Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Secrets of the Stars

Last week I was in Banff for the annual book and film festivals; I was on the book jury, and I'll try to post some comments on various books and a few films in the next couple of days.

The Banff area was dry for early November and not much ice was in shape—unless, that is, you're a visiting superstar from Switzerland, in which case you climb one or two classic testpieces nearly every day. Simon Anthamatten and Ueli Steck have repeated half a dozen major Rockies routes and put up one of their own, in spite of the lean conditions. Last week they climbed a super-thin Sea of Vapors despite having forgotten all of their rock gear. "It was scary!" said Steck. This from the man who soloed the Eiger in less than four hours and fell more than 1,000 feet off the south face of Annapurna last spring without serious injury.

On Friday, John Harlin, Mark Jenkins, Araceli Segarra, and I snuck away from the festivals for a day of climbing. Only one route in the immediate area seemed to be in shape for mortals like us: Christmas Present (III WI3 R), a rarely formed climb low on Mt. Rundle. This was a fun short route, with some easy rock climbing leading to two long, thin pitches, the first of which had essentially no protection. Perhaps the best part of the climb was the descent through a forest whose snow-free floor was a thick carpet of emerald moss. Enchanting.

Before this climb, we had met Anthamatten and Steck at the parking lot, outside a gate by the bridge over the Bow River. Until this gate was locked, you could drive another two miles, saving 40 minutes of walking. We chatted with the Swiss stars, who, it turned out were about to climb Sacre Bleu and Ten Years After in a single day—a huge outing. I turned my attention to my pack for a moment, and when I looked up the Swiss were trotting briskly toward the gate, their full packs bouncing on their backs. "Wow, those guys are impressive," I thought. "They run to their climbs!"

"So," I said to my friends, "I guess that's how they get so much done in a day."

Just then, we noticed that a garbage truck had pulled through the gate and sat idling on the Bow bridge. Simon and Ueli ran up to the driver, exchanged a few words, and, before we could move, climbed onto the little ladders on the back like garbage men, and rode off to begin their approach. The Swiss were not only stronger than us. They also were smarter.

1 comment:

Ted B said...

Hi Dougald,

I love this blog. Nice article for latest post as well - sounds just like the Swiss guys that I know ... SMART :-)

I envy you - your lifestyle, and the people you keep company with.

Stay safe.
Ted