Havre native breaks new ground for U.S. men
By Alan Sorensen
While his neighbors were getting pack animals, gear and guns ready for high-country hunting, Kristoffer Erickson was standing atop the world. And as his backpacking buddies back home were thinking beyond hunting season to wintry descents from Montana's peaks, Erickson was plunging through the rarefied air of a 26,906-foot slope on skis alone.
Erickson's place in American mountain climbing and extreme adventure lore was ensured on Oct. 18 when he became the first American man to ski down from the top of an 8,000-meter mountain.
"I used oxygen above 25,000," Erickson said, "and coming down until about 23,500 or so."
Erickson's conquest was Tibet's Cho Oyu, the world's sixth tallest peak at 8,201 meters. It came after his two climbing partners, John Griber and Doug Stoup, were forced to turn back for health reasons before attaining the summit.
"John Griber was very sick with pulmonary edema; you can get it from height or heart disease," Erickson said. "Fluid builds up into your lungs and you can die from that. The main thing is just descending. Once you catch the disease, you cannot go up again until it's cleared up.
"(Stoup) wasn't feeling great and decided to leave with John."
Erickson ended up joining a team of five other people to complete his ascent.
Erickson, a 1992 Havre High School graduate now living in Livingston, has scaled peaks all over the world, including North America, South America, Antarctica, the Alps, the Middle East, and the other trips to the Himalayas.
"The main significance of this last trip is that myself and only one other woman from Telluride have skied off the summit of an 8,000'er out of all the people in the United States and possibly North America," Erickson said. "I'm still checking into the Canadian descents, so I can't say with 100 percent."
Erickson said this was his second attempt at skiing one of the world's 14 8,000-meter peaks. The first time ended in tragedy when Alex Lowe and David Bridges were killed in an avalanche on Shishapangma, also in Tibet.
Erickson suffered from jet lag on his return and also developed a chest cold after breathing the rarefied Himalayan air for a number of weeks.
"Kind of picked up a cold on the way home, but I think my lungs are a little sensitive from the rare cold air up high," Erickson said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Erickson's team began making daily oral reports over satellite telephone on Aug. 24. Those calls ran through Sept. 30 and can be heard at the iceax.tv Web site by clicking on the Interactive at the site.
Erickson's call from the summit of Cho Oyu and the event's wrapup can be accessed by clicking on features at the top of the interactive page.
"That evening's dispatch was a little bit funky," Erickson said, because the phone iced up and whole parts of the conversation were missing. The earlier calls went as planned.
"To call from the far corners of the world on these satellite phones and download it on the computer and let people listen in all over the world on the Web, it's pretty amazing," Erickson said.
Cho Oyu, team bios and sponsors are other subsites to visit from the iceaxe.tv base camp. Photographs on the site were taken by Erickson.
Erickson has earned a worldwide reputation as an outdoor, mountain-climbing and skiing photographer. Photos he took last year at three smaller ski areas in Montana, including the Bear Paw Ski Hill where he learned to ski, were part of an eight-page feature in the November 2001 issue of Skiing.
Photos he took during his climb and descent last week will be used by his sponsors in a variety of ways.
"They use it for promotional material, advertising, any sort of corporate material they need done, hang tags, posters," he said.
The climbers also earn their pay by taking new or experimental products along for testing in difficult terrain and at high elevations. Their product testimonials are also valued by manufacturers.
Erickson has signed one contract for this winter, but expects to remain busy throughout the year.
"I'm going back down to Antarctica in February and work down there, and I have various ice festivals I'll be working this winter," he said. "It's hard to say, things just kind of come up the life of a freelancer."
Erickson was part of the first-ever marathon at the South Pole last winter. He expects some changes if it is held again.
"From a safety standpoint it was hard to monitor," Erickson said. "You should have one guy to one runner and we had two guys to three runners."
A few things went wrong last year such as white-out conditions and delays in time. Erickson said it took two weeks longer to get it set up last year than anticipated. Plus, minus 50-degree temperatures and people's health and safety issues had to be addressed.
"Despite everything, there was only a little bit of frost bite by an Irishman who ran the race," Erickson said, "and there were no major injuries or catastrophes or anything like that."
Last year runners were flown the marathon distance of 26.2 miles from the South Pole and then ran back to the Pole. If it's held again, Erickson said, organizers will likely have the runners run a one-mile out and back course from the South Pole 13.1 times.
Erickson said that if runners ran into a storm 20 miles from the finish line, they'd have to set up a makeshift camp and could wait a week or more for the plane to get through to them.
Erickson will return to Havre next week with his girlfriend, who will be attending the Montana Historical Society Conference here.
To visit more of Kris' projects and view more of his photos, go to his Web site at email@example.com/