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Himalayan jaunt

Bob Bogner of Carbondale poses for a picture with the Marron Bells in the background. Bogner and three other valley residents will travel to Nepal on Feb. 28 to take part in a ski expedition on Annapurna. (Courtesy Bob Bogner)
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The mountains perpetually awed Sylvia Bogner.Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions to Antarctica fascinated her. And while she was never a climber herself, Bogner followed the exploits of Ed Viesturs and others on Everest religiously – she is buried with a rock from the world’s tallest peak. When Frenchman Maurice Herzog’s personal account of his harrowing 1950 summit of Nepal’s Annapurna – he became the first ever to reach the top of an 8,000-meter peak – was published in 1952, Sylvia Bogner was quick to purchase a copy. “It was an adventure book,” her son, Bob “Bogie” Bogner, remembers. “It was one of the most fantastic climbing adventures ever written about. My mother lived vicariously through those climbers. “If it wasn’t for her, I would have never heard about Annapurna.”As Sylvia Bogner succumbed to cancer two years ago, her final moments weren’t spent pondering what lay ahead. Instead, she and her son regaled each other with the stories and remote locales that enamored them their entire lives. They talked about Patagonia and skiing in Argentina, Chile and the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Georgia. They talked about Annapurna, the world’s least climbed, and arguably the most feared, 8,000-meter peak.While he never disclosed his eventual intention to his mother, Bogner was about to turn fantasy into reality. One year after his mother’s death, Bogner began planning his first trip to the majestic Himalayas.In less than two weeks, Bogner, 64, who has worked for the Aspen Skiing Co. for 40 years as instructor and patroller, and three other locals – daughter Sarah and her boyfriend, Riley Gessele, as well as Highlands patroller Didi Lawrence, daughter of two-time Olympic gold medalist Andrea Mead Lawrence – will join four guides from Chamonix on a one-of-a-kind Annapurna ski expedition. The group will fly in a 13-passenger Russian military helicopter to altitudes approaching 17,000 feet then make numerous first descents in the Annapurna Range. The plan is to ski the massive northern slopes of the Grand Barrier and on Annapurna I, which Herzog made famous. But the entire itinerary will be predicated on weather, Bogner says.With only a few days before a trip one year in the making becomes reality, Bogner admitted to feeling anxious as he sat in the Sundeck on Thursday afternoon.”It’s more excitement than nerves,” he says. “I imagine that week that there will be times when I’m plenty scared, but I was just as nervous going to Alaska. I was just as nervous pointing my skis down some of the places in Chamonix.”I’ve been preparing for this my whole life.”Bogner is no stranger to ski excursions. He has traveled to Valdez, Alaska, and to South America to ski at Portillo in Chile and Argentina’s Las Lenas. He has skied the slopes of Mount Cook in New Zealand and tackled the peaks of the Caucasus in 1995 with daughter Vicky, a former Junior Olympian. Bogner was given the trip in exchange for housing a Soviet World Cup racer – now a governor of a Georgian province – for a season.Three years ago, Bogner made a winter ascent and ski of France’s Mont Blanc with Dick Jackson of Aspen Expeditions – he’s quick to point out, however, that he stopped 600 feet from the summit because of an abundance of blue ice.Despite all his experiences, Bogner admits the Himalayas are on a scale he cannot comprehend. “Of all the mountains I’ve seen, nothing comes close to Mount McKinley,” he says. “My friend Bob Perlmutter climbed McKinley, and he said the difference between there and the Himalayas is like the difference between [Aspen] and McKinley. I can’t imagine the scale.”I don’t pretend to know what goes on in the Himalayas.” Bogner openly acknowledges he does not know what to expect. Still, he’s well aware of Annapurna’s deadly reputation. It’s a mountain, the 10th tallest in the world, which has a fatality rate of 40 percent, according to some reports. As of 2005, only 103 successful summit bids were obtained, and 56 people died before they ever reached the top.While Herzog was successful in 1950, the brutal trip cost him and partner Louis Lachenal all of their toes, and Herzog most of his fingers. And, after Herzog, the mountain was not summited again for nearly 20 years.”There are very few killer mountains in the world, and that is one of them,” Bogner says. “I’m hoping the treacherous part is for the climbers. I’m not going there to die. I’m hoping that everyone who goes over comes back, especially my daughter. I’m more expendable, but I still have a few good years of skiing left.”Bogner is hoping the group contends with steep, sustained pitches on snow that is not yet wind-blown. He is hoping to test his limits – and try to keep up with 26-year-old Sarah. He’s also hoping the group does not come face-to-face with the avalanches for which Annapurna is known. In slides of such magnitude avalanche equipment is rendered useless, Bogern says.Such is the reason that Bogner’s wife continues to express her apprehension as the trip nears, although she has stopped short of asking her husband to reconsider the trip. Bogner has come to terms with the assumed risks. “I think it’s going to take more than me skiing to trigger a slide,” he says. “It’s out of our control. If an ice fall comes loose above us, that’s just bad luck.”The four valley residents will depart Denver Feb. 28. From there, they’ll fly to Seattle, Tokyo, Bangkok then on to Kathmandu. After meeting with their French guides, the group will board a helicopter for Pokhara in central Nepal. After two full days of travel, six days of skiing, some of it on virgin slopes, will await – no doubt an alluring proposition.But Bogner’s motivation for heading to Annapurna is decidedly more personal.”I’m looking forward to bringing back a rock to put on my mother’s grave,” he says.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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