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Archive for the ‘Pre-Trip Climbing/Training’ Category

Mt. Washington: Winter Blow Out!

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

This is recent update from one of our USAF 7 Summits Team Members- Maj Malcolm Schongalla.  He will be climbing Lobuche Peak in Nepal with the Everest Team and has been hard at work training in NH and the surrounding states.

Kelly and I took advantage of a stalled cold front and blustery winds to get some great cold weather acclimatization in today (17 Feb 2013). ¬†At 7 AM we started up from Pinkham Notch at 12 degrees F, and the temperature just kept dropping as we made our way along the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the Winter Lion’s Head route. ¬†It was Kelly’s first time with crampons and an ax, and she handled the crux in good style!

People climbing down reported hellacious conditions above– “the worse it is, the better!” we said. ¬†Topping out above¬†tree-line¬†on the Lion’s Head, it gave some perspective to “the world’s worst weather” reputation. ¬†If this were McMurdo Station, Antarctica, it would have been Condition 1 (no travel allowed).


We practiced some good risk management, and set some firm criteria for turning back.  Towards the intersection with the Alpine Gardens Trail, a mere 1 mile from the summit, we called it off.  Strong gusts were knocking us off our feet, and visibility was barely good enough to see cairn to cairn.


Image Credit: Mount Washington Observatory website

So, I’m 0 for 3 on winter attempts on Mt. Washington. ¬†It would have been great to summit. ¬†But my goal was not to summit, my goal was for both of us to walk in our front door and have a beer on the couch, at the end of the day! ¬†The mountain is still there, and hopefully next week, I’ll be there again too. ¬†Breaking in a new pair of boots, perhaps…


Bluebird in the Whites

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Training Update: Bluebird in the Whites
by Maj. Malcolm Schongalla, LC-130 Pilot, US Air Force Reserves


The thermometer was in the single digits, and the winds atop Mount Washington were breaking 100 mph.  Clear, cold, and not a cloud in the sky!  It was the perfect weekend to get outside, and stretch the muscles on some New Hampshire ice.

Yesterday (26 Jan 2013), I had warmed up to the chilly temperatures on a short excursion up Mt. Cardigan. ¬†My dashboard read 5’F at thetrailhead,and the higher we climbed, the windier it got. ¬†The bald summit was buffeted by gusts topping 50 knots o rmore, but Kelly and I bundled up and took in a great panorama. ¬†The only obstacle to my view was condensation from my own breath, which relentlessly hung around my sunglasses.

Today, I was looking to venture a little farther afield, so Dartmouth ice climber Ted Sumers and I hit the road for Crawford Notch at dawn. Ted had chosen some classic, moderate, New England ice routes that he wanted to test his lead skills on.  I was looking forward to testing out some adjustments on my gear.  I had tweaked the fit on my crampons, and had some new layers of clothing to check out.  We were soon on the approach at Mount Willard.

Our early start wasn’t enough to beat the first party to Cinema Gulley, so we backtracked to another great route called Left Handed Monkey Wrench. ¬†It was only 25 minutes from the car, and we soloed up some some easy water ice on what the guidebook euphemistically calls, “a rather sketchy approach.”


This route proved to be a nice, comfortable warm-up. ¬†After some easy WI-3 and some more hiking, we arrived at the start of the ever-asthetic Upper Hitchcock. ¬†Conditions were looking pretty fat, and we’d have no problem burying our longest ice screws. ¬†The striking,overhanging wall on climber’s left helped keep us nicely sheltered from the persistent wind. ¬†My layers were working out well. ¬†I had put my heavy mittens awaybefore the first gulley, and didn’t have to take them out again the rest of theday. ¬†My relatively lightweightsingle-leather boots were even keeping my feet warm in the frigid temps of the morning. ¬†My core was toasty, but not sweaty.


Upper Hitchcock topped out in a small alcove full of beautiful, delicate icicles. ¬†The sun reflected through them, and it reminded me of what I love most about climbingice. ¬†We rapped back down one ropelength, and sidestepped over to theexposed East Slabs of Mt. Willard to get in another route. ¬†At 2pm, we ticked off the coldest,longest, line of the day. ¬†The sun was asserting itself against the Arctic weather system, and we experienced adiverse spectrum of ice conditions all up and down the mountain. ¬†This is no Ouray Ice Park… ¬†From plastic to rotten, brittle to near-slush, ice routes in the White Mountains will keep you on your guard!

Making our way back to the car, I made note of the things I wanted to shore up during the next two months before Nepal. ¬†I’m going to upgrade the toe bails of my old Sabretooth crampons- ¬†BD now makes them with a metal tongue-and-ring that comes up over the toe of the boot, to mate with the anklestrap. ¬†The crampon adjustments kept the ‘pons firmly on my feet today, so I know they have potential. ¬†I’ve had problems with them in the past, and I won’t takethat chance on Lobuche. ¬†I’m also looking for suggestions for new boots for Nepal, and the crampons will have to fit those flawlessly, too. ¬†For layers, I need a bigger technical shell witha size “long” cut. ¬†And comparing yesterday to today, I felt a real benefit to wearing ski goggles instead of shades, that I haven’t previously noticed in warmer conditions.

Overall, a great weekend! ¬†Today’s bitter cold was an ironic contrast to the melting temperatures that slowed my operations in Antarctica last month. ¬†This winter is shaping up to be a great improvement over last year, in the Whites. ¬†And I’m looking forward to lots of trail climbing with heavy training backpacksduring the upcoming weeks!


Everest Snack Foods

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Spent the weekend¬†thinking about the gear necessary for the climb.¬† Luckily our team members already have most the gear we need, but there are always some additions necessary for each trip.¬† As I was finishing up a tuna sandwich last night, I started thinking about food on the climb.¬† I’ll probably be one of the lightest, if not the lightest, climber on this trip.¬† At 150lbs, I don’t have much extra weight on these ol’ bones.¬† So gaining weight before the climb is going to be important for me.¬†

So too will be the task of keeping that weight on as long as possible while going up and down Everest.¬† Good news is that I like to eat.¬† Even at altitude I’ve been able to push food into my mouth and chew it just long enough to slide it into my belly.¬† However, Everest will be unlike my previous climbs.¬† Even w/ supplemental O2, getting the calories in up at altitude will be a great challenge.

Last night I decided to make some bulk purchases of my favorite mountain snacks.¬† No, I’m not talking about Hostess Ding Dongs (even if they were still being made, they don’t make my list for best all-round snacks… though they sure do taste good).¬† The purchase included three cases of Clif Bars.¬† These things have always satisfied my hunger and when cold/frozen, they give me something to gnaw on for a long time,¬†like a cow chews its cud.¬† Flavor of choice: Chocolate Chip Mint (it’s called Cool Mint Chocolate or something like that, but you get the point).¬† The mint flavor keeps me from feeling like I’m eating slightly moist saw dust, as that is how m0st energy bars taste after you’ve been eating them for days straight.¬† Also bought some of the new Coconut Choclate Chip- haven’t tired ’em, but sounds good enough, and unlike any other flavor I’ll have on the mountain.¬† To round things off, I went with the ol’ standby: Crunchy Peanut Butter.¬† Been eating those since I was running cross country in high school.¬† Hard to beat.

I also grabbed two cases of Clif Shot Blocks.¬† These are essentially a cross between jello¬†squares and gummy bears.¬† Once again, it’s another nice thing to chew on slowly.¬† I used to play a game while climbing 14er’s in Colorado- how long could I make a gummy bear last once I tossed it in my mouth?¬† When you are hiking tons of miles in a day, it’s nice to have something dumb and easy like that to entertain yourself.¬† I think I first tried a few different types of ‘energy blocks’ when climbing the Matterhorn in ’07.¬† I like the ones that have a sharp fruit flavor- they cut through the dry-mouth feeling and wake the back of your tongue’s¬†tastebuds up.¬† These things don’t pack as much long-term energy as bar, but they go down easier.

Also decided to pick up a few containers of Nuun.¬† Ever heard of the stuff?¬† They are little discs that you throw into your water for electorlytes, vitamins and flavor.¬† The container they come in looks just like an Airborne container- white cylinder that holds 8-10 of the discs.¬† I first tried Noon when on McKinley and loved the cola flavor.¬† Plus, I dig ’em because they’re from Seattle… gotta keep my purchases in the 206 when able!

And don’t worry- this isn’t some plug for Clif and Nuun.¬† I wish we had gotten some free stuff from them!¬† But as it always seems to be, these tasty treats will be coming from the fine folks at Visa credit cards… my card specifically.¬† ūüėČ

Not sure what else I’ll take up there.¬† It’ll be several pounds of snacks in the end.¬† Maybe some trail mix, gummy bears/worms, little pieces of chocolate, and some nuts.¬† Hopefully some of the other climbers on the team will bring up different stuff and we can swap once we get bored with our own goodies.¬† Got any suggestions for what works for you on the mountain or while outdoors?

–Rob M

Fresh Snow and Taos Mountains

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Just about to pack up and head back to Amarillo after a few days high in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Taos Ski Valley, NM.  After a few days of V-22 Osprey conferences and simulator flights in Albuquerque, I drove up for some training hikes on Wheeler Peak.  There are some great hiking trails in the Ski Valley and in the winter the options for backcountry hiking and skiing are huge.

All the climbers have been working out in gyms for both cardio and strength training, but our plan is to integrate on-mountain training as the winter comes into full swing. ¬†We have a weekend at Ouray Ice Park coming up in January for some ice climbing and of course the climb of a Colorado 14’er or two as well. ¬†But for the most part, I’m planning on driving from Amarillo up to Taos since the altitude is good (sleeping at 10,200ft in a garage and then hiking up to >13,000ft each day) and the terrain is excellent.

For this weekend’s hikes, I brought along my 7mo old puppy. ¬†She had never seen snow and I was a bit worried she’d not like it, especially since she was born and raised in the heat of N. TX. ¬†However, the instant she saw snow she went nuts and before I knew it she was running through chest deep snow having a great time. ¬†It turns out this little dog is a true mountain dog- she absolutely loves the outdoors!

Friday we went for a hike about half way up Wheeler Peak. ¬†Snow conditions were pretty slim for Dec. ¬†There is about 8″ of snow in the shade and in sunny areas there is a coat of ice or just raw dirt. ¬†As I type this, the snow is falling, so hopefully the mountains will catch up on their snowpack! ¬†The hike on Friday went well- a good way to get back into the mountains after a few months away from them. ¬†Plus, I was fighting a cold all through Nov and it was nice to slowly ease the lungs into some action.

On Saturday, the sun was out and everything looked good for a hike up Wheeler Peak (NM’s highest peak). ¬†We struck out after a big breakfast via the William Lake trail. ¬†If you haven’t been here- it’s a great hike and a well maintained trail. ¬†After about a mile, we broke from the trail and headed up one of the many chutes coming from the side of Wheeler. ¬†This particular one has history- it is the same chute that took the life of the owner of Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina, an excellent watering hole and diner at the base of the ski mountain. ¬†Here’s a photo of the cross left in memory of Tim.


After paying my respects to the memorial, we took a straight line up the chute towards the Wheeler Peak ridgeline.  We gained 2,000ft in about an hour and a half- it was great exercise and I was shocked at what a good climber the dog is.  Lucky me.  As we gained altitude, the sun and blue sky began to haze over.  It turned out that a cold front was moving in.

Soon we were at the ridgeline and treated to beautiful views of the entire Ski Valley plus the surrounding peaks. ¬†The summit was another 45 minutes away via rocky terrain mixed with large snow fields. ¬†It would have been a fun extension to the hike, however shockingly strong winds had been whipped up and we were soon battered by >30MPH sustained winds. ¬†Brrrr…

The puppy was still wagging her tail, but pretty soon she was giving me the look that she’d had enough, as her ears blew back behind her head and the wind chilled her. ¬†I pushed her further up the mountain, but soon she was whimpering and making it clear she didn’t want to go on. ¬†I agreed- it was hard to maintain my balance in the strong, bitter winds.

We decided to head down and escape the wind as soon as possible- it was becoming really uncomfortable.  Rather than try to get back down the very steep route we took up, I found a mountain goat trail heading further up the valley but that lead toward the tree line about 500ft below.  It was a good workout for the knees, but the dog was mighty happy to be heading down and so was my face.

Soon we were nearly running down a great gully of soft snow- just deep enough to slow our footsteps, but not nearly deep enough to have any slide hazard.  At one point the snow had a hard glaze of ice over it and was quite steep, so I grabbed the dog, put her on my lap and we glissaded down 150ft using a ski pole as a brake.  Good times!

Once back inside, I cooked up some food and she conked out. ¬†As you can see from the photo- the dog isn’t afraid of rolling upside down and taking over the couch.

It was a good start to the several trips I have planned to Wheeler Peak. ¬†Some of the team members from CO plan on coming down to join me and we’re always looking for other folks to join in the fun. ¬†Just let us know!

Now it’s time to get out of NM and back to TX. ¬†The snow is dumping outside, about 3″ in the last four hours, so the sooner I’m on the road, the safer it will be. ¬†Taos needs the snow and I hope more follows this storm soon.

“Climb High, Fly Low”

–Rob M

New TakePart.com Article on USAF 7 Summits Challenge

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Ben Murray, once a reporter for Stars and Stripes, recently released an article covering the USAF 7 Summits Challenge’s upcoming climb of Mt. Everest. ¬†His wit makes for an entertaining look on the difficulties of climber Rob Marshall’s training in the very flat town of Amarillo, TX. ¬†Read it and laugh at Ben’s humor and the lengths our team members will go to train for these epic peaks!


TakePart.com is a site dedicated to inspiring and accelerating social change by connecting compelling content to social action. ¬†Basically, they take awesome stories of people trying to make the world a better place and use them to encourage other people to get out there and “take part” in such change. ¬†As a supporter of the USAF 7 Summits Challenge, you guys are doing just that. ¬†Now, if you really want to take part, come join us for the trek up to Base Camp!!

Labor Day Wknd Crestone Needle Trip

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Group of four USAF climbers from three different bases meeting up in southern Colorado for the Crestone Needle and some fly fishing. ¬†Should be a great weekend! ¬†Thanks to a great veterans program called “Project Healing Waters“, some of the climbers will be fishing with rods they made under the instruction of several top-notch fly fishermen in Amarillo, TX called the “Amarillo Fly Guys“.

Here’s a great photo of Crestone Needle, which will entail a pre-dawn start to prevent getting stuck behind other groups. ¬†It’ll be just a few pitches of 5.7 trad climbing and the rest will be scrambling. ¬†It’s kinda the unofficial start of Everest training! ¬†Lots more trips to come, including a potential for Mt. Whitney next weekend.

Want to join us for some training climbs around NM, CO, WA, CA or elsewhere this fall/winter?  Let us know!

“Aim High” ¬†-RMM

Return Safely- The #1 Goal

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

A great article recently in The New York Times highlights the fact that returning safely from a climb is more important than reaching the summit. A good read for anyone that climbs or takes part in adventure sports. Thanks to Dr. E. Marshall for the link!


Red Rock Climbing: 30 April

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

While in Vegas for a short trip on 30 April, two USAF 7 Summits Challenge team members joined up for an easy climb in Red Rocks Nat’l Conservation Area.¬† If you’re not familiar- there are a few thousand climbing routes, many in sight of the Las Vegas Strip.¬† With Nellis Air Force Base near by, Red Rocks sees a good number of Airmen rock climbers.¬† If you are interested in getting in touch with any, feel free to use this site or our Facebook page to find a climbing partner.

Here are some photos and videos from the climb of Cat In The Hat, a 6-pitch trad climb that’s just 5.6.¬† Our climbers highly recommend it.

“Climb High, Fly Low”

4-30 Cat in the Hat¬† <— Click here for short video of climb.

Team member places device into crack to protect from a fall while climbing "Cat in the Hat" at Red Rocks in Las Vegas


A USAF 7 Summits Challenge team member rappels after reaching the top of the climbMescalito- Home to "Cat in the Hat"



Easter Backcountry Skiing

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Maj Rob Marshall, Capt Mark Uberuaga, and Capt Danny Franz spent Easter morning climbing among the Sangre de Cristo mountains above Taos Ski Valley, NM.  These Airmen have been active members of the USAF 7 Summits Challenge and came together for a weekend of skiing and adventure in the high mountains.  Naturally this sort of fun is also an excellent physical exercise, given the 10,000-12,500ft range they were hiking/skiing in and a great way to stay in shape for Everest in 2013.  GO AIR FORCE!

Click Here for Short Ascent VideoAirmen Climbing Easter Chute
Maj Marshall breaking trail on edge of Lake Fork Peak, NM 
Smiling at End of Ski Run
USAF 7 Summits Challenge Member Smiling After a Long Ski Descent, Taos, NM