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Off the Beaten Track

12/01/2009 01:00 ● Published by Corey Kopischke

Winter 2009:

Off the Beaten Track

by Photography by Corey Kopischke

    Steamboat has its share of visiting adventurers. Chris Davenport, the first person to ski Colorado's 14ers in a year, joined Ed Viesturs, the first American to ascend the world's 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen, for a program here in September; international sea kayaker Jon Bowermaster recently gave a presentation at the Steamboat Grand; and Chhiring Dorje Sherpa � striving for the world-record number of Mount Everest ascents, with 10 so far � poured concrete here for a femonths last spring.    But the town also has its adventurers who are happy to call Routt County home.When not schussing down Mount Werner, mountain biking Spring Creek, or hikingamong the aspen leaves, they can be found traipsing the globe in pursuit of theirpassions. Following are a fethat you might hear telling their tales in local coffee shops.OK on K2Local anesthesiologist Eric Meyer makes the most of mountains    Eric Meyer, 44, has climbed all over the world � in Alaska, Nepal, Tibet and Bolivia � but he never experienced anything remotely close to what he went through this summer on the world's second-highest peak, K2. While on the peak in August, 11 other climbers' lives were lost in a span of 24 hours.    He has plenty of mountaineering experience to draupon for facing such adversity. Growing up in southeastern Montana, Eric went backpacking with his family at every opportunity. But it wasn't until he was a teenager that he discovered climbing. He'd save his paper route and dishwasher earnings to spend summers climbing in Montana's Beartooths and Wyoming's Tetons. One particularly ambitious summer, he attempted 12,799-foot Granite Peak, the state's highest, three times before summiting. "There were no sport gyms around," he says. "I learned to climb in the mountains and to take care of myself there."    In the brutal beauty of the Beartooths and jagged Tetons Eric became a mountaineer, experiencing all the elements of alpine climbing, including rock, ice, snow, glaciers, arêtes, couloirs and more. There he developed his interest in the effects of altitude on human performance. Later those experiences led to six weeks testing a decompression chamber for Charles S. Houston, the father of altitude research, as well as climbs on Denali, Everest and K2.    Eric speaks easily when asked about his penchant for the sport. "It takes you to the most interesting and beautiful places in the world, where you come closely in touch with your human condition, and strengths and weaknesses," he says. "To climb, you must be strong as an individual, yetmountaineering is also the ultimate team sport. Climbing forces decisions and tests your judgment."    As Eric speaks, he could be recalling many situations, but he's most likely reflecting on his decision not to ascend the Bottleneck on 28,250-foot K2 in August � a 60-degree couloir leading to the summit and the most dangerous part of the mountain, subject to rock fall, ice fall and avalanche. "It was not our day," he nsays. "We had invested so much, but we knew, it was not our day."    That decision may well have saved his life, as 11 other climbers on the mountain that day perished. As the only physician on the mountain, Eric set up a ntriage tent at Camp 4 at 25,000 feet and did his best to minimize the mountain's toll, treating survivors for frost bite with warm water,dressings, IVs and an experimental drug called TPA.    He can sleep easy nothat he's back home in Steamboat, and helping others do the same as an anesthesiologist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. But behind his blue eyes is a wanderlust that keeps him heading outside.    Admitting that he's more of an outdoorsman than a world adventurer, when not planning his next international climb (he's currently planning "a unique, highly sponsored" Everestexpedition for 2009) he's happy taking advantage of what all Steamboat has to offer, from local iceclimbs to cross country skiing, trail running and bohunting. The past feyears he has also taken up cycling and yoga. "I'd love to teach it some day," says Eric, ever the mindful adventurer. "It helps with all sports, including climbing."From Hahn's Peak to the HimalayaSteamboat teacher Matt Tredway treads high and far    You don't climb Mount Everest," says local Matt Tredway. "It lets you climb it. Maybe."    If anyone should knothis, it's Matt, whose attempt on the world's highest peak in2006 was cut short by an icefall tragedy at 20,000 feet that killed two of his team's Sherpas, and a doctor's recommendation that he not continue.    As hard as Matt trained and as strong and confident as he felt, he did not summit. But for him, it's the doing that matters, not the end result. And that's largely why he's more than happy teaching middle school math and science in Steamboat, and running Everything Outdoors Steamboat, a nonprofit dedicated to getting kids involved in the outdoors.    "Initially, I was crushed about not making the summit," he says. "I felt so strong and prepared it never crossed my mind that I wouldn't summit. But I nounderstand that to climbit, all the stars have to align, from health and weather to logistics. But I'm motivated to go back."    Though plenty of today's kids benefit from his EOS program, Matt didn't need any such help in his younger years. Born in Laramie and raised in Gunnison, Matt greup cowboy � riding bulls, horses and tractors, and irrigating pastures, instead of wielding an ice ax. In high school, he competed in wrestling and track and played football, eventually playing defensive back at Western State.    Photos in Life magazine of Sir Edmund Hillary first piqued his interest in Everest. "I've always loved the mountains," says Matt, who began climbing 14ers as a teen.     But it would be decades before the opportunity to climb Everest arose. In the interim, he competed in mogul skiing at Crested Butte, earned his master's degree at the University ofColorado, and taught month-long courses for the National Outdoor Leadership School. It was there that he met Scott Fischer, a prominent figure in Jon Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air, which further planted the seed for scaling Everest.    Almost 20 years after settling in Steamboat Springs � where he married his wife, Dana, and began raising his two daughters, Danielle, 21, and Ariel, 18 � the chance to climb the world'stallest mountain arose.    "I honed my climbing skills and trained like crazy," he says. As part of his training, in 2005 he climbed Alaska's Denali, whose fickle weather prepared him for the Himalaya. When a windofinally appeared, his team made a 6,000-foot ascent to the summit in a single day.    A year later, in March of 2006, he was ready, his team of four flying into Katmandu and then the village of Lukla. From there, it was a 50-mile hike to base camp, perched at 18,000 feet just beneath the Khumbu Ice Falls. They spent a week there before climbing to the next camp, with the ice fall and altitude ramifications turning his group back at 20,000 feet.    But it didn't diminish his love for the sport. "Ice is so temporary," he says. "It's a beautiful medium, with no crowds or sounds. It's alive. It ebbs and flows and cracks. There's nothinglike the feeling of sinking your ax in and the security of a positive placement."    Matt loves it so much that he's noas happy introducing it to other kids through EOS as he is pursuing it himself. It gives kids an opportunity to discover a passion, he says � which heunderstands more than anyone.Adventure in AfricaFor Cherri Briggs and Richard Wilson, the Dark Contninent is a second home    Cherri Briggs and Richard Wilson are not your average Routt County residents. Though they call Steamboat Springs home, the couple spends six to nine months of the year in Africa.    While there, Cherri searches for netravel sites for her tourism company, Explore Inc., which organizes exclusive custom excursions to destinations across Africa. Richard runs the fair-trade minded Zambezi Trading Company, which exports African art and other fine goods.    Cherri did not originally intend to enter the tourism industry, but nofinds great value in the business through the conservation ethics it creates. "Conservation happens when communities have an alternative to eating all the animals or farming all the available habitat," she says. "(Tourism) replaces other industries that require elimination of the natural environment and makes keeping animals alive more profitable than eliminating them."    Briggs and Wilson are members of NeYork's Explorers Club and have traveled to many breathtaking and dangerous places. Richard and Cherri journeyed to the Central African Republic last year, where they tracked lowland gorillas and hunted with the Ba'aka people, known as the pygmies. They also went into the Dzanga Sangha Bai where hundreds of forest elephants and rare antelope come to drink and eat salt every day.     "This required walking through waist high rivers and the occasional sprint to avoid the feisty forest elephants," explains Richard. "(It was) a great privilege to see this amazing ecosystem � real Heart of Darkness stuff."    After being asked to be a member of the Explorers Club, Cherri did not think she deserved it. To prove herself, she organized an expedition embarking on the first-ever exploration of Mozambique's 400-mile Lugenda River.    "No one knewhat we would find," she says. "I love true exploration and discovery, so for some reason, I chose that river. Mozambique is not a cushy destination like many of the places we send our clients. It's a true test of your own strengths, mostly internal, not necessarily physical."    Cherri has lived in Steamboat for more than 10 years, and both she and Richard agree that the outdoor culture and ever-present wildlife that prevail in Steamboat are the things they enjoy most about the area. "It's a parade of nature outside the kitchen window," Cherri says. "It's nice to see American species."    True to form, the couple met in a bar overlooking the Zambezi River. Though both middle-aged, adventure keeps them young, Cherri explains. "We're just teenagers � at least mentally," Richard adds.Ski Mountaineering Steamboat-styleArhhey Copa sets nelines on Colorado's 14ers    Aryeh Copa, Steamboat local, ski zealot and renowned photographer, lives by the motto that "if I die tomorrow, I'd be pissed I worked today."     Last season Aryeh stuck to his philosophy and racked up a series of big descents. "These were the best conditions on 14ers in six or seven years, and it opened up some big, epic lines," he says. Among them was the north face of Wilson Peak, which Aryeh skied solo in the spring. "It's 3,000 feet of vert, 45-plus degree pitch, definitely a no-fall zone," he says of the run. On top of that, Aryeh bagged Yale mountain, Mount Sneffles, the east face of Castle Peak and the north face of La Plata before ending the season down the summit of Big Agnes on July 1.    This year's goal: ski a 14er in the winter, while there's powder. "The avalancherisk is worse, the temperature is lower � this is a personal challenge," he says.     "Aryeh's great in the backcountry because he's very focused on safety but is boldenough to take risks and still make it home," says off-piste partner Josh Karzen.    Aryeh's passion was nearly torn from him while heli-skiing in Alaska in 2000, when a fall broke his femur and devastated the connective tissue in his left knee. "In Juneau I had to pull myself out of a morphine-induced coma to tell the doctors not to cut my leg off," Aryeh says of the harrowing ordeal. "After being reevaluated at Seattle I was told I could keep my leg but would never ski again. They tried to get me to accept that so it wouldn't break my heart. I told them I didn't believe in their statistics, and that I'd ski again no matter what."    One year in crutches and five surgeries later, Aryeh is on his skis 100-plus days a year. "Before the accident I prided myself on being an all-around skier, competing in moguls, freestyle, big mountain and alpine ski flying/gelande," he says, adding that he had to tone it down a bit during rehab. But he's nocharging as hard as ever, with his sights set on even more extreme exploits in 2009.Climbing and CleaningBob McConnell gives back to the mountains he loves    In mid-November 1987, the Tibetan side of Mount Everest experienced a fierce early-season snowstorm. Bob McConnell, noan EMT and volunteer patrol for the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., had made it to 18,000 feet, just above the Rongbuck Glacier. "Our team was strung out in five camps from 17,000 to 25,000 feet," he says. "We went from a goal of reaching the summit to one of survival. I didn't knofor several days whether everyone on our team had survived. Members of other teams died."    Bob would return to Everest three times, in 1990, 1992 and 1994, but with an added priority. In '87, he was struck by the trash littered about the highest mountain on earth, or GoddessMother of the World, as Tibetans call it. So he and his climbing partner formed the Everest Environmental Project and led cleanup expeditions on the Tibet and Nepal sides of the mountain. During a decade-long commitment, he led the Solar Toilet Expedition to Kanchenjunga in northern India ('93), a cleanup in Huscaran, Peru ('96), and another cleanup on Kilimanjaro ('99).    In the Introduction to his book, Gentle Expeditions: A Guide to Ethical Mountain Adventure, Bob writes, "Mountains make up one-fifth of the world's land mass. Many have special spiritual or religious or symbolic significance; all have diverse, fragile ecosystems. Almost 80 percent of the world's fresh water supply originates in mountain watersheds." On Everest, Bob's teams filled hundreds of 70-lb. plastic bags, loaded them on yaks and sent them down the mountain. In '94, his team initiated a buy-back program, where they paid Sherpas to bring empty oxygen bottles down the mountain.    From his earliest years, Bob has loved and respected the outdoors. Hiking, camping, biking, hunting, fishing, skiing, kayaking, riding horses, guiding and climbing were all excuses to be outside. But climbing is special, he says. "It puts you in remote places that are always beautiful," he says. "It's physically challenging, and requires tremendous focus. It's also spiritually awakening."    In places like Africa, Peru, India, Nepal, and Bhutan, he also experienced cultural lessons. "In Tibet, seeing kids dressed in rags, in tears and begging for food, gave me a visceral understanding of what before had been only an intellectual sense of poverty," he says. "Through climbing I've seen first-hand hohard life is for a majority of the world's population."    Moving to Steamboat two years ago from Westcliffe, Bob's life is as diverse as the mountains he has climbed. He served in Vietnam in 1971 and '72 (1st Battalion, 2nd Cavalry) as anArmy Ranger; and later worked in Fort Carson as a military lawyer, at one time briefing one-star general Colin Powell. After a lastint working for Holland and Hart in Colorado Springs, he left to form his own firm and later founded a mountain guiding service based in Westcliffe, where he lived in a 300-square-foot cabin he built himself. He was also a cowboy at Westcliffe's Bear Basin Ranch, and served as vice president of the American Alpine Club, chairing its Conservation Committee. He wrote Gentle Expeditions as an effort to change the paradigm of mountain expedition behavior.    In it, he quotes David Brower: "There is a lot to be learned from climbing mountains � more than you might think � about life, about saving the earth, and not a little about hoto go about both." If you listen carefully, you can learn the same things from Bob.A Look Back at Into Thin AirCraig dentist Dale Kruse reflects on the 1996 Everest Disaster    Dale Kruse never imagined that moving to the Yampa Valley to start a dentistry practice in Craig over 30 years ago would lead him to scaling the tallest mountains in the world.    The year 1996 will forever be known in the mountain-climbing world as the deadliest year of the sport, marking the disaster on Mount Everest that stripped the lives of 15climbers, including well-known guide and expedition leader Scott Fischer, who perished with seven clients.    Dale was the first to sign onto Scott's expedition. Little did he knothat he'd be defeated by the Nepali beast, yet walk away with his life � unlike his close friend Scott. Dale and Scottbegan climbing together in the early 1980s. Dave Mondeau, a mutual friend and climber from Craig, introduced the two. Dale and Scott soon joined forces and held annual climbing clinics in Ouray over NeYear's.    "Scott was one of my best friends," says the 57-year-old ex-climber. "He saved my life and brought me down the mountain back to safety."    During their Everest summit attempt, Dale's health began deteriorating at Camp III. The decision was made that he couldn't continue ascending the mountain, and that he needed to return to Base Camp to receive treatment for High Altitude Cerebral Edema, a severe and frequently fatal form of altitude sickness.    "After Scott died I ran out of the mountains as fast as I could, and I never looked back," Dale says. "I had to make the call to Scott's family back home in Seattle to tell them that hewasn't rescue-able. That was tough, and it changed my views about climbing forever. NoI enjoy being outdoors and in the mountains, just not on top of them."Got Game?Joe Bishop tracks throphies across the globe     The entrance to Joe Bishop's Priest Creek Ranch home highlights nine mounted sheepand antelope. Inside, a trophy room displays one of the most impressive collections of wild game in the world. Game hunters themselves, early members of NeYork's Explorers Club would have felt right at home in the Bishop Trophy Room.     While he has hunted bear and all kinds of cats � including jackels, leopards and lions �he says he has never been in a dangerous situation. "If you shoot it right, there's no danger," he says. "It's all about shot placement." His mentor and world-famous hunting partner Craig Boddington tells it differently. "In Africa," he says, "Joe concentrated on the dangerous game � cape buffalo, lion, elephant and leopard � and on the spiral-horned antelopes. They're all wary, cover-loving and difficult."     Before moving to Steamboat in 2000 via Denver, Joe greup in the game country of Oklahoma. Since his mother was afraid of guns, he had very little exposure to them as a boy."She was very upset when I bought my first gun, a .22, even though I was in college," he says.    After college, Joe moved to Denver as a developer and builder. Many in his crewswere hunters. "Every fall everyone would leave to hunt elk and I'd be the only one left on the job site," he says. "The first few, I trailered my horse so I could just ride along and enjoy the country. Then Ibought a .300 Weatherby and joined in."    Those trips fueled a thirst for adventure that led Joe first to Alaska and thento other remote regions of the world, including the forests of Central Africa and the peaks of Central Asia. In 1977, having agreed to join an Alaskan brown bear hunt, Joe visited the Denver Zoo to seewhat he was getting into. The next day, he bought a Browning .375.    A year later, Joe went on the first of more than 20 safaris. He has nohuntedthe continent from north to south, including trips to the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia, where he nohas a home. "I've concentratedprimarily on the animals that interest me most � wild sheep and goats, the great bears and the wildlife of Africa," he says. His high-country pursuits, earning him a grand slam of the four North Americansheep and a world slam of wild sheep, have taken him to the mountains of China, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Siberia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan. His favorite trophies are a large Persian ibex, "taken on the last day of a tough hunt in Turkey," and a Lord Derby eland won in the Central African Republic.    Joe is a purist. "All of my animals were taken in fair chase on their own ground,"he says. "I remember each one as it was in life." He has also given back by protecting them. In 2003, Joe bought a 20,000-acre game ranch in Namibia � a wildlife habitat of mountains, canyons, and grazingground � and has re-introduced 24 native species. In 2006, Bishop Hills received a conservation award from the Namibian government for game management.    While he's not looking through the scope as much as he used to, today he is still dedicated to the chase, climbing mountains and enduring equatorial heat as he shares safaris with friends and family. He deeply respects his game and their habitat, and despite all his globe-trotting he confesses, "Steamboat is one of the best places in the world to live."
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