Wednesday, September 30, 2015

First Ascent of Burke Khang - The Countdown Begins

We are 19 days away from departure for our grand adventure of the never-before-climbed Burke Khang!  This post summarizes our planned itinerary to reach an area where we intend to set up Burke Khang Base Camp, and a subsequent post will describe our proposed climbing route.

Although this will be our fourth trip to Nepal, we anticipate the capitol city of Kathmandu will look and feel very different to us since the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake left its deadly mark on the country earlier this year on April 25th.  We will spend a night in Kathmandu and early in the morning on Oct. 22nd we plan on flying to Lukla, a tiny village carved into the mountainside at 9,350 feet. Lukla is the launch-point for Everest expeditions and treks. The Tenzing-Hillary Airport at Lukla is rated the most extreme in the world because of its short, uphill runway, and challenging topography.  From Lukla, we will move up the Everest Base Camp trekking trail to the famous village of Namche Bazaar, the gateway to the high Himalaya and the main trading center and hub for the Khumbu region.
Lukla Airport  - elevation 9,350'
Namche Bazaar - elevation 11,300'

After spending two days in Namche, we will leave the EBC trekking trail and make our way up the less frequently traveled Gokyo Valley.  We visited this region on our first trip to Nepal in 2008 and will be stopping in the same villages of Dole and Machhermo along the way to sleep and acclimatize. After four days of trekking, we will arrive at the village of Gokyo and spend an extra day relaxing and acclimatizing at the beautiful Gokyo Lake and enjoying the spectacular scenery.

Gokyo Lake - elevation 15,580'

Gokyo is the last village on our trek to Burke Khang Base Camp. For the remainder of the trek, we will leave the comfort of the Sherpa lodges and sleep in tents and cook our meals. Upon departing Gokyo, we will move up alongside the Ngozumpa Glacier until it reaches the Gaunara Glacier, where we will make a sharp right turn and proceed up the Gaunara Glacier to its fountainhead at the foot of Burke Khang. There, we will set up our Base Camp.  The trek from Gokyo to Burke Khang Base Camp will take two days, and altogether it is expected to be a 10-day journey from Lukla to Burke Khang Base Camp, hopefully arriving by Nov. 1st.

Namche Bazaar to Burke Khang
Gokyo Village to Burke Khang
Burke Khang

From this point forward, the hard work begins.
Our next blog post will describe our proposed climbing route so please stay tuned.  Thank you Bill Burke for allowing us to use some of your images and text, and most importantly thank you once again for inviting us to be a part of this historic first ascent expedition team!

Monday, September 14, 2015

First Ascent of Unclimbed Himalayan Peak!

It's true, an extremely rare opportunity has been granted to us to become the first-ever in history to climb the 22,775-foot Burke Khang in Nepal!  We have the great privilege of being friends with Bill Burke (the oldest non-Asian person to summit Mt. Everest at age 72) and he invited us to be part of a small team to attempt climbing his namesake mountain!  And we leave for Kathmandu next month on October 19th!

Last year the Government of Nepal and its Prime Minister bestowed the incredible honor upon Bill by naming this unclimbed peak after him.  Burke Khang (Khang means mountain in Nepalese) sits on the border of Nepal and Tibet approximately 9 miles west of Everest.  It is among a group of peaks that were previously off limits to climbing, but on May 21, 2014 the Government of Nepal granted access to these areas for the first time in history.  Our expedition has been in planning stages for more than a year now and very few days have gone by without us thinking about this exciting adventure!

We have purposely been keeping our plans under the radar until now as a precaution, since making a first ascent of an unclimbed peak can be competitive business.  Particularly in the international climbing community, the Russians, the Chinese, and Japanese are always eager to go after these conquests.  Nowadays there simply aren't that many big mountains left in the world that haven't already been climbed.  The idea is a bit crazy for us to imagine being in the company of true climbing pioneers who have made first ascents: Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, Reinhold Messner ...and perhaps - Paul and Denise Fejtek!?!?

We will be climbing alongside another mountaineering great, our expedition leader Garrett Madison. Renowned as one of the world's top high-altitude mountaineering guides, among other accomplishments Garrett has guided 6 successful Everest expeditions, led a team to the summit of K2 last year, and is frequently sought after as an expert in the field.

Garrett joined Bill Burke for a helicopter reconnaissance of Burke Khang in April to determine if the mountain was climbable.  Back in January, Bill hired two Sherpas to scout out possible routes but they came back saying the mountain was too steep and avalanche prone.  Bill wasn't ready to give up so he poured over satellite imagery of the mountain on Google Earth and thought he found another way.  This is Bill's unlisted video showing stunning shots of our proposed ascent route as well as remarkable footage of Everest Base Camp and the infamous Khumbu Icefall.  The video and photos were taken by Bill, Garrett, and NBC cameraman Michael Churton,  just two weeks prior to the tragic earthquake on April 25th that devastated Nepal and triggered the avalanche that wiped out Base Camp and sadly took 18 lives there.   

Burke Khang Heli Recon Video Link:

In the aftermath of the earthquake we debated cancelling the expedition.  Climbing a mountain seemed like such a discretionary pursuit given the death and destruction that overwhelmed Nepal. Instead we shifted our attention towards providing funds for immediate relief efforts. With your support the 100 Mile Race to Help Nepal was a huge success with over $18,000 going to CAF and to Nepal earthquake relief.  Nepal is beginning to recover from the natural disaster but their economy relies heavily on tourism.  As time passed we realized the best thing we can do to further help our friends in Nepal, is to just go ahead with the expedition!  We feel good about spending our strong U.S. dollars in their lodges & restaurants, and hiring local staff to provide the means of support and self-sufficiency the people of Nepal truly desire right now.        

Please stay tuned for the next blog post with more details about our adventure, the climbing route and other exciting particulars. If you aren't already subscribed to our blog, you can get updates whenever a new post is made by entering your email address in the box at the upper right of the Summit for CAF blog page (and don't forget to verify through the automated email you will receive immediately after subscribing - check your spam folder if you don't see it).  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Leadville 100: From the Bucket List to the Buckle!

Serious DOUBTS, FEAR, and PAIN were constants for me throughout the days and nights leading up to the starting gun being fired at the Leadville 100 "Race Across the Sky" this past Saturday August 15th. Known as the toughest single-day bike race in North America, I questioned what business I had entering this race with only 6 months of mountain biking experience under my belt.  My determination alone has gotten me far in life, but much more than that is required for this event!  If things went badly I planned to blame Willie Stewart.  As I explained on the "Breakfast with Bob" radio show the day before the race, One-Arm Willie is the man responsible for it all. Here's the interview if you missed it:

To further elaborate on my comments in the interview, on Thursday I made a practice run down the dreaded Powerline section of the course.  I heard many people talk about this rocky, steep descent with limited traction in parts, and bike-swallowing ruts throughout.  One of those large ruts grabbed my front tire and abruptly threw me off my bike and slammed me onto the ground, impacting my chest hard and scraping skin off my right arm, hips, side and back as I slid and rolled down the dirt trail.  After dusting myself off I noticed the confidence I had gained from completing my first Tahoe Trail race last month was now gone.  And the reality was setting in that I was about to ride down Powerline again (and other tricky sections among a total of 12,000+ vertical feet of descents on the course) alongside ~2,000 other riders on race day. Step #15 of my book "Steps to the Summit" is "Never Give Up" so quitting wasn't an option, and off to the start line I went!  The pace was fast and after about two hours I had climbed to the top of Sugarloaf Pass and the Powerline downhill was about to begin again.  Despite my mental notes of the most technical sections, I somehow managed to crash again on a different part of the descent!  This time the blood and scrapes were concentrated on the left side of my body.  I quickly got back up and continued down without further incident ...until another mishap on a sharp corner on the singletrack somewhere around mile 35. The force of my handlebars hitting the dirt must have broken off my bike computer, which I didn't notice until after I was back up riding again.  My pacing, hydration & nutrition plan for this all-day event relied on that computer.  The incident reminded me of a quote by Mike Tyson that I heard at the pre-race athlete meeting: "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face."  Despite these blows, I managed to keep the rubber side down for the rest of the 104-mile race, and was re-energized and incredibly grateful to have Denise providing loving support and refueling for me at several aid stations along the way.  After 10 hours and 9 minutes of grueling trail riding, I crossed the finish line a bit dusty and bloodied, but with an elated smile on my face!

This experience caused more blood, sweat and raw emotions to be revealed than I could have ever imagined. And thanks to your collective generosity we raised over $18,000 for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and Denise and I have matched this amount providing earthquake relief for Nepal! Throughout this journey, helping these two worthy causes is what has generated the most powerful and gratifying emotions!  I look forward to the next time I see you, and perhaps I will be wearing my coveted Leadville 100 belt buckle awarded to those who finish the race under 12 hours.  It will serve as a reminder of the impactful words of Leadville Founder Ken Chlouber: "You're better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can!"  Please remember this truth, and thank you again for joining me on the ride! 

CAF Mobile friendly donation link:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"Brake"-through Mountain Bike Modifications

Since my last blog post announcing my "100 Mile Race to Help Nepal" many of you have inquired about the modifications I have made to my new mountain bike. In answer to those questions, I put together a short video to demonstrate these cool innovations that are allowing me to actually do this! 

In the past 6 months since I started riding I have logged nearly 1,000 miles on my customized bike and pedaled uphill a cumulative elevation of 117,598 feet. I am grateful to be representing the Challenged Athletes Foundation throughout these long miles and climbs in my quest to complete the Leadville Trail 100 MTB "Race Across the Sky" next month in Colorado. I am humbled and inspired by the CAF athletes who have far greater physical challenges than my own, and am forever thankful for their examples of strength and determination.  Now that I've had my own "Brake"-through and am able to ride a mountain bike unlike I was ever able to do before, I have an even greater appreciation for the impact specialized sports equipment can make. As preparation for the big August 15th race, this Saturday morning at 7:00 AM I will be at the start line of the Tahoe Trail 100K mountain bike race. I hope you enjoy my short video and thanks again for your support!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

100 Mile Race to Help Nepal

The devastating 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25th has taken more than 7,600 lives so far and has forever altered the lives of millions. Having spent more than three months in Nepal, Denise and I have made lasting friendships with many of the Sherpas and other peaceful, loving Nepalese people during our three trips to their beautiful country.  Hearing of their hardships, loss of life and homes is heartbreaking. 

We sit comfortably in our home with electricity, all of the food, fresh water and conveniences of life in America, and wonder what we can do to help our Sherpa friends and the people of this desperately poor country who are in grave need.  And the need is urgent especially as disease is spreading and the coming monsoon rains are threatening the estimated 2.8 million people left homeless, including many of our friends.
I have decided I am not going to sit comfortably, but instead pedal 100 miles in the Leadville Trail Mountain Bike Race in the Colorado Rockies - the "Race Across the Sky." Known as one of the toughest single-day bike races in North America, at elevations between 10,000 to 12,400 feet, with more than 12,000 feet of climbing in between, this will be a brutal test of endurance to be sure.  It will be even more challenging for me considering I just started mountain biking in earnest this year and bought my first true mountain bike only three months ago.  I have made some unique modifications to the bike that have been a breakthrough enabling me to safely and effectively ride with my right arm. More on that later, but suffice it to say that having the proper equipment is what has allowed me to enjoy this new sport that up until now, I have been unable to do. Providing the right equipment and support is exactly what the Challenged Athletes Foundation has been doing to help individuals with far greater physical challenges than me.

I will be attempting this savage race on August 15 and I will be riding to support CAF and also the people of Nepal.  I am asking you to support me by making a tax-deductible donation to CAF through this link:

For every dollar raised, Denise and I are personally MATCHING (with no limitations) and donating to the American Himalayan Foundation, Mercy Corps and other qualified organizations with staff in Nepal who are best able to help those currently suffering.  Thank you for your time and compassion. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Terrific Times in Tasmania

We've covered a lot of ground in the past two weeks since our last blog post (3,157 km to be exact) and now find ourselves back in Sydney after a devilishly good time in Tasmania! Following our Krazy Kozzy summit we continued southwest and drove the Great Ocean Road and even took a helicopter flight to view the spectacular Twelve Apostles, a must see series of rock pillars off the southern Aussie Coast.  
See a few more of our photos here:
Next we discovered our new favourite way to explore a city via a guided bicycle tour around the sprawling, cosmopolitan Melbourne.  From there a short one-hour flight over the Bass Strait took us to Australia's southernmost state, Tasmania. With wildly natural beauty and nearly a third of the island protected by national parks, it's no wonder Tasmania made it on Lonely Planet's list of Top Regions in the World to visit in 2015. Ranking #4 on the list we suspect Tasmania will become a location for one of our future Step Outdoor Adventures programs. We were also pleased to see Nepal's Khumbu region, site of our Everest Base Camp Trek, rank #6 on the list. 
One of Tassie's highlights is Cradle Mountain National Park and the famous Overland Track, a 6-day hike winding through a stunning landscape with no shortage of picturesque lakes and unique wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats. We only had two days to spend in the park and made it along the first portion of the Overland Track to Cradle Mountain.  
The climb to the meager 5,100' summit is classified as a grade 4+ with exposed scrambling over large boulders, so Denise made the wise decision to give her two-month post-op knee a rest, while I carried the CAF banner the final stretch to the top. 

Other highlights from Tasmania include watching scores Fairy Penguins (the smallest of 18 different species of penguins) waddle in from sea to their nests, visiting the site of the former penal colony at Port Arthur, and taking a selfie with a Tasmanian Devil!
We finished off our time in Tassie with two nights at the Freycinet Lodge in Freycinet National Park. The main draw here are the white sands of the acclaimed Wineglass Bay.  However, you need to earn a refreshing dip in the ocean on this beach, since there are no roads and only a steep hiking trail that takes an hour plus to get to the prize. ...until our next adventure, Cheers!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Krazy Kozzy

Our hopes for "mildly adverse conditions" (for purposes of a more exciting story as mentioned in our last blog post) were indeed realized! On Monday we picked up our right-hand drive car in Sydney and veered onto the left-hand side of the road heading southwest for the 6-hour drive towards Thredbo (elev. 4,500'), the alpine village at the base of Mt. Kosciuszko in the National Park bearing the same name.

Half-way between Sydney and Thredbo is the nation's capital of Canberra which happens to be the home of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). AIS is where the Olympic and Paralympic athletes train so we decided to see the expansive facilities for ourselves. Prominently displayed in the front of the main building is the "Basketballer" created for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and spotlighting all the Paralympic athletes.

Since we were doing a "walk in the park" on Kosciuszko the next day we figured we could squeeze in a supplemental workout in the 50-meter pool where legends like Ian Thorpe (aka the Thorpedo) trained. After our refreshing laps in the Olympic pool, we continued on to the Snowy Mountains where our next challenge awaited.  We checked in to the Thredbo Alpine Hotel and began sifting through our gear to get ready for our next "expedition". The primary challenge was determining which sun visor and sunscreen to take and whether or not to throw in some sandals for our walk in the park. 

We awoke the next morning December 30th to sunshine and blue skies which looked to be a great start for Denise's birthday. As we started our walk in the morning the wind gently announced itself and the clouds blew in. The majority of the hiking path is comprised of steel grates perfectly constructed to easily lead both young and old straight up to the summit. 

The higher we progressed up the mountain the higher the winds gusted so we switched our sun visors for wool hats, gloves and warmer jackets. Luckily we brought some foul weather gear for these possible "adverse conditions" and we piled on every layer we had with us. We heard from Thredbo mountain staff that temps at the summit were -10C and gusts were reaching 80km/hour...and they were absolutely right! After the requisite photo with the Challenged Athletes Foundation flag on the summit at 7,310 feet, and a quick video to document these crazy conditions, we quickly descended back towards the village to celebrate our 8th Summit. It was a fitting way to celebrate Denise's birthday and also finish out 2014 on a high note!