9:23 a.m. July 23, 2013
“We’re having a great time & arrived at a new location! Thanks for following our progress & supporting our trip!” –That’s the GPS message received from the “Forbidden Range,” a mountainous no-man’s land bulging out of Kyrgyzstan near its border with China.
But why—on the team’s supposed summit day—had I received a message that sounded like a couple of retirees checking in from their cozy cruise-ship cabin?
I scrolled through the previous GPS alerts, carefully re-reading the messages from the team:
We were driven to the Maida Adyr military base, essentially a campground located some five bumpy hours deep into the snow-encrusted mountains. Fortunately, there was a loud, shirtless Russian to accompany us on the drive which helped keep us from lasering in on our mission just yet.
No helicopter today due to bad weather. With our shirtless Russian long gone, Catan, baseball, and hearts are resorted to in order to help pass the time. The only incident of note was that we were kicked off of a military base.
“We have glimpsed the beast and cached some gear and food in its shadow. We’ll return to base camp tonight then come back here tomorrow to lie in wait.”
These were all adequate summaries of the team’s daily adventures, so why not a specific report today?
Clicking the GPS link to view the location they had sent with the July 23rd message, it all made sense. The message had been sent from the top of their target: Point 5318! They sent a pre-programmed message to keep it simple. It made sense, as the tops of 5,000-meter peaks in remote mountain ranges are no place for bare fingers to be exposed for mere keyboard-related purposes. The message’s content wasn’t nearly as important as the location. All the saving, preparation, traveling, and patience had paid off the way it does in dreams.
The elation they were feeling on the summit had painted over the extremely difficult—but potentially life-saving— decision from earlier in the week, to turn around.
A few days before the team attempted the peak it was turned around by a snow cornice (large mass of overhanging snow caused by wind). The decision possibly saved them from disaster, but even knowing that, it was inevitably a very difficult call. Turning around meant that the group was essentially deciding to either push through a questionably stable traverse or try on another day in better conditions (that might not come). When you’re exhausted and the air is thin, confusion and frustration are as common as snow and rock. However, these moments force you to weigh your life and your dreams with a committee of expertise and opinions. This could be a very different article if the six team members weren’t so tightly knit and supportive of one another.
All six team members pride themselves on a level of communication and comfort that boarders on weird. They wave their flag of pride knowing that their level of trust and intimacy has created a team with sound minds that make level-headed decisions in the clutch. Years of experience tearing their houses apart outside of Tufts during after-hour social spectacles has produced a rare breed of climber in this case. Nothing brings you closer than dumpster diving your dinner night after night or dowsing their walls, floors, friends, and lives with olive oil and chocolate sauce during social gatherings. And that’s barely the beginning of their antics.
Ultimately their first attempt took 21 hours of intense climbing. The group took a rest day to reflect and wait for another opportunity. When they got their weather window, they seized and made history. Now their names are in a big book and with the right to peg a title to a mountain that has been around for millions of years without a name. I think you’ll agree that the team was quite generous to name the mountain formerly known as Point 5138 “After You.” The exact level of wit to be expected from a group of smart-asses crazy enough to swing axes into perfectly good ice.
A warm congratulations to Ryan Stolp, Austin Lines, Nick Levin, Zach Matthay, Rob Gleich and Jeffrey Longcor for your astonishing accomplishment. Enjoy the rest of your adventures and I look forward to bending elbows over good stories from Central Asia soon.
Founder/Chief of Friendship
Deep South Mountaineering
This great accomplishment will live and die with these great men. A first summit is extremely impressive but pales in comparison to the time and effort each team member has dedicated to the sport if Ice Climbing. Learn more about their trip below, V.I.C.E (Vertical Ice Climbing Enthusiasts), and New England Grassroots ice climbing festival, VICEFEST.
Find out more about their expedition;