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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

As the Snow Globe Turns

Remember how last winter the Alps were starving for snow, World Cup races were canceled, and an Austrian resort took the desperate step of helicoptering snow to the slopes? Well, now the tables of turned. Colorado is dry, and most of the big resorts have delayed their opening dates. I've had to eat crow after writing a story for 5280 magazine's November issue about a "reliable early-season ski tour" in the Indian Peaks. (Did I say ski tour? I meant mountain biking tour...) Meanwhile, up to two meters of snow has fallen in Austria, Switzerland, and Bavaria this month. Sigh. Well, at least the forecast is calling for a bit of snow here starting tonight.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Climber...Model...Children's Author?

In last week's rumor round-up from the Banff festivals, I forgot one book project: Spanish mountaineer and cover girl Araceli Segarra is doing the illustrations and text for a series of short children's books about the Seven Summits. Here's the lovely Araceli striking a Vogue-worthy pose on Mt. Rundle near Banff.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Rumor Mill

While I was in Banff, I heard about a few interesting books and other projects in the works. If I’m saying something I shouldn’t here…oops.

Bernadette McDonald, the former queen bee of the Banff festivals, is soon to publish a biography of Tomaz Humar. The book now needs a postscript since the Slovenian's recent solo ascent on the right side of Annapurna’s south face—a terrific nyah-nyah to detractors after his 2005 rescue from Nanga Parbat.

A book about Southern California’s Stonemasters in the ’70s, with Dean Fidelman photos and John Long text, will be published by Mountain Gear. Interesting how it takes gear makers and sellers to bring certain books on climbing to market these days, eh? (See also Glen Denny’s Yosemite in the Sixties, a Banff prize winner published by Patagonia.) The risk-averse Mountaineers sure as hell aren’t going to do it.

The climbing book likely to get the most mainstream attention in 2008 is High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed, by the Hartford Courant reporter Michael Kodas. Based on two Everest expeditions and a bunch of independent reporting, it will cover thefts, guides who don’t exactly have the guiding spirit, and other malfeasance on the Big E. It’s slated to be released by Hyperion in early 2008.

A possible sleeper is Nick and Betsy Clinch’s book about the Littledales, an English couple who made a remarkable journey through Central Asia in 1896, eventually coming within 45 miles of Lhasa before being turned away. Through a Land of Extremes will be published in the UK in December; no U.S. publisher yet.

The Irish climbing writer Niall Grimes is ghost-writing an autobiography of the English climber Jerry Moffat. Or maybe it’s the other way around. It was a late night at the pub.

Let’s see, what else? Chis Altstrin, the young filmmaker who created Higher Ground, is doing a documentary about the first ascent of Supercrack, the crack climb that introduced Indian Creek (and desert climbing in general) to the world. And Julie Kennedy, the business brains behind Climbing magazine in the Michael Kennedy era, is launching a small film festival in Carbondale, Colorado, in May.


Friday, November 09, 2007


Clucking = climbing + f***ing. This X-rated spoof video, produced by the MTV show "Strutter" in the U.K., is clucking hilarious. It's from an ongoing series on "sextreme sports."


Books to Read, Films to See

I served on the jury for the Banff Mountain Book Awards this fall, and for the most part it was a real pleasure. Considering my line of work, I don’t read all that many climbing books. In my off hours, I tend to prefer non-mountaineering subjects; the last Everest book I read was Into Thin Air. And so it was great to be forced into reading a wide range of new mountain books. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these, including several new works about Everest, a subject that would seem to offer no new ground whatsoever.

You can see which books we selected for prizes here. Among them, my favorite was Stephen Venables’ Higher Than the Eagle Soars, which, despite its hackneyed title, is a superb book. It’s not really great literature (though it won our votes in the Mountain Literature category), but it’s a damn good read, especially for American readers, who likely haven’t followed Venables’ career as closely as the Brits have. Mostly, I appreciated Venables' ability to express his great love of being out in the mountains, which shines through these stories despite some truly miserable experiences. Throughout I was reminded of Mallory’s quote: “What we get from these adventure is just sheer joy.”

I saw quite a few films in Banff, but only a couple stood out. One was King Lines, the new Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer film about Chris Sharma. This film raises the bar for rock climbing movies by many notches, with superb camera work and production, and a decent story line. And it doesn’t hurt that Sharma is an extraordinarily charismatic individual, though I did tire of his martial-arts screams on every hard move. It made me wonder what he sounds like when…well, never mind.

Unfortunately, I missed the film getting the most buzz at Banff: 20 Seconds of Joy, about the Norwegian B.A.S.E. jumper Karina Hollekim. From what I heard, this is a must-see—it won both the Best Film on Mountain Sports and the People’s Choice awards, and people couldn't stop talking about it.

I did see and will highly recommend another winner, Nine Winters Old. This beautifully shot film is a love story about winter and snow. In it’s pace and style, it’s the anti–Warren Miller movie, and maybe you have to be in the right mood for it to hit the mark, but it’s hard to imagine someone who loves skiing not loving this movie.

I’ve now been on a book jury (Banff) and a film jury (Vancouver), and on the whole I’d say the film gig is way more fun. The book awards did force me to read a bunch of books I’d never have gotten to otherwise, and the discussions with fellow jury members Ed Douglas and Will Gadd were lively and interesting, but after a full work day of writing and editing it could be awfully hard to psyche up to read more mountain stories. On a film jury, well, you’re just watching movies, and when you get to the final round you hang out with other film people and (at least at Vancouver) drink beer while you’re doing it. Can’t beat that.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dumby Dave

My feature profile of the Scottish all-arounder Dave MacLeod made the cover of Climbing magazine this month (No. 262). Dave is one of the world’s boldest rock and ice climbers, made famous by the first ascent of Rhapsody (5.14c R/X) after two years of effort, and I was quite tickled with my lede: “I studied him, sure I did, but I couldn’t see that Dave MacLeod walked peculiarly or sat down carefully or anything else that might indicate he has bigger balls than the rest of us.” has posted the story, so you can read it online.

Dave’s an interesting character: obsessive and yet humble and thoughtful. I don’t think any climber who’s 29 and does “death routes” is fully in touch with what he’s doing. And even though few talk/write about it as articulately as Dave does (check out his blog), there are some things he can't or won't express. I never felt like I fully got to the bottom of what motivates him, but the story reflects everything I could learn.


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.