Tag: mountains

K2 – the savage mountain

My father was in the ski troops during World War 2, and he knew a lot of the men who before the war and afterwards turned to expedition climbing of the big mountains in Asia. He knew Bob Bates, who was on several K2 expeditions in the early 1950s, so as a kid I knew a little about this passion people had. Later, when I was 14, I did some climbing myself, in the Tetons, and I climbed with the Exum Climbing School a few times and even made it to the top of the Grand Teton. Barry Corbett was one of the guides at that school, and so was Jake Britenbach. Both men went to Everest in 1962-1963 and Barry Corbett made it to the summit. Jake Britenbach was killed in the icefall. I did some further rock climbing and winter mountaineering in New Hampshire in graduate school, with a childhood friend Jim Boicourt who was himself killed in 1976 in an avalanche in Colorado.

Mountain climbing is dangerous, and the high mountains really dangerous.I never had the burning fire to climb huge mountains or volcanoes, but I know plenty who have that fire. I think a special place exists for those people who tackle a mountain like K2, and the link here is to a terrible series of events on K2 by one expedition. This is a long damn way from the Pacific Northwest and the Olympic Peninsula, but some of the greatest mountaineers ever came from here and are still alive. One such was my next door neighbor, who died at 94 a few weeks ago after a long life as a halibut fisherman and climber. He climbed Mt. Rainier 40 times, the last time when he was 80. As a kid he went to Camp Parsons as a boy scout in the Olympics, the late 1920s, early 1930s, and he learned all he knew there, in those mountains.





How Ancient Are Alpine Trails?

In the Olympics when you get to the high country the main trails cross high meadows, sometimes rutted deep into the dirt, a combination of boot wear, erosion, and flowing water. Off trail tracks are sometimes well worn, also gouged into the earth, plain to see. It doesn’t take much to make a path, because the vegetation up high is sensitive, and passing feet soon wear through grasses, sedges and thin roots to dirt. Once a track is worn, it remains, for a long long time. Up high the ground lies under snow for eight to nine months a year, sheltered and protected, with only the short growing season for roots to bind into the soil, so a worn track, once made, may remain for years, even if untraveled. Now imagine a path traveled every year or every other year by a few people, enough to make the trail, keep the grasses low, but not so many people as to dig a ditch for water and erosion. Those paths up in the high country, maybe they were made by early trappers or Boy Scouts in the first decades of the Twentieth Century, but maybe they were worn much, much earlier. Somehow it has become the general feeling that native tribes avoided the high country, which makes absolutely no sense to me, because up high the elk gather, the berries ripen, and the basins are lovely. People are people, and what would appear a logical route to cross a pass today would seem the same a century ago, a hundred centuries ago, or even longer. So how old are those paths? A century or less, if you agree the high country was avoided, or a hundred centuries or more, if you believe people went wandering as soon as they became people? So, those trails and paths we trod, sweating under our packs, cursing the deerflies, among acres of flowers and heather, could we be walking in the footsteps of people who lived and died back when the ice ruled the earth, or even before? I like to think so. No. I know so.

Even here, way in the back country, we found a trail, made by elk, crossing from one basin to another. Made by elk? Or by human visitors?
Even here, way in the back country, we found a trail, made by elk, crossing from one basin to another. Made by elk? Or by human visitors?