Everest 2010: Interview with Guide Dave Hahn

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 Dave Hahn has always stood out to me the consummate mountain guide.While some will certainly argue this point, I have witnessed Dave inaction a few times. Once in the Khumbu Icefall,  Dave was guiding ahuge client. When I say huge, I mean 6' 3″ 250+lbs – not fat justlarge, huge. The client was struggling with a big move in the Icefalland Dave was gently providing guidance in footwork. He could haveeasily taken on the impatient guide persona but Dave showed hispatience. The climber made it.

On another expedition, I was sitting in our tent at the South Colfocusing on the howling wind. Our guide was telling us to get ready togo for the summit. I clearly remember looking at my tent mates with acocked eye. Dave's voice came over the radio to our Guide, “We aregoing back to camp 2 – no summit for us tonight.” Our team was tunedaround at the South Summit hours later.

Dave has earned his dues and a recognition he loves to despise – the most Everest summits by a “non-Sherpa”. More on this later.

Dave is a regular guide for Rainier Mountaineering Inc. andInternational Mountain Guides amongst other companies. Last year heguided for First Ascent/Eddie Bauer on Everest. His summits areimpressive: 250+ on Rainier, 26 on Vinson, 19 out of 26 climbs ofDenali. Also he loves to guide the Shackleton Crossing on South GeorgiaIsland.

He is certainly an accomplished climber but also a worthy writerproviding some of the best written dispatches from any climb. Last yearhe blogged for First Ascent and has for Great Outdoors for several years.

I asked Dave to share some thoughts on Everest and his upcoming RMIexpedition. I was lucky to catch him at home in Taos where he is aprofessional ski patroller at Taos Ski Valley since 1985.

Q: Dave, After your first Everest summit, did you envision doing it for an American and non-Sherpa record 11 times?

I did know pretty clearly after my first Everest summit that Iwasn't finished with the mountain. But back in 1994 I didn't dream I'dever make it up and down 11 times. Such numbers seemed astronomical andunobtainable to me then… and I'm proud of the accomplishment now. Butit is not a “record”. Apa Sherpa with 19 Everest summits, holds therecord. Defining some “non-sherpa” record encourages an assumption thatclimbing the mountain is somehow easier for Sherpas. I don't think itis.

For my part, the numbers themselves -and “beating” others to them,were never my goal. None-the-less I'm happy with the recognition thenumbers have earned me. “Eleven Summits” can be a fine attentiongrabber and it sometimes permits me to then drone on about Everesthistory so that people can put such numbers in proper perspective.

Q: We often hear about how climate change impacts mountains and thetrash on Everest. You have a keen eye for detail, tell us a bit abouthow the environment around Everest has changed over the years in termsif glaciers, villages, trash, etc.

It is obvious and alarming to see the thinning, or “down-wasting” ofglaciers on both the northern and southern approaches to Everest. Thatsaid, I don't believe that the climbing has substantially changed yetdue to climate change. Logically, the higher and colder portions of themountain will be the last places to be tangibly altered. Changes inweather patterns since 1991(my first year on Everest) are less obviousto me. It has always been pretty difficult to say just what “normal” isin such a dynamic place. My own perceptions are further muddled sincemost of my early career in the Himalaya was on the Tibetan side of themountains, where patterns are substantially different to what hits inNepal.

Villages on the Nepal approaches to the mountain have definitelygrown, but not to the point of “sprawl”. The journey up the KhumbuValley is still one of the best walks in the world. Coming in throughChina and Tibet, it is hard not to be astounded at the pace ofchange… but that change still pretty much ends just beyond Basecamp.

Most would agree that the mountain is cleaner now than it was in theearly 1990's but that doesn't mean that there aren't still troublespots and pressing problems to be dealt with.

Q: You are guiding for RMI this season. Will you acclimatize viathe standard rotations through the Icefall to the high camps or do analternate scheme thus avoiding the Icefall?

We will use standard rotations through the icefall. While it isplenty dangerous and demands respect, the icefall also does a good jobof preparing climbers for summit bids. I see it, with all of itstechnical and physical challenges, as an important training ground. Ifa climber is incapable of getting his or her time of passage throughthe icefall down to a reasonable four or five hours (still more thantwice what a loaded guide or Sherpa might do it in) then they probablywill not be able to fit all of the challenges of a summit safely intoone day.

Also, I have ethical concerns with avoiding the icefall while ateam's Sherpas are required to work in it on a daily basis. The idea ofhiring high altitude porters is to have them carry loads, not to havethem assume risks that we ourselves avoid.

Q: As a guide, what concerns you most about the profile of Everest climbers today?

Just as always, I want to know that climbers have done theirhomework and preparation and that they are realistic about their ownsmart limitations. I have these same concerns on every mountain I workand play on… and I have these concerns for myself as well.

Q: Obviously the Sherpas play a huge role on Everest today and sadlytake the brunt of the deaths. Any thoughts on how to keep these herossafer?

There is such a thing as getting too good a deal on an Everest trip.Teams that are saving their members a heck of a lot of money might bedoing it at the expense of Sherpa safety. As much as people willcontinue to hunt down bargains, it must be recognized that cuttingmargins too tightly doesn't permit for a good mix of experienced andless-experienced Sherpas on a team. Proper leadership costs money,communications gear costs money, access to medical help costs money,contingency planning costs money, oxygen costs money. It is importantto think through as to who will ultimately pay the price for skimpingon resources. Of course, no amount of money will do away completelywith the dangers… but we all have seen too many cases where smalltragedies became bigger tragedies because resources were wanting.

Q: You climb all around the world, do you have a favorite mountain or area?

I try to stay loyal to whichever mountain I happen to be standing onwhen asked that question. I like each of my mountains for differentreasons…. some because they are remote, some because they areconvenient, some because they are hard and all of them because they arebeautiful.

Q: How much time do you spend at home in New Mexico? What do you do in your time off?

I might fit in three or four months a year at home in Taos. Most ofit will be in the Fall and Winter, while patrolling at the ski area upthe road from my house. I'm not actually all that good at takingvacations and playing during my time off. Time spent not guiding hasbecome time available for writing and speaking and answering email…but I do like to dream about hanging out on beaches and going rockclimbing and bike touring and hiking and river rafting.

Q: Any additional thoughts for us Everest 2010 followers this year?

If Everest 2010 inspires you… read about Everest 1953… trackdown Everest 1963… consume Everest 1975 or Everest 1984… don't quituntil you are equally versed in Everest 1924 and 1999.

Thanks Dave for your time and best of luck this season on Everest. You can follow the RMI climb at their site.

Climb On!


Arnette is a speaker, Mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. You can read more on his site.

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