Letters

Posted on: December 1, 2003


Alpine Style is Safer

Issue 4 continues the new voice of the alpinist. The magazine is hitting lots of high points in a clean, lightweight (read: unpretentious) style. But you do yourself and your readers a disservice by allowing the implication of Nick Colton's position, as articulated by Victor Saunders in the Editor's Note, that "...by holding up bold alpine climbs for emulation, Wilson lured a generation of the country's finest climbers onto dangerous faces in a style that maximized their exposure. Many died as a result..." to go unchallenged. (Ken Wilson, of course, was the editor who made the English publication, Mountain, the most influential climbing rag of the 1970s.)

Certainly it's true that many of Britain's best died climbing in the 1970s and early '80s, but in my memory the deaths were usually on expedition-style, fixed-rope climbs with an alpine-style summit push. Thus Mick Burke, and later Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker, were lost on the summit slopes of Everest, Nick Estcourt was killed in an avalanche on fixed ropes on the west face of K2, and so on. In fact these were not alpine-style climbs at all, since fixed ropes got the climbers quite high to begin with. I would argue that true alpine-style climbing is safer than this hybrid style. Although Alex McIntyre was killed by rockfall during a pure alpine-style attempt on the south face of Annapurna, a climber repeatedly ascending and descending fixed ropes on that face would be even more exposed to the same hazard. Even adjusted for the greater number of expedition-style climbs attempted or accomplished, a tally of the number of deaths, of all nationalities, on expedition-style as opposed to truly alpine-style climbs in the Himalaya would almost certainly reveal that by far the most deaths occur on expeditions. Either way, climbing the great peaks by their best and most challenging lines is illogical and dangerous. If you're going to risk your life anyway, isn't the style that demands more vision, skill, judgment, experience and commitment the more artful and commendable one? Who wants to be a cog in a quasi-militaristic machine?

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Incidentally, I must be dyslexic. In my piece on the unclimbed north face of Latok I, I said the north ridge, mostly climbed in 1978, is a "...twisting tightwire of granite and ice connecting the flat glacier at its base to the eastern shoulder of the summit crest." I should have written "...the western shoulder" My apologies. I meant my other left.

—Jeff Lowe, Ogden, Utah

Illuminating the Ideal

Your Editor's Note about inspiration and responsibility in Issue 4 was, once again, right on. The work you do at Alpinist is indeed a serious responsibility and ought not to be undertaken lightly. But remember that alpinism is an ideal generated by climbers. Your task is illuminating that ideal, not setting the bar yourselves. One of the great aspects (historically, anyway) of climbing is the whole idea of climbers being responsible for ourselves. Nonetheless, it's honorable to be aware of the possible effects of your influence, as, quite probably—Colton's views aside—Ken Wilson was at Mountain.... Thanks for showing us, so elegantly, what is possible.

—David Stevenson, Macomb, Illinois

Conjecture

I really enjoyed Greg Crouch's article about The Mooses Tooth. Mr. Crouch did a great job of chronicling all the known routes. But there might be one more route on the mountain about which there isn't as much information.

On May 28, 1979, Jay Hudson landed my partner Mike Kotowski and me in The Great Gorge, where a team of Japanese climbers had left a base camp tent. We climbed the West Ridge to the West Summit of The Mooses Tooth; from our camp on the Moose's Back, we could see their other tent below the south face of The Mooses Tooth, as well as a number of tracks leading from that camp to the south face.

In the thirteen days that we were in the Ruth area, we never saw or heard the Japanese team. The weather during this period was relatively warm, and we only had one two-day storm with six to eight inches of snow. After we descended, another team from Colorado (Mack Ellerby, Charlie Campbell and John Cooley) attempted the West Ridge. Mack told me later that at one point his team saw the Japanese in their base camp. Their English was very limited, but they seemed to indicate they were attempting The Tooth. Mack, Charlie and John did not see the Japanese during their descent, [which suggested the Japanese] had gone back up on The Tooth.

In the fall of 1979 I never heard or read any thing in any of the international climbing magazines about these Japanese climbers. Also, back the 1970s, climbing parties were not really required to register with the NPS for climbing in the Ruth Glacier area. So the NPS might not have any records about these guys.

My conclusion from all this is that there could very well be a route on the south face of The Mooses Tooth that has gone unreported since 1979. While the Japanese might have been trying [a route] via The Mooses Tooth/Bear Tooth col, I don't think anyone would spend twenty-plus days on that route. Maybe a Japanese reader of your magazine will shed some light on what happened to these guys in 1979.

—Halsted Morris, Golden, Colorado

Trashmouth

Just got back [from Peru; see note on Page 82 -Ed.] and got [Issue 4]. Thanks. Another brilliant fucking job, mate. Keep it up. Incredible. Great editorial. I remember asking if Eddie Sender was a fictional character—after all, whose name is really Eddie Sender? You said nope, he's real. Indeed. Fuckin' A. And hopefully, maybe in some way, Eddie Sender will somehow continue every now and then. Big smile and nodding my head at that, and a bit emotional—great call on keeping the Eddie Sender photo credit—and Sean [Isaac]'s obit was terrific. Went from being emotional to laughing out loud and with a different type of smile and head nod at reading Roadie's "Off Belay." Climbing life essays are excellent, too.

Is the cover photo caption correct? Seems off, but maybe that's a picture of the Pole holding a pin post-ascent?

—Kelly "Junior" Cordes, Estes Park, Colorado

Editor's Note: Mr. Cordes surmises correctly: the cover photo is of Polish climber Marcin Tomaszewski back in base camp after the first ascent of The Last Cry of the Butterfly, The Citadel, Kichatna Mountains, Alaska.

Cochise Lament

I live near Cochise Stronghold and climb there frequently. After reading "The Stronghold" in its entirity—twice—I am saddened to report my great disappointment in both the quality of Steve Seats' writing and Kennan Harvey's selection of photographic subject matter. Seats' essay is sophomoric and solipsistic. The photography only serves to support my assessment of Seats' self-aggrandizing rhetoric: in a landscape that elicits frequent epiphanies we are given photos of Steve and his new girlfriend. The rock itself is relegated to a secondary status.

The article is rife with factual errors. Seats presumes to denigrate the bolted routes on Sheepshead, which it does not appear he has actually climbed, only crossed over while climbing what is undoubtedly Absynthe of Mallet. There are no "pointless" variations on Sheepshead, only independent lines (although the nature of the rock does provide the opportunity to connect those routes in places). Further, his description of War Paint as not having been exposed to the drill on its upper pitches is simply incorrect—off-route again? He grouses over "intruders" driving four-wheelers who dare to invade his domain (uh, where are you from Steve? Not here...). I understand the sentiment (I don't care for the noisy, smelly beasts either), but am incensed by his pretension. While I share Seats' professed love of the area, I am stunned by his willingness to distort reality in order to bolster his personal prejudices, and his lack of respect for the ethos of the local climbing community. What contributions has Seats made to this area? Does he work to help preserve access or does he just come here to climb, criticize and then leave? Steve, next time do your homework before you dismiss the efforts of others, and consider what adverse impact your elitist aspersions may have on an area where you are a guest.

—Jerry Cagle, Tucson, Arizona

Editor's Note: Photographic selection is the responsibility of the editor, not the photographer. The woman pictured in the essay is not Mr. Seats' girlfriend. As noted at the beginning of the article, the photos do not necessarily represent events depicted by the author. Regarding Mr. Cagle's other points, Mr. Seats responds, "Jerry, you're right on Sheepshead: we were, obviously, on Absynthe of Mallet and, as I implied in the article, off route. I've no idea when you climbed this route last but as of November, 2002, it seems to have sprouted a lot of 'independent lines' that start 400 feet off the deck and end a pitch or two later. Regarding Warpaint: Our blunder! The sentence in question should have read, '...the upper half of the pitch ....' Concerning my respect for the local climbing community, in a place like Cochise Stronghold I have a tough time accepting the new ethos of bolted cracks, countless squeeze jobs and manufactured holds. As far as my contributions to the area, I've put the Stronghold on my list of public service projects this winter. Thanks for the input."



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