by Doug Peacock
Beyond the wing of the Aeroflot twin-engine plane lies a tapestry of green tundra and mottled muskeg, the wetlands sliced into crescents by dark arcs of old river channels. Timbered strips of spruce and fir fringe these waterways. A village of perhaps a couple hundred ethnic Russian and native Udehe people appears in the crook of a broad bend of river, now receding from spring melt-off to expose wide sandbars and islands of willow. The little town is the first human sign upon the land in more than a hundred miles. Up ahead rises a range of low mountains, the summits traced by lines of snow cornices marking the rounded, windswept ridges. Beyond these hills, at the southeastern edge of the former Soviet Union, lies the Sea of Japan, where we plan to scout out a section of coast for a kayak trip.
On board this flying boxcar are many military men, a few families, a number of young men in leather jackets, and my companions, Jib Ellison and Doug Tompkins. Jib runs commercial river trips in Siberia and Central Asia, though this hastily-organized expedition is simply a buddy trip and the three of us merely the advance party. Our friends Yvon Chouinard and Rick Ridgeway are due to show up with Tom Brokaw in less than a week. These men call themselves the "do-boys" because, despite demanding professional lives, they get together about once a year and do things in the outdoors, like climb mountains or run rivers.
Chouinard and Tompkins know each other from the early '60s in northern California where they both surfed and climbed, and where Tompkins, at twenty-one, started a mountaineering company called North Face. Later, Tompkins started Esprit and Chouinard founded Chouinard Equipment, then Patagonia. Tompkins, now retired from commercial enterprise, buys up national park-sized forests in order to preserve them. Chouinard still runs Patagonia. Together with Ridgeway, who designs his own line of packs at Kelty, they are among the top outdoor clothing and equipment designers in the world and, even at the average age of about 50, these friends are considered among America's best climbers and kayakers, having mountaineered and paddled on seven continents.
While the name "do-boy" is derived from bad Japanese journalism and remains an inside joke, the trips these men take are serious, sometimes epic, all the more so considering their busy lives. The first "do-boy" trip was in 1968 when Tompkins and Chouinard started in California then drove and surfed their way south to Tierra del Fuego. As a finale, they climbed Fitzroy, spending weeks waiting out a blizzard in the darkness of a snow cave. The most recent "do-boy" journey was also down in Patagonia. In 1989, Yvon saw a photo of an unknown fang of rock and ice later called Cerro la Paz rising above a fiord north of the Magellan Channel. Naturally he wanted to go down and climb it. Teaming with Ridgeway, Tompkins and Jim Donini, they paddled their kayaks through the treacherous seas to the foot of the peak. One night, two of the four men made it up and barely down the deadly tooth. On the journey out, Yvon's kayak was flipped in the frigid seas by a violent gust of wind.
Ridgeway met Brokaw on the Today show in 1982 after Rick had successfully climbed the second highest mountain in the world, K-2. After the show, Tom confessed that it had always been a dream of his to climb and Rick said, "you really should try it." The two of them joined Yvon Chouinard in Wyoming to scale the Grand Teton and Mount Moran. Later, the three of them teamed with Doug Tompkins to climb Mount Rainier in Washington, reaching the summit in a white-out.
The remainder of this article will be posted upon publication