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!  


Sunday, December 28, 2014

G'Day from Down Under

Greetings from Sydney, Australia where we are beginning our final adventure of 2014.  Located in the Snowy Mountains six hours by car from Sydney, is Mount Kosciusko or "Kozzy" as the Aussies call her.  It's the highest peak in Australia and is considered by some as one of the Seven Summits.  It all depends on how you define the continent, the Australian land mass, or the true continent of Oceania, which also includes Indonesia.  We chose to climb Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia in Sept. 2008.  Carstensz is over 16,000 feet high and involves considerable technical climbing.  See blog archive for details: Carstensz Summit Day
The mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner and other purists count Carstensz as one of the Seven Summits, but we figured we should also climb Kosciusko to be absolutely thorough.  

It's really more of a hike and there is no "climbing" involved other than climbing out of bed at an early hour in order to make it up to the 7,310 foot summit and back to the lodge in time for lunch and a cold beverage! 

It may be a tad bit more of a challenge than my overconfident description may sound, as Denise is still in rehab mode from her knee surgery less than two months ago. Nonetheless we'll go slow and hopefully will encounter some kind of mildly adverse conditions to weave into our next blog post to make for a more exciting story! ��  We'll report back sometime in the next few days to let you know how it goes, and meanwhile we hope you are enjoying your holidays.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adios Andes

  • 3 countries, 34 days
  • 14 different hotel rooms and 8 camp locations
  • 57,693 feet in altitude climbed, and...
  • 1 amazing photo of our new amigo Marcelo, racing in the wheelchair that we were privileged to deliver to him:

Marcelo Mansueto, Lima, Peru - competing with determination in his first race in his new chair!

The last five weeks have certainly been an exciting whirlwind journey that has very much lived up to its label: Ambitious Adventure to the Andes. After spending 14 days over 13,000 feet and at an average elevation of 10,900 feet for the duration of our South American trip, we are now home, happy to be back at sea level again. We are also once again enjoying the many comforts and conveniences we left behind, and taking stock of the many photos and memories we brought back. ...along with a few bruises that Denise brought back as souvenirs from Chimborazo!  She is healing very nicely by the way, and thank you all for your interest, comments and concerns.

It's times like these that we appreciate what we have, the functionality of our bodies and the amazing things they can do and places they can take us. Sometimes we take our bodies for granted and forget the miraculous gift we were given. The Challenged Athletes Foundation and its inspirational athletes who overcome disability or loss of limb, serve as a wonderful reminder to the rest of us to use the gifts we were given. And for all of you who have given the gift of sport and mobility by supporting the CAF and its mission, we thank you. And we also thank you for following along on our journey through this blog.

Until the next adventure, we wish you all the best in the continued climb to your S.U.M.M.I.T. ! 
Buena Suerte!
- Paul & Denise
Base Camp below Nevado Sajama, Bolivia
One of our llama friends at Machu Picchu

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chimborazo Bruise'n

Chimborazo view with Vicuña in foreground - Sat. July 19 before storm
What started out as a perfect summit night with a star-filled sky and no wind, turned out to be the calm before the STORM. At 11:07pm after a few hours rest and "breakfast" we walked out of the refugio at 15,748 feet behind our guide Fausto, with all of our gear and enthusiasm in tact. 

As we steadily gained altitude we actually commented to one another how lucky we were to finally have ideal climbing weather. ...not long after the wind appeared. We were climbing the Castillo Route and by the time we reached the ridge line around 18,500 feet above the "castle" shaped rock tower, the wind had intensified into a full-force winter storm. 

We decided to continue on a bit in hopes of the wind abating but it only grew stronger. Around 2:30am, after Denise was almost knocked over by a powerful gust, we decided it was too dangerous to continue. 

The wind persisted as we descended back down the route and we estimated the gusts at 70-80+MPH. About halfway to the refugio and shortly after we unroped and removed our crampons, it happened. A strong gust blowing from behind, combined with a mixture of downhill rock and ice illuminated only by a headlamp, caused Denise to slip and fall! She tumbled forward letting out a scream and rolled downhill! Since we just untied ourselves from the climbing rope there wasn't much I could do other than watch from behind in pure terror. 

Fortunately, the rocks prevented her from rolling too far, but they also inflicted quite a bit of pain to multiple places on her body.  After assessing the damage and realizing nothing was broken, she regained her composure and we continued the downhill march slowly.  By 5am we finally reached the refugio and took shelter as the storm raged on. A few other groups were also on the mountain, all of them retreated as well, including two Germans whose tent was ripped and flattened by the wind. 

After daylight, we gathered our gear, took this photo of the mountain, and headed down to pamper Denise's bruised body in the comfort of a nice hotel, leaving Chimborazo to be climbed another day...  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chimborazo Challenge

The climb up the third and final mountain of our "Ambitious Adventure to the Andes" is about to begin!  We arrived in Ecuador's capital city Quito on Wednesday and were treated to our first home-cooked meal in over a month courtesy of family friends, the Galarza/Segovia's. It was a welcomed change from eating in either a restaurant or a tent, and we enjoyed the Ecuadorian hospitality immensely! 

We now find ourselves four hours south of Quito in Riobamba, a bit tired yet ready to tackle the highest mountain in Ecuador: Volcan Chimborazo at 6,310 meters or 20,703 feet!  Our summit day will be a long one, climbing 5,000 vertical feet, so we plan to start before midnight and hope to reach the top by sunrise Sunday morninng. 
View of Chimborazo along road to Riobamba
Fun fact: Chimborazo is taller than Mt. Everest!? ¿Que? Well, apparently when measured from Earth's center, Chimborazo's close proximity to the equator and the fact that our planet bulges at the equator, makes the summit approximately 2 kilometers farther from the center than the top of Mt. Everest!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

P.S. Post-Sajama Report

The wind violently shook our tent hour after unrelenting hour since the time of our last post at High Camp. In fact it had intensified with gusts over 70MPH, making a summit attempt foolish and unrealistic. Around 7pm on Thursday evening we discussed with our guide Eloy that if the winds do not die down by 1:00am we would not go up. This was yet again a difficult decision because although we had extra contingency days built into our schedule, we learned Eloy had another climb booked and wouldn't be able to wait out the weather, so we would have to go back.

With this weighing on our minds (and that fact that Eloy told us about tents being blown off Sajama just last week) we hoped that our own tent would remain tied down, and attempted to get a few hours of sleep.

A few minutes before the 1:00am alarm was set to go off, we awoke and listened for the familiar thunderous noise of the nylon walls of our tent being thrashed by the wind. Much to our pleasant surprise, the sound was not there! With great excitement (and a bit of dread for the long ordeal of a summit day) we began the process of emerging from our sleeping bags and putting on all of our climbing gear. At 2:33am with ice axes in hand and headlamps lighting our way, we left our tents at High Camp at ~19,000 feet and followed Eloy up the mountain.
The wind remained with us but at a more manageable rate, and we wore every layer of clothing we had to keep warm. The climb was steeper and more challenging that we thought with one section in particular at ~45 degrees for several hundred vertical feet with rock solid glass-like ice that deflected the sharp end of our ice axes like it was Kevlar.

Next was about 20 minutes of rock climbing (always interesting while wearing crampons) and then into the penitentes. 

Around 6:00am and nearing 21,000 feet the dark began to turn to dawn and the climb became much easier (notwithstanding the thin air at this altitude of course!) But there were no more technical obstacles to overcome, just a steady climb, albeit with significantly labored breathing considering the last time we were at this altitude was on Everest four years ago.

The sun finally began showing its rays and cast an amazing pyramid-shaped shadow of Nevado Sajama across the valley below and projecting the image adjacent to the neighboring volcano Parinacota straddling the Chilean border. 

By 8:40am, just over six hours after leaving High Camp, we were relieved that the winds did not stop us, and we were able to reach our goal! We stood atop the highest mountain in Bolivia at 21,463 feet, and proudly raised the Challenged Athletes Foundation letters in honor of our mission. 

The rounded top and large flat area was unlike any other summit we had experienced. An interesting first-ever event took place here in August of 2001, and given the Argentina vs Germany World Cup Finals taking place today, we figured it was worth mentioning. A football (soccer) match as actually played here on the summit by two teams of Sajama villagers and Bolivian mountain guides in an effort to protest against the FIFA decision to discontinue the use of La Paz as a location to hold international football matches because of its high elevation. Adios, for now, time to watch FOOTBALL!!