Denali, Everest, 10th Mountain, Eisenhower avalanche, ultramarathon deaths
2020 marked the first time in over 70 years that Denali, North America’s highest mountain, did not see human traffic. In an effort to dissuade travel and risk during the early impacts of Covid-19, the National Park Service denied permits. A year later, the season is full on with 905 registered teams reported earlier this week.
It’s been a somewhat tragic start to the 2021 season, though. On May 3, a Colorado man fell into a crevasse and was later pronounced dead. Then, on May 13, two Idaho climbers were hit by a falling serac on the West Fork of Ruth Glacier. One died.
Let’s hope the season takes a more positive turn from here out. Many friends of WildSnow are en route to the Big One, or there now. We’re wishing safe travels and good luck to Slator Aplin, Mike Poleto, Jim Howarth, Scott Mellin, their teammates and the rest of the crews bound for the summit. We look forward to the glory stories to come.
Satisfy your armchair ambitions by paging through our Denali archives and keep tabs on team progress with the NPS Denali Dispatches.
Everest 2021: Covid and possible new mountaineering feat
Speaking of busy mountaineering seasons, Everest is back to its usual circus. Adding to the fanfare is a run of Covid cases that spread through basecamp on the Nepal side earlier this month. This rise in virus cases prompted China to suspend its own climbing season, after erecting a separation line on the summit.
Back in 2009, I took my own journey to basecamp and between the dust, the altitude and the close quarters in camps and lodges, everybody we encountered seemed to be hacking up a lung (me and my group included). I can only imagine the impact Covid would have on the scene. How would you know the difference between a virus-infected person and the dreaded Khumbu cough? I’ll leave that experience to this year’s crop of climbers.
On a lighter Everest note, uber mountain athletes Kilian Jornet and David Goettler are cooking up a new, yet to be detailed speed effort. Speculation is that the duo is planning to attempt the ‘Holy Grail of Himalayan Climbing’ — the Everest-Lhotse Traverse. While Everest and Lhotse have been climbed in succession before, a true traverse involves linking in Nuptse, a feat that hasn’t seen success yet. It was last attempted by the late Uli Steck (Goetter’s former climbing partner) who died in 2017 while acclimatizing for an attempt.
Of course, that’s all just speculation and until the weather breaks we won’t know for sure. Whatever Jornet and Goettler do is sure to be impressive and likely on the limit of what we thought humans could accomplish in the mountains.
New film honors 10th Mountain Hut builder
Longtime readers of the site are familiar with the unique joy of visiting Colorado’s many backcountry ski huts. A new documentary on the huts, “It’s All Uphill From Here: the John Seipel Story” is scheduled for release in Fall 2021.
The film follows the journey of a group of skiers, including Seipel, a contractor who built a variety of 10th Mountain Division huts, as they ski from hut to hut. According to this article, the film will be both a historical documentary and adventure story that also explores personal journeys and limitations. Stay tuned for the full film, and watch the trailer here.
Avalanche lawsuit likely to end with plea deal
If you’ve been following the Eisenhower avalanche case, it appears a resolution is nigh. According to the latest in the Aspen Times, it’s expected that the snowboarders who triggered an avalanche above I70 in March 2020 will accept a plea deal to avoid paying the $168,000 restitution fine. The plea deal will allow Evan Hannibal and Tyler DeWitt to walk away with misdemeanors and community service rather than facing ‘financial ruin’.
Perhaps most interesting in the case is the emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the backcountry community. If the riders did pay the restitution fee, would that make such consequences the norm? Should it?Community service does seem like a more appropriate restitution for triggering a snow slide above a busy interstate, especially considering there were no injuries and the riders reported the slide to CAIC shortly after it occurred. At the very least the slide and following court case are a good reminder to be ever more diligent when considering the wider ranging impacts of our actions in in the backcountry. Readers: your thoughts?
Lastly, a recent New York Times article likened the 21 ultra marathon runner deaths in China last week to an avalanche or mountaineering incident. According to the article, the runners were caught off guard when they encountered an extreme shift in weather on the course. They were not required to carry gear such as rain jackets or warm layers. See this first hand account from a participant who was saved by a shepard after he’d passed out.
We talk a lot about preparations for backcountry pursuits on this site, both in terms of equipment and attitude. I’ve been thinking about the commentary on the tragedy being similar to an avalanche. What are these parallels? At the least, the achievement mindset can fog judgement, whether it’s foregoing safety gear to optimize weight savings in the race, or giving into powder fever in known avalanche terrain. There’s potentially cultural overlap as well. If the benchmark norm is a certain level of preparedness, whether in avalanche terrain or variable mountain conditions, it ultimately can keep people safer in the end. Readers?
Regardless, it was a tragic event and one that reverberates not only through the ultra running world but also mountain communities in general. Our thoughts go out to those effected.
Manasseh Franklin is a writer, editor and big fan of walking uphill. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction and environment and natural resources from the University of Wyoming and especially enjoys writing about glaciers. Find her other work in Alpinist, Adventure Journal, Rock and Ice, Aspen Sojourner, AFAR, Trail Runner and Western Confluence.