Letters

Posted on: June 1, 2005


Sheesh

I'm home after a difficult and cold climb of Shishapangma, which I made with Polish climber Piotr Morawski on January 14. Since December 31, 1988 (when Kryzstof Wielicki climbed Lhotse) until our climb, nobody made a first winter [ascent of an 8000er]....

Jean Christophe Lafaille's climb of Shishapangma's southwest face was certainly good and difficult, and I personally wrote on my own web site, as well as to other sites, my congratulations and appreciation. The problems began when JC declared some extra, false particulars that I and other climbers cannot accept.

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His climb was not in winter (winter begins December 21).

His climb was not the first solo ascent of the face (Wielicki made the first in 1993).

His climb was not the first solo alpine-style ascent (Wielicki's 1993 climb took only twenty-four hours).

His climb was not alpine style (he used fixed ropes and worked for nearly a month on the face before going to the summit).

His route was not a new one, but a partial variant (we opened the first forty percent of the route in 2003 during our first attempt).

I'm not interested in fighting with JC or losing time ruining his image and [undermining his] great climb, but... communication has to be honest, respecting the rules of alpinism and science. Kukuzcka, Wielicki, Berbeka, Boukreev, Messner and many others respect the standard definitions of winter, alpine style, no oxygen, new route and so on. Here in Europe (except in France) nobody has any doubt about who did the first winter climb of Shisha, and who did the first solo.

JC did a great solo late-autumn climb on the south face of Shishapangma via the British Route without oxygen. This is a big accomplishment, the message which he should focus on and develop.... But he can't imagine what winter really is like in the Himalaya. I have made five winter expeditions, three in the Himalaya, and I was only forty kilometers away from him when he summited. The conditions did not resemble real winter ones....

On our climb of Shishapangma's southwest face, Piotr, Jacek Jawien, Darek Zaluski and I followed the Yugoslavian Route, which is the longest and probably easiest way to reach the ridge between Pungpa-Ri and Shisha's main summit. We also had no oxygen, Sherpas or other expeditions in our base camp, and we were completely alone on the mountain. We used around 2000 meters of fixed rope that [we] carried and fixed over two weeks. We established only two camps between our advanced base camp and the summit.... It is not true [our climb] was only a walk to reach the summit....

There are too many "snakes" in the climbing community, and I prefer to follow other ways. I hope that winter will remain winter as the south remains south and the north remains north.

—Simone Moro, Bergamo, Italy

Editor's Note: Jean Christophe declined to respond to Mr. Moro's points, preferring to let his climb speak for itself. Readers may read more in this issue's climbing notes.

Piolet de Farce

I just read that the Russians won the Piolet d'Or for their ascent on Jannu. Is this a joke? What is the Piolet d'Or now? Maybe something different than I had thought. How can the Groupe de Haute Montagne give the Russians, who fixed the entire route, rotating teams, using mountaineers as in the old style, the award? Are we back to the old style of mountaineering? For me this is ridiculous.

Jean Christophe Lafaille (for his solo of Shishapangma) or Steve House (for his solo of K7) should have received the award, not these old-style Russian climbers, even though they climbed one of the best walls in the world. For them to receive the prize automatically legitimizes their style as the present state of the art in mountaineering. In this case I prefer to be an old-fashioned alpine-style climber!

—Thomas Huber, Berchtesgaden, Germany

Editor's Note: Thomas Huber and Iwan Wolf won the Piolet d'Or in 2001 for their ascent of Shiva's Line on Shivling.

Blowing Your Hair Back

How is your winter, Alpinist folks? I've been up to a lot here in the Fitz Roy area, most of it non-mountain-climbing related: building, bouldering, guiding, and lots of mate. The time in the mountains has been full value though, and I'm celebrating life because of all that's happened. Jonny Copp, Josh Wharton and I got three meters from the tippy top of Torre Egger when the whole piece of the summit I was on gave way and sent me flying with it thirty meters to the base of the 'shroom. Jonny asked me if I was alive before bursting out laughing. Josh was awestruck, but dealt with carrying on with the descent. The 'shroom lead had taken me three and a half hours. It felt like melting A4, and pretty much ended that way: twenty-eight sharp points, thirty meters, landing on an ice slab, and I walked away with a sore back. I coulda spit on the son of a bitch's tippy top from where the fifteen-foot-high, six-foot-wide flute of rime crumpled beneath me.... All this drama after a cold open bivy and some serious choss climbing for the previous thirty-six hours and a way-wild lead through an overhanging bombay tube that had me literally so claustrophobically scared I had to stop mid-overhang, feet dangling free below the tube with my body wedged in and arms flailing above, and breathe ten deep breaths to relax and wash away the irrational fear that I was soon to become a permanent ornament in the overhanging part of Egger's summit mushroom....

All in all it was the most climactic nonsummit I could ask for, and this week I'm just really appreciating life. Friends, health, the colors in the sky.... The experience was simply a vivid reminder that all is good and mundane and seemingly going your way until suddenly it is not, and that is when luck or the lack thereof steers our inevitable destiny. Guess it just wasn't my day, so I am taking my winnings to go live fully through a few more, and trying hard to remind myself to keep it nonmundane and dynamic, always.

Go do something wild today.

—Bean Bowers, Bozeman, Montana

History Lessons

As I read the article on Mount Hunter (Issue 9, "Mountain Profile: Mount Hunter," Pages 24-43) I kept thinking over and over that history is written by the winners. It's understandable, but often it isn't the only story.

My long-distance relationship with Mount Hunter started in Madison, Wisconsin, when Josh Hane showed slides on a sheet hung up in the backyard of the "Z" Buttress, which lies roughly halfway between Rattle and Hum and the Northwest Basin Variation and leads up to the West Ridge. I didn't pay too much attention at the time to Josh's proposed route, but it would soon become more deeply etched in my mind.

In early July 1996 word trickled in that Josh and his partner Chuck Drake were missing at their camp on the Kahiltna. Soon the National Park Service confirmed that Josh and Chuck were presumed dead on their attempted new route—the Z Buttress. A few days later I was making phone calls to Josh's girlfriend and his many close friends. That was a hard summer.

Josh's father, Mike Hane, had died from injuries sustained on Chacraraju in Peru in the late 1960s when Josh was a toddler. Less than fifteen years later his beloved uncle, Franz Mohling, died on Mt. Logan. My point isn't to say Josh had a death wish or his family was cursed. It's just to say the obvious: climbing is dangerous no matter how much we convince ourselves of our own invincibility and skill.

Josh had completed a master's degree in cartography and was already busy on his master's in art. The combination of mapmaking and art made his imagination wild. When he died, his many friends just couldn't believe such an intelligent, sweet, likable, funny, spontaneous, shit-eating grin of a wonderful person would never come back from Alaska. It was his incredible, lost potential that was/is so hard to accept....

I'm still mad as hell at Josh for dying on the route. His beginning on the mountain reminds me so much of Michael Kennedy's. I suppose if things had gone just a little bit differently, Josh would be telling his version of his crazy days on Mt. Hunter in the pages of Alpinist.

But they didn't. And we miss him.

—David Panofsky, Madison, Wisconsin



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