Posts Tagged ‘Joe Simpson’

Joe Simpson’s Beckoning Silence


Bravo, Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson’s documentary, The Beckoning Silence, is a well-done re-enactment of Tony Kurtz’s infamous climb on the Eiger. It’s part adventure, part history and part personal reflection. It shows the insight of wisdom that, in this case, comes with age. Having almost died more than once, the first time in Peru, Simpson has arrived at place in his life that is refreshingly thoughtful. Simpson is a climber who is growing older and facing his own mortality. Congrats to Simpson for making this “on the edge of your seat” film and letting us into his personal growth.

I reflect on Eckhart Tolle who writes in his first book The Power of Now about thrill seekers such as climbers who get addicted to the calm that comes with climbing, where past and future fade away and one must focus next move or ice axe placement,  because “taking your attention away from the task at hand, even for a split second can mean death”. Tolle  adds, “Fortunately you don’t have to climb the north face of the Eiger in order to feel the presence of the moment,  you can do it, right here and now*.”

I just did a bit of leading on rock yesterday, for the first time in a while, getting out from behind the desk here in New Zealand. It was great to clear the head and be on the  cliffs right outside our house here in Kingston on Shirttail Cliffs.

Top of Shirt-tail Cliffs, Kingston, NZ

Great quality climbs in a spectacular setting. Moving on the rock again felt great, and motivating, being on the sharp end. However,  I’ve never had that wild-eyed look of adrenaline, pumped, on the sharp end, need of the thrill . I like to test myself, but my survivalist instinct is too strong to be too bold. There are old climbers, bold climbers but not a lot of old bold climbers.   I know quite a few fellow climbers who I’ve lost to the mountains over the years, including one of my mentors, Alan Bard. I think of these things too, as does Simpson, as we have a baby boy expected to arrive in four weeks.  It’s good to be in the mountains, but to those hardcore dudes, don’t be afraid to take the easy way up, it won’t kill you.

*A free translation

Gold Mining in Peru


By Randall Richards

Peru-Barrick Mine

Barrick's Pierina Gold Mine, Peru

I know relatively little about the issues that surround open pit gold mining, but my instincts tell me, aside from what I’ve read over the years, that it’s not a good thing, something similar to  nuclear testing – not the best for the planet,  nor the surrounding communities. There are certainly the headlines about gold mining, about toxic tailings and the havoc wreaked on local rivers and communities.  I debated whether to do more research before writing this post, and decided to simply point you in the direction of two websites, and tell an anecdote of my observations in Peru over the past 12 twelve years.

Peru-Barrack Mine Far

Barrick Mine viewed from our land near Huaraz

We’ve just purchased some land in Huaraz Peru, and within 10 or 15 miles, line of sight, to the north is the Canadian company Barrick Gold open pit gold mining operation. It just looks wrong. A whole mountain on the Corillera Negra side of the Cayllon de Huaylas (Huaylas Valley),  has been transformed into a mammoth sand pit/mound.  Aside from  the blight it produces, all natural grasslands and campasino’s (country farmers), pastures/farms have been eradicated.   I hear consistently that the Japanese are, or are about to run mines in the Cordillera Huayhuash, (scene of Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void).

Peru-Barrick Mine Settlement

Barrick's Planned Community - employee housing, Peru

On the east side of the valley, sits Barrick’s planned employee community. It’s relatively well hidden from the center of Huaraz, over a hill with newly planted pines.  But the whole thing seems abusive, elitist,  and completely out of place, in a country where there are stark differences between classes of the “haves and have nots”. This “suburb looking for a city”, looks like something outside of Toronto, or a development near Montreal, rather than a village in the Andes.

Then, there’s the taking of Peru’s natural resources, for the price paid from the highest bidder. If that’s what the goverments mean by “free trade”, they can have it. (As you may know, Peru and the U.S. have a “free trade” agreement as of a few years ago.) For more information on third world exploitation, be sure to read John PerkinsConfessions of an Economic Hit Man, or see his website, which also has a good bit on Free Trade with Columbia, which might shed some light on free trade agreements.  More on John Perkins in another entry.

As promised, here is the link for Barrick Mines and, one for Mining Watch Canada, with an interesting page entitled, Transnational Mining Tribunal: The Case of Barrick Gold Corporation in Latin America (Chile, Argentina and Peru). Barrick has multiple pages on “Environmental Responsibility, Biodiversity, Rock and waste management”, etc etc..  However, are we being hoodwinked?

For those up to speed on these issues, forgive my lack of knowledge on the subject, but take my observations at face value, especially if you’ve not been to Peru. If you agree with my take, please forward this blog to friends,  and get the word out about the abuse in Peru and other Latin American countries, its people and resources.

Peruvian Vegetarian Restaurant Grows Over Time


Restaurant Salud y Vida Continues to Grow After Over 13 Years in Business – The Owner’s Dream of Cultural Food Institute Becomes a Reality.

By Randall Richards
Hauraz, Peru

D. & G. Sanchez, Restaurant Salud Y Vida

D. & G. Sanchez, Restaurant Salud Y Vida

David and Gracelia Sanchez started with a small vegetarian restaurant and a dream in Hauraz, Peru.  Hauraz is the climbing capital of Peru, and basecamp for climbers headed to Mt. Huascaran (the highest peak in Peru) or the Cordillera Huaywash (Scene of Joe Simpon’s Touching the Void).  Head cook Gracelia, learned about vegetarian cooking while attending an institute in Lima, Peru, and graduated with a diploma in whole cooking arts from the school. Since then, she and her husband have never looked back.  Salud y Vida means “Health and Life”. T

Their small restaurant, originally located on a  side street in Hauraz,  has been through a number of transformations and four or five location changes, only to come full circle back to its original location on Avenue Leonisa Lescano 632. Their new/old location is bigger than it was 12 years ago. They’ve added a second floor, a full professional kitchen and more seating. The second floor also doubles as a meeting and lecture space for David and Gracelia to deliver programs.

Their Cultural Food Institute is a lifelong dream which continues to morph. They cover topics from healthy eating and digestion to larger issues such as factory farming and its byproducts. They teach to the locals as well as visitors from Lima and other countries. David’s other job is a school teacher, and he loves to teach. His warm subtle teaching style is laced with subtle humor and a quick wit.  MSI’s blog will go into more details on Sanchez’s Institute in another entry. Stay tuned.

Joseph, Lisbeth, Kennedy, Kiara & David Sanchez

Joseph, Lisbeth, Kennedy, Kiara & David Sanchez

I first met the two with their *small family of six, (including my future God child, Joseph who’s now 11 years old), when they nursed me back to health after a serious bout of traveler’s bug. I ended up spending almost a month at their restaurant. We became good friends.  I and a traveling buddy were asked to be Godparents of their son, Joseph, which we gladly accepted. *The family now proudly numbers eight wonderful children, who all blend well together, the older girls helping with cooking and chores and some basic childcare.

Back then we talked about their opening an Institute to educate the public about good eating habits. Now it’s a reality.  Besides getting an education at Salud y Vida, Gracelia’s vegetarian fare can’t be beat. Don’t be fooled by the humble decor when you visit their restaurant – Gracelia is a master cook.  Her vegetarian tortilla de vedura (vegetable pancake) has been my favorite for over twelve years. Also try her homemade granola with yoghurt and fruit. I’m admittedly a little biased – they’re great friends, but if you’re headed to Huaraz, make sure you stop in and have some great food…..and say hi to my God child for me.

For more information on Restaurant Salud y Vida, or the Cultural Food Institute contact the author and the contact link at the right of this column.

Their address is: Jiron leonisa y lescano #632 just SE of “Plaza PIP”
In the aerial image below, their location is indicated by the circle. Note Plaza de Armas on the lower right, and the main street indicated by the yellow line running N/S
Restaurant Salud Y Vida Aerial

Touching The Void in Alaska


Going with the flow
Text and Images: Randy Richards

Last July I found myself sitting and staring at my stuff in a hot storage locker in Park City, UT. I had just moved out of my last relationship, and was practicing being in the moment. “Hmmm,” I thought, “I wonder what spirit may provide for the next big adventure.”  Keeping an open attitude, a sense of humor and staying light-hearted, I pondered.  Just then, I got a call from an old friend at Outward Bound, who I’d not heard from in years.

Denali, The Great One

Denali, The Great One

He was asking me if I’d like to teach a mountaineering program in Alaska. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the role call for OB Wilderness in the West. I’d been busy with Alpine Ascents International, Outward Bound Professional and now Mountain Spirit. He was also stepping back in temporarily at his old admin job. I only got the call because he knew me and had his old contact list out.  I wasn’t even in the OB computer system anymore. Regarding this Alaska proposal, I told him, “Let me think about that…. I’ve thought about it, when do I leave?”

Lost Lake just north of Seward AK

Lost Lake just north of Seward AK

Before long, I was on my way from Alta, Utah (thanks to Bob and Glenda Cottrill by the way), to Seward AK, packing bickies in the food room, checking tents and stoves,  and back in the OB swing. I was prepping to co-instruct a mountaineering segment of a sea/mountain combination program for Outward Bound Wilderness located at their Seward basecamp.  I’ve been pretty busy with Mountain Spirit Institute these days but decided to take a bus-man’s holiday and go back to what, in part,  inspired MSI in the first place. We had 10 bright and motivated kids who were eager to learn, climb and mix it up.

Students near Lost Lake

Students near Lost Lake

When I met the group, they had already been 12 days in kayaks. The thing that strikes me about Alaska is the sense of expansiveness, the “no thing ness”. Of course there is plenty there to see in all it’s splendor, but I wonder, after all these years and miles in the mountains, why this experience was so deeply different than my previous days. It wasn’t about the place as much as the experience I was perceiving.

I’ve spent literally years on the trail and backcountry. I learned to climb in the Alps, where I learned not to kill myself. I took classes with the Austrian Mountain Club, but that was only minimally effective as I missed half the lecture content. My Austrian  was pretty limited at the time. But I learned a few things. But I was young.

The author, Alaska backcountry

The author, Alaska backcountry

I think having gone through what life can throw at someone over a few years, has change my wilderness experience. I looked about me at my fellow instructors, and at my students. Of course I knew they were having their own “ah hah” moments as well, while out there,  but I felt as if I were “touching the void” (without having to go through Joe Simpson’s epic). I’m not sure why it was that way, but the silence which I’ve heard over the years had a depth to it that I’d not experienced before. Is it because of where I am in my life? I could lean into the wind’s howl, or its whisper, into the void…

Peaceful Rainbows at BaseCamp

Peaceful Rainbows at BaseCamp

Of course I can’t put it into words. It’s  similar to what Byrd Baylor’s writes in her story, “The Other Way To Listen” where she does a very solid job of telling the story of someone suddenly finding a mountain singing back to him while on a hike.

Alaksa’s Mt. Ascension was an admirable and beautiful peak, with spectacular 180 degree views, with the Harding Ice field to the south, and Lost Lake and a minor peak to the north. The north face of Ascension has couloirs and arrets dropping off directly to the valley floor below.

Summit view to SE from Mt. Ascension

Summit view to SE from Mt. Ascension

The students did well, gaining the upper slopes of the glacier, route finding, laying wands, and making the summit. The coastal fog rolled in, which made finding basecamp, on the eastern shelf of the range, a bit of a challenge.  Our back bearings could have been better.  Maybe more on that adventure another time.

I’ve been rambling on a bit about the mechanics of the climb, which are relatively important. But what was absolutely important for me, was my new and improved experience of the mountain vastness. Maybe it was just Alaska, but I doubt it.

You think you remember, after being out for a while. But you don’t. You can only be reminded of the vastness, of your place in it all, by going back out there. And not just climbing a damn peak, but coming to terms with the end of it all, the cold, the wind, the rocks and the snow.

Students heading south to Seward after their expedition

Students heading south to Seward after their expedition

Solo is a big part of Outward Bound and we at Mountain Spirit have our own twist on it as well. Getting out while you still can, stepping away from the machine just makes sense.  Whether with a group or solo. And as Willie Unsoeld used to say, when it’s time to come back to civilization, you’re better equipped to really contribute something to the cutting edge.