Northern Michigan is a rather unlikely place of residence for four men whose shared desire is to either scale the frigid nether-regions of Northern Canada or reach the peak of Washingtons Mt. Rainier. It is even stranger for people born and raised in an area with absolutely zero rock face to cultivate a love for the sport of rock climbing.
Tim Barrons, Tim Jenema, Joe Oesterling and Keith Tampa all love living in the Traverse City area, but also find themselves called to other regions of the world in the pursuit of mountaineering and climbing. All four have achieved great experience in various parts of the world, climbing such mountains as Alpamayo in Peru and Illiniza in Ecuador.
Jenema can identify with others from Traverse City who voice the awkward place-ment of those who are given to climb. But at the same time he does not feel sorry for anyone fortunate enough to live in Northern Michigan. He notes that being a climber from Traverse is extremely frustrating but it does make the trips you go on more memorable. There are so many climbers out there doing so many good things but they live in mountains so it doesnt cut into their time like it does for us. Dying to leave Traverse City is not a good thing though, because it is such a great place, he says.
Between the four of these men there is quite a list of accomplishments as far as climbing is concerned. Three of them have reached the summit of Mt. Rainier at least once. They have conquered Granite Peak in Montana, and Mt. Cotopaxi, Illiniza Norte and Illiniza Sur, which are all in Ecuador. Other undertakings include expeditions to Mt. Alpamayo in Peru and to the Wrangell-St. Eliza range in Alaska, with numerous other trips to ice climb in Canada and various other rock faces in the western United States. A very impressive list for climbers who got their start in the sport just a little over ten years ago.
Barrons and Jenema grew up together and have been friends since they were in high school. After college, Jenema was the first to be bitten by the climbing bug and Barrons was not too far behind. I ran into a roommate in college who had done some climbing. I thought it looked interesting so I researched ways of getting into it, Jenema says. Barrons concurs by saying, I got into rock climbing in about 1991. Me and Tim started together and climbed in Marquette for the first time. We just fell in love with the sport and immediately ran out and bought rock climbing shoes and rope. We would think to ourselves, Every paycheck I get from here on out is gonna be spent on some kind of rock climbing gear.
Soon the two of them were looking into what the region had to offer climbers. We started researching the area and found one cliff face in the lower peninsula. Its down in the middle of the state by Grand Ledge and so we started taking trips down there. We started discovering what is available in Canada. In Sault St. Marie and the northern Ontario area there is a ton of undeveloped rock climbing which is great for the climber because you can develop new routes, Barrons says.
The first big expedition that Barrons and Jenema did together involved mountain-eering in the western section of the country. Mountaineering was our first major under-taking and we went to Wyoming to climb Gannet Peak. It was a two day trek in with heavy backpacks and was kind of a glacier covered peak, Jenema says. He says it was a semi-successful outing that ended with a slap in the face from mother nature. We got stormed off by heavy rain and lightning. We turned tail and ran, he says with a laugh. We came back the next year and peaked it, though.
Oesterling was apart from the group when his interest in climbing first began to take shape, but when he moved back to Northern Michigan he fell in with the group quite well. I moved away to Southwest Montana for a while and got into climbing at the Tetons and then I moved back to the area and met the other guys at the New Campus Climbing Gyms wall, Oesterling says.
A climbing experience on Mt. Rainier was the first outing that Oesterling took with his new friends. Our first big trip together was to Mt. Rainier which both TJ (Jenema) and I had been to before but we wanted to go back. We tried for the Liberty Ridge pass but it was a little too late for that, he says. Liberty Ridge is one of the most popular routes up the mountain and offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the country.
Jenema and Barrons have been to Mt. Rainier on two different occasions, and their wives have gone along to scale the mountain as well. My wife and I both climbed Mt. Rainier with Tim and his wife in 1995. We got turned back by really heavy winds a few thousand feet below the summit and we went back the following year and successfully climbed the summit, Jenema says.
Ecuador was the scene of Oesterlings first overseas experience as a climber. TJ and I did a route on Mt. Illiniza which was pretty technical that you usually run into on single pitch climbing. We had to camp unexpectedly. We didnt take anything with us really so we chopped out a ledge and sat there for the night. It was cold but we got through it, he says.
In 2001 the four friends came up with the idea of putting together climbing trips in order to raise funds and awareness for conservation in Northern Michigan. This took them to Mt. Alpamayo in the Peruvian Andes. The mountain is known as one of the most beautiful landmarks in South America and rises to a height of 19,509 feet above sea level. The goal was to reach the summit of the mountain while receiving donations from sponsors. The higher they were on the mountain, the more money they would raise for the Conservation Resource Alliance.
Unfortunately the trip was marked with trouble, and the group never got to reach the summit. My most memorable and negative climbing experience was definitely at Alpamayo. Its one thing Ill never forget and its always in the back of my head, Oesterling says.
We actually had a rescue situation. My buddy had high altitude sickness that got real extreme. We had a two day ordeal where he basically rescued himself. We helped him down the mountain but he had to evacuate himself most of the way on his own power, Barrons says.
Strangely enough, the climbers are still unsure what exactly happened to their friend. This was a weird situation when we didnt discover what happened to him. There are some very distinct things that you watch for in somebody with HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) and HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). These are two things that have definite warning signs and he had neither of those. He did not have a diagnosable problem and we cant even find out what caused it. We knew it was caused by altitude though because it got better as we went down. The doctors even did brain scans on him and he was fine. It was just a freak incident, Barrons says. According to Barrons, Tampas presence on this climb was crucial because of his training as a paramedic. They would frequently ask for his advice and assistance in helping their friend. Tampa also spent time working in Yosemite National Park where he was a member of YOSAR, the parks search and rescue team.
We didnt make it to the summit, we thought about it, but for us, risking death was not why we were there. And the team was broken up at that point and our goal became just making sure that our buddy was safe. And I got higher than I had ever been on any mountain before; I got to 17,000 feet in the Peruvian setting and the mountains up there are just amazing.Once you get up so high you can start to gauge your level by looking at the other peaks around you.
As of right now these climbers are resting up and researching for more expeditions in the future. Oesterling recently returned from Alaska and says that he is planning on going back in the near future. I went up to Alaska for three weeks to a range called Wrangell-St. Elias that goes from Alaska into Canada. We went to an area where the pilot who dropped us off was the only one around and he was 45 minutes away by plane, he says.
We landed on the Bagley Ice Field and attempted Mt. Stellar. It has only been climbed one time and we tried a new route that no one has done before. We tried to traverse a ridge with steep technical climbing. One person on the trip had health issues when we were one day from the summit so we had to turn around and go down. It was nothing compared to what happened in Peru, but it was still scary, Oesterling comments.
Oesterling and Jenema are actually in the process of researching more areas of Alaska in hopes of returning there sometime in the future. I want to go back just to climb in Alaska. There is no other place like it. It has a lot of places that have never been explored. To me that gives more of a sense of adventure than when you are standing in line waiting for someone to hand you a rope, Oesterling says, referring to Alaskas Mt. McKinley, which is a popular spot for climbers since it is the tallest mountain in North America.
These climbers are not merely thrill-seekers out for a rush, but love the natural settings they visit. They also say that reaching the summit of a mountain is not necessarily the point of a climb, but that the journey up the mountain is far more important than reaching the end. Climbing as a team is most important to them. The biggest part of all [climbing] is the company that you have. It always makes it great, Oesterling says.