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Posted on: March 1, 2004

The Curse

I just read the article "Nuptse!" in Issue 5, and would like to offer my congratulations to Willie and Damian Benegas for completing a fine route that has been overlooked by climbers for years. I have walked by the north face of Nuptse on several occasions and never even noticed the route.

I would, nonetheless, like to make a few comments. In the article, Willie Benegas responds to Doug Scott's question about aid climbing as follows: "I used my ice tools for everything; pulling on ice tools is the same as pulling on gear." It is generally accepted that climbing with ice tools is ice or mixed climbing, not aid climbing. Pulling on gear, however, is aid climbing, period. Traditionally, in alpine-style climbing, when a climber pulls on a piece of gear, it is referred to as "French-free." If this occurs, a route has not been "freed"—it has been aided. Later in the article, Willie says more about wanting to free the route: "I figured that if I had to aid, I would come back down, rest, then go up to try it again." The statement seems to be inaccurate, since they did resort to aid. This fact should have been reflected in the grade as A1 or A0, depending on whether the second aided or freed the aid sections.


In addition, I was surprised to read this statement by Willie: "The closest thing [to our route] in terms of style is [Voytek] Kurtyka and [Robert] Schauer's route on GIV." This is a far-reaching comparison. Although both mountains are approximately the same altitude—GIV is 7925 meters; Nuptse, 7861 meters—Kurtyka and Schauer's climb of GIV's west face was 1000 meters longer than The Crystal Snake, and there was no chance of rescue, both because the Baltoro is far more remote than the popular Khumbu Icefall, and because few climbers are competent enough to climb GIV, let alone help someone else off it. Kurtyka and Schauer climbed on rock that was "either completely rotten or of a completely compact marble," and they climbed up to 5.7 without a single piece of protection at 7100 and 7300 meters. The pair sat out two terrible nights at 7800 meters with nothing to eat or drink before escaping over the face and descending for three days down the then-unclimbed northwest ridge. In my view, there is no real comparison between the two climbs. The Crystal Snake is primarily an ice climb, and since the advent of the Abalakov V-thread, descending ice climbs is relatively easy. (In fact, the brothers rappeled from the top of Pitch 10 on their first attempt of the route.) Another escape possibility exists to the east, over the ridge, where The Crystal Snake joins the 1979 route. Peter Athans ascended the north face in four hours in 1999, an indication of the relatively straightforward nature of the terrain once it is accessed. Given these facts, it is safe to conclude The Crystal Snake is a long way from Kurtyka and Schauer's bold ascent.

Kurtyka writes [in Issue 2] of the 1985 GIV ascent, "Was it a hard climb? Of course for Robert and me it was a hard climb. But can you trust the impressions of two poor devils struggling with a curse?" Perhaps for the Benegas brothers the curse is that of sponsored climbers feeling the need to make grander their achievement?

—Stephen Koch, Jackson, Wyoming

Just a Regular God

I'd just like to say thanks for publishing Voytek Kurtyka's piece "Losar" (Issue 4, Pages 66-81). It was the best bit of climbing writing I have ever read, due to its honesty, style, humor, insight and structure. I can't praise you enough for giving Voytek the room to write a story that on paper seems so below him ("Icefall Climbing by the Legendary Voytek!"). Perhaps the main reason I liked it so much was that I met Voytek last year at an Alpine Club lecture and to be frank I couldn't relate to the guy—he just seemed like such a god. Gods like Silvo Karo, Doug Scott and Yasushi Yamanoi soon appear human once you talk to them about mundane things, but not Voytek. He seemed so unapproachable—after all, what on earth would he want to talk to me about? I suppose deep down I actually resented him because he just made me seem so crushingly mortal. His piece was profound for me because it showed me that he isn't a god after all, or if he is he's a god plagued by the same problems as the rest of us—doubt, despair, frustration and fear; yet in the end, in spite and because of his weakness, he discovers something fundamental. Throughout our lives and climbs—just like Voytek!—we are stopped by wild rivers, unable to cross to what we want on the other side. For me, knowing that even the great Voytek has been stopped by those same rivers makes those moments a little easier to bear—and like Voytek, it reminds me that if you are brave, persistent or just a little crazy you will be able to cross someday.

—Andy Kirkpatrick, Sheffield, England

Buckets of Courage

I'm writing [to Steve "Roadie" Seats] in response to Jerry Cagle's "Cochise Lament" ("Letters," Issue 5, Page 10). Courage comes in buckets when slipping a letter under the midnight door or on rappel with a full charge in the Bulldog. Is this the same Jerry I heard just the other day beating the pulpit on KSQUAWK AM? Sorry, no—that was Falwell.

Alpinist 4 arrived [on a] Friday afternoon and was consumed in its entirety over the course of a lazy Saturday. Sunday, [a friend] and her eight-month-old pulled into my driveway, ready to stroll up to the sandstone boulders behind my home. I walked out and handed her the mag: "New Alpinist came. Read the Cochise one."

Fantastic piece. I've been blessed with two one-week stays in the West Stronghold (1996, 2001) and share similar feelings about the power of the place as well as the disconcertion upon return to the concrete jungle. I, too, came upon shining, fat bolts and felt their incongruity. The salient point, for me, is less ethical than empathetic: gritty smear, patina plate, three-eighths-inch stainless steel bolt, bottoming crack—which does not belong? Your narrative was everything I've been missing in the two big mags (and the primary reason I've let those subscriptions lapse). [You've done a] fine job weaving humor, history, insight and character into your well-written story.

—Jerry Werlin, Cedaredge, Colorado

Shrinking Heads

Issue 5 arrived just an hour ago. Beautiful, as usual. Great job! Only two fuckups so far, and it's surprising that both are [the editor's] fault. I refer to "noteably" and "Mt." Blanc on Page 6 ("Editor's Note"). Pretty minor, I realize, but lest your head swell, I thought I should point these out. Aha, reading the letters just now, I see an "entirity" on Page 10 ("Letters," line 3 of Cagle). Big article last week in the San Francisco Chronicle about how people can't spell anymore, but with many professors saying that it really doesn't matter. Maybe they are right?

—Steve Roper, Berkeley, California

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