Porzak’s Seven Summits and beyond
VAIL – Glenn Porzak didn’t necessarily set out to summit the highest peaks on all seven continents. But during his lifetime of climbing a whole lot of high peaks, he happened to knock them off.Porzak began climbing in Estes Park at the age of 12, and there was just something about it that hooked him for life.”You get it when you’re skiing on a perfect day,” said Porzak, who is a part-time Vail resident and who lives a double life as a lawyer in Boulder, of the sensation when reaching the summit of a towering peak. “Climbing is a sport of moments. You go through a lot of drudgery trudging up a mountain. You might have a week of bad weather and miserable conditions. Then all of a sudden, you’ll have that moment of a sunrise or a summit. It’s a moment that makes the rest seem worthwhile.”In 40 years, Porzak has made more than 1,200 separate ascents of peaks all over the world, including some that measure more than 8,000 meters – Mt. Everest, Shisha Pangma, Makalu and, most recently, Cho Oyu.With the others under his belt, Porzak returned from the Cho Oyu expedition last October and sized it up as “not as difficult as some of the others.”
“I’d say it was the easiest 8,000-meter peak, although ‘easy and 8,000 meters’ is kind of a contradiction of terms,” he said. “But with the people I climbed with, it was kind of like a reunion. We’re all in our mid-50s, and it was more of a direct route. In the early ’80s, they would only allow one team to do these climbs every year. You had to do all the trail breaking and everything yourself. Now, dozens of groups do it every year.”The peak less traveledAlthough Everest is the most recognized of the summits on Porzak’s list, and although he attempted it two times – in 1981 and in 1989 – before summitting in 1990, it was not the most difficult.”Makalu is about 12 miles the way the crow flies from Everest, and just under 28,000 feet, but it’s far more technically difficult,” Porzak said. “For six weeks, the wind just raked the mountain. There were lots of technical sections. You have rock and ice climbing that are severe. I fell 65 feet into a crevasse at one point. I don’t know how I survived it. It was a hidden crevasse outside of our main camp – an area we’d traveled many times. It happened to break through when I went by. I was really bruised up, but had no broken bones. I was so focused on the climb, I put it out of my mind, and we went back and made the summit. It wasn’t until the walk out that I thought about how serious it could have been. While you’re climbing, all you have is adrenaline. That’s the only way you can climb an 8,000-meter mountain.”Porzak also had some close calls on Everest, one of which had him leaping Indiana Jones-style over widening cracks as ice collapsed around him.
“In the Khumbu Ice Fall, there was a major collapse as I was in the middle of the ice fall. Things were collapsing around me – a major serac, about 40 feet high, collapsed right next to me.”In another area on Everest called The Bowling Alley, Porzak hadn’t anticipated becoming a bowling pin.”I was going through The Bowling Alley. All of a sudden, it was like an earthquake,” he said. “There was an avalanche pouring down, and a big crevasse opened. I was running and I just jumped it. It was widening as I was hurdling through the air. I’ll never forget it.”So many different faces
In 1983, Porzak was part of the first American group to summit Shisha Pangma, and also the first to do two 8,000-meter peaks in the same expedition. One might think the altitude and terrain could all start to blend together for Porzak after so many ascents, but he said it’s just the opposite.”All the peaks, they really do have their own personalities,” he said. “Shisha Pangma was a great adventure because we were the first group of westerners allowed into Tibet. We had a small team with no sherpas and no porters. The Makalu trip stands out as the most rugged. In the early days, Kilimanjaro, McKinley, Aconcagua … I did those 35 years ago when there weren’t many on those peaks. It was never really a goal to climb the Seven Summits. The Seven Summits happened along the way.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado