Posted on: March 1, 2006

More Trouble with Chongo

I went to Chongo's trial in Yosemite (Issue 14, Letters, "The Trouble with Chongo"), which ended up taking three days because of the number of witnesses. Dean Potter, Ivo Ninov, Dave Griffith and one of the Yosemite bus drivers testified on Chongo's behalf. More climbers wanted to testify for Chongo, but were afraid that they would become targets of ranger harassment in the future. The people who work in the cafeteria even sent a letter saying that they all like Chongo and have absolutely no problem with him being there.

Three of the rangers who had been assigned to "surveil" Chongo testified against him. Although Ranger Ed Visnovske's report [published in Alpinist 14] labelled Chongo a "master of countersurveillance," I don't know anyone who fits that description less than Chongo. Maybe Ed was joking, or just trying to make an excuse? All the rangers admitted they had never actually caught Chongo sleeping in the Valley. Chongo's attorney made the point that it is not illegal to be in the park 365 days a year and that there was absolutely no evidence that Chongo was "living" there.


I only went to law school for a week, but I always thought that in our legal system people were innocent until proven guilty. Since there was no proof against Chongo, I assumed he would have to be ruled innocent. In the prosecuting attorney's closing argument, she even accidentally referred to Chongo as "the victim." I was bewildered when the judge ruled Chongo guilty. As we left the courtroom, Dean called the rangers "pathetic" over and over (which may not have been the best thing to do, but we were upset).

Evidently Chongo can appeal the case in Fresno. The Fresno courts are reportedly sick of dealing with frivolous Yosemite cases and may throw this one out. I think it was a real shame to waste so much time and money harassing a person who has never harmed anyone, and I think Ed and Jack Hoeflich may come to regret their unkind actions some day.

I am still shocked at how unlawful the ruling seemed. I'd been told that the Yosemite court is a kangaroo court, but it's hard to believe until you see it happening before your eyes. Over the next few days after Chongo's trial, six climbers were brought into court for nonsensical offenses, and Dean was warned to watch his step because the rangers were hot to get him for anything. So far the main result of Chongo's trial seems to be a bigger rift between the climbers and rangers in the Yosemite community. As always, I wonder: Why?

—Steph Davis, Yosemite, California

The Brothers Pou

As luck would have it, I was on my way to Bilbao, Spain, for a meeting in the Basque region of the UIAA Mountaineering Commission, when I read the article about the Brothers Pou (Issue 11, "The Brotherhood"). I asked my hosts if I could meet one of them. Eneko Pou showed up the next day and sat down with me for a thirty-minute chat. I was astounded to find how well your article captured the essence of the Pous' climbing philosophy as well as their moral character. Eneko reflects the best of mountaineering tradition; he treasures strong family ethics and yet dares himself to be great, even as he realizes how fleeting life can be. For him competitions are not the way to excellence. Although Eneko does not look like Peter Croft, he reminds me of Peter: the two share similar views about life and climbing. Thanks, Alpinist, for bringing the light of climbing's heritage to the new climbers of today.

—Eliza Moran, Reno, Nevada

Editor's Note: Ms. Moran has informed us that the correct pronunciation of the Pou name is "Pow." So much for all the jokes here in the office.

The Bleaus

Fontainebleau? Alpinist. Fontainebleau? Alpinist. What is wrong with this picture (Issue 12, "Fontainebleau")? Are you simply trying to sell more magazines? To appeal to everybody possible by slipping a little bit of this and that into the mix? Please don't do it! I see the nod in the direction of climbing's roots; I see the metaphors of little mountains and highball commitments, the grand history as the cradle of climbing itself... very noble and all, but Fontainebleau? In Alpinist? I can think of fifty mountains and/or ranges better than a Fontainebleau article....

I committed part of my income to your magazine because it seemed focused, even disciplined, upon the very idea of commitment and style in climbing, and yes, bouldering has these attributes as well. [But] your title is Alpinist, not Urban Cragger. Your magazine could fail, or it could succeed—just like in alpine climbing. Publishing a "Mountain Profile" on a French bouldering area to sell more issues is akin to placing a bolt next to a splitter hand crack on rappel. Are you that desperate?

—Brad Carpenter, Bozeman, Montana

You call That a Send?

I am writing in regard to Tommy Caldwell's recent linkup of two El Capitan routes in a day: the Free Nose and Free Rider. While this is a great accomplishment, it's overly hyped and far from Caldwell's best.

Caldwell climbed the Free Nose three times in three weeks. Another route well below his grade limit is not that far of a stretch.

Caldwell has done numerous El Capitan free ascents. Lurking Fear, West Buttress, Dihedral Wall, Free Rider, the Nose, Salathe and Zodiac are all part of Caldwell's big-wall free-climbing resume. Caldwell had spent significant time on the formation. Chris MacNamara even states the ease with which Caldwell did the linkup: "He showed little fatigue and it was impossible to tell when he was doing a hard move."

Caldwell did much better on his free ascent of the Honeymoon is Over on the Diamond. This formation is at a significantly higher altitude and showed a much higher level of dedication and style than Caldwell's [recent] link-up. Caldwell has made much harder ascents [than the linkup], [for which] he committed significantly more time and effort. He is one of the best climbers in the world; I would like to see more out of him. Tommy, if you're immortal, prove it. I'd like to watch.

—James Lucas, Santa Cruz, California

The Conquest of K2

Editor's Note: The following was sent to us by Barry Blanchard, who found it in the library of Banff's Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, taped to the inside jacket of Ardito Desio's book, Ascent of K2, Second Highest Peak in the World.

August 4, 1954

To the Editor of The New York Times:

The second highest mountain on earth has now been climbed. After suffering much, after enduring severe storms and frustrations, [Ardito] Desio's Italian climbers have reached the summit of K2, 28,250 feet high. I applaud their courage and their perseverance, but I am too human not to be saddened for I held permission to take the fourth American expedition to K2 in 1955. I am deeply disappointed not to go again.

Both Everest and K2 were climbed by large, superbly organized expeditions with unlimited funds and resources. Our American parties to Nanda Devi in 1936, to K2 in 1938, 1939 and 1953 and to Makalu in 1954 were small affairs in comparison. Both Everest and K2 were climbed with the help of oxygen.

To me it seems that something is gone from the great sport of mountaineering when the undertaking becomes so complex, so professional. Now that the giants have toppled, I hope more climbers will make expeditions for the love of climbing, rather than for pride of conquest. I would not deny that the summit matters and matters greatly, but I know that the rewards of climbing lie in the venture and not alone in the triumph. It is the means which calls us to the end, not the end which justifies the means. Climbers, all men indeed, will be more rewarded by their exertions if freed from the compulsion to win.

For my part, something is gone which has filled my thoughts for sixteen years, since my first visit to K2, but I salute, with all my heart, the Italians and their success.

—Charles S. Houston, M.D.,

Exeter, New Hampshire

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