ESPN takes a look at Squaw Valley local, Kip Garre. espn.go.com Kip Garre: Avoids limelight, slays internatonal gnar-gnar, drives a shuttle, dates Ingrid Backstrom = kinda interesting
Kip Garre may well be the Most Interesting Man in the World. Pending authentication there, consider this: Kip Garre is the only part-time, sometime Tahoe-area shuttle-driver who: 1. Seeks out and slays the most daunting and legendary ski-mountaineering lines in North America and beyond, including Grand Teton, the Mendel Couloir, and Rainier’s Liberty Ridge, yada, yada, yada; 2. Once scaled an antenna tower behind Shane McConkey and jumped off; 3. Maintains relations with and shares a modest cabin near the base of Squaw with Ingrid Backstromâ?”the bonafide freeskiing star and, interestingly, quite the appropriate literary foil for the decidedly low-pro-bro MIMITW; 4. Counts few sponsors (K2, Oakley) and doesn’t really consider himself “pro”â?”ie. the shuttle driving and heli-guiding in Alaska and painting houseâ?”even though his vast and continuing collection of exotic, hair-raising experiences suggests otherwise;
Kip Garre collection
5. Will likely kick your ass in any sort of uphill endeavor and yet, interestingly, did not succeed in a recent effort to knock off a certain 8,000-meter bastard in Pakistan; 6. Has emerged as a defacto ski-mountaineering historian, with a number of academic papers published in esteemed journals like Powder and yet, interestingly, does not blog; 7. Runs with a Squaw-ish-based crew that likes to fly below the radar, a modis operandi that lends itself to mystique formation and nicknames like this one: “Sierra Slayers” (as in, “Who are these frickin’ guys from Cali?!);
Kip Garre collection
Garre and Ingrid Backstrom, just another couple of Squaw skiers.
8. Is something of an intellectual, collects books and devours The New Yorker weekly and yet, interestingly, does not subscribe to The New Yorker (Backstrom does) but did patiently submit over the course of this winter to hours of interviews and correspondence with ESPN Freeskiing; 9. Demonstrates rarefied humility among the loftiest peaks and egos, and yet somehow makes friends wherever he goes; 10. Is, in less than a month, going back up to Alaska with an elite crew to attempt an un-skied line on the classic and foreboding mountaineer’s peak, Mt. Foraker. And so it goes. The following series of interviews reveal, hopefully, interestingly, the strange and curious case of Kip Garreâ?”as told to someone who’s been hearing and reading about him here and there, narrowly missing him same-same, and finally curious enough to start asking a lot of questions.
FEBRUARY 19 Garre is Stateside waiting to board a plane for France. Do you have any Chris Landry stories? “No, man. I wish. I’ve always aspired to learn more about that guy, and just meet him.” How about your story?”Last winter I had knee surgery, in February, and I didn’t really ski much. Worked as much as I could. But then in the spring I went on a big tripâ?”to Gasherbrum II.” “I came home in the summer and tried to catch up and work on my knee and catch up financially. And in the fall I went to Antarctica, so now I’ve been skiing a lot but also trying to still catch up financially and get my knee back. The knee feels good know, but for longevity’s sake you want to do everything you can to get it back right.” Work? “I have a painting business, painting houses and whatnot, but that’s been slow. So I’ve been driving a shuttle, taking people from Tahoe to the airport.” Squaw? “Home. We have a tiny cabin in walking distance from Squaw. … This is my 11th winter. I grew up in New Hampshire, Hancock, near Crotched Mountain. High school at Holderness and then college in Coloradoâ?”Western State, for one year. At that time I’d never skied out West and I was blown away. I didn’t want to ski race anymore. I just wanted to freeski.”
By Design: Smashing AK pow is why Pontoons were made (Jan. ’08).
College degree? “Went back home and finished at Plymouth State [NH]. I wouldn’t ever finished college out West.” Major? “English Lit. And now here I am. Ski bum, ten years later.” Heli guide as well? “I’m going back this year, Points North in Cordova [AK], in April, to guide up there. I’ve done it for six years. I used to go for the full season, but now it’s usually a month-and-a-half, as it fits with my schedule. The Alaska culture’s great. Lots of great skiing and people up there, people who are just so excited for this one week of skiing. It’s unbelievable energy.” Filming or contests? “A contest at Squaw two years ago, and one at Kirkwood maybe seven or eigth years ago. They’re awesome, they’re fun, but they’re not for me. But I’d go with Ingrid when she was doing ’em, but then I’d just go ski backcountry. It’s a lot of standing around… never got too into it. But I’ve done a little filming. Here and there, but it’s never worked out. I may film this year with Warren Miller. But I’ve never really approached that side of things. Obviously Ingrid does a lot of it, and it’s always great to hear her stories and sometimes travel along with her filming things.” You’re off to France? “I lived over there for a couple winters: ’99, 2000 and ’01. So I’ve kept in touch with friends and I had some friends from Tahoe who wanted to do the Haute Route, so we’re going over together and then all meeting up.” “Another friend who’s a speed-flier, he’s meeting us as well. So we’ll have two weeks of fun. Sounds like conditions are good.” Ingrid? “She’s not coming with us. She’s actually going to Switzerland tomorrow, but we probably won’t hook up while we’re over there. She’s filming with Matchstick. And it can be tough. But we got to do two trips together last winter, and Matchstick’s her focus this winter.” Blog? “No. I need to start one. I’ve been looking into it recently but I haven’t put it together.” Backcountry is your forte. “I think so. I guess I don’t really have a forte, but that’s really what I enjoy. I definitely love the resort and going out with guys ten years younger than me and hucking cliffs. But ski mountaineering and really contrived, puzzling lines, that’s the most exciting thing to me. Just full contact. Love rock climbing so I love using ropes and climbing and getting to use all the gear that I love.”
MARCH 22 Garre is up at Points North Heli-Adventures in Cordova, AK. Franceâ?”you survived apparently?”We showed up and there’s this crazy big event going on, the Nissan Outdoor Challenge or something, so there’s people jumping out of helicopters, snowboarding, skiing, BASE jumping and hang-gliding and paragliding… So it kicked off our vacation and it was full-throttle from there. We did the Haute Route, which I’d never done, and it’s something I never thought I’d really want to do because it’s a walk. But we stayed in cool huts and everyday we got great skiing inâ?”2,000 and 3,000 foot couloirsâ?”and then we went back to Chamonix and skied a few more days there. So we we went home after 13 or 14 days and got up here 10 days ago.”
“I don’t think there’s a proper name for this couloir,” says Garre. “But it’s right outside the Argenti!¨re in Chamonix, through le Col du Chardonnet, and it goes down to the town of Champex in Switzerland.” (Feb. ’09)
Walk in the park. “They have the classic Haute Route, and it’s essentially a ski route from Chamonix to Zermat. We just did variations off that routeâ?”looking at the map and talking to friends to put it together so we could do more interesting skiing instead of just walking from point A to point B.” Sorta like heli-guiding then? “It’s busy here right now. Warren Miller’s here and they’re doing a guide segment on Points North, so we’re doing that. We’re not necessarily skiing, as pro athletes, but as guides for Points North. So there’s a couple of filmers up here and usually when those guys are in house the energy-level is high.” What’s up with Tim Dutton? “Yeah, I heard about that. Some of the guys up here are like, ‘Yeah, Tim Dutton won the damn thing!’ And I feel bad that I’ve never met the guy before or even heard of him. But these guys were so stoked to see some guy from Squaw crushed it.” Ash fall out in AK? “There’s ash in the air from Redoubt, there’s an ash plume coming off and the rumor is we might get some of that ash here.” Hair-raising experiences in France? “We had one really good day off the Aiguille du Midi, skied the Cosmiques. It’s a pretty good ski descentâ?”and if they were anywhere else in the world, they’d be be world class. And they are world class, but the fact that they’re right off the lift seems to diminish their status a bit. We also got to ski down to the tunnel, and it’s not often you can do that; 30 percent of the time, maybe, there’s enough snow to make that 9,000 foot descent possible.”
Kip Garre sees sleeper car where most people just see coach window seat.
“The Cosmiques, it’s like Corbet’s Couloir or the Palisades or Highlands Bowl; it’s one of those recognizable classics. And besides that we got some really good skiing on the tour. I was on my Dynafits with a pretty big pack, but we did rope up a few times to get into some stuff, and we skied some stuff that you wouldn’t want to fall on. But on your touring gear, you’re making shorter and more precise turns generally.” The Internet is a-twitter with news of an Ingrid and the MSP crew and a close call with an avalanche near Whistler. Details? “I just talked to her about that. They were filming, two days ago, and there’d been a fair amount of new snow. They had a guide with them who thought the snow was pretty sketchy. He dug a pit, and then they all decided it was really sketchy. But then someone skied down to him in the pit and the slide broke just below the pit. They were spooked. Ingrid said the crown was four to five feet. So they’re skiing the resort today. The stability is still questionable.” Did you catch up with Ingrid in Europe? “We were able to talk on the phoneâ?”I got some international plan on my phoneâ?”and then when we got back from Europe we had about three days to hang out together. But it’s defintely a challenge. I’m trying to get up her to come up here for a visit for a week, but we’ll see.” “She’s in Whistler right now and there until the 27th [March]. And then she’s flying to Stewart, northern B.C., on the coast, south of Bella Coula, the Bell 2 Lodge. She’s there until April 12th maybe and I think at that point she’ll probably figure out something next to doâ?”to finish out the season. I think I leave here April 25th and then I leave May 24th to come back up to Alaska to go up to the Alaska Range. So I’ll be in Tahoe for about a month in between.” Say whatâ?”Alaska Range? “I’m going with two guys from Salt Lake City and a guy from Jackson Hole to try and ski Mt. Foraker.” Interestingâ?”has Foraker been skied? “Once, by a French skier. I think it was 1981. Foraker’s just a nasty mountain in generalâ?”all those mountains are nastyâ?”and I don’t know why Foraker hasn’t had more ski descents, but it hasn’t. So we’ll see what happens. But I’m really stoked for that. Usually in May, June and July, I’m working and making money at home. But last year I wasn’t able to do that [Gasherbrum II] and it looks like this summer I’ll be off that program as well. But it’s one of those opportunities you really don’t want to pass up.” What route? Or perhaps you don’t care to say. “Maybe for right now, yeah, it doesn’t need to be in there. It’s not like a hidden secret, but…” Who else is going? “Right now it’s Christian Beckwith from Jackson Hole, the former editor of Alpinist; Courtney Phillips, a fitness maniac from Salt Lake City; and Andrew McLean, from Salt Lake City.” Of courseâ?”the A Team. “It could be. I got invited to go and felt totally honored and privileged, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I gotta make this happen. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ And also, with these guys, I think not elaborating on the trip would be better…” When was the scheme dreamt up? “In January I took a trip to Utah. I met Andrew last fall on the way to Antarctica and I’d kept in touch with him. So when I went to Utah I skied a few days with him and he asked what would I think of this trip. Really, everytime I talk to the guy I’m just like, ‘Ahhhh,’ just totally in awe. But then he sent me a proposal about it and just today I’m hearing more good news, like it’s looking good and we’re good to go with all our permits and applications.” A true honor then. Or, as The New Yorker put it, “In the ski-bum brain, the chance to ski with a magus like Andrew McLean is the equivalent of an invitation for a night on the town with Don Juan. The allure is great, but there’s always a possibility that the excursion will not end well. …” “It’s probably more me pestering Andrew after he threw the idea out. I just got lucky. I don’t know how he chooses who to invite or who not to. I don’t know him that well. And that’s why I’m concerned about saying too much about this trip, because without a doubt he’s a guy I’ve looked up to for the last ten years. Every opportunity I get to read about the guy or, hell, talk to him, I’m always just blown away. When I’m with him I can barely talk.” New mission, same journey. “I would like to think so. I guess the way I see it is you do what you love and try to do it the best you can. Skiing and ski mountaineering, in particular, there’s not much money to pay for that lifestyle to be possible. And it would be amazing to be in a position to do that, but more realistically it’s just a hobby and a bigtime passion. Because doing that type of skiing, there’s only a few people who can make a living doing what he’s doing. And that’s because he’s the Davenport of it; he does it better than anyone else.” “But this trip is just totally amazing to me. I’m totally stoked to be in the company of these guys and it’ll be a great learning experience and hopefully a lot of fun.” The Mendel Couloir. What’s the story thereâ?”Chris Landry skied it first, then McLean, then you. “That goes back to having a lot of respect for Landry and Andrew McLean. I probably knew more about McLean than I did about Landry at first, but then I learned more about Landry after researching McLean. So that’s where the Mendel came about. Then a couple of years ago I got to ski the Liberty Ridge, on Rainier, and that I knew must be cool because Chris Landry was the first to do it.”
Garre rappels through a choke section of the Ford-Stettner Coulior on Grand Teton, April ’07.
“But you also nailed it. There’s not a huge audience for that type of skiing, at least in the States, so there’s a small group that’s truly interested, people like me and these other guys. But I also think as backcountry skiing grows in popularityâ?”and it seems to be going in that directionâ?”the interest in some of this stuff is growing too. But it’s still a niche.” Other notable descents? “Some others I was stoked on are Grand Teton and I got to ski from high on Denali, in 2001â?”not from the summit, but that was my introduction to expedition and truly big mountain skiing. For me, it’s nice to have these big lines with a name on ’em, but I also just like skiing in the backyard here in Cordova: Lines that are totally contrived, really fun stuff like, ‘Oh, if you hop around those rocks and maybe rap off that tree, that’ll go…’ That’s the kind of stuff that’s really intriguing to me. So as much as I love skiing bigger lines, I love skiing really contrived, totally unnamed lines, billy-goating here and there in rock bands and steeps.” In Dynafit bindings? “Sometimes. When you’re at home you’re on Technicas and fixed alpine bindings. But still, with that type of skiing, you’re not skiing it like Seth Morrison, charging at 110 percent. You’re looking at moves that you can’t miss. You can’t fall. You’re not charging it. You’re making six or eight or ten foot drops to make turns. So skiing the Dynafits is fine for those situations because you’re trying to stay in control as much as possible.” Do you lock out the Dynafits for downhill? “I lock ’em down, yes, all the time.” When did you begin researching ski mountaineering? “I think growing up where I did in New Hampshire I got into a lot of rock climbing and ice climbing and mountian climbing in general and skiing. I’d always been interested in The North Face and their team too. It’s like they’re the only company that gets behind these kinds of obscure trips, so I always followed them. And then when I moved to Tahoe, 11 years ago, well, this was before the Internet. So you couldn’t go about it the same way you can now. But at some point I heard Andrew [McLean’s] name. And I just tried to gather as much info on him as I could. Or I’d just seek out things to read about guys like Rick Ridgeway, Galen Rowell, Conrad Anker… And I just kept coming across Andrew’s name, and he seemed to be the premier skier of the group. So I started buying more booksâ?”I’m a book fanatic, the guy who buys more books than you could ever read… And now there’s the Internet. So if I’m on the Internet, I’m usually dorking around about ski mountaineering or skiing in general.” “But Andrew, in general, I started seeking him out more and more. The New Yorker article, or the “11 Reasons Not to Ski with Andrew McLean” story, or the Shishapangma expedition with Alex Lowe… Everywhere I’d look: Andrew McLean in Antarctica, Andrew McLean’s skiing new lines, or in some obscure guidebook I’d see his name associated with some of the most technical lines in there.” “Ingrid gets The New Yorker and she reads the whole thing every week. I wish I could do the same thing, that magazine is so enjoyable. And that’s another thing that’s amazing about Andrew McLeanâ?”I just read he’s going to some New Yorker festival to sit on some jury about extreme sports. Here’s a guy who’s not going to some ice climbing festival, he’s going to some New Yorker festival!” Do you read more than most people you ski with? “I would like to read more. But I go through phases. Sometimes I read a lot and then I won’t read at all. And that’s why I like The New Yorker; I can finish the stuff. But Ingrid reads 10 times more than me. That’s for sure.” Intellectuals or something? “I would definitely not call myself an intellectual. I would definitely call her one.”
“I would go back to ski Gasherbrum or any other 8,000 meter peak at any time. … And now that I’ve learned, I think I could go back with a little better understanding of what it takes.”
How did you and Ingrid meet? “We both worked at the resort at Squaw Creek. I worked tuning skis in the ski shop and she worked upstairs at the deli. I’d always go up there for food, often in trade for tunes. So we metâ?”I’d tune her skisâ?”and we just hit it off. We’ve been together for just over eight years now. I was just totally stoked on skiing at that point and she was doing comps back then, so I’d go with her then I’d just go backcountry skiing. But I was genuinely so excited for her because she was killing it and getting to do so much cool stuffâ?”trips and contests and then just growing from there.” “At that time, I lived in a room with three people and I drove two-wheel-drive sh—y van that when it finally died had like 350,000 miles. But I worked at Squaw Creek, which was about a mile away, and I got fed there, so I could live on basically no money. I was able to be so frugal, which was cool. So those were like the ski bum days. A lot of people like us, just like you did, wherever you go, you’re making it work, making that huge transition from the East Coast to a mountain town; you just do whatever you can to ski as much as possible.”
Man smart, mountain smarter: Garre and Gasherbrum II, No. 13 in the world at 8,035m.
And Ingrid’s career was about to go big. “I think it’s awesome. I’m so proud of her. She’s such a hard worker and I couldn’t be more stoked for her. She’s gotten so many good opportunities and she’s capitalized on those opsâ?”doing the movie Steep, filming with Matchstick. She’s had these ops, sure, but she’s taken full advantage of them, and that’s what’s so awesome. So whenever I see her on TV or hear people, ‘No way, your girlfriend’s Ingrid Backstrom?! No way, the Ingrid Backstrom?!’ that’s pretty cool.” “It’s like when Ingrid and I were both in our truest ski bum form, she made it happen more. I was always like, ‘Damn, how are you going to go to South America?’ But she made it happen. And I’ve always admired her dedication and work that’s gone into making it happenâ?”especially at an age when it was so easy to go blow 50 bucks at the bar instead of just taking it easy and going home and reading. Because she knew in a month she was heading to Las Lenas or Portillo and that 50 bucks was gonna come in handy.” And your career? “There’s times whenâ?”I don’t know if jealous is the right wordâ?”I definitely wish that I could be in a position where skiing was the thing that paid the bills. But I’m not. So I just try to manage that as best I can. I wish I had some big sponsor so I could just focus on the next ski trips. So it’s hard. But I also understand how it works: She put herself in that position, and I didnt. So I just need to make the best of it, enjoy what I can and have fun.” You’re on a path if not the path. “I do feel fortunate. Three years ago I got to go to Kashmir, to Gulmarg; I got to go over to help them establish their ski patrol. They paid for everything, so I’d teach them and train them and I’d get to ski everyday and it was so awesome. Many days I’d be the first person up the gondola after a storm. Then Warren Miller came out for a few weeks and I’d be watching them. And they’d get maybe two runs a day, what with filming and whatnot, and I’d be getting eight or ten. So there’s always that hint of jealousy, I guess, watching those big guys at work and not being involved with it. But stillâ?”I was getting eight runs day.” “There’s also a certain sense of reward that comes with that too: You’re putting it together for yourself and you’re paying for out of your own pocket.” Do tourists broach extreme skiing with you on the shuttle? “I usually don’t go there at all. I usually just talk to them about what they’re doing, get ’em fired up on skiing for the week. So, no, usually the conversation doesn’t go in my direction.” “It all depends I guess. I have certain friends I went to high school with and they’re always like, ‘You’re so lucky, I wish I could drop what I’m doing and do what you’re doing.’ At the same, I wish I had what they have, like a house or a family or a stable income.” “And then there’s people who are like, ‘You’re a ski bum. You’re 35 now. You need to get it together. You don’t have a sustainable income.’ And I hear that. Well, I’ve been watching Steep a lot, and it’s coming back to Andrew McLean againâ?”how he talks about these opportunities that come along that keep keeping him from getting that job or that stability. Something always comes up instead.” “And it’s the same for me. I’ve gotten to go to Pakistan, Antarctica and now it’s Alaska on deck. And it’s like, ‘Well, that’s going to cut into my ability to work.’ And it’s kind of a never-ending thing, but it’s also making me think more about trying to make more consistent money.” “I did buy a house in Tahoe two years ago, which I rent out, which is really the only way I could do it. But there’s money that I need to put into it every month, and it gives me something to think about. So it’s all kind of like a work in progress, something I’m always trying to figure out.” Sponsors? “K2 and Oakley. Those are really my only sponsors. Squaw Valley has been giving me a ski pass the last couple years too, which is awesome.” Gotta have one. “Ski pass, it’s like health insurance. It’s one of those things you’ve got to factor in.”
APRIL 4 Garre is still in Cordova, AK. Condolences about Shane. “Thanks. Rough stuff. It’s a crazy situation being up here versus being in Tahoe. … We weren’t best friends by any means, but for about five years he was close. Like, five houses down, a 30 second walk. And for the last 10 years I’ve known him progressively better. Definitely a huge influence on my life, and a mentor. He’s one of those guys who when you finally got to meet him you go from completely overwhelmed at first to then being able to call him up whenever if you have a question or whatever.” You BASE jumped with him? “Typical Shane. We’d gone sky diving for the day and we went to do a BASE jump that night. So we’re climbing an antenna and he’s always making fun of me for being fit. That’s Shane, super sarcastic, always cracking up. So we’re hiking 600 feet of stairs and they get progressively steeper and steeper and eventually turn into a ladder. And I just couldn’t keep up with him. I’m like, ‘You’re going fast.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, you know, just making sure I’m staying in front of you.'” “So I have lots of memories like that. When I bought my BASE rig, I called Shane right up. There’s a pretty tight BASE jumping community here and those guys are pretty anal about whatever anybody’s saying about BASE jumping, so I got the straight sh– from Shane… I attribute the fact that I’m associated with K2 now in large part to Shane. He was the guy, my biggest reference. And that was just Shane being Shane, stoked to help people out, hook people up.” “In Steep, in the beginning in the Bill Briggs section, he talks about having a dream and how people go through life with dreams that they may never achieve. And how he achieved his dream in skiing the Grand [Teton]. Before I ever moved to Tahoe, I saw Walls of Freedom and I was like, ‘I’ve gotta meet that guy [Shane].” And when I first ever saw him, I remember so specifically: I was floored. He was with Scott Gaffney and we were all hitting this jump, backflips and front flips. And I was just floored to be meeting Scott Gaffney and just to be in the vicinity of Shane. I didn’t know what to say. But moving through the years to become close with them, and to be able to call them like a friend if I had a question, to have an influential mentor like that and get to ski with him and spend some meaningful times with them, well, that’s like the Bill Briggs dream thing, to realize something like that over time.” Does this change for you and taking risks? “Anytime something this drastic happens, yes, you think about it more. You always think about the risk. And I know that Shane would think about the risk and that’s why he was so safeâ?”he calculated very wellâ?”so it makes you maybe just be more sure of yourself. Because it’s like, here you’ve got this guy who’s so precise, so calculated and so safe and still something went wrong. But for me, personally, I don’t think it’ll change what I do. I’ll always have it in the back of my mind. Maybe it’ll force me to analyze situations even more so, because you know bad’s a possibility. You could slip and fall or something like the unknown, something you’re not anticipating.” “Can you hold on a second? … Sorry. That was Ingrid calling. She’s in Canada, north of Smithers, with Matchstick. She’s doing well. I wanted to touch base with her about this Shane stuff. It’s really a hard pill to swallow. It’s tough also because I’m not able to email much up here. So I’ve heard from lots of people I haven’t heard from in a while, condolences, thoughts and stuff. And then I’ve heard from friends from Tahoe on the phone, and then three different Tahoe friends have come up to Points North, so that’s been most of my communication.”
APRIL 15 Garre is still in Cordova, AK. OK, we’ve covered a lot of groundâ?”but we still haven’t talked at all about Gasherbrum II last spring. Where to beginâ?”this was your first 8,000 meter peak? “Yup. It was amazing to go with Kristoffer Erickson, Hilaree O’Neill, John Griberâ?”those guys all have a lot of experience on 8,000 meter peaks. Of course, Ingrid and I were together for this one…”
Rare is the “set up” photograph of Kip Garre (Alaska, Jan. ’08).
“It was really cool to go to the Karakorum because to get there you have to go through Pakistan. You fly into Islamabad and travel through Pakistan, as opposed to Nepal or Tibet to get into other parts of the Himalaya. I truly enjoy the cultural elements of travel and it was really interesting to be in a muslim area again. There’s definitely that stigma in America that Pakistan is a very hostile, dangerous area. Well, I did not experience that. The people were warm and welcoming. And specifically, going through Skardu to Askole, it was simply amazing. Very remote and the people in those mountain villages are exposed to a lot less of Western culture and technology than other areas of the Himalaya. It’s still really raw and, I think, less tainted.” “Then the Baltoro Glacier. I remember I got an email from Neal [Beidleman] saying, ‘Be careful, the Baltoro is a very unforgiving place.’ And it isâ?”super steep walls with unreal peaks. You trek for days just to get in. I think it took us seven days of hiking to get from Askole to basecamp, and that was just 70 miles or so. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced and only read about, so I just didn’t know what to expect. We had 65 or 70 porters and that just blew me away tooâ?”for a trip of six people.” “The Baltoro is also wild because it’s got the highest concentration of 8,000 meter peaks anywhere in the world. That’s just a statistic, but it does define just how massive it is: You have K2 and Broad Peak and Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II… It’s really just a vertical landscape. Then there’s a lot of 7,000 meter peaks that are equally as dramatic and probably more technical; K4 is one of those peaks that’s rarely been climbed.”
Climbing an 8,000 meter peak with skis on board is not average.
What was the objective? “The route we were doing, it’s a non-technical route, one of the easier routes on an 8,000 meter peak. But from what I read and learned, dealing with any 8,000 meter peak is a huge challenge and risk. So the term of ‘non-technical route on an 8,000 meter peak,’ that may be interpreted as ‘easy.’ But it’s trickier than that, with all the risk and challenge involved in just being that high. And we were doing it with skis, which just adds another element, particularly when you’re already so weight-focused as it is, it makes it more complicated.” No summit. “That’s how it goes. One of the cool things when we were there, we met this guy Veikka Gustafsson. He’s Finnish and he’s got two, or maybe he’s only got one now, 8,000 meter peaks leftâ?”and doing ’em all without oxygen. He’s Viesturs’ longtime partner. But I got to meet him and spend time with him and it was interesting to learn and see how technical and precise he is about weather and hygiene and his team. Everything just has to be perfect. Everything you hear about high-altitude climbing: You’re weakened, you’re sick, you’re not thinking right, you’ve got storms… So many obstacles that need to be addressed appropriately or otherwise the consequences can be the worst. You can’t just get yourself off peaks like those sometimes. So talking to him firsthand about climbing those peaks and about how many times he’s had to turnaround, that was illuminating.” “We brought a lot of dehydrated food for up on the mountain. But it was interesting to see Veikka and these other Italians we metâ?”they’d bring fresh cheese, salami, soup, you know, foods that sound better. I’m a big eater and I never have a problem eating, but once I got to 19,000 feet I was just so jealous of the Italians with their cheeses and Parmesans and prosciuttos and hams. I felt like if I had had that stuff to eat I would’ve been chowing down. And it’s those techniques that make you consider the things that will help you be successful going forward. You might only attempt an 8,000 meter peak a few times in your life, so it’s hard to nail it.” Disappointing? “It was disappointing. But I think those sorts of trips have such a focus on summitting, so when you don’t reach your goal of summittingâ?”and skiing, in our caseâ?”it was disappointing. But I am also totally certain we made the right decision. And I would go back to ski Gasherbrum or any other 8,000 meter peaks at any timeâ?”because the positives of the whole experience far out-weighed any disappointment. I was completely satisfied and excited about the trip. But it’s also my drive and nature to try and go back and do something like that again. And now that I’ve learned I think I could go back with a little better understanding of what it takes and what you need.” Like Parmesan and prosciutto on Mt. Foraker? “Yes, exactly. So much I took from that trip will be directly applied to Foraker, like food, for starters. Also, what type of maps I like to use, the ones I’m familiar reading. Just spending time in the mountains, you learn so much every time.” So Foraker food? “Lots of salami and cheese. I knew better, too, going into Gasherbrum. Because I love salami. I love cheese. I can live off that stuff for days. And as much as I love lasagna and freeze-dried food, you’re so much better off having real food.” OK, we’ve also failed to discuss the fall ’08 trip to Antarctica. Short version please. “We got down there and the boat wasn’t able to set sail… So Glen [Poulson] and John [Morrison], but John left, and Ingrid, Chris Davenport, Jordan Manley and about six or seven other people who really still wanted to go and had the freedom and time to make another go of it… So we were able to get another boat and work out a deal with permits so we could ski: Two days across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula and we were able to ski for five days. Amazing, ridiculous. Some of the highest concentrations of straight-forward backcountry skiing I’ve ever seen, combined with the fact that it’s so scenic. You’d ski right down to the water, icebergs everywhere, and penguins.” “We’d base our ski decisions on peguins. ‘Oh, there’s thousands of penguins down that way.’ And that’s the way we’d go. Then we’d skin up again and look around againâ?”where are those penguins?”