Upon falling in love with the mountains (climbing rock/ice, skiing, mountaineering, camping, paddling, etc.) during a NOLS course when I was 15 years-old, I have been insatiably drawn to them and find my solace among them. After attending the University of Colorado, Boulder, for undergrad, I spent two years working in Chicago until I had the opportunity to move to Portland, OR, for work.
It was during my time in Oregon (1997 & 1998) that I reconnected with climbing, especially mountaineering. Flying right past the summit of Mt. Hood on my first flight into Portland, I knew that I would soon stand atop that beautiful peak. Within a few months of moving there, a childhood friend and fellow climber, Clay Dangerfield, came to visit and we proceeded to complete our first glaciated climbs on Mt. Adams and Mt. Shasta. Soon thereafter, I was climbing nearly every weekend and proceeded to climb virtually every glaciated volcano in the Pacific Northwest between Mt. Shasta and Mt. Rainier. It was a great couple of years.
From there, my ambitions grew, as did my skills. I reconnected with Clay in early 1998 for our first international climbing trip to El Pico de Orizaba in Mexico (18,850′). It was a great trip, and although we didn’t summit due to horrible weather and a short window, this trip whetted my appetite for more.
After climbing trips to Chamonix, France, with my brother, and Grindelwald, Switzerland, solo in 1999 & 2000, I went to Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America (22,841′), in late 2000 to see how my body would hold up at altitude as a gauge for future climbs. Fortunately, we summited and I met two of my long-time climbing partners, Jay Marchesseault and Luis Branco, with whom I would do many climbs over the next six years.
The following year, Jay, Luis and I went to Chamonix, France, and climbed the Mont Blanc, ice climbed in a cave, and did many technical rock routes and were actually there when 9/11 occurred. It was strange to be out of the country at that time, but also reassuring to see how the world rallied around us.
I went to Denali in 2002 (20,320′) with Jay and Luis to push our skills to new heights. We were turned back after a relentless, 8-day storm thwarted our attempt by dumping eight feet of snow on us with hurricane-force winds for days on end. We spent 11 nights at ABC (14,200′) before retreating home. After climbing domestically in the Rockies in 2003, we returned to Denali in 2004 and the three of us summited successfully in only 12 days. A terrific trip.
At this point, I had absolutely no intention of climbing the Seven Summits (the highest peak on each continent), but simply wanted to climb in beautiful and remote areas of the world and experience new cultures with climbing providing my excuse for doing so. After a health-impaired trip to Peru in 2005 with Jay and Luis, they both got married and had kids, so my two primary climbing partners of the past 5-6 years were no longer climbing big peaks. So, in 2006 after a trip to Mongolia fell through at the last minute, I signed on to climb Mt. Elbrus in Russia (18,510′), which the team summited with ease. Fortunately, on a trip where I knew no one going in, ironically, I met climbing partner Bob Berger who lives in Boulder, CO, only 45 minutes from my home in Denver. A great partnership was born.
After spending 2007 in Seattle, where I did a little climbing, I joined an expedition to Mt. Vinson, Antarctica (16,067′), and summited with a great group. I met climbing partners, Dave Markwell, Craig Hanneman and Mark Morford as well as guide extraordinaire, Todd Passey, on this trip. This was a tremendous experience and truly the trip of a lifetime for someone who has been fortunate to have been on many trips that meet that criteria. It was after this trip, that suddenly, and unintentionally, the Seven Summits became not only a possibility but also a goal.
In 2010, I went to Africa for the World Cup semifinals (Netherlands/Uruguay) with my friend and climbing partner, Eric Remza, who is also a stellar mountain guide. We climbed the iconic Table Mountain in Cape Town and did a shark dive before heading up to Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340′) for an expedition he was leading. We summited with ease and then enjoyed a 3-day safari afterwards in the Tanzanian Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. It was an incredible trip, and suddenly I had successfully climbed 5 of the 7 summits.
At the tail-end of the Africa trip, as is often the case at the conclusion of any of these expeditions, Eric and I began scheming about what our next climb could be, and we agreed that a trip to Carstensz Pyramid (16,023′ – the highest point in Oceania), on the island of New Guinea in the Indonesian Province of Papua, would be ideal. So, I flew to Australia in February of 2011 and quickly hiked to the top of Mt. Kosciuszko (7,310′), which is the highest point in Australia and part of the Dick Bass version of the Seven Summits. From there, I met Eric and the rest of the team, which included Dave and Todd (both from my Antarctica trip), in Indonesia. We had a tough, but stellar trip and summited on the only day of the expedition during which it didn’t rain. I suppose that it was meant to be. With the successful ascent of Carstensz, I had completed 6 of the 7 summits via both the Dick Bass and Reinhold Messner iterations.
So, all of those expeditions and experiences led to an attempt of Mt. Everest (29,035′) in the spring of 2012. It was a tremendous challenge both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, after two months of sustained effort, I was forced to turnaround the day before my team summited due to a bad GI infection. However, long-time climbing partners, Bob & Craig reached the summit along with the rest of the team, which provided some solace.
This led to another attempt of Everest in the spring of 2014. I climbed with a small team comprised of Mike Moniz, his son, Matt, and led by Willie Benegas. As a small, strong team, we had ambitions of climbing three of the six tallest peaks in the world in one push. We were to start with Cho Oyu (26,906′) followed by Everest (29,035′) and Lhotse (27,940′). Tragically, on April 18th, a massive serac collapse off Everest’s West Shoulder plunged into the Khumbu Icefall killing 16 Sherpa. The 2014 Everest climbing season in Nepal ended that awful day. Although we went on to summit Cho Oyu and were already in Tibet (China) on a valid visa, the Chinese would not grant us permission to climb Everest via the north ridge, so our planned climbs of Everest of Lhotse ended that tragic day as well.
In 2015, I decided to return to Nepal to attempt Everest and Lhotse one final time. However, the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, which released an enormous avalanche that overwhelmed base camp and killed 18 people, abruptly ended this attempt. Needless to say, we aborted our climb, shifted our focus to help the people of Nepal in any way we could and departed for home when it was safe enough to do so. Having gotten engaged on this trip only a week before the earthquake as well as the fact that we were approaching base camp just as the earthquake and subsequent avalanche struck, I felt extraordinarily fortunate that my now wife and I were unharmed and made it home essentially unscathed.
So, I have now made three attempts to climb Mt. Everest, which all ended prematurely due to unfortunate, uncontrollable and even tragic circumstances. I would still like to “run out of earth” at some point and see that view, but have no plans to return to Everest or the Himalayas anytime soon. However, if at some point I should be fortunate enough to reach the highest point on earth, I will have summited the highest peak on each continent (the “Seven Summits”). We will have to wait and see what the future holds in store. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this blog and following me on my path to Everest.
Be unstoppable, fella. On the way up and down.
I’m following you Jim! It’s Brian Bauer your old neighbor from Charleston SC. Awesome stuff! Good luck!! When are you planning to start your ascent?