Posted on: September 1, 2004
Dissension in the House
Why does a gifted climber like Steve House feel he has the right to tell others how to climb a mountain ("Letters," Pages 8 and 10)? As long as you don't trash the environment and you're honest about how you do it, then all else is fair. There are no rules, no dictator. Why doesn't Mr. House complain about the Poles' new route on the east face of the South Tower of Paine ("Climbing Notes," Pages 89-90)? They fixed lines. Or the Annapurna III team for jugging/ descending lines left from a previous expedition ("Deep Down and Dirty," Pages 56-63)? Or let's tell Ed Viesturs it's weak to climb all the 8000-meter peaks by the standard routes. And if you want to complain about bolts, I think Yosemite has a few more than Nuptse East. The bottom line is that the Russians climbed one of the hardest routes ever done, semi-alpine style in the Himalaya, and they should be commended for that. And if Mr. House or Mr. Twight want to do it better, in more pure style, then do it. It's still there.
—Mike Preiss, Bellevue, Washington
Shaving the Bull's Horns
Since the Renaissance, western civilization has viewed man as separate from his environment. Valuing nature as something to be used, a resource to be "managed," has taken us to the brink of global collapse. Climbing is a metaphor for life, and when climbers talk about "preserving the resource" I cringe. In our growth-based society, "preservation" is nothing more than lip service designed to placate our conscience in the face of ever-increasing exploitation.
Bolts allegedly reduce impact. In reality, they increase impact by making cliffs more accessible. Localized "preservation" is offset by increased foot traffic and crowding. Bolts supposedly make climbing safer. In reality they promote technological dependency and mindlessness. Drilling for dollars by bolting for convenience, guides trivialize valuable instructional topics like selfreliance and problem solving.
Critically evaluate your approach to life in general and climbing in particular. Unless we view everything as sacred and interconnected, we will continue to destroy the planet and ourselves. Bolts are climbers' ultimate expression of dominance over nature. Ironically, this dominator gestalt separates one from nature, from the very experience so earnestly sought.
Listen to and trust your feelings. Feel like you're selling out when you clip a bolt? Don't clip it. Climb easier routes in better style. Dislike seeing more bolts at your local crag? Pull them out. Stop clipping them in moments of fear-induced weakness and then, later on over a few beers, spraying about how you wish they weren't there....
I appeal to integrity and issue a call for action. Purify your style. Top out. Walk off. Down climb. Solo. Reduce your hypocrisy instead of using others' to justify your weakness. Only my fear of ostracism prevents me from removing every fixed anchor I can. I have pulled some out and may pull more, locally or elsewhere, if I want to. I cheer inwardly each day I use no fixed anchors. On some days the chalkbag and tight shoes stay at home. Know yourself, accept where you are and start from there. The question is: In which direction to proceed? Toward greater self-actualization or into increased trepidation and dependence? Toward love or toward fear?
Hemingway once said that climbing and bullfighting are the only true sports. Some fighters have been shaving down the bull's horns, making it safer and more entertaining for the crowd. What will happen to climbing if we continue to accept the shaving of its horns?
Take your power back. Think for yourself.
—Dave Heinbach, Seneca Rocks, West Virginia
Darling, sweetie, imagine how surprised I was to get my latest copy of Alpinist and see your name on the cover. My manservant Jeeves brought it to me, wedged between my afternoon treat of chocolate bonbons and my old favorite Dom. Good thing I had the chance to wash one glass down, for there was my photo (Page 54), in your beautiful essay (“A Night in the Open,” Pages 48–55). Oh my goodness, there I was, au naturel, no makeup, utterly exhausted after that five-hour ice-climbing epic to get to our little snow cave. I almost choked on my chocolates.
Heavens, has your stock portfolio crashed that bad (I know I am still in shock about mine) that your memory has failed you so? I suppose in the grand scheme of things it really does not matter how wrong the facts were, but I must protest. Really, "top ramen"? "Ticket to Ride"? Oh, how rude, darling, for my crepes were the talk of base camp, and I don’t really like that song. I thought your taste in music was more classical—or at the least, more vintage (I can recall you humming Foxy Lady the entire time). The truth of that night out was ever-so-much more interesting: the "voices in the night," the ice cave falling in on you when an "unnamed team member" "stood up," the other team reporting to me that all of you were dead, the epic return at 1:30 a.m., the next day’s descent, when Jim and I encountered the remains of a climber that came out in the avalanches from Torre Egger.
La noblesse de coeur forces me to care about the truth, no matter how insignficant the facts. And of course, I still simply adore you, as the respect, affection and loyalty that come from the bonds formed on a then-visionary alpine-light expedition remain constant.
Kisses, darling, and ta ta. I hope your knees are in better shape than mine. (By the way, did you get rid of your Humvee or are you just garaging it while the gas prices are high?)
—Eliza Moran, Reno, Nevada
Break a Leg
I was reading my new Alpinist last night, and on Page 89 I read about the route put up on the east face of the South Tower of Paine by Chris Belczynski and team. In the last line Chris said, "We salute the earlier parties, both those who succeeded and the ones who only attempted lines on this face!" As a member of the first team to attempt a line on the east face back in 1984-85 (I’m the one who got nailed by a rock during a bivy 1,700 feet above the glacier and had my leg broken on the morning of our summit bid), I would like to send Chris and team a personal note of congratulations on their magnificent new route. Despite my accident, our climb in '85 was one of the best experiences of my life (see the 1986 American Alpine Journal if you like a good epic). I can only imagine the rush you three had summiting after climbing that magnificent wall, and in such good style. And thanks for adding your finish to our line, too! I believe we are entering a new Golden Age of climbing, where the possibilities for adventure for new big-wall climbers are endless. Your new route is a perfect example. So, to Chris Belczynski, Bodziu Kowalski and Wojtek Wiwatowski—I salute you!
—Craig Peer, Cameron Park, California