Archive for Climbing

The Narrow Margin

// September 6th, 2017 // No Comments » // Climbing, Events, Leadership, Reflections

Eric stemming and Erik Shimmying the great chimney

Eric stemming and Erik Shimmying the great chimney (Photo: Marco Bergamo)

Not every climb forces me to take inventory and reflect on my faith and the things that are most dear in my life, but the climb I just returned from in the Swiss Alps has done just that.  The Alps?  They seem so serene, so tamed, so first world with fine wine, good meals, huts and yodeling.  The Alps are not where I would expect to narrowly miss a catastrophe.

As a climber my bookshelves are full of climbing guide books describing routes in the most beautiful mountain ranges all over the planet.  The lines inside describe everything from short and sweet local climbs to the most intense, arduous, physically demanding and extreme expeditions imaginable.  The stories behind a number of the first ascents are of heroism, exploration, bravery and tragedy.  The names behind them: heroes of the sport much like Babe Ruth is to baseball, these names are to climbing.  One such name is Riccardo Cassin.  Cassin is a name that is branded not only on outdoor equipment, but on great mountains in great ranges around the world.  He was a very prolific and strong climber and when trying to repeat one of his routes you know you are in for an adventure.

The Piz Badile is known as one of the great summits of the alps and prominently displays one of the alp’s six great north faces.  It shares this title with it’s more famous counterparts the Matterhorn, Eiger, Dru, Grand Jorasse, and Cime Grande di Lavaredo, a veritable who’s who of mountains.  Mountaineers dream of climbing these faces and put their years of training, expertise, and fitness to the test when attempting one of them – even in this modern age they still present a massive challenge that most never take on.  I took it on at the invite of my blind friend Erik Weihenmayer.  We have climbed around the world together for the last twenty years, and have even stood upon the summit of Everest together.  This would be yet another great challenge for a blind athlete, as well as for one that can see just fine.  Erik told me before we left that he had hurt the tendon in his ring finger and that “fingers are a critical part of climbing.”  I replied “last I checked so was eyesight!  Why should a finger stop us?”

Erik broiling his way up the Cassin route

Erik brailing his way up the Cassin route

Training complete, finger taped, gear packed, we headed to Switzerland to meet guide and friend Marco Bergamo and then climb the Cassin route on the Piz Badile (pronounced Bah-deal-eh – or as Siri says “Piz Big Deal”).  This 3,000 foot granite wall is about 22-27 pitches depending on the length of rope used, and goes at a difficulty of 5.10a.  This rating means that portions of the climb would be overhanging, holds would be small, and with a twenty pound pack it would stretch my abilities pretty good especially since I would be holding on to things longer, and looking behind me to help my friend as he would “braille” his way up the climb.  Marco came over from the Dolomites where he had climbed with Erik before.  We would use Marco’s speed and strength as our asset in setting the rope.  This would enable me to climb just a few moves above Erik so that together we could move up over the difficulties and communicate our way through the crux moves.  It was on one such traversing move that I could not see well enough to let Erik know where the hidden hold was.  Eight hundred feet above the glacier and valley floor I gasped as I saw Erik’s foot slip off the tiny edge where it had momentarily found purchase.  As if in slow motion, I saw my friend take flight out into space, twenty feet down and twenty feet over he fell, slamming into the wall below with a thud and a grunt with just 8.5mm of cord holding his 185 pounds from hitting the deck way below.  The gear we use is solid, but on a big mountain falling is to be avoided.  It was still early on the climb and the hardest parts were yet to come.  I wondered if we could pull this off, if maybe his finger was the problem, or if maybe it was me and poor communication.  Full of adrenaline masking the pain of a possible broken rib, Erik climbed back up and continued the climb.  I paid closer attention as we moved up cracks jamming hands and toes inside, over smooth faces standing on edges the width of a dime at times, and then into chimneys requiring us to sacrifice our bodies to shimmy up and to stem out wide into the splits, one foot on each wall thousands of feet above the floor – breathtaking.

Breathless and tired we emerged on the knife ridge thinking the difficulties were over, but with the cold wind and intricate terrain we still had two hours to go of navigating what I would describe as a dragon’s back, with three thousand feet of air on either side.  Exciting doesn’t begin to describe the feeling, especially with the nerves that rattle me knowing I am responsible for Erik’s well being and nearly every step he takes.  Thanks to Marco’s efficient leadership and skill we arrived at the summit in thirteen hours.  We awoke from our bivouac on a ledge below the face at 4:00 a.m. that morning.  Having shared an ultralight sleeping bag with Erik to save weight, (he assured me the soft squishy thing was his camelback, not his belly as we spooned for warmth) but not shivers, we set off to start the climb at 5:00 a.m. and were soon passed by fast moving, unroped Euros, who had the benefit of eyesight and headlamps.  Now 6:00 p.m. we were tired and hunkered down inside a tin tuff-shed atop the summit.  We had done it!  Success!  We had achieved the dream – such a sweet feeling of accomplishment, teamwork, trust and perseverance.

With faith, as with perseverance, the story is never really ever quite finished.  Keep your eyes open and keep on pressing on.  We had a long arduous descent ahead of us upon which when we began the mountain next to us collapsed.  Piz Cengalo (chain-ga-low) calved off 4 million cubic meters of granite – the equivalent of about 500,000 dump truck loads.  This caused a massive landslide of rock, mud and debris to run the length of the valley, decimate the trail and small mountain road used for access, destroy homes, bridges, and bury the small mountain town of Bondo Switzerland.  One hundred people had been evacuated from town prior to the destruction, eight climbers/hikers were missing and our rental car, with our passports, was now cut off, but thankfully not destroyed.

A climber ascends the north ridge as the landslide begins

A climber ascends the north ridge as the landslide begins (Photo: Guy Mevellec)

Our celebration of the climb quickly turned to feelings of shock and sorrow, my prayers of thanks turned to prayers for help for these people as I now began to see the miracles around me.  Many different decisions and scenarios could have put us in the path of this destruction, but the one we followed kept us safe.  Marco’s new truck remains trapped indefinitely at the trailhead with the road wiped out below it.  An escort by the fire chief allowed me to recuperate our car and passports, drive through the narrow path cleared of debris, pick up Erik and Marco, and pass the Italian border just before another slide once again closed the road behind us.  We were all thankful for the prayers of those at home.  As soon as our wheels hit the tarmac here at home, Harvey unloaded on the city of Houston and my knees again hit the floor as prayers were sent heavenward.  The success of the climb seemed to lack any importance or relevance at all with these tragic events wreaking havoc around us, but I guess what doesn’t change is the fact that if it doesn’t kill us it makes us stronger, more is demanded of us and our faith, we help each other out, we pitch in, we don’t give up, we carry on, we persevere and we pray.  Making it or missing it, the margin in life is narrow regardless of what we do and where we live, it is important to take hold of those we love, those we call friends, shoot even strangers and let them know they are loved – let’em know it and don’t be afraid to show it.

Driving through the debris

Driving through the debris

In Bondo and in Houston I have seen people climbing higher, not just to escape the flood, but heroes emerge showing their true mettle.  That, after all, is what climbing higher is – shining through in character in the midst of adversity.

Keep climbing higher!

Everest 2017

// June 6th, 2017 // No Comments » // Climbing

Erik Weihenmayer climbs the Hillary Step

Blind climber – Erik Weihenmayer climbs the Hillary Step

The climbing season on Everest this year unfolded with amazing climbs of inspiration and also of loss.  Alpinists accomplished heroic feats using strength and skill, while heroes possessing untold strength and skill were lost to it’s unforgiving and cold indifference.  Many state that even the mountain itself has been changed, that a place of legend and lore, the Hillary step, has been shaken loose from it’s lofty place on the mountain and in history.  Looking back on my climb of Everest years ago, I am still thankful for the dedicated team that put themselves second time and time again to see that others succeeded and were taken care of.  It was a climb for the ages that inspired many towards their own Everest-like goals and achievements.

This year I am again inspired by the likes of Kilian Jornet and his record setting oxygen-less speed ascent, Andy Holzer and the second blind ascent (first on the North side), Charley Mace my old teammate going back after having been rocked by the earthquake in 2015, and even a man with hemophilia – Chris Bombardier – who dared to go in spite of the many sharp objects that could mean disaster at altitude.

I take joy in these inspiring accomplishments of others and at the same time am saddened by the loss of life.  Seven people were confirmed to have died on the mountain this year, and among them was superstar alpinist Ueli Steck.  My prayers go out to the friends and families who are mourning the loss of a loved one.

With many summits this year, new records, and surprising losses, Everest remains a fascinating and dangerous place that still grabs the world’s attention and the dreams of those who long to stand on top of the world.

Getting Stronger

// January 21st, 2014 // No Comments » // Climbing, Hiking, Leadership, Reflections

You have trained your whole life to be the best, the toughest, most loyal soldier you can be.  You are part of an elite special ops team fighting an enemy on their turf and on their terms.  Terms that do not meet the rules of engagement which you follow.  It is like fighting with one arm behind your back and now as you move in on your target (mission classified) a grenade goes off near your head: confusion, concussion, injury, blood and blindness follow.  The men you are with are still relying on you but you urgently need help.  The medic tries to pull you away but you insist on staying, running the communications back to the team to ensure your team makes it out safely.  Just another heroic day at the office.

Is this you?  It is hard to say how we ourselves would react in a situation like this, but I know for sure it is a rare few who would do what Marty Bailey did a few years ago when he lost his sight.  I can guarantee that his team was thankful to him and thankful for his courage.  I am too.  This is why we have formed so that we (this means anyone who wishes to support it) can help Marty and soldiers like him who have sacrificed so much for us.

Last week I met Marty for the first time on our team’s first training climb in Utah’s Wasatch mountains.  The team is preparing to climb 20,320′ Denali May of 2014.  Blind for only a few years Marty has come a long way, and is now again pushing his limits as part of a team that hopes to make the first blind ascent of the Upper West-Rib, a climb that offers plenty of challenge for seasoned sighted climbers – let alone a climber who is blind.  Once again he will be fighting with one arm behind his back and the rules of engagement once again, unfair.

In freezing temperatures, at altitude, with a heavy pack and hauling a loaded sled in one foot of fresh snow pushed by 30 mph winds, blinded Master Sergeant Marty Bailey pressed on in spite of his cramping legs and small, awkward, snowshoes.  Using new tools and climbing with a new team on only the few hours of sleep that travel delays and a sixteen month old baby girl would allow, I herd him stop and out of frustration say “I’ve just never been the weak link.”

This is what it is all about.

Most all of us will admit that at some point in our lives we may have felt as though we have let others down, or that we were the weak one, or the reason for failure.  I hope so.  This is the reason for team, for community, for trust and reliance and it makes us humble like it or not.  Peyton Manning quarterback of the Denver Broncos has just had the most successful season a QB has ever had and I know for a fact (I watched the bad games) on his journey there were days he was off and relied on the team more than others.

No matter who we are, we need the strength of each other to help us through the off days, to get back on our feet, to get to the top – help in getting stronger.

“No, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are actually very important.” 1 Corinthians 12:22

Wool Undies?!

// August 28th, 2013 // No Comments » // Climbing, Gear, Hiking


A Gear review.






After many weeks this summer out in the peaks, woods, ice, rain, snow, dust, streams, crowded buses, small planes, tight tents, mist, fog and sun I have much to report.  I had the luxury of testing out some new products and pushing the limits of some old.  I’d like to write a few posts about what I learned so that by reading this you might be able to make a better decision when it comes time to buy some outdoor recreational equipment.

So let’s start with the first thing that goes on after stepping out of the shower, and that in the mountains might remain on for several days: undies.  Opinions abound and people have their favorites – it is a delicate and sensitive topic involving a sensitive area.  When you see these on a store’s rack questions will immediately arise: do they ride, creep, pinch, squeeze, chaff, smell after an hour of wear and are they worth the price?

My answer is I/O Merino.  No riding, creeping, pinching, etc and even after days on the trail no significant odor.  I have tried many other reputable brands and styles of synthetic briefs and boxers that wick, dry quickly, keep a person warm when wet but begin to smell the moment you look at them (never going back).

By wearing wool you get all of the same benefits of synthetic but without the odor.  Many people when introduced to the idea of wool will flinch when they think of wearing it as a base-layer, but let me tell you fine merino that is well made does not itch down there.  Not clammy like cotton, if I could afford to wear these everyday I would.  I can afford to wear them everyday while on the trail and in the tent my tent mates appreciate the fact I smell a little less.

Warm, warm when wet, low odor retention, dry fast enough, and even after ignoring the care instructions many times they are holding up after repeated wash and dry cycles.

Shopping for expedition undies – look no further than I/O Merino.  I am a 33″ waist – my medium boxer briefs fit a bit more like boxer shorts.  If you want more support go down a size.

I/O Boxer Brief

I/O Boxer Brief

The Whiteout

// August 22nd, 2013 // Comments Off // Climbing, Getting biblical, Leadership, Reflections

White Out on Pisco

White Out on Pisco

Through the darkness of the early morning hours we began our climb.  Headlamps shining brightly to illuminate the rocky terminus of the glacier we navigated by instinct and small piles of rocks called cairns.  The small circles of light were just enough to illuminate each step and where it should be precariously placed before glancing upward to spot the next pile of rocks showing the way.  Hours would pass by as time and time again we would briefly lose our way.  Pausing, examining the surroundings, exploring possibilities, we would regain our course and press on.  A favorite scripture of mine speaks to this: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path – Psalm 119:105.  The destination is unseen, the entire plan unknown, there is just enough light, just enough information to take the next step.  In faith – take it.  Navigation requires focus, experience, the ability to be alert to each step even while carrying on a conversation.

Have you ever  been at a place in life where you were wondering which way to go?  Have you been seemingly stuck, no map, no signs, no GPS coordinates, and no one to guide you and make tough decisions for you?  True in business, true as a parent, true for the student figuring out the future.  We have all been there.  So what does it take to carry on in such uncertainty?

Fortitude and faith.

We emerged from the darkness into the light of day long enough to get geared up and hit the glacier.  Only minutes after setting foot on the glacier we were again moving blindly, and this time a headlamp would be of no use.  The wind kicked up, the snow was moving sideways, the clouds came down and now there was no visual separation of earth and sky.  Hello vertigo.  Progress became slow, morale dropped, and what was supposed to be a “gimmee” of a climb became a real challenge indeed.  Winter in the Andes is predictable: the sun always shines – ha.  The drifting snow covered the tracks of yesterday and as the ridge narrowed, we began to wonder if we might walk right off the ridge stepping onto a cloud thought to be solid ground.


More exhausting than the altitude and the climb itself was the amount of focus it took to discern and stay the course.  Probing with poles for each step, the mind playing tricks on the senses and the senses playing tricks right back on the mind, up seemed down and down seemed up and at times the team tied to my rope would disappear into the white.

Just when all hope seemed lost a break in the clouds would reveal some footsteps, or a feature up ahead, just enough to ensure the course was still true.

We walk by faith, not by sight.  Says 2 Corinthians 5:7.  It is that faith that assures me the course will be revealed at some point, so I ask myself do I have enough faith to take another step when all I see is my feet?  Well one more…then another…and so on.

We made the summit of Pisco in challenging conditions.  Experience, a positive well equipped team, moving forward in fortitude by faith.

So if you are facing difficulty, uncertainty and that next step seems impossible – try this:
Trust in the Lord with all of your heart.  Lean not on your own understanding.  In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5,6.











The White Range

// August 9th, 2013 // No Comments » // Climbing, Hiking

Sunrise on Huascaran

Sunrise on Huascaran

The snow here in Colorado covers our peaks for a few months, but eventually melts away allowing flowers, grass and goats to flourish and make this harsh environment seem almost hospitable.
It may seem odd to call the Rockies gentle, but that is exactly how they seem after a trip to some of the world’s other great ranges.

This summer’s expedition took eight other climbers and me to the White Range – the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, with the goal of climbing Pisco, Chopicalqui and Artesonraju.  The team would be as diverse as the mountains we would climb. Ranging in age from fifteen to sixty plus and coming from California, Colorado and Chicago the biggest challenge was making sure we were all on the same page, and just as importantly the same plane.

The McCormick family is adventurous.  They have traveled the world like home-schooling gypsies and while doing so have managed to participate in about every adventure sport imaginable.  When Gil McCormick and his two sons signed on for this trip I wasn’t the least bit concerned that Grant, at only 15 years of age, would be climbing to 20,000′ nor was I worried that he would be relying on his old man who can only see out of one eye to lead the rope team over snow-bridges and deep, dark, crevasses.  No worries because they took it seriously, were fitter than I, they were properly equipped and trained, and when it came to positive team attitude…they had that too.

Traveling with my long time climbing buddy J Whorton, we met the rest of the team in Houston: Bob Balshizer of Granite Arch climbing gym fame, along with guitar virtuoso and new father Gabe Becker and finally former gymnast Jeremy Wall.

Since the team had spent a lot of time acclimating pre-trip we expedited our itinerary and were soon at the base of Pisco – our first peak.  The team opted to forego the slog to moraine camp with heavy packs and instead make one long summit day from base-camp.  Finding an unfamiliar path through a boulder field at night is a challenge with two eyes.  Gil magically managed to do this with one eye and emerge with the sunrise on the other side unscathed.

16,000′ and we were now facing the glacier.  The morning was cold and breezy, but at least the visibility was poor.  The low clouds and high winds made visibility next to nil, and what was supposed to be an easy warm-up climb – a dangerous challenge.  For brief moments I could make out tracks in the snow from previous climbers, then in an instant they would be blown over and covered up.  Even a person familiar with this peak would have had trouble finding his way in this cold soup, but we felt good and we pressed on, snow to our knees at times, exposed ice at others.

Leading the group through this mess was the biggest challenge for me in that it was so mentally draining and such a strain on the eyes as I would continually see things that weren’t really there.  Pressing on the team made the summit feeling great.  Jeremy felt so good in fact that he attempted a backflip, crampons and all… he landed, but not on his feet.

The ridge was narrow and all was white, but at least the fall would be long.  Going down is usually easier, but in this case the weather did not clear and the challenge was more mental than physical.  Progress was slow but we finally made it down below the cloud and storm – what a relief it was.  Success at 18,700′ in the White Range.

Tune in tomorrow for more on the next peak, our sponsors, and some gear reviews.



Three Tower Tour

// May 14th, 2013 // No Comments » // Climbing

Recently I went on a quick climbing trip to the Utah desert with my friend Tim Nottingham.  It was special climbing with a great guy like Tim and camaraderie in climbing is what it is all about for me.  Years ago a great climbing friend of mine died in a snowboarding accident and just a few months before he died we had gone out to Utah to climb these same desert towers but got snowed out.  On this day I wore my friend Joseph’s shirt as we went back and made some new memories.

It felt liberating and free to climb these sandstone giants and in doing so was reminded that in life we need to keep moving, looking upward, stepping out, taking risks, taking the lead – even when the wind is blowing, the heart pounding, palms sweating, knees shaking – move forward.

Joseph lived that way, I can too.  Today.


An Icy Attitude

// January 8th, 2013 // No Comments » // Climbing

Just the other day I had the opportunity to go ice climbing with my good friend Erik.  The snow for skiing was poor so the local crags were a bit more crowded than usual and this forced us to go up into an area that already had climbers on the route.  Many climbers, especially locals, get a little possessive of the home turf and can at times be a bit cranky at the sight of other climbers, but this group on this day was downright hostile.  A bit behind as I approached with Erik, I could hear screaming and yelling pouring down from the cliff as our friend Skyler, who had gone ahead, was being berated by a blast of foul mouthed, foul tempered verbiage unfit for this post.

It was obvious to me that this person had issues far greater than sharing some ice.  This “brocal” (bro-local) was apparently stressed out by the blue sky, time with friends, fresh mountain air, and the enjoyment of a great sport – things which usually cause me to relax and detox any bad attitudes I may have, after all that is what is great about recreation.

After the avalanche of obscenities we decided to chill out by the side of the crag, organize our gear, have a snack and wait patiently for a turn on the ice.  We kept our cool, our attitude ice and not given to the sparks of rage nearby.  To my friends I quoted a scripture “a gentle word turns away wrath” from proverbs.  As difficult as it was we spoke softly and kindly to the demon possessed climbers which I think only inflamed their rage and confounded their small minds.  Fight fire with fire is one approach, but that approach would have certainly ended up in a physical tussle and with crampons, ice axes and the like I believe it would not have ended well especially for a blind climber.

In looking back at the day we ended up having a great time once the others had departed.  My reflection of that time has led me to examine my own attitude towards others and how others can represent opportunity if we have open eyes and arms.  I thought of the first time I met Erik as he and his dog, by invitation of my room mate came to crash on our couch.  What if I had been Mr. Crankypants and had gotten all bent out of shape about a dog or an unannounced guest?  Years of great friendship and many grand adventures would have been missed.

All this to say it reminded me to be open to others for not only is our reputation, even an organization for which we might work, at stake, but there is opportunity awaiting when we are willing to be open to others and sharing a little of what we have.  Who knows what doors others may open for us, or even what doors we may be able to open for them.  We can climb higher together, but some will most likely be left to climb alone.

I/O Merino Wool Baselayer Test

// November 13th, 2012 // 2 Comments » // Climbing, Gear, Skiing

What do you wear when the warm weather has wandered away ? That warmth you wish to retain may be worn from clothes of a critter sheared and shorn.

Wool could well be the answer.

Wearing wool often conjures up memories of big and heavy itchy and scratchy rag wool sweaters and socks. Well, thankfully those days are gone (for smart shoppers anyway) and recent developments in the weaving of fine merino wool have made this a very comfortable and functional option for active outdoor enthusiasts.

I/O Merino, a new company out of Australia, recently sent me a few pieces from their line to use and review. Now having put them to the test trail running, cycling, and even the most rigorous of all tests – the sleep test, I have something to report.

From Alaska to Argentina, Everest to Australia I have been using both synthetic and wool clothing for some years and the one thing I must say is that no matter what, I like my clothes to disappear – from my mind at least. There is nothing like being on a climb, or ski tour with layers that bind, run short, lack breathability and are slow to dry. Before long these qualities will command your attention and possibly ruin a trip. At times my life can depend on the clothes I wear so I am very selective and discriminating.

I/O Merino Contact Euro T – Large: My first thought was that this shirt was nice and light, good looking, subdued but colorful. Then I slipped it on and found that the athletic fit would work well alone or under other layers. I wore it all day and even slept in it that night. This is definitely when you will discover if a wool garment is well made or not – if it itches or not. I am pleased to say that there was no itch and that I forgot all about the shirt and long johns as I slept. The only gripe I have of the shirt is that the collar hit me just a tad high, but since it was not overly tight this was not a problem.

I/O Merino Contact full Tight 160 wt – Medium: At nearly 6’2″ with a 33″ waist I always struggle with sizing. Either baggy and long or a good fit but too short. This base layer fit and was just long enough – a pleasant surprise indeed. With a bit of stretch and a nice weight I was comfortable with these on many trail runs especially the other morning when the temp was a meager 3 degrees f. Alone or combined under other layers these bottoms offer the flexibility to go light or layer up, and will be great for ski tours, snowshoeing and skate skiing. With such flexibility, comfort, odor resistance and the ability to maintain loft and warmth when wet, wool has become my base layer of choice especially from the waist down. The downfall of some lesser quality wool products may be itch, and the downfall of synthetics can be that sticky, clammy feeling when wet, however with these there is neither.

I/O Merino Contact Boxer Brief Med: of the three pieces these are my favorite. I know what you’re thinking “you’d wear wool there?!” Absolutely. It’s soft, dries quickly and fights odor. They fit and function well and are not what I am thinking about when my climbing harness is holding me high above the ground. For a multi-day ski tour, hut trip or backpack these are the undies of choice.

Lastly all of these garments survived a machine wash and dry. I always try my best to keep wool out of the dryer, but when my wife accidentally ran them through I was pleased to find no shrinkage.
They are all natural and will please your “Eco conscience”.
Overall I can say that I highly recommend these base layers and will be wearing the tights against my skin next week as I head to the arctic to run a marathon in 85% humidity and single digit temps.

To check out the entire line go to they have many other great items.