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Death is as real as climbing
A tribute to some lost legends
Most who go out and play around on cliffs, climbing with or without a rope, look at climbing as a leisure activity or hobby. Some take it seriously and train in a gym, and some attempt to make some kind of bohemian living out of it. Or at least get sponsors, grants and savings to make that dream trip possible.
I have to say; in some way I assume I will always return home safely – to a cup of tea and the voice of my eight year old son. But if I try to be honest with myself, I know that such an assumption is far from reality. What makes climbing such a big part of many climbers’ lives is the unique way it manages to consume and captivate us. It is beyond sense and sensibility and yet still we do it and without the slightest hesitation.
It is hard to explain what the feeling is like when you are captivated by a route, mountain or line. It is even harder to justify taking such a huge risk as a parent: still I do it and love it. In a rational world its impossible to justify and can only be explained as an act of total egoism performed by narcissistic pricks!
Still, I like to think that it is possible to climb hard and yet responsibly. Accidents happen. There is, in my opinion, an absolute correlation between time and exposure. The longer you stay on an exposed route or mountain the greater risk you are taking.
On the other hand, to be fast you need to go light and that also carries its own risks. I however, prefer to go light and try and avoid spending too much time on the mountain. In the past weeks some true legends and huge sources of inspiration have left us. I think its calls for reflection as well as for a few words on their what they contribution to climbing and alpinism.
For me, the late Athol Whimp was not just a hero. He was the definition of what I think alpinism and climbing is all about. The way Whimp approach his climbing was pure, futuristic and with no fuss. Yet he never opted for the easy way up. Athol Whimp formed a magnificent team with Andrew Lindblade for a long period of time. The team was awarded a Piolet d’Or in 1998 for the first ascent on the North Face of Thalay Sagara, a huge and imposing mountain in the Indian Garhwal region. The route is about 1500 meters and was climbed with a portaledge as the wall is too steep to pitch even a tiny tent on.
Looking at the pictures from that ascent made me change my view on alpinism. It opened my mind and made me understand how hard routes can be climbed in the best of styles if you only possess the right skills. Something few do. I think few other routes have inspired me more than the Lindblade Whimp route on Thalay Sagar. Lindblade and Whimp pushed the standard of alpinism with their light style and their cutting edge ascents. They never compromised and they never caved in for ambition. It was light it was hard and it was on virgin ground.
In 2003 they failed to climb a direct route up the North Face of Jannu inNepal. It is one of the most imposing big walls in theHimalayaand only succumbed to a Russian siege style expedition, using thousands of meters of fixed ropes and climbing with several teams taking turns working on the wall the year after. This victory was in a way a sad chapter in mountaineering and in sharp contrast to Lindblade and Whips lonely attempt with a single portaledge as shelter. In my eyes, the failed direct route up the North Face of Jannu is one, if not The, coolest failures in modern alpinism.
The link shows the Russian route first attempted by Whimp and Lindblade. When sources of inspiration disappear it hurts. For cutting edge alpinism, 2012 has not started well looking at the great number of climbers who have recently lost their lives in the mountains. Two ofNorwaysbest alpinist, Bjørn-Eivind Årtun and Stein-Ivar Gravdal died while attempting a new mixed line on Kjerag, a 1000-meter big wall inNorway. It is an immense loss to the Norwegian climbing community but also to the world of cutting-edge climbing. Årtun was a fixed star in the “light and fast” community, with two nominations for the Piolet d’Or, the last one will be up for the jury later this month inChamonix.
As I am writting this a helicopter search is under way on Gasherbrum I in search for the lost trio of Gerfried Goschl (Austria), Nisar Hussain (Pakistan) and Cedric Hahlen (Switzerland) who were last spotted about 250 meters from the summit during a winter attempt. Of the worlds 14 peaks over 8000 meters, all those located in Nepal and Tibet have been climbed in winter, but of the five located in Pakistan, only Gasherbrum II has been climbed (2011) in winter. A polish team was on the summit of Gasherbrum I the same day the trio were last spotted. It was meant to be a shared success now it is looking more and more like yet another tragedy.
Ice climbing is so much fun, but this past weekend one of Spain’s most high profile ice climbers died when a big chunk of the ice pillar he was on collapsed. Some very disturbing pictures where published by some climbers that did not appear to have anything to do with the accident. I don’t know what you think, but I find it strange that someone published pictures of dead climbers and accidents. Would you upload pictures if you pass a car accident? Its just plain bad taste to me.
Finally (this is not a complete list of lost climbers this year) I want to mention the loss of a talented young alpinist: twenty-one-year-old Maria (Masha) Khitrikova who was killed while guiding on Mt. Elbrus (5642m) last week. The Ukrainian climbing community is mourning her loss.
This is not fun reading and I hope you don’t lose any of the spring fever you have, but please, all out there, accidents happen, you don’t need to go to big mountains or even practice alpinism to die while climbing. Climbing accidents happens all the time. Remember to look at your partners knot, tie off the end of the rope when you lower off. Do all the small things to avoid an accident.
Also in memory of:
Carlyle Norman, twenty-nine, who died on January 16 after being injured on January 15 while climbing Last Gringo Standing (6c A1, 500m) on the Patagonian peak, Aguja Saint-Exupery (2558m).
Vitaly Gorelik, who died during the Russian attempt of the first winter ascent of K2. Gorelik was nominated for the Piolet d’Or for his 2009 route on Peak Pobeda’s North Face. Gorelik and his partner Gleb Sokolov climbed in alpine style for more than seven days to establish a difficult 2400-meter route up Tien Shan’s highest peak.