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Dick Mason

The Observer

Mountaineer Steve House had climbed only a few flights of stairs in the past 24 hours yet sagged from exhaustion.

House felt as if he'd scaled Pakistan's 26,660-foot Nanga Parbat mountain again.

House, who grew up in La Grande and now lives in Bend, had just reached the most rarefied of heights, a place where the air is rich and the spotlight blinding.

The throne room of the climbing world.

It was Feb. 10, and House was in Grenoble, France, where he and his climbing partner had just won the 2005 Piolet d'Or award, considered by many as the most prestigious award in mountain climbing. Just six climbers annually are nominated for the Piolet d'Or, which in English means The Golden Ice Ax.

House and climbing partner Vince Anderson of Ridgeway, Colo., received their award for a September climb of Nanga Parbat.

The presentation, award ceremony and the interviews with journalists that followed took the better part of a day.

andamp;quot;The hours in front of the media were just as exhausting as any long day in the mountains,'' House, the son of Don and Marti House of La Grande, said in an e-mail.

A galaxy of flashing cameras greeted House and Anderson moments after their selection was announced.

andamp;quot;It was a long and awkward few minutes for Vince and I as a big pack of photographers blinded us with their flashbulbs and the crowd cheered,'' House said.

The response of the press and the spectators mystified House.

andamp;quot;I had to think that all we had done was climb a mountain.''

An understatement like few others.

All House and Anderson had done was climb one of the world's most deadly mountains via a new route that significantly escalated the danger.

So hazardous is Nanga Parbat that it is known as the andamp;quot;killer mountain.'' Nanga Parbat's steepness, technical challenges and elevation make it particularly treacherous.

andamp;quot;It's hard to function at such high elevations,'' said Don House, a certified public accountant. House made a gesture in his office on Washington Avenue. andamp;quot;At 20,000 feet it's hard to even walk across this room.''

Many climbers bring oxygen with them at such elevations, but not House and Anderson. They climb without oxygen and with only a minimum of provisions because they are alpine climbers. Alpinists climb with a minimal amount of gear and do not have people such as porters assist them with climbs.

The new route House and Anderson took was up Rupal Face, a rock wall like few others.

andamp;quot;It's a sheer wall that rises in a single swell of 15,000 feet the highest mountain wall in the world,'' according to the book andamp;quot;In the Throne of the Mountain Godsandamp;quot; by Galen Rowell.

House and Anderson started their ascent on Sept. 2 after spending a month at a 15,000-foot base camp near the foot of Nanga Parbat. From there, House and Anderson conducted short climbs in the area to get acclimated.

House and Anderson started their ascent on Sept. 1 with just 50 pounds of equipment and provisions and on an ominous note. The day before a daring helicopter rescue plucked a climber from the 20,000-foot level of Nanga Parbat.

House and Anderson, though, encountered no insurmountable difficulties during their climb, reaching the summit at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 8.

Their celebration there was short lived.

andamp;quot;We savored a few minutes together, took in the marvelous views in all directions, shot some photographs and at 6 p.m. descended from the summit,'' House wrote.

The climbers needed two days to make their descent. They arrived back at the base of Nanga Parbat Sept. 8.

It was an unforgettable experience.

andamp;quot;We've been overwhelmed by the local response to our ascent. All the way out to the roadhead, locals stopped us and congratulated us. In (nearby) Tarshing, 200 school children turned out to greet us with bouquets of flowers and posters commemorating our climb,'' House said.

Unbeknownst to House and Anderson, many people living at the base of Nanga Parbat had observed them.

andamp;quot;Wild! It turns out the whole valley was watching our progress by seeing our headlamps each night,'' House said.

He added that the day they reached the top the weather was so clear that andamp;quot;many people watched us summit through binoculars.''

The Golden Ice Axe award has been given since the early 1990s. House and Anderson are the first North Americans to win the award.

House graduated from La Grande High School in 1988 and from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

Today House, 35, works for the Patagonia outdoor clothing and gear company and is a climbing guide. He also goes on speaking tours. House's next talk will be given March 17 at the University of Washington.

House's ability to connect with audiences was evident at the Golden Ice Axe award program. Each year nominees give presentations to the audience about their climbs. The audience then votes on their favorite, with the winner receiving the People's Choice award. House received the People's Choice award this year and in 2005.

House, who was an Eagle Scout with Troop 514, cut his teeth climbing in the Anthony Lakes and High Valley areas. Many of the climbs were made with his father. As a student at LHS, House also made climbs with the school's old Cliffhangers club.

The mountaineer will return to Pakistan later this year to make more climbs. House has have traveled to Pakistan nine times and even keeps equipment there in a storage shed.

andamp;quot;He enjoys climbing in Pakistan because it has the highest mountains on earth and he likes the Pakistani people,'' Don House said.

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House and fellow climbers pool resources to help Pakistani schoolchildren

Foreign mountain climbers in Pakistan are required to travel with cooks who prepare their food at base camps.

andamp;quot;Climbers eat well at base camps,'' said La Grande's Don House, the father of mountaineer Steve House.

The cooks go into nearby villages to purchase chickens and goats.

Steve House has become good friends with one of his Pakistani cooks and now sends money to help his children with schooling. Their village has no school so children must attend a boarding school if they are to be educated.

House recently expanded his outreach. He and some friends are now pooling their resources so more money can be sent to the village. The money they send helps additional children attend boarding school.

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