Posted on: December 1, 2007
[Photo] David Swift
Regarding Topher Donahue and Tommy Caldwell's article "Scattered Ashes" (Issue 17) and Donahue's Climbing Note (Issue 16) about the 2006 first free ascent of our route, Linea di Eleganza, on Fitz Roy: I am a simple alpinist, passionate about the mountains, not so fast and not so famous as the American climbers, but still motivated to follow a romantic style of climbing. I've been to Patagonia more than twenty-five times, and I think I know the mountains, routes and history of this beautiful land well. But today it seems you can't climb as you'd like; a special jury of gurus is always there to judge you.
In his Climbing Note, Donahue wrote, "On the lower half of the climb, we discovered too many signs of the siege-style first ascent." When Fabio Leoni, Rolando Larcher and I first attempted the route in 2001, we found very bad weather, a lot of snow and ice on the wall, and fixed ropes and gear from a 1981 Japanese attempt. In December 2003 I returned to the route with Horacio Codo and Luca Fava. The weather was fantastic, and during our successful ascent we discovered a lot more gear—pitons, ropes and Friends everywhere, a blue haulbag—but only in the first 400 meters. All the equipment was from the 1981 Japanese expedition.
On our 2003 climb, we left belays in place for the rappels and a few pitons on the pitches. Of course, we were a group of basic climbers, not so strong as the other teams now running around the Patagonian towers. Indeed, it was my partners' very first wall. All was new, difficult and wild, and we took our time to enjoy the magic.
During the descent I broke my hand, and the way back to Chalten was long and painful. A week later Horacio and Luca returned to Fitz Roy to clean the route of all the gear used to rescue me. (They also retrieved a bit of the Japanese material as a memento.) When Caldwell, Donahue and Erik Roed repeated the route (congratulations to them for their free climb), they were probably moving so fast they didn't have time to realize that maybe the remaining detritus was not ours.
Donahue also wrote, "We learned later that the first-ascent team... left two huge bags full of trash at the popular high camp of Paso Superior." Those bags held our personal belongings, and I left them there because we go back every year. Normally they hang in a secret spot, tightly closed up, and they don't affect the beautiful nature around Paso Superior because nobody can see them. It is probably too difficult to speak about "freedom" with Americans, but remember: we are free humans, free spirits, free climbers, and I feel free to have this little secret in my heartland because I respect the mountains in a different style. So what really happened? Some robbers took my gear, then left the bags open. When we went to retrieve them, we found many things missing and the whole lot frozen wet.
Donahue and his friends are incredibly strong climbers, but I would like to remind them that climbing is not only about being strong. There are other important values, like respect. We are not moved by a spirit of conquest or by an obsession with records, but by a natural love of mountains all over the world.
—Elio Orlandi and friends, Italy
Avoiding the Chop
The debate over chopping Cerro Torre's Compressor Route ("The Sharp End," Issue 20) needs a lot more thought applied to it than perhaps it has had.
If we are going to accept that it's OK to chop gear deemed unnecessary by modern-day ascensionists, we are simply applying the values of our time to the past. Take this thinking to The Nose: Warren Harding's bolt ladder near the top would be chopped because Lynn Hill managed to free climb around it. A number of belays could be removed because Hans Florine doesn't use them. The free-climbing option could eliminate the King Swing.
We could alter everything to fit our current mold, but we might find twenty years from now that we want to change it back. In 1980s Europe, climbers added bolts to older, traditionally protected routes because that was the style of their era. Leaving the Compressor Route the same gives us a time capsule of the mountain's history. Don't make me go to a climbing museum to see the past.
—Sam Lightner, Moab, Utah
As we reflect on the "current trend" in alpinism ("Inaccessible, Modern Route on the Fin," NewsWire, May 11, 2007), isn't it about time to give credit where credit is due? In "modern style" Mallory and Irvine climbed Everest, Cook climbed Denali and Maestri climbed Cerro Torre. [Freddie Wilkinson, Peter Doucette and Ben Gilmore made the first ascent of the south face of The Fin (13,350'), on the southwest side of Mt. Foraker (17,400'), Alaska Range, Alaska. Though they reached the top of the wall, where they connected with an established route, they stopped ca. 400 vertical feet from The Fin's summit. Nonetheless, Wilkinson referred to their line as a "modern route."—Ed.]
—Jeff Apple Benowitz and Ian McRae, Fairbanks, Alaska
Pleased to Correct You
I was puzzled by the statement "In Switzerland, in a movement known as plaisir ('pleasure') climbing, the government pays for the retrobolting of classic routes to encourage more traffic and more work for guides" ("The Sharp End," Issue 20).
You are correct that some Swiss communities sponsor local guide associations or well-known climbers to retrobolt local routes. Zermatt, for example, paid for an extensive via ferrata that one can only do when accompanied by a local guide. However, this practice is quite isolated. In general our philosophy in Switzerland is the same as that of anchor-replacement initiatives in the United States. Some tragic accidents in well-frequented areas have motivated the retrobolting of climbs that contained outdated, unsafe pro... but unfortunately this has been the work of dedicated individuals and/or guide associations, rather than of our government.
True Plaisir climbing began in Switzerland with Jurg von Kanel, who in 1986 began editing topos on routes up to 6a/b (5.10). His topos were called "Plasir Guides" because the climbing was not meant to be extreme; rather, it was for the pure pleasure of being with friends in a wonderful, but not necessarily safe, environment. A Plaisir route does not always mean that there are bolts or pitons in place, that all belays are equipped or that you can trust the in situ gear; it just means that the difficulty is manageable—indeed, a pleasure—even if it's in a real alpine environment.
The Plaisir movement has spread quite a bit, and to an extent the idea is now overused. For some, "Plaisir" means safe and easy—but, as Jurg von Kanel understood it, climbing will never be safe.
—Emmanuel B. de Haller, Zurich, Switzerland