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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Explosive Digestion

I always thought the idea that climbers might carry explosives on big peaks—a key plot element in that brilliant film Vertical Limit—was the ultimate load of horse puckey. But now I'm reading Bernadette McDonald's biography of Charles Houston, Brotherhood of the Rope, and what do I see on page 33? In an account of the first expedition to Mt. Crillon in Alaska, McDonald describes the team climbing "up to an overhanging cornice, for which [Brad] Washburn had brought dynamite.... Charlie [Houston] carried the caps and [Bob] Bates carried the dynamite, making sure to keep their distance from each other on the way up. But in the end it wasn't necessary: the cornice was easily penetrated."

But that wasn't the end of the 1933 expedition's experiment in high-altitude pyrotechnics. When it came time to abandon their base camp, the team decided to use the explosives to blow up their latrine. "A tremendous blast sent crap high in the air.... It rained for an hour!"

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