Warner reaches for heights with `Tales'

October 13, 2005|By CANDUS THOMSON

Never get into a game of "can you top this" with Chris Warner. But especially not this year.

You've finally downloaded and cataloged all your vacation photos. He has shot a television pilot on the gushing rapids inside the Grand Canyon.

You've finished a home-improvement project. He's opening a third climbing gym.

You've increased your walking routine. He came close to conquering K2, the world's second-highest mountain and considered its most dangerous.

Except it's never like that when you talk to him. Funny, thoughtful, self-deprecating, well-read and modest, Warner is one of those guys you love listening to whether it's on the phone or over a cup of coffee. A natural storyteller with plenty of material, he draws you into his base camp and makes you feel at home.

The Annapolis resident will be doing "Tales From 8,000 Meters," a multimedia show-and-tell about his year in the mountains at REI's Timonium store on Oct. 25. If Timonium is on the far side of Baltimore for you, Warner will be doing his presentation Wednesday at REI's Rockville store.

"I wanted to do an R-rated version of what it was like on K2, but the REI folks toned it down to a PG-13," the 40-year-old guide said, chuckling. "But I still think I'll be able to give people a pretty good idea of what it was like up there."

This summer's summit attempt was the second time Warner battled the 28,250-foot, granite-and ice monolith on the China-Pakistan border.

The first try in 2002 ended after one of his climbing friends was swept from the slopes by an avalanche as Warner watched. The recovery of the body and the struggle to carry it back to civilization left Warner shaken and empty. The veteran climber of more than 100 peaks over 19,000 feet packed up and left without adding one more.

This year, a brutal mix of heavy snow and gale-force winds pinned down Warner and climbing partner Rick "Tao" Franken, keeping them and every other K2 climber from their goal.

"I really wanted to reach the summit of K2," Warner e-mailed shortly after the failed attempt. "I wanted to reach it for deeply personal reasons. As I find myself getting older and my responsibilities getting greater, I know that my chances to accomplish such a monumental goal are limited.

"The timing of my tagging the top couldn't seem better than right now: My body can still handle the strains and my mind can still process the challenges, and before my heart finds itself too tied to home and before the spark that fires my soul finds itself fueling different types of adventures.

"But," he concluded, "K2 could care less about bending to my time frame."

Back home safe and sound, he feels a little differently now.

"It wasn't a big deal anymore," he said this week. "I didn't feel there was any mystery waiting to be solved for me anymore."

But that's because his 18-year international climbing resume is filled with lots of accomplishments, including a 2001 summit of Mount Everest, and his life back here is pretty full, too.

Just recently, Warner shot the pilot for a TV series, Risk Takers/History Makers, in which he followed the trail of Grand Canyon explorer John Wesley Powell.

Being the host meant shooting the rapids on the Colorado River in a replica of the 1869 boat used by Powell and climbing some of the same cliffs used in the opening sequence of the Mission Impossible movie.

"The first day, I wanted more rapids, bigger rapids. By the fourth day, it was, `Let me out of this boat. I'm going to die,' " he recalled. "I told them they'd better get a younger man in three years because this is going to kill me."

Back home again, Warner is busying himself with the details of opening a climbing gym in Rockville to go along with his Columbia and Timonium gyms.

The Earth Treks Climbing Center on Rockville Pike will have about 16,000 square feet of climbing surface on 40-foot-high walls. Opening day will be Nov. 12, just four days before the expected birth of his first child.

"The schedule's a little bit tight," he admitted. "But it'll all come off fine, I think."

And knowing Warner's storytelling ability, so will his REI events.

"It's not going to be a nuts-and-bolts thing, like, we did this on this day and that or that day," he said.

Included will be some video footage of the heroic high-altitude rescue of two incapacitated climbers on Everest in 2001. Teams of climbers abandoned their own summit attempts and exhausted guides like Warner returned to the scene to bring down the injured.

"The video captures just how desperate the situation was," Warner said. "REI is giving us 90 minutes for this show, but we won't be done."

The Timonium store has 75 seats, and guaranteed Warner will have folks on the edge of them.

The event at both stores will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be $5 and can be reserved by calling 410-252-5920; for Rockville, call 301-230-7670.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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