Friday, August 5, 2005

A peak experience

Express Staff Writer

Rob Landis (left) and Dave Bingham on top of Hyndman Peak in the Pioneer Mountains. Courtesy photo

True, records are made to be broken.

In the case of Dave Bingham and Rob Landis, they're made to be shattered.

The Hailey duo recently climbed all nine of Idaho's 12,000-foot peaks in an astonishing 38 hours and 50 minutes (including drive time and a nap). With that time, they could have bagged all of the 12'ers twice and still bested the old record, set by Boise's Nic Stover in 2003, by more than five hours. Stover's time was 83 hours, 16 minutes.

"I actually thought we might be a little faster," Bingham said.

"We could have been in a lot better shape," added Landis. "I could have eliminated a few beers from my diet."

They're not being cocky, just honest. After all, as Landis said, "so much of this is just about our friendship and getting in the mountains. The competition and the records, those are just the fun little bells and whistles that go along with it."

What makes the time even more ridiculous is their age—both Landis and Bingham are 48. And they both have kids.

"I was kind of amazed we were able to do this thing," Bingham said. "It's not like we took time off or quit our jobs.

"We just went out and did this."

Well, not quite.

Both men come from adventure racing backgrounds. Bingham competed in the 1998 Eco-Challenge—the mother of all adventure races—in Morocco, and is the author of a rock-climbing guide to southern Idaho's City of Rocks.

The two have joined up on numerous adventures, including a made-for-television special on winter survival in the Arctic. They've spent countless hours in the backcountry honing their route finding skills, building endurance, and learning each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"I attribute this (record) to our racing background," Bingham said. "We're pretty methodical and ruthless in our approach."

They're also coaches of the Sun Valley Junior Nordic Ski Team—a dead giveaway that they find pleasure in pain.

The slaughtering of the record began Saturday July 23, at 9 p.m., when the pair set out to climb Diamond Peak (12,197 feet) in the Lemhi Range, which they accomplished in three hours and 45 minutes.

From there, Kevin Lupton, a friend who provided support throughout the expedition, drove Landis and Bingham to the rugged Lost River Range—home to seven 12,000-foot peaks—and the most daunting leg of the trip.

At 3:45 a.m., the duo left for Mt. Bora, Idaho's highest point at 12,662 feet. After tagging the summit, they hopped on a ridge and traveled south into the heart of the Lost Rivers and the remaining six peaks.

"This was the big push—trying to (reach) all of those summits without coming back down to the trailhead," Landis said.

Twice the pair had to descend about 2,500 feet to avoid what Landis called "ugly sections" and find water. With no trails, the pair navigated through steep, unstable scree fields slick from snowmelt. They avoided an electrical storm, fought off exhaustion and bloodied their fingers on the range's nasty limestone rock.

"The Lost Rivers are so unremittingly rugged and challenging," Landis said. "The limestone just shreds shoes and fingers—anything it touches. My finger tips were destroyed, they were literally bleeding."

But the physical pains paled in comparison to the psychological struggles.

"You need to be fit, you need to be prepared for it physically," Landis said. "But once you're out there, the whole game is mental."

Traveling through sections of steep and dangerously exposed terrain, Landis said focus was essential.

"It's easy on almost any part of the route to slip and fall and hurt yourself," he said. "The whole key to the thing is maintaining that mental focus."

Bingham reached a low point on 12,200 foot Mt. Church, as his energy plummeted and he began to lose track of time.

"Dave was going pretty strong and I was struggling," he said. "But you have to plan for that in long endurance (events) and know that as down as you feel, sooner or later you'll eventually cycle back up again."

Bingham said minor set backs from weather, physical and mental challenges were to be expected, and it could have been much worse.

"The Lost River section is such a big bite," he said. "You know you're going to suffer at some point, but luckily we didn't have to suffer that much—we just kept plugging away. We were pretty unscathed. Our fluid and food intake—we just nailed it. Everything went pretty darn well, it was almost boring."

With darkness setting in on Sunday, Landis and Bingham reached the car. In almost exactly 18 hours, they had climbed all six of the Lost River's 12,000-foot peaks—Mt. Bora, Leatherman Peak, Mt. Church, Mt. Brietenbach, Lost Rivers Mountain, Mt. Idaho, and Donaldson Peak.

"Finishing the Lost River section was truly the crux of the whole thing," Landis said.

But both men were so tired that their accomplishment didn't even register.

"At that point we were so destroyed we were just relieved to sit in the car," Landis said.

Exhausted and in need of a nap, a shower and a meal, the team decided to head back to Hailey and get some sleep before tackling the last of the 12'ers—12,009-foot Hyndman Peak, in the Pioneer Mountains.

"I actually slept in my bed and took shower and brewed up some coffee in the morning," Landis said. "It was great."

By 11:50 a.m. Monday, the pair had climbed Hyndman and returned to the trailhead to complete their record-breaking journey.

"From Hyndman you can see the entire crest of the Lost Rivers," Landis said. "It gave us a good idea of what we had just done."

While Bingham and Landis are no doubt proud of their accomplishment, they don't think the record will stick around for long.

"I expect somebody will do it faster here pretty soon," Bingham said.

And neither really seems to care.

"It's not the accomplishment, it's the experience," Landis said, "and the sense of place and almost spirituality you get from doing something like that."

So what's next?

"I don't want to see a piece of scree for a long, long time," Landis said.

"That was enough for now," added Bingham.

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