Posted on: September 1, 2008

The First All-Female Ascent Confirmed

[THE LETTER] "FIRST ALL FEMALE ASCENT of Cerro Torre?" ("Letters," Issue 23) brought back memories of our 1987 Cerro Torre attempt. The first ascent certainly goes to Tanja GrmovA�ek and Monika Kambic from Slovenia, with my best congratulations.

Although our Cerro Torre adventure took place more than twenty years ago, I still remember it as a great climb. Of our team—Iwona Marcisz, Monika Niedbalska, Ewa Pankiewicz, Wanda Rutkiewicz and I—Monika and Iwona reached the high point, almost to the top, but due to conditions turned back without reaching the summit. [According to Wladyslaw Janowskia—see below—on December 26, 1987, during the team's third attempt, Marcisz and Niedbalska reached the belay below the compressor on the headwall before retreating in bad weather. On the same day, Pankiewicz, Rutkiewicz and Szczesniak, who were filming the ascent, also reached the headwall—Ed.] This is why our climb was neither published nor reported. For me Cerro Torre still remains the most difficult climb I ever did; it doesna��t matter that we didna��t reach the top. Our best slides disappeared with Wanda Rutkiewicz....

Ewa Szczesniak, Lodz, Poland

We publish one of the remaining images here, with a nod to the effort that Ms. Szczesniak and friends made twenty years ago—Ed.

Polish Chicks Rock


SPEAKING OF POLISH WOMEN, I would like to add to the article "By Fair Means: A History of Big-Wall Free Climbing" (Issue 3), which described Ragnild Amundsen as the first woman to climb Norway's Troll Wall in 1979. In summer 1968, the Polish female team of Halina Kruger-Syrokomska and Wanda Rutkiewicz climbed the wall's East Pillar (5.9, 40 pitches) as the first all-female team (and the seventh party overall).

Wladyslaw Janowski,

Collegeville, Pennsylvania

The Facts on Fred

I NEED TO COMMENT ON JIM SWEENEY'S ESSAY "Fred" ("The Climbing Life," Issue 23). Fred Beckey's a legend, and his record of climbs (and durability) will undoubtedly never be matched. But his legend does not need to be based on fables—the facts alone are sufficient to earn him a leading place in the climbing pantheon. It needs to be clear, therefore, that the statement that "no one has ever died climbing with Fred" is not true.

On July 22, 1947, Fred, Harry King, Leonard Winchester and Charles Shiverick were halfway through a two-month Harvard Mountaineering Club expedition to the Waddington Range. [As they tried] to find a route across from Serra Two to reach the great unclimbed pinnacle of Serra Four.... Fred reported in the 1948 CAJ, "... we were nearly at the top of the steep basin at 10 a.m. The snow was still hard, as the sun had just reached the slope.... Shortly below the basin rim I kicked new steps toward a better spot to cross the ridge. Suddenly the whole surface to a depth of one and a half feet cracked off and began to slide. Instantly we were all carried down the forty-five degree basin."

Winchester and Beckey slid about 1,000 feet, "flying over 'schrunds," before their rope snagged on an ice knob; King and Shiverick slid about 500 feet before their rope caught "on a rock island," but "[a]pparently Shiverick struck the rocks forcefully and incurred severe internal injuries." Shortly afterward he died.

Despite the fatality, a dislocated shoulder for King, badly skinned hands suffered by Winchester and several broken ribs and a bruised hip incurred by Beckey, the trip continued. Two members of the party (Bill Putnam and David Michael) exited to Tatla Lake in three and a half days, and about two weeks later such local climbing luminaries as Don Munday and Neal Carter began futile attempts to recover the body. Beckey wrote that, a week after the accident, "a wet spell stopped and our interest in climbing revived." Indeed, by the end of August, another dozen first ascents had fallen.

Exploits such as this, sixty years ago, and continuing in various forms today, lie behind the Fred Beckey legend. Mythical status, however, gives no excuse for the perpetuation of myths. Fred doesn't need the "boost," and the rest of us need to know exactly what happened in the past in order to learn from the mistakes. Given proper understanding and a bit of luck, we too might survive as long as Mr. Beckey.

Don Serl, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Local Hero?

The phenomenon of considering another person a "hero" ("Local Hero," Issue 23) is both complex and curious. Why do we consider other people, many of whom have the same innate potential as ourselves, so special? Take a moment and visualize your hero. Have you met him? If not, can you imagine what it would be like to do so? Now take another moment and visualize how you would feel if one of your heroes beat you up in the basement of the Estes Park Recreation Center.

The plan sounded fabulous. Chris Thompson and I would meet Kelly Cordes in Estes for a day of ice climbing. A sunny morning, a late start and light packs were ingredients for an outing that should have been (relatively) painless. Chris even wore that powder blue shell that sharply contrasts with his steely, yet compassionate, eyes.

Near the end of the day I suggested that Kelly and I go to the Estes Park Rec Center to box. I was on the Marine Military Academy boxing team, and I knew that Kelly had been a national champion during his collegiate career, but I had both the height and weight advantages. On paper, it seemed like a reasonable match up—like the time Theodore Roosevelt fought the then-heavyweight champ in the basement of the White House.

The events that transpired shortly thereafter have left me a broken man. The details of the methodical and devastating ass-whipping are not relevant here, save for one: each time I threw a jab, Kelly would time it perfectly to hit me with a counter right hand at the exact moment of the full extension of my jab. The sensation I had was one of punching myself in the face.

America is a wonderful place. Among other things, we have a longstanding tradition of litigiousness that awards, for example, vast sums of money to people who spill hot beverages on themselves. Since Kelly contributes to your magazine, and since we were doing something related to your magazine (climbing) before the beating, it follows that Alpinist is liable for his actions. Further, the abuse took place in Estes Park, and there are lots of alpine routes there. I'm not asking for much, and I'm willing to settle this matter out of court. Please send me a lifetime subscription for free, and I will not go public with my tale.

Robson Glasscock, Estes Park, Colorado

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