Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thoughts on Manaslu

By now, everyone has heard about the Glen Plake/Greg Hill story on Manaslu. The best summary of the story is from Greg Hill at his blog here. Also, if you know who Plake is but don’t know who Greg Hill is, read this link. If you don’t know who Plake is, you need to repent for your blasphemy with 5 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Mohawks. The details are out there and I’m sure people will debate safety concerns, what should have been done differently, and the logistics of the rescue operation.

 But I wanted to talk about a comment I saw on the NY Ski Blog forums. Here it is:
serious ski mountaineering will eventually kill you. the odds are not in your favor. you can not control this very dangerous environment. 
Now, this statement is patently ridiculous (just substitute the words “driving a car” for the words “serious ski mountaineering”), but this argument is generally accompanied by the idea that rewards of ski mountaineering are not worth the tremendous risks. So I wanted to explain my (evolving) thoughts on that subject.

I’ve written before that I don’t think I would ever really get into the whole “ski mountaineering” thing. Well, after getting into rock and ice climbing last year, I ‘m starting to come around.

I love the idea of skiing the Trap Dike like the Famous Internet Skiers did (in fact, Greg from FIS listed it as one of East’s classic descents). And yes, people have died there – as they have on groomed resort trails, halfpipes, and other ADK backcountry routes I’d like to try.

I think the problem is that one day I’m skiing a little tree shot at Gore, the next day I’m thinking of skiing an enormous couloir in Banff like this guy. Everyone lives in their own little ski worlds (I talked a little bit about it here), and in order to expand your horizons, you have to make your world bigger. But if your first taste is 4 inches of snow on an intermediate run, it doesn’t mean you should try the 45 inches of snow over a weak layer on a 37 degree pitch. It’s cool to land your first little air in the mini park, but that doesn’t mean you’ll love ski BASE jumping.

It’s almost like a drug addiction – sure, some alcohol and cigarettes and maybe a little weed are okay, but do you really feel like you need to try LSD or cocaine or heroin just because they might give you some similar feelings? Why pull from outside of your comfort zone, when the thing that you really like is a nice beer at the end of a ski day?

And that’s my problem with really getting into ski mountaineering. I feel that the further I get from the things I love about skiing (powder/air/trees), I’m starting to get outside of my “thing”. I’d be buying stuff (crampons, ropes, climbing equipment, etc.) to use on days when I’d probably rather be charging at the resort. Yeah, I’d like to have a crazy adventure a few times a season, but I don’t really see myself getting into ski BASE-ing anytime soon (although the movie Action Jackson now available on the Ski Channel has some serious ski BASE stoke).

I definitely understand the need for something bigger, better, and badder, though. When you’ve accomplished as much as Plake, I’m sure you get to the point in your skiing career where you start to crave a little more . . . then a little more . . . then all of a sudden, you’re on Manaslu being dragged down a mountain in your tent.

It just seems like a lot of people are never content with what they have going. I’ve got a tendency to do this too – always asking myself questions like “What’next?” “Where to?” and “What else?” You'll never see me shutting down people’s wild ambitions. In fact, I like to encourage them. And I love new experiences, new places, and new activities. But sometimes, you have to look around on a sunny spring day, riding the chairlift after another run of soft bumps, and say to yourself  “You know, right now, in this moment, this is pretty damn good. . . .

At least until I hit the Trap Dike next week . . .

On shrooms . . . .”


  1. Ok guess I need to do 5 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Mohawks, but I don't know what they are or how to do I'm off the hook, right!?
    Nice post, do what you love, not what kills you!

  2. “Why climb?” is the great, unanswerable, central question of mountaineering. Ask a hundred climbers and you’ll get a hundred different answers. I’ve certainly heard the drug addiction analogy before, but personally I don’t buy that. According to that line of reasoning, the mountaineer takes increasingly greater risks in order to achieve a greater rush, ultimately leading to reckless, self-destructive behavior. Instead, I think most climbers go through a more refined evolution of interests and goals. The relatively limited amounts of climbing and mountaineering that I’ve pursued were a natural outgrowth from hiking, backpacking, skiing. That evolution may indeed take one out of their comfort zone or away from their “thing,” but therein lies the satisfaction that comes from overcoming challenges. Individuals fall across a wide spectrum of resisting versus seeking being pushed outside their comfort zone, but climbers definitely fall at the “seeking” end of that spectrum.

    As for the Trap Dike, regardless of whether you eventually pursue a ski descent, you definitely need to hike/climb it. Trap Dike could quite possibly be the most spectacular hike in the High Peaks. A ski descent of the Dike is way out of my range of ability, but I think a winter ascent of the Dike coupled with a ski descent of Colden’s eastern slides (I have skied those) would be absolutely stellar.

  3. “Strange enlightenments are vouchsafed to those who seek the higher places.”

    ― Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman

    This is one of my favorite quotes related to "why" we partake in adventure. People who don't go there will never understand.

    Great post, Matt.

  4. Why Climb?

    Because it's there.