Climbing Everest Before Social Media

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Clint Helander ascends the second in a series of peaks during the five-day first ascent of the Gauntlet Ridge Route on Alaska’s Mount Huntington with partner Jess Roskelley (photo and caption courtesy of spokesman.com and Jess Roskelley).

It’s been fun this week to hear about Jess Roskelley and Clint Helander’s epic first ascent of Gauntlet Ridge on Alaska’s 12,240-foot Mount Huntington. The two climbers ascended the 9,000-foot, serrated ridge over the course of 5 days and spent a couple of days bivvying on the descent due to storms.

Reading about their climb online and in the Spokesman-Review, reminded me of a climb Jess and his dad, the renowned alpinist John Roskelley, did in 2003.

At that time, Jess was 20-years-old and aspired to be the youngest American to summit 29,029-foot Mount Everest.

Before leaving for the climb, I worked with John and Jess on a PR and communications projects for the expedition we named, “Generations on Everest.”

Jess And Go Book Max Communications Tent

Jess working on the Go-Book Max in the communications tent.

In addition to naming the expedition, Klündt | Hosmer’s team helped craft sponsorship pitches, create a logo for the team, set up John and Jess with a rugged, wireless computer from Itronix, and develop the expedition’s website.

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Generations on Everest home page, circa 2003.

The website was a vital communications tool for the team — especially since this was before the proliferation of social media platforms and far-reaching cell phone towers.

advanced base camp

Advanced base camp from below the Chinese camp.

The Generations on Everest website featured photos of the approach, basecamp and the North Ridge of Everest and included regular journal updates from the mountain. Using this cool, leading edge technology — especially considering this was done 14 years ago — we would post the voicemail updates we received from John via his satphone as he ascended the mountain.

I would come into my office in the morning, see a blinking red light on my desk phone, and many times it would be a voicemail from John. Those voicemails got more and more challenging as the team ascended into Everest’s "death zone", at elevations above 26,000 feet.

jess summit everest

Jess Roskelley at 27,200 ft. with the summit ridge of Everest in the background.

With John attempting the climb without using supplemental oxygen, some of his voice messages needed a couple of takes. A typical voicemail went something like, “Hey, this is John. (pant, pant, wheeze) Yesterday, (pant) we carried loads to Camp 3 (wheeze) at 27-thousand... uh... 27-(pant) uh... shit!” and then he would hang up and call again. Everest’s thin air was affecting John’s thought processes as well as his ability to breathe.

Within minutes of receiving these updates, we’d upload the audio files to the website, and it became the best source of information for tracking the climber’s status on Mt. Everest.

The Generations on Everest website was promoted in international climbing publications, websites and news features. Over the weeks of the climb, the website received thousands of visits from people all over the world.

Jess and John Roskelley On Everest Summit

Jess and John Roskelley on the summit of Everest on May 21, 2003.

On May 21, 2003, John and Jess were successful in summiting Everest, and Jess was (for the next seven years) the youngest American to make the climb to the world’s highest point.

Jess And John Roskelley 2003 May 29

Jess and John Roskelley arrive at the Spokane International Airport on May 29, 2003, after summiting Everest.

It’s great to see that Jess is continuing to push the limits as a climber. Last week’s first ascent of Mount Huntington’s Gauntlet Ridge is just the latest climb on his resume. His accomplishments now include ascents from Alaska to Patagonia and one very memorable ascent, with his dad, on the world’s highest peak, almost 14 years ago.