While Christmas Day has never been a big sending day, here are a few events that happened on Dec. 25 over the past 125 years. In the mid-1880s, while the northern hemisphere was experiencing a cold winter, New Zealand’s summer season was starting. The race to summit the country’s highest mountain, Mount Cook, had generated a small rivalry. American Edward Fitzgerald and Swiss/Italian climber Matthias Zurbriggen were travelling to to New Zealand for the first ascent when climbers Tom Fyfe, George Graham and Jack Clarke heard of the plans.
Early in the morning on Christmas Day in 1894, Fyfe, Clarke and Graham tied the laces on their cob-nailed boots and roped up at their high camp. Around noon, they were nearing the top of the north ridge could eventually see the summit ice cap. The ice was blue and hard and the climbers cut more than 100 steps to the highest summit in New Zealand for the first ascent.
On Dec. 25, 1994, Conrad Anker and Steve Gerberding made the first ascent of a Patagonian route called Tomahawk. The long iced-up chimney is 400 metres and links into Exocet, which is the classic of the east face of Aguja Standhardt. Anker and Gerberding did not climb to the summit, but in 1997 Laurence Monnoyeur and Bruno Sourzac linked Tomahawk to Exocet and to the summit, the first complete ascent, which took two days.
Canadians Martin Boiteau and Claude-Andre Nadon made the first winter ascent of Tomahawk in 2002. In the fall of 2015, Canadian Marc-Andre Leclerc made the first solo ascent of Tomahawk into Exocet and to the top of the mountain. A number of other ascents have been made on Christmas Day, including the first ascents of the fun sport routes Hero Worship 5.10b and Computer Virus 5.12b by Liz and Mike Tupper in 1993 in Red Rocks.
Sadly on Dec. 25, 1997, at age 39, famous high-altitude alpinist Anatoli Boukreev died with Dimitri Sobolev while attempting Annapurna’s Western Wall with Simone Moro. A cornice broke and fell down the couloir they were fixing. The ensuing avalanche took the three climbers all the way to camp one. Moro lived through the snow slide and was evacuated to Kathmandu for surgery. Moro and Sobolev were never found. At the base camp is now a memorial with a quote by Boukreev, “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
On this Dec. 25, the temperatures in Canada range from -40C to around freezing, which can be great temps for ice climbing and backcountry skiing. Be sure to check the avalanche conditions before heading at Avalanche.ca.