15 Letters

Posted on: July 7, 2014

Footnote to Mitre Peak

I just finished Paul Hersey's excellent "Fastnesses of Nature," about New Zealand's Darran Mountains (Alpinist 46). Egomaniac that I am, I couldn't help searching for a footnote about the climb Jeff Foott and I completed on the north side of Mitre Peak in early March of 1965. Not finding it, I'll recount a bit here. (The climb is also described in the 1965 New Zealand Alpine Journal.)


I was a geology grad student in Antarctica during the 1963-64 austral summer, and I traveled to New Zealand after returning from the ice. When I saw Mitre Peak from Milford Sound, I was captivated by its sweeping profile. After I returned to Yosemite, I snookered fellow wall rat Jeff Foott into getting a job in Antarctica so that we could later try Mitre.

Our route came close to, but never quite intersected, that profile slope until we were essentially on top. We began in a gully system somewhat to the west. As we climbed, we sought more lines of weakness; we did a bit of respectable—though not extreme—rock climbing, as well as a number of pitches of unnerving steep grass, and finished with a thirty-eight-hour rain-mandated bivouac. (We later found out that a total of 10.4 inches of rain fell during the four days of our climb.)

I don't know what's been done subsequently on that side of Mitre Peak, but I assume that someone has climbed the classic skyline profile.

—John Evans, Evergreen, Colorado

[Craig Jeffries, author of The Darran Mountains, says the skyline route hasn't been climbed: "Some serious moss, overhanging sections and probably steep slab climbing up to grade 20+ (5.11-). Quite the adventure, I reckon!"—Ed.]

A Difference in Kind

"These Winter Palaces" (Alpinist 46) reminded me of the words of Louis Agassiz, who described the study of glaciers by saying that, among all of nature's phenomena, "not a single one seems to me to be more worthy of the interest and curiosity of the naturalist than glaciers." That is perhaps even truer today when we are losing this amazing resource. As I

set off for a ten-week trip into the Alps to redo the map that James Forbes made of the Mer de Glace, I cannot help reflecting pessimistically on the future of this place, as thick blue ice gives way to mud and moraine.

Looking at Forbes' old triangulation points on the map he made in 1842 and georectifying them to satellite photos taken in the last few months, you notice the stunning environmental changes. These changes are magnified in the field when you see just how far these massive rivers of ice have receded.

Long ago, we recognized that in nature everything is flux and change. Heraclitus could not step into the same river twice. Perhaps glaciers are nothing more than rivers that move more slowly, but to me, standing last summer on rock near the Glacier Blanc where only a few years ago I stood on meters-thick ice, the change feels somehow different, more dramatic, a difference in kind rather than in order.

—John W. Hessler, Specialist in Cartography and Geospatial Sciences, Library of Congress, Washington DC

A More Delicate Vocabulary

Like Clay G. (Letters, Alpinist 45), I was shocked by the language in Alpinist 43. In my experience, climbers are never so crude. Even in critical situations, they maintain

decorum. For example, recently my friend Leonard Forthwith was leading me up Yosemite's famous Nightmare Crack. Encountering unexpected difficulties, he exclaimed, "Bosley, I fear I am about to topple over. Kindly guard the rope for me." I did so, although in fact Leonard regained his balance.

I offer you some future guidelines for propriety:

Crevasse fall: "Dear me, it is chilly down here."

Stove won't start: "How unfortunate. But we can still suck icicles."

Rappel rope doesn't reach: "This is surely a dilemma. Have you some extra Jumars?"

Dropped gear rack: "No doubt this was meant to be."

Forced to bivouac on an icy ledge: "Dawn is a mere twelve hours away."

I am certain that Voytek Kurtyka's regrettable adjective on Page 68 was a mistranslation of the original Polish.

—Bosley Sidwell, Pokhara, Nepal

Flying the Korean Flag

Reading Peter Jensen-Choi's article on Korean alpine style (Alpinist 46), I came across a name I remember with fondness, even though we last met half a lifetime ago.

Sun-woo Nam was a member of the 1981 Korean Alps Expedition. I was in the Alps with a friend. That summer was cold and white, and both of our teams set out to inspect the North Face of the Matterhorn by peeking over the Hornli Ridge. The face was in wintry conditions, with hardly any rockfall.

Although we tried to climb together, Nam and his partner Song-pil Yeo were twice as fast as we were. But for years afterward, we exchanged letters and parcels. I've never forgotten their hospitality and their incredible strength and speed.

I still have their gifts: an Everest book in Korean, a stack of Korean Student Alpine Federation magazines, one last remaining ginseng root and a Korean flag patch that I've now been wearing for twenty-plus years.

—Bob A. Schelfhout-Aubertijn, Texel Island, Netherlands

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