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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Oops, Wrong Planet

"Damnit, Scotty, you set the coordinates wrong again! And what happened to our uniforms?"

[Alex Huber, Stephan Siegrist, and Thomas Huber, left to right, in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. Read the story of their three new routes here.]


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Book News

I've been hearing about some very interesting new books in the works, and the one I'm most looking forward to is alpinist Steve House's first book. Called Beyond the Mountain, it will be published in early September by Patagonia Books—House has been a Patagonia "ambassador" for a decade. The book will be comprised of climbing stories loosely organized around House's three expeditions to Nanga Parbat, and it will have 75 photos, including some color. I've worked with Steve on several stories and he's a very strong writer. As the first book from America's premier active alpinist, this should be a winner.

Greg Mortenson, the school-building author of the bestselling Three Cups of Tea, has another book in the works. Mortenson said the first-person book picks up the story where Three Cups left off, including the effects of Pakistan's 2005 earthquake and the Central Asia Institute's work in Afghanistan. Not sure about the release date. Three Cups of Tea has been published in two dozen countries, and this month a 32-page version, Listen to the Wind, was published for young readers. Today it's #172 on Amazon's sales ranking. Wow.

Let's see, what else.... Eric Hörst, the training and guidebook author, has finished a book (slated for February 2010) called Maximum Climbing that's about "maximizing experience and pursuing mastery...very brain oriented with lots of neuro, motor learning, and mental stuff," Hörst told me. Lazy climbers like me probably won't read this one, but those who care about improving should check it out.

Fans of the Colorado mountains will have a fun read this spring when Mark Obmascik's Halfway to Heaven appears. This is the tale of an out-of-shape writer taking on all 54 of Colorado's highest peaks—it's Bill Bryson meets the fourteeners. Coming from most writers this might be awful, but fortunately Obmascik is talented enough to pull it off. I was a big fan of his first book, the birding adventure The Big Year.

Finally, this week the folks at Alpha Books, a Penguin imprint, hired a complete idiot to write the Complete Idiot's Guide to Backpacking and Hiking. That idiot is me. The book will be out in April 2010.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Alpinist Lives

As predicted, Vermont-based Height of Land Publications has purchased the assets of Alpinist. As not predicted, the new owners plan to bring back the magazine in much the same style and format that readers once enjoyed. The press release follows:

Jeffersonville, Vermont—January 16, 2009—Height of Land Publications (HOL), owners of Backcountry and Telemark Skier Magazines, closed on a deal today that lays the groundwork for the resurrection of Alpinist Magazine.

Alpinist, a premium quarterly celebrating mountaineering and the climbing life, closed its doors this fall, just prior to the release of Issue 26. The new owners, HOL, plan to release Issue 26 on March 1, and will honor all current subscriptions.

"Alpinist fits perfectly into our family," says HOL president and publisher Jon Howard. "We feel climbers, mountaineers, and backcountry and freeheel skiers all share the same DNA. It's, at times, about being bold; at times about being cautious. Kind of like how we do business."

And at HOL, they feel it's a great time to be bold.

Jon and HOL partner and Backcountry editor Adam "Howie” Howard are currently in negotiations with the editorial staff at Alpinist to determine who will be at the helm.

"We've asked Christian Beckwith to stay on as Editor," Adam says. "I reached him in Mexico where he's doing some non-profit work. After seven years of grinding, he's enjoying some relative downtime. But he's genuinely excited that we're carrying his creation forward. We'll be meeting in person in the next few weeks. Should he not come on full time, Alpinist readers can be assured that someone of comparable skills and pedigree will fill his shoes."

Readers can also look forward to the same quality of paper and a large format size.

"We want to honor what the Alpinist team has done," Jon says. "It's a piece of art. And we plan keep it that way."

Stay tuned to and for more information.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Messing with Your Head

You know how sometimes you get songs stuck in your head when you're climbing? (Or weeding. Or trying to sleep.) I've suffered through Queen lyrics. Radiohead riffs on endless repeat. Once I couldn't get "Frosty the Snowman" out of my head. But yesterday, eight hours into a 13-hour day in the mountains, I hit a new low: I noticed that names and phrases from The Da Vinci Code were rattling around my skull—I'd been listening to the CD on the way to the trailhead. Now it was:

Sir Leigh Teabing.... Hieros Gamos.... the sacred feminine.... the Priory of Sion...

Oh God, please...make it stop!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Small-World Department

Next month the British Mountaineering Council will host its biannual winter climbing meet in Scotland. I went to the last winter meet, in 2007, and not long ago I was reminded of this superb week when a guy sent me a photo of a familiar-looking cliff. I had attempted a new route on this crag on the final day of the 2007 meet.

James Edwards and I had joined two other climbers for an adventurous visit to Beinn Dearg in the far northwest of the country. We were hoping for new routes, but while the other international climbers enjoyed one of the best single days of climbing in Ben Nevis history, we found unfrozen turf and wet snow at this lower-elevation crag. One-hundred feet up our new line, it seemed obvious even to a foreigner that the route was not in condition. We built a poor anchor and rappelled back to the ground. I had no regrets: We managed to do another fine climb that day, the company was excellent, and riding bikes up and down the first couple of miles of the approach in the pouring rain, with heavy packs, was an unforgettable Scottish climbing experience.

This September I received an email and the photo above from Martin Hind, who told me, "The line you attempted with James Edwards on Beinn Dearg was climbed by myself and a friend of James a few weeks afterwards at VI, 6, called Salsa Saga, and was my first winter route in about two years. Quite bold climbing with some unprotected traverses at grade 6 proving the crux. James did another new line to the right on the same day."

I was happy to see the route completed, but Martin's email raised a crucial point. I had given James a tenner to help cover the cost of the gear we left at that anchor. Had Martin and his partner collected it? Yes they had, Martin confirmed, and after the climb they returned the gear to James. Edwards, you owe me a pint!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Department of Blasphemy and Scatology


The New Alpine Briefs

We've published the second edition of the Alpine Briefs, the online newsletter from the editors of the American Alpine Journal. Guess that means it's officially a periodical.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday Morning Time Waster

Eric Perlman has been submitting clips from his upcoming Masters of Stone VI video to, featuring last summer's record-breaking speed climb of the Nose by Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama. Three segments are now live, and they're great fun to watch. In any discussion of big-wall speed climbing, you always hear that records are broken not by climbing super-fast but by climbing moderately fast with minimal pauses, and, indeed, Hans and Yuji don't appear to be sprinting: the climbers move methodically; their ropes snag; Yuji forgets to unclip a sling and curses "Merde!"; the two debate who's supposed to move next; Yuji tugs on the rope for slack—at times they seem like two bumblies on a big-wall ascent, yet they're climbing El Cap in less than three hours.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Rumor Mill

Height of Land Publications, the Vermont-based publisher of Backcountry and Telemark Skier magazines, is rumored to have purchased the assets of bankrupt Alpinist at auction, with the sale expected to close this week. The company has not yet responded to a request for comment. An earlier rumor put the final bid at $71,000 and indicated the buyer planned to publish Alpinist as a magazine in some form, but we'll have to wait and see exactly what that means.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Winter Jollies

Sunday's forecast for the Front Range called for cold (high about 8°F at 12,000 feet) but no wind. That sounded like a good day for some winter mountaineering, so Paul Gagner and I laid plans for the east ridge of Mt. Bancroft, a 13,250-foot peak I discovered in Dave Cooper's excellent Colorado Snow Climbs. The peak is relatively close to the road (2.5 miles) and has limited avalanche danger. The normal east ridge is a great moderate mountaineering route, with some knife-edge snow ridges, much third-class scrambling, a rappel into a notch, and a very short fifth-class wall to surmount. When Paul and I arrived at the foot of the ridge, the air was absolutely still, as promised, and both of us kept staring at the large broken wall that forms the right side of the lower ridge. We only had a single 9mm rope, three cams, and one ice axe apiece—just enough for the 5.2 step on the normal route—but the climbing did not look difficult and we decided to give it a try.

This turned out to be a great way to add some technical interest to this mostly non-technical route. We did three long pitches (with a bit of simul-climbing) on good rock, snowy ledges, and frozen turf. Impossible to rate this stuff, but each pitch had a step or two that was at least as hard as the crux of the normal route (photo at left). Because of our limited rack, all of this was must-not-fall terrain, but it was very enjoyable climbing.

The ridge itself was pleasant snow hiking and scrambling. In summer, most experienced climbers wouldn't even need a rope (the rappel could be skirted with moderate down-climbing). But in winter conditions the route had ample appeal. Toward the top, the wind kicked up and clouds began piling up against the Continental Divide from the west. After tagging the summit cairn, we started down and then spotted a circular rainbow in the clouds below us to the north, complete with a faint and tiny brocken spectre—our own shadows cast against the fog. We weren't lingering for the intriguing atmospherics, however. The wind chill was now well into the negatives, and after a round of bare-handed summit photography my fingers stayed numb until we were halfway back to the car.

Below, a pan of Bancroft's east ridge, with the crux of the normal route at the obvious notch in the middle. Our variation start is down and around the corner to the right of the base. 


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Climber Artist Series: Norio Matsumoto

I'm not sure how the work of Norio Matsumoto has slipped past me all these years, but I'm grateful to have discovered him now, through the blog of Talkeetna Air Taxi, which has flown Matsumoto into the Alaska Range each winter for the past 10 years. Matsumoto, 36, spends his summers photographing humpback whales from remote islands in southeast Alaska, and his winters photographing northern lights and stunning mountain landscapes from the air and from his base-camp igloo on a glacier in the Alaska Range.

What differentiates Matsumoto's work from other Alaskan mountain photographers is that his images are acquired almost exclusively in midwinter, a time when few humans even see these mountains and glaciers. The photographer spends two months alone on the glacier. The result is the most incredible northern lights photography I've ever seen, as well as rare and gorgeous photos of the Alaska Range giants in midwinter conditions. He's back out there right now, but you can see a terrrific selection of his work at Matsumoto's website, where you can also order prints.

There's a decent interview with the photographer here. I loved Matsumoto's description of his working days (nights) in the Alaska Range: "Get up at noon. Cook ramen and eat. Take some pictures of the alpine glow as the sun goes down, around 3:30 p.m. Go back to the sleeping bag and take some rest. Wake up at 8 p.m., cook ramen and eat. Stay outside from 9 p.m. to 4 or 5 a.m., to wait for/photograph the northern lights. Eat rice crackers, write in journal. Go to sleep at 5 a.m."

Matsumoto is the man. I hope he makes millions from his work, though it's obvious he considers himself a wealthy man already.

I like climbing and I like art. From time to time, the Mountain World features the work of climber artists that catch my eye.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

To clear skies and styrofoam snow,
solid rock and adequate pro.