Pik Lenin 7,134m – Getting Physically and Mentally Ready

24 May 2019: Curiosity about the Pik Lenin expedition 4 to 18 August often centers on how to deal with the altitude and the physical preparation required. The latter is an element of greater direct control for a mountaineer, assuming the conditions, willingness and discipline is there, while the former essentially boils down to a combination of genetics and acclimatization technique once up at high altitudes.

The snow cover remains substantial in the Alps now in late May as a consequence of one of the snowier winters in recent years and a relatively cold and wet first half of May. The physical preparation focus has therefore been on cardiovascular fitness and leg strength at more modest altitude, while saving the 4,000m+ preparation for the month before the expedition. Two nearby mountains here are great training grounds for vertical training; Mont Salève (1,379m) and Le Môle (1,863m). Both offer fast access to the trailhead, and spectacular views from the top to the western Alps at the end of the grueling one hour+ speed hike.

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I’ve managed an 800 vertical meters per hour ascent rate with some consistency, and getting in the squat rack at the gym twice a week. Expedition partner Luuk, meanwhile, has been doing the best he can at sea level in Singapore with kettle bells and the like.

The altitude component preparation of the expedition is what concerns me more, since it will be a 1,200 meter increase over the previous high of Cotopaxi at 5,897m. Some people are genetically less prone to the negative effects of lower oxygen levels (fatigue, headache, nausea), while others become desperately ill even at 2-3,000m. I have no reason to believe I am at either end of that wide spectrum based on the previous experiences, and will simply follow the acclimatization guidance of our Pik Lenin guide Evgenii Patlay in August.

We are getting close to the launch of the Summits for Scholarships campaign with the UWCSEA Foundation – keep your eyes on this blog for updates next week!

https://give.funderbolt.com/uwcsea/mikaelm-sumforscholars

Mikael

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Scholar Selected – Yelyzaveta from Donetsk, Ukraine

29/April/2019: Today I’m proud to announce that Yelyzaveta “Liza” Radionova is the recipient of the UWCSEA scholarship resulting from the 2018 Three Peak Challenge mountaineering expedition and fundraising campaign!fullsizeoutput_850fullsizeoutput_845fullsizeoutput_84f

Liza and her family left Donetsk in the summer of 2014 ahead of the advancing military campaign and the subsequent violence. She has completed her high school in Ukraine and is currently studying at the Ukrainian Leadership Academy in Kiev.

Liza believes a UWCSEA education will help her see the World through the eyes of others – a philosophy I can agree with strongly. She will start at UWCSEA in August 2019.

Check back here for updates on the Pik Lenin expedition with Luuk Carmaker UWCSEA ’20 shortly!

Mikael

Cotopaxi 5,897m – Living up to its Active Status

23 March 2019: Together with rockstar Ecuadorian/Chilean guide Gustavo Cevallos (ASEGUIM) and expedition partner Mahua, we summited Cotopaxi at 07:10. With the altitude gain required, the standard wake up at Refugio Jose Rivas 4,850m is at 23:00 the previous night, and we set off at 00:20.

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The night time ascent is about 1/3 gravel slog and 2/3 moderate glacier, in part made more challenging by the fresh snow which had delayed us by 24 hours. “Gus” insisted on strict adherence to crampon technique, in order to reduce fatigue and allow summiting around sunrise.

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In the end, we did not miss a gorgeous sunrise due to cloud cover, and the choking presence of sulfur fumes from the crater, which made us all cough and decide to descend fairly quickly, reaching the Refugio in two hours.

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Cotopaxi certainly sets the tone for adventures at higher altitudes, and Pik Lenin plans are shaping up well for August! Keep your eyes on this blog for the UWCSEA scholarship campaign for this climb, and thank you for your support!

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Los Illinizas – Wet Night at 4,750m

3F1F294A-7410-42D9-95BC-4E73C4E18BEE.jpeg20 March 2019: The second acclimatization climb took me and partner Mahua to the “smallest high mountain shelter in the Ecuadorian Andes” at 4,750m yesterday evening. It was already raining at the trailhead and the rain turned to sleet and snow about 200m below the summit, at which point I realized we had to pick up the pace to avoid risk of hypothermia and loss of visibility.

8272946B-AF94-43E2-8A83-5EFF89777C50.jpegFortunately we were greeted warmly at the shelter by guardian Freddy a.k.a “Gato”, three German climbers we had met on Rumiñahui the day before, and one American couple with an interesting story. Don Nguyen, living in Colorado from a Vietnamese refugee family, not only excels in high alpine mountaineering, guiding and rock climbing, but was the sole “survivor” in the 2016 edition of Naked and Afraid in Namibia! His competition partner had to abandon the challenge due to a burst implant. I am thoroughly questioning my years of studiously avoiding Reality TV.

But I digress. On arrival at the unheated shelter, the welcome was not sufficient to warm up our wet and very cold bodies. We had not expected the intensity of the precipitation, and even spare clothes in the packs were soaked through. Dinner of seafood paella cooked by Gato was enjoyed with a helping of translations of “wet to the bone” in German, Swedish and Vietnamese, and we then quickly shed the wet layers and got in the sleeping bags with a bottle of hot water under the armpit. Bedtime for the 12 of us (two young Germans with a guide joined us too) in the 25m2 shelter was about 18:15, and the gradual warming and drying effect of body heat made for a decent night’s sleep.

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The launching point of this leg of the expedition was the village of El Chaupi, which by all appearances is populated principally by indigenous Ecuadorians. Conversations with guides and our young driver to the trailhead indicate a certain neglect by the state with regard to funding for repairs of roads and infrastructure. I wonder if there will be any funding in the coming years to make the most basic of improvements to the Nuevos Horizontes shelter, such as sealing windows, something Mahua would appreciate in any future stay!

 

Rumiñahui 4,630m – In the Shadow of Cotopaxi

19 March 2019: I summited the central peak of Rumiñahui at 12:30 yesterday with expedition partner Mahua. Unlike her big sister Cotopaxi next door, the mountain is a dormant, heavily eroded stratovolcano with jagged peaks and fewer of the typical conical features of a volcano.

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The climb was a moderate hike for the first 500 vertical meters from the gorgeous Laguna de Limpiopungu bird reserve (3,900m), and a decent scree and talus (I always forget which is which!) scramble for the final 200m – all in heavy fog and driving rain. Visibility at the precarious summit was about 15 meters, so no glamour shots of Cotopaxi in this post, I’m afraid!
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Tomorrow morning Wednesday we attempt Ilinizas Norte (5,100m) from the Refugio Nuevos Horizontes (4,800m), an appropriate name for an expedition like this in new territory!

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Cotopaxi 5,897m – Third highest active volcano in the World

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March/2019: Surpassed only by two mountains on the Argentina/Chile border, Cotopaxi is the third highest active volcano in the world, with sulfur fumaroles a constant reminder near the northern rim of the 480m crater.

Cotopaxi Pic Crater

With climbing partner Mahua, we will make our summit attempt in the early hours of 22/March guided by Gustavo Cevallos (ASEGUIM), after acclimatizing at the breath-taking altitude of 4,800m for two nights.

Cotopaxi erupted regularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, with significant loss of life in the areas south of the volcano. The most recent activity was in 2015-16, which led to a closure of the mountain until 2017, after which it has remained open to climbers.

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Cotopaxi (March) and Pik Lenin (August) – Expedition Updates & Call for Participants

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30/January/2019: The planning is now finalized for the Cotopaxi, Ecuador (5,897m) expedition 16-23/March. There are two of us committed to the expedition so far, and the ideal number would be a group of four, with a similar enthusiasm for adventure and giving back to our respective communities. Do contact me if you are interested in seeing a brief outline of the expedition, including schedule, accommodation, guiding and costs. The climb should be achievable for someone in good physical condition, experience above 4,000m, and a week to spare in March!

mickemorn@gmail.com

+41793880409

Similarly, the planning for the Pik Lenin (7,134m) expedition 4-18/August is proceeding well, including firming up the tour operator (Kyrgyz Alpine Club), the guide and the estimated costs. This expedition requires some more experience due to the altitude, extreme weather and remoteness & exposure. However, the technical aspect is limited for a mountain of this height, and with some preparation (such as Cotopaxi), it should be quite achievable. Again the ideal expedition size would be four.

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Avalanche Rescue Training by the Foremost Authority

30/January/2019: With 18 of my closest fellow Swiss Alpine Club, Carouge Chapter members, I completed a very practical avalanche rescue and ski-touring safety course in La Fouly, Valais 19-20/January. As one of two non-native French speakers, I had to remind the rapid-fire younger instructor Laurent from time to time to slow his delivery to a more digestible pace. However, in combination with the comprehensive course materials, much of it hand-prepared by the mature gentleman Michel, the oral and physical presentations were highly instructive and directly relevant to assuming leadership and responsibility in mountaineering expeditions such as Cotopaxi and Pik Lenin this year.img_e6487[1]

Instructor Laurent above

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Fellow course member preparing to apply mouth-to-mouth to similarly blond victim (mannequin).

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La Fouly is up there among the most scenic Swiss Romande villages.

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My “avalanche victim”, a wooden box buried about 50cm under the snow, probably would have survived the simulated avalanche after being found 3:28 minutes after the avalanche alarm. Statistics show a high survival probability for victims rescued within 15 minutes of submersion, so the combination of the identification and extraction time in this case would have been successful.

American course attendee Jeff took the gold in the search with about 2:30 minutes. The group was remarkably diverse in age range (25-75), and equally represented by men and women, a ratio which is consistent with the mountaineering communities, though less so among guides.

2019 is off to an icy start

9/January/2019: Last weekend I completed the first of several mountaineering courses and certifications run by the Swiss Alpine Club (at the central level or at my local Carouge, GE section), founded in 1863 and boasting 110,000 members. This means roughly every one out of 80 persons in Switzerland is a member, which is a remarkable number. Recent statistics indicate a persistent slight annual decline in person nights in the mountain huts and overall activity, the reasons for which can probably be debated at length!

The Escalade sur Glace Raide two day course was conducted near Arolla, a 2,100m high altitude ski resort in the Valais Alps, roughly halfway between Verbier and Zermatt. Waterfalls and a steep canyon make for consistently good ice climbing conditions. The seven attendees included an exceptionally talented and well-traveled photographer Jean-Francois Delhom and a 57-year old Swiss-German school director (my roomie). I certainly felt like a laggard in this group.

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Ice climbing requires specialized equipment, including stiff-soled winter boots, ice climbing crampons (more advanced than regular glacier crampons) and lightweight ice axes. My 1990s and 2000s equipment was not quite up to the latest technological standards, so I suffered a bit on the steepest pitches led by the capable Swiss instructor. Nonetheless, a weekend of tremendous learning and advancement in the knowledge base to continue to go higher in 2019!

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