Posted on: September 1, 2003
Walking the Plank
The solution to reporting a first ascent in the Himalaya is somewhat easier than implied in the letter by Mr. Silver that appears in Alpinist 3 [pp. 8-10]. There is indeed a long history of unpermitted (what we at High Magazine prefer to call unauthorized) ascents, one as long, in fact, as permits have been in existence. Mr. Silver is correct in stating that many peaks hidden from full public view in the popular Nepalese trekking areas such as the Annapurna, Langtang or Khumbu received unauthorized ascents long before they were officially climbed. Some folk, like the late Trevor Pilling, almost made unpermitted ascents an art form.
When we at High record a "first ascent," common sense suggests that this refers to the first recorded ascent of a mountain, since most people will simply not know if a previous unrecorded ascent took place. If previous unauthorized ascents are known by the editors to have taken place (as, for example, on Machapuchare in the Annapurna Sanctuary, Dorje Lhakpa in Langtang, Teng Kang Poche in Khumbu and Cho Polu above the Barun, to name just a few well-known Nepalese peaks climbed for the first time without official permission), then a subsequent ascent becomes the "first authorized" or "first official." The privacy of those climbing without permission is upheld—that is, as long as they have also kept their secrets from the public, as should be the accepted practice.
However, I find it hard to agree entirely with Mr. Silver's moral standpoint. Most climbers making unauthorized ascents do so because of the current inflexibility of permit regulations and/or because they simply can't afford to climb under a country's system. However, these hard truths are often hidden behind diatribes about oppressive governments, etc. One school of thought would suggest that if you feel strongly about the way a country is run and you feel that the withdrawal of Western tourism will help, then simply boycott the country. I'm not sure where Mr. Silver fits into this. If he was climbing for all the laudable reasons he stated, then why did he publicize his ascent in your magazine, even anonymously? You can't have your cake and eat it too.
Climbing without a permit can potentially harm the future of climbing, but it only presents a problem when attempts become publicly known. Mr. Silver has presumably chosen objectives wisely and been fortunate not to have had an embarrassing accident while climbing. The Nepalese government is well aware that secretive, unauthorized climbing takes place and has generally turned something of a blind eye to the practice. Don't humiliate them by advertising the fact of your unpermitted climbing.
On another note, my thanks to Mr. Silver for confirming that the Slovenians can now be reported as having made the first authorized ascent of Peak 41.
Lindsay Griffin, Editor, Mountain INFO, High Magazine, United Kingdom
Shock and Awe
Two things: First, your magazine is great. Second, I just wanted to tell you how much it pisses me off that you found a way to insert your left-wing, liberal political views and your criticism of Bush in an editorial about climbing grants [p. 6]. I was kind of hoping not to hear that shit from this magazine about hardcore alpinism.
Trust me when I tell you that the only thing Iranian climbers and Teton climbers have in common is their love of the mountains. That's not enough. And if you happen to be a Jewish climber, they would like nothing more than to sink an ice tool right between your eyes. So just because you got drunk with a bunch of Frenchmen and it made you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, don't think everyone in this world loves you because you love the mountains. I guarantee you that the Muslim guerillas who kidnapped [Tommy] Caldwell and company didn't give one shit about their love of the mountains. GWB, however, loves you because you are an American (I think), and he wants you to be safe when you travel to other countries to climb or whatever.
Besides this, keep up the good work.
Tom Compton (via e-mail)
Editor's Note. We assume that when Mr. Compton refers to "GWB" he means Great White Brother.
The Italian Perspective
I greatly appreciated your editorial remarks in the third issue of Alpinist because they seemed to me to be sincere, even brave. I read [the magazine] while in New York on business and was struck by the stark contrast between what you wrote about the international politics of the United States and the "unspoken policies" of the Bush administration in both domestic and foreign matters.
Incited by the White House, the American media pointed fingers of blame at antiwar protesters and ended up feeding anti-American feelings, but I can assure you that [the protestors'] criticism is directed at the Bush administration's actions and certainly not at the American people and the culture they represent. An administration that governs by lies (where are the weapons of mass destruction, the primary rationale for the war in Iraq?) and hypocrisy (why did Mr. Rumsfeld sign contracts with the Baghdad government up until 1999?) has led America to its highest unemployment rate since 1994 and Bush's sad supremacy as the worst president of the United States in terms of economic and social performance.
What does this have to do with mountains, with our environment, with mountaineering? And what can I possibly know about it, living as I do on the other side of the Atlantic?
Right now, America is clearly the most important nation in the world, and its economic decisions influence the international balance. We cannot forget that one of Bush's first political decisions was to pull out of the Kyoto Accord, with the sovereign pretense of going it alone because American interests must be safeguarded at all costs. A country that consumes a good part of the planet's energy resources has to get very serious about planning a truly global economy, one that acknowledges the thousands of interactions that are inescapable in today's worldwide market. Why shouldn't I keep an eye on what happens in the States if it has an effect on my present and my future? Our earth is singular and must be defended however we can for our children and grandchildren....
I actually believe that if we were fortunate enough to have Gandhi, M.L. King or even Jesus Christ alive today, we might well have to listen to them from behind prison bars, because the freedoms of speech and belief are in serious danger.... If we don't return human beings rather than stock market indicators to the center of politics, our planet and the things we hold dear will not have a future. "There will be [no corporations,] no profits on a dead planet" (David Brower): a sad truth that our politicians have not learned!
I realize that this is more a diatribe than a calm reflection on the relations between the US and Europe—a rant, because it infuriates me to think that I might be considered an enemy [of the US]. I will not see myself as an enemy of a culture that has produced some of my heroes: from John Muir to Walt Whitman, from Bob Dylan to Ansel Adams, Yvon Chouinard to William Burroughs, Sitting Bull to Edgar Allen Poe.
I believe a better dialogue between mountaineers is necessary because the events of the last few months have colored not only our view of relations between countries but between individuals, too. Climbing as a means to correspond and to get acquainted with one another is a splendid antidote to an ignorance borne of fear.
Claudio Sagripanti, Montecosaro, Italy
Number 3 came two hours ago, and of course I devoured it. Great job again, with a brilliant editorial. Great pics throughout. The best such rag in the world, I would guess. Better hire me to proofread, however. "Doug" Hennek on Page 29. Mt. St. "Helen's" on 95. "Fehermann" on 26 (I may be wrong on this, but it looks fucked). "Berchtesgarden" on 25. Wally "Read" on 24. These five in two hours. How many more are there? You have too excellent a mag to be sloppy. Fire somebody! Hire somebody! Yours in despair,
Steve Roper, Berkeley, California
Editor's Note: For the record, it's Dennis Hennek, not Doug. There is no apostrophe in Mt. St. Helens. It's Berchtesgaden, not Berchtesgarden, and Wally Reed, not Read. We stand by the spelling of Feherman, regardless of how it looks to Mr. Roper.