Friday, May 19, 2017

Cerveza por favor

Chris, as always, covered this quite eloquently. I don't need to add more about the logistics above C4 on Kangchanjuna. There are no profound revelations to be gleaned but strap in folks, I'm dining alone at a favorite little Tibetan spot in Kathmandu with a tall beer and waxing poetical. First, I have a favorite little Tibetan restaurant in Kathmandu. How cool is that? I've stood atop countless mountains in hundreds of ranges. After 5 trips to the Hymalian range, this was my first failure to attain the set goal, yet we still stood above 8000m and did something incredible. When it was clear we were given bad information about planning and shared resources, high from our perch on the last day of low winds my poorly oxygenated brain raced. We just made it this far from C2 in under 24 hours, sick, without sleep or much food; surely we can pull rope from below or find old rope in the rock section of the route. Then *ding*, this is how people get books written about them; benighted above 8000m. I'm currently on a team of the best and the brightest. They have rescued and recovered others and recounted the tails. I won't do what "Donny Don't" does. Turning around is a surprisingly simple calculus.

Climbing has let me share drinks and stories with some of the greatest adventurers of our time. It has forced lessons in situational awareness while traveling, medicine and physiology while caring for self and others, strength and humility, generosity and reciprocity, ego and death. We break language, economic, gender and social barriers; all without plumbing or even the basics on the hierarchy of needs at times. I won't pretend to have some great perspective on life but I can tell you a lot of the noise fades away when, in the cold, silent, vast, beauty of your surroundings can be summarized by grunt and a laugh. The thin line between safety and comfort is there to be pushed; by technology and mindfulness, by brute force of will and ego, by human fragility and creativity. And as much as this curmudgeon would love to stagnate in front of a screen for a good while; there are friends and family, technology and science conferences, pets and new projects (boy, do I want to build an electric skateboard for Burning Man), food and music to cherish. Then, when we've become too comfortable and start to lose the perspective this deprivation has wrought, the right people will assemble in the right place and time and we will collectively stare up at another hill and hatch a plan... Some will be selfish, some will have learned an expensive lesson, and some of us will just be in it for the stories to share at cocktail hour and the helicopter rides. I will be there with my toys, ready to learn, solve problems and climb until suffering and contentment become one and the same.

I appreciate the tireless efforts of friends at work that supported me with technology and time.
I appreciate the friends that inspire adventure and build their business and dreams on appreciating life under the big blue dome.
I appreciate all of the weird, wonderful and kind short messages sent to my sat beacon. Someday, you're all going to get published...

360° Photos at Camp 4 and about 8000m on the Southwest route (interactive Google Photos viewer)

Just hop over the crevasse (looking south at ridge that boarders Bengali India and Nepal)

Not all that glitters at 7200m...

View from a tent at 7300m, almost sunset (then setting out at 10:30pm for summit)

Finally looking down a Janu just after sunrise (with a few of the other big ones way in the distance)

I can see my tent from here... (8000m on Kanch looking down at C4)

"Nearly Dinner Time, come in and wash up", near C2 after summit push

Growing with every step... into a yeti.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kanchenjunga Camp 3 rotation

Chris Burke and I have completed a rotation up to our camp 3 at 6900m. The whole trip took 6 days because of a few nights pinned down at camp 2 by high winds and heavy snow. It is a bit of a gamble staying up that high for so long because the human body and immune system weaken pretty rapidly in the low oxygen environment but we felt strong and pushed through and now feel much more acclimatized. We also managed to cache most of our heavy gear and supplies at camp 3 in the processes so our summit push should start a bit easier. The route to camp 3 included a couple of exciting 1m+ crevasse jumps along the winding maze between even larger crevasses and one solid ice wall. We're not sure when our summit window will be as the current forecasts call for quite a bit of snow but we've heard that our neighbors to the west on Lotse and Everest are expecting a May 16th weather window. Kanchenjunga summits tend to be a few days behind Everest as the jetstream moves north. I'll report in as we learn more. 

The deli-copter made it in today in a small gap in the snow storm to pick up an injured Italian expedition cameraman and brought in supplies including fresh veg and toys! My lovely colleauges managed to deliver a pocket sized drone that is packed with acoustic and stereoscopic vision sensors and really cool computer vision systems to allow for amazingly stable, autonomous flight. Thanks to everyone who's contributed to OpenCV ARM, NEON and Mali optimizations. Aside from just being an amazing camera platform to shoot the beautiful rugged terrain with, it is also small and light enough to carry in a backpack and orders of magnitude less expensive than using a manned helicopter or tasking a satellite for updated images of the route. Those that remember our expedition on Annapurna last year might recall that we have a difficult time finding a route through the winding seracs, crevasses and towering ice blocks between camp 2 and 3. It took several dead-end attempts in the falls to find safe passage. We even hiked up the mountain across from Annapurna with a telescope to see if we could spot a clean route from a distance. Our camp 3 is situated under a similar ice block (see photos below) and the trip up to camp 4 looks like it will involve descending in to a giant crevasse and climbing up the other side (Ascent of Rumdoodle style). I'm hoping to pre-scout some better lines in real time from relative safety behind my smart phone screen. This type of technology is already being used to inspect infrastructure from bridges to power lines to buildings, even deliver packages. I expect we'll see much more of this autonomous, inexpensive ARM powered technology doing everything from improving safety in dangerous environments to making and sharing art.

Tonight is the full moon which means today is Buddha's birthday. We woke to several camps playing chants and all of the Sherpa are in high spirits today, playing card games, burning juniper and playing on the giant boulders around camp. It is a fun atmosphere with fresh snow on the ground and dozens of prayer flags criss-crossing our camp, floating on the wind. I celebrated by taking my first 'shower' in two weeks and doing laundry while it was snowing. Ahhh, the glamorous life of base camp. 

Lakpa building furniture and melting snow at our C1 just before the "down jacket" (first sunlight) hit our tents.

Giant ice blocks above lower Camp 3

Nearly full moon night lights up the mountains around base camp as a sea of clouds floats up the valley

360° photo of lower C3 under construction. (Best viewed interactively using Google Photos on a smartphone, VR headset or desktop)

You can follow our progress and send me short messages via my sat beacon:
@why_mutate_dup on Twitter and FB

Thanks to @ARMCommunity for the support and technology that drives my training, safety, communications and photography; all with a couple of tiny solar panels. I can't wait to get to an unmetered internet connection to share video and full res photos!

Thanks for weather forecasting support and adventure inspiration. 

Thank you all, friends and family, for the kind electronic epistles of support, bits of news from the real world and overwhelming kindness. They are much needed, appreciated and entirely undeserved. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

1st rotation on Kanchenjunga

Wednesday the 26th, our typical cacophony of avalanches every 20 minutes from the ice falls and mountains surrounding our little rocky safe haven at base camp has been overtaken by the low roar of the jet stream scraping across the surrounding 7000m peaks. Giant, shimmering spindrift plums soar overhead like fire as they catch the sun and sublimate. Its mornings like this that I'm happy to be at base camp with a coffee, a solar panel and a tablet. Others busy themselves moving big rocks to anchor tents in case the jet stream settles in lower and threatens our movie theater and disco tent. I've found the best way to keep my Outernet weather and news connection stable is to glue the antenna directly to a chunk of granite. Not that we actually care to read the news of the world outside of our little international community but if I don't work on keeping up comms, weather and charging all of my cameras, lights and beacons for the next rotation, I'd probably be writing poetry about the wonders of e6000 epoxy. 

My small group (Chris, Chris, Lakpa, Tsering and I) made a short rotation up to camp 2-ish a few days ago. We carried a bunch of rope and pickets to the temporary C2 but are hoping to move that camp up a bit higher to avoid having a 1000m climbing day from C2 to C3 at 7,100m. One thousand vertical meters may not seem like a big climb if you were in our local Rockies or Sierra Nevada but at 7000m we're breathing half the oxygen you'd get and with enough gear on our backs, this turns in to an 8-9 hour slog. We're primed to go to and set up C3 on our next rotation when the winds allow, though. The winding route through the icefalls looks fairly straight forward from below at C2 but if conditions allow it, we'll try to put up a drone to get a bird's eye view and spot potential snow bridge and crevasse hazards. Famed Italian climber and heli pilot Simone Morro tried to fly a B3 up near camp 2 to take pictures to plan a route by but couldn't safely get high enough above the possible route. Not all of us are wealthy enough to have our own helicopters (yet). It is a treat to share coffee and stories with such a famous climber and someone who was close to Anatoli B. 

I never dreamed I'd be back on another 8000m expedition just one year after Annapurna. I'm questioning my own sanity and motivations in life a bit but thankful for my coworkers, friends and family for not just tolerating my absence but supporting me with kind messages and my wacky ideas to improve our safety, enjoyment and connectedness. The chance to learn from some of the greatest climbers of our time and simply live in this environment is wonderful perspective. While I look forward to trading this monastary for a comfy couch with family or a meal with friends, I'll gladly soak up the night sky and type 2 fun high in the Himalayas. 

Lakpa and Chris as we carry a load above our tiny Camp 1 and a sea of clouds below. And yes, crossing that crevasse is tricky.

Short ice climb just below Camp 1

Tsering and me taking a break on a snow dome just below a mixed climbing section. 360° photo best viewed interactively in Google Photos, Facebook or VR.

p.s. I have Jemaine Clement's "Shiny" (from Moana) stuck in my head. My only solace is that I can get it stuck in your head, too. Go ahead, youtube it.
p.p.s. Chris's blog:
p.p.p.s. See our location, short updates and message me:
p.p.p.p.s. Thanks to our friends at, @ARMCommunity and @vindurhao for weather updates, threads and emotional support. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A few photos from the trek in to Kanchenjunga South Base Camp

After about 10 days of trekking we have arrived at our based camp at 5500m (18,000') high in the eastern Himalaya on the boarder with Bengali India. Our start in the flat planes near Bhadrapur brought us through tea farms, paper tree and bamboo jungles, several alpine passes and eventually, a stark, beautiful, glaciated valley. Our objective is now in sight from our base camp on the Southwest route of Kanchenjunga. Base camp is perched on a steep, high but relatively protected rocky ridge just to the side of an enormous icefall that is constantly grumbling and collapsing with enormous roars randomly throughout the day. Janu, a beautiful mountain, also looms large over us and sheds fresh snow every time Chris jokes about running up it to train. We were greeted with a foot of snow and an electrical storm the after night we set up our camp which suites us all fine as we'll need a few days to adapt to this very high basecamp before putting in a camp 1. April 17th is an auspicious day to hold a Puja ceremony so we won't open the route until after that anyway. We're fortunate to have two lamas with us, one of our kitchen staff, Chiri was a lama for a dozen years and climbing sherpa Chiriring for two years. We also have Pema and Ang Dorji joining us again and our favorite BC chef, Dome. Let the glamping begin. 

On our team are Chris Burke ( you might remember from previous adventures on K2 and Annapurna. She is on track to be the first Australian and New Zealand woman to summit all 14 8km peaks
Lakpa Sherpa, one of the most amazing ice, rock, alpine and high altitude mountaineers on our little planet and
Chris Warner a former 8000m mountaineering guide, climbing gym entrepreneur, speaker and truly wonderful story teller. Chris and Chris are far more thoughtful, entertaining and skilled climbers than I am so I suggest following their blogs over mine if you plan to follow yet another quest for type 2 fun on the 3rd highest peak in the world. I'm sure watching these climbs unfold seems egotistical to some, repetitive to others but every adventure finds a lovely cast of characters, an opportunity to live very simply, new ways to test the mind and body, and see how many days in a row we can go without bathing. I feel so blessed to have adventured to the most remote corners of the world with inspiring and amazing people. Even more to have family and friends back home and around the world that keep encouraging and inspiring more adventures and sharing their cultures.

Base camp is just starting to take shape. Simone, Tamara and their Italian team are already here. A Japanese & Korean expedition and international hodgepodge from the 7 Summits expedition, which includes the Sherpani, are a day or two behind us. We, of course, have arrived early to claim the high rent district that will save us a dozen meters when we start climbing.

*Nerd alert*
I'm not paid to mention any of this but I'm inspired and appreciate that my work and adventures overlap in fun and interesting ways and my colleagues put up with my extended periods of absence and get to see the stuff we help make in action. Simone already has a drone attempting to stagger around camp in the thin, snowy air as they film for their traverse of Kanch. If I can get mine out of customs back in Kathmandu, I plan to survey the icefalls and glacier crossing above camp 1 and 2 before we even get there. I also have a neat, inexpensive, little "C.H.I.P." based prototype kit I've assembled to get us daily news, weather and wikipedia articles via free L-band satellite broadcasts. Our "" is up and running at base camp and anyone with a wifi phone, tablet or laptop can connect to it and check the weather, news and books as long as this little computer, antenna, solar panel and battery survive the elements. I think this will prove to be a really neat, inexpensive educational product for less connected communities and schools when it is out of the amazingly fast prototype stage. It makes for a really cool project kit right now. My latest nerd crush, though, is this Android Wear 2.0 LG Sport watch; it is the best heart rate monitor I've used to date, music/podcast player, GPS, altimeter, and flashlight in one tiny device I've seen yet. It keeps me from being left alone with my own thoughts for extended periods of time, for which I'm sure everyone is grateful. And it tells time.

As always, you can follow our progress and my semi-daily status and send me short messages via my sat beacon:
@why_mutate_dup on Twitter and FB
Remember, devices get dropped, batteries die in the cold, we get caught up in keeping warm and staying safe; no news is good news.

Thanks to @ARMCommunity for the support and technology that drives my training, safety, communications and photography. Also, thanks to @vindurhao, our sherpa and I love the gear. Who says you have to look like a dirtbag climber at base camp? 

Playing with the 360° camera (load this in to FB or Google Photos to use interactively):

Beautiful high pass above Yamphudin:

Acclimatization day hike above Ramche:

Base camp:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Morning Ilam

Next stop Tharpu

Day 1: Arrive in Kathmandu
Day 2: In Kathmandu
Day 3: Fly Bhadrapur 
Day 4: Drive to Tharpu 
Day 5-6: Trek to Yamphudin 
Day 7-13: Trek to Kanchenjunga Base Camp
Day 14 - In Kanchenjunga Base Camp

Monday, May 16, 2016


I've just descended to basecamp at 4600m from 5700m on Dhaulagiri. We went up on a summit push yesterday and I managed to keep up with some of the Sherpa all the way to camp 1 (of 3) but I pushed too hard in the heat. I could list losing half of my gear, blisters, significant muscle and weight loss, that 80% of the fixed lines from BC to C1 have been swept by avalanche, a persistent cough that rattles my ribs and back but those things are part of every summit push on an 8000m peak in some way or another. When I found a guide in Yosemite Valley to teach me how to climb big walls, he told me he takes most trad, rock climbers new to big-wall up the Washington Column because it has a huge ledge to sleep on and a positive angle all the way up but when he saw I'd climbed Everest, he offered up the Leaning Tower as my first overnighter on a big wall. A completely overhanging slab of granite with a very small bivy half way up. He said, "you know how to suffer;" a high complement from a big wall expert. High altitude mountaineering is many things at different times. It is cooperation, planning, strength, endurance, rehearsal, safety systems, technology but it almost always requires suffering. One doesn't get up high on a mountain and then decide they're too tired, sick, scared, cold or injured to quit. You just keep moving, carefully, no matter how much you want to stop, or you lose the game. Of the excuses I listed above, the simple reason I turned around was I had used up my willingness to suffer and still be able to make good decisions while on Annapurna. I'd hit my personal tolerance for risk. I'd never attempted back to back 8000m peaks but since Dhaulagiri was right across the valley from Annapurna, it seemed like a nice plan B or bonus peak that Chris and Lakpa were planning on anyway. Chris and Lakpa are truly bad-ass to continue up. Of the 21 people that made a summit push on the 15th, yesterday, all turned back. Lakpa had the same respiratory problems I had after getting sick at high altitude. The Spanish team, our friends, are now less than half their size after Annapurna took its toll and the remaining are burnt out after 75+ days of expedition so they aren't even going above base camp before flying out. Still Chris and Lakpa go up! I'll monitor the radios and forecasts from here and report their status on my sat beacon site.

And if I still have a job (I didn't expect Annapurna to take more than my sabbatical time), I look forward to dissecting some of the other cool technology I've seen up here. The British joint military expedition have heart rate/blood O2 sat chips implanted in their chests, an ARM powered quad-copter they've used to film the route above 7000m and more weather forecasting technology and tracking systems than I've ever seen on a mountain before. And be warned, we're past my 1 month absence threshold required before hugging co-workers and I miss you all. Even you Brits that hate hugs.

I have now summited Everest, K2 and Annapurna, 3 of the deadliest, most written about mountains in the world, each on my first try. I'm not sure that has been done. I owe so much to the teams that helped me climb each. I'm still an amateur here, a mountain tourist but I understand the wisdom, experience and morale those teams shared to contribute to all of our success. If you'll allow some chest-puffery; I'm the 17th American to summit K2 and the 5th (6th or 7th?) to summit Annapurna but I know I have a lot to learn and look forward to the chance to climb with friends and the greatest climbing masters of our time. So, thanks to my brilliant friends that taught me the best climbers have the wisdom to recognize when to turn around. The connections we form while climbing and traveling together makes us family. The support I get from all of you in 160 character chunks (and occasional photos of my niece learning to walk) fill me with more joy and gratitude than I could ever express. The months spent in tents, on glaciers without modern conveniences is a welcome reboot of perspective and privilege. Well, except for the riding around in helicopters part. I may not have a shower, microwave, full internet, clothes washer or even a toilet but I have 360° cameras and satellite beacons and GPS watches and a tiny solar panel to keep it all alive, record and share the journey. I look forward to sharing more when I get home in a week or two. Thank you for indulging this silliness and watching my "what I did for my summer vacation" videos. I miss and love you all.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Annapurna I summit!

I walked down from Camp1 and on to a helicopter to Pokhara two days ago. On May 1st, 2016, we stood on the summit of one of the most challenging (statistically deadliest) peaks in the world, Annapurna I (8091m). An accomplishment about 200 people can claim and, I think, fewer than 8 Americans can. As with K2, it hasn’t sunken in. I’m not sure that it will any time soon. I appreciate the outpouring of love and support from friends, colleagues and family. I’m not sure it is deserved since we voluntarily subject ourselves to this struggle and the rewards of perspective from traveling to this place, this culture, this physical challenge are wholly gratifying. It is lovely to hear from you all though; the climbers I look up to, my family and friends that lit this passion, my coworkers that are covering my butt while I’m out and designing the gadgets that make this journey both safe and share-able. I stand on the shoulders of your support.

On this summit push, we expected the winds and snow to be low on May 1st so we left base camp on April 27th and took a day to get to each camp on the way up. The first two camps, as you know, are pretty easy to get to and relatively safe though lots of folks had to excavate tents from over a meter of snow at C2. The journey to C3 was, again, full of blue, nearly vertical ice and quite strenuous. The serac above the gully was relatively quiet though we hear it nearly got two Russians on their way out. What I wasn’t aware of was how, equally, tough the trip up to C4 would be on April 30th. Some teams used a lower camp 4 that still had some overhanging ice climbing to get to but in order to shorten our summit day, we opted to use an upper camp 4 around 7200m. After about 6 hours of climbing above C3, I strolled in to our C4 fresh and ready to tackle the mountain. And by strolled, I mean, hobbled, gasping and wheezing about 4-5 breaths for every step I took until I finally got to our tent site. We spent about 8 hours there warming up, making water and resting. I think I drifted off for about an hour before we woke up at 9pm for a 10pm push.

Once fully suited, harnessed, and packed, we stepped out in to the frigid night air. In the 5 minutes I spent standing outside the tent with the conductive steel spikes of my crampons stuck in to the snow, I could start to feel my toes numb, even with chemical toe warmers clumsily stuck to my socks. When Pema motioned for us to take off as a pair, we rocketed up towards the headlamps bobbing slowly up the hill ahead of us and I started to feel my extremities again. The Spanish had left lower C4 at around 7pm and had made it just past our camp. We caught them in just over an hour. It is a strange feeling climbing at night; living in a small sphere of light cast by our tiny, brilliant, white LEDs on our foreheads. Before moonrise, the only reference of movement and progress is the twinkling headlamps above and below you and the dim, static stars above. They are comforting though. As long as there are stars, there aren’t clouds and high winds pushing snow around the mountain or in to you. You feel this delicate sense of comfort in the quiet, soft warmth of your down suite as you feel the biting cold of the outside air on your face and the long trail of steam as you exhale in to the impossibly cold, thin air. I peel back the gauntlet on my mittens every 20 minutes or so to gaze at the tiny route line on my GPS watch. The dim backlight seems blinding in the dark night. Part of modern 8000m peak ascent is this night start but without moonlight, people are left to follow contours on the mountain that they know by daylight. This has led expeditions to loose their way at night only to have to make up lost ground or retreat when the sun reveals their location. As I wrote before, Lakpa and I sat down with mapping software and drew and approximate route I could view from my Ambit 3 without carrying a clumsy handheld device and exposing skin. It worked brilliantly. When the sun started to peek up from the horizon around 5am, we were just a few hundred meters short of the couloir we needed to ascend to the peak. (360° photo attached, around 7700m) You can see ice frozen on my eyelashes in this photo. We were also out of fixed line at this point. Fortunately, Pema was carrying a thin lead line. He pulled it out and without a word spoken, I figure-8-ed in and we were off. Untethered from the long, poly-pro, umbilical back to C4. And again, I enlisted my watch to drop a breadcrumb trail should we find ourselves back at this point in white out conditions in need of navigational queues. Digital bread crumbs are marginally lighter than a satchel of bamboo wands. 

We traveled up the couloir as it appears on satellite images and as planned but at what seemed like the top, appearances were deceiving, the summit was still a long way off, up and to the left. The actual summit might have been more difficult to find had we not had two sherpa with us who had been there (Pema, twice) and my GPS fix to follow. It was around there I think I could tell something was happening to one of my lungs. This is typical though. Small colds turn in to respiratory infections up here often but it was slowing me down. The Spanish and Korean teams passed us by after Pema’s heroic, alpine style trail breaking ahead of me and soon we saw the Nepali flag one of their Sherpa had planted on the summit! After what seems like an eternity (an hour), we waited our turn in line and joined Lakpa and Chris on the tiny, tiny summit in gail force winds for quick pictures and an even faster retreat. In the attached/linked 360° photo, you can see the spindrift howling off the summit point. I gazed down the east ridge towards Rock Noir and west towards Dhaulagiri for a few seconds and we were off; down climbing the same route we came up. Axe and front points in to the snow and head bobbing up and down to peer between our legs below and the person above us. The whole ordeal to the summit taking 12 hours, 30 minutes from tent to summit. The return trip was fairly arduous but uneventful. My lung continued to slow me down until it was wheezing but never stopped working. I was quite proud that we’d climbed without fixed ropes above 7700m to the top. I was really glad I could send a short message from my smartphone and satellite beacon to my friends and family notifying them when we were safely back in our tent at C4. There were a couple of cases of frostbite and a heli rescue at C1 but in all 26 people topped out and made it back to base camp over the next couple of days. 

You can see our heli ride out was an adventure in itself. Our pilot did a power/weight check takeoff first, then circled around back to base camp and flew at a ridge blocking our escape at full speed and cleared us by a few meters before dropping in to the exit valley. The astute may also notice his navigation aid is also an ARM powered device. When he realized we had the 77 year old Carlos Sr. on board, he took a selfie of himself with Carlos all while flying. 

I have processed some of the 360° video I have in to interactive mode but uploading it over the limited bandwidth to the Facebook interactive viewer from Pokhara isn’t going well. What I can do this time is link to still photos in the Google Photo’s interactive viewer so you can pan around the stills like you would view them in a VR viewer. If anyone else wants to grab the videos and put them an interactive viewer, you have my permission to do so. The Ricoh Theta software also works on your local computer.

Tomorrow, we make a 5 hour drive with a full, new expedition’s worth of supplies and start to find our way to Dhaulagiri base camp. This should take us much less time to climb as we are fully acclimatized but again, we’ll wait on weather. Thank you all!

Sat Beacon (location and short posts):

Chris’s blog:

Summit platform of Annapurna I, May 1, 2016 (8091m)

Camp 1, goofing off

Headed up to C1