Monday, December 31, 2007

A Personal New Year’s Message from AAI's Director, Dunham Gooding

Important time markers (like birthdays, anniversaries, and the change of year) are opportunities to assess where we are and what we have accomplished in the past year, and to identify what we hope for in the coming twelve months. But in terms of planning to achieve new goals instead of just hoping for them, there’s nothing more powerful than to be on the threshold of a new year!

As you enjoy New Year’s Eve and Day and as you enter 2008, I hope you will see this opportunity to commit yourself enthusiastically to some new goals in the mountains – targets that will keep you fit and help you stay in great health, and targets that will challenge your wilderness skills, climbing skills, and your mental capacity for making insightful judgments in complex environments.

As I am sure you know, few things in life match the sense of reward and achievement that you get when you tackle a major wilderness travel goal or climbing project and then succeed. Whatever your background and skill level at the time, the greater the challenge and the more complex the problem solving, the greater the reward always is.

So as you think about vacations and adventures that you would like to chart for yourself in 2008, consider expanding your skills, trying a new type of climbing, or making ascents in areas or technical levels that will be new for you. Whatever the program (an intro class or an advanced expedition), at AAI we are always committed philosophically and practically to helping you expand your capacity for taking on major challenges.

There’s nothing like a personal consultation with an AAI program director to sort out good options. It’s free, there’s no obligation, and you’ll be speaking with people that are the best at their job in the nation. Remember that when you do decide to climb with AAI, one call can do it all. We can handle all the arrangements for your trip, from making travel arrangements to outfitting you with the best gear in the world – and everything in between.

Call and use our knowledge to review your goals and options: (360) 671-1505 or 800-424-2249. Here are our specializations:

Dunham Gooding & Andy Bourne: Overseas trips
Coley Gentzel: Alaska/Denali, Cascades, Sierra, Colorado
Shawn Olson: Avalanche courses, backpacking trips, Kilimanjaro
Natasha Caldwell: Red Rock, Joshua Tree

We’ll enjoy speaking with you!

Dunham Gooding, Director

Friday, December 28, 2007

AAI helps you get started with your New Year's resolutions

If the outdoors, specifically the mountains, have a place in your New Year's resolutions, then let us help! If you sign up for any of our programs on New Year's Day, we will give you 10% off your total tuition (up to $200 off). To sign up, you must fill out the online registration form at on January 1 and mention code NY0108 to receive your discount.

Happy New Year! We hope to see you in the mountains in 2008!!

- The staff at American Alpine Institute

AAI's administrative office with a fresh winter snow.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Aconcagua and Ecuador dispatches posted

Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere.

Both our Aconcagua and Ecuador High Altitude expeditions are underway. Aconcagua team members, with AAI guides Dylan Taylor and Joey Elton, are poised at High Camp (19,300 feet) and will make their summit bid on Friday. Ecuador team members and AAI guide Richard Riquelme are currently at the Cayambe Refugio and will be making their attempt on Cayambe tomorrow. Follow their progress up these famous peaks by visiting


If you are interested in either of these expeditions, please get in touch with Andy Bourne, our Foreign Programs Coordinator at or by phone at 360-671-1505.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mountaineering at Midlife

Myron and Adele walk towards the LeConte Glacier on the Ptarmigan Traverse.

Husband and wife team, Myron Allen and Adele Aldrich (Laramie, WY), decided while in their 40's that they wanted to learn to be mountaineers. Avid backpackers and scramblers all their life, they felt like they wanted to "up the ante." Since 2004, they've climbed with AAI on several fantastic mountaineering trips, including the Ptarmigan Traverse and the remote Mt. Challenger in Washington's Picket Range. Recently, Myron put together an entertaining article that sums up their adventures and explains what it's like to start this sport at midlife:

"Among America’s great midlife diversions, mountaineering hardly competes with golf, sports cars, and Harleys, not to mention that ancient pastime, fretting over the irreducible love handles that lard your flanks after age 40. Yet my wife Adele and I — at ages 45 and 50, respectively — chose precisely this stage of life to ramp up our mountaineering skills. After three decades’ worth of backpacking and scrambling, mainly in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming and Colorado, we wanted to up the ante. Three years later, after four sessions with professional mountain guides, we’ve acquired glacier savvy, sure-footed rock climbing technique, and solid rope skills. Let’s not exaggerate: we’ll never be certified
mountain guides. By the same token, we’ve also missed our chances to be major league shortstops and concert pianists. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to call us mountaineers, at long last." Download Myron's full article (pdf, 6 pages).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Former AAI climber publishes a book

Peter Len, who climbed with AAI in 2006 on the Ecuador High Altitude Expedition, just published a book on climbing. The book is called Distant Peaks - A Journey through Cultures & Conquests and is available through Millennial Mind Publishing (an imprint of American Book Publishing).

Here is the book's back page description:
Distant Peaks is a chronicle of stories that detail the struggles and triumphs of a novice climber. Starting with a failed attempt on the Grand Teton during a climbing trip with his father, Peter Len gained respect for the mountains along with a thirst for summit success. Since then, his quest has taken him back to the Grand Teton and across the oceans to attempt some of the classic mountains of the world, including Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Mt. Kenya, and the volcanoes of Ecuador.

Here is what AAI Program Coordinator and Guide Andy Bourne says about Peter's book:
"For anyone who has wondered what it is like to climb some of the classic mountains of the world, Distant Peaks tells the entertaining story of one man's experience doing just that. It is one of the few books I have read that captures the unembellished realism of a self-proclaimed amateur climber going through the process of becoming an experienced alpinist. I'm sure Peter Len's stories of travel and adventure in foreign countries will inspire some armchair mountaineers to get out and try it themselves."

Monday, December 17, 2007

The powder hits Mt. Baker!

A snowboarder enjoys carving fresh powder outside the
Mt. Baker Ski Area. Photo by Tyler Mitchell and courtesy of
Mt. Baker Ski Area.

After receiving over 40 inches of snow over the weekend, the Mt. Baker area is a giant puffball of new powder. The Mt. Baker Ski Area reports a 70-inch coverage at the base, and a 90-inch base at the top of Chair 6.

With all this new snow, backcountry travelers should take extreme caution as avalanche risk can be high. Everyone who ventures into the backcountry should have: avalanche training, appropriate avalanche gear (beacon, prove, shovel), and a group of avalanche-educated friends.

To gain avalanche training, check out our Avalanche Level 1 course (Fri-Sat) running just about every weekend throughout this winter. We also offer Avalanche Level 2 for snow professionals and serious backcountry users.

For those of you who are new to the backcountry and would like to see what it is all about before you invest in training and gear, check out our backcountry skiing programs:

-Backcountry Skiing (Washington, Colorado, and Sierra; 2-day program)
- Ski Mountaineering - Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan Ski Ascents
- Private Ski and Snowboard Touring around the Mt. Baker Ski Area - 1, 2, or 3 days

To learn more, visit the links above or give us a call at 360-671-1505. You can also drop us an email:

Friday, December 14, 2007

Aconcagua Expedition underway!

Aconcagua's Polish Glacier descends from the summit diagonally right
Andy Bourne

We just received word from AAI guides Dylan Taylor and Joey Elton, who are leading our December 13 - January 3 Aconcagua Expedition. Here is what Dylan reported:

"Everyone arrived today just fine, and all baggage made it too. The team is very fit and strong, and we ought to see a good success rate with this team. A couple of Spanish speakers in the group (Sarah and Jake) will put Joey and me to shame. Clark has given the team a name, as well as team hats: "ISACS," which stands for "International School of Alpine Climbing Society" - it is pronounced "Ice-axe." Very clever. We are heading out from the hotel at 11:30am, stopping for permits, and then getting a late lunch in Uspallata before arriving in Penitentes for the evening. Hopefully it will be a bit cooler there. It is sultry here in Mendoza."

There are seven climbers on the expedition: Clark Glenn (Lawrenceville, NJ), Max Jones (Hebron, ME), Jake Leyden (Hebron, ME), Ben Small (Wallingford, CT), Kate Belanger (Pottstown, PA), Sarah Bryan (Hebron, ME), and Jesse Rohloff (Santee, CA). From the sounds of it, everyone is strong and has a great chance for success. We look forward to following their progress up the Western Hemisphere's tallest mountain and will be posting dispatches on our current news page, so check in if you want to follow along!


If you are considering an Aconcagua Expedition, please get in touch with our Foreign Programs Coordinator, Andy Bourne, at 800-424-2249 or at

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More good news from Ecuador

Classic photo of Cayambe and the hut. Chuck Park

AAI guides Benno Schlauri and Nacho Espinoza called again this morning from the summit of Cayambe to report that they, Matthew Holt and Fiona McIntosh had succeed on their ascent of that 18,997-foot peak. Again they said they had great weather and climbing conditions and that they had made the summit in very good time. Over the last week and a half they also summited 19,348-foot Cotopaxi 20,703-foot Chimborazo. They had originally planned to just climb the first two peaks, but with weather and conditions cooperating perfectly, they were able to add Cayambe as a finale. Congratulations to the foursome for their success on the "Big 3."

Learn more about AAI's Ecuador programs and our new route on Chimborazo, please visit

Following acclimatization hikes and two days of skills instruction, even those with little technical climbing experience have the opportunity to ascend Cayambe (18,997 ft) and Cotopaxi (19,348 ft) on a 10-day itinerary. That’s followed by an optional 5-day extension to ascend Chimborazo, the highest peak of the northern Andes.

Sunrise on Cotopaxi from Cayambe. Melissa Park.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Newsflash: Success on new Chimborazo route!

The north side of Chimborazo, with AAI's new route shown in red.

AAI guide Benno Schlauri phoned from the summit of Ecuador’s 20,703-foot Chimborazo this morning a little after 8:00am Ecuadorian time (same as US Eastern time) to say that he, climbers Matthew Holt and Fiona McIntosh (Cape Town) along with fellow guide Nacho Espinoza had succeeded on the new north face route that AAI pioneered in the spring of 2007. His dispatch:

“We are happy to be calling you from the Whymper summit! We have clear clear skies and cool temperatures – it’s about -8 C (18°F) here on the summit of Ecuador, but fortunately for us there is very little wind.

We left our high camp at midnight and got here a few minutes ago, at 8:00am sharp. The route is in excellent shape. We had solid snow and ice and excellent cramponing. The views are also excellent and we had the special good luck of seeing Tungarahua erupting! Lots of smoke and ash in a plume. Matthew and Fiona are very happy - this is the first British ascent of this route (they are British citizens but living in South Africa)."

It’s good to be in the sun, so we will enjoy the summit for a while as it climbs higher in the sky and then had back to camp. We will have a celebration dinner in camp tonight for sure. It was a big day, but everybody feels good and is very happy. Our summiting of Cotopaxi a few days ago meant Matthew and Fiona are nicely acclimatized. It’s a great day for us. We won’t be able to transmit from base camp so we will talk to you more when we are back in civilization. Good bye for now from the top of Ecuador!”

If you are interested in learning more about AAI's Ecuador programs and our new route on Chimborazo, please visit

The north face of Chimborazo with AAI's new route marked. Conditions can change, but on our first climb of the route in 2007, we found it immune from icefall and rockfall dangers and offering superb snow and ice climbing in a remote setting.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Africa Journey Coming to a Close

Note: AAI Communications Coordinator Shawn Olson has been in Africa to climb Kilimanjaro and explore the game preserves of Tanzania and South Africa. This is her last dispatch before heading for home.

Greetings again from Zulu Nyala,

From beginning to end this has been an amazing trip. The safaris and animal viewing have been awesome, matched only by the ascent of Kilimanjaro. I’ll never forget the beauty of the climb, the diversity of the landscapes on the way up and then the way down by a different route, and the thrill of standing on the top of Africa.

Distant View
Kilimanjaro towers above the surrounding plains. Keith Gunnar

Tanzania was a great country to visit – very easy to explore. I have to say the same thing about South Africa, though it’s quite different – more comfortable. South Africa is very different in that it is a lot more....well...comfortable in a more developed, less dusty, less visible poverty, easier-to-be-there sort of way. But actually, from everything that I've seen here so far, Tanzania looks very special and unique, and I am appreciating that more each day. Don't get me wrong, South Africa, is amazing, beautiful, and full of surprises...just very different and not as wild.

We also went on our final safari of the trip and saw many baby zebra, impala, and warthogs. The warthogs are by far my mom’s favorite. They sometimes run around in circles because they have so much energy. Their tails go strait up in the air when they run about. We also saw a frog walking, not hopping. If you’ve paid attention to frogs, you can imagine how odd that looked for what we think of only as a hopper. One of these small frogs excretes a sticky liquid if it’s picked up; if you ingest this liquid you die right away. We kept our distance. Smart, right?

Image:Lightmatter warthog.jpg
A warthog, not more or less handsome than his colleagues.

We also got to play a little “bush golf.” Quite rough terrain, I have to say. Not to mention there were zebra and an impala on the course! They have 6 flags and there are only 3 clubs to play with, but we made it work. We have spent time with a really good group for the last 4 days, and we all played this version of golf together.

Image:Impala ram.jpg
Adult impala weigh 145 to 165 pounds and can
long jump up to 30 feet and high jump up over 8 feet.

I have seen some large dung beetles and crickets here. We saw a dung beetle rolling a dung ball the size of a golf ball down the road. They use zebra and elephant excrement to make them, then lay their eggs inside. The newly hatched beetles have to eat their way out. The crickets are large and their buzz sounds like an airplane. Last night in the bathroom I had one buzz by my ear, then it landed on my leg – it was huge! So I locked it in the bathroom for the night and let it out this morning. I’m getting the hang of these little adjustments.

This morning we leave for the airport for check-in at 1pm. We fly to Johannesburg, to Amsterdam, then to and Seattle. We will get home Thursday evening. I am excited to come home, but really sad to leave. I have had some really, really good experiences! I even have a nice tan going.

Home soon,


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cheetahs, servals, caracals - This must be Africa

Greetings. We have enjoyed a great visit to the Cheetah Rehabilitation Center Zulu Nyala Game Reserve. It should be called the All-Cats Rehab Center because they had cheetahs, servals, caracals (which are also called Persian Lynx), and African wild cats (which look exactly like domesticated house cats, except they have stripes on their tails and legs and are in fact quite wild). There were quite a few different cats in various stages of care – primarily animals here are brought in by farmers who find them as abandoned babies, or by people who tried to keep them as pets and found that it didn’t work out.

Image:Serval looking back.jpg
Young serval. When fully grown these cats can weigh between 25 and 40 pounds.

We arrived at the rehab center at 4:30pm, just in time for feeding. We were greeted by a young woman named Hugonette who had four buckets of raw, plucked chicken. Our group of six was completely surprised when she gestured for us to follow her into the first enclosure which contained the serval cats. This would have never happened in the US. I mean, these cats were wild and hissing and all clammering for the chicken. Servals are about as big as a labrador retriever, but they have big teeth and large, long claws. They are beautiful though, and indeed went for the chicken and not us, so we mostly just stood around and gaped while they ate.

Next were the cheetahs. They had three, each in their own enclosure. One was a grumpy old female, so we didn't go in her cage, but we did go in with one of the males, who actually let me pet him while he was drinking a bucket of blood from Hugo's hands. It felt like an entirely BAD idea, but she encouraged me to "just give him a little stroke," and so I figured when else am I going to get THIS opportunity. I've got pictures, for those of you who don't believe it.

Adult cheetah with a big yawn.

To be released into the wild after rehab, the cats have to prove that they are ready. This means that they have to kill a live chicken that has been let into their enclosure and NOT SHARE it with the other cats. One of the servals recently passed this test and will be released soon. Apparently the cheetah that we petted catches chickens, but then just lets them go without taking a bite. He'll have to practice hard over the next few weeks in order to qualify for a return to the bush.

We also got to watch the caracals and African wild cats eat. Before she threw the chicken to the caracals, though, Hugo went into the enclosure and brought out a two-month old baby caracal. Oh my gosh, so stinkin' cute. I got to hold him, and he just went all limp and let me adore his fuzzy warmth. He did have frighteningly big paws and claws, even for a two-month old. Again, I have pictures to prove it.

Anyhow, we go to go in the pens with the cheetahs and all the other cats and give them some personal attention and watch them feed. Also we got to hold one of the baby caracals, which was pretty crazy. I got some really cool pictures. After that we came home, went back to the hotel and had a great dinner.

Tomorrow is our last day here, and then we’ll be on our way home. We haven’t decided what we are doing tomorrow, but I will call in a dispatch and let you know. Hope you all are doing well. It’s hot here, about 90°F, so as good as this is, we’re looking forward to some cooler temperatures.

Back to you soon,


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Big game, small cats - South Africa

Note: for dispatches from Shawn's recent ascent of Kilimanjaro please visit:

Greetings from South Africa:

I posted my wrap-up on the Kilimanjaro climb on the AAI dispatch page, and now that we’re in South Africa, and I though I would give you an update on the latest here.

After the climb of Kilimanjaro, we enjoyed getting some R & R on the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar (described in the last dispatch). That was a really good experience – so refreshing – and afterwards we flew from Zanzibar to Johannesburg and then on to Richards Bay, and from there we drove to our current location, the Zulu Nyala Game Reserve. It was a long day of traveling, leaving Zanzibar at 6am and arriving here at 8:30pm, but well worth the journey. We are in the heart of Zulu-land, and are doing our best not to accidentally speak Swahili here (darn, we were just getting good at saying basic things in Swahili).

Most of the game lodges seem to have pools. Very
refreshing after being out in the bush all day.

Zulu Nyala is a game reserve in eastern South Africa that has a series of lodges open to the public. The wild lands of South Africa are divided up between public (government-run) and private reserves of land. All are fenced to protect the animals from poaching and from hunting outside the preserve boundaries. Zulu Nyala is small by comparison to other game reserves - I think about 1500 hectares. But it’s home to the four of the "Big Five" safari animals (the only thing it doesn't have is leopard, but it does have rhino, elephant, buffalo, and lion).

It also has the usual warthogs, nyala, impala, zebra, giraffe, crocodiles, hippo, rock monitor, kudu, spotted genets, and so many others. The animals here are much fatter and more relaxed than in the Serengeti because they have way less in the way of predators. Also, we are here during the “lush season,” so there is plenty of food. All the animals are "dropping" their babies, and so we have seen fairly new little critters tottering about on their spindly legs. Very cute.

Elephants heading down the road near Zulu Nyala Game Lodge.

Most memorable so far was a six-hour game drive we did from 2:30 to 8:30pm. It gets dark here around 6:30pm, so we did two hours in the complete dark. We had a great guide named Brit, who is a white guy by appearance but seems to know the Zulu language, culture, and land as if it were his own, and indeed, he did grow up very close to the game reserve on a sugar cane plantation. We had a great group in general – including a man and his father from Boston, two women from Seattle, and Mom and me. We saw a huge variety of animals and had a great time - just generally laughed and bumped around in the safari car for 6 hours.

Three-quarters of the way through, we stopped, and the guide pulled out a table, picnic cloth, and a full bar. I had some very nice whiskey on the rocks, after which I just HAD to try the Amarula Cream, a local liqueur specialty. Seriously yummy - it's like Bailey's Irish Cream taking a sexy, tropical vacation. We toasted to a backdrop of a lightening storm that was coming in, and afterwards, on the drive back, we found the lioness that we had been searching for all day. She was gorgeous and completely unconcerned, just moseying down the road ahead of us, lit by the special red light that preceded us (red light doesn't blind the animals like regular headlights do.) Minutes before we pulled back into the lodge, the rain waves, and we all marveled at the perfect timing.

In the morning, we’ll be heading out to visit a cheetah rehabilitation center and I’ll call or post again after we get back.

By for now in lush South Africa,


The white rhinos have been really impressive.