“It’s a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory.” -Ed Viesturs
On March 4, 2013, I met the remarkable Dr John Yagi on top of Grouse Mountain after he had finished his third Snowshoe Grind of the day. He later went on to complete three additional runs, and recorded his best time of 38 minutes and 37 seconds on his first run of the day. He has thus far competed 48 Snowshoe Grinds this season. Dr Yagi is in training to climb the granite spires of Trango Towers with his spouse, Elaine.
Dr Yagi practices community pharmacy and lectures at the University of British Columbia for the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. He lectures to internationally-trained pharmacists who wish to practice pharmacy in British Columbia or Canada. All internationally-trained pharmacists are required to attend lectures and clinical training in preparation for National Board and Observed Structured Clinical examinations.
The Grouse Mountain Snowshoe Grind is a 4.3 kilometre (2.67 mile) trail with an elevation gain of 215 metres (705 feet). It takes approximately one hour to hike to the top and a half an hour to make the return trip to the lodge.
Dr John Yagi and Elaine Yagi on the Summit of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park
Dr Yagi, what do you like most about Vancouver?
The inspiring and multi-cultural and talented people of Vancouver. For example, Richard Chan, with above knee prosthetic leg, a member and instructor with VASS, skis faster and better than me!
How would you describe Vancouver to someone in another country?
It is the most beautiful, spectacular and healthy place to live and raise a family.
Where is your favourite place?
Best place is any where in Vancouver when I am with Elaine.
What is your favourite thing to do in Vancouver on a weekend?
Visiting and having coffee and Italian pastry with Elaine and old friends in Vancouver.
How did you become interested in training for rock climbing?
Elaine is my catalyst to train for our rock climbing adventures since we started climbing about five years ago at Smoke Bluffs, Squamish.
Have you always been athletic?
Yes, since my older brother always beat me academically so I hoped to do better in sports including first-degree black belt in both Judo and Karate, ski instructor (Level 2), snowboard instructor (Level 1), and racing coach (Level 1), and currently our passion for rock climbing.
What do you like to do for fun, other than training?
Fun to me is lead climbing with Elaine, the second peak at the Chiefs, Squamish followed by sushi dinner.
When do you plan to climb the Towers?
Elaine and I are planning to climb the Trango Towers in September 2015.
As you know, the Towers are among the most difficult to climb in the world. When did you decide to climb the Towers?
We decided to climb the Towers only two years ago.
Why do you want to climb one of the most technically difficult summits in the world? What lead to your decision?
We wanted to climb one of the most difficult summits in the world because we wanted to do something together that we both enjoyed, which is our passion for rock climbing. We created the challenge to complete this unimaginable goal together and have pursued it by training physically, technically, emotionally and mentally to safely ascend the summit. Also, this is to complete one of the goals on our “bucket list.”
How long have you been preparing for the climb?
We have been training for this since day one of our climbing adventure about five years ago.
Are there any special preparations you need to complete before and at the mountain prior to your climb?
We began by taking mountaineering trips to Mt Baker, Mt Rainier, and Mt Waddington in the Coastal Mountain range using White Saddle Helicopter service. We trained for rock rescue when a climber is unconscious, and safety systems on the wall with an international mountain guide. We have also prepared for crevice rescue when a climber falls into covered crevices.
Is there special training for such a difficult climb?
We received special training from an international mountain guide, JF, who has been with us since day one. Our training has included multi-pitch climbing at Squamish Buttress up the first peak of the Chiefs, crack climbing skills, off-width, chimney climbing, bouldering, footwork basics, and jugging techniques. Our second guide, PD, from Yamanuska Mountaineering School in Canmore, Alberta is another member of our team. PD instructed us in mixed ice climbing and multi-pitch ice climbing with crampons and ice tools/axes.
Who else will be climbing with you?
Elaine and I will climb with two guides, JF and PD, and one or two Sherpas that JF previously contracted on his three prior attempts at Mt Everest, two of which were successful ascents.
Will you hire porters?
We will have porters who are Sherpas.
What other difficult climbs have you completed?
On September 15, 2012, we completed an ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite Park with Yosemite Mountaineering School.
I have one more question for you. Do you have a fear of heights?
Yes, I was initially concerned about heights! But, I am better now.
Thank you for speaking with me, Dr Yagi. Have a safe climb!
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The Trango Towers
The Trango Towers are a group granite spires located on the north side of the Baltoro Glacier, in Baltistan, a district of the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. They are part of the Baltoro Muztagh, a sub-range of the Karakoram Range. The Towers offer some of the largest cliffs and most challenging rock climbing in the world. The highest point in the group is the summit of Great Trango Tower at 6,286 metres (20,608 feet). The east face of the Great Trango Tower features the world’s greatest nearly vertical drop.
Structure of the Towers
The Trango Towers lie on a ridge between Trango Glacier and Dunge Glacier. Great Trango is a large massif, with four summits: Main (6,286 metres), South (6,250 metres), East (6,231 metres), and West (6,223 metres). It is a complex combination of steep snow/ice gullies, steeper rock faces, and vertical to overhanging headwalls, topped by a snowy ridge system.
Just northwest of Great Trango is the 6,239 metre Trango Tower, which is called the “Nameless Tower.” This large, pointed symmetrical spire juts 1,000 metres out of the ridgeline. North of Trango Tower is a smaller rock spire known as “Trango Monk.” To the north of Trango Monk, the ridge is less rocky and loses the large granite walls that distinguish the Trango Towers group and make them so attractive to climbers; however the summits do get higher. Although these summits are not considered as part of the Trango Towers group, they share the Trango name. Trango II is 6,327 metres and lies northwest of the Monk, and the highest summit on the ridge, Trango Ri is 6,363 metres and is situated northwest of Trango II.
Just southeast of Great Trango is the 6,050 metre Trango Pulpit, whose walls present similar climbing challenges to those of Great Trango itself. Further to the south is Trango Castle (5,753 metres), the last large peak along the ridge before the Baltoro Glacier.
The Trango Towers have had some of the most difficult and significant climbs, due to the combination of altitude, total height of the routes, and steepness of the rock. All of the routes are highly technical climbs.
Great Trango Tower
In 1977, Great Trango was first climbed by Dennis Hennek, Jim Morrissey, John Roskelley, Galen Rowell, and Kim Schmitzand on a route that started from the west side of Trango Glacier. The team climbed through a combination of ice ramps and gullies with rock faces, finishing on the upper South Face.
Norwegians Finn Dæhli and Hans Christian Doseth first climbed to the East Summit of Great Trango in 1984, tragically both died on the descent.
In 1992, the first successful climb of and return from the East Summit was made by Xaver Bongard and John Middendorf, via “The Grand Voyage,” a route parallel to that of the ill-fated Norwegians. These two climbs have been called the hardest big-wall climbs in the world.
Andy Selters and Scott Woolums climbed the Northwest Face in 1984, which is the least difficult route on Great Trango. This is a very serious, technical climb.
Trango (Nameless) Tower
In 1976, Trango (Nameless) Tower was first climbed by the British climber Joe Brown, along with Julian Vincent “Mo” Anthoine, Martin Boysen, and Malcolm Howellsi. There are at least eight separate routes to the summit. One notable route is Eternal Flame, first climbed on September 20, 1989 by Kurt Albert and Wolfgang Güllich. This route ascends the South-East Face of the Tower, and was climbed almost entirely free in stages, using fixed ropes to return to a base each night. This helped inaugurate an era of pure rock-climbing techniques and aesthetics on high-altitude peaks.
The West Summit of Great Trango and the Trango Pulpit were first climbed in 1999. Two separate teams, one American and one Russian, climbed the West Summit almost simultaneously, by parallel routes.
The American team of Stuart Alexander “Alex” Lowe, Jared Ogden, and Mark Synnott climbed a long, highly technical line they called “Parallel Worlds.” They reported difficulties up to 5.11 and A4. Less than two months after his climb of Great Trango, Alex Lowe, who was considered as one of his generation’s finest all-around mountaineers, perished in a massive slab avalanche in Tibet on October 5, 1999. The Russian team of Yuri Koshelenko, Igor Potan’kin, Alexandr Odintsov, and Ivan Samoilenko climbed a route called Eclissi, and encountered similar technical challenges. Both climbs were nominated for the prestigious Piolet d’or Award in 1999.
The Norwegian team of Robert Caspersen, Gunnar Karlsen, Per L Skjerven, and Einar Wold climbed the “Pulpit” over a total of 38 days on the wall. The team reported of difficulties up to A4/5.11.
Another route over the Trango Pulpit was climbed in 1999 by the Czechoslovak team of Michal Drasar, Jaro Dutka, Tomas Rinn, Pavel Weisser, and Ivo Wondracek.