Thanks @kitdski for rallying with me for a backcountry classic - the Guides Wall. And an even bigger thanks to @hamptonkew for watching Tommy dawg - I owe you one. This pitch, a splitter thin-hands crack, has got to be one of the best in the Tetons. Everyone knows Kit for her exploits as a ski mountaineer - namely for being the first and I believe still the only person to ski the Seven Summits. But she's also a skilled rock climber. We've done a number of great climbs together, up to 5.11, and I can't say that I've ever seen her fall. @thenorthface#neverstopexploring
Based on the noises Tommy Dawg was making I think he appreciated Jenny Lake and the Cathedral group as much as @hamptonkew and I did. Fun to reminisce about all the good times I've had in these mountains over the years. Can't wait to ski some of these with Tommy some day.
The past few weeks have been some of the most intense of my life, so I decided to follow the lead of @alexhonnold and take a break from social media. I figure today is a perfect time to start back up because it's my lovely wife's birthday, and it's one of the big ones. Hint: she's not turning 30 or 50. At the risk of over sharing I will just say what I told her in the scrappy card I made for her last night: "The four years since I met you have been the happiest of my life." So I hope some of you will send her some well wishes, even if it's telepathically through the ether - we often receive those messages, just so you know. She is a special lady and those of us who have her as part of our lives are very lucky people. Happy Birthday @hamptonkew
A totally unexpected and serendipitous rendezvous with my lovely wife @hamptonkew and son and brother-in-law at Manhattan Beach. Thanks for the pic @shermankew.
After all my years of messing around with rope I finally made my first splice. It probably won't win any awards, but I'm pretty sure it's bomber. As messy as it is, I'm strangely proud of my handiwork. Camelot's anchor rode has been fully updated for a cruise I'm planning this summer to the Bay of Fundy.
Tommy Synnott, hard at work on his latest assignment.
A toast for @uelisteck. Certainly the best alpinist of my generation. Sad to have lost one of my heroes today.
This is my sister Amy Synnott (@amysynnott). She's an amazing person that I think a lot of you would appreciate. After 16 years as a member of the executive staff at InStyle Magazine she recently left to launch her own lifestyle website for gen x/baby boomers called The Beautiful Now (see link in my bio). She is also a mom, wife, daughter and someone I'm very proud to call my sister. Check it out.
Photo by @shonephoto (Robbie Shone). A wave of anxiety washes over me when I arrive at an intersection of several passages with absolutely no indication which one leads to the Red Lakes. Cavers love to tell you that you can’t get lost in a cave, but actually you can—quite easily, in fact. I choose the least worst option: a tube about the size of an air duct filled with four inches of water. I shove my backpack in and nudge it forward with my head. I hold my torso out of the water by perching on my forearms and toes, inching forward in a gut-crushing plank position. The ceiling lowers until I’m forced to slither on my belly. Suddenly the tube turns almost straight down. It’s so tight that just flexing my muscles keeps me from diving down the shaft. A few minutes later, I fall from the tube into a tall, narrow chamber draped in vertically-ribbed curtains of bloodred flowstone. The passage is filled with red-hued water. I know I have found the Red Lakes when I hear the telltale sound of cave-suits scraping against rock. Yuri appears, then stops to peer into a small hole in the floor. But before he can take another step, Vova pushes him aside, yelling “It’s mine,” as he dives headfirst into the hole like a rat going for a piece of cheese. I burst out laughing at the madness of it: these guys have been underground for nearly a week, and they’re fighting like toddlers over who gets to be first to wedge themselves into a dark, slimy hole that surely leads nowhere good. @natgeo@thenorthface@petzl_official#neverstopexploring#uzbekistan
First day on the rock for Lilla, Aida and I. Seems like I may have a new climbing posse this season. Nothing fuels my more than seeing the passion for this sport begin to burn inside these budding young grimpers. They also noticed something immediately that I have never once considered in 32 years of climbing: cliffs are a perfect habitat for fairies. #honnolding
Nick and I found more than enough snow to ski right off the summit of Mt. Washington yesterday. Auto road to the East Snowfield to the Lip. You can still ski to the car but it's going quick. @kaestleski@thenorthface
Photo by @shonephoto (Robbie Shone). I was jolted awake by the sound of laughter. Flat on my back, I looked up into the faces of cackling Russians. For a few seconds I had no idea where I was. “You better go to sleep,” said Tonya. “You’ve been assigned to the other tent.” Robbie, Matt and I grabbed our stuff from the cook tent and shuffled over to a smaller shelter erected atop a jumbled pile of boulders a few feet away. As I unzipped the door and crawled inside, my nose was assaulted by a powerful aroma—body odor and stale cigarette smoke. It was nauseating and claustrophobic in the tent, but we hadn’t eaten all day, so I rooted into a pile of detritus at our feet where Tonya said I might find some food. I dug past a pair of heavily soiled long johns, a dirty sock, a dead power drill battery, some bolts, and a plastic baggie containing several packs of cigarettes. Finally, on the very bottom, I wrapped my hand around a dusty sausage covered in something fuzzy that I hoped was lint. “Five second rule,” I exclaimed, holding it up proudly. After days of eating only what the Russians would give us, mainly thin gruel and Uzbek saltines, I could hardly believe our luck. An entire sausage. Protein we badly needed to fuel our bodies for probing deeper into Dark Star. And there were no Russians on hand to tell us not to eat it. Sometimes, I told myself, as I divided it into three equal chunks with my knife, it is better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. @natgeo@thenorthface#darkstar#neverstopexploring
Photo by @shonephoto. Robbie Shone and Matt Oliphant are veteran cavers, but they had never used the Russian bivouac system: two sleeping bags zipped together for three people. Getting the three of us tucked in for the night would have been comical if it wasn’t so painfully grim. Of course, I ended up with the zipper on my side. Every time anyone moved, the tension pulled the bag open, and I spent most of the night wide awake, my body pressed against the cold wet fabric of the tent. I spent that sleepless night (if it was even night) contemplating how hard pressed I’d be to find a place on planet earth further from my home… unless I were to go deeper into the cave, which, of course, was the plan. In a cave, darkness is absolute and eternal, and the diurnal cycle that rules life above ground is irrelevant. For this reason many cavers don’t wear watches. In Dark Star, the team rested when they were tired, and explored when they weren’t. It sounds pleasant, but never knowing what time it was left me feeling disoriented and uncomfortable. Should I try to go back to sleep, or is it almost morning? As my bag mates snored way, I thought about something horrible Robbie and Matt had told me about before bedding down. They called it “the rapture of the deep” and described it as a mental breakdown that sometimes afflicts cavers. There was a story, of course— a caver from Texas who simply gave up when he was deep underground. Rescuers spent days dragging him out of the cave, even though the only thing wrong with him was that he had lost his will to live. @natgeo@thenorthface#darkstar#uzbekistan#neverstopexploring
Photo by @shonephoto (Robbie Shone). Team Dark Star: An eccentric, eclectic ensemble of 31 world-class cavers and scientists. Our expedition team was comprised mostly of Russians, but also included a few Italians, Israeli’s and one German. Most of the Russians hail from the Ural Mountains north of Moscow, and I was impressed when I met them in the capital city Tashkent and discovered they had driven to Uzbekistan—a 26 hour trip. Many on the team had been to Dark Star before, but Evgeny “Zhenya” Tsurikhin, 55, (pictured here) was the expedition’s elder statesman. This was his tenth caving expedition to the Baisun-Tau Mountains. “They say he knows where the new passages will lead before they are explored,” one of the younger cavers told me. Zhenya makes his living breeding fish for a Russian research institute, but his true passion is exploring underground. His dream is to one day find the passageway that will lead him deeper into the earth than any person has ever gone. @natgeo@thenorthface#darkstar#neverstopexploring
What do I love most about Downeast Maine? There is always something new to discover. Like this beach that hadn't seen any in a while.
It is finally time for the first annual Mt. Washington Backcountry Ski Festival (@mwbcskifest March 11-12, 2017) and so I wanted to tell you a bit about our guest of honor @emilyaharrington. Emily will be speaking on Saturday night at our party @wildcatmountain about her recent complete ski descent of Cho Oyu in Tibet (26,864 ft.), the world's sixth tallest peak. She completed this stupendous feat alongside her boyfriend @adrianballinger, who took this photo on summit day at 25,500 feet. I am not sure how this is possible, but they completed the entire expedition in two weeks door to door from their home in Lake Tahoe. Perhaps what's most impressive is that Emily is not just one of the most accomplished female ski mountaineers in the world, she is also a cutting edge rock climber who has freed El Capitan and climbed numerous 5.14s. Most importantly, she is a humble, all around quality human being and someone I feel privileged to call a friend. Amazingly, there is still room in her woman's only Intro to Backcountry skiing clinic on both Saturday and Sunday. If you want to spend time on the hill with one of the strongest and most badass women on the planet, follow the link in my bio. And finally a special thanks to @thenorthface, the festival's title sponsor, for sending us Emily- we could not have asked for a more special guest.
Photo by @shonephoto (Robbie Shone). Udlyana admiring the ice crystals that cover the walls and ceiling of Dark Star's Full Moon Hall. Surface Hoar is the winter equivalent of morning dew; water vapor in the air condenses and freezes when it comes in contact with the cold walls of the cave. I’ve seen tiny feathers of surface hoar on top of snow on cold mornings in the mountains, but I’ve never seen anything like this—some of these ice crystals are two feet long, their surfaces etched with striated geometric patterns. Why this hoar forms inside of Dark Star is one of the cave’s many mysteries. The Russians still don’t understand Dark Star’s ventilation system, but they do know that some entrances inhale and other’s exhale, and that this respiration reverses during high and low pressure. More evidence of what the Russians told me back in camp—that Dark Star is a living, breathing creature.
Please stay tuned for more photos and stories from our feature article Into The Deep, which you can find in the March 2017 issue of National Geographic Magazine. @natgeo@thenorthface#darkstar
Photo by @shonephoto (Robbie Shone) I duck under an arch of translucent blue ice and enter the Full Moon Hall—the largest chamber yet discovered in Dark Star. It’s 820 feet long and 100 feet tall. The walls are covered in feathers of hoar frost that scintillate like millions of tiny mirrors on a disco ball, scattering the beams from my headlamp around the room. Rationally, I know it’s an illusion, but I’d swear the light is emanating from within the walls, like stars in a crystal-clear night sky.
Please stay tuned for more photos and stories from my feature article Into The Deep, which you can find in the March 2017 issue of National Geographic Magazine. @natgeo@thenorthface@petzl_official#neverstopexploring#darkstar
Happy birthday to my new best buddy. You make the world a brighter place Tommy Synnott.
Photo by @shonephoto (Robbie Shone). The Russians have identified more than 100 cave openings in the 21-mile-long southeast face of Hodja Gur Gur Ata, but to date, only 22 have been explored. Seven of them lead into the subterranean labyrinth known as Dark Star. Look carefully, and in the top right center of this image you can see one of these entrances. Caving exploration in this isolated corner of Central Asia began in the early 1980s after members of the USSR’s Sverdlosk Speleological Club identified this region’s vast limestone topography from geologic maps. The club had been searching for a place to pursue the Holy Grail of caving—to go deeper into the earth than anyone had gone before—and the Baisun-Tau Mountains, at least on paper, appeared to have all the right ingredients. Mountaineers will never find a peak higher than Everest, but the potential to find new and deeper caves is virtually unlimited. The crux is finding them, and as any caver will tell you: we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about what lies hidden beneath the ground here on earth.
Over the next few weeks I will be uploading photos and stories from Into the Deep my feature article about Dark Star, which can be found in the March 2017 issue of National Geographic Magazine. Stay tuned to see more. @natgeo@thenorthface#neverstopexploring#darkstar
Lilla in 45-50 knots apparent at the bow of Carnival Breeze halfway between the Yucatán and Galveston. Our Synnott/Kew crew of 13, from age one to 80, has had an unforgettable week with 2500 of our new best friends aboard this behemoth of a vessel. #NeverSayNever
Photo by @shonephoto "Misha p-l-e-a-s-e l-i-s-t-e-n c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y,” I say, holding up the old frayed rope to which we are tied. “I don’t want to climb any higher. If you won’t go down with me, I will untie and solo to the bottom.” With his brawny arms crossed over his chest, Misha locks me in an icy stare and mutters something in Russian. We’ve been arguing on this tiny ledge for nearly an hour, which, considering we don’t share a common language, is becoming ridiculous. What’s clear is that he adamantly refuses to bail. Earlier in the day, when we surveyed this 1200-foot cliff from the base, I realized there was no way we could safely climb it with the motley assortment of old Russian caving gear we had scrounged up in camp. I said as much to Misha and thought he had agreed, but somehow he has cajoled me halfway up the cliff. Peering down at the hundreds of feet of crumbling limestone we’ve already scaled, it dawns on me that I’m bluffing—and Misha knows it. My only option is to give in and go for the top. Though Misha is a world-class caver (and more stubborn than the donkeys that carried our gear into these mountains), he has little climbing experience. This leaves the dangerous job of leading the upper headwall to me, but I’m here to go caving not climbing, so I don’t even have sticky-soled rock shoes. When we finally top out late in the day—not far from where this photo was taken—Misha just shrugs and gives me a look as if to say, “See, I told you it was no problem.” And that’s how I accidentally made the first ascent of Hodga Gur Gur Ata, in a remote corner of Uzbekistan—on the very first day of our expedition to Dark Star. I haven’t discussed it with Misha, but I was thinking we could call our route Russian Roulette. Stay tuned for more stories and photos from our Dark Star article in the March issue of @natgeo Magazine. @thenorthface#neverstopexploring
The Synnott homestead this morning. The boxed shaped snowy thing on the right is Hampton's truck. Will and I still managed to get sixth chair @wildcatmountain . Thank you thank you thank you @hamptonkew for supporting our powder skiing addiction and holding down the fort with Tommy-San. You took one for the team today.