The MountainWorld Blog by Jake Norton

The MountainWorld Blog by Jake Norton

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The mountains have been my wellspring of…

The mountains have been my wellspring of passion and energy since I was 12 years old and made my first real climbs, on Washington’s Mt. Rainier and – as seen here – on peaks in the French Alps. Those early experiences of success and struggle, joy and pain, informed my life in ways I could never have predicted. On a pragmatic level, my passion for climbing and the outdoors has enabled me to build a career in climbing, and to do what I love to do (and sometimes get paid for it). But, on a more profound level, the outdoors have given me perspective on life and the world I know I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. The mountains have taught me about my abilities and my inabilities, about the joy of struggling for that which seems unattainable, about how great it feels to reach a summit, and how much more important it often is to fail and come back to try again. The mountains have also opened the world to me and it’s stunning variety of colors and cultures, peoples and places. I firmly believe in the transformative power of the outdoors, and I know firsthand how life-changing outdoor experiences can be for kids. I want to see more kids – especially those for whom the outdoor experience is often out of reach – get those experiences, so I’m a proud supporter of @big_city_mountaineers. On this #GivingTuesday, I ask you to pay the outdoors forward, and make a generous donation to #BigCityMountaineers today! #liveyouradventure

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Sending big happy birthday wishes to @conrad_anker…

Sending big happy birthday wishes to @conrad_anker today. I’ve had the honor and pleasure to be on #Everest with Conrad 3 times (1999 on our first expedition, 2003 for the wacky Global Extremes reality TV series, and 2012 when we were both trying to climb the West Ridge), I’ve gazed up – with wonder and a bit of terror – at the route he pioneered up the Shark’s Fin on Meru with @jimmy_chin and @renan_ozturk, and watched with deep admiration as he’s leveraged his clout and notoriety to make our world a better place through @khumbuclimbingcenter and more. He’s an astonishing, visionary alpinist, a dedicated steward of our world, and a great guy. Happy Birthday, Conrad, and here’s to many more trips around the sun! | In this photo, Conrad waits for the first rays of sun to bring some warmth to the frigid world of 28,000 feet on the Northeast Ridge of Everest on May 17, 1999. #liveyouradventure #happybirthday

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They came from all over. The room…

They came from all over. The room was teeming with people, sharing a meal together even though they had just met, smiling and laughing and sharing the bounty of humanity that unites us all (whether we choose to embrace it or not). Wende and I sat at a table with a newly arrived refugee from Ethiopia and his 6 year old daughter. He fled persecution in his homeland 14 years ago, and lived in the destitute UNHCR camp of Dadaab until coming to America; the tent city in northern Kenya was the only home his daughter knew until 1 month ago. Joining us at the table was another woman, another refugee, hailing from Eritrea, a long time enemy of Ethiopia, each nation jointly responsible for the suffering of each other’s people. But, here these two met not as enemies, but as new fast friends with a shared history and an intertwined future.
Around the room, the horrors of war and persecution and the abject nastiness of humans was washed away by a tide of togetherness – fueled by compassion – that brought smiles to the faces of men, women, and children from Syria, the DRC, Rwanda, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, and countless other places across the globe. Also there, sharing and loving and laughing as we were, were hundreds of Americans of all ilks – white and brown and black, Greek Orthodox and Catholic and Muslim, agnostic and atheist – welcoming the newest Americans to a great place and people and country.
Through the joy, however, invaded sad thoughts for me… thoughts of the profound injustices done by humans to humans worldwide. Thoughts of ignorant and spineless white nationalists giving Nazi salutes in our nation’s capital two days prior. Thoughts of the brutality and hypocrisy of the fighting against protesters at Standing Rock. Thoughts of our nation’s deep and sickening battle with internal forces of racism and hatred and selfish actions. Thoughts of Selma and Standing Rock, Khartoum and Kigali, the Killing Fields and the concentration camps and the internment camps… [more in comments] #thanksgiving #liveyouradventure

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My great uncle, Roe Duke Watson, served…

My great uncle, Roe Duke Watson, served on the front lines in World War II. He was gravely wounded in 1945 after shrapnel from a 170mm German howitzer shell shredded his abdomen on Mount della Torraccia while serving in the 87th Mountain Regiment (10th Mountain Division). He was a great man, a hero of mine in myriad ways. On this Veteran’s Day, I salute all the men and women who have served and do serve our country and our world, and I honor deeply the sacrifices they make to uphold the values and rights of us all, inside the USA and outside. Uncle Duke was one of many who put it all on the line to protect the lives of those who needed help, to defeat fascism and racism and hatred and uphold fundamental human rights and freedoms. To all the veterans, thank you for your service to our country and to our world, and to the humanity which unites us all. #liveyouradventure #veteransday #10thmountaindivision #hero

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What do we do now? WTF? This…

What do we do now? WTF?
This thought, and many more, have been ringing in my ears for the last couple days. I couldn’t think straight today, not because of Hillary losing, but because of him winning. Fear and anger have clouded my brain, racing thoughts of all the good that could be undone in 4 short years.
I’m sure I’m not alone.
But, optimism has slowly crept back in… optimism tempered with empathy, compassion, and resolve.
First off, empathy and compassion for those who have suffered so much in recent decades they’ve thrown their hat in Trump who’s spoon-fed them lies and preyed upon underlying resentments and fear. Empathy because while some are indeed seething racists and misanthropes I struggle to feel much of anything but anger for (I know, not very Christian or Buddhist of me, but I’m neither), there are many Trump supporters who truly have been left behind, abandoned by Democrats and Republicans alike, cast adrift by changing economics, shifting demographics, abysmal education, and a system and society which did little to help. They deserve our empathy, our compassion, for it is their very abandonment by our system which spawned the festering anger and contagious fear which in turn gave rise to Trump.
I have empathty and compassion equally – if not more so – for those who stand to suffer most under Trump. Blacks, Latinos, LGBTQ, immigrants, refugees, and women all stand to suffer greatly under Trump. If his policy threats are true, rights will be stolen in the name of the Constitution; many will suffer in the name of greatness; hatred, fear, and homogeneity will be the driving presumptions.
And, finally, I’m committed to have resolve. I’m not giving in to fear. I won’t let the power of anger and hate taint my perspective. I resolve to stay focused on that which I know is right and true. I resolve to defend the rights of all – black or white, straight or gay, rich or poor, human or animal – and believe first in the goodness of my fellow humans. I resolve to see the other side and the other perspective, and know it’s OK to agree to disagree… and then work toward a common solution. I resolve to defend the truth of [continued in comments]

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On my first trip to the Southeast…

On my first trip to the Southeast Ridge of Everest, I made a few hour foray from Basecamp o a rest day to check out this cool, rock spire far down the Khumbu Glacier. I didn’t have gear with me to climb it, so made do with bouldering at the base and enjoying the solitude, figuring erroneously it had never been visited, or climbed. It wasn’t until I got to know the amazing Tom Hornbein years later that I found out it had been climbed, by Hornbein and Barry Corbet on a similar foray some 39 years before. While insignificant as a climb, their small, fun ascent represents the ethic of the 1963 “West Ridgers” on Everest which I so admire: they were there not simply to get a summit, but rather for the adventure of the climb, a step into the unknown, the embrace of uncertainty and all the possibilities it opens up. Their climb of this little pinnacle pales in comparison to the historic ascent of the West Ridge, made 2 months later by Tom and Willi Unsoeld; but the underlying ethic, the desire to pursue a life of exploration, uncertainty, risk, and reward, is equal. Turning 86 today, Tom still embodies this ethic, on the mountain and off, whether hitting the trails and crags of Rocky Mountain National Park or taking piano lessons at home. Sending great birthday wishes to a hero of mine, a true inspiration, and one we can all learn from. #liveyouradventure #happybirthday

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The rugged upper reaches of the Gangotri…

The rugged upper reaches of the Gangotri Glacier – where the first waters of the Ganges River (at this point, known as the Bhagirathi) come thundering from the snout of the glacier at a place called Gaumukh, or cow’s mouth – seems like a pristine wonderland. And, in many ways it is: the glacier yields to sweeping walls of granite forming massifs like Shivling, the Bhagirathis, and the Chaukhambas. The surface trickles of water are clean and crisp – so clean that we were able to drink no problem without any purification. But, look deeper, and the woes of the Ganges downstream are evident even here. In the snows at the base of Chaukhamba, our samples showed high levels of heavy metals and nitrates: pollutants borne on the winds and deposited in this high sanctuary. Even here, this fledgling river which nourishes 500 million downstream shows signs of wear and tear. @pedromcbride and I are thrilled to be sharing our film, Holy (un)Holy River, with everyone at @banffcentre tonight at 8pm. Link in profile. | In this photo, Pete McBride and @davidcmorton walk the moraine of the Gangotri above Sundarvan, with the Bhagirathi peaks rising behind. #liveyouradventure #bestmountainartists

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The humble Jerry Can. It’s not something…

The humble Jerry Can. It’s not something we think much of in the developed world. Perhaps we use one on car camping trips when water is not readily available; I’ve got a couple for just that purpose. Originally designed in the 1930’s for the German military (hence, “Jerry”) to haul gasoline, the typical Jerry Can holds 20 liters, or 5.3 US gallons, of liquid. In the developing world, the Jerry Can is both a symbol of hope and despair. Despair in that hundreds of millions of people – mostly women and children – spend hours each day hauling these jugs long distances to and from safe water points. A full Can weighs 44 pounds. For 800 million people globally, safe, accessible water is simply not a reality; this fundamental human right – which we take for granted – is a profound luxury for so many. But, the Can is also a symbol of hope, for throughout the developing world we see villagers queued at safe water points, working as a community to manage and sustain this vital resource. While far more difficult than simply turning on a tap, the collection of safe water from a communal tap is a big, positive step for countless communities. And with great organizations like @waterforpeople, @charitywater, @water_health, and more working hard to provide for those in need, the battle is slowly being won. | In this photo, Kabanda Epimaque repairs damaged jerry cans for villagers on the side of the road in Rulindo, Rwanda. He charges 5 to 35 cents per repair, depending on the size and scope of the damage. #waterislife #liveyouradventure

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No, it’s not Utah, but it looks…

No, it’s not Utah, but it looks a lot like it. A kingdom since 1380 (semi-autonomous from 1768 to 2008 under Nepali suzerainty, now no longer officially a kingdom), Upper Mustang, the Kingdom of Lo, is an other-worldly place in all ways. Here one sees firsthand the collision of centuries, as ancient lifestyles of subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry intermingle with roads and tourism, Facebook and television. The land of Mustang is physically changing as development creeps in, and the culture and heritage is as well. With human settlement dating back at least 3,000 years or more, there is ton to learn about and from in this remarkable region, but the clock is ticking. Just two years ago, not far from where this photo was taken, uranium was discovered. The race is now on to exploit this resource – a mixed blessing in a country like Nepal, landlocked with few natural resources. | In this photo, a centuries-old Tibetan Buddhist chorten blends into the high desert, ethereal landscape near the village of Samdzong. #liveyouradventure

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For millennia, the Ganges River – spiritual…

For millennia, the Ganges River – spiritual and physical lifeblood of India – has been considered sacred. Early Hindu texts speak of Maa Ganga, or Mother Ganges, being released from the heavens by Lord Shiva to allow the Hindu faithful to escape samsara (the cycle of death and rebirth) and attain moksha (transcendence from the earthly realm). Its water believed to be capable of absolving sin and providing both spiritual and physical cleansing, millions flock to the river’s banks daily to bathe, make offerings, and collect valuable Ganga jal – or Ganges water – to keep or share with loved ones. But, is there more to the river’s purity than simply spiritual reverence and myth? In 1896, bacteriologist Ernest Hankin published a paper for the Pasteur Institute on the existence of strange bacteria-fighting agents in the Ganges which limited the spread of cholera. 20 years later, this phenomenon was “proved” by Félix d’Hérelle with the discovery of microbes killing the dysentery bacillus; he called the microbe a bacteriophage. These hyper-specific bacteria-eaters exist almost everywhere, but are particularly prevalent in the Ganges; so much so that sailors of the British East India Company would only take Ganga jal on their ships, as it would not putrefy on the long journey back to England, and epidemics of cholera and typhoid are less rampant along the Ganga basic than they likely should be. A new study by India’s Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH) has now found new evidence that Maa Ganga does indeed have some self-cleansing properties; their research will be released in December. But, is the rampant pollution along the 1,500 mile river overwhelming even the phage’s ability to cleanse it? Is some of the ancient magic of this iconic river – one revered and reviled – being destroyed by overuse, abuse, and neglect? This and more is what @pedromcbride and I cover in our film, Holy (un)Holy River, showing this weekend at @banffcentre. | In this photo, two Hindu men take a sacred bath in the Ganges in Varanasi, Uttar Predesh, India.

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