Written by Vapur Pro Team member, Jake Norton.
When I was 12, my father and I climbed Mount Rainier in Washington. After our climb, we visited my great uncle, Roe Duke Watson, in Seattle. Sensing that I wanted to understand more about this “game” of climbing, Duke disappeared into his office and shortly emerged with a worn and tattered old book, its pages dog-eared and cover scuffed. On the cover was a simple, yet remarkably inspirational, photograph of two climbers silhouetted against a whale-backed ridge and about to disappear into the vast immensity of a Himalayan peak. The photo – and the climb it depicted – is one of the most iconic in all of climbing, showing Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld on the West Ridge of Everest.
Mount Everest is a magical place from a myriad of perspectives. While much aligned in the popular press today (and much of that being deserved), there still is a great deal to be impressed and inspired by on the mountain. From its sheer height and challenge to the wellspring of motivation it touches in its climbers, from the friendships forged on its slopes to the sunrises and sunsets viewed from its shoulders, Everest has a lot to offer to those willing to accept. For me, however, the greatest inspiration emanating from the highest point on earth comes from the past, from the ascents made decades ago and the people and personalities who made them.
In my brief time on Everest – seven expeditions since 1999 – I’ve been fortunate to brush with those historic climbs. I was a researcher and photographer on the Mallory and Irvine expeditions of 1999, 2001, and 2004. And, last spring, climbing for Eddie Bauer, I was able to follow some of the footsteps of Hornbein and Unsoeld.
Spring 2012 was a tough season on Everest, following a uniquely dry winter that left the upper mountain icy, scoured, and raining rock. My teammates – David Morton, Brent Bishop, and Charley Mace – and I worked hard, but were relentlessly pushed back by the route, the conditions, and our choice of climbing style. We didn’t make it too far on the mountain, but we were able to brush with history, to follow some of those inspirational footsteps of Hornbein and Unsoeld. While unsuccessful from a summit standpoint, Spring 2012 stands as one of my top expeditions of all time.
It was exactly fifty years ago today – May 22, 1963 – that Tom and Willi emerged from their tiny tent at 27,300 feet in the Hornbein Couloir on Everest’s North Face. From there, they climbed through difficult terrain – 5.6 crumbling rock, steep snow, and ice – and reached the summit at 6:15pm. They completed a new route on the mountain, and then descended the Southeast Ridge, making the first-ever traverse of Everest. Oh, and they spent the night out in an open bivouac at 28,000 feet to top it off.
To me, though, the most incredible part of their ascent was not the climb itself – although that was phenomenal. Instead, it was the perspective they climbed with and maintained after the climb was done. Tom and Willi were not after praise and pedestals (although they received plenty of both). Instead, they were after the pure essence of climbing: they chose the West Ridge because it presented deep uncertainty. No step was guaranteed on that route, the risk quotient was high, and that’s exactly how they wanted it. The climb to them was about far more than that little patch of snow on top of the world; it was about embracing the uncertainty which is, as Tom says, an “essential seasoning of life.”
For the past year, David Morton and I have been working with our co-director and editor, Jim Aikman, on a film telling the story of Everest in 1963 and the groundbreaking ascent of the West Ridge. We put the final touches on it last week, and High And Hallowed: Everest 1963 will make its world premiere at MountainFilm in Telluride this Friday.
In his book “Another Roadside Attraction”, Tom Robbins wrote that “history is a discipline of aggregate bias.” That may well be true – and I know where my bias stands: the West Ridge in 1963 was perhaps the greatest climb in Himalayan history, and one to inspire for decades to come.
So, on this day, let’s fill our Vapur bottles and tip them back in honor of Tom and Willi and all those who made their ascent possible.
Vapur MicroFilter $69
Essentially a foldable water bottle with removable straw that kills 99.9 percent of disease-causing bacteria and protozoa, the MicroFilter is one of the lightest and simplest water filters around. You simply fill up and drink. (Note: you have to draw pretty hard to get a good gulp.) Great as a just-in-case filter when traveling or backpacking.
Photo provided by Earthworks Climbing School
“Amanda, you’ve got the Elvis Shakes,” said Laura Bylund, Vapur Pro Team member.
Smiling with knees knocking, Vapur’s Sales Manager made her way up the steep rockface stopping only to reply, “Just call me the King of ROCK!”
This past Friday, professional climber, Laura Bylund and Matthew Fienup, founder of Earthworks Climbing School, took the Vapur Team out to free climb in Montecito, CA.
The Vapur Team is a unique breed of foodies, designers, innovators, musicians and adventurers, but even these renaissance men and women were a little hesitant to climb higher than a nine-story building. The day was filled with instruction, friendly banter, great food and encouraging words as the group cheered on each Vapur employee as they conquered the mountain.
Needless to say, by the end of the day, everyone reached their goal and made it to the top!
Thank you, Laura and Matthew, for an unforgettable day!
See more photos of the Vapur Team climbing here.
Written by Vapur Pro Team member, Eric Larsen.
I recently returned from short expedition in Svalbard, a group of islands which comprise the northernmost part of Norway. Located considerably north of mainland Europe, Savlbard is half way between Norway and the North Pole and a unique combination of mountains, glaciers, sea ice, cold and polar bears. It’s relatively easy to get to via direct commercial flight and, in theory, you can be sleeping in a tent on sea ice just one or two hours after landing in Longyearbyen. It’s the perfect place to train for polar travel.
At least, in theory, you could be sleeping on the sea ice in a tent.
I left for Norway with the usual collection of overweight duffel bags and gear. Skis (expedition and alpine), snow shoes, boots (alpine and polar), stoves, fuel bottles and more transferred from one place to another via variety of vehicles, people and planes. ‘Moving piles,’ Ryan, my friend and expedition partner for this Svalbar adventure, calls the process of transferring gear to different locations. With each leg, there is always a sigh of relief when all of the bags arrive at baggage claim.
The relief comes from experience, because things don’t always go smoothly. For example. I once traveled for nearly a week in Kolkata, India with just the clothes that I was wearing – my pack stranded at JFK in New York. During my last North Pole expedition nearly all of our cargo shipment arrived in Resolute except, mysteriously, our bacon. If there is one thing you don’t want to go without on the Arctic Ocean… it’s bacon… Actually, I can think of several other things as well, but my goal here wasn’t to talk about polar bear deterrents or the merits of adding butter to your morning oatmeal to increase its calorie count.
After meeting Ryan in Oslo and repacking our gear and food, we arrived at the airport on a crowded Sunday morning. Norwegians go nuts for Easter vacation and take the week to travel just about everywhere in the world. Who would have thought? Not me. But I’m off topic again. We checked four duffels and one ski bag for the direct flight to Svalbard. Pretty straight forward.
A few hours after arriving, we were still waiting in the Longyearbyen airport, sipping out of our Vapur Anti-Bottles, waiting for one duffel and our ski bag to arrive. ‘At least I never have to worry about my Vapur getting lost,’ I thought. It’s lightweight and super packable and as a result, it rarely leaves my side. In that moment, it was also a reminder to “Live Flexible,” Vapur’s motto that definitely applies to more than a way to hydrate.
‘How is it possible to lose bags on a direct flight?’ we asked. Then, loaded our bags onto a bus that dropped us off in the middle of town. Somehow, we then befriended a diesel generator mechanic who drove us around town looking for a place to crash for the night. One day’s delay wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
However, when our ski bag didn’t arrive the next day, even Ryan’s mild mannered demeanor became slightly agitated. As a mountain guide, Ryan has had more than his fair share of delays and obstacles, both pre and post expedition. While flying into Indonesia to guide a Carstensz Pyramid trip, he was delay indefinitely by a volcanic eruption. Recently in South America, he returned to his hotel after leading an Aconcagua expedition to find that all of his clean clothes were locked in storage and the ONE person who had the key was out of town for the weekend.
One of the most important aspects of expedition travel is to be flexible. Logistically, there are a myriad factors constantly in flux. In the U.S., we are used to things occurring on a regular schedule and according to a specific plan. Not all of the world works like that, so when there is a small snafu, it can be easy to over react. In reality, being patient and understanding the situation often offers a quicker resolution.
On the trail, we are constantly dealing with changing conditions, energy levels and more. Trying to obtain a specific goal while ignoring all other factors is, quite simply, very dangerous. To be successful requires assessing and reassessing, making plans and then changing them. In other words, living “flexible”.
The fact that our skis didn’t arrive on time actually allowed us an opportunity to check out more of Longyearbyen, take some fun pictures and hike to a nearby ice cave. Had we stuck to our rigid schedule, we would have missed all those opportunities.
– Eric Larsen