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Avalanche Rescue: Greg Hill's Story

By Claude Adams

Even among extreme skiers, Greg Hill is a phenomenon. The BC man has spent most of his adult life climbing and skiing at high altitude, up where the air is thin and risk is ever-present. It’s been a life of high adventure, and a lot of fun . . . But then, on a recent morning, Greg Hill came upon a scene he can never forget—a snowfield of death in the mountains of Nepal.

Greg talked with 16x9’s Jill Krop in his first extended interview at his home in Revelstoke.  (October, 2012)

Watch the full 16x9 video story HERE


VO
THESE ARE THE MOMENTS GREG HILL LIVES FOR.

CLIMBING TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD.

AND THEN COMING DOWN SLOPES NO ONE HAS EVER SKIED BEFORE.

IT’S A PASSION THAT DROVE HIM TO EXTREME LENGTHS.

LIKE SETTING A RECORD FOR VERTICAL ASCENTS.

In 1999 I was hiking up a mountain and I did a big day and I was 5000 foot day and I started doing math and I was..Wow if you did just over 5000 feet everyday you’d do 2 million feet.

VO (various climbing and skiing shots)
IT TOOK A LONG TIME AND A LOT OF TRAINING.

BUT FINALLY, IN 2010, HE MADE IT.

TWO MILLION VERTICAL FEET IN THE SPACE OF ONE YEAR.

THAT’S NEARLY 400 MILES OF MOUNTAIN  . .CLIMBED.

SU from 2million.movie 5:59 “  (CLIP—HIS JOY OF MAKING IT)
“There it is (shows altimeter at 2 million feet) CHEERS. I guess I am going to get emotional. Holy shit. “ You’re a nutbag. You’re crazy! (Greg tearfully) Holy shit. One year!”

BUT AT THESE ALTITUDES, IT’S NOT ALL CELEBRATION

THERE ARE RISKS AT EVERY TURN.

YOU NEED A CLEAR MIND, A FIT BODY AND ABSOLUTE FOCUS

there’s all sorts of different levels of things you have to consider out there. Most of the time obviously avalanches are your biggest hazard

JILL: DESCRIBE AN AVALANCHE TO SOMEONE WHO’S NEVER SEEN ONE OR HEARD ONE OR BEEN IN ONE

An avalanche is very similar to a wave on a beach, except it starts at the top of the mountain and it’s this big vertical wall of snow which kinda sweeps down the mountain.

WITH A LOT OF FORCE

With a lot of force something you never wanna be below or above.

HIS ABILITY TO ASSESS RISK PROBABLY SAVED GREG’S LIFE ON A RECENT VISIT TO NEPAL.

(PHOTO OF GERMAN TEAM)
HE WAS WITH A TEAM OF GERMAN CLIMBERS ON MANASLU, THE WORLD’S EIGHTH HIGHEST PEAK.

AND WHAT HE SAW DISTURBED WHAT HE CALLS HIS “MOUNTAIN SENSE”

(PHOTO OF LINEUP ON MOUNTAIN)

This was the most busy mountain that I’ve ever been on I mean you can see from one of my pictures it’s there’s a line up of humans going up the fixed ropes and yeah we’re very busy.

VO (this needs a little more drama in the voice, and faster pacing)
300 CLIMBERS . . . 200 SHERPA GUIDES

(photo of mt, with camp 3 marked)
SOME OF THEM SETTING UP CAMP

IN A BOWL-LIKE DEPRESSION THAT SEEMED, TO GREG, DANGEROUSLY EXPOSED.

No I would never camp at camp 3. Especially at that spot

JILL: EVEN A ROOKIE COULD SEE THAT COULD BE IN THE DIRECT LINE OF AN AVALANCHE

Yeah definitely some questions with that camp spot I was surprised when I got up that day and saw about 14 camps up there.

VO  
GREG AND THE GERMAN TEAM FOUND A SAFER SPOT TO PUT UP TENTS

We were just trying to get to our Camp 2 which was positioned on this kind of a rise and a bit of an ice bulge and as safely as I could find on the mountain.

SO YOU PICKED THE SITE WHERE YOU AND YOUR GERMAN CREW SLEPT

Definitely as a group we picked it, there wasn’t many other places I would have slept on that mountain.

One of the rules is definitely to sleep in the safest spot you can find.

VO 
BUT GREG SAYS THERE’S ANOTHER CODE IN MOUNTAINEERING.

WHEN IT COMES TO RISK, YOU MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

Everyone has their own kind of risk tolerances in the mountains and they’ve got their objectives, and they’re willing to take that risk and..we’re not gonna go over there and force our views on them.

JILL: EVEN IF YOU THOUGHT THEY WERE IN DIRECT LINE OF AN AVALANCHE YOU WOULDN’T TELL THEM THAT

There’s very experienced people there and they’re all making their own decisions and like I said they’re deciding on their risk tolerance and it’s not for me to tell them what to do.

VO 
ON SEPTEMBER 23, AT 4:45 AM, GREG WOKE UP . . .  AND HE KNEW THERE WAS TROUBLE.

Just right off the bat, the winds and just kind of started flapping our tent really flapping our tent,  . . .  we were just oh that’s really odd and I think that was an avalanche that just went by.

we could hear voices up the slope and peeking out and we could see head lamps and desperation desperate voices shouting for each other and we knew that something had just happened

once it got clear and we started hiking up we could see that it was a huge event. Many people caught in it and it was the entire tents 14 tents that we had seen the night before were gone somewhere in the debris*****

(RESCUE VIDEO)

WHAT’S YOUR VERY FIRST THOUGHT

Our very first thought was well we should go save them.

JILL: FIRST THING YOU SAW WHEN YOU GOT THERE?

we saw a discarded down boot which meant somebody’s tent had been bashed and then we knew there was no tents left up at base camp 3 that everything had been swept down so all of a sudden there’s another discarded boot there’s jackets there’s sleeping bags and then there’s saw a bit of the first group of French people that were sitting there and you could see they were obviously all shell shocked

it’s freezing cold at 5 am so we basically just gave them some hot drinks and stuff and so started focusing on those that were actually in need of our direct assistance.

YOU’RE NOT A DOCTOR

No I’m a First Aid attendant. I’ve been a First Aid attendant for 16 years. But I’ve only dealt with sprained wrists and splinters I’ve never really dealt with anything actually real this was the first time it was real.

WHAT WAS THE RANGE OF INJURIES

the one guy Ralph that we started digging out right away he was kinda buried up to here with his tent all wrapped around him and he had some broken ribs and kind of a dislocated arm out there in the snow,

VO
GREG’S MOST VIVID MEMORY, THOUGH, IS A FRENCH WOMAN, NAMED CATHERINE.

I remember she actually had a ton of internal injuries and was really not with us but we wrapped her and got her on a sleeping mat and then all sorts of sleeping bags and got oxygen on her and kinda seemed like she’d be able to stay with us but as the length of the rescue happened she definitely she just faded away and there was nothing we could really do for her***

SHE WASN’T THE ONLY ONE TO DIE THOUGH
No there was many others that were completely buried and suffocated in their tents under feet of snow

VO  (viz of hill sobbing and talking)
IT’S THEN THAT GREG WAS OVERCOME BY EMOTION.

HE TURNED THE CAMERA ON HIMSELF

SU    HILL TALKING/SOBBING
I didn’t know any of them, but it’s so fuckin’ sad . . they all come out here trusting their Sherpas and everything and camp in this huge avalanche bath (?) and I don’t know, how many died, ten? Oh God!

VO  
GREG THEN DID SOMETHING HE’D NEVER DONE BEFORE

HE LEFT A MOUNTAIN . . .UNCONQUERED

My time there was done and I wouldn’t have any desire to climb it at this period of my life and I was just gonna grab everything and exit stage left and get back to what’s important to me

WHICH IS..

Family, friends.

(Revelstoke scenics—then home with his family)

VO 
BACK HOME TO REVELSTOKE, BC

HOME, AND HIS TWO KIDS AND WIFE TRACEY

THE EVERYDAY THINGS THAT HELP BLUNT THE BAD MEMORIES.

TRACEY SAYS SHE’S NOT UNCOMFORTABLE WITH GREG’S LIFESTYLE

 I find that Greg’s a very passionate person about what he loves and that’s who he is that’s how he’s always been  . . and he’s happy.

VO
HAPPY . . . BUT IN HIS CLUTTERED WORKSPACE, GREG CAN’T SEEM TO GET HIS MIND OFF THE HUMAN DRAMA HE WITNESSED.

HIS HASTILY-UNPACKED CLIMBING GEAR STREWN ACROSS THE FLOOR. . . AS HE REVIEWS THE IMAGES FROM MANASLU WITH HIS SON AIDAN

JILL: WILL YOU STILL KEEP TRYING TO SCALE THESE HIGH MOUNTAINS

I’m sure at some point I will try those peaks again it’s something that I get to fully experience and say I had to deal with this tragedy I think it’ll take a while.

VO (shot of him on back porch looking at mountains) 
SO FOR THE TIME BEING, HE’LL REST, AND PROCESS THOSE EXPERIENCES IN NEPAL.


BUT THE MOUNTAINS, AND THE MEMORIES THEY HOLD, ARE ON GREG HILL’S HORIZON, EVERY DAY.

END

Second Sight: How Brian Borowski and Daniel Kish "see" with sound

By 

 A A 

I was walking with Brian Borowski down a residential street in London, Ontario, when he told me: “We’re coming up to a park.”

Brian is 59, and he’s been blind since birth. So I had to ask: “How do you know it’s a park?”
Easy, he explained. It sounded like a park.
“So what does a park sound like?” I asked. There were no children playing. No dogs barking. Nothing that “sounded” like park to me.



“Just listen,” he said. “There’s no sound coming back. That means an open space. On the other side of the street, I’m getting echoes from houses. On this side, nothing. Wide open. And there wouldn’t be an empty field in this part of the city.”
Brian has never seen a park. Or a tree. Or an open space. He has no sense of the colour green. But he has a concept in his mind for “park.” A restful, quiet place, where the air is fresh and there are no cars, or much to bump into. It’s not a picture in his mind (he doesn’t see pictures) but a spatial idea, confirmed by the fact that there are few or no echoes coming back.
Just to confirm his perception, Brian makes a clicking sound with his tongue, and moves his head back and forth, so his ears can pick up and analyze any echoes. There are none.
Brian has a number of tools to help him experience what he’s missing by not having eyes. He uses a white cane. And a pair of aging seeing-eye dogs. And an iPhone map that talks. But he seems most comfortable with echolocation—clicking with his tongue, or snapping his fingers, and processing the echoes.



Brian has a number of tools to help him experience what he’s missing by not having eyes. He uses a white cane. And a pair of aging seeing-eye dogs. And an iPhone map that talks. But he seems most comfortable with echolocation—clicking with his tongue, or snapping his fingers, and processing the echoes.
16x9
It is a simple but very effective demonstration of echolocation—navigating with sound.
But the question won’t go away. There is no light entering the brain of the sightless. What does a blind person see?
Here’s how Jim Davies of Carleton University’s Institute of Cognitive Science explains it:
“Your first guess might be . . . a vast blackness. But imagine telling a goose . . . that you can’t sense Earth’s magnetic field. The bird, baffled, asks, ‘So, what do you sense when you change the direction you’re facing?’ The answer, of course, is nothing. Just as blind people do not sense the color black, we do not sense anything at all in place of our lack of sensations for magnetic fields or ultraviolet light. We don’t know what we’re missing.”
Brian, who works as a computer programmer at Western University, has a number of tools to help him experience what he’s missing by not having eyes. He uses a white cane. And a pair of aging seeing-eye dogs. And an iPhone map that talks. But he seems most comfortable with echolocation—clicking with his tongue, or snapping his fingers, and processing the echoes. Like a bat. In fact, a Reader’s Digest profile on Brian was titled “Batman.”
A half-million Canadians have significant vision loss, and I would be surprised if many of them feel as comfortable and connected to the world as Brian does. Both he and his brother David were born blind, and as children they taught themselves to echolocate. At the school for the blind they attended, the two boys were discouraged from clicking. It was seen as stigmatizing, making them “stand out.” That attitude still seems to prevail among some institutions for the blind today. And Brian is conscious of it. If there are people around, he might snap his fingers or jingle coins in his pocket to produce an echoing sound, so as not to draw attention.
In that sense, Brian doesn’t have quite the bravado and effervescence of Daniel Kish, the Southern California man who has popularized echolocation around the world, with his in-your-face message that blindness is largely a social construction: The sightless, Kish says, are only limited by the expectations we have of them. We call them handicapped, we help them across streets, we offer them our arms and our sympathy, and in the process, “dependency conditioning” sets in, says Kish.

At his workshops for blind students, Daniel enforces a “no helping” rule—the kids and adults learning echolocation have to fend for themselves. No helping hands across streets. No nudging in the right direction. They have to learn to be fearless—to risk bumping into a pole or a parked car. They have to allow the visual cortex in the brain to learn how to process the echoes of their clicks, and to use that radar to navigate. They have to open the door to neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change. Eventually, like Daniel, they may get brave and confident enough to ride a bike. (Daniel admits that is a challenge for many parents of blind kids—the willingness to “let go.”)
Both Daniel and Brian have worked with vision neuroscientist Mel Goodale, director of the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University in London, Ontario. Goodale put them both to work in his experiments to determine what happens inside the brain of people without vision who echolocate.
BELOW: Neuroscientist Mel Goodale, director of the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University in London, Ontario, conducted a number of echo-location experiments with Brian Borowski in an anechoic chamber at the university. The purpose was to determine the precision of echo-location.
And what he found was extraordinary: The part of the brain that normally processes light from the retina of the functioning eye—the visual cortex—plays an entirely different role for the blind echolocator. It actually draws information from the auditory signals—the echoes—that come back to the blind, and provides data about shape, size, texture and even direction of movement.
Goodale has learned a lot about the brain’s adaptation to echoes, but if you ask him point-blank what the blind actually “see” he admits he doesn’t know. All our perceptions, he says, are subjective.
Or as a philosopher might put it, to Brian Borowski, a “park” is not a sight. It’s an insight.
– With files from Mia Sheldon