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!


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.


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.


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.



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!


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.


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.


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!

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!


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

Cotopaxi Pic2

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.

Cotopaxi Pic3


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


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!


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.

Pik Lenin

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


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


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


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.


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!


Mid-December – Heavy Snow, Coursework and a Sobering Reminder

12/December/2018: The western Alps received between 30 and 120cm of snow at higher elevations in the second week of December. Conditions for snowboard free-riding in Verbier (Switzerland’s largest resort) were exceptional on my two visits in the past week, and the early season solitude meant first tracks on several pitches.


There were repeated booms from avalanche management with remote explosives while the highest lifts remained closed.

Last Saturday 8/December a mountaineer with whom my son and I happened to share dinner in November in the Abbey at the Simplon Pass (2,000m) died in an avalanche in Cervinia, Italy while ski-touring with a very experienced skiing partner.

Avalanche accident

It’s a devastating reminder of the forces of nature in the high mountains and the need for robust education and preparation. I’ve recently received my package of study materials for the 5-6/January Ice Climbing Course, which is the first in a series of courses to achieve Swiss Alpine Club mountain guide certification by the middle of 2019.


This package gives me plenty of reading materials over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Until the next update,

Preparation Notes – Fall 2018

30/November/2018: While the travel planning for the two principal expeditions (Cotopaxi March; Pik Lenin August) in 2019 continues apace, I have been trying to make the most of the ‘shoulder season’ here in the Alps. Depending on the weather and snowfall, September-November can offer terrific access to high altitude one day, and stop all activity the next.

Some brief notes from the fall ventures so far:

  1. Early October ascent of Haute Cime (3,257m), the highest peak in the imposing Dents du Midi range overlooking the upper Rhone valley in ValaisIMG_3405[1]


2. Late October ascent of Pointe Percee (2,752m) and overnight wilderness camping on its slopes with the family. It’s a favourite annual climb, with a decent technical challenge and the ‘Alpine light’ elements of terrain, wildlife and rockfall risks.



3. Late October adventure atop Mont Saleve (1,300m), Geneva’s backyard playground, where a surprising early snowfall and cold blast made for some great photos.


4. Scenic hikes and mountain-bike rides in and above the gorgeous Cirque de Sixt-Fer-A-Cheval valley (1,000m), ringed by waterfalls and steep cliffs.


5. Mid-November winter hike to and under the Aletschgletscher, the longest glacier in Europe, with a view of both Mönch (4,107m) and Matterhorn (4,478m) from the middle of the glacier. The complete solitude and recent snowfall covering the crevasses made me a bit apprehensive to continue with the original two-day plan, so I returned home after snapping some amazing photos.


6. Late November winter season premiere in La Clusaz and first time ever on a ‘Splitboard‘, the radically millenial child of a snowboard and touring skis (ski randonnee). With experienced Norwegian mountaineer Bjørn, we completed a 750m vertical ascent (1,500-2,250m) on relatively benign grade in about 90 minutes, followed by a 9 minute descent.


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