Also in This Area
Also in This Style
Posted on: April 15, 2009
Spindrift whispers by, its fingers penetrating every opening in my half-frozen shell. Fat snowflakes stick to my wool-clad hands as they clutch the sodden rope. Above, all is gray and white ice, a few bits of rock, wisps of wind-whipped cloud. We're living off half-rations and half-believed hopes. Yet this feels like home: the hidden spine of life itself seems to rise up with this ridge to meet our axes, our hands, our feet and our dreams.
[Photo] Michael Kennedy
Today, after nearly forty years of climbing and of writing about such adventures, I've come to realize that the latter pursuit can be, at times, more challenging. "The essence of a climb burns out in the moment of experience," wrote Marko Prezelj in Alpinist 21. "The core of an alpinist's pursuit will always lie in ashes." How, then, do you express climbing's nuances and inner meanings, its personalities, concerns and possibilities, when all you have left are "the residue of memory and the cinders of words"?
Twenty-four years at the helm of Climbing Magazine—and six years as an Alpinist advisor—have left me with a strong sense of how vital it is to share our experiences, to preserve what fragments we can of the sharpened, unlimited existence that climbing brings to us. Western culture encourages in us all, climbers or not, a certain superficiality, an aversion to engaging fully and passionately with the world, with each other, and with our inmost selves. Too often we skim across the surface of life, seldom lingering long enough to become immersed in action, words, reflection, being. Distracted by the glistening tinsel of heroes and headlines, we turn into observers, not participants.
Climbing provides an antidote to this disconnection. But even within that activity we can become too easily captive to performance, competition, fashion, grades, tick lists—the where-to-go and what-to-do-when-you-get-there, the pitiless game of who-is-best. We lose our sense of unselfconscious play, of discovery, of mystery.
At Alpinist, we feel now, more than ever, the urgency to regain this lost magical world, a place of infinite choices and untrammeled potential. Climbing is more art than sport. It merges imagination and action with the raw power of the natural world, offering us a canvas for boundless creativity. In an age in which even inspiration has become a commodity, we will continue to seek out the true heart and soul of the climbing experience, to celebrate what all climbers have in common, and to the champion the ideals that we strive for: using the simplest of means to achieve the deepest, most beautiful and most complex of ends.
The stories and photos in this issue reflect the delight, respect and visionary wonder we hope to recapture in Alpinist. Embracing the future requires understanding and honoring the past, hence our look at the early adventurous history of Mt. Everest (Page 28), the century-old heritage of Germany's Elbsandstein (Page 48) and the genesis of a modern classic in California's Tuolumne Meadows (Page 88). Our errors teach us to re-examine our values and to appreciate our friends; so we explore both the consequences of mistakes and the heroism of those who confront their aftermath on Pakistan's K2 (Page 83) and in Wyoming's Tetons (Page 66). What's in our heads—and hearts—is at least as important as technical competence, as we see during a first ascent on Colorado's Hallett Peak (Page 94), on a repeat in Patagonia (Page 92) and in the connection between trusted partners (Page 86). And passion provides its own rewards for the Giri-Giri Boys in Alaska (Page 58), a young Italian suitor in Sardinia (Page 74) and a former Alpinist intern who abandons his desk job for the road (Page 98).
Photos have always been my diary: grainy old slides of EB-shod partners and stormbound descents evoke fond memories of close and wordless bonds. In the 1970s I spent most of my free weekends on Colorado's obscure crags and frozen waterfalls. Longer road trips took me to the rough granite of the Wind Rivers in Wyoming and the storied walls of Yosemite Valley in California. I made my first visit to what climbers then quaintly called the "Great Ranges" in 1975. That journey sparked the beginning of an obsession with alpinism that took me nearly two decades to satisfy. The meaning we search for through climbing, however, lies not only in the highest summits and the most difficult routes.
I have never thought of myself purely as an alpinist. I've always been just... a climber. Now, I'm happiest on the sunny crags of the Mountain West with my wife Julie, belaying our son Hayden on his latest project or climbing easy classics with him on his rest days. In many ways, I've come full circle, back to the simple pleasure of moving fluidly over steep ground. So, too, with Alpinist, I've returned to a world of contemplation, emerging history, artistic creation and (I hope) a few laughs. It goes without saying that Alpinist's founders, Christian Beckwith and Marc Ewing, and the rest of their team, leave big shoes to fill. But once more—as on all dream-inducing climbs, whether on the high mountains of the past or on my own backyard cliffs—I feel at home.
The void below is nonexistent, the exposure gobbled up by solid mist. My mind is blank. We've been on this climb for so long it seems like the only thing I've ever known. And yet to feel this daunted and inspired—I can't think of any other way that's more worth living.