With 11 ascents of Mount Everest, 25 ascents of Antarctica's Vinson Massif, 17 ascents of Denali, and 245 ascents of Mount Rainier--almost all with clients in tow--Dave Hahn may be the most successful mountain guide of his generation. To say he is at the top of his game is an understatement. The fact is, Hahn is a mountain guide who in the past few years has changed the nature of the game itself. He has demonstrated an aptitude not only to successfully climb each year marquee mountains all over the world, but he also manages to get his clients safely to the top and back down again. And in the process he's become a mountaineering journalist who has garnered increasing respect in the literary world.
“Why do I risk my life… my limbs… my reputation… and my brain cells yet one more time?” Hahn told GreatOutdoors.com. “In truth, there isn’t so much more to prove… except everything. The mountain remains famously unimpressed with my resume. High altitude guiding is my chosen profession and practicing it well is not a one-time-only thing… or a fifteen-time-only thing. I’m still captivated by the mountain itself and by it’s history… so a chance at helping to focus a spotlight on some of that history is a big plus for me. So is a chance to work on a small and focused team with a high ratio of experienced climbers to less-experienced ones. Chuck in the added bonus that I like my teammates and have known most of them for years… and I’m totally on board. Mount Everest here I come.”
Hahn’s renowned ability as a guide and climber sometimes overshadows his ability to share with others the realities of his, a most demanding profession. He has written for magazines such as Outside, and contributed to books, such as The Ghosts of Everest, and Everest, the Anthology, and for most of this decade he has served at GreatOutdoors.com Everest correspondent. Those climbs, and Dave’s reporting, reflected the dangers of high altitude mountaineering.
In 2008, Dave reported live for GreatOutdoors.com as he guided Nikki Messner to the summit of Everest in a year marked by weird politics. The Chinese government mandated no climber go higher than Camp II, as it feared protests for the upcoming Olympics. It was Dave, who had by then already been to Everest more than 12 times, who made sense of it all for a confused public. (Hear Dave’s live reports from 2008
In 2007, once again while reporting for GreatOutdoors.com, Dave Hahn made his ninth ascent of Mount Everest. Stopping to call in every few hours, he made a live telephone call from the summit. His historic live call from the summit of Mount Everest was one of the most exciting moments of the season's coverage, with his vivid descriptions of the view from the top of the world. He continued to call as he descended the mountain in the glow of a rare, peaceful sunrise on Mount Everest (Hear Dave's live reports
from 2007 year). His descent, however, became a grim ordeal as he first rendered medical assistance to a female Sherpa climber who had become inpacitated, and then helped organize a difficult high altitude rescue.
His feat on Everest in 2006 was equally unusual: Hahn climbed Mount Everest twice, once in the spring pre-monsoon season, and five months later in the fall post-monsoon season. Everest remains the benchmark against which big-time guides measure each other, and Hahn's eight ascents by 2006 were unsurpassed by U.S. based climbers. His successful ascent in 2005 with his neurosurgeon client, and his successful ascents in the ensuing four years gave Hahn a total of 11 ascents of Everest. That total was even more summits than renowned guides Pete Athans and Ed Viesturs. It was pretty good company indeed.
All those climbers have not only summitted the peak multiple times, they have guided less-experienced climbers safely up and safely down, without undue drama. That's the kind of resume you look for when you set out to find somebody to guide your vulnerable body up the highest mountain on earth, and make the right decisions to get you back down. But even when compared to some of those most famous Everest guides of the modern era, Hahn's resume may be yet more impressive.
Dave Hahn not only guides every year on Everest, he routinely guides every year on Denali, on Rainier and on Antarctica's Vinson Massif, not to mention other specialties, such as guiding the Shackleton Crossing on South Georgia Island, and working ski patrol when he's at home in Taos, New Mexico. In some ways, his 12 years of guiding on Vinson (25 ascents), 22 years of guiding on Rainier (245 ascents, one helicopter crash, and a number of rescues) and his 22 years on Denali (where he was named the "Denali Pro Mountaineer of the Year" by the National park Service in 2001) is as impressive as his career on Everest. To lead those disparate groups of clients--the inevitable assortment of skilled climbers, gung ho novices, quietly capable beginners, and unprepared wanna-bes--into the maw of the beast again and again, and bring them back safely, is a demanding, high-risk job where a lot can go wrong. It's work that requires good judgment as much as climbing prowess.
For decades, Hahn guided the great peaks in virtual obscurity. But when Hahn guided Salt Lake neurosurgeon Doug Brockmeyer up Mount Everest in spring 2005, a quirky season marked by endless storm and disheartening delay, suddenly Hahn found himself being referred to as either the "main man" on which the other climbers keyed, the "veteran" guide, or--his favorite--the "overnight sensation." All three monikers brought the predictable easy grin to Hahn's features.
"The fact is," Hahn says, "successfully guiding Everest is in large part a matter of patience and the willingness to accept the fact that it might not happen. The primary weakness I sometimes observe in guides who have not been to the summit before is that they are perhaps a little too anxious to go for it. Now, that may work for them, but it won't necessarily work for their clients. Because here's the deal: To guide the client you need better conditions than you would need to climb the mountain yourself."
Hahn's comments go right to the essential truth about what he does: guiding is way different from climbing. "Guiding can be more difficult than simply climbing," he told GreatOutdoors.com "And I like that. I guess I like the combination and the variety that comes with it, but I do enjoy the challenge of guiding, of trying to help somebody safely reach a lifelong goal that might be out of reach if they were left to their own devices." To his detractors, those who say he doesn't put up new routes or push the limits of technical mountaineering, Hahn just shrugs. "Hardcore climbers might not appreciate the difficulty of the routes I climb," he said, "but pure difficulty doesn't interest me as much as the introduction of new climbers to those places--and seeing them safely to the summit and back down. I find that honest work, I'm just wired up that way."
To be fair, it should be remembered that Hahn has put up important new routes, such as the Hahn Headwall on Mount Vinson, climbed while filming a PBS documentary with Jon Krakauer. But he may be best remembered for his role in finding a long-lost British climber who disappeared high on the slopes of Everest's north side. Working with climbers such as Conrad Anker on an expedition lead by Eric Simonson, Hahn and the 1999 Mallory & Irvine expedition stood the mountain world on its ear when the members found George Mallory's body where it had lain for 75 years.
Everest had long been a magnet for Hahn, but it didn't come easy for him. Now, with 11 successful summits--eight via the South Col from Nepal and three via the Northeast Ridge from Tibet--it's easy to forget his earlier struggles.
"I made my first try in 1991," he remembered, "and I've turned back four times within a thousand feet of the summit." He reached the top in 1994, 1999, in 2000, and then, seven years in a row: 03, 04, 05, 06 (twice), 07, 08, and 09. . He failed to reach the summit in 2001 because he abandoned his own summit attempt to assist other climbers in trouble high on the North Side Route. For that, Hahn was the recipient of the David A. Sowles Award for unselfish valor from the American Alpine Club.
Hahn has returned to Everest yet again here in 2010, this time to try for his 12th summit, while guiding the son of the man who was the first American to reach the top. Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting. Don’t miss the action as Dave reports in daily via satellite phone, and reports with the keen eye and articulate observation that has made him one of the best known mountaineers of the decade.