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Rios Libres: The Places In Between

March 30th, 2010
Iceberg laden Lake leading up to the Colonia Glacier. The Colonia is part of the Rio Baker watershed.

Iceberg laden Lake leading up to the Colonia Glacier. The Colonia is part of the Rio Baker watershed.

by Craig Childs

At night, the face of the earth is webbed with light. Our cities have swallowed almost everything. When you see this image, where does your imagination fall, on the dazzling, viral spread of humanity or the last dark places in between?

Late one night, I slipped naked into a lake full of stars down along the serrated edges of southern Chile, where on satellite images of the earth at night, the tail of  South America blends into the black sea. Rivers and lakes do not emit light, nor do ice caps or chains of mountains. The sky rippled ahead of me as I swam through the cold water of Patagonia. I pushed my arms  into this darkness, felt it across every inch of my skin, took it into my mouth and drank.

To understand a place, you need to drink from its many waters.
For weeks in Patagonia, I have been drinking from holes in the ice, dipping my cupped hands into creeks, dousing my water bottle in rivers. Exploring the Río Baker from glacier to sea, I have hoped to grasp one of these last dark places on earth.  My quest brought me to the proposed Baker 2 dam site, currently a waterfall  where cloudy gray tongues of the river heave over an edge with steel-bending force, sheets of mist ripping into the air. This waterfall is where one of five local dams is being planned (two on the Baker and three  on the Río Pascua). Concrete would stand 340 feet over my head, switchbacks blasted into the canyon, cranes swinging with cycloptic heads above ropes and cables, machines of industry and progress piercing the air with back-up warnings as men in hardhats roll out blue scrolls, hold up radios, sit eating lunch over a siphoned, dry riverbed that once  carried the largest river in Chile.

Chris Kassar feels the power of the raw free flowing Rio Baker at the beautiful water fall - Hydro Asyens proposal to put a dam here would forever change Chile's longest and wildest river.

Chris Kassar feels the power of the raw free flowing Rio Baker at the beautiful water fall - Hydro Asyens proposal to put a dam here would forever change Chile's longest and wildest river.

I don’t know why I want this  river to run. I could not sit at a table with a microphone and explain it. I don’t know why the heart breaks when we have drawn and quartered yet another landscape, named it as ours, used it to fuel our every global ambition from paper clips to plastic cups. But god do I want this river to move, another dark thread binding the surface of this planet, another path uninterrupted.

It is not just the dam that will change this place. Dams will require an infrastructure of roads, highways and new supply ports. Many who live in this sparsely populated region fear what this could do to their lives as small towns become busy construction centers, and as future industries pour in through newly established routes.

After visiting the waterfall, I thrash upward through a thousand feet of thick vegetation and granite outcrops. Finally, I stand in the wind in a country of waterfalls, streams  plunging all around me. I see the lay of the land from up here, ragged summits rising from a gleaming white ice cap. Clouds snag on the highest blades of rock, or, rather, those high rocks make the clouds, their warm, hard bodies touching cold westerly winds, drawing moisture that has been circling the globe looking for a place to land. This is the earth rising up on its toes, reaching into the sky and raking thought it as it passes, bringing down rain and snow; ice for the glaciers, water for the rivers. This is not done for anyone. It simply happens. This is how rich the world is, miracle upon miracle for no one.

Standing on this high point, I see it is not about dams or transmission lines, or even about that river way down there. It is about what we want to do with our time here, how we want to leave this place. The day is coming when the rarest resource will not be oil or even water, but a place that does not smell of us. Maybe we won’t even notice the passing of an era as we crawl deeper into our shells of light, but we notice it now. We can say for sure that it was real, that there was once a place where you could feel in your bones a greater world, where you did not possess their air or water,  and a river did not stop for you.

Bernardo Vargas is cutting a lasso from cowhide - he is a true Gaucho who lives off the land in a traditional sense alongside the Rio Baker.

Bernardo Vargas is cutting a lasso from cowhide - he is a true Gaucho who lives off the land in a traditional sense alongside the Rio Baker.

I come here from a highly developed country with a long-standing infrastructure of interstates and power grids, every major river dammed. Asking Chile not to do the same smacks of environmental imperialism, but I do not wish for this country to be undeveloped, only to develop differently. Maybe building dams is the best that can be done down here, serving civilization at large by pumping hydroelectricity to mines and cities in the north, assembling independent energy for South America (although recent studies say that the dams will lead to an expensive over-supply that could be handled much more efficiently by using alternative sources). On the other hand, consider what would be lost.

When you look at the image of earth at night, do you find hope where the darkness of the Himalayas shoulders into the blaze of India, where Siberia, Sahara, and the interior deserts of Australia hold our advances at bay? Let your eye follow the southern curve of South America. Nothing is there, the gap not yet closed. Gauchos cut their lassos out of cowhide. Rivers race from beneath glaciers. Pumas wait in the shadows. At night, you can still pour yourself into a lake, sending a ripple through the stars.

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Just Show Up and Go: More Adventures From Ben Clark and Ski the Himalayas

March 25th, 2010

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“Just Show Up and Go” is the insiders look at the 7th of 14 episodes of raw footage used in the upcoming Ski The Himalayas film.

Ben Clark, Josh Butson and Jon Miller have completed a 15-day approach and are gazing at the flanks of 23,390′ Baruntse in the Nepali Himalaya. As they explore the rocky terrain that surrounds the mountain, the team sees the ski descent for the first time and plots a course to basecamp.

http://www.vimeo.com/10318634

More adventures from Ben over at Ski the Himalayas!

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Ski the Himalayas Episode 6: Livin’ The Dream

March 23rd, 2010

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“Livin’ The Dream” is the insiders look at the sixth of 14 episodes of raw footage used in the upcoming Ski The Himalayas film. Ben Clark, Josh Butson and Jon Miller continue the 17-day approach to 23,390′ Baruntse. On day 14, the team settles into basecamp at 17,000′ at the foot of 27,760′ Makalu and begins the search for the route to the top of Baruntse.

http://www.vimeo.com/10197801

Click here for more adventures from Ben!

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Saving our Snow?

March 22nd, 2010

While I have worked half my life on cost-saving measures to reduce our carbon footprints and save energy, I created the Save Our Snow Foundation in 2006 (http://www.saveoursnowfoundation.org) to take the message to the US and worldwide. I was actually skiing in Crested Butte, when the beautiful sunny day and glistening peaks inspired an epiphanous moment.

In a strange way, my personal attempts to make a difference in my own life, have turned into a template for what is cost-effective, easy to implement, and also actually effective at reducing energy use. Some things have worked, such as growing my own food at 9,000 feet, and other have failed such as my solar-electric PHEV SUV, but all have taught me valuable lessons.

My journey has moved away from science lately, into non-controversial items such as job security, deficit reduction, and energy independence. While I have seen glaciers disappear around the world and snow storms becoming more erratic, I don’t really care about convincing folks about the realities of climate change anymore. Why bother? We have such a short time to make such radical changes, so my latest approach is to work with severe skeptics on action items that save money, so we can actually move forward.

My next big push will be the US Senate in April. I’ll be pitching the concept that a 30% reduction can save us energy and save us money. I’ll not be toting my KODE around, or my skis this time, but trying to look more fashionable. I’ll be biking to DC for Earthday, via a trail building day in Pittsburgh. Any Osprey fans out there who want to lend a hand to help save our snow for our children?

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The Edges of Obsession

March 19th, 2010
Pre-Climb Snack, Peter Doucette grabs a half of a chicken pot pie to feed his obsession

Pre-Climb Snack, Peter Doucette grabs a half of a chicken pot pie to feed his obsession

Three days ago I bought a ticket to fly from New Hampshire to California, twelve hours before the flight.  Spring had recently broken in North Conway. The town snow was gone, the ice slushy, and rock warm. Other friends were heading west, too. Most were going to climb. I was going for coffee.

Stereotypes are neither appropriate to address or easy to refute. I flew into the tribe of the skinny-jeaned people and left behind the stacked backs and forearms.  I was going to the San Francisco Mission District Highbrow Coffee World. All in caps, because that is about how it feels when you head there from the Mt Washington Valley.

The avant-garde of the coffee world is as self-selective as the outdoor world. People dress alike, have similar hair style (the style of the lack of style), wear the same shoes, depending on where they belong—be that for the day or the life.

What self-selects us to the life we have? Did my choice to have my senior picture in a synchilla fleece pre-determine my life outside? Did these people in front of me always know how to pick a hint of tangerine out of a drink?

A man who once rented a room in my house told me that he wished he could go to prison.  Incarceration, he told me, would give him time. “8 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year—you can learn anything.”

This man wanted to learn how to play guitar. I mentioned that there were other, perhaps easier ways to learn.

“Do you dispute that I’d learn it best in prison?,” he asked.

I had no argument for him.

Aroma Testing for Coffee Cupping

Aroma Testing for Coffee Cupping

Intellectually, I understand that there are bastions of outdoor people in San Francisco. I understand that the coffee-obsessed live in the mountains. We’re all crossing sides all the time. But maybe we forget this in the micro settlements of high focus on any of it. Spend long enough in any culture and it will become the only one you know.  The hyper-obsession justifies total action in any direction. For me, it justifies renting a two bedroom apartment—one bedroom to sleep in, the other for my gear. It needs to sleep as well.

This is my effort for spring. I will live in both worlds. I will have one wardrobe. The words are mixed for me, anyway. I went to Ethiopia the first time because of coffee, I stayed to climb, I’ve gone back to write a book on coffee. I’m chronicling the stories of coffee in the country from where coffee originates. I explained this to the group assembled today. I spoke of the 200+ tribes in Ethiopia, each with their own understanding of coffee. I talked about different expressions of coffee, and different uses. I stepped aside and watched as everyone slurped their way around a coffee tasting table afterwards.

Maybe some of us in that group learned to do what we do in prison. Maybe it was just obsession.  It leads to the same place.

Mid-way through the tasting, a man with sticky rubber approach shoes walked in to check out the coffees. I was wearing heels. Everyone else was in converse. We slurped together until everyone left. I have no idea how many people are headed outside this weekend. Maybe all of us are.

See the new promo video of my book here: http://originpointpress.com/index.php

Read more, see more, learn more here: http://www.majkaburhardt.com

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Osprey Athletes

Adventure + Culture: Vote for Majka Burhardt for an Epic Award!

March 17th, 2010

WaypointDVDfrontThe White House Project has nominated our friend, and Osprey athlete, Majka Burhardt for an EPIC Award — given to a woman working to make change in a joyful way. Click HERE to vote for Majka before March 22!

In May 2009, a small team of rock climbers departed for Namibia with two goals: to find a way up an unexplored face, and to find a way into a deeper understanding of southern Africa. At the heart of their trip lies the question, can adventure and culture combine to create understanding? WayPoint Namibia is the story of their journey.

http://www.vimeo.com/6748111

“I have a theory these days, that you can make adventure additive. That you can go beyond pure physical adventure and get cultural understanding out of it,” said Majka in the film.

Congratulations, and keep up the great work Majka!

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Rios Libres: The Voice of Ice

March 12th, 2010
Craig Childs checking out the Neff Glacier in Patagonia, Chile

Craig Childs checking out the Neff Glacier in Patagonia, Chile

by Craig Childs

At night I lay in my tent listening to the thunder of collapsing seracs, multi-ton columns of ice breaking free and falling a thousand feet. Smack, crack, rumble, groan. In these deeply-cut canyons, echoes build and fade. The ice-bound head of the Rio Baker is not a stable or quiet place.

Timmy O'Neill walking the line on the Neff Glacier

Timmy O'Neill walking the line on the Neff Glacier

Endangered Huemul Deer

Endangered Huemul Deer

Craig Childs watching a huge chunk of ice falling 20 stories down the Neff Glacier.

Craig Childs watching a huge chunk of ice falling 20 stories down the Neff Glacier.

In the morning we walk along an exposed wall of the Neff Glacier. A thirteen-story slab breaks away, tilts in slow motion, bursts into powder and bergs. How do you not feel fragile in this landscape?

On the ice, crampons crunch across a surface darkened by wind blown dust. The sound of meltwater emerges from deep below

Craig Childs taking a handful of perfect glacier water - some of the cleanest in the world.

Craig Childs taking a handful of perfect glacier water - some of the cleanest in the world.

us, mumblings in the belly of the glacier. I peer down a hole where shadows within shadows lead into a blue Jules Verne landscape, journeying into the source of the Baker. Oxygen-rich ice near the surface is white. Below it, baby blue falls into a saturated indigo so deep and rich it seems perilous. Becoming aware of the depths, I feel dizzy.

Every hole and crack emits a sound. Some places are whispers, and some rumble like a ship engine below deck. Unseen rivers roar and hiss as one of the largest ice caps in the world melts under our feet. Jonathan Leidich, a local glacier expert whose knowledge comes from 15 years on the ice, takes us to a measurement station that he maintains in conjunction with CECS, Centro de Estudios Cientificos de Valdivia here in Chile. A PVC pipe sticks up from a hole. Leidich runs a tape measure, says that a month ago the surface of the glacier was six feet over our heads. That much has melted in 30 days across this entire expanse. Hearing this, I take in the scope around us, daggers and ridges of ice, holes shaped like giant’s navels. Ice stretches as far as I can see, rising up through the teeth of mountains where the Patagonia Ice Cap spills through from the other side. I can feel it all melting. This is how the river starts.

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Striving to be a Chicken

March 11th, 2010

This winter my goal is a chicken-shit mentality.

After a hellish summer of climbing deaths—Johnny Copp, Craig Leubben, the Toulumne climber on the route next to us…—I began questioning my risks. If the odds caught up to Craig, they’d surely catch up to me. Novices appear to have surreal luck. They center-punch the gnarliest avalanche path on an extreme hazard day and survive. But how about me? I want to spend 200 days a year in the mountains for another 20 years. The smallest risks I take quickly pile up, unless I can outsmart the odds.

I realized skiing high-consequence avalanche terrain is my greatest risk. Especially those steep, powder-filled gullets. Those lines I crave so bad that the hazard becomes imaginary. My goal is to claim “Chicken Shit!” 10 times this winter. I’m up to four.

The first two times I chickened out were on the south face of Kickstep at Turnagain Pass—a steep run with huge consequences. After heeding my senses and bailing twice for alternate tours, Ryan Hokanson and I got Kickstep on round three.

A few weeks ago I was skinning up below the Col du Passon above the Argentierre Glacier in Chamonix, France with some random Californians I’d just met. Ahead, a group broke trail, tip to tail, through deep snow up the moraine wall. One of the Californians looked up and said, “Was that crown there before?” The skin tracks disappeared into a fresh avalanche. The debris pile, and track setters, were out of sight.

“Oh we would have heard some thing,” said another Californian and they went back to putting on their skins. I sprinted over the crest and spotted the dazed and snow-plastered track setters extracting themselves from the avalanche debris pile. Seeing everyone okay, I went back to the Californians. “Hey guys, I’m going to bail. Have a great day though!” Tic! That’s three! I skied piste at the Grand Montets. Not a bad alternative. 

IMG_0672

Then Cathy and I tried the Haute Route, the famous trail from Chamonix to Zermatt. A route crossed by thousands each year. Being super early season, we waited for clearing storms then started from Verbier, Switzerland. We plowing through deep storm snow and crossed three passes. 

IMG_0279-2 Fifteen minutes from the Praflueri Hut, our first night’s destination, I crested a moraine wall and Cathy yelled, “Avalanche!” I skied off the shuddering slab and it piled into a deep, cracked mound.We skied the avalanche bed surface until the hut was just minutes away. Although deserted, the hut was shelter. In fading light, another heinous moraine wall appeared before us. We searched, but only found steep, whoomphing slopes.

IMG_0292-2We spent our first night on the Haute Route inside this ancient concrete water tank. That’s four. Six to go.

See more photos from skiing in France at www.stockalpine.com/posts/chamonix.html

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Uncategorized , ,

Rios Libres: Moving Like a Feather

March 10th, 2010

100302Patagonia0664by Craig Childs

The Río Baker is the color of topaz with the visible depth of sapphire. Entering one of its gorges, a smooth, ceramic lip of water crashes into malestrom. Kayaks flash through like swift, tiny birds. Feeling this wild tumult, you can understand why one might want this kind of power. You would be a god to have this under your control.

Throw a switch and the raw, terrifying force of nature crimps down into cables and transformers — becoming the hum of millions of refrigerators across South America.

Every time you walk into a room and turn on the lights, every familiar tone of an Apple computer coming awake carries a grain of river, a hundredth of a kilowatt of what groups like NRDC and Patagonia Sin Represas wants you to think is sacred.

Kayaks take the run, skating across the water, airborne for moments. This is how you do it without taming the river, without conquering or consuming its power. You become a feather on a current and suddenly the river’s power is at your fingertips.

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Rios Libros: Synergy in the South

March 9th, 2010

100228Chile0436

by Chris Kasaar

Images of the magnificence of Patagonia abound: snow-capped peaks, flowing rivers, pristine forests, indigenous people, beautiful cultural traditions. Visual depictions of this amazing land and the people who call it home are the first thing that you notice when you arrive in this region of Chile – in airports, airplanes, restaurants, cafes, hardware mega-stores, on roadside billboards… Everywhere.

However, despite an obvious national pride for the area, the wild character of Patagonia is at risk. This is why each member of our team of  7, also known as “Rios Libres”, have spent the last few days working our way here from various points on the globe. There’s a proposal to put 5 dams on 2 of Patagonia’s most pristine rivers and we’re down here to do our damndest to create something that will help draw international attention to the issue.
Read more…

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