THE CLANGOR OF OUR SKI BOOTS on steel stairs broke the winter silence atop the Grands Montets. I turned, my gaze riveted on the North Face of the Drus: "It's there," I told my climbing partner Thierry Renault. "Yes, yes, yes," he murmured in the Frank Zappa style of talking he favored at the time. The wall rose from depths of shadow, silver-streaked and foreboding. The Voie Lesueur formed an almost continuous line of iceand snow-lined chimneys and gullies spiraling from right to left, terminating atop the Grand Dru.
One after the other, their toes compress then release from the cliff's edge. Shoulders hunch forward, chins are tucked in. Toes are pointed. Legs are spread apart, holding their wingsuits open. Streaked granite surrounds them: El Capitan, the 3,000-foot wall they've climbed for years, its golden polish framed by ponderosa pines. Rushing air fills their ears. They thread a channel that opens toward the Cathedral Spires across the valley floor. The orange sky feels thick, heavy.
"It seemed built to perpetuate our dreams"—thus Guido Magnone described the Aiguille du Dru in The West Face. Ian Parnell relives the history of a peak poised between mountaineering fantasies and environmental realities. Royal Robbins, Claude Remy, Andy Parkin and Jerome Sullivan share dispatches from the past to the future.
February 20, 2015: I lay awake in a small cave, high above the Torre Valley in Patagonia. Storms echoed across the giant arena of granite spires, hidden in the night. I listened for avalanches and rockfall, but the deep rumble of rain eclipsed all sound. A cold fog hovered over my face.
IN A BRICK HOUSE in the tree-lined village of Hildenborough, England, a Tibetan woman listened to her British husband translate books and newspapers, so she could hear how foreign writers depicted her homeland. It was the early twentieth century, in the midst of the first British attempts on Everest.
One reader reports on porters' rights in Pakistan; another recounts a golden climbing life in Bozeman; and a third requests more photo captions.
IT WAS CLOSING NIGHT OF THE YEARLONG RUN OF PAVLA OVER THE PRECIPICE, AND EVERY SEAT IN Ljubljana's Slovenian Youth Theatre was occupied. Actors lowered themselves from the ceiling, or edged in from stage left, tiptoeing along holds attached to the wall. I sat spellbound, absorbing the energy from 270 audience members, concentrating on every movement, every word that celebrated the life of Pavla Jesih. The strength of her character seemed to fill the room.
Paul Ross recalls an epic 1958 ascent of the Bonatti Pillar and the rescue of one of Alpinist's favorite heroes, Hamish MacInnes.
For seven years in the Utah desert, Pete Takeda pursues what he believes to be "the greatest unclimbed offwidth that no one's heard of," seeking to trace a line between passion and fanaticism. Meanwhile, a pair of hardy Canadians continues with style up the "Auger Sanction."
WIND POURS THROUGH THE GULLY as swiftly as a waterfall. Snow crystals fall down a cascade of ice, covering the oceanic hues with thin layers of white. The grey sky sinks into the trees and merges with the snow. The rope tightens on my belay loop. It's the same tug I ran away from: a tug I've felt ever since my mother climbed with me in her round belly. Once I was old enough to scramble up the snowbanks of our driveway, she took me to Smugglers' Notch, Ver- mont. From the base of the cliffs, I gazed at the shifting blues of ice while her hands cautiously orbited around me.
The rock was about half the size of a brick, Joe Brown guesses; it's hard to be precise when these things hit you in the head. Brown, "The Baron" of British climbing, was on Torre di Valgrande in the crumbling Dolomites, wearing only a cloth cap. Les Brown, who dislodged the rock from the pitch above, climbed down to find Joe stunned, with blood pooling inside his hat.