Archive for April 2010
Two Climbers, Two Feet and Two Mountains: Training Ends and AMP’ed Expedition Preperations Finalized
Be careful navigating my literary mind field. Due to my haphazard use of the English language, you should be warned before you read any further. And as usual, there’s a gallery of images at the bottom of this post.
Over the last two weeks the expedition to the Ruth Gorge in the Alaska Range has begun to take on a real “it’s gonna happen” feel. And with the ice melted away in Colorado, except for up high, the logistical nightmare of pillaging and purchasing gear and trying to scrape enough money together for airline tickets has brought a new reality to the trip. Shit! We have non refundable airline tickets…we are going, whether we want to or not!
Over the April 11th weekend, Major King, a TV photojournalist for ABC Denver News Channel 7, shot a spot for the coming week’s news cast to be aired prior to the Chads’ departure for Alaska on April 30th. With the cameras waiting during a slow climb on somewhat easy terrain on the First Flat Iron in Boulder, the Chads dealt with the realization that they are about to take their climbing abilities into the intimidating and committing wild of Alaska. After an hour “freak-out session” isolated on a ledge half way up the mid 5th class rock the Chads’ began to ask the questions, “What are we doing? and Can we do this?”. For two climbers who are about to up the climbing ante by 200 percent, they were forced to deal with the gravity of applying their climbing skills in the harsh remote terrain of the Ruth Gorge. As doubt settled in and frustrations ran high, the team came to the point of deciding, go or don’t go.
Fear is an equalizer. The emotion can erode confidence in a split second forcing a person to run home crying for mommy. Fear can take a person out of the moment and away from rational thinking and plunge him into his own mind of worst case scenarios. The physiological effects can be debilitating. Once the brain is in the fight or flight mode the major muscle groups stiffen, breathing increases and a rapid heart beat pounds through the chest. Recovering can be difficult and if left unchecked dangerous.
As the tension became more palpable and the fear of the unknown grew into unmeasurable proportions, Mark Miller stepped in to help the Chads understand just exactly what scares them. Miller posed the question to Jukes and Butrick while soaking in the hot tub at Butrick’s home, “Are you scared of something specific or are you scared of the unknown? If we can identify exactly what the fear is, we can then mitigate the hazards as best we can and move on as far as the team feels comfortable.” Bottom line, maintain your composure and you can better control your fear responses.
After three months of training, the reason the Chads set out to climb in Alaska was finally brought into focus. The climbs that Butrick and Jukes are hoping to complete are climbed many times each season by many types of climbers. As a matter of fact, the climbs in the region are climbed often enough to have an economy dependent upon the flock of climbers to the region each season. What separates Butrick and Jukes from the other climbers is not the attempt to climb the Moose’s Tooth and Mini Moonflower, nor is it the fact that they are amputees. This expedition is about the human spirit. It is about exploring your personal limits and pushing beyond your perceived limits.
Three months ago the two Chads were receiving instruction on how to swing ice tools and climb with a prosthetic leg. I can’t think of anyone who has decided to climb a route as committing and difficult as the ones on the Moose’s Tooth before they have ever done a multi pitch ice climb. The determination and dedication committed to this expedition by the Chads has been inspiring. So when I hear Butrick say that he will consider this trip a success when he steps onto the glacier from the little mosquito sized Cessna, I better understand now. How many people would have the guts to proceed with so many obstacles in the way? Many people would bail on the trip relying on many valid excuses. But, not these two climbers. They are going to climb in Alaska in spite of those who doubt them, or better yet, in spite of their own doubts. In my opinion it’s easy to find reasons to not continue, it takes tenacity and a reverence for life to keep pushing on. These two climbers have progressed further and faster than any climber I have ever known and are as prepared as they will ever be for this incredible journey.
With nearly all European flights grounded due to ash and smoke in the air from the erupting Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, nearly 10,000 smokers blasted off into the clouds during the 4:20 marijuana smoke-out at the Norlin Quad at the University of Colorado in Boulder on April 20, 2010.
According to Wikipedia, 4:20 was created in 1971 by a group of San Rafael California teenagers who would meet at 4:20 after school to smoke marijuana. Now it is known to all pot smokers as “Pot Day”.
As I was driving into Boulder from Fort Collins I had no idea where the smoke-out was happening. As usual I let my news nose do the work. And let me tell you it wasn’t hard. The rich stench of weed filled every smelling receptor in my nose as soon as I turned onto Broadway in Boulder. The steady line of people that filed along the busy, traffic choked street was enough evidence that I was close. I should know better then try to get to an event that is predicting up to 10,000 participants with out a minute to spare. It’s a bunch of pot smokers I reassured myself, they’ll never start on time. You know the usual stereotype of the pot smoker operating on the slow-ish time schedule with rough estimations of starting and stopping points. However, if the sun were to blow up tomorrow and every clock stopped, rest assured you could set your watch on 4:20 on April 20th thanks to the diligent pot smoker time keeping that happens once a year.
In one cheer like a wave through the packed quad sounded the moment of 4:20 to the minute and second as an immense cloud percolated from the bobbing sea of heads. Truly a splendid experience to see so many people with a common interest enjoying the same moment in time as one. No arrests were reported as of 5:00pm, but, many bongs were confiscated. My only question is how did everyone get home?
This week I have enlisted Amped Alaska Expedition member, Chad Jukes to write this week’s Two Climbers, Two Feet and Two Mountains blog. Jukes and climbing partner Chad Butrick have been preparing for the past three months to be the first disabled climbing team to climb three routes in the Ruth Gorge in the remote Alaska Range this May. Check out the gallery of Chad Jukes at the bottom of this blog post.
In Chad Jukes words…
Back in December I headed down to Ouray for a week of ice climbing. One of the reasons for making this trip was Amped Outdoors first Kids Ice Climbing College of the season. I was psyched to get on some fresh early season ice, only a week after the ice park had opened. Also I was excited to get out and climb with the kids.
After a wildly successful kids college, we were gathered talking about the future of Amped Outdoors, and how to raise money for the organization. I was telling Mark Miller that I could do slide shows to promote the organization. I have done one slide show in the past year, and it seemed to be very well received despite the fact that I have no big climbs to wow the audience, simply my story of being injured in Iraq and continuing to climb.
It was at that point Mark suggested Alaska.
Over the following weeks, we discussed the potential of climbing Mini Moonflower and the Mooses Tooth. The original discussion was to plan the trip for Spring 2011 so we could have ample time to prepare and raise the money necessary. A couple weeks later I was back in Ouray for the week of the Ice Festival. I was having a great time climbing with my friends, and was feeling strong. During the Ice Fest, Mark suggested that we talk about making Alaska happen this year… I was stoked, and nervous. Jim McCarthy, a previous president of the American Alpine Club and board member who I admire greatly, told me if you wait until you are ready, you will never go. Now I feel that preparation is necessary, but I also understand what he was saying and I think it makes complete sense, especially for a first expedition.
At this point, I had said yes… I had committed… and I had to find a partner just crazy enough to commit to head up there with me. I thought about going with one of my partners from home, but they all were in school, which wouldn’t be over in time. I thought about it more, and figured that it would be great to have a partner who was also disabled, and Chad Butrick came to mind as a strong climber with a lot of experience mountaineering in Colorado. I decided that he would make a good solid partner, and gave him a call. There was little hesitation in his voice when I asked if he wanted to go to Alaska with me. He was as excited as I was and we knew we had it in us. A lot of training and preparation was ahead, however. We both knew we weren’t there yet.
So now, after a few months of intensive climbing and training, we are both feeling strong and confident. It hasn’t been easy, or always fun. It has definitely been a great time, learning to operate with Chad Butrick as a team, becoming more comfortable with my own abilities, and definitely, at times, “embracing the suck” as we would say in the Army. We had a lot of trouble this spring getting into the backcountry. The weather was definitely more friendly to skiers, while the heavy snows were shutting us out of many routes we wanted to get on due to unacceptable avalanche danger.
The ice is now melting down here in Utah and Colorado, and the countdown has begun… In just over a month we are going to be flying up to Anchorage to begin this adventure.
I would like to graciously thank Amped Outdoors for helping to make this happen. We are doing this climb in their name, in order to help raise awareness and funds for this great organization which is helping people with disabilities learn to climb, as well as running the kids ice climbing college in Ouray. I would also like to thank Black Diamond, Pacific Outdoors, Mystery Ranch, and Paradox Sports for sponsoring us. This climb couldn’t happen without them.
And Of course thank you Mike for coming along and documenting our attempts at these worthy summits.