Wednesday, February 27, 2002
Mountain guide Scott Woolums has a few things to do between now and March 25, when he leaves for Nepal to guide a group of three clients on a climb of Mt. Everest -- and make his own second attempt at summiting the world's highest mountain.
He has some trip logistics to deal with to ensure that things run smoothly during his group's two-and-a-half months in South Asia. He has to organize "a ton of gear." He has to get his new satellite phone hooked up to his laptop computer. And he's scrambling to finish a make-over of the website for his company, Adventures International, Inc.
Oh, and he has to guide a two-week trip to Patagonia.
"I think there'll be a couple of all-nighters in there," Woolums said. For the inveterate mountain climber and adventure traveler, it's all part of the job.
Woolums' Adventures International is an adventure travel company that specializes in treks and mountain climbs around the world. This year marks the beginning of his second decade leading the company he launched in Hood River in 1991. A native of The Dalles, Woolums started mountain climbing locally in the Cascades, then moved on to climbing adventures in Alaska. He eventually was hired as a guide for an Alaskan outfit, where he gained experience leading climbs on Mt. McKinley.
When that company went out of business, Woolums decided to start his own guiding and adventure travel business based from his Hood River home.
"I could see there was a market for it," he said. "I had a lot of experience, and I love the travel part."
Woolums continued guiding trips in Alaska and also branched out to mountains and other adventure travel destinations around the world.
He's now climbed McKinley 41 times, which is more than anyone else in the world. He's made it to the summit of the 20,320-foot peak -- the highest in North America -- 30 times, also a record. He's led 26 trips to Aconcagua, South America's highest peak, and seven to Kenya's Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Woolums started out doing only as many trips a year as he could lead. Now he has a half-dozen part time guides who work for him and there are usually multiple Adventures International trips going on simultaneously in various corners of the globe. While many are centered on climbing the world's highest peaks, Woolums offers several less rigorous trips -- including wildlife safaris in Africa, trekking in the national parks of Costa Rica and exploring the Amazon region of Ecuador.
"Our focus is more on the balance between trekking, adventure travel and the mid-level, mid-altitude peaks in different places around the world," Woolums said. He limits his trips to six so clients get a more personalized experience. Having small numbers also allows for trips to be customized by clients -- something that sets Adventures International apart from other adventure travel companies.
When Woolums heads to Everest next month, it will be for the second time. He led a climb there in 1997 and made it to the mountain's South Col at 26,500 feet before being turned back by bad weather. Since then, Woolums has led several treks into Base Camp but has not attempted another climb until now.
His clients include a father-son team from Canada and a climber from Colorado. The foursome will meet up with another group of four from Britain. The two groups share the $10,000 permit expense and other costs in order to make the trip more affordable.
After setting up at Base Camp, at 17,500 feet, Woolums and his team will spend several weeks making forays to camps higher on the mountain to acclimatize to the altitude and prepare for reaching to 29,035-foot summit.
"It's a real strategy to get acclimatized but not burn yourself out," Woolums said, adding that people sometimes push themselves too hard early on. "Then, by the time it comes to the summit attempt, they're burned out," he said.
It will be early May before Woolums and his team are ready to attempt the summit.
"Then it's just a waiting game for the weather," he said. The climbers have a window that lasts until around May 25 when the summer monsoon season rolls into the Himalayas making a summit attempt too dangerous.
Woolums' clients for the Everest trip are experienced climbers, but he's made it clear to them that "we're not going to take any chances up high." When it comes to 8,000-meter peaks, Woolums doesn't even call what he does "guiding."
"We're providing logistical support and leadership," he said. "We're giving them every opportunity to summit." But Woolums makes no guarantees to clients that they'll make it and tells them he will insist on turning back unless conditions on the mountain -- and their own physical condition -- are optimal.
For Woolums personally, the trip offers a chance to add another peak to his own "seven summits" program -- climbing the highest peaks on the world's seven continents.
"I never really thought it would be a goal of mine," he said. "But since I'm pretty close, I thought I'd make a go of it." He has three left: Mt. Everest, Mt. Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, and Vinson Massif, the highest point in Antarctica.
Woolums said that for him, the main challenge in reaching Everest's summit -- aside from weather conditions -- is mental.
"Physically, I know I can do it," said Woolums, who has never had a problem climbing at high altitude. "But mentally, it's breathing and realizing you're not thinking as clearly. The thing about extreme altitude is the way you think up there." He said at high altitudes "you catch yourself slurring and doing dumb things."
"It's kind of a scary place to be," he added.
Woolums and his team are set to return from Nepal June 4. A day later, he and his fiance, Cindy Stevens, will begin building a new house. And a few weeks after that, Woolums will be off on his next adventure, leading a trip to Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia.
There might be a couple of all-nighters in there, too.