The Outside Blog

Adventure : Climbing

A Great All-mountain Clipless-compatible Flat Bike Shoe

As with backcountry boots and bindings, the gear that’s best for going uphill isn’t always the best for going down. It’s the same with biking. Or it has been. Teva’s new Pivot bike shoe could change that. 

An all-mountain clipless-compatible flat shoe, the Pivot climbs well, hike-a-bikes well, and gives you full confidence on the descents whether you’re clipped in or not. Part of its magic is a small but stiff composite midsole. Teva engineers shrank the midsole to save weight and make the shoe more comfortable to walk in, but they did it with minimal compromise to your pedaling efficiency. While the Pivot isn’t as light as some cross-country specific shoes, guaranteed it’s lighter than whatever flats you’re riding now.

The sole of the shoe is a pedal-gripping Spider 365 Rubber with inverted lugs, perfectly sticky whether you’re in the air or on the ground, with nothing to get caught or hung up on your pedals when you need to ditch. Cleat screws insert from inside out through a metal plate built into the sole, not the standard bottoms up. That means cleats are easy to replace when they wear out—the screw heads aren’t so beaten and battered from the wear and tear of walking on them that they can’t be removed. And—there’s no shimming or filing the shoe sole in order to get your cleats to interface properly with your system.

The Pivot laces, and then gets cinched shut with a broad piece of Velcro that keeps those laces out of your chain rings, while also giving you some solid midfoot stability. It does everything well, whether you’re Strava-ing the climb, or airing off big piles of dirt on a descent. Just shy of a pound for men’s size 9.

Available July 2013, $150, teva.com.

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Helping Injured Climbers Return to the Ice

Watching the way Christa Brelsford flows up the frozen waterfalls of the Ouray Ice Park, the box canyon that cuts through the Colorado town of the same name, you wouldn’t guess that three years ago, her climbing career almost ended for good.

On Jan 12, 2010, Brelsford was volunteering at the Cabois Literacy School in Darbonne, Haiti when the massive magnitude seven earthquake hit, collapsing a house on top of her. Brelsford spent 45 minutes face down and buried in rubble before her brother and friends could dig her out. After a 30-plus-hour trip with no painkillers, Brelsford landed at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. She would end up losing her right leg below the knee.

“It was a crazy time, but I came so close to dying that in the early days, I just told myself, “Fuck it, you’re alive! Don’t you realize what a gift that is?” says Brelsford, 28. “Why are you worried about your leg when you could have been dead?”

Still, Brelsford did wonder what life would be like in her new body. The Alaska native had fallen in love with climbing at age 12, and the most important thing for her was figuring out how to get back to the sport.

Brelsford’s answer came when the phone next to her hospital bed rang. It was Malcolm Daly, the co-founder of Paradox Sports, a non-profit dedicated to getting people with disabilities outside. Daly invited Brelsford to “Gimps On Ice,” an event that brings together an assortment of ‘gimps’ and ‘normals’ to learn ice-climbing skills and build community in Ouray, Colorado.

Daly understands better than most what it’s like to come back to climbing after a body-shattering accident. In May 1999, while attempting a new route on Alaska's Thunder Mountain with famed alpinist Jim Donini, Daly plunged 200 feet, shattering his legs and feet and knocking himself unconscious for a brief period. After lowering Daly 180 feet, carving out a tiny ledge on which he could rest, and getting him as warm as possible, Donini left to get help. For the next 48 hours, Daly endured sub-zero temperatures, avalanches, and heavy bleeding, before a helicopter plucked him from the side of the peak.

Daly spent the better part of the next two years in and out of hospitals, dealing with frostbite as well as a shattered right ankle and a broken left leg that weren’t healing correctly. In July 2001, he chose to have his right foot amputated seven inches below the knee; doctors used part of that bone to heal his left leg.

As Daly slowly made his way back into climbing over the next year, he took comfort in the stories of Hugh Herr and Mike Crenshaw, fellow climbers who had returned to the sport after amputations. In 2007, Daly founded Paradox with army Captain DJ Skelton and climber Timmy O'Neill to provide a measure of that reassurance to others.

“Ice is the great equalizer, because even ‘normals’ need adaptive equipment to climb it,” he says.

When Daly called Brelsford, she was still on crutches and hadn't yet learned how to walk with her brand-new prosthetic. Still, Daly urged her to go climbing with them. “Come and we’ll figure out what you can do,” he told her. That weekend, only 61 days after the earthquake that took her leg, Brelsford climbed ice for the first time.

"That was one of the most important experiences I’ve ever had,” Brelsford says. “It seemed so normal to be out with people who had the same injuries as me. It showed me that it wasn’t going to have to be a defining part of my life if I didn’t want it to be.”

Today, Brelsford is pursuing her PhD in natural resource economics, and is back to sending 5.11 with no problem. But even though she’s healed and doesn’t need help with the mechanics anymore, she keeps coming back to climb with Paradox. Consider it her way of repaying the favor Malcolm Daly did her with one simple phone call in 2010.

A PETITE YET WELL-MUSCLED CLIMBER donning a bright blue jacket and a lime green pack clips herself onto a rope and, slowly, inches her way backwards toward the edge of the 90-foot frozen cliff behind her.  Rather than walk to the bottom, Wendy Ong has decided to rappel into Ouray’s canyon.

An accomplished rock climber who once scaled routes on El Cap, Ong has rappelled a thousand times, but this morning she hesitates. She runs through the checklist one more time:  harness doubled-back? Carabiner locked? Rope threaded properly through her rappel device?

“Even though I knew I was perfectly safe, there was that moment today when I second-guessed it all,” Ong says later. “Going over the edge for the first time was intense.”

Ong hasn’t rappelled since October 16, 2010. That day, believing she was on belay from below, the Harvard pre-med student backed off the top of a sport climb in California’s Owens River Gorge, and suddenly found herself plummeting toward the ground.

Miraculously, Ong survived her 140-foot fall without a head injury, but her skeleton took the brunt of the impact. It acted like “the hood of a car, crumpling and absorbing” the force. She partially severed her spinal cord, severely damaged all her lumbar and sacral vertebrae, broke her pelvis, and shattered her sacrum into pebbles. 

After four months in the hospital and in rehab, Ong began walking with a brace. Despite her doctors’ low expectations, she continued to improve. Today, she limps slightly on steep terrain, but you wouldn’t know from watching her walk that she is a spinal cord injury survivor with a partially paralyzed left leg.

Post-accident, Ong put climbing out of her mind so she could focus on healing. “Right when I was feeling ready emotionally and physically to make a foray back into climbing, someone told me to find Malcolm Daly and Paradox,” she says. In February, she joined Paradox at an ice-climbing event at Cathedral Ledge in New Hampshire. It was her first time climbing ice; without expectations, she thought, she wouldn’t be disappointed by not being able to do the things she used to.

Returning to the vertical world again felt like finding the missing piece to a puzzle. “It felt so good to just be out there again,” Ong says. “Being outdoors brings a peace and serenity that I really missed.”

For climbers like Ong, who are tentatively making their way back into the sport, the helpful atmosphere Daly and company offer is a boon. “Paradox has given me a supportive environment in which to find out what I can and can’t do. Being able to talk so openly about my disabilities to people who understand is really liberating,” says Ong. “But, the biggest thing is the camaraderie and the support. After my accident, I missed being on the rock, but mostly I missed that community of climbers.” 

By bringing together elite and amateur climbers, both disabled and not, Daly says Paradox hopes to inspire and empower individuals by giving them the tools to play to their strengths and define life on their own terms.“We’re not trying to turn people into climbers. We’re trying to guide them onto a path that leads to what we call a ‘life of excellence', Daly says. "A well-rounded physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual framework within which to live.”

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Films from Tribeca: The Nightshift Belongs to the Stars

The Nightshift Belongs to the Stars opens outside a hospital: Matteo (Enrico Lo Verso), an avid mountain climber, has just received a heart transplant. He says farewell to fellow heart patient Sonia (Nastassja Kinski) and waves a carabiner at her—a reminder of a climbing date they’ve set for the future.

Six months later, they keep their plans and meet in the Dolomite foothills of Italy. She has a husband, but this isn’t an affair. She must make this climb, she tells her husband, to fulfill her promise to a man who helped her through surgery—and as she and Matteo begin their vertical ascent, you get it. This is more than a promise. This is two people testing their new leases on life, affirming that no physical feat can hold them back. A bit sentimental? Yes, but it also resonates. Plus, the views from the top are pretty spectacular.

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International Mountain Guides’ DaRita Sherpa Dies on Everest

A Sherpa from the International Mountain Guides team died at Camp 3 on the morning of May 5.  Although his death was originally reported as the result of altitude sickness, a closer look makes that seem unlikely.

According to Eric Simonson, IMG Director, “DaRita Sherpa from Phortse reportedly spent the night at Camp 3 without any problems. In the morning he was up, had breakfast, was fully dressed, boots on, preparing to descend back down to Camp 2 when he suddenly felt dizzy. He lay down in the tent and stopped breathing, and despite CPR efforts by his teammates, died. The HRA doctors at Base Camp think that this was probably either a sudden cardiac or cerebral event.”

It was 37-year-old DaRita Sherpa’s fourth expedition with IMG, and he’d summited Everest before. “I saw the report and said, ‘no way was it altitude,’” says Dr. Peter Hackett, Director of the Institute for Altitude Medicine. “People who die of altitude sickness don’t just drop dead.”

Altitude sickness is the umbrella term for three kinds of altitude-related illnesses: acute mountain sickness; general altitude sickness, which can range from difficulty breathing to loss of consciousness; high altitude pulmonary edema, which is fluid build up in the lungs; and high altitude cerebra edema, fluid build up in the brain. They all stem from the blood vessels' inability to pump blood when there’s a lack of oxygen in the body. HACE and HAPE can both be deadly and usually occur at elevations over 14,000 feet.

Hackett says that Sherpas can get HACE and HAPE, but that it usually happens at above 20,000 feet, and they usually show signs of distress at least 24 hours before. He thinks that DaRita Sherpa’s death was likely the result of a heart attack or stroke, unrelated to the altitude. Initial reports cited the cause of death as altitude because some of the late-stage symptoms of AMS look similar.

Dr. Benjamin Levine, director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine says that people who are born at elevation have respiratory systems that are used to being stressed. “If you’re born at altitude, you have life long adaptation,” he says. “Tibet natives tend to have less constriction of the pulmonary arteries, which allows them to pump more blood. “

Levine says that there have been studies done about how different populations respond to altitude, and that people born in the high Himalayas are highly adapted. They’ve compared people of European descent born at altitude to Sherpas and there are distinct differences in how much they breathe and how high the pressure in their arteries gets. Sherpas also tend to struggle less at high altitudes than natives of the Andes and other high mountain ranges.

Hackett says there have been altitude-related Sherpa deaths in the past. “It does happen; there have been a couple of Sherpas that have died of pulmonary edema, but it’s very unusual,” he says. Last year, Karsang Namgyal Sherpa, who had summited Everest 10 times died of altitude-related sickness, although there were rumors that alcohol was also involved.

DaRita Sherpa’s body is being flown back to Phortse, where his wife and two children, and the rest of his family will perform Buddhist rites.

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Brawl On Everest: Ueli Steck’s Story

This past week, news circled the globe of a brawl on Everest, and the initial details were suitably dramatic. On April 27, roughly 100 Sherpas and a three-person European alpine team, including heavy hitters Ueli Steck, Simone Moro, and Jonathan Griffith, were involved in a violent confrontation at Camp 2, during which both punches and rocks where thrown.

The aftermath has been a bit murky. Climber Melissa Arnot acknowledged that she stepped between the western climbers and a large group of Sherpas, but declined to go into details. Guide Garrett Madison came forward and wrote that, before the altercation, expedition leaders had a meeting and agreed that no climbers would distract or disrupt the Sherpas as they fixed rope above camp 2, which sits at 23,000 feet. The Sherpas said Moro’s team took them by surprise by climbing above them that day, and claimed that members of the team insulted and threatened them. On Monday, a Nepal army major stood witness as both sides signed a peace agreement and agreed to move on.

After that, Steck left the mountain for the season and returned to Kathmandu, where he met on Wednesday with Everest record-keeper Elizabeth Hawley. TIM NEVILLE, who profiled Steck for Outside in 2012, reached him by phone to get his version of events. What Steck described makes it clear that the dispute was very serious. Steck believes he was lucky to come out of it alive and that another meltdown is bound to happen unless something is done to fix underlying tensions on the mountain.

OUTSIDE: We know many of the major points of this story, but we don’t know all the details about what really happened. Can you take us back to the day you climbed from Camp 2 to 3?
STECK: We were going up to sleep at Camp 3, where we already had a tent. There were lots of people going up to the face to walk a little bit. We met one guide—I forget his name—and he said the Sherpas were fixing ropes up there. I told him that we wanted to go up and sleep and we wouldn’t touch their lines. He said, OK, just make sure you don’t get in the way of them. I understand that, because it can be very dangerous if someone hangs on a rope while you’re fixing it. This has happened many times before. But we wouldn’t be touching their ropes or interfering in any way. That’s why we decided to go.

So someone at the base of the face said it was OK to go?
Maybe he wasn’t in a position to say OK, but this doesn’t matter at all. What matters is what happened afterward at Camp 2. There is no reason to try to kill people. What happened there is a much bigger problem. I think the leader felt like he was losing face. They had been fixing ropes for four or five hours, and then we climb up on the side of them without using their ropes in one-and-a-half hours.

How much responsibility do you think you and your team should accept for what happened? Looking back, what did you do wrong?
We were not wrong or right, and the Sherpas were not wrong or right. I mean, we pay a lot of money to be there, so why should I not be allowed to climb? And vice versa. The Sherpas are also allowed to climb. Can you say that people should wait until the Sherpas fix the ropes? Of course, and that could be a rule. People speak of an unwritten rule that you have to wait for the Sherpas who are up there, but if you don’t use their ropes, what’s the point? If there’s good weather?

I spoke today about it with Elizabeth Hawley. She said, you know, guys, you shamed that lead Sherpa, and in Asian culture this is the worst thing that can happen. 

You were climbing to the left of them, and then you went to traverse over to your camp, which was a little lower. That’s when things got heated, right? What happened?
There were maybe three Sherpas at the last belay and the leader was another 15 to 20 meters up, fixing rope. The rest of the Sherpas were down below and coming up. We traversed more or less at the belay, because it was in the snow and we would not be knocking any ice down. It was a delicate situation, because of course they would get angry if you knocked ice down.

You were aware of what you might knock loose.
Of course. If you pass someone and start knocking ice down on them, then it’s fair to get angry because they were there first. So we were really careful. And I can promise you there was not a single piece of ice falling down and hitting a Sherpa. They just created that story. There was one Sherpa who was bleeding from his face, but he had slipped on his jumars and hit his face. He has now officially said in public that he was not hit by any ice. Besides, they were knocking ice down on each other the whole day. Even the leader was sending down ice. It’s unbelievable.

Now we’re at the belay with the leader above and a few Sherpas still coming up. What happened next?
Jonathan crossed over the rope first, and I was really watching him to make sure that he didn’t knock down any ice. He traversed about 15 meters beyond the belay and then I came up. In the time it took for me to get there, the leader fixed his rope, got on rappel, and just came down yelling at me. I hadn’t even stepped over the rope yet.

At that point, as I understand it, you reached up to keep him from lowering into you?
I was standing at the belay. Simone wasn’t there yet. The Sherpa comes down really fast above me, and I put my hand to stop him. If he hits me, I fall off the face. He’s screaming the whole way down and then starts yelling about why am I touching him. I was talking in a normal voice, asking what was the problem, but it was impossible to talk. I said we weren’t touching your ropes at all and there’s enough space for everybody to climb this mountain. But he just kept yelling.

It was cold and they had to be tired. They had spent the whole day the day before fixing ropes up the face via the route used last year. But at the top they hit a big crevasse, which meant they had to pull the whole line and set a new route all over again. I said, “It’s OK, it’s one o’clock in the afternoon and we still have a lot of time. I can help you fix the ropes.” But this made it even worse. I think he thought we were trying to shame him, and that was a big problem.

So the Sherpas just decided to pack up and leave?
No, no. They did not leave right away. I was talking with them for a while when Simone came across. He was close to the belay and hadn’t said anything yet when the Sherpa leader starts shouting and waving his ice axe at him, trying to hit him. Simone said to him in Nepali, “What are you doing motherfucker?!” Maybe that wasn’t the best word to use, but I can understand in this moment that Simone would be pissed off. If you are on a 50-degree face and someone is swinging an axe at you, you might get at a little, you know, loud.

It went back and forth and I was out of this discussion. Then the leader said they were done fixing ropes. I tried to convince them to stay and finish the job, but they packed up and left. We were like, shit, what do we do now? The commercial expeditions wanted to go up the next day. So we waited until they left and then we started fixing the rope to Camp 3 for them.

What did you guys talk about when you went back to your tent after fixing the ropes? Did Simone really get on the radio and talk about a fight?
He never said I’m going to come down there and fight. That’s bullshit. People are starting to lie now. I don’t remember how long we were at Camp 3, but we decided that maybe we should go down to Camp 2 to discuss what happened. We couldn’t leave it like that. It’s not good. You should talk about that. So we rappelled down.

Could you immediately tell things were amiss when you arrived there?
On the way down, Simone was radioing to Greg [Vernovage, leader of IMG’s Everest expedition] that, yes, we are coming down, and we want to discuss this. Greg knew it was not a good situation. He said it’s really bad. So when we got there, we sat down in our tent to discuss it with him. He said the Sherpas were really pissed about Simone swearing. Then Melissa Arnot [an American climber with four Everest summits] comes to our tent and says the Sherpas will be here in 30 seconds. I said, OK, I’ll go out and talk to them. We all three went out and this whole crowd was there, maybe 100 people. When I saw they had their faces covered, I knew this was going to be really bad. 

They’d covered their faces?
Yes, and when a mob does that you know what’s going to happen.

What did happen?
They had big rocks and I think the leader was in front. I went to say something but couldn’t because I got punched in the face and hit in the head with a rock. By this time, Simone and Jonathan were already running away. After I got hit by the rock, Melissa stepped in between me and them—which was good for me, because otherwise they would have killed me for sure.

What did she say to them?
There was no discussion. It was just, No! No! No!

What was your reaction?
When I got punched, I was like, fuck, do I fight back? But with 100 people, if you fight back it will make it worse. I just hoped they wouldn’t punch too hard. But when you get hit with a rock, you know they’re just trying to kill you.

How did this go from 17 Sherpas to 100? Were they all at Camp 2?
Yes, and this is exactly the point that is really scary. There was absolutely no control. Imagine 17 people, talking some bullshit, I don’t know what they told them, but in two hours there are 100 people trying to kill three people. This is insane and totally unacceptable.

What happened next?
It went back and forth, and then someone was pushing me into the tent and saying for me to hide. From inside, I could just see Melissa and Greg standing in front of the tent with all these people who were saying to get me out and that they were going to kill me first. In the meantime, they were throwing huge rocks into the tent, the kind that, if they hit you in the head, you’d be dead immediately.

Where are the others by now?
Somebody went to go get Simone and brought him back to the tent, because the Sherpas wanted him to apologize. Jonathan was hiding behind a rock. When Simone got there, they immediately punched him, and then someone pushed him back into the tent. They then wanted him to come out on his knees, which he did, saying, “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” Then they started kicking his face and someone tried to stab him with a pen knife. They used rocks to hit us, crampons even. I tell you, they tried to kill us.

Simone got back into the tent again and you could hear them saying that we weren’t supposed to be up there, that we didn’t have a permit for Lhotse. But we did. They tried to find a lot of small things to cause us trouble. They said we had one hour to pack up and leave, and that we should not come back to the West Face, West Ridge, or Lhotse. They said that if we weren’t gone in an hour, they were going to kill all three of us. That was the worst thing.

Did you know some of the attackers?
There were people in the mob who climbed summits with me last year. You can imagine how I feel now.

Have you spoken with them?
I have spoken with some leaders and that is it.

So you pack up and head down a different way, right? What went through your mind as you’re going down?
We had this chance to retreat, and we were thinking, how do we get out of here as fast as possible? We tried to find a way down where no one could see us. We were on a mission, going into deep valleys and crevasses and checking over our shoulders to see if they were coming after us. We crawled on our knees so they couldn’t see us. Then we snuck down the route as far as possible to a big ladder, because if they chased us, I knew we could cross that ladder and then cut it loose so they couldn’t follow. That was the plan.

What do you think should come out of this whole experience?
If this had happened on the north side in China, those people would be in jail, no question. But here in Nepal? We made an agreement, and the companies with the Sherpas said they would take action. You just have to trust that they will, but it’s not my problem. I don’t need to come back to Everest.

Are you done with Nepal?
No, I’m not done with Nepal. It’s the wrong moment to ask me that. I lost something I really love in my life. It’s done. I’m not saying I’m never coming back, but give me time. I need to figure it out. There are many other mountains I can climb. Everest is Everest, and Everest lost a lot, but it’s still the highest mountain in the world.

It sounds like this tension between Sherpas and westerners has been building for a while. Does this peace agreement settle anything?
This is not over. It will be a big problem for commercial expeditions in the future, and maybe next time someone will get killed. You can feel the tension. Climbing Everest is so big now, with so much money involved, and the Sherpas are not stupid. They see this, and they want to take over the business and kick out the westerners. This is a big fight.

In other words, you don’t think it could happen again, but rather that it will happen again?
If they don’t take action now, it will happen again and again. People will be coming to Everest no matter what. This time it was close, but I’m pretty sure next time people will get killed if they don’t change the system.

How do you do that?
These guys make a lot of money. Of course it’s hard and dangerous work, but Sherpas are the rich people in Nepal. If you make so much money you can somehow lose reality. But it’s not just about money, and I can’t give you the answer. You have to look at how the whole system works. It’s money and fame, and there is so much bullshit that creates so many problems.

There is no control, either. Greg from IMG had no power. He couldn’t say anything. And why is a sirdar not able to stop a mob like that? There’s one Sherpa we know who was already a troublemaker and got fired last year. But then he just goes to the next company and gets hired again. You will always have problems, but as long as you don’t have power to calm them down, this will happen again.

What’s your plan now? Are you heading back to Switzerland?
As fast as possible. I’m really feeling a lot of emotions right now. I need some time to sort things out, understand how this happened, why it happened. You know, not all Sherpas are bad. There are a few who are crazy, but the rest are good people. I just lost a lot of trust.

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