An Untimely Death [Remembrance]

12climber_1901Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Gauntlett, a young British explorer with a long list of feats to his name and many more on the drawing board. He was a guest of honor at the National Geographic Society‘s Best of Adventure Awards, on hand with his expedition partner James Hooper.

Amid the all the attention, Gauntlett was refreshingly self-effacing for someone of his considerable achievements. In 2006, at 19, he’d become the youngest Briton to scale Mt. Everest, and last year, with Hooper, completed a 26,000 mile geomatic-pole-to-geomagnetic-pole expedition that was chronicled in the December/January edition of National Geographic Adventure. During that trip, the longtime friends came close to dying more than once. But they weathered the ordeals with grit and a goodnatured commitment. 

Last week Gauntlett—only 21—was killed while ice-climbing a couloir on the east face of 13,937 Tacul peak, in the Mont Blanc range, French Alps. It was, to say the least, an untimely accident that took the life of an extraordinary young person. Here’s more on the story from the NGA Web site’s blog, the NY Times, and The Independent. My condolences to his family and friends.

The Savior and the Storm on K2 [Heroism]

ngacoverpemba

On newsstands and online tomorrow, November 20th, I have a new cover story for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE: the Best of Adventure Annual (December/January double issue). It tells the tale of the unsung hero of August’s disaster on K2, the worst climbing accident in over a decade and one that generated front page and primetime news around the world for days on end. But this is the first time Pemba Gyalje Sherpa himself has gotten his due for his extraordinary selflessness. Below, a teaser.

In the same issue I also profile Olympic Silver Medal-winning snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler as well as French Crazypants “Speed Flyer” Francois Bon, who parachutes off of Death Zone summits wearing skis—on purpose. The 12 pp package also features the tales of teenage Brit explorers who trekked from magnetic pole to magnetic pole; daring Amazon river scientists tracking pollution; a journalist tracking the human slave trade; and a profile of Emma Stokes, a field biologist who discovered 125,000 previously unknown lowland gorillas in the Congo, among others. Please pick up a copy!

PEMBA GYALJE SHERPA On August 1, 2008, at just about 8 p.m., a massive serac cleaved from a glacier near the summit of K2, the world’s second highest mountain, and barreled down a section of the Cesen climbing route called the Bottleneck. In an instant, one climber was dead, key safety lines were swept away, and 17 climbers were trapped above 27,000 feet with little chance of escape…

RELATED COVERAGE:

Katie Couric segment

AP video

A1 NYT

The Lede (NYT)

Showtime, Himalayan Style [Take Me To Your Leader]

Yesterday the New York-based Himalayan community — including many of the Sherpas I have written about in Outside Magazine and The New York Times — hosted His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for a 2-hour teaching at Radio City Music Hall. For me, as the organizers’ volunteer media liaison, it was a thrilling day that started with greeting the Dalai Lama’s entourage at a secret airport location for a blaze into midtown via high-speed armored motorcade; for the Sherpas and their friends, it was the fulfillment of a long-nourished dream, a visit from their spiritual leader audaciously and ingeniously pulled off from a cab driver’s apartment in Queens. Here, a few outtakes from the day, shot behind the scenes. 

Calling The Colossus

 Ed and Tenzing
The news that Sir Edmund Hillary had died of a heart attack at the age of 88 on Thursday in New Zealand didn’t particularly come as a shock to me—I’d been afraid of hearing the news since reading of his failing health over the past few years. But it did bring back a vivid memory. Reading the tributes (a few found here), I remembered a surreal afternoon about eight years ago when I sat up bolt-straight in a wooden chair, and, over a phone line, heard his voice crackle through the earpiece. “Ed Hillary,” he said. I nearly froze.

Continue reading “Calling The Colossus”

High Plains Drifter

Himalayas in QueensWho ever said New York doesn’t have everything? Now that Sherpas have moved en masse from the Himalayas to New York City, it only makes sense the Himalayas should follow suit. After all, the great range has around 100 peaks that soar above 7,000 meters; New York City has some 35 high-rise buildings that soar over 700′; ambition itself dwells here! (OK, so do giant rats, and toxic preschools). In the spirit of reaching higher, though, some very enterprising Hindu monks in Queens have been working on a remarkable basketball court-sized replica of the sacred range since 1994, nearly filling a former electronics warehouse in Woodside, scheduled to open sometime in 2008. Amid snowcapped peaks that rise to nearly 20′ are a dozen model train sets, model fire engines, and a few teal colored convertibles parked outside an ersatz American-style diner. There’s no sign of any yeti so far; supplemental oxygen won’t be necessary. Via Gothamist. Related: Sherpas on Prime Time.