Posted on: June 1, 2007
[Photo] Dan Long
Regarding Will Mayo and Maxime Turgeon's "new route" on Mt. Foraker ("Climbing Notes," Issue 18), climbing 5,500 feet on untouched terrain up Foraker's south face is indeed impressive, but it's not a new route. It's an attempt. I know the difference in my heart between "coming close" and actually standing on top; that feeling has driven me hard over the years. Some of the fiercest, most demanding and truly inspiring moments in our history have taken place when climbers put it all on the line and refused to accept anything short of making that final step. I seriously doubt that any alpinists set off toward a climb important to them without the desire to get to the top, and I suspect that more than a few inner demons gnaw at those who have dismissed summiting as a mere technicality.
During my correspondence with the late Brad Washburn (which he'd typed on small Boston Museum of Science letterhead with a manual typewriter), he pointed out that one of the problems he faced in his efforts to compile accurate information was a growing trend of climbers reporting summitless first ascents. Brad did not suffer anyone who claimed any sort of mountaineering achievement without going all the way to the top. When he congratulated Jim [Quirk] and me on the first ascent of our route on Mt. Huntington [see this issue's "Mountain Profile"—Ed.] I felt that the gold standard had been met. The mountaineering community will certainly miss Brad, but his legacy will live on in his words and images and in the beneficial influence he has had on our understanding and our lives.
—Dave Nettle, Lake Tahoe, California
Editor's Note: Alpinist considers a formation's "first ascent" to be one that reaches the highest point and "new routes" those that either attain the summit or connect with a previously established line if the distance remaining to the top is less than the distance covered to that point. If not, it's an attempt, and goes without a name.
Show Us the Money
After reading ["Twenty Years in Twenty Hours"] about Michael Reardon's soloing exploits ("The Climbing Life," Issue 16), I have this question: Why does the climbing community believe this man to be the greatest free soloist of all time without convincing evidence of any of his most difficult ascents?
Few will argue against the idea that hard multipitch free soloing is the royal blood of rock climbing. Elite free soloists have always been our gods—Royal Robbins, John Bachar, Derek Hersey, Peter Croft, Dean Potter. Sure, difficult alpinism can match that level of commitment, but it's also encumbered by more gear and by a complex array of external factors. For many of us, free-solo rock climbing represents a simplicity and purity that nothing else can touch. Given this elevated status, shouldn't we scrutinize carefully Reardon's alleged ascents?
First, his recent first-ascent free solo of Shikata Ga Nai involves "a six-move V6" 100 feet off the ground, probably irreversible and with no preinspection of rock quality. Sea of Tranquility, which he has also claimed, is an ultra-exposed, thin and technical 5.12. Both events would be among the most impressive free-soloing accomplishments ever. Both were documented with staged-looking photos and were unconfirmed by any reliable or objective witnesses.
Reardon's ascent of Romantic Warrior at the Needles was received with more skepticism than any free solo in American history. One magazine cover read, "UNBELIEVABLE." Reardon's comments about the route seemed absurd: "I talked to people and studied photos of the route so that I knew exactly what moves I would be responsible for." Anybody who climbs hard granite knows that you cannot discern the moves on a bald, stemming dihedral by getting beta and examining pictures any more than you can predict what kind of ice you'll hit on a pitch on the Eiger's north face by checking a weather report. Again, the photos Reardon produced were close-ups of him with good locks and handholds, images that would be easy to stage.
Reardon has also professed to have made the first-ever continuous solo ascent of the Palisade Traverse in the Sierra, a feat attempted by many of the greatest Sierra climbers. He avoided signing summit registers but says he documented his presence by littering the peaks with Ninja turtle dolls and Vagisil cream packets, none of which subsequent climbers have found.
On www.supertopo.com, one contributor made a simple plea: "Has anyone seen Reardon climb anything of the difficulty... he claims?" Nothing substantial was posted. Reardon may be one of the most technically savvy self-promoters in the American climbing industry. His website (www.freesoloist.com) is updated frequently and features extensive video clips, including a whole mass of easier climbs, but not the ascents that rattle the history of free soloing.
The purpose of this letter is not to attack Reardon. Many people believe him to be a very nice man. The goal is to get to the truth, and to get the climbing community to question if this man deserves to be considered among the gods. For those of us dedicated to the legacy of climbers before us, we have no option but to question what Reardon has put forth. He has not given us a choice.
—Andy Puhvel, Bishop, California
They're the Deciders
"A Short March to the Hindu Kush" (Issue 18) was especially dear to my heart, since I was an instructor at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Pickel Meadows during 1962-63—the only climber-turned-Marine (the other guys were all Marines-turned-climbers).
One day, the Colonel called me in and said, "Washington says we gotta stop buying all this European crap [mainly pitons and carabiners; we had miles of Goldline rope]. Does anybody over here make any of this stuff?"
"Yes sir! There's a bunch of hippies out in California making all kinds of good shit, sir."
"OK. Get on it. Figure out what we need and place an order ASAP. Dismissed!"
Several days later I ordered 100 of every piton Chouinard made and 1,000 of Bedayn's aluminum carabiners. They'd both remember the orders, since it took them almost a year to come up with all the equipment. Every mail call would include two little boxes, one with a few pins and the other with a few crabs.
And it was good shit.
—Vincent R. Lee, Cortez, Colorado
Although Chris Brazeau and Jon Walsh's ascent of a new route on Mt. Alberta ("In a Push," Issue 19) represented the first new Canadian Rockies Grade VI route to be opened in a continuous climb, it was not the region's first single-push ascent of the grade. In 1994, as part of an eleven-day Canadian Rockies soloing spree, German Frank Jourdan made a solo second ascent of The Beast Within (VI 5.9 A3 WI5, 1500m) on the north face of Howse Peak (3290m) in twelve hours, via a new variation. Jourdan bivied and then descended the next day, having completed the first Canadian Rockies Grade VI solo.
Ed Webster made the first ascent of Hidden Diamond ("Mountain Profile: The Diamond") with Robert Anderson a month before he made the first free ascent with Pete Athans. On Page 41, Lauren Husted's name was misspelled; on Page 56, Roger Thompson's name was misspelled.
On Page 73 ("The Walls, The Walls"), three photo credits were omitted. The photo of Ak-Su was taken by Alexander Ruchkin; the photo of Great Trango Tower was taken by Jared Ogden; the photo of Bhaghirathi was taken by Ian Parnell; the photo of Jannu was taken by Alexander Ruchkin.
On Page 84, the final pitches of The Entropy Wall ascend an ice ribbon to the right of the line indicated in the photo.