Archive for the ‘Milestones’ Category

We’ve Lost a Good One.

24/05/2020

This post is dedicated to the late Maria Figueroa Norabuena, who I consider the heart of my Peruvian Family. The matriarch, she died recently of complications while in Lima getting medical treatment, and is survived by her husband Daniel, (pictured), a large family of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren mostly in Huaraz, and the surrounding villages, in Peru.  She lived in a small hamlet outside of Huaraz where she and her husband baked bread for many of the townspeople and restaurants in Huaraz. They also grew crops and had farm animals.  My condolences go out to Daniel and his family.

Daniel and Maria

Daniel, and his late wife Maria of Huaraz, Peru

I met Maria through my friend David Sanchez Figueroa, co-owner of the vegetarian Restaurant Salud y Vida, (Health and Life) when I was mountain guiding in Huaraz some years ago. I became godfather to her grandchild Joseph, and have always felt part of the family. It must be a past-life thing but we’ve all been very close over the years of visits.

With the coming of video calling, I was able to keep in close contact with the whole family, and especially with Maria while she was with her daughter in Lima undergoing treatment.  I had the opportunity to spend some screen-time with her before she died and am so grateful for that time. It reminds me, again that life is short.

I have a vivid image, (and a video), in my mind of my wife Amanda, and Maria, playing “Laugh Dancing” in the restaurant’s kitchen. Someone starts a sound track, and the object of the game is partner up with someone, and dance with a straight face. The first one to crack a smile, usually caused by the opponent’s antics, loses. Maria won, hands down. I don’t remember the exact maneuver she pulled, but it had us (all generations of the family) laughing hysterically.

When I first came to Peru as a mountain guide, Maria used to pinch my cheek with her fingers, saying “Que Pena” (“What a pity”) when she learned at my age of 40+, I still had no wife or child. (Since then I’ve been married since 2009 with an eight-year-old son, which made Maria much more happy with me) Every climbing season, when I’d come back into town, she’d give me the pinching, “Que Pena” again, when I was still in the same sorry state.

Becoming a Godfather to her grandchild, Joseph, and seeing what family can really be in Peru, changed me. I grew up as a bit of a narcissist, mountain guiding, single, and although an outdoor educator, still caught up in my seeking the perfect high. A light bulb when off in my heart when I observed what family really means in the indigenous an Latino sense. We had Peru on our short list of destinations of where we were considering having a family, precisely because of that observation.

Maria was a strong woman with a keen sense of self, sense of humour, a huge heart, and a fantastic matriarch who will be missed by her large family, and even… a gringo here in New Zealand.

Since this post, I’ve received this comment from Maria’s grandaughter, Jina (translated from Spanish):

Thank you very much Randall for this publication in tribute to my beloved Grandmother, she was just as you describe her, she left such an imprint on every corner she traveled, she was a woman very loved by all of us who now mourn her sudden departure. You are right, she was in a very delicate treatment that began in January, but on 15.05.2020 her body did not resist.  I still remember every joke she made to me, even one day before her death we joked, and she laughed out loud.  Always her take on life was all joy.
Perhaps you were motivated by her to form your own home, with her phrase, “what a shame”, because she wanted to see everyone with family, family as she had it with my grandfather, who showed that true love exists.
Their advice is recorded in my heart.

I’ll never forget my grandmother. She will always be in my memory and heart.

Huaraz Maria Obit

Near the hamlet in which Maria lived, with the Cordillera Blanca, Peru’s highest mountain range, in the near distance (copyright 2020 Dexter R Richards)

Life & Death in the Mountains

16/08/2013

At What Cost?
By R. Richards

Vinton-Boot in Chamonix

Vinton-Boot in Chamonix

If you live in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and have anything to do with climbing, the name Jamie Vinton-Boot pops up all the time. New hard routes, and lots of them. The other day, the news that he had been killed in an avalanche sent shock waves through the climbing community, right after the sad news that NZ climbers Marty Schmidt and his son Denali had been swept away by an avalanche at a high camp on K2 in the Himalaya. 

Vinton-Boot was a new father who leaves his new baby and wife behind. And the loss of Schmidt and his son are a one-two punch which seems hard to fathom. I was chatting with a checkout person in the grocery store about these losses, and part of her summation was, “At least he was doing something he loved to do.”  Being a new father myself, I’m trying to balance my adventure goals, (not that I’m a cutting edge climber by any means) with the risk involved. My risk, (subject hazards) seems worlds apart from the climbers’ mentioned here. Vinton-Boot had decided to do easier routes since becoming a dad, so states the article below.  Easy terrain for him might be my upper limit, so it all depends on what you’re comfortable with.  It’s the objective hazards that give you the chop, no matter how easy the terrain.  Whether it’s a ski descent or a mixed route, easy or hard, there are those hazards, and if it’s your time to go,  you get the chop.

As the list of friends, mentors, and famous climbers who’ve gotten the chop grows, the whole thing, for me, comes down to making damn sure I’m stacking the deck in favor of being around for my son. There’s simply no reason not to be. Sure, I could get hit by a car, (as the checkout girl added in her summation), but looking for trouble is a different matter. 

Vinton-Boot in Queenstown's Remarkables Range, NZ

Vinton-Boot in Queenstown’s Remarkables Range, NZ

When it comes right down to it, we have to really evaluate what roles and games we’re playing in the world of mountaineering. Are internal peaks and challenges of the family journey not enough? Or what about being very present in the mountains without having to be on the edge (See Mindfulness in the Mountains). What is the measure of a man, a climber, a father?  I’m just saying…it’s time for me to continue to re-evaluate my everyday decisions as if I were on the end of a lead rope. I have people I’m belaying in life: my wife, my son. And that’s a handful in itself, I don’t want to drop that belay, at any cost.  As my mentor and former boss, Willie Prittie said to me in Peru when we were guiding there, “It’s just as important to get down the mountain, (with all your limbs and digits intact), as it is to make the summit. On second thought, it’s more important.”

The following is from an op-ed ..More food for thought:
Climber not at fault: friend
By Paul Hersey, Climber and friend of Jamie Vinton-Boot
Otago Daily Times
Warrington mountaineer Paul Hersey has attended the funerals of many of his mountaineering mates but he will continue to climb.

Mr Hersey (45) said Christchurch climber Jamie Vinton-Boot (30) was a close friend and the pair had climbed together extensively in New Zealand. Mr Vinton-Boot was swept off his feet by snow on Monday when traversing and fell 500m to his death into a Remarkables ravine. Mr Hersey and Mr Vinton-Boot created the climbing documentary One Fine Day on a Mountain, which won a special jury award at the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival this year.

Mr Hersey said the risks to which Mr Vinton-Boot had exposed himself had been exaggerated and conditions at the Remarkables were reasonable for climbing. The avalanche risk was standard for winter mountaineering and not at high or extreme levels, and the ”snow release” was a ”small, isolated pocket”. ”It’s not an avalanche; more a snow sluff, a small release of snow. It can happen a lot when climbing.”

Mr Vinton-Boot was not anchored up because he was traversing to the route, he said. The more difficult a climb, the safer the climb usually was, because more safety gear was used. ”But on a more moderate climb, or approach, you can’t rope up for those situations because it would take forever and you wouldn’t actually get to the climb. In this case, it was walking across a snow slope.”

Mr Vinton-Boot was a safe climber and the wrong message had been attached to his death. ”He’s a really close mate, one of my best mates, and you stick up for your mates and in this instance, he was taking all the reasonable safety steps … Jamie wasn’t doing anything wrong. It just happened.” Mountaineers seek a challenge, not risk, he said. ”But that’s a consequence of the environment sometimes.”

Christchurch mountaineers Marty and Denali Schmidt, who were killed while climbing K2 in Pakistan last month, were also read the rest of this story..

Marty Schmidt & Son killed on K2

29/07/2013
Denali and Marty Schmidt, Mountain Guides Extraordinaire

Denali and Marty Schmidt, Mountain Guides Extraordinaire

A New Zealand father and son’s tent has been found wrecked and vital climbing tools left abandoned, confirming fears they have been swept away and killed in an avalanche on the world’s deadliest mountain. Marty Schmidt, 53, and Denali Schmidt, 25, were hoping to become the first father-and-son team to conquer K2 in Pakistan – but they hadn’t been heard from since Friday.

Others in their climbing party turned back the day before because of the threat of an avalanche and bad weather. A Sherpa went looking for the pair on Sunday and discovered their tent wrecked by an avalanche. Equipment they would have needed to keep moving was found intact nearby.

“The news from the findings of the Sherpa who went up to their camp has us grieving tonight. They’d need their crampons and axe to go either up or down on the mountain,” said Becky Rippel, co-owner of Canada-based mountain guide firm Peak Freaks, Marty Schmidt’s employer.

Late last night, Sequoia Di Angelo, daughter and sister of the climbers, emailed the Herald: “It is with great sorrow that I confirm the tragic deaths of my beloved brother and father, Denali and Marty Schmidt. May their spirits rest in peace and their smiles never be forgotten.”

British climber Adrian Hayes – one of those who turned back – said the Schmidts were well known, highly experienced and very strong mountaineers – Read the rest of this story at New Zealand Herald

Editor’s Note: Although I never met Marty in person, I was acquainted with him, and knew of his great reputation here in New Zealand. My heart goes out to his family in Christchurch, and extended family and friends elsewhere.

Milestones: Ron Verblauw, 1933-2009

12/03/2010

By D.R. Richards

Good Friend and Mountain Man, Ron Verblauw

Unexpected friends come into one’s life, sometimes for a brief time, but leave an indelible mark. Ron Verblauw was one of those people in my life. He and his wife, Carol, moved to Sunapee, New Hampshire, USA from New Jersey because of Ron’s love of the country and skiing. He had served as a director on the National Ski Patrol’s Eastern Division, ran a trucking company in New Jersey for 40 years, served in the U.S. Air Force in the Korean conflict and was a district governor of Rotary International.

I must admit, I was prepared not to be fond of Ron at first, because of his pro-development stance regarding our local Mt. Sunapee Ski Area and his “proactive aire” about getting things done in, what used to be, our little sleepy community, which can often rub the locals the wrong way. I later saw this as a wonderful attribute, and I quickly realized Ron was an amazing person for many reasons. (more…)

Milestones: Howard Zinn

02/02/2010

Howard Zinn, 1922 - 2010

Howard Zinn, historian, author, and activist passed away last week at the age of 87. Perhaps best known for his highly influential book A People’s History of the United States, Zinn was a fierce advocate for civil rights. In his memory, the Media Education Foundation has posted a never before seen video, done it 2005.  You can see it here.

Milestones

16/05/2009

Mountain Spirit  expresses its condolences to the family, friends, and fellow staff  at North Carolina Outward Bound, of Matthew Lizotte of Aspen, Colorado, 25, who died Sunday while leading a group up 11,411-foot Mount Tronador in Argentina’s Nahuel Huapi National Park. Lizotte was a senior instructor for NCOBS and was one of three experienced instructors leading a semester course in Patagonia. To know more about the circumstances, Read the AP Article.