Learn More About Steve Swenson
Don't miss our special VIMFF event on April 19! Through a 45-minute multimedia presentation, Steve will explore the nature of high altitude, alpine climbing, the complexities of mounting remote expeditions, the geo political workings of the contested area, as well as his passion for the cultural communities in this region of the world. Event will be followed by a Q&A and author book signing. We caught up with Steve to learn a bit more about him and his expeditions!
I’d read about mountains like K2 since when I first started climbing as a teenager. After spending what I thought was enough of a climbing apprenticeship in North America, I started planning trips to the Great Ranges. The mountains in the Karakoram attracted me because of their steepness, remote location, and opportunities for first ascents. The region had only recently been reopened to foreigners after over a decade long closure due to the conflict over Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
How did you get into climbing and alpinism? What drew you to the mountains?
From a very young age I was attracted to the idea of having great adventures in wild places. This was in the early days of space exploration and initially I wanted to be an astronaut, but soon I was old enough to realize it was unlikely I’d be chosen to walk on the moon. I got interested in climbing mountains after reading about it in books, and the big mountains in the Great Ranges seemed just as unworldly as outer space and a more realistic place to aspire to. By the time I was 9 or 10 years old I had already decided that this is what I wanted to do.
You mentioned you have made nearly 20 expeditions to the mountains in South Asia. Do you have a favourite mountain to climb, or one that holds the most meaning to you personally?
I don’t think I have a favorite mountain. All mountains are special and majestic in their own way. I’ve come to realize that a goal to climb a particular mountain or route, is simply the source of inspiration that helps me stay engaged in a lifelong desire to explore.
After coming home from all these expeditions over the years, I felt like I had been too busy with my job and my family to think about what I had learned and what these experiences meant to me. I had a professional career as an engineer where I spent a lot of time using the left side of my brain. I decided to take the opportunity to retire when I was 55 to write a book and spend more time exploring the right side of my brain. I hope that writing this book has helped me to become a more well rounded and thoughtful person.
What will your presentation on April 19 focus on?
In this presentation, I will talk about the overarching theme in my book of - what it took to learn how to climb big mountains – how this long and frustrating apprenticeship eventually resulted in several successes - and then passing on this knowledge to a younger generation of climbers. Through the lens of an expedition climber I will also talk about my experiences with the local people in a region dominated by border disputes and political violence.
What’s next for you? Do you have any climbing trips planned – either to the South Asia area or anywhere else in the world?
I will be headed to Pakistan this July and August with two young partners to attempt the first ascent of Muchu Chhish, a 7,453-meter peak in the western Karakoram. It’s the second highest unclimbed mountain in the world. Gangkhar Puensum, on the Bhutan/China border is the highest unclimbed mountain, but it’s not possible to get permission to go there for political reasons.
Steve's new book will be for sale at the show with proceeds going to the Climbers' Access Society.