The MountainWorld Blog by Jake Norton

The MountainWorld Blog by Jake Norton

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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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A Tibetan Buddhist monk walks by a…

A Tibetan Buddhist monk walks by a chorten at Rongbuk Monastery, Tibet, with Everest’s North Face rising in the distance. | On this day in 1924, the members of the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition gazed upon this very same view, having just arrived at Rongbuk after a five-week walk across the Tibetan Plateau. This was their first real, close-up look at the mountain – a view few in the world had ever seen. From here, at nearly 17,000 feet on the Plateau, the North Face rises improbably from the dusty, barren plains, a monumental uplift of some 12,000 vertical feet of rock, snow, and ice. For George Mallory, it was a familiar – but no less impressive – view: he was the only member of the 1924 team who had been on both the 1921 and 1922 expeditions. In 1921, he wrote to his wife, Ruth, upon seeing the peak close up for the first time: “The highest of the world’s mountains, it seems, has to make but a single gesture of magnificence to be the lord of all, vast in unchallenged and isolated supremacy.” Five weeks after their arrival at Rongbuk, Mallory and his climbing companion, Andrew Irvine, would disappear close to the summit of #Everest.

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Today I’m sharing a photo by friend,…

Today I’m sharing a photo by friend, teammate, photographer, and humanitarian @davidcmorton, Founder of @thejuniperfund. | This is Pemba, a young monk and son of an expedition worker. His father left each spring and autumn in order to be employed on commercial climbing trips. While good work, the profession is subject to great risk and his father was lost in 2014 in an accident on an expedition peak. Pemba’s family is supported through relief and recovery efforts of @thejuniperfund programs along with many other families who have also lost fathers, husbands, sons in the mountains. Photo: @davidcmorton

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A year ago today, as the ground…

A year ago today, as the ground shook, everything changed dramatically in Nepal. Houses were leveled, mountainsides crumbled, glaciers collapsed, nearly 9,000 lives were lost, and countless more were changed forever. In the year since the earthquake, despite massive contributions and monumental international aid, very little has changed for most people in Nepal. Only a few fortunate people have been able to rebuild their shattered homes and shattered lives, and they now face the prospect of yet another monsoon with unstable shelter and an uncertain future. But we can all still #helpcarrytheload: make a donation today to tried and trusted nonprofits like this dZi Foundation, the Mountain Fund , the Mountain Institute, American Himalayan Foundation, and more. With these organizations, your money will make a difference.

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Happy Earth Day! As I sit and…

Happy Earth Day! As I sit and think about the state of affairs of our planet – as I quite often do – I find myself coming back to a thought and theme I’ve considered for a long time: Earth Day, the environmental movement, are all hugely important and I believe in them wholeheartedly. We are in a crisis on our home planet, and the time is now to act boldly, or suffer the consequences. But, from a 30,000 foot view, it is all an anthropocentric effort. We won’t, as humans, destroy nature; we’ll damage her, wipe some of her finest creations from the favce of the earth, choke her waters and blotch her skies…but destroy her? Never. We’ll only destroy ourselves, the human species; and that, at the end of the day, is really the pressing question of the environmental movement: Do we want the date of our inevitable extinction (all species go extinct, and one day we will, too) to come sooner, or later? Do we want to attempt to strike some harmony in our existence on this earth, to mark our existence as a thoughtful, gentle, compassionate one, or as one of greed, hubris, and ignorance? As Robert Michael Pyle wrote in his classic essay, “Nature Bats Last”: “To me, nature’s batting last is neither a warning nor a threat. It is a cheerfully flip recognition of a certainty. And, a comforting certainty it is: imagine, the glory of the universe going on an on,m free at last of the bad bet that was man on earth! My humanism ends where we become so fond of ourselves that we cannot imagine the mortality of mankind…To think that we could indefinitely put off the end of the age of man by acting right toward the earth for a change is like taking up running in dissipated middle age in the hope of cheating death: it might work for a while. You can’t prolong life forever, not for an organism, not for a species. But you can sure as hell hasten its demise.My outlook, ultimately, is not a pessimistic one. But then my frame of reference does not encompass human fortunes alone.” So, here’s to celebrating our Earth today – and everyday – and the bounty provided by this amazing planet. May we learn to live a little softer, walk a little gentler, grow a little more compassionately, and perhap

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On May 31, 1934, the eccentric adventurer…

On May 31, 1934, the eccentric adventurer and wannabe climber, Maurice Wilson, sat in his tent at the base of the North Col of #Everest and wrote what would be the last entry in his journal: “Off again, gorgeous day.” Wilson made one more solo attempt to push upward, and never returned. His remains were discovered in 1935 by Eric Shipton’s expedition, and buried, only to be rediscovered many times over the years, including by our 1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition. Wilson’s attempt on the summit was brief, foolhardy, and fateful, but put him solidly in the record books of Everest history. Today is his 118th birthday.

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