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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

76 at 8,848

Plenty of good climbers don't respect guided ascents of Mt. Everest. With all the ladders and miles of fixed rope, the performance-enhancing drug of supplementary oxygen, and the massive support teams, it's hard to see how a commercial ascent of Everest relates to traditional mountaineering. Greg Child has said, "I don't even call it climbing. I call it Everesting."

Yet among each year's dubious records and firsts on the world's highest peak come occasional climbs that are truly inspirational. It would be hard for the crustiest alpinist not to respect the climbs of Min Bahadur Sherchan from Nepal and Yuichiro Miura from Japan, who last weekend reached the top of the world at the ages of 76 (nearly 77!) and 75, respectively . Consider that the average life expectancy of an American male born in 1930, roughly the birthdate of these gents, was a little over 58. Consider, too, how few people you know at age 75 who are still super-active in outdoor sports, let alone capable of climbing a peak like Everest. Even with all the aid they received, it's a remarkable achievement.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Of All the Places I've Never Climbed...

...within half a day's drive of home, the Deep Lake area of the Wind Rivers is very high on the list. I've been to the neighboring Cirque of the Towers twice, but Deep Lake has its own fantastic group of granite peaks, including Haystack, Steeple, and East Temple. According to Steve Bechtel's new Cirque of the Towers & Deep Lake guidebook, the Deep Lake crags have somewhat cleaner rock and better weather than the Cirque, and, most importantly, they're closer to the road: just three or four hours' walk from the trailhead—roadside cragging by Wind Rivers standards. A trip to Deep Lake would be easy to combine with routes on Sundance Pinnacle and the southeast side of Warbonnet, home to the classic Black Elk. The Bechtel book's color photos have me drooling. Hmmm, must check my calendar for August....


Friday, May 23, 2008

Light and Slow

As Ben Gilmore, Max Turgeon, and Freddie Wilkinson were racing up the mega-classic Moonflower Buttress to the summit of Alaska's Mt. Hunter this month, they caught and passed a Japanese man and woman finishing the same route. Writing at the Hardwear Sessions blog (which is often excellent these days), Wilkinson describes his encounter with the couple at the Bibler Come Again pitch, the route's final serious technical passage—the Japanese were on their eighth day of climbing; Wilkinson and his partners had reached the same point in a day and a half. Yet, despite a somewhat shaky climbing style that reminded Wilkinson of his beginning clients back home in New Hampshire, the two seemed content and optimistic. And sure enough, they carried on to the top of Hunter, making one of the rare complete ascents of the 7,000-foot route. At the conclusion of his lovely short essay, Wilkinson writes, "This is probably one of the slowest successful ascents of the climb, and in my opinion, one of the proudest."

The Max Turgeon photo above, by the way, shows an infamous landmark on the Moonflower route: Mascioli's Mushroom, the snow/ice blob that fell off in 1997 and killed climber Steve Mascioli.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Shoveling to Glory

This year, it seems, the shovel is the essential tool of the elite free-climber. First came Beth Rodden, who had to clear many feet of snow from the top and bottom of her new route Meltdown (5.14) in Yosemite Valley before she could redpoint it. And now here's Dave MacLeod, chipping away at what he calls the Snowpatch of Truth, on top of the Echo Wall, a crag of volcanic rock high on Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak. MacLeod has been preparing for years to attempt a very poorly protected and desperately hard prow on the wall, and this spring he felt physically and mentally ready. The weather in Scotland has been unusually good. Just one problem: The Echo Wall is more than 3,000 feet above sea level, on the flanks of the Ben's Tower Ridge, which means for most of the year it's more likely territory for ice climbing than for a rock route. And a huge patch of snow on top of the cliff was melting in the warm spring air and pouring water over MacLeod's route.

Thus the shovel. Last week MacLeod spent four days straight shoveling snow and ice, four to five hours each day. That's after hiking a couple of hours from the valley floor and then soloing up much of Tower Ridge. By this week the route was mostly dry, and he could begin to work on the moves after a year away. The problem was he'd been beating up his body so much by shoveling that he didn't have much time or energy left for training—and this route is expected to be as hard as 5.14+, with potentially lethal falls in spots. On his blog after one shoveling session, MacLeod wrote, "So now it's after midnight but I have to make up my daily volume of climbing on the fingerboard. I'm not totally sure there is another way around this. I'm glad I've been doing so many long and physical days, though—it's really reminded me how much the body can respond to deal with whatever you ask of it. I feel good. So, after another cup of tea, I'll do my hangs, get some sleep, and head back into the north face in the morning. Thank god for iPod is all I can say."

I wrote a feature profile of MacLeod for Climbing last year and spent much time probing the origins and depths of his climbing obsession. But this project may top all previous excesses. I've been covering climbing news for a long time, but I've never seen an effort quite like this, and I really hope the good weather continues and MacLeod gets the chance to finish this one off.


Friday, May 16, 2008

The Sound of One Knee Popping

Ahhh, youth. Here's 17-year-old Pete Whittaker at the key move of Dynamics of Change (E9 7a), a recently completed "last great problem" on English gritstone. The next step? Stand up on that left leg. My leg would simply snap off at the knee if I tried this. The other pic gives another perspective on this serious and unlikely move—if Whittaker blows it, there's a strong chance he hits the ground. Tip of the hat for the photos to Hot Aches, which has the whole sequence online.


Friday, May 09, 2008

It Takes All Kinds

When I first saw the everything-offwidth website Wide Fetish, I figured this was the sort of labor of love Internet venture that wouldn't draw much of a following and would only rarely be updated—much like the Mountain World. But apparently there are masochistic wide-crack aficionados everywhere, slithering through the back alleys of America's crags. Wide Fetish, whose tag line is "Where the Glory Starts at 4 Inches," publishes trip reports, how-to articles, a photo and video gallery, and a reasonably active forum, though further investigation reveals that most of the posts are from the same few members of the wide-crack cabal. The head fetishist is none other than Russ Walling, the Californian behind Fish Products. What do you say to someone who likes offwidths and spends too much time on the Internet? Clearly, "get a life" is not sufficient. But maybe I'm just jealous. I may say I've never found an offwidth I liked, but really I've just never found many offwidths I could do.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Wednesday Morning Time Waster

This is an old video from the TV show "Verstehen Sie Spass," a long-running Swiss version of "Candid Camera." It's in German, but the thread is easy to follow. The producers flew a little snack and magazine kiosk to the upper Hornli Ridge of the Matterhorn and set up shop—they claim it's the first of a planned chain of mountainside kiosks throughout the Alps, like McDonald's. Soon, Reinhold Messner shows up and is flustered to discover that the shop is selling his books. Even if you don't get the jokes, the scenery is great.