Tami Knight: Blawg #8, The Mortal Coil

Posted on: January 23, 2008

Blog Entry . Stardate 23/1/2008 coord : 123W;49N

I wonder why climbers have more of a fascination with Death then surfers or skiers. Or at least those who make films about climbing seem to. I'm not sure if fascination is the right word. Curiosity? Questioning investigation into it? Or maybe they just feel a need to justify their own feelings about it vis a vis Western society's perception that climbers have a "death wish".

I'm not sure but there is a thread among some..many.I don't know how many but presented on Stone Night , death and it's precursor accidents ( and also the tangential recovering from accidents ), was a sub-theme if not the primary thread in seven of the eight films. The exception was the wonderful Sentinal: The West Face,( USA/1963/30 min.Dir: Roger Brown, Prod: Barry Corbet, Tom Frost, and Roger Brown). a film now which is 45 years old. You can forgive the cheesy narration "...he must now choose the rope..the right rope." ( I remember laffin' my ass off at some of the narration in this film about 25 years ago ) But even in Sentinal: The West Face, when it got dicey for the boys, the music went all tweaky, janglin' audience nerves and having us wonder if the lads were gonna send. Oh, yah, well of course they were. Yvon was sittin' rite there in the audience with us. So, yeah.


And then I arrived home from my holiday at the Film Fest to the news a close friend of my family was very badly head- injured in a climbing accident last Sunday and now is in a coma and not expected to survive. But who knows? I know others of that status ( Coma; not expected to survive ) and now he has a wife and two kids and another one is still sendin' hard and causin' mischief in Colorado.

Hmmm. What to think? On one hand, I get tired of the Death thing. It's like, okay, you are a climber and you don't seem to mind if you are going to die. Have you thought about what your Mama would feel if she had to identify your smutched body hunks? I recall a close friend telling me what it was like identifying the body of a climber-friend of hers who had augured in soloing the Grochan in Wales. She ended it with "Fuckin arse...'twuz disgusting." I've managed to avoid seeing the busted bones bent wrong, flattened, possibly gooshy, visual of looking at the soulless meat that once was a friend. And this: Tim Auger, ( now retired ) who described himself as the undertaker of Banff National Park said 'there are wrecks in which I know the people and there are wrecks in which I don't know the people....' but he referred to all climbing accidents as "wrecks".

So you might be a great climber and you've squared up with findin' the bucket and kickin' it but what of the poor fuckers who get to scrape you from where you went spatch or your friends and family who mourn your departure from these four dimensions? Well?

And then on the other hand, I think it's a good idea to explore that outside edge of the envelope. Joe Simpson who has stared into the twirling light as he started to shuffle off the mortal coil does give pause in the film The Beckoning Silence, ( United Kingdom/2007/73 min., Dir: Louise Osmond Prod: Darlow Smithson Productions ). Arguably our Joe is a character from an Anne Rice novel and therefore not physically able to die. It's rumored he's not allowed into fortress America any more after something to do with an issue involving a customs agent but perhaps homeland security is restricting access to vampires.

With all that said, and to be blunt, Joe has had a number of climbing accidents, at least three I can think of were mega-epics even one of which would have had 99.5 percent of the rest of us quitting the sport and taking up tiddly-winks. Joe got his start early Wondering About Mr. Death with his inspiration to climb coming from The White Spider, the uber-classik story by Heinrich Harrer. I'm not gonna explain more about this book, if you don't know it, go buy it. Read it. There. Now you understand Joe. Okay so you don't. He's British. Does that help? How 'bout the vampire theory?

But if you do go to explore what's in the envelope I think you might want to be honest with yourself, and, if put on film, honest with the audience you seek, about what you find in there. I was disappointed with Peter Mortimer's film Diamonds Are Forever, described in the liner notes as World renowned rock climber Steph Davis takes the art of free soloing to breathtaking new heights on the Diamond face of Longs Peak—America's premier alpine rock wall.

Steph Davis was very closed about what event(s) of loss she has undergone recently to lead her to this journey of discovering self-reliance that Peter Mortimer edits into Diamonds Are Forever. I do know others who have busted up with partners or had parents/partners die or trauma listed under other or just plain old fragile mental health ( most commonly bipolar disorder ) that leads them to purposefully pound on the Challenge Myself button and exclaim exquisite happiness. But q/v my notes above on "identifying the remains" and this journey takes on a conflicted edge. Be careful what you wish for.

Climbers like to examine Death and Accidents but they really are in denial about some of the shit they get up to and why they might have fascination for the Above ( or Below if that's where yer going ). Some are sitting on the edge of their seat thinking heartily that way they don't take up too much room. But what about those left behind?

Aye, there's the rub.

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