Local climber scales new heights in Himalayas, and calls home, too


October 07, 2001|By CANDUS THOMSON

Outdoors widows and widowers, if your spouse lamely tells you that he or she just couldn't call to say, "I'm running late," answer with two words: Chris Warner.

See, Warner was out doing his outdoorsy thing on Sept. 24 and decided to check in with his wife -- from the 26,366-foot summit of Shishapangma, the 13th-highest mountain in the world.

He used his walkie-talkie to call Base Camp, the camp cook called Warner's wife in Baltimore County on a satellite phone and then held the phone to the walkie-talkie so Warner could relay the usual tourist observations: weather, view, how he was feeling, when he might be home from the Himalayan hills.

"I didn't think it would work," Warner said Friday from his office at Earth Treks Climbing Center in Columbia. "They were just off-the-shelf little radios with six double-A batteries in them."

Warner, the mountaineer who lives in the Oella section of Baltimore County, became the first American to climb solo to the top of a mountain over 8,000 meters (that's 26,250 feet).

The feat follows his May climb of Mount Everest, the world's highest hill.

Warner decided to go it alone on Shishapangma in part as an antidote to the human crush of Everest and this year's tragedy that resulted in a high-altitude rescue of three climbers and the deaths of two others.

But just like the conquest of Everest, the salve of Shishapangma wasn't easy.

Climbing through an avalanche zone that killed two of the world's most famous climbers in 1999, grappling with slopes that tilted 80 degrees in some spots and getting disoriented in whiteout conditions were all part of the package you won't see offered by Club Med anytime soon.

The final 600 feet of vertical climbing at 4:30 a.m. in the oxygen-thin air almost bested Warner: "The constant repetitive motion of kicking each foot into the slope has worn me down. At nearly 26,000 feet, I should be laying on my [ice] axe, sucking in air, not arching my back and screaming from the pain," he wrote in his journal. "I want to be done. I want to walk again, but in the dark, I can barely see 100 feet.

"I wait for another bolt of lightning. In the second that the mountain is turned shades of flash-bulb blue, I can see the final cleft in the rocks, the place where the snow snakes its way toward the summit ridge. I slump on my ice axes. I have at least three more hours to [go]."

But he made it. And, he said proudly, "I did it in style with just a little day pack on my back."

The reward was a beautiful half-hour on the summit from which he could see eight other major Himalayan peaks.

"To the north of the airy summit, the Tibetan plateau sweeps toward infinity. Mount Kailas and a thousand lakes glitter on this brown, dusty plain. But south, east and west of me, hundreds of peaks slice through the clouds," Warner wrote. "It's a satisfying accomplishment and a major contrast to my May 23 summit day on Everest. I'm on top, all by myself."

Clouds began to swirl below, signaling the beginnings of a snowstorm. The snow and clouds mingle, creating a whiteout. Warner spent five hours crisscrossing the slope seven times looking for the route down.

"Basically, I hallucinated for five hours," he said, able to laugh now.

At 7 p.m., the snowstorm lifted and he saw a star, then the flashlights at the distant Advance Base Camp. Finally, at 10:40 p.m., he crawled into his tent, 34 hours after leaving it to start the climb.

In January, Warner will be doing some climbing in South America. Next June, he'll go back to the Himalayas to tackle K2, the second-tallest mountain in the world and considered more dangerous than Everest.

So, the next time you're running late after a fishing or hunting trip or a bike ride, call home. If Warner can drop a dime from 26,399 feet, you can, too.

Go fish

Is there a $50,000 lunker lurking in the waters around Gunpowder Falls State Park?

There's only one way to find out. The Toyota Big Buck Bass Tournament (say that three times fast) will pay out that amount if someone breaks the state record for largemouth bass of 11 pounds, 2 ounces.

The tournament, in its second year, will be held Oct. 27-28 from the Dundee Marina.

There's a weigh-in every hour from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Heaviest fish is good for $400, the runner-up is worth $300 and third place is $200.

The angler with the heaviest fish over two days will win $5,000. On Saturday, the angler who hits a pre-selected weight will drive home a new Toyota Tundra. On Sunday, the prize is a bass boat and trailer.

The entry form can be printed out from the WPOC Web site, www.wpoc.com or can be obtained by calling 410-366-3693. The fee is $135 for both days.

Herd mentality

Fifty thousand doesn't go into 30 very easily. Old math, new math, it doesn't matter.

But that's how many people applied for one of the 30 elk hunting permits awarded last weekend by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The state has scheduled its first elk hunt in 70 years for Nov. 12 to 17.

Applications came from all 67 Pennsylvania counties plus every state with the exception of North Dakota and Hawaii. The top five states were: New York, 793; Ohio, 598; Maryland, 315; New Jersey, 183; and West Virginia, 131.

Each applicant's name was printed on a 3-by-5-inch card and placed in a container. The folks who had gathered for the Benzette Elk Festival (in Elk County, naturally) got to watch the winning names drawn. Two could be from out of state, but only one was selected.

Sad to say, that one wasn't from Maryland. A hunter from Vermont will be allowed to take one antlered animal.

The age breakdowns for the 30 elk licenses are: ages 20-29, one; 30-39, seven; 40-49, nine; 50-59, five; 60-69, seven; and 70-79, one.

State biologists survey the herd annually. They put the number this year at 700, making the annual growth rate about 14 percent.

Game officials feel confident that killing 15 antlered and 15 antlerless animals will not hurt the health of the herd.

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