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Adventures

The Mountaineering Opthamologist, Doctor Geoff Tabin

I pulled out my phone to investigate what was responsible for the buzzing in my pocket and saw a number I’d never seen before calling from Salt Lake. It was Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, returning my call for an interview. Within just a few minutes, I found myself deep into a conversation about one of my favorite climbing spots near my home in Chicago.

I could hardly believe it. Here was a man who was one of the early few to climb all seven summits (completed in June 1990), was part of the bravely harebrained group that invented bungee jumping, and has a seemingly biblical power to cure the blind — and he was talking to me about good ol’ Devil’s Lake in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

In an attempt to steer the conversation back on track I asked how it is that such a decorated alpinist/adventurer gets involved in cataract surgery. What followed is a conversation I am likely never to forget, one that I will do my best to immortalize here.

Tabin, known simply as Geoff in those days, graduated with an MA in Philosophy from Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship. During his time there he took full advantage of “Indigenous trust funds,” which were remnants leftover from the days when Oxford encouraged their students too go out into the world and “civilize” it. To Tabin, these were his tickets atop some of the world’s most impressive mountains. Through these funds, Tabin traveled far and wide, climbing to his heart’s content.

One such trip was to New Guinea, where his friend David Kirke from the Oxford Dangerous Sport Club, a group of a few dozen extreme sport athletes who pioneered the most absurd challenges imaginable, encouraged him to try the native rite of passage known as vine jumping.

Although Kirke was wrong about vine jumping starting in New Guinea, it actually began in the nearby island of Vanuatu, the club was inspired. They decided to urbanize the native challenge. Using bungees from an aircraft carrier, Tabin and colleagues sent a lucky (or perhaps foolhardy) few over the edge of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England.

The jump and subsequent bungee parts were a wild success, however, the heavy, slick cords made it impossible to hoist the rider back onto the bridge. There the rider dangled, long enough for a local paper to snap some pictures. Soon, stories of the absurd stunt traveled far and wide, all the way across the Atlantic to an American TV show called “That’s Incredible.” They requested the club come out to Colorado and recreate the stunt, but Tabin recalls his pals’ resistance. “They said there was no sport in it,”  Tabin recounts with a chuckle. “They had proven it could be done so to them the sport was gone.”

Regardless, the club set out to the United States and performed the first ever televised bungee jump off the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado. After, they packed up their bungees and headed to the Bonneville Salt Flats. If there was no sport left in bungee jumping, they decided they better do something worthwhile in America. Catapulting themselves between two cars, they managed to get a wheelchair (and rider) up to over 60 miles an hour, a new world record.

Primarily a mountaineer, most of Tabin’s trips took place in the Himalayas. Perhaps his most historic trip was his ascent of the last unclimbed section of Everest, the Kangshung Face. It took three attempts before Tabin himself finally stood atop the infamous East Face in 1988. Although he wasn’t the first to do so, he was on the mountain supporting the 1983 crew that managed to ascend the face for the first time. It is considered to be one of the most difficult routes up the mountain and is rarely attempted.

80s Nepal, the foremost climbing country in the Himalayas, was not much better off than most third-world countries. It was here, in the disheartening villages, that Tabin realized his passion for, “the moral, philosophical underpinnings of healthcare.” He witnessed a cataract surgery on a woman during one of his Everest expeditions and was amazed at the power it had to transform her life.

Returning to the U.S. to attend medical school at Harvard University, Tabin realized he wanted to return to Nepal, only this time it wasn’t to climb. It was on this return trip that he met Dr. Sanduk Ruit, a leading cataract surgeon from Nepal working on a pioneering surgery.

With Ruit’s new method, surgeries became cheaper, faster, and simpler than ever. Using a small incision, Ruit was able to clean away the buildup causing the cataract and install a secondary lens to refocus the vision. Tabin was convinced this was his calling. With Ruit, Tabin started the Himalayan Cataract Project.

The project’s goal was to help combat blindness in Nepal alone — a goal soon surpassed. Under the two men’s guidance, a multitude of different training programs for adults or youth were implemented in Nepal. Within a few years the Project had treated  nearly 300,000 people in Nepal. Looking back, Tabin realized that naming his organization the Himalayan Cataract Project was a mistake.

“At the time, the need in Nepal was so great, some 255,000 people were backlogged for these surgeries. We saw this as a life endeavor” Tabin recalls. With serious dedication and effort, however, the project has spread far across Nepalese borders. The Himalayan Cataract Project now works not just in other Himalayan countries like Tibet, but all over Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa too.

Today, Tabin’s life is still packed with adventure, although of a different kind than in his college days. Instead of jumping off bridges or climbing big mountains, he is traveling a large part of the year doing the work he loves in the most disparaged countries. He doesn’t have much time for big expeditions anymore which is why he loves living in Utah. “You can skin up a mountain, ski down, and still be at work by 8 a.m.”

But he does manage to find a few days here and there for some larger trips. A few years ago in Africa he was able to sneak off for six days to casually climb Kilimanjaro with a paraplegic veteran, an expedition that sums up his character.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photos courtesy of Geoffrey Tabin

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Make Your ‘Mark

When I told people I was learning to telemark ski, I was met with a baffled, “Why?!” Why would I pick a quad-burning, knee-banging, slippery new sport with a learning curve when I could just continue on my merry downhill way?

The first time I slid spread-eagled down a slope, I admit I missed my alpine bindings. And the second time. And the third time. The truth is, for at least my entire first day out on tele gear, I felt like a baby giraffe on roller-skates—awkward, gangly, and confused. However, I was quite possibly the happiest baby giraffe around, because whenever I did drop into a clean turn, it felt absolutely fantastic.

After about three runs, fantastic became fatigue. All the downhill runs in the world cannot prepare you for the burn of well-linked telemark turns. It is possible to parallel telemark, or “paramark,” which means making turns on tele skis without dropping the heel in a full stance. This is a huge help especially when learning to avoid gassing out within your first hour free-heeling. However, even while paramarking, a well-balanced neutral stance is crucial to avoid flying forward and face-planting. If you can navigate a mogul field or drop a cliff with telemark bindings, rest assured you can do it on alpine bindings. It doesn’t take long on a pair of tele skis to realize that this sport will make you strong, well-balanced, and confident both on free-heel and fixed-heel equipment.

Once I was ready to try some softer, off-piste (ungroomed) snow, the fun really began. Frankly, I wasn’t fully committed to the whole telemark thing until I dropped a turn in powder and felt fresh snow hit my face. When you make telemark turns, you are alternating lunges. It seems obvious, but this results in a deeper crouch, bringing you closer to the snow compared to alpine skiing. In powder, this significantly improves your chances of getting those coveted face shots.

Out of powder a lower stance puts you in closer contact with the terrain of a slope; moguls feel bigger, steeps feel steeper. It’s more difficult to blast through features and you’ll likely take longer to get down the mountain. In the backcountry, after spending hours slogging up a slope this more prolonged descent means you’re going to get every last ounce of enjoyment returned from that sweaty climb you made.

Compared to regular alpine downhill bindings and boots, tele gear is light as a feather. The accordion-pleated toe in tele boots also accommodates a much more natural gait while walking. So, when you decide to take off your skis and boot-pack in resort, you’ll be amazed at the newfound ease and speed with which you find those last powder stashes. While alpine touring or randonnee equipment is comparable in weight, it can out-price decent telemark gear by hundreds of dollars. If you’re looking to break into the world of backcountry skiing without breaking the bank, telemarking is definitely worth a try.

After spending winter break getting the hang of telemarking, I’d say I now feel like a puppy on roller-skates instead of a baby giraffe. Alpine skiing is the easy choice, but I can attest there’s an exclusive coolness factor to telemarking. Competing bumper sticker slogans from the 1980’s say it best—“Free the heel, free the mind!” and “Drop knees, not bombs!” are met with “Fix the heel, fix the problem!” But one K2 sticker sums it up: “randonnée: French for can’t tele.”

c.simon@wasatchmag.com

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winter cooking in the backcountry

You have just finished a seemingly endless day of snowshoeing up to Lake Blanche. You are cold, exhausted, and starving, but it is 5 p.m. already and the sun has just a few rays left peeking over the far side of the valley. What you need is a warm, big bowl of something delicious to spur your camp set-up; but nothing sounds more unappealing than cooking a traditional meal while your hands slowly turn to icicles. Luckily, your friend has come prepared with retort meals to save your stomach (and hands).

Retort is a method of cooking where all food is prepped at home and put in bags to reheat in boiling water. It is by far the easiest and most efficient way of getting a meal out of your backpack and into your mouth. Although fairly simple, here are a few tips to make the process even smoother.

  • The looser the meal, the faster the reheat time. This means soups, chili, sauces, and broths are ideal.
  • Cut up large chunks of food. Big pieces of meat, potatoes, vegetables, etc. take a longer time to reheat. Cutting them down can shave minutes off your cook time.
  • The more surface area the meal has, the faster the cooking time as well. Squishing the food down into a flat pancake will heat more food and will ensure that terrible cold center disaster does not happen.
  • Always double bag foods when transporting. Nothing, and I really mean nothing, is more unpleasant than finding frozen chili strewn throughout your gear six miles into the backcountry.
  • Get a stove that can hold a large pot. Nobody wants to have to cook one meal at a time, and even less people want to be the last person to eat. Also, don’t let the bags touch the sides of the pot. This is sure to melt them.
  • Plan and prep at home. Spending an hour in the warmth of your kitchen cooking and bagging a meal means spending fifteen or twenty minutes in the cold snow before you can eat it.
  • Not every part of your meal has to be reheated. Bring a bag of Fritos, some cheese, lettuce, and sour cream. Add warmed taco meat and you have yourself a nice bag of walking tacos.
  • Use Ziplock or Glad freezer bags. Both these brands don’t use BPA in their products and the freezer bag will hold together better in the boiling water.

From here, the possibilities really are endless. I have seen people reheat whole steaks they grilled at their house, bring all the components of a real ramen out and add the hot broth, even soft boil eggs. Since you are camping in cold temperatures, you need not worry about food spoiling. Bring the milk, meat, and cheese! Be liberated by having a way to cook good food in the beauty of snow-covered mountains. If all else on your trip hits the fan, at least you’ll remember the curry you had sitting next to frozen Lake Blanche.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

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How to: Start snowshoeing

Utah is known for its wide range of hiking opportunities up and down the Wasatch Front, and these don’t disappear in the winter months. If anything, the frozen waterfalls and snow-topped pines add even greater beauty to the hikes. Snowshoes help make winter hiking possible, so here are some of our tips for those strapping on snowshoes for the first time.
Prepare for the weather — look up weather conditions in advance. Wear layers that can easily be shed. As you get moving, your body will heat up. I usually bring two light jackets and a wind breaker. I also wear the same snow pants I go skiing in, as well as a good pair of snow boots. Don’t forget to bring gloves and a hat. If you don’t have snow shoes of your own, you are in luck. Renting gear from Outdoor Adventures is only $15 for the weekend. If you don’t have snow boots, it will be an additional $12. However, the total price is about $10 cheaper if you only rent for a single day.
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One of my favorite places to go snowshoeing is in Millcreek Canyon, just past where the road is blocked from Nov. 1 to July 1. About halfway up the canyon, the unpaved road is the perfect hike for beginners. The canyon also offers dozens of hikes off the main road ranging from one to three miles and up to 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Another great location to snowshoe is Jeremy Ranch. Fifteen minutes up I-80 from Salt Lake, the Porcupine Creek trail is flat for eight miles.

Photos by Peter Creveling

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Bouldering Competition Tonight

Get ready to send it. Today, students, staff, and faculty at the U are competing in the second annual SENDsations bouldering competition, sponsored by the U’s Outdoor Adventures.
Climbing will begin around 4:30 p.m. and go for about two hours in The Summit, the George S. Eccles Student Life Center’s climbing wall. Competitors can climb as many bouldering problems as they want during that time and will receive points based on the difficulty of the routes they complete- which were all set by the U’s Climbing Team. Judges will choose the top three men and women for the finals, and after the best climbers duke it out, they will announce winners.
With sponsors like Petzl, Black Diamond, CoalaTree, and Deuter, winners (and most participants) can plan to walk away with such gear as chalk bags, t-shirts, and crash pads.
Keith Howells, GA of operations at Outdoor Adventures, said as of this morning, 40 of the 60 spots are taken, and while people can sign up for the competition at the door, he strongly suggests signing up before time online. The entrance fee is $5.
This event is one of two bouldering competitions Outdoor Adventures hosts during the school year. The other is the Dyno Comp during spring semester.
“I think overall these events like SENDsations are an opportunity for the U of U climbing community to get together at The Summit, build each other up as fellow climbers, and have a lot of fun while doing what they love,” Howells said. “For me, there’s no community quite like the climbing community.”


c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of University of Utah Outdoor Adventures

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Watch: Pass or Fail–Swimming in the Salt Lake

The Wasatch Magazine staff tests out swimming in the Great Salt Lake in an attempt to dispel the negative rumors locals seem to hold on the lake.

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How to: Hike With Your Pup in the Wasatch

If you enjoy immersing yourself in nature, odds are your dog does too. With four points of contact to the rocky soil and an instinctual connection to all things outside, your dog is a much more effective hiking buddy than you may think. This week, we share with you some helpful guidelines for experiencing nature with your pup safely and responsibly, as well as some opportune, and prohibited, places to embark.

Pack for Two: Dogs exert a great deal of energy while climbing a mountain, and they need plenty of food and water in compensation. Pack double water and enough treats for a subsequent snacks — especially on longer hikes. Rather than relying on your cupped hands or the tiny lid of a water bottle, bring a drinking bowl, ideally a durable one that won’t break in your pack or against a rock.

Be Conscious of Location: While the four-legged form is exceptionally well-equipped for steep and rocky terrain, it’s best to avoid anything too technical, lest you overwhelm or potentially endanger your furry companion. Smaller peaks and regular trails are fine, just avoid anything with serious scrambling or exposure. Many places are explicitly prohibited to dogs- more on that below.

Be Respectful: Be respectful and conscious when in the alpine. Regardless of how warm, kind, and obedient you think your doggy is, bring along a leash in any circumstances, one never knows how their dog will react to certain stimuli and personalities in nature. Bring along a few baggies to collect your dog’s sporatic waste. Yes, it’s gross, but you should carry a larger bag for trash anyway — you won’t even notice a bit of extra, contained cargo.

Also — and this one is important — be sure that your furry friend is in good health and up to the task. Last summer I had to carry Rosco (the smiling border collie above) down two plus miles of hiking trail on the account of an injured dewclaw that I had thought wouldn’t be a problem that day.

Where to Go: A Few of My Favorites and Permitted Areas
Grandeur Peak and Mount Wire are very close to campus and great for both humans and dogs — really, most trails along the foothills, smaller mountains, and Bonneville Shoreline Trail are exceptional.
Neff’s Canyon
East Canyon
Mount Olympus Trail — a bit of technical scrambling after saddle though virtually no exposure.
Mill creek Canyon — a multitude of great dog hikes, off-leash permitted on odd days.

Permanent Prohibitions: No Dogs Allowed, Watershed Areas
Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons
Parleys, Dell, and Lambs Canyons
I strongly recommend not marching your dog up any of the Wasatch’s 11,000ers, even those outside of watershed areas.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Dalton Rees

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What Kind of Adventurer Are You?

Author of “Desert Solitaire,” Edward Abbey, says there are three types of adventurers: Desert Rats, Mountain People, and People of the Sea. If you’ve ever wondered what type of Adventurer you are, answer these simple questions to find out. “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.”

You have the weekend off, what would you rather do?

A. Sail in the Great Salt Lake

B. Summit Mount Timpanogos

C. Climb sandstone pillars in Indian Creek in southern Utah

What motivates you?

A. Having a clear goal or set destination, and reaching it.

B. Being the first to reach my goals and making sure everyone knows it.

C. Having no set expectations, just enjoying the moment.

If you had a slogan, which would it be?

A. “If in doubt, paddle it out.”

B. “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

C. “Sand runs through my veins.”

If you had to be consumed by an animal, which would you choose?

A. Killer Whale

B. Grizzly Bear

C. Vulture

Who is your favorite poet or author?

A. Walt Whitman

B. Henry David Thoreau

C. Edward Abbey…duh.

What statement would you say best describes you in relationships?

A. My relationships are usually short lived, but my devotion is as deep as the ocean.

B. I enjoy company, but get cranky and need my space. I ultimately want to share my successes surrounded by people I love.

C. I need alone time and a lot of it.

Which of these smells turns you on?

A. Salty Breeze

B. Pine Needles

C. Sage Brush

If you answered mostly A, you are a Person of the Sea. People who know you may call you a Beach Bum, Sea Creature, mermaid or merman, or any other aquatic nickname. You tend to be wise and methodical in your decisions and a team player. For your next adventure, try floating the Great Salt Lake or rafting down the Green River.

If you answered mostly B, you are a bonafide “mountain man/woman”. You are brave outgoing and daring. You live for the moments where you can stand on top of the world where few others have stood. Take a weekend trip to Rocky Mountain National Park or hike any of our beautiful trails on the Wasatch mountain range. Try hiking up to Bell’s Canyon or Lone Peak on your next adventure.

If you answered mostly C, you are a Desert Rat. Congrats, Edward Abbey would be proud. You are now an honorary member of the Monkey Wrench gang. Well, maybe not. You enjoy challenges and being outside your comfort zone. You see beauty where others don’t. For your next trip, try backpacking in Moab or near Grand Staircase National Monument.

a.winter@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

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Free Skier Society – Supervention II Screening

 

Whether you’re an experienced skier or just getting started, you should know about the Utah Freeskier Society, a student-run organization started in 2001 whose goal is to promote the sport of skiing on campus at the U.

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, they will screen Supervention II, a new ski documentary by Field Productions. This screening will be the premier in the United States, so ski bums and film lovers, rejoice. This event is not to be missed. Tickets are $5 at the door for members and $10 for non-members. There will be an accompanying raffle with the chance to win free skis, poles, goggles, gift cards, and outerwear, along with many companies and brands giving out free schwag.

The event will be held in the U’s College Of Social Work Auditorium. Raffle begins at 7:15, so mark your calendars and clear your schedules. Visit the Utah Free Skier’s website here or follow them on Facebook to find out more and stay in the loop on all the upcoming events.

Through a Utah Freeskier Society membership, you can get massive discounts on season passes at Brighton, Alta, Park City Mountain Resort, and more, plus huge gear discounts on tons of big name brands. They host ski-related events and activities throughout the year.

a.winter@dailyutahchronicle.com

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Fat Tires Expand — Mountain Biking Season

Ah, winter. The most wonderful time of the year. Snow on the ground means the skis come out, the lifts start moving, and everyone is happy. Everyone, that is, except mountain bikers. For them, snow on the ground means the end of a season and the beginning of a long wait. Trying to run a trail with even a little of that white stuff on it can be disastrous. Fortunately, there is a solution, and it comes looking like the monster truck of mountain bikes. It is the fat bike.

At first glance these bikes seem pretty standard. Handlebars, check. Seat, check. Frame, check. Tires, woah. This is the central difference between and mountain bike and a fat bike. A typical mountain bike tire is about two to two-and-a-half inches wide. A fat bike tire is usually four or five. Any other major differences on the bike, like a wider frame and specialized braking system, basically just accommodate this extra width.

Clearly a more massive tire and heavier bike means you will not be going as fast as you would on a traditional bike, but that is not the purpose of a fat bike. The key factor provided by larger tires is accessibility, not speed. Wider tires mean more tire contact with the ground and more cushion. This allows the rider to gain better traction and “float” across terrain previously impassable.

Because of this unique ability, fat bikes were quickly nicknamed snow bikes. The big, grippy tires certainly help open up new realms of biking like high alpine riding, but fat bikes don’t have to just sit in your garage all summer.

Any terrain that is either too rough or too slippery for a traditional bike is perfect for a fat bike. Be it rock gardens, flooded trails, hard packed snow, or fresh powder, the fat bike takes it all with ease. Improvements in frame design and material have transitioned the once touring specific beast into something that can now be used as a replacement to your traditional bike in many cases.

The best example of this is the introduction of suspension. Early fat bikes were locked solid, and although beefier tires slightly offset the bumps, it was not nearly enough. Now, however, front or double suspension bikes are available to the masses for a hefty, but not insurmountable, price. If you are willing to invest three to five grand for a new, shiny dual suspension fat bike, you’ll open yourself up to a whole new variety of trails.

The Iditarod Trail Invitational was the original jumping point for fat bikes. Every year, one week before the sled dog Iditarod, skiers, trail runners, and bikers are invited to tackle the 1,000 mile trail. Although it had been done on traditional bikes before, it was not easy. At least half the time the snow made the trail impassable, forcing riders to drag their bikes. The large tires of the fat bike, however, can handle the trail with grace, and is now the standard.

If you’re not quite up for a thousand mile battle across Alaska just yet, there are still ways to get out and enjoy your fat bike. For the more competitive, there is Frosty’s Fat Bike Race Series, a nine to twelve mile snow race that takes place in January on the Wasatch front. The more relaxed adventurer can rent a fat bike from Outdoor Adventures for $30 a day ($60 for a weekend) and hit up either Guardsman Pass or the Bonneville Shoreline trail for some cool winter views.

Although the tires may seem comically large, the fat bike is one of the best ways to get out and explore. Any terrain in its path will likely be conquered. No more will a ride be riddled by annoying stop-and-carry spots and no more will mountain bikers dread the day snow falls for the first time. Thanks to the fat bike, winter really is the most wonderful time of the year again.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Gessie Eaton

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