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2014 RETROSPECTIVE

2014 was a very good year at Skip Horner Worldwide.  So good it began in 2013 !

In December of 2013 we chartered the 67' steel-hulled sloop Xplore, out of Ushuaia, Argentina, and with 4 cool clients (including two of my best & oldest buddies), an ass't guide, and a crew of three, we sailed across the Drake Passage south of Cape Horn, to the Antarctic Peninsula. During the four-day crossing we experienced the full strength of the Southern Ocean with 40 knot winds and 20' seas. We rocked & rolled and hung on tight as green waves swept the deck. Then for two weeks along the Peninsula we skinned to the summits of remote mountains and glaciers, roped for glacier travel, then skied wild untracked snow back to sea level. We sailed to new locations each day as whales, seals and penguins were our constant companions. We even saw a pod of rare Blue whales. Their spouts are 30' high and vertical, then fall off like an umbrella, equally on all sides, just like in the cartoons ! Ultimately we sailed back across the Drake, in milder conditions.

Elizabeth & I spent most of the Winter at home in Montana, where I got in 60 days on skis, mostly in the backcountry.  It was the biggest snow-year in Montana in decades. We were snowed-in most of February!

In April we trekked into Dolpo, a remote, seldom-visited region of Nepal, NW of Dhauligiri. Avalanche debris prohibited our crossing the first of several passes on the route. We encountered a group of semi-nomadic Dolpo locals moving their yaks up from Winter grazing grounds south of the Himalayas to their Summer pastures to the north. We followed them over another snow-covered 17,000' pass, a pass that doesn't appear on maps. (It turns out that George Schaller hiked out on this trail when he & Peter Mathiesson split up while looking for the snow leopard. Ironically, Peter died while we were up there.) For three days we shared trails and campsites with these colorful people, and their yaks. Later, while trying to return to the south of the range, we again experienced tough snow conditions on the high passes. We were effectively marooned on the wrong side of the Himalayas, which required extraordinary means to overcome. My satellite phone saved the day.

In June/July I took a fascinating private group to Mongolia with the aim of climbing its highest peak.  Mt Kuiten, 14,500', lies in the center of the Altai Range out in the far west of the country, and is surrounded by sprawling glaciers, a mile wide and many miles long. Using Bactrian camels as pack animals we reached our base-camp along the lower moraines of the mountain. We roped up and crossed dozens of crevasses on our way to high camp on the upper glacier, then early next morning we crossed a few more crevasses as we climbed to the top. After many steep pitches of snow climbing, we reached the summit in dramatic windy white-out conditions.  On the descent, with spindrift swirling at a near vertical belay stance, one of my clients defined the climb, and our year, yelling  "This is awesome !!".

Soon thereafter I was in the Alps guiding another private group of 3 happy families on the 12 day trek Around Mt Blanc. Although we stayed in local lodges or mountain huts every night, enjoying fine wine and cuisine (and hot showers), the days were far tougher than we expected. We hiked up and down many thousands of feet every day, often on rugged trails that weren't easy to follow.  It rained most days, and the many flooded creek crossings required extra care. I was impressed with the fortitude and the undaunted demeanor especially of the three teen-agers in the group.

Ellizabeth & I traveled to Serbia in August to attend a friend's wedding. It was a colorful, ethnically fascinating, and exuberant 4 day celebration, at which English was at best the third language.

All is well with our family. Daughter Sydney is the archeologist for the Lolo Nat'l Forest, in Missoula, and has been involved with the restoration of a number of historic sites in the area. We get to take care of her sons, our two grandsons, ages 3 & 8, on a regular basis. Son Higgy lives in Portland and is a film-maker working on many interesting projects all around the world. He travels more than we do.

In September I joined 8 of my best old river-guide friends for a six-day descent of the Green River in Utah though the canyon country known as The Gates of Ladore.  It was a long-awaited reunion, on which we collectively had over 300 years of river guiding experience.

In October we took a small cheery private group to a little traveled region of southern Peru. Based out of the Andean town of Chivay, we sampled hot-springs, watched condors cruising, and did some exciting mountain biking. We made our way to the absolute  source of the Amazon, a remote location only identified recently, where the water literally spurts out of a cliff face. We climbed the highest peak there, El Mismi, 18,000', then rode mountain bikes 20 miles back to the main road.  Next, out of the city of Arequipa, we climbed 19,200' Volcan Misti, a perfectly conical partially active volcano with a 1/4 mile caldera at its very summit. The ascent was grueling in the darkness, but the descent went quickly as we literally ran down 6000' of steep fine black volcanic sand.

Finally, in November, Elizabeth & I traveled to Madagascar with yet another small group of hardy travelers. There we spent most of our time on the Masoala Peninsula, where the virgin rain-forests back right up to the pristine beaches and coral reefs of the Indian Ocean. For eight days we camped on a small island, then moved into a luscious lodge, at the very end of the peninsula, where we snorkeled the lagoons and reefs, sea-kayaked along the archipelago, searched for lemurs and rare birds in the forest, and fished for pelagics for dinner.  Later we ventured into the highland rain-forest to locate the Indri, the largest of the lemurs, which utters one of the loudest and most haunting calls in all of Nature. Rare birds and strange animals are the norm in Madagascar.

The best part of all this exotic travel was who we traveled with. Our clients quickly become our friends, and we just have fun together as our trips evolve in sometimes unexpected and challenging directions. The many local people we employ and encounter also pick up on the feeling of friendship, which enhances the cultural understanding so important to responsible international adventure travel.