Arlene's Blog

Sunday, April 16, 2006

In Calcutta

I an enroute from home to Sikkim with half of the members of my trekking group. Due to big head winds the plane didn't make it to Hong Kong and we stopped for refueling in Tapei which made the trip 16 hours. Not so fun, but survivable. After flights to Bangkok and Calcutta, I am on line with some difficulty in the lobby of my hotel They had broadband and I had to change the IP address numbers , but it finally worked.

Calcutta is much less crowded and more orderly and prosperous than I remember it to be. After our arrival some 26 hours after we had left home, we visited a georous Sikh temple. The young women were dressed in their finest Aris to attract attention from the young men. Then we strolled by the river and admired the amazing Calcutta bridge. Unlike my memoires of northern India, no one hassled us at all, maybe becuase Caltutta or Kolkota, as it is now known, is not a major tourist destination.

Struggling to stay awake and avoid jet lag we went our to the best Indian dinner I have ever had at a place called "Grain of Salt." The velgetarian grill was the most interesting best vegetarian food I have ever tasted. I hope Annalise comes here and tries it sometime. When I paid the bill, I was sleepy and did my math wrong so I paid too much, leaving a tip of about 500 Rupees or twelve dollarsl. The waiter chased us to the elevator, telling us we had paid too much.
Nothing like this has ever happened to me in Asia before. Hopefully this is a good omen for our trip.

I wonder if there is broadband in the Himalaya?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

On the way to Sikkim

I'm in SFO waiting to board my flight to Hong Kong. I already learned that due to headwinds, the plane will have to stop to refuel and we will miss our connection to Bangkok. Sigh. I hope we don't loose a day in Sikkim. It's such a short trip.

I've worked up to the last minute to get ready for this trip and think things are in good order with Amy taking care of the cats and Annalise happy on her gap year. I hope to get lots of good excercise, walk, relax, and recover a bit from the last months stresses. Not bad to escape the incessant rain.

I planted wildflowers again and hope they work this time. I also hope I can find a way to get back to my research on toxic chemicals. It really seems important to me that chemicals be tested before people and the envoronment are exposed to them. I'd like to work on this, but am not at all sure of the best way to do it. The next weeks will be a good time to think.

I enjoyed Sedars the last two nights and am bringin Matzoh to India trying to keep Passover. We will see.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

New York Times Article: A Special Danger

Special Danger for New Mountaineers

April 1, 2006 Outdoors


On a cold night last April, I stepped out of Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon at 3 a.m. As freezing rain pelted us, my climbing partners and I clambered into a snow tractor that would take us up the first 2,000 feet of the mountain. We had come to Mount Hood to ascend the easy route on the south side as a backdrop for a magazine photo shoot to illustrate an interview about my style of decision-making when leading mountaineering expeditions.

At 8,700 feet, we reluctantly emerged from the relative warmth of the snow tractor and marched up the mountain in a blizzard. An hour later, we climbed out of the storm into a sparkling world high above the clouds. Mount Hood was encrusted with rime ice feathers and large cauliflower-like formations about three feet across. The neighboring Cascade volcanoes — St. Helens, Rainier and Jefferson — hung suspended in the sky.

When we reached the summit, I continued to the far edge of the small plateau, lay on my stomach on the snow, and squirmed out to peek over the nearly vertical slope leading up from the north side of the mountain. I vividly remembered ascending a route on this side called the Eliot Headwall — then considered the toughest route on Mount Hood — many years earlier. That ascent was probably the closest I came to dying on a mountain.

The beginning of a mountaineer's career, when energy and enthusiasm outpace experience and judgment, is said to be the most dangerous part. And I was no exception.

Early on a July morning, three new climbing partners and I hiked up to below the precipitous north face of Mount Hood. Looking up at the Eliot glacier, I saw translucent blue and green ice walls and white towers of ice called seracs. But far above, I could see huge boulders frozen into the sheer ice slope. We had to quickly ascend before the sun loosened the boulders and turned the route into a shooting gallery.

Ted and Jon, the more experienced climbers, roped together and headed up the glacier, leaving me roped to Greg, a novice like myself. Greg moved in slow motion as he led us up a short wall of almost vertical ice. I plunged my ice ax into the snow and wrapped the rope between us around it, carefully feeding out rope as he moved upward. This way of safeguarding a climber is called a belay.

When Greg reached the top of the ice wall, Ted and Jon were far ahead. Greg did not stop to rig a belay to protect me in case I were to slip. I didn't ask him to, because we would go faster if we moved at the same time. The sun was softening the slopes, small rocks were beginning to whiz down, and I wanted to get up and off the headwall as quickly as possible.

Suddenly, the snow below my right boot gave way. I struggled for balance and felt myself falling off the face. I yelled, "Falling," the climber's time-honored signal of the obvious, plunged my ax into the ice, and reduced my fall to a slow slide. But then the rope between us pulled Greg off the slope. He, too, began tumbling, yanking me out of my attempted self-arrest. We were both rolling and bouncing down the slope. I did an inadvertent back somersault, landed on my head — fortunately, I was wearing a helmet — and thought, "You've really blown it this time." An image flashed through my mind of my falling hundreds of feet into an enormous crevasse gaping open below the headwall.

Then I felt a painful jerk around my waist and found myself hanging by the rope tied to my harness. Greg was similarly stopped 20 feet across from me. Miraculously, the rope between us had snagged over a small serac poking out of the face. The rope had sawed through most the serac, leaving about an inch of uncut ice. Greg and I were suspended on either side, our lives depending on that finger of ice. Shaking with relief, I quickly chopped a platform in the ice big enough to stand on and scrambled onto it. Greg inched across the steep slope and joined me in my perch.

Ted and Jon hurried back down. "That's the best fall I've ever seen!" Ted said. "I sure wish I'd had a movie camera."

After we rested for a few minutes, Jon suggested that we finish the climb. "The safest way off the headwall is straight up and down the other side," he said.

Shaken, I followed their lead up melting ice slopes mixed with loose rock and mud for the next six hours. Boulders loosened by the sun thundered down on either side. Several large stones glanced off my helmet.

In the late afternoon, we reached the top of Eliot Headwall. Ted exclaimed with enthusiasm that we had made a new route on the mountain, but I didn't care. I was just glad to be alive. As we ran down the south side of Mount Hood that July afternoon, I realized for the first time that mountain climbing could be a lethal activity.

My imprudent Eliot Headwall ascent was still vivid in my mind when we descended after the photo shoot. During the intervening decades, I never again had such a close call. Had my nearly fatal fall helped me to make better decisions, to be wiser in my choice of partners and not attempt routes beyond my abilities? Had it tempered my youthful feelings of immortality and extreme optimism?

On Mount Hood, I learned the importance of taking every step with care and deliberation. The misadventures of our youth, if we live to tell the tale, can influence the course of our lives.

Spring newsletter

I am just back from the where UK I spoke at a mountain literature conference in Leeds and was interviewed on the popular BBC Women’s Hour My other news is that Harcourt bought the paperback rights to Breaking Trail to come out next March.
The first in a series of Outdoor adventure articles I’m writing for the Sports section of the New York Times was published April 1 and is at the end of this message.
and there's an interview about Breaking Trail in the Berkeley Monthly
Happy spring,

Annalise and I found Burma to be one of our favorite countries. The people are kind and compassionate and the landscape is stunning. Trekking through the tribal villages is reminiscent of walking in the
Himalayas with the addition of temples of every possible shape and description.

I’m planning to return to Burma this December to trek, visit ancient temples and also the NGO we are supporting that brings water roads, schools, health and family planning education to the tribal peoples in Shan state. Part of the trek fee will support these charitable programs. This trip starts in the capital of
Yangon, and features touring, biking, and hiking amidst the temples of Bagan, treks through tribal villages in Kalaw area, and relaxing at Inle Lake. An optional extension will take us to the tranquil beach at Ngapali for snorkeling

My daughter Annalise is in Guatemala now very happily teaching at a girls school, studying Spanish, and living with the same loving big family with five teen aged daughters where she lived two summers ago.
She is writing about her gap year at

2005 Holiday Letter

After neglecting this blog for some months, I thought I'd begin again with our 2005 holiday letter below.
Happy 2006. I feel optimistic that this year our country will wake up to the dangers of poverty, climate change, and war and begin to plot a more reasonable course.
Last year was one of changes for our family. My mother died after a long illness in August which was not a surprise but sad nonetheless. There are some photos of her and a paragraph about her life on the reverse side of this letter. Putting this together was healing for me.

Other changes were happier. Annalise graduated from high school and is having a wonderful gap year before she begins Stanford in the fall. The past months she worked with North Andaman Tsunami Relief in Kuraburi, Thailand setting up an English teaching program for villages that had been hit by the tsunami. In November she was flown back to New York where she was one of five US teens to receive a NetAid Global Action award for her work raising money and awareness of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
I visited her in December for an enjoyable five day scuba diving trip to islands in the Andaman sea west of Thailand followed by an two weeks in Burma, one the most beautiful countries we have ever visited. I am now working to support an effective NGO there that brings water, schools, roads, and health education to tribal villagers in this wonderful but troubled land. Next December, I plan to lead a trip back to trek and visit temples and tribal villages in
Burma. This April, when blooming rhododendrons frame views of the highest Himalayan peaks, I'm leading a trek in Sikkim, a Himalayan region between Bhutan and Nepal. Friends and family are invited to join me.
Annalise and I led a fun trekking adventure to the mountains of Slovenia last summer, but most of my travel this year was related to the other big change in my life. After two decades of work, Breaking Trail: a Climbing Life was published by Scribner in October. I want to once again thank all of my friends for your invaluable contributions. These last months are a blur of book publicity; time spent with friends an family all over the country has been the best part.
Annalise is just heading off to the
Sea of Cortez to join her dad for a cruise in his boat. Then she’ll study Spanish and teach English in Guatemala and help make a documentary on the 1961 literacy campaign, a great opportunity for her. I’m hoping to find a useful way to go back to my work on environmental chemicals. Also I am looking into adding an addition on the flat roof of my house where I have a view. Moving to another house seems too difficult and expensive, though an addition is neither easy nor inexpensive.
I wish you all a peaceful and healthy New Year, and a happy Spring too.

Annalise, Julie, and Arlene in Burma in December 2005

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