MichaelgSeamans's Blog

Illiterate ramblings from a photographer.

Two Climbers, Two Feet and Two Mountains: Training Ends and AMP’ed Expedition Preperations Finalized

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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.


Written by michael G. Seamans

April 21, 2010 at 1:27 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Michael – you do an amazing job of capturing the spirit of these two men. The challenge before them is huge. Chad just left Logan after celebrating his 26th birthday with his family. He seems confident in his ability – he looks ready to me. Good luck to you and thanks for encouraging them. -Dee

    Dee Jukes-Cooper

    April 21, 2010 at 7:56 pm

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