Posted on: June 1, 2004

The Nuptse Controversy

I would like to comment on the recent ascent of Nuptse East I by Valeriy Babanov and Yuri Koshelenko ("Climbing Notes," Pages 88-90). The ascent and its fallout provoke some important questions about contemporary alpinism and how we collectively perceive and reward success.

As individuals and as a worldwide community, we must ask ourselves: What methods justify what results? This is the question, of course, that we call style. And what we call style determines what we call success. Let me suggest that good style is perhaps best defined within the terms of what it does not include. Alpinism is not: fixed ropes, fixed camps, bolts, high-altitude porters or breathing supplemental oxygen. By the definition of success that I hold for alpinism, Babanov and Koshelenko did not succeed.


The alpine community and its press should never forget that fundamentally alpinism is an art form defined by the aesthetics of beauty and dignity and courage and simplicity. Ever since the great alpinists of the previous generation brought alpine style to the Himalaya, any other style of ascent is a gross and unacceptable step backward into the past and a great strike against all that is beautiful about the pursuit. I also believe that alpinists from all countries should stand up strongly for good style and draw a line that the style Babanov and Koshelenko employed is no longer acceptable.

The Piolet d'Or committee awarded the two men the once-prestigious award for outstanding ascent [for the Nuptse climb]. This accomplishes two things. Most sadly, it publicizes an ascent that was accomplished using a style that made the ascent irrelevant to contemporary alpine climbing. Secondly, it demonstrates to me, and to others, that the present Piolet d'Or award is so badly out of touch with alpinism that the award itself has become irrelevant. To those who understand and care about modern alpinism, the current Piolet d'Or no longer carries any prestige.

The climbing media also have an undeniable role in this. Perhaps the reasons for old, expedition-style ascents have to do with sponsorship and creating publicity for your sponsors. If the media, and the miscellaneous self-appointed judges, ignored these ascents, it would make it more difficult to generate exposure for sponsors, so maybe there would be less climbing in these variations of the un-style. In the 2000 American Alpine Journal I wrote an article about such "business climbing." So now we must consider seriously: Why report on these ascents at all?

In the spring of 2002 I attempted a new route on the south face of Nuptse, reaching 7200 meters. I saw the pillar that Babanov and Koshelenko later climbed; their route is a beautiful feature, but the knowledge of how the route had been desecrated by bolts and fixed ropes led me to not desire it.

Nuptse, and all the great mountains of the world, are things of beauty on an extra-human and cosmic scale . We must treat these places with utmost honor and respect. When we fail in this, not only does the mountain lose her natural loveliness, but we are revealed to be cheap and base creatures without any dignity or honor or respect for things greater than ourselves, which is exactly the opposite of what alpinism can, and should, do for the human spirit. The simpler you make things, the richer the experience becomes.

—Steve House, Mazama, Washington

Editor's Note: Readers interested in Mr. Babanov's perspective on the ascent of Nuptse East I should turn to Page 40 of this issue.

Not the Angus Thuermer?

On a flight to Virginia for Christmas at Gramma's I sat back with the latest Alpinist. A short story by Angus Thuermer, Jr. (Issue 5, "The Mate," Page 19) brought back memories. When I was sixteen Angus and I went up the Enclosure Couloir on the Grand. For reasons unknown, I got us off route near the top, traversing across steep slab and a corner filled with what appeared to be very loose rock. After using the choss for footholds, I decided to trundle them. When Angus got to the corner, the footholds were gone.

"What the hell do you want me to do now?" he said.

"Jump, Angus!" I replied.

He jumped, and he also never climbed with me again; in fact I hadn't seen him since that summer of '76.

Anyway, I'm on this plane reading Alpinist and see that two seats ahead of me some old geezer is reading it too. They must have quite a good circulation, I think to myself. Later, at baggage claim, the intercom commands, "Angus Thuermer, please meet your party at carousel 4" (my carousel). I listen hard: who's got a name like Angus Thuermer? Sure enough, the refrain is paging good ol' Ang. It would be so fun to see him again—and what a happy coincidence—but could I recognize the man after twenty-eight years of aging? Sure enough, up he walks—same face, just older, the face of a mountaineer. Handshakes, small talk, smiles. He was the geezer on my flight reading Alpinist. He too is in Virginia for a week visiting family. I didn't bring up climbing.

—Dieter Klose, Fort Collins, Colorado

Lonely Grannies

Although Alpinist is a fine piece of work, I find CB's pantheistic environmentaligion editorials tedious. I am always amused by misty-eyed entreaties to save things for the "next generation"—when the fact is, ninety-nine out of a hundred people don't care enough about the living generation to give their lonely grandmother a call on even a monthly basis. This fabricated concern is a not only naked self-aggrandizement, but also a miserable effort to convince ourselves and others of a selfless compassion, despite our engagement in mountain climbing—a completely self-indulgent activity (unless you are a guide) that contributes nothing to the betterment of civilization or the environment. Where were the righteous climbers to protest the recession of glaciers from Colorado's mountain valleys and cirques? Not to mention the erosion that lopped 10,000 feet off our summits! Things change. Save the parroting of environmental litany for cocktail parties. And, call your granny—she would love to hear from you.

—Andrew Klotz, Durango, Colorado

We checked our notes. During Colorado's last glacial recession we were in Boulder at a cocktail party hitting on Mr. Klotz's granny. She liked our litany. -Ed.

Taking the Heat

I have taken the habit, upon returning from ice climbing, of reading a magazine while in the steam room. I find it very relaxing and a good way to blow twenty minutes sweating without having to breathe hard. My favorite magazines for this are Alpinist and National Geographic. However, after a mere three steams, my recent copy of Alpinist is beginning to show more age than any of the Geographics. It's wrinkly, threatening to come apart and generally looking not unlike an in-flight magazine on Laos Aviation. Could you please be advised that a bump up to water-resistant paper would make me happy.

—Sam Lightner, Jr., Banff, Canada

Abseiling, Then

Got [Issue] 6 yesterday. Best yet. Beautiful cover and magisterial Thalay piece and fascinating Baffin piece. Super photos and layout. I don't live in Berkeley, however. And what's with this new word "rappeling?" Used about fifty times in this issue. No dictionary on the premises? But it does save a letter and thus ink, and thus helps the planet, so that's nice.

—Steve Roper, Oakland, California

Editor's Note: Alpinist uses Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, as its standard; Webster's supports "rappeling" as an alternate spelling of the word. However, we see Mr. Roper's point. The discerning reader will note his influence in this issue.

The article "Into the Light" (Pages 52-59) concerned a climb in Greenland, not Baffin. And we are fortunate Mr. Roper missed our spelling of antipodean (Page 34).

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