There are too many people in the world, we’re all around, everywhere we go. We have a hard time getting away from us. The more we try to get away from us, the more we’re aware of us. We eat too much. We clog the roads and restaurants. And more of us are on the way. Elizabeth and I quietly choose to go elsewhere. We prefer remote places, away from most of us. It’s nearly impossible to go somewhere now where no one has ever been, unless you go high and vertical. We seek to remain on level ground, although sometimes it’s rather steep and loose, where few are around, even though the passage of historic humanity has left our image wherever we look.
In January Elizabeth and I took a small compatible group to the Galapagos where we cruised and sailed around the islands in our chartered 80’ catamaran, the Nemo II. This was our second voyage on her, following a cruise on Nemo I many years ago. We crossed the Equator four times, out of sight of land. We swam with turtles, sea lions, penguins, rays, a hammerhead, and about a billion colorful little fishies. We dove deep into Darwin. We watched impressive weather scud through. We’re going back next year, on Nemo III. We also dipped down the far side of the Andes for a trip into the upper Amazon, where greenery predominates. We can no longer swim with the piranhas because the caiman have grown too big, but the walking remains relatively hazard-free. The clay-lick that draws in hundreds of parrots, macaws and parakeets of many species is still a highlight, as is the viewing deck 130’ up in the highest branches of a kapok tree looking out over the top of the canopy.
We then took six consecutive months at home, my longest such stretch in I don’t know how long. Montana had a good ski season last Winter, and we took full advantage of it, as did our family. We burned through most of 5 cords keeping warm. Summer was smokeless though, a blessing for mountain biking. Our organic orchard of apples, cherries, pears and plums was prolific. But the idyll couldn’t last.
Back out into the world in August, Elizabeth & I led a group of five hardy souls across three of the 'Stans, and China, for three weeks, mostly in three Land Cruisers with Tajik drivers, along with my old Tajik friend Surat. Road trip!! Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Xinjiang. Epic remoteness between the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush. We hiked in both. We visited Kyrgyz nomads camped in yurts across the wide-open valleys. Chinese border guards said we were the first group to cross into Xinjiang via the just-opened Qolma Pass, 14,300'. We were tailed by a spy, who translated for us. Whereas the ‘Stans have largely maintained their unique cultures, Xinjiang and its Uighur population is under the heavy hand of China. The famous Sunday Market in Kashgar, the largest and craziest in central Asia (want to buy a Bactrian camel? Better ride it first!) is long gone. I remember its vibrancy from my first visits in 1987. The Chinese have done a decent job of preserving what remains of some of their ancient cities and cultural sites though, especially the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas. Chinese tourist have discovered them now.
For three weeks in Oct-Nov I took three buddies up to Makalu Base Camp and beyond, to 19,000', almost to the top of Sherpani Col. We caught a rare look at the S-E side of Everest and Lhotse, neither one recognizable from that perspective. The high trail was destroyed in the earthquake of 2015, replaced with loose boulders varying in size from microwave ovens to VW Bugs. Pretty rugged stuff for old folks, but we made it in and out in pretty good form. Ultimately we helicoptered out, the only way to fly.
Just recently we returned from two weeks in Namibia, from the southern summer solstice in the austere desert to the northern winter solstice in the snowy mountains. More epic remoteness. Enormous rusty-red sand dunes, the tallest on earth, and deep red granite blocks, eroding into egg shapes. And one of the loneliest and most dangerous coastlines on earth, the Skeleton Coast, where diamonds are found among the dunes and shipwrecks disintegrate among the breakers. 2020 brings renewed adventure to our souls. Life is too short to be idle. We must go, and we’ll go where most other people don’t.
Elizabeth and I hope you'll come along, there's still so much to see and do out there!
Get Out and Stay Out!
Remote Places. Reflections on getting out and staying out.
It was another good year for Skip Horner Worldwide, made most special by the many wonderful adventurers who joined us on our varied journeys. We love what we do, and we love who we do it with. We traveled to four continents for seven different trips, from first-ascent mountain climbs to comfortable cruises.
I climbed Kilimanjaro twice. The first time, in January, we took 5 clients up the Rongai Route that had become our staple over the previous 15 years. It’s a lovely route that sees fewer climbers than the standard routes. I was back in July to take 5 others to the summit, but we used the seldom-traveled Northern Circuit Route. This is a longer, more rugged trail that traverses high above neighboring Kenya and Amboseli Park. We could almost hear the lions roaring down there. This was my 32nd ascent of the mountain.
In August I took three men, a father & two sons, on a climbing expedition to Greenland. I chartered two open 19’ boats with enormous outboards driven by Inuit hunters for the wild 150 mile run through the open waters and enormous icebergs of Scoresby Sound, the deepest and longest fjordal system in Greenland. After 6 hours of high-speed salt-water excitement we arrived at a camp along a deep and remote secondary fjord, adjacent to the glacial river that drained the peaks we would climb. The rock walls climbed several thousand feet above us, but the river valley gave good access to the peaks beyond. The only previous footprints here were made by Inuit hunting parties, so the mountains were mostly virgin. With perfect weather every day we explored the region and climbed two nice peaks, including the probable first ascent of a rocky glacial mountain 5000’ above sea level.
In September Elizabeth & I drove through Ireland. After a couple of de rigour days in Dublin, we navigated backroads up north, searching for her roots, then out along the wild west coastal roads. My appreciation for Guinness grew strong from our daily visits to local pubs.
In October I met a small group in southern Utah for a week of mountain biking and canyoneering around Zion National Park. We camped among the pinyons and junipers on the rim of Gooseberry Mesa, a system of dedicated BLM mountain-biking trails. Every day we explored the canyons surrounding Zion and rode our bikes along the sandy desert and sandstone slickrock trails.
In December I led a private trip to Colombia, guiding a friend/client up Cerro Tolima, a 17,000’ peak, to celebrate his 70th birthday. Tolima is hidden deep in the back-country, so it took several days to approach the peak on foot, with mule support. We stayed in rustic inns and ate local food along the way. The climb itself was over 4th class rock and up onto glacier, leading to a snowy summit. Then it rained, and the trails ran deep with slippery mud. We could only laugh as we slid on our backsides most of the way out.
In January Elizabeth and I took a group to Ecuador for an extravagant journey. We dropped down into the upper Amazon along the Napo River for an up-close look the rain forest, traveling by motor launch, dug-out canoe and on foot. We climbed to the deck on top of a 120’ tall kapok tree for views out over the canopy. We walked damp trails in search of birds, mammals, reptiles and bugs. We did not swim in the lake with caiman and piranha. Then we flew out to the Galapagos Islands for a week aboard our chartered 82’ sailing catamaran with its 7-person crew. Every day we hiked the islands with Darwin’s finches, we snorkeled the clear cool waters with sea lions and penguins, we scuba-dived with sharks and rays, we sailed back and forth across the Equator as dolphins leaped, and we lived the good life aboard our lovely ship.