Archive for category Adventure

Mars mission will take 6 years roundtrip including prep

Photo credit National Geographic Magazine, November 2016.


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Video– Talk at Battery SF about Fix Maps

Here’s the recorded video of a 5-minute talk I gave at Battery San Francisco about Fix Maps. The talk format is called “Ignite” which calls for 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds.

Here’s the slides from the talk.

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How To Build A Snow Cave

Snow caves are fun to build and provide warm places to sleep and take shelter from a storm. This is a brief how-to guide to building a snow cave.

The snow cave in this example was built by 4 people near Skinner Hut at the edge of the timberline in late-December 2015 at 11,620 feet. Builders were Brett Poulin, Chris, Nick, and me, Neal Mueller. The cave we built was large enough to sleep and provide eating quarters and shelter for 4 people. It included a vapor escape for cooking.

Step 1. Find snow drift, not cornice. We found our snow drift nearby Skinner Hut at 11,620 feet in Colorado. It had a gorgeous view and was large enough for the snow cave.

snow drift

Step 2. Use shovel or hoe to excavate snow cave. It helps to have just one-person inside and a team outside to ferry loads of snow away from the entrance. TIME: Our snow cave took 4 athletic people about 2 hours to excavate.

Step 3. Use snow saw to create snow cave benches or sleeping bunks, save blocks. Keep the bunks above the height of the door entrance, or allow for a heat pocket. Heat rises. TIME: Our snow cave took 4 athletic people about 1 hour to deepen.

Step 4. Use snow saw to raise ceiling height of snow cave, save blocks. TIME: Our snow cave took 4 athletic people about 1 hour to raise the ceiling.

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Step 5. Line and narrow snow cave entrance with sawed blocks. TIME: Our snow cave took 4 athletic people about 1 hour to narrow the entrance and finalize.

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That’s it. You’re done. Now you can use snow cave for shelter or fun. Below are photos of our snow cave as it was excavated. Remember to keep a shovel inside the cave, in case you get snowed in.

The snow cave pictured above was my second snow cave.

My first snow cave was at 15,000 feet just above the head-wall on Mt. Denali with Mike Wood, Jed Workman, and Evan Howe of AMS. Here’s a picture of that snow cave. You can see me in the far back, second from the left.



Here is a snow cave diagram (book source).

Snow cave diagram

Have fun. Stay warm.

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This mountaineers review of the two 2015 mountaineering movies


Here are my thoughts on two mountaineering movies that are in theatres now; Meru and Everest. I liked both movies.

Here’s a comparison chart that I put together.

movie comparison

I recommend that most people see Meru

It might surprise you which movie I recommend that you see Meru. I recommend that all adventurers see Meru, and that only Himalayan climbers see Everest. Everest is too dark to motivate. Meru educates and motivates; it’s more uplifting and understandable by the average audience than Everest. Everest is about pushing beyond the edge and dying because of it. Everest is a phenomenal story of life/death, but the ending of Everest is so dark that I recommend seeing other stories such as Gattaca if you want to explore the topic of ‘edging’.

What I loved

Meru: Jimmy’s character

Everest: Seeing the summit of Everest in 3D, for the second time for me, and this time with a diet

What I didn’t love

Meru: I didn’t like the character development of Renan Ozturk, who is portrayed as the third wheel to Jimmy Chin and Conrad Anker. I didn’t get an emotional response from the way his injury was told. I’m unsure why I felt dead-pan because Renan’s life threatening accident and miraculous recovery are objectively amazing and should have felt that way. His portrayal isn’t compelling.

Everest: It’s a sad story that ends poorly. I’ve read the book Into Thin Air, and climbed Everest to the summit. The movie felt like a painfully slow telling of the tragedy, and didn’t leave me feeling anything more than I felt before the movie. I appreciated seeing the summit for the second time–that was rad. But it was a huge price to pay for 2 hours of watching 8 people die in slow motion.

Are the movies technically accurate? Yes.

Yes–Meru. I’m not a big wall rock climber, so I can’t attest 100% to Meru’s accuracy, but I can attest to most of it, and it was incredibly accurate. All the on-site footage is real, not reenactments. It’s a true documentary. Jimmy and Conrad are two of the best climbers in the world, who I’ve had the good fortune of meeting personally. Meru is legit.

Yes–Everest. I climbed Everest in 2005, and I can attest that the Everest movie was accurate. All the footage is reenacted, and done so very well. Everest was shot in Nepal and high in the Italian Dolomites. I’ve read that the actors in Everest were surprised how harsh altitude is on the body. You feel like you’re there. Like your face has frostbite. I felt literally cold during the movie. It’s gripping.

In summary

Meru: Meru Film is made by a fellow Minnesota and is about big wall rock and ice climbing at high-altitude. Meru is technically more difficult in every way than Everest, except altitude. The route the team of three climbed in the movie had never been climbed before–if successful they’d have a first ascent in the Himalayas, which is an incredible feat. The movie was edge of your seat captivating. I went at 8pm after a long day of playing outside and i felt more invigorated after i walked out than when I walked into the theatre. I recommend that anyone see this movie.

Everest: Everest 2015 is about the 1996 tragedy on Mount Everest, which is less recent and killed fewer people than the more recent 2014 and 2015 tragedies on Mount Everest. If you’ve climbed Everest before and want to remind yourself about the experience with the benefit of a warm and windless sea-level theatre, then I recommend seeing this movie. If you haven’t climbed in the Himalaya I’d recommend seeing Meru instead. Everest is depressing. As for the human interest story that surrounds the character of any of the climbers who lived and died on the mountain in 1996, I cannot comment because I wasn’t there and don’t know any of the climbers personally. There’s a lot of drama about whether to believe the 1996 tragedy retelling in the book “Into Thin Air” vs. “The Clymb”. I don’t know anything more than you can read in the books, but I will say that the Jon’s blanket statement that the movie is not a fair depiction is most certainly biased and it’s not cool of him to use the publicity to sell more books.

The winter climbing season is coming. Let’s stay warm up there. Berg heil.

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When in Iceland

When in Iceland I recommend renting a vehicle. It’s a round island with a single ring road.
When renting a vehicle I recommend a 4×4. There are no trees, so you can drive anywhere.
When renting a 4×4 I recommend renting a Land Rover. The British were an adventurous lot.
When renting a Land Rover, get a Defender. It protected the King of England well enough now didn’t it.
When renting a Defender, get a Super with the armor. Iceland is icy.
When getting a Super, get a modified Super. You’ll want the snorkel, compressor, and 38″ tires.
Use ISAK 4×4 Rental.

ISAK Super Depender ModifiedISAK Super Depender ModifiedISAK Super Depender Modified


A video and my travel map for Iceland: Iceland Map

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Sunset Ocean Beach Yesterday

Sunset yesterday

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Deaths and Fairness on Mount Everest

More people died on Everest this year than any other year.

The cause of 16 of the 17 deaths on the mountain this year was an avalanche, that occurred between basecamp and camp 1 on 4/18/2014, in an area known as the Popcorn Field. This is around 18,000 or 19,000 feet at the top of the Khumbu Ice Fall, the most dangerous part of the Mount Everest climb.

An overhanging wedge of ice the size of a Home Depot broke loose from the western shoulder of Mount Everest, killing the sherpa that were hauling loads underneath it. They didn’t stand a chance. The only way to avoid an avalanche here is to not be on this part of the mountain in the first place.

How Tragic was 2014? Very.

That one avalanche above basecamp made international news. It killed 13 people, making 2014 the deadliest year on the world’s deadliest mountain.

Number of Climbers Killed on Everest 1922-2014

The data source for the below graphs is a wikipedia page that tracks Everest fatalities. Here is the google doc I used to make the graphs.


Number of people killed on mount everest by year (1922-2014)


Number of Sherpas Killed on Everest 1922-2014

All of the deaths in 2014 were Nepalese Sherpa. This has caused a stir in the Nepalese community and among westerners (like me) who relied on the sherpa, and have therefore come to care a great deal for their well-being.


Number of sherpa killed on mount everest by year (1922-2014)


The Sherpa People

The Sherpa are an indigenous ethnic group who have settled in the Khumbu, near Mount Everest. There are about 100,000 of them, and many have the last name Sherpa. For more than a century, western climbers have hired Sherpa to do the most dangerous work in the Himalaya.

The deaths this year have caused everyone that has ever worked with the Sherpa people to take a moment and reflect on whether it’s worth it or not. And how we can protect the Sherpa.

The Sherpa people consistently put the needs of “members” above themselves. A “member” is a person who hires the Sherpa to help them climb mountains in the Himalayas. On Everest, I was called a “member”.

Internationally, the word “Sherpa” has come to describe the profession of being a porter, someone who carries objects. In other words, the Sherpa people became so revered as porters, that they redefined the professional category. To put this unto humorous contrast, that’s like Minnesota doctors becoming so great at curing disease, that all doctors worldwide come to be called “Minnesotans”, instead of doctor.


The Sherpa Work Stoppage of 2014

After the avalanche on 4/18/2014, both climbers and sherpas stopped climbing to mourn the dead. After this mourning period, the Sherpas announced they would go on strike. At the heart of the work stoppage was the reparations offered by the Nepalese government to the families of the deceased Sherpa. From the New Yorker:

The threat of a work stoppage was provoked by the Sherpas’ outrage over the Nepali government’s offer to provide just forty thousand rupees—slightly more than four hundred dollars—to the families of the Sherpas killed in the avalanche, to defray their funeral expenses. Among the Sherpas’ demands are that the government increase this compensation to approximately a thousand dollars per family


Are the Sherpas Strike Demands Fair? Yes.

The Sherpas were offered $400 USD and they want $1000 USD per fallen Sherpa, to defray funeral expenses. Is this fair given that Nepal is in the developing world?

A dollar in the USA has much less purchasing power than a dollar in Nepal, or India – the Nepalese rupee is pegged to the Indian rupee. According to the Economist, in their easy to understand Big Mac Index, $50 USD will buy 11 Big Macs in the USA, and 30 Big Macs in Nepal. This means that a dollar in Nepal buy about three-times what it will in America.

This purchasing-power-parity (PPP) math can help us determine if we feel that the Sherpas demands are fair. I believe they are fair . Funeral arrangements to transport a body from base camp down to their home village certainly adds to the funeral expense. Among other additional fees.

Even though Nepal has a much higher PPP, it stands to reason that they ask for $1000 USD. This is worth about $3000 in the mind of an American, which is within the realm of perfectly reasonable for funeral arrangements, especially given the nature of this years tragedy.

As an American, I am accustomed to the Federal government going out of it’s way to afford reparations to families that are hit by national disasters. For Nepal, this avalanche was absolutely a national disaster. The 13 Sherpas have impact on much more than just their own families. There is a many thousand person supply chain that these climbing Sherpa are just to tip-of-the-sword for. Given that, and with the admission that I absolutely feel that a welfare state like what we have in America is the best of all possible alternatives, I believe the Sherpas request to be fair and adequate to help Nepal cope with this national disaster.


How will 2014 be Remembered? Expensive.

As of 4/23/2014, more than half the Sherpa have left basecamp. No one knows if the Sherpa will return. Many of the climbers have also left. If the teams don’t return quickly (days not weeks), they will un-acclimatize, and this two-month long climbing season that ends in May will effectively be over. Without the help of the Sherpas specifically, who are key guides and also haul tons of gear up the mountain, it would be nearly impossible for climbers to scale Everest.

2014 will be remembered as a very expensive year on Everest, in terms of human life (17 dead), lost opportunity (very few summits this year by climbers), lost income (for sherpas seeking to advance a career and make-ends-meet on Everest), and lost investment (for climbers who have paid $30,000 to $90,000 each).


Final Thought

I’m fortunate that I was on Everest in 2005, and not 2014. I really empathized with this quote in the New York Times:

“I can’t help but feel that I have let everyone down,” wrote Kent Stewart, an American climber, in a blog post. “If I don’t ever make it to the top of Everest, I’m afraid there will always be a hole in my life, and frankly, that worries me.”

Some of the articles I read question if it’s all worth it. In my estimation it is. I am a serial adventurer with motivations and drive that differ from the norm. I understand how many people find mountaineering needlessly risky. I look at it like this. Some people really like chocolaty sweets, and they get fat. That’s a risk. Some love football, and they get concussions. That’s a risk. Some stay safe by never leaving hermit holes, and thus go bonkers. That’s a risk. We all take risks – my risks involve ice bulges that avalanche.

I’ll close with a picture of Lakpa Geljin Sherpa, who climbed with me to the top of Mount Everest at 9:00am on June 2, 2005. Here he holds the Nepalese flag lashed to his aluminum ice axe. This same axe successfully brought him to the summit of Everest for his previous two summits of Everest. He’s an elite-climber.


Lakpa Geljin Sherpa on the summit of Mount Everest

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A Thawing Arctic

The year that Arctic Row rowed across the Arctic Ocean we witnessed the lowest ice cap in recent history. And the trend predicts more melt to come.

The Arctic, the roughly 8 percent of the earth above latitude 66º 33′ north, is warming faster than many climate scientists expected—at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the planet. The extent of Arctic sea ice, which melts to its nadir each September, has steadily declined over the past three decades. The years 2007–2013 saw the six lowest levels since satellite imaging began in 1979. Overall, the ice cap has retreated about 40 percent over this period. The trend is likely unmatched in recent human history, reported a UN panel on climate change in 2013.

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Launching the Lifthrasir Rowboat

Last night we launched the refurbished Lifthrasir rowboat into the flat evening waters of the San Francisco Bay. The Lifthrasir had been in the boat shop since April for a strip, overhaul, and varnish. The launch happened after 3 hours of last-minute touch-up and assembly work by 20 members of the Dolphin Club Rowing Club, including my friend Jason Zanetti and me.

A bit of history on the boat, the Lifthrasir was donated to the Dolphin Club in January 2010 by three members (TOppendheimer, PDrino, J/PSancimino) including the wooden double Viking class boat itself, 3 sets of oars, trailer and miscellaneous equipment/gear. She was built in the 1970s by Jeremy Fisher-Smith, who built all the Viking class wooden single and double oar boats at the Dolphin Club and Southend Club. Jeremy is the builder of the Thor wooden single Viking class boat that I was seen rowing in the previous SF Chronicle photograph.

It was rare to be involved in the launching of an overhauled vintage viking-class wooden rowboat. The boat wright, Jon Bielinski and a cadre of regular boatnight members, have worked on this boat overhaul since April. It was inclusive that they chose to share this occasion with all of us. For our part, Jason and I were charged by the boat wright to sand the gunwale, remove the excess caulk from the oar locks along the gunwale, affix the foot stretchers to the boat, and help carry the boat out of the boat room and into the water.

Wooden rowboats need to be overhauled every 5 to 10 years, depending on use. The picture at upper right is taken from the first overhaul back in 1985.

Here are some photographs from last night. There was also a dinner afterwards by chef Mattie, which I do not have pictures of, but will soon.

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Sunday SF Chronicle

I went rowing this weekend to watch the Blue Angels and the America’s Cup sailing race. The SF Chronicle was out on the town, snapped a picture, asked my name, and put Tenzing and me in the Sunday print and online edition. Thankfully the “spills” on the headline is in reference to one of the racing sailboats, and not my rowboat.


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