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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Nordwand: The Eiger Movie

For Hollywood-style mountaineering films that are both A) reasonably accurate and B) good entertainment, I can think of Touching the Void and, ummm...that's it. Now I can add Nordwand ("North Face") to the list. Last night I saw the German-made film about the famous 1936 disaster on the north face of the Eiger, and it's an impressive reconstruction of state-of-the-art prewar mountaineering and, at times, a nail-biter.

First, the climbing. In the mid-1930s, German and Austrian alpinists were probably the best in the world, and I was fascinated by the equipment, clothing, and techniques, which, to the best of my knowledge, the film depicted quite accurately. The gear and methods seem astonishingly primitive compared with our high-tech tools and bombproof-anchor-at-all-times mentality. Yet these climbers could pull from their full bag of tricks pendulums, reasonably sound belays (when they chose to use them), and free-hanging rappels. The climbing footage is convincing, and the weather and avalanche scenes are harrowing. The bivouacs look truly miserable.

For me, the storytelling worked well until the last 30 minutes. Just as the drama reached its peak, some niggling aspects of the film started to become outright annoying: a couple of overdrawn characters, an intrusive love interest, and an excess of melodrama in scenes that were plenty dramatic on their own. When Toni Kurz's on-again-off-again girlfriend ventures onto the face and climbs to within a few feet of him as he nears death, I thought, "If she can get up there, why can't the Swiss guides join her and throw him a rope?" And then came a truly awful line that I hope was just a flub of the subtitles translator. I won't give it away, but a third of the audience broke into laughter during a scene that should have been evoking anguish and tears.

To their credit, the filmmakers didn't give this tragedy a Hollywood ending. I walked out of Nordwand drained, and though I could annoy my wife with my typical post-film analysis of the movie's faults, its rich evocation of 1930s mountaineering will stay with me much longer than its foibles. Click here for U.S. screening info.


Monday, January 25, 2010


On January 15, Renan Ozturk and Cory Richards topped out on Tawoche, a 6,500-meter peak in Nepal, after completing a difficult 1,200-meter new route. They had to battle dehydration—no water for 36 hours—and dangerously loose rock to finish the route. It was a major effort. But here's what was really amazing: On January 20, four days after they descended safely to base camp, the two guys posted a creative, heartfelt, beautifully shot video about their climb. One day later, they posted a follow-up covering the final climb to the summit and the descent, thus breaking the news of their own success.

TAWOCHE 2k10 dispatches #4 from renan ozturk on Vimeo.

I think this could be a game-changer for expedition climbing films. In their immediacy and authenticity, these short clips blow many slickly produced expedition films out of the water—I find them infinitely more inspiring than TV-style documentaries. Ironically, the climbers are sponsored in part by the North Face, which led the way in big-media big-walling during the first Internet boom in the late 1990s. I mean absolutely no disrespect to the climbers on those projects in Baffin Island and Pakistan, among other places, but when your game plan includes a multi-person camera crew, it inevitably dictates the terms of the climb, including endless fixed ropes, portaledges, days of hauling and repositioning, and releading pitches. It dictates the choice of route itself.

Ozturk and Richards chose a chossy, dangerous, unclimbed alpine route at high altitude. They had no idea if they would succeed; in fact, the odds were very much against success. They climbed alone and shot their own footage, each carrying a single digital camera; they had a helmet-cam rig and a few extra batteries. They edited these clips in their tents at base camp and uploaded them by satellite modem (except for two clips for which they had to race down to Namche Bazaar after their sat link died). "It is arguable which was harder and took more time: the climb or the dispatches," Richards said.

In the intro to their summit-day clip, on the Vertical Carnival blog, one of them wrote: "As [we] are artists, we are locked in a constant struggle between what we want to capture and the energy our bodies can afford to give. It’s an instinct to reach for the camera, but one that nearly always falls second to the tasks at hand. Often times, I criticize myself for not shooting more…for not nailing the perfect image…but then again, I am fighting just to move. As athletes, we are succeeding, but as creative individuals, we are flailing…it hurts."

They may have been flailing, but they weren't failing. In my view, they succeeded beautifully.

TAWOCHE 2k10 dispatches #5 from renan ozturk on Vimeo.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Christian Beckwith Going 'OuterLocal'

Here's an interesting development in the "where are they now" department: Christian Beckwith, the founding editor of Alpinist magazine (and before that the founder of Tetons-based Mountain Yodel), is unveiling a new venture: an ambitious website called OuterLocal, slated to launch in July.

Beckwith, who started Alpinist in 2002, had floated the idea of a multisport outdoor magazine on the Alpinist/Surfer's Journal/Ski Journal model back in 2004. But the money wasn't there for a print book. Now, more than a year after Alpinist went belly-up (and then was resuscitated by Height of Land Publications), Beckwith is trying to launch his magazine vision on the Internet.

I asked him to describe the new site, and he sent the following blurb/media-kit copy, which I'm reprinting verbatim below:

"Alpinist was born in Jackson, Wyoming, and raised in the mountains of our backyard. The people who worked at our magazine, however, were far more than just climbers. We skied the backcountry for six months a year. We ran the footpaths of the Wind Rivers, mountain biked the Pinnacles of Togwotee Pass and paddled the Snake long before the tourists arrived for summer. We lived in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem because of its wild beauty, its lack of people, its daily opportunity to experience nature on nature’s terms. When we traveled, we sought out the wilds wherever we went, be it surfing in Mexico or hiking in South Africa’s Cederberg or flying the thermals above Switzerland’s Grand Combin. Wherever we went, our love of the wilds extended far beyond the mountains. Problematically, we could find no authentic expression of what we loved in the day’s mainstream publications.

"In 2004, we set out to create a new magazine, one that explored a broad range of adventures with the respect they deserved using the values we had brought to Alpinist. We originally partnered with Patagonia on the idea, then worked to launch it on our own, but the tide was already turning against print, and we were unable to secure the $5 million necessary to launch a title from scratch.

"Since Alpinist’s collapse, I’ve been developing a way to transfer that original idea online. Over the course of more than a dozen road trips across the US, and international journeys to Mexico, Europe, Japan, and Africa, I met with adventure athletes, web developers and entrepreneurs from numerous walks of life and industries. I forged relationships with opinion leaders in climbing, skiing, paddling, surfing, hiking and biking, and built agreements with strategic allies across the outdoor industry. In December I traveled to India, where I secured a website design and development company to execute the site. The result is , a website that takes as its foundation a simple premise: the fullest measure of life is experienced in those moments when we test ourselves against the wildest features of our environment.

"Adventure is the medium through which we understand our lives. Exploring new lands, new waters, encountering nature in ever-deepening ways, we gain n appreciation of ourselves as individuals and as participants in the world. The feel of Scottish granite beneath our crampons, the narrowing of our sightlines as we commit to a steep couloir, the focus as we drop in on a reef break during a late-afternoon session: OuterLocal will celebrate the artisans of the wild in a website as respectful, irreverent and profound as the manner in which we pursue our dreams.

On January 8, noted big-mountain skier and filmmaker Kina Pickett shot our first film. We’ve recently finished design of the home page and user interface and are now working on the interior pages. We expect to launch OuterLocal by July 2010."

Should be interesting!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday Evening Time Waster

Readers who enjoyed Barry Blanchard's terrific "Mountain Profile" of Mt. Robson in the latest issue of Alpinist will also enjoy "Infinite Patience: The Movie." (Not its real name.) Eric Dumerac, one of Blanchard's two partners for his much-tried (and oft-failed) new route on the Emperor Face of Robson, shot footage during their successful climb in 2002 for a cool 10-minute video that can be watched at Blanchard's new website.

Barry also has posted a collection of more than 40 scanned slides (dust, scratches, and all) from his 1985 first ascent of the north pillar of North Twin with Dave Cheesmond—still unrepeated. I'd never seen the majority of these images, including this shot of Barry arriving at the summit. Great stuff!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Have No Fears, We've Got Stories for Years

In the time-honored tradition of producers who'd rather rehash the "best of" old shows than create something new, I present the five most commented-upon Mountain World posts of 2009. (Not necessarily the best.) Drum roll, please!

1. No Consolation: reflection upon the death of Craig Luebben.
2. Oops, Wrong Planet: the Hubers get funky.
3. Never Stop Litigating: TNF gets aggro on a teenage parodist.
4. Lacelle Avalanche Video Analysis: a (strangely) controversial post-mortem.
5. Mountain Movie Clich├ęs: what's your favorite?

Sorry for the clip show...


Friday, January 08, 2010

Pledge for Endless Ascent

Will Gadd's "Endless Ascent" at the Ouray Ice Festival begins tomorrow. He's going to climb the same route over and over, for 24 hours straight, to see how many vertical feet he can accumulate. It's a mind-blowing effort.

But this isn't just a Red Bull athlete's latest wacky stunt: It's also a fund-raiser for the vital work of the dZi Foundation to support remote mountain communities in Nepal and Sikkim. Will's effort won't mean nearly as much unless he raises some significant dosh. I've pledged 0.5 cents a foot. If Will reaches his primary goal of 11,429 feet (the gain from Everest base camp to summit, or 77 trips up the Pick O' the Vic route at Ouray), I'll give $57.14 to the dZi Foundation—an amount that will be matched by a challenge grant. What will you give? Visit the Endless Ascent website to make a pledge and track Will's progress.

UPDATE: Will climbed the route 194 times in 24 hours, starting at noon on Saturday. That's about 25,400 feet of ice climbing. Surely this is a Guinness record? Congratulations, Will!

You can see a great gallery of James Beissel photos from the Endless Ascent at Colorado MoJo.


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Oh. My. Gawd.

Looks like maybe Zion to me. Anyone know for sure? Man, these two were lucky to get out unscathed. (I'm assuming they were OK: You don't usually say "Hooolly shit!" and keep filming when you get hurt. You say something else entirely.)

If it is Zion, I can attest to the nastiness of those approaches and descents. Once you get off the well-beaten paths to the classics, that ground is loose, loose, loose. And don't forget the ticks.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Retire Those Ropes

Black Diamond's QC guy, Kolin Powick, has published some scary test results on a rope he had just decided to retire—and those results prompted him to test other old but still-maybe-OK ropes around the BD office. One of the working ends of Powick's trusty 9.4mm broke at just 6 kN of force, and not at the knot. (A figure-eight knot reduces the strength of a rope by around 25 to 30 percent.) That figure compares to a range of around 13 to 16 kN for the new 9.4mm he tested. In subsequent tests, other ropes broke at less than 7 kN—the kinds of forces that can be generated by a short slamming fall. Picture a cliff with an overhang at the bottom and a crux move at the first or second bolt—a very common scenario.

Sure, we all know ropes need to be retired when they start to look old and worn, right? But it's so tempting to hang onto a rope for just a few more pitches. Particularly for sport climbers, Powick's tests should serve as a real-world warning: Sport climbers beat the hell out of the ends of their ropes through repeated falls, hanging, and winching, and sport routes are more likely than most climbs to have crux moves close to the belayer. It's a double whammy.

Bottom line: A hard, unsentimental look at your rope, combined with your personal knowledge of how much work it has seen, is the best guideline for deciding when to retire your cord. Don't be cheap: If it looks bad, it ain't safe.


Saturday, January 02, 2010

Truer Words Were Never Spoken reader Jeff Weinberg posted this great "Overheard" quote, from a man giving his son a pep talk at the Philadelphia Rock Gym: "The beautiful thing about climbing is, everyone sucks at their own level."


New Year's Weekend Time Waster

Kelly Cordes makes a margarita for Tommy Caldwell, courtesy of Kelly Cordes Dot Com:

[Hey, you kids, what are you doing watching videos all weekend?! Go outside and play!]