Last week, the Mazamas — a membership-based mountaineering organization that “ promotes mountaineering through education, climbing, hiking, fellowship, safety, and the protection of mountain environments” – had their annual Portland Alpine Festival. It’s a week long party, honoring their members accomplishments and a heritage of climbing mountains with film screenings, clinics and guest speakers. Here’s what you missed:
Don’t get me wrong, I have a Netflix documentary addiction on par with my mother’s dedication to Days of Our Lives, but there’s something to be said about film screenings. The film selection this year at the Portland Alpine Fest was chock full of feature and short films well worthy of putting pants on and sitting in less comfortable chairs. There were some great films from the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival including some cool canyoneering Canada expedition, and of course, gratuitous ski mountaineering porn.
But my favorite of the week was High Ground.The film follows 11 combat veterans suffering from physical and emotional injuries sustained during service in Iraq and Afghanistan. These soldiers, representing all four branches of the U.S. military, set out to climb the 20,075 peak of Lobuche East, just 8.7 miles from Mount Everest.
What’s moving about the film though is not just the journey to climb an imposing and beautiful peak in the Himalayas, it’s about the transformation the soldiers go through together and their bravery involved in healing each other’s scars. Like the military lifestyle, mountaineering creates a bond of trust stronger than most. They both have a unique capability to test a soldier’s true worth. While war tends to break men, mountains heal. veterans to tell their stories in their own words, and face their emotional and mental scars of war.
I’ve always been struck by the climbing culture. Whether you’re projecting with shirtless dirtbags in Hueco Tanks or gearing up in the Himalayas with… different shirtless dirtbags, climbers always seem to be innately bound by their illogical passion for summiting and sending. Nowhere is this bond more evident than with the climbers you meet at the Portland Alpine Festival.
From the soldiers starring in High Ground, to Margo Talbot’s story of battling addiction and depression through ice climbing and Warren Macdonald’s refusal to quit climbing after losing both of his legs, it’s easy to be proud to call yourself a climber. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how hard you climb or how many summits you’ve notched, merely the fact that you do creates a kindred, almost congregational, connection.
Conrad Anker shared his story of his epic first ascent of the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru (seriously, see the video here) with photographer Jimmy Chin and the crazy talented, artist-adventurer Renan Ozturk. The crew journeyed to the headwaters of the Ganges, on their attempt to scale the unclimbed central pillar of Mount Meru (6310 meters). Their objective was to climb the 1300 meter high altitude wall of the Shark’s Fin in big wall capsule style.
The climb was a nod to Conrad’s friend and mentor, noted American alpinist Mugs Stump. Stump dreamed of climbing Meru but tragically died on the South Buttress of Denali in 1992 and never had the chance to do the route.
Anker’s presentation was a palm sweating journey on what it really takes to be a climber with cajones. I’ve been climbing for a long time and a part of me is still coming to terms with the fact that I never want to put myself through a suffer fest like Mount Meru. It’s not something you choose to do though. It’s clear that Meru would continue to beckon Anker until he got the chance to stand on top of the summit. The other part of me wants to defer my student loans and travel the world to climb mountains.
The fact that a group like the Mazamas exists shouldn’t be a surprise, but the fact that something like the Mazamas isn’t in every town with mountains to climb and protect is a bummer. The Mazamas were established July 19, 1894 on the summit of Mt. Hood.
From their website: “Responding to an advertisement run in the Morning Oregonian of June 12, 1894: “To Mountain Climbers and Lovers of Nature . . . It has been decided to meet on the summit of Mt. Hood on the 19th of next month …” more than 300 people encamped on the flanks of Mt. Hood on July 18. By 8:00 am the next day, the first climbing party reached the 11,239’ summit, followed by the rest of the 193 men and women who were to reach the summit that day. One hundred and five climbers became charter members.
They offer over 350 group climbs and 900 hikes annually, and sponsor conservation and research to protect and better understand the mountain environment. All of their activities depend almost entirely on the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, who contribute over 80,000 hours of time annually to support Mazamas’ programs. I never thought I would want to call myself a goat.
Here are some more photos from the Fest: