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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!

A Run on the Wild Side – Arctic Style

// November 29th, 2012 // 2 Comments » // Events, Reflections

Polar bear crossing

I am used to undertaking challenges in the vertical realm which require patience and endurance, but had not really ever embraced one on the horizontal plane.  Albert Martens presented me the opportunity to run a marathon in the land of the polar bear as the arctic freeze would hold our 26 mile route in it’s clutches.  The idea sounded just crazy enough to be fun and memorable for my first ever marathon run.  It certainly met my expectations as a difficult endeavor with sports drinks turning to slushies as I ran, my legs going numb not only from fatigue but from the cold.  While the run was exhilarating out in the cold, it couldn’t compare with the warmth that I received from the team of runners and that given by the town of Churchill and the volunteers who made it possible for us to complete the effort safely.  This run serves as an example of how we all must keep striving for goals, looking towards the finish line and beyond.  Just being part of a group running like this taught me lessons about community, leadership, patience and perseverance.  It could be looked at as a run through a national treasure, but the treasure was far greater and deeper than the completion of a tough run.

Polar Bear near the marathon route

I will have a memory to last the rest of my life, new friends, and a new respect for an organization – Athletes in Action – that is working with the First Nations peoples lending support, resources, love and kindness in the name of Jesus to help them with alcoholism, poverty, health and depression.  A new journey has begun in my heart and mind as I now look forward to one day going back.

Polar Bear Marathon & Fundraiser

// October 9th, 2012 // 2 Comments » // Events, Stress Donations

“What?!”  The first word I exclaimed when I received a message on Facebook from an ultra-distance-running stranger named Albert Martens.  Another one of those out -of- the- blue, crazy ideas that come along every so often either by phone, email, direct conversation, or now, FaceBook.
“I’d like to invite you to come up to Churchill, Manitoba to run a marathon on the edge of the Arctic.  We are calling it the Polar Bear Marathon because this is the polar bear capital of Canada, and we would like to run with the bears.  What do you think?”

In my mind I began typing – you are nuts… hope this is in summer… do polar bears hibernate?…I’ve never run a marathon… who will wear the seal suit?…maybe that is why I have been invited… wait, I don’t have to be the fastest – just not the slowest!
After further conversation, convinced of good support, reliable vehicles, and a small, slow group of runners, I have agreed to do this event and run my first marathon.  Running in the realm of the polar bear  (I suspect I have a good shot at a world record.)  Well, this is not just a fun run to sight see and avoid predation, this is a benefit for Athletes in Action and their commitment to helping the indigenous people of the far north.  I will be speaking at a fund-raising dinner after the run (provided I survive the run) and am thereby pledging to help Athletes in Action help others.

This is where you can help – please consider a donation to Athletes in Action to reach a group of people that you may never otherwise get to meet.  This isolated group of people, is served with donations of sports equipment, and various community events that let them know they are loved and not forgotten.

How to give?  What exactly?  Albert gives a brief description here:

Athletes in Action presents:

 

A Polar Bear Marathon in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada – on the edge of the Arctic in support of the Native (First Nations people of Canada’s North) ministry work of Athletes in Action Baseball camps.   Probably a once in a life time experience, an adventure (full) marathon to be run by about 20 extreme,  elite  runners on November 20th, 2012.

Every summer, Albert Martens, ultra- marathoner flies in (with a Turbo-Otter seaplane) with a team of 8 volunteer staff to remote and isolated First Nation communities to do sports camps.   For the past 8 years we have flown to Pauingassi, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba and Poplar Hill, Ontario to help the children and youth with baseball, bible classes, as well as serve the adults with Men’s Breakfasts, Ladies Teas, and other community events.   All work and expenses are covered by personal donations and volunteer staff.   Often our native people of our country’s North are isolated and forgotten.  We have the privilege to go to these communities and bring them love, gifts and hope as we serve them.

See website www.albertmartens.com for more details of Albert Martens extreme running in support of other charities.

 

Eric Alexander, an amazing Athlete and Mountain climber, having climbed Mt. Everest, but not only that, escorted and helped a blind climber summit Everest.   See his website at www.highersummits.com

Eric will join us in running this Polar Bear Marathon in support of our Athletes in Action First Nation camp ministry.  I have invited him to join us as one of our Polar Marathon runners in Churchill as well as be our guest speaker at our Fund-Raising evening on the 22nd November in Winnipeg after the marathon.  You may make a donation to help this cause by issuing a cheque USA or CDN currency – payable to Athletes in Action and mail it either to Eric Alexander:

Mailing Address:
Higher Summits
Eric Alexander
PO Box 6102
Vail, Colorado 81658

USA

Or to:
Albert Martens
408-2nd Street,
Steinbach, Manitoba
Canada R5G0V5
Albert Martens:
Tel. 204-346-1345
Email: aemart@mts.net

USA or CDN tax receipts will be issued to the donor.

Purpose

A winter-adventure-charity marathon in support of the Athletes in Action (AIA) work done in the Sayisi Dene First Nations community of Tadoule Lake – 250 km west of Churchill. AIA has done baseball camps in 2 different First Nations communities for the past 8 years. This work is based on volunteers and donations.

Safety and Protection:

Due to the harsh environment, e.g. the weather conditions at this time of the year, we will run in either one or two tight groups of runners – We will need to stay together because of the possible presence of Polar Bears, foxes, wolves, etc. Vehicles will accompany us in front of and behind the group of runners for safety reasons & serve as a mobile Aid Station.

Athletes in Action (AIA) Canada is a ministry division of Power to Change that focuses on the domain of sport. Sport is the one language that knows no boundaries and sees no distinctions. It unites cultures, transcends values and defies convention. AIA is committed to using the language of sport to communicate the most powerful message of all: God’s passionate love for his children as communicated through his Son, Jesus Christ. It’s a story that’s changed our lives, given us purpose and hope. In Canada our work is a variety of ministries such as the Pro Ministry – Chaplains to the CFL (Canadian Professional Football League), sports camps and tours abroad with soccer, basketball, volleyball, and hockey teams. It is mentoring, training and educating Athletes, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Our home base is in Langley, British Columbia, Canada.

For more information see:

www.Athletesinaction.com

Churchill, Manitoba, Canada:

Called the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill is also known as Manitoba’s beluga whale watching hotspot and is a birder’s paradise. The approach of winter also makes Churchill one of the best places to experience the northern lights. October and November are the best months to see polar bears as they get prepared to move out on the newly formed ice in search of seals. Scientists from around the world have come to Churchill to study the northern lights in the active night sky – Churchill is one of the top three places on the planet to see the northern lights. Located on the edge of the Arctic, Churchill offers the feel of a frontier town with the amenities of an international tourist destination. http://everythingchurchill.com

Thank you very much for your great support.

Brigantine Beach

// October 11th, 2011 // No Comments » // Events, Leadership

A trip east to the Jersey Shore was not at all what I thought it would be. Though I have not seen the reality tv series, I still had a perception of what I might find. What I did find was an area rich in history, a beach bustling with activity, and a welcome as warm as the sun-soaked sand.
I would be the keynote speaker of Brigantine islands first community prayer breakfast.

As an outsider looking in, it is often difficult to quickly assess the culture of a place and know how a community might receive such an event and how they may receive me and my words. People from diverse faiths and backgrounds would be in a attendance and my goal was not to offend nor was it to celebrate this diversity. My goal was to encourage people to step out in courage to serve and to live in community celebrating what I see as unity (Colossians 3:15). It appeared that this was happening right away. With the meeting taking place in the grand hall of the islands Catholic church, I wrongly assumed the attendees would all be catholic, what I saw instead was a great many denominations represented, all coming together to eat, and to hear testimony of what God has done in my life. What was far more inspiring than anything I could say however, was to see what God was doing in that room because a few faithful people took a chance to organize this event seeing a route instead of roadblocks.

The vision of a guy named Paul Powers made it happen and after the hard work, days of rain, and a great gathering we were all blessed by the appearance of a full rainbow from sea to sky to sea x 2 = a double rainbow on the Jersey Shore.

Unseen

// October 10th, 2011 // No Comments » // Events, Leadership

A presenters worst fear: to painstakingly prepare with visuals, notes, attire – the works, only to take the stage and find that no one can see a bit of what has been prepared. Not only could my audience not see my AV, but half of them decidedly had their backs turned to me as they sat at their round conference room tables. Had I offended them? No. Were they being rude? No. Was the room improperly setup? No. Then what… nearly all 600 attendees were blind. I had been invited to share some inspiration with the National Association of Blind Merchants at their annual conference in Nashville which serves to educate, update, and challenge entrepreneurs who happen to be blind. I did what I could telling of my stories of going to the edges of the earth with people who are blind and I do think I was able to inspire many of the attendees since they gave me a rousing standing ovation when it was all said and done. Honestly however, I was the one who gained the most inspiration that day. I saw one woman carrying an infant on her chest as she navigated the venue with a white cane, I saw innovators who were redefining blind technologies, but mostly I saw a spirit of brotherhood and an attitude not of brokenness, but of boldness that still believed, in spite of lifes circumstances that this day was dawning new with hope and possibility. It is that spirit which left me feeling invigorated and uplifted and made my job easy in spite of the fact that no one there saw me or my dialed AV. I wasnt there to lift them up, they had already done that, I was there to merely reflect back that same sense of hope and encouragement I had just unexpectedly received.

Expedition Impossible

// September 2nd, 2011 // No Comments » // Events, Leadership

What do teamwork, tenacity, physicality, and toughness have in common?  These are words I would use to describe a team of my friends competing on ABC’s summer series Expedition Impossible.  If you didn’t watch (I understand reality TV gets harder and harder to tune in to) I recommend you watch perhaps the last couple of episodes of this series (free on www.abc.com ) as my friends encounter challenges that would force many to quit.  As if it wasn’t enough to have one team mate who was blind, these guys had to compensate for an injury to another team mate – War veteran Aaron Isaacson, when he damaged his ankle and was put in a cast.  The three members of No Limits hobbled on through desert, river, and bustling Moroccan cities to come in as runners up in this multi-week challenge.  I know the editors of these programs can make or break public opinion of teams with their edits, but even so I know these guys well enough to know that they kept their focus on the main objective of the task at hand, and continually striving towards the finish line.  The infighting was kept to a minimum, they helped each other past each person’s difficulties, and they kept pressing forward.  They didn’t let the other teams and other issues get to them, they just stayed focused on what they needed to do.  This formula works.  It works in life and it works on reality TV.  When you couple this kind of team effort with skill and training, it becomes hard not to break down self imposed barriers and limits as well as those put on us by others.  For this reason the guys Erik, Aaron and Jeff certainly earned their name team No Limits.  Congratulations and thanks for the inspiration!

Erik Blindly Ziplines over a raging river.

Aaron, Erik, and Jeff face a challenge in the Moroccan Desert.

Philip Yancey Shares Some Wisdom on Pyramid Peak

// August 12th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Climbing, Events, Interviews

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in an event at the Snowmass Chapel with renowned author Philip Yancey.  On Saturday night he shared about his recent book Prayer and on Sunday night I was given the mic to share about some of my adventures.  Both nights were well attended events thanks to the marketing efforts of the chapel, but even more fun was the climb Philip, his wife Janet and I completed on Monday morning.  We were on the trail by 4:45 a.m. and five hours later we stood on the summit of Pyramid Peak (14,018′) with a few others and a few goats.  The video above shows the humor and wisdom I witnessed on this glorious cloudless day.

Longs Peak Memorial Climb

// August 11th, 2011 // No Comments » // Climbing, Events, Hiking

The Diamond

Caution: I am weird
I fast because I’m hungry
I run because I am thirsty
I die every day because I want to live
I lead because I follow
I give everything away to become rich
I am weak and broken so that I will be strong
I see more when my eyes are closed
I’m in love with someone I haven’t seen
I love the unlovely
I am honored when people mock me
I embrace these foolish things to become wise
I will walk whole heartedly out on any limb He requires,
because even if He lets it break, He can teach me to fly.

Lygon Stevens

 

 

 

View from Summit of Chasm Lake

To stand on the summit is a privilege not a victory.
No one can conquer a mountain,
it is impossible and does not exist.
All people are mountain climbers but not all people will climb.
This truth does not change for any person:
The privilege of standing on the summit only lasts a few minutes –
no one can linger there.
Keep pushing on and learn that victory comes in the day to day,
not the product of the day to day,
not the few moments in which the pushing upward ends.
Victory and glory come from conquering oneself
not the mountain. Lygon Stevens

We began our climb at 3:45 a.m. after a sleepless night for me.  An alpine start on Longs Peak after I had delivered a presentation the night before to  a group eager to raise funds for a good cause.  The funds the year before went to a gal who with $1,500 dollars started an orphanage in Nepal that now serves 250 kids.  Wow.

In the darkness we began with a prayer offered by Lygon’s brother Niklis, who was also caught in the 2008 avalanche on Little Bear peak that claimed his siter’s life.  Up the trail we went covering different routes as different teams dressed in the neon colored T’s of the event took on the 14,259′ challenge .  Hundreds of others were also on the mountain that day and as they asked about the bright shirts we were able to share about the testimony that Lygon’s life was.

It was a joy to become acquainted with the Stevens family and especially Nik as we climbed that day.  John Trousdale of www.DurangoTV.com filmed for www.DayofDiscovery.org as we ascended on this cold and windy morning.  But as the sun appeared we felt the familiar warmth of hope that it offered in contrast to the cold that we felt.  New friendships and insights were gained as we shared stories – some tragic, some humorous, and all offering perhaps just a little more peace and understanding as the passing of a loved one brought worlds and lives together that would not have otherwise met.

Thanks Stevens family for letting me in and sharing your mountain with me.  Climb High.

John Trousdale, Eric Alexander, Niklis Stevens

August Event with Philip Yancey – Snowmass

// July 7th, 2011 // No Comments » // Events

Coming up August 6th and 7th I will have the opportunity to share with the Aspen/Snowmass community alongside my friend and fellow author Philip Yancey.
Philip will share on Saturday and I will share on Sunday afternoon.  There are other events as well so take a look at the link below and see if this might be a fun getaway for you.

http://rockandice.com/upcomingclimbingevents/4-meetingseminar/89-eric-alexander-and-philip-yancey-present-two-workshops-at-snowma

 

Benefit Climb

// June 30th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Climbing, Events

This past Friday I had the honor of climbing with a group of wonderful people up Mt Lincoln in Colorado to its 14,286′ summit.  The climb was a benefit and fundraiser for the epilepsy foundation and served as a great way to meet new people and serve a few who don’t often get a chance like this.  We had a great day, raised some money, got in shape, made some new friends, and opened some doors.

Check out music by Eric Peters www.ericpeters.net and www.myspace.com/epeters also –  www.Outdoormindset.org