumori and Lingtren, decimating Everest Basecamp and killing 19 people. The peak was first climbed on this day in 1962 by Gerhard Lenser. #Pumori

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As the #Yamuna River passes through New…

As the #Yamuna River passes through New Delhi, India, it collects literally millions of liters of untreated, raw sewage daily. It also picks up industrial effluvia, trash, and more. As the second largest tributary to the Ganges, the Yamuna’s water is critical to the iconic lifeline of North India. But, like the Ganga, the Yamuna is in grave danger. When @pedromcbride @davidcmorton and I tested it’s waters at Dhobi Ghat in Agra in 2013, we found a dead river with zero (yes, zero) dissolved oxygen and off-the-charts levels of copper, cadmium, and other heavy metals. It’s a tragic situation, and one we’re trying hard to tell in our upcoming film about the Ganges, Holy (un)Holy River, which will premiere at @mountainfilm later this month. Take a read or listen to the great piece on the Yamuna done by @juliemccarthyjm on #MorningEdition on @npr – link in my profile. | In this photo, oil slicked water – black, hot, and dead – slurries past small plant life on the banks of the Yamuna in central Delhi.

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Nice to have our resident bald eagle…

Nice to have our resident bald eagle back, at least for a little while. Last year, they came to our quasi-back yard as a pair, finding a perfect snag on an old, dead Ponderosa overlooking the lake. This year it seems to be only one eagle. A stunning sight nonetheless, and wonderful to be up close to such a magnificent creature.

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Twenty years ago today, I heard the…

Twenty years ago today, I heard the news: many killed on Everest, up high, near the summit. As the tragedy of the loss set in, there was also a peculiar relief: a feeling that maybe the summit lust by increasingly inexperienced climbers would be diminished by the stark reality of the dangers ever present there. Sadly, 1996 had no effect – or perhaps the opposite. In the years since, the mountain has seen an unrelenting stream of climbers hoping, more often than not, to tick that highest summit off their to-do lists, and an ever increasing toll of death on its highest flanks. I’ve struggled for years to understand why: Why are people so attracted to that tiny, urine-soaked patch of snow on top of the world…attracted so much that they’ll push well beyond their abilities, well beyond where their strength and ration would say to turn around? I think much of the challenge stems from our societal barometer of success. We tend to value the paycheck, the promotion, the homerun, or the summit more than we value the experience, the process, the journey to the top. We celebrate the summit – even when it comes at great cost – yet we pass by the beauty of the challenge, the thrill of learning through tough experience and abject misery, the sublime beauty of life in the world’s harshest environments. In short, the issue is that our vision of success is fundamentally clouded, and we need to refocus on the process, the journey, the highs and lows, sunrises and sunsets, on the way to the summit. As George Mallory wrote in 1914: “[Sunrises and sunsets] are not incidental in mountaineering but a vital and inseparable part of it; they are not ornamental but structural; they are not various items causing emotion but parts of an emotional whole; they are the crystal pools perhaps, but they owe their life to a continuous stream… ” Here’s to the memory of those lost on Everest, and to changing our perspectives about the climb, the summit, and the meaning and purpose of it all.

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It was an honor to present again…

It was an honor to present again at the @unitednations today and speak on behalf of mountain peoples around the world. Often marginalized and cut off by geography and politics, mountain peoples are some of the poorest in the world and most threatened by food insecurity; one of every two rural mountain dweller in the world deals with regular and persistent food insecurity according to a new study by the #MountainPartnership and @unfao. Mountain peoples aren’t victims, however. They are proud and resilient peoples, with robust histories, profound cultures, and a keen knack for survival in at-times inhospitable environments. But, they are vulnerable: to geology and geography, to climate change, and to political and financial neglect. It’s an honor to speak on their behalf and to urge the global community to value the importance of mountain peoples and communities, and let their voices be heard.

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Sending a big Happy Birthday to friend,…

Sending a big Happy Birthday to friend, colleague, cameraman, mentor, and occasional grump @khfilms! I first worked with Kent back in 2003 on a crazy reality TV series called Global Extremes, shooting together in South Africa, Costa Rica, and on Everest. Since then, we’ve worked together around the world, from Antarctica to Aconcagua, Everest to Colorado. Harvs is one of the most solid guys know – always there with a smile, a laugh, a story, and a ton of fun. And, he’s one of the best cameramen out there, a rare master who’s as comfortable shooting on the summit of Everest as he is on the sets of Hollywood’s biggest films. So, Happy Birthday, Harvs! Hope you’re having a great one in Hotlanta, and hope to get out for some fun this summer in Colorado!! | In this photo, Kent gets the goods at high camp on Vinson Massif, Antarctica, with Mount Shinn rising behind. #liveyouradventure #panorama

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In the 92 years since their disappearance…

In the 92 years since their disappearance near the summit of #Everest, the ability of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine to climb the Second Step – certainly the crux of the climbing route on the Northeast Ridge – has been hotly debated. A roughly 40 meter sawtooth jag of rock sticking out of the Ridge like a ship’s prow, the Second Step is a formidable obstacle indeed…so formidable, that 4 days before Mallory & Irvine’s disappearance, teammates Norton and Somervell opted to skirt the Second Step by traversing below it and into the Great Couloir, seeing the Step as unclimbable. In the years since, the Step has been free climbed by a few people (most climb it using a ladder installed by the Chinese in 1975, and replaced by Russel Brice’s team in 2003): Oscar Cadiach (1985), Theo Fritsche (2001), and Conrad Anker (nearly in 1999, and fully in 2007 with Leo Houlding). The general consensus is that the technical difficulty of the Step is somewhere in the 5.7-5.9 range – definitely within the sea level climbing ability of George Mallory, but likely a huge reach for him on June 8, 1924, at 28,250 feet wearing a tweed coat and woolen knickers. But, is Mallory & Irvine free climbing the Second Step a red herring? I believe so. My view is that the reality is Mallory & Irvine could have – and likely would have – climbed the Second Step the way the Chinese and Tibetan climbers did in 1960, using a technique called the “courte-echelle”, whereby a lead climber would stand on the shoulders and even head of their partner to overcome a difficult section of rock. The Chinese expedition of 1960 did this successfully on the Second Step, and while it is considered “cheating” today, the courte-echelle was a common and legit technique in Mallory’s era. (There’s a great shot of Albert Ellingwood and Carl Blaurock doing a courte-echelle in Colorado in the 1920’s – see the link in my profile.) Did Mallory & Irvine reach the top in 1924? We may never know…but I think they could have. | In this photo, Phurba Tashi Sherpa climbs the Second Step on May 30, 2003.

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