Climbing Memories Week 2

As I climb the world to end Alzheimer’s, I have taken thousands of photographs. I am posting many on Facebook over the next few months and will do a weekly summary post here on my site. I hope you enjoy them.


Rainier at 14, advice 411 feet 4392 meters is as close as one can get to climbing in the Himalayas, capsule Alaska, or South America, without leaving the Lower 48 States in America. It offers snow slopes, crevasses, ice walls, avalanches and more – it’s a serious climb that many use for training or a once in a lifetime experience.

I had had “non-summits” on Everest in 2002 and 2003 and was looking for some kind, any kind, of win in 2004 to get my mojo back. I put together a team of mostly non-climbers who called ourselves the Rainer 9. We used RMI as our guide service targeting the Disappointment Clever as the route.

We trained hard, and met in Ashford Washington staying at Whittaker’s Bunkhouse. Our guides were Jeff Justman (JJ), David Conlan, and Corey Raivio. This was to be JJ’s 96th summit of Rainer. I went to climb on Broad Peak with JJ two years later.

It was what I call a “formula climb” where RMI takes no chances but gives their members a satisfying experience. We left Muir Hut around 1:20 am for the summit. It was cold with no wind and clear skies – ideal conditions for Rainier, and rare. Around 5:15 am, my teammate, Lee, made a turn around an icy corner. I pulled out my camera to get the shot.

We summited about an hour later setting a record for RMI that season at 5:20. Nothing to brag about when speed climbers go from Paradise to the summit in around 4 hours, but for us, we were very happy – and that’s all that counted that day.

We summited that day. I summited. I was grateful to JJ and team for getting us up and down safely. And I was encouraged to continue climbing. I have returned to Rainier and summited two other times, 2012 and 2015, with great friends.

You can read more about my Rainier climbs at this link:

Mt. Rainier
Lee turing the corner on Rainier on Disappointment Clever route in 2004



In 2006, I attempted Shishapangma, the 14th highest peak in the world at 26,335 feet or 8,027 meters and the only 8000er fully located in Tibet. I will post more pictures of the climb but the travel to Lhasa and through Tibet made some of my strongest memories of that trip.

I went with Jamie McGuinness?, who is known for outstanding base camps and incredible photography thus we stopped often along the journey.

At one point we broke for a meal in a tiny village. We began to feel like the Pied Piper as all the kids came to see us. Of course I had to get my picture taken with them.

They spoke no English, I spoke no Tibetan or Chinese but we had a great time laughing and smiling and playing with nothing.

If I’ve learned one thing from my world travels, it’s that kids are kids everywhere and parents share the common vision of their children having a better life than their own.

You can read more about my Shishapangma climb at this link:

Alan with Tibetan kids for Shishapangma
Alan with Tibetan kids on the way to Shishapangma



Denali, the mountain formally known as Mt. McKinley before it was originally known as Denali, is a popular dream for many. The highest in North America at 20,310’/6190m is one of the 7 Summits and offers many excellent routes from walk-ups to world class alpine tests.

I have been on Denali three times. I believe the views from 14,000 feet and above offer some of the mountain views in the world.

I took this picture in 2011 from the High Camp at 17,000′ looking back over the West Buttress Ridge. This is the route you take once clearing the Headwall from 14K Camp. It is long, exposed and windy and some of the most fun of any West Buttress climb.

You can read more about my Denali Climbs at this link:

Denali West Buttress Ridge
Denali West Buttress Ridge from High Camp at 17,000′



A mountain I never thought I would climb is Alpamayo in Peru. At 19,511 feet/5947 meters, it is a stunning peak with flanks covered in icy flutes. It is serious ice climbing, at altitude.

At the invitation of Phil Crampton, I joined his small team in 2012. I was glad to know that Finish legend Samuli, “Sammy”, Mansikka, who was the president of the Finnish Alpine Club would be joining us.

The peaceful trek through the Huascarán National Park took us to base camp. We spent the next few days acclimatizing and establishing the high camps before making the final climb to the base camp of Alpamayo. I have never experienced such a majestic setting in all my climbing. We were fortunate that there was only one other team on the otherwise usually crowded mountain.

I documented our summit climb this way:


“After a full rest day, everyone was feeling good and we set off to climb the Southwest face at 7:45 AM. There were two other climbers already high on the Face but no one else around – perfect. The skies were perfectly clear, temps in the 20sF and no wind – ideal conditions.

We roped up with Samuli (34) in the lead and Mclean (27) at the end. I guess they wanted the old man (55) in the middle! There were several sections to the climb: cross the bergschrund, climb to the summit, the summit ridge and the descent. We used two 60m ropes.

It took about half an hour to reach the long crack across the face, an ever-present image in all pictures I had even seen. I was surprised at how fast the angle went from easy to steep. The bergschrund proper was probably over 60 degrees. I started breathing.

The next section eased a bit to maybe 50 degrees, still very steep, with loose snow. I carefully placed my two Black Diamond Cobra ice axes along with my Black Diamond Sabertooth Pro crampons into the Face. The climb went smoothly at this point.

The middle section turned to hard packed ice with no snow. It took a few swings at times to get a good tool placement and some serious kicks to plant the front points. It was physical. The angle now increased to a sharp 60+ degrees. Sammy placed ice screws with a quickdraw that we clipped our rope into when there was not a cordlett already attached to the ice using existing threaded ice anchors (aka, Abalokov threads or v-threads).

The climbing was serious, sustained and tremendous fun. I was having a blast!

I took a moment and looked between my legs to see Mclean not far behind cleaning the route of our pro. He was doing great but I was also struck by the steepness. If I fell, I had serious doubts the pro would stop my momentum. I took another kick into the ice and reset my tools.

The final section eased a bit again to maybe 55 degrees before increasing the final 100′ and turned back to soft snow. In spite of what we had heard, there were no “steps” already kicked into the route so each move was fresh and clean at over 19,000′.

Samuli already on the ridge, belayed me in. As I stepped on the summit ridge I felt immense satisfaction with what I had just accomplished. A quick look back down the route and of our tents far below on the Col gave me perspective. It was very windy on the summit so I put on my down jacket after climbing in just a shell the entire day.

Mclean soon joined us and I noticed a small boot track to a slightly high point, the true summit. I walked up only to see one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in the mountains. I smiled and let out a whoop without regard. For the next half hour we celebrated our climb, savored the views and took way too many pictures, if that is even possible.

I took it all in once again reflecting on how fortunate I am to do these climbs and gave a silent honor to the victims of Alzheimer’s; around the world. I vowed to seal the view into my memory forever”

It was a climb of a lifetime. Sadly, Sammy died on Annapurna in 2015 after summiting. He was on a quest to summit all 14 of the 8000 meter mountains without using supplemental oxygen and only had four to go. In 2014, we climbed almost side by side to the summit of K2, me barely making it on supplemental oxygen, Sammy moving steadily on the power of his own lungs.

Rest in peace my friend and thank you.

You can read more about my Alpamayo climb at this link:


Alpamayo, Peru
Alpamayo in Peru, 19,511 feet/5947 meters in 2012.


Alpamayo High Camp
High Camp at Alpamayo in Peru, 19,511 feet/5947 meters, in 2012.
Alpamayo Summit Ridge
Sammy and Maclean on the summit of Alpamayo in 2012.
Samuli, “Sammy”, Mansikka, on Alpamayo in 2012
Samuli, “Sammy”, Mansikka, on Alpamayo in 2012














When I knew I was going to attempt K2, I began to research the climb and speak with people who had been there. Of all challenges from rock fall to avalanches to terrorists to weather, one section occupied my mind from the beginning until I returned home, still does today: the traverse below the summit serac.

This section, while only 300 feet/100 meters across, it is at 27,320 feet/8300 meters and nearly vertical, about 80 degrees. One slip here and you die, simply put.

I knew from following my friend Ger McDonnell’s 2008 climb and subsequent death that if the serac release when you are on the traverse, you stand no chance.

I was fighting HAPE when I reached this spot, and was weak and very tired. To be clear, I didn’t know I had HAPE. In my post about this section I noted:


“I scanned the route as I came to a dead stop. I saw a few crampon scuff marks on the face. That was my path. I looked ahead and saw the vertical face become a steep snow ramp to the 80 degree slope leading to the summit. Again, I just stood and took on the thousand yard stare. I had no purpose, no motivation. I was stuck in my own world.

Going on instinct, I took a step onto the face, holding the line for balance using the crampon front points as my adhesion to the face. Standing upright, face to the wall, I began to side step across the face. I was not afraid, I was not scared. I was tired. But it was what I was supposed to do, no further consideration was needed.

I knew I could cross this. I have never been intimidated by exposure. If I fell, I believed the safety would stop me. If I fell, I knew it would be swift. If I fell, I didn’t think about falling, I focused on the mechanics of sidestepping across the 100’ vertical face.

Halfway across, the thought entered my mind … how do I get back?

On Everest in 2008, I turned back at the Balcony with the same thought. I could go higher but could I go lower? The echo was strong was from experience. I had turned back on Everest that year.

My front points stuck into the snow wall supporting my weight, my hands on the fixed line kept me upright. I suddenly stopped half way across, my nose two inches from the same serac that killed my friend in 2008. I was once again frozen in time, unable to go forward or back. My lungs screamed for oxygen, I began to feel my body go limp for the third time in three hours. K2 was testing me and I was failing.

I’m not sure how long I stood there with my heels in the free air when suddenly I heard my name. I recognized the voice. “Alan.” was all Kami said, his tone nonjudgmental, not full of worry. It was supportive. I looked over my right should to see him standing at the entrance to the Traverse, headlamp still on, pack full.

I took another step and another. Soon I had both feet full on the earth’s surface, my crampons with full . I looked back at the vertical wall holding the Traverse as Kami made his way across.

I looked towards the summit and saw a steeply angled snow slope providing the only path. It looked far way. I took a deep breath again trying to get back in touch with the elusive energy. It didn’t come this time. My climbing was now mechanical, based on years of experience and without thought.”


Summiting K2 was beyond reality. I still find it difficult to accept. It was a combination of a great team, excellent weather, and a sense of purpose that enabled me to push myself to the limits, perhaps beyond – and come back.

You can read more about my K2 climb at this link

K2 Traverse
Crossing the Traverse on K2 at at 27,320 feet/8300


I have been to Tibet twice, to attempt Cho Oyu and Shishapangma, two of the world’s 8000 meter mountains. I found the landscape a feast for the eyes, the people food for the heart and the mountains as motivation to climb ever higher.

Shisha is the only 8000er completely in Tibet. As we were driving on a dirt road towards the base camp of Shishapangma, I spotted a dust ball off in the distance. We were driving towards it and it was getting closer to us.

I asked the driver to slow down so I could get a picture and was rewarded with an amazing sight of this Tibetan man, in full gallop and full smile!

It made my day.

Tibetan on horse
Tibetan on horseback near Shishapangma base camp

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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