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Mixed Messages, Is Hard M-Sport-Climbing Influencing High-Standard Alpinism?

Mixed Messages

Is hard M-sport-climbing influencing high-standard alpinism?

Edited by David Dornian

In 2002 the American Alpine Journal published a thought piece written by Raphael Slawinski. Raphael's thesis was that the enjoyable pastime created by climbing short, but physically difficult, sport-mixed routes, reassured by closely spaced protection in a low-commitment environment, might provide training that could be transferred directly to cutting edge alpine accomplishments. He held out the hope that standards of difficulty, safety, and speed on the big rigs of the world would improve as a result of all the practice being taken close to the road. Current “extremes” would become casual strolls for an increasing number of climbers as a result.

That autumn, Steve House sent an e-mail to Raphael, which he cc’d to select friends and sparring partners. House objected to Slawinski’s easy conclusions in the article, and he wanted to open further discussion. Of course, Raphael replied to Steve in some detail (Raph is an academic, and he’s of Polish birth, too), and in a moment of fey humor, Raphael added even more climbers to the cc list.

The dialogue that ensued was massively entertaining. It spanned months, nations, generations, and in the end totaled more than 30,000 words. This demonstrated, if nothing else, that prolonged exposure to cold and high altitude tends to suppress cognitive ability. The exchanges started out dutifully examining the potential for sport-mixed practice to improve alpinism, but swerved at their end toward the soft shoulder of “What makes a hard alpine climb, anyway?” and, “Honey, what kind of an example are we setting for the kids?”

For better and worse, it all was saved. Now, after numerous requests for electronic copies of these archives, some of the principal correspondents are urging that key arguments be published.

Please, as you read, don’t hold people over the fire on the finer points they make—these were “informal” exchanges, composed in odd moments. Dip in and browse these mixed messages like eavesdropping on a tavern table discussion—after all, a good deal of what follows was likely composed with a beer beside the keyboard.

I have gone back and stripped from the exchanges most of the personal slights, overt chest pounding, slack-jawed wandering, and nostalgic histories (in other words, thrown out all the good stuff), and corrected the bad punctuation and hysterical spelling, then winnowed the rest to get everything down to printable length. Though few of the original innuendos are reproduced here, rest assured that they have been retained on file for future blackmailing purposes….

Try reading the two articles that follow Mixed Messages—Robert Jasper’s No Siesta and Steve House’s North Twin—in the context of this discussion. You might also consider Slawinski’s Mt. Temple reports in the Canadian Rockies section of Climbs & Expeditions. For that matter, factor in any number of recent articles and reports, and temper with your own experience.

David Dornian

Subject: house on caffeine

From: “Steve House”

To: “Raphael Slawinski”

Sent: Saturday, October 26, 2002 8:30 AM

Raphael,

I just read your AAJ article this morning (and drank a bunch of coffee). Cool, I like to see things put together that way. It is really helpful for everyone to think about the “big picture.” I have cc’d this to some folks because I think it’s a great discussion.

I must say I have problems with your logic (easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback,

I know):

You make an assumption that sport (rock) climbing has improved overall standards in the mountains. I would disagree totally. I would argue that sport (rock) climbing has lowered standards. The Alps are an example of this. There were far more people climbing the harder (5.11 and up) routes in the Dolomites 15 years ago than there are currently. Also in Chamonix, the rock routes getting done are the ones that you rap from, not the big routes in the Ecrins. In Patagonia the people doing the big routes according to the alpine ethos aren’t sport climbers, they’re “from” the valley [Yosemite]…

You cite Beyond Good and Evil, but fail to mention that the belays (once part of the crux) are now two fat bolts each and you just rap whenever you want. Nobody has done the final pitches yet. That is not the same route it originally was!

I don't think you’d be able to prove that standards of any kind have been raised in the mountains (rock, ice, mixed) since around the 1980s.

Now that it is done, Rocket Man [a bolted mixed route in the Rockies] is a great alpine outing, one I’d like to do. But how many days did Dave [Thomson, the first ascensionist] work on it? How does that fulfill your alpine ideal? It doesn’t—you can’t even call it an alpine route. M-16 [on Howse Peak—Backes-Blanchard-House, 1999] should get climbed in a day. The crux is really short (80 feet) and the rest isn’t harder than a normal top-end waterfall. But it goes unrepeated because of the psychological barrier. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it is technically easier than Rocket Man, but none try because of its alpine characteristics. And wasn’t that part of the point in the name?

You gloss over risk too easily. The real issue is what allows you or me to make harder moves at the sport crag—the fact that I’ll suffer no consequences for falling. Yours is the second article (the first was in the Canadian Alpine Journal [written by Scott Semple]) that claims sport, or “M” climbing is going to revolutionize standards in the mountains. In neither article is mention made of the presence or absence of risk in these differing approaches.

T - A = 0

[House’s expression for “Talk minus Action equals Zero”.]

Steve House has authored some of the most significant ascents in North America over the last 10 years, many of which have been lead articles in the AAJ.

* *

On Tuesday, October 29, 2002, at 10:50 AM, Raphael Slawinski wrote back:

I have had sufficient caffeine this morning that I finally feel fit to answer you. I have no objection whatsoever to this discussion. Indeed, I am pleased that my article has not sunk into immediate obscurity.

I admit to being surprised that you should disagree so strongly with what I wrote. Allow me to quote verbatim from the conclusion of my article:

“In spite of the great advances in mixed climbing made over the last quarter of a century, one is struck by how slowly the technical standards in the mountains advance relative to standards at the crags. Whereas in the 1970s standards did not appreciably differ between crag and mountain routes, today the gap between them has grown to such an extent that they almost appear to be different disciplines. While on the one hand this points to the immense possibilities for applying M-climbing techniques to the mountains, it also underscores the degree to which the high standards of M-climbing rely on a controlled crag environment. While the gap between the two is only likely to grow, perhaps the rising standards at the crags will contribute to a corresponding rise in the alpine realm.”

What is it precisely that you object to here? The suggestion that M-climbing might come to have an impact on alpinism? I admit that when I started writing the article, I thought I would be able to show that it has already had such an impact. As I researched the subject, I was inescapably forced to the conclusion that while there is a greater base of “hard” ice and mixed climbers today, this has not translated into higher standards in the mountains, certainly not above and beyond what has been accomplished in the ‘80s.

In my article I have already quoted specific examples of how M-climbing has translated into “hard” traditional mixed routes (like Stuck in the Middle on the Terminator Wall [of Mt. Rundle]). This past summer the A-Strain [The Andromeda Strain on Mt. Andromeda] (V, M5+) has seen multiple ascents, some taking as little as 15 hours car-to-car, by local climbers like Kim Csizmazia and Rob Owens—climbers with a strong background in traditional as well as M-climbing.

What is very obviously missing from this list is any mention of major new alpine routes, routes where skills acquired at the crags (like the ability to onsight, say, 5.12 and M8) are used to raise standards over what has been done in the ‘80s by climbers with much more modest technical abilities. So while I would argue that sport climbing has led to a consolidation of standards, I would also have to agree that it has not resulted in new and more difficult alpine routes. The examples I have used above are all from the Canadian Rockies, but I think the same holds true for other ranges.

I fully agree with you that the biggest stumbling block when transferring M-climbing skills from the crags to the mountains is the introduction of risk (I referred to it in my article somewhat euphemistically as reliance on a “controlled crag environment”). I fully acknowledge that what has made technically hard routes from Octopussy [Colorado Rockies] to Musashi [Canadian Rockies] possible is the elimination (or at least the minimization) of risk. But I also know that being able to onsight, say, 5.12 and M8 on bolts makes onsighting 5.11 and M7 on virgin ground a lot more palatable. Like rock climbing before it, mixed climbing has come to encompass a huge range of activities. One should not restrict oneself to only one facet of the game.

Raphael Slawinski has topped the competition at the Ouray Ice Festival, and climbed technical ice all over North America. Closer to his Calgary home he is a relentless alpine achiever, with a continual stream of first ascents and regular repeats of Rockies testpieces. He has put up some of the world’s hardest bolted M-routes.

* *

From: Steve House

I object to the assumption that sport climbing increased the level of rock climbing in the mountains:

I would agree it has lead to a consolidation of the level of rock climbing in the mountains and I concede to not being as educated as I might be on the recent history of rock. As comparison, I’d hold up routes like Divine Providence (hard 5.12 above 4,000 meters, on the Grand Pilier d’Angle [Mont Blanc]) with François Marsigny in the late ‘80s for alpine trad, or the 8b sport route on the Aig. du Midi (12,800', late ‘80s) in comparison to what has been done more recently. There are plenty of hard alpine rock routes in Europe where you have to onsight 5.12c or harder to do them. They were mostly done (at least begun) in the 1980s.

Huber’s Bellavista (5.14, trad gear, but fixed/rehearsed as a sport route) or Bubu Bolle’s Women and Chalk—in my book those are still in the rock climb category, not the alpine climb category. But that is just me and my Bonatti-reading ass. And after 20 years, is this such a great leap? I’d say that repeats are way, way different than first ascents.

To continue our heated agreement, and to further my idea that alpinism has only regressed since the 1980s, I would cite the north face of the Grandes Jorasses as representing nearly all the stages of technically-hard alpinism [see No Siesta in the following article—Ed.]. [Also] Andy Parkin’s routes, some done solo, in the Chamonix Aiguilles. The Catalonians on the south face of Annapurna, west face of G4, Kukuczka/Piotrowsky in the “Hockey Stick Gully” on the south face of K2—all in the 80’s—all alpine style.

Will sport-mixed climbing help us reach that level again? Everyone going out and climbing the Andromeda Strain in 15 hours car-to-car will bring us collectively much closer to that goal than M11 will.

In my conversations with [Scott] Semple and [Will] Gadd, I realized that my Alpine grail is a lot different than theirs. Their grail is closer to being a technically difficult route on an alpine face, altitude not being important, and style being less important than pure difficulty. Mine is the Sickle on the west face of K2; theirs is M12 on Kitchener/Howse/Logan. These aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but certainly different.

Show me, and I will believe.

* * *

From: Scott Semple:

As mentioned to Barry [Blanchard] months prior to the publication of the CAJ, “my article has nothing to do with alpine climbing.” (“What article?” he replied.)

My thesis was (is) that the TECHNICAL skill level of ice and mixed climbers in the CANADIAN ROCKIES has risen since the mid-1990s and been criticized, downplayed or ignored by the “assessments of non-participants.” More recent accomplishments remain largely unknown while visiting climbers lemming to do testpiece-now-trade-routes that locals lap.

P.S. Much more importantly, Steve, where’s your article for my spoof mag? Your editor awaits…

Scott Semple lives in Canmore, Alberta. He is an accomplished sport-mixed climber, a promising alpinist, and editor of the parody magazine Falling.

* * *

From: Joe Josephson

I’m sincerely curious on just how many people are criticizing the bolted mixed climbs. I’m certain these issues exist but I have doubts about just how much.

I’ve not been around the Rockies as much as in the past, but aside from a few exceptions in a particular area or route, I’ve never heard any dissing of bolts that should be taken seriously.

Barry writes things like “NO BOLTS” for some of the routes they’ve done. In my mind, when a wild route is done with no bolts it is a significant achievement. No better or more valid than a wild route done with bolts—they are just different. Both have a place.

The thing that bugs me about the mixed revolution—far beyond the fact that it’s not all that new—is Mixed climbers saying that it’s the way forward, or that pure ice climbs are “easy” and “boring.” This makes no more sense than any crusty alpinist holding onto traditional ethics.

I think a major dose of history needs to be prescribed for many of the climbers in both camps. Go and read the “Hot Flashes” and “Great Debate” articles of the mid ‘80s. Remember sport climbing versus traditional climbing? All that silly lycra spewing, etc? We all laugh at it now. I would hope we’ve learned to rise above it.

Joe Josephson wrote the guidebook Waterfall Ice Climbing in the Canadian Rockies. He has climbed big alpine routes from Patagonia to Alaska, and is currently working on a guide to the Mt. Logan massif. He lives in Montana.

* * *

From: Will Gadd

OK, I’ve been trying to keep out of this but I’ve had my morning Red Bull so here goes:

This whole debate is as “rational” as a Christian/Muslim/Atheist discussion. Steve believes in his style of alpine climbing. Raph has found a new Koran in mixed climbing. With that in mind, I’d like to proselytize in a friendly way about what I call Mountain Divinity. The church of Mountain Divinity is based on the idea that mountains are holy; I’ve decided to believe this after watching alpenglow, flying on thermals at sunset, and paddling down the Nahanni in the fog. Services to be held every day anywhere outside (failing that, bars will work).

While the above is meant only semi-seriously, it is a credo I’d like to live up to—the climbers I most admire are those who climbed lots, slandered little, and shared the mountains often before they died at a ripe old age. They had faith in what they did, and did it well.

Hugs and kisses.

Will Gadd has put up standard-defining sport-mixed climbs since the genre was invented, won the X-Games and the first season of the Ice World Cup competitions, and climbed difficult new alpine itineraries at home and abroad. He is author of Ice and Mixed Climbing: Modern Technique.

* * *

From: Jeff Lowe

Although what I’ve read is obviously only a part of a longer discussion, I get the general idea of the respective viewpoints. Personally I like Will’s approach the best. Do your own thing with integrity, and communicate the things you’ve experienced and learned with honesty and humility, humor and enthusiasm, and you’ll end up influencing new climbers more than if you beat them over the head with the rightness of “your” style and the “wimpiness” of their style. Climbing is evolving as always in multiple directions. There are some exceptionally strong and creative hands grabbing the rock and gripping the tools: who knows where they’ll climb next, or how? I, for one, don’t want my personal myopia to be passed on as some sort of gospel. Let’s invite the sport climbers out into the mountains. Those few that come will teach us all a thing or two.

Jeff Lowe was five years ahead of the curve in U.S. climbing for three decades. He brought us waterfall ice climbing, sport mixed climbing, World Cup competitions, and extreme alpinism in the great ranges.

* * *

From: Bill Belcourt

Come on Will! Before busting with the “I’m OK, you’re OK” hippie BS, think about what these guys are saying. It is certainly as legitimate as ratings, and when’s the last time you didn’t rate a route, or pick one based on what it had to offer?

We have not been good stewards of critical thinking among new climbers. The result is a bunch of bolts and press celebrating shit routes, with one type of climbing experience replacing others because there is no sense of history among the protagonists. It’s not, “All good, braah.” It’s fairly [screwed] up. And all of us are somewhat responsible for not wanting to spend the time or energy to discuss the issues.

Talk it up as much as possible, whatever your views. Hopefully, the result will be thoughtfulness and restraint when it comes to new routes by younger climbers. Where do I stand on these important issues? Alpine climbing rules, and you sport-mixed climbers are just a bunch of pansies.

Bill Belcourt is an accomplished alpinist, now working in product development for Black Diamond.

* * *

From: Barry Blanchard

I think that here in the Rockies the winter alpinist is wise to resort to aid for some moves and indeed some passages because you’re less likely to fall and die. Falling off and dying pushing winter free climbing for the sake of winter free climbing is worse style than resorting to aid. I’d love to free all the steep and hard stuff that I run into up there but hey, this isnt Cham’, it ain’t granite; it’s limestone and it’s serious and it’s often blobbed up with meter-deep snow forms dripped from Satan’s own 45-gallon candle. If aid keeps you alive it is cool (but bolts could do the same thing—keep you alive. So does retreat. I consider going down as succeeding in the covenant with those who created the game).

Barry Blanchard has painted more masterpieces on Rockies north faces than any other single climber. He has long been a student of climbing’s history and techniques and enjoys thinking and writing about it.

* * *

From: Raphael Slawinski

Whether M-climbing is seen as having advanced alpinism (or as even having the potential to do so) depends to some extent on what one values in alpine climbing. As Steve pointed out, people have different alpine grails. That grail might be a huge objective, possibly at altitude, climbed with a bare minimum of means; technical difficulty would be important but not the principal consideration; and style would have more to do with speed than with any notions of free climbing. That grail might also be a smaller but more technical objective, with emphasis placed on elements of what constitutes good style: this might mean climbing free, possibly leashless, with no jugging and/or hauling.

In many ways the ‘80s marked the pinnacle of achievement in alpinism. It is likely that the technical standards of the Hungo Face of Kwangde or of the Golden Pillar of Spantik are still not far off the top standard attained on an alpine-style high mountain route. And arguably no alpine-style ascent has surpassed the commitment of Voytek Kurtyka’s and Robert Schauers first ascent of the Shining Wall of Gasherbrum IV. Even by today’s standards Kurtyka was a brilliant technical climber (for instance, he soloed 13a at the crags, displaying a level of boldness and technical skill unmatched by most of today’s leading alpinists or M-climbers). So where do we go after a climber of Kurtyka’s caliber has pushed the alpine envelope?

More fundamentally it might be questioned whether high standards in the mountains should be equated with high technical standards. It is certainly easier to impress chicks and editors by climbing something with a big number on it. Somehow IV M10 sounds much more impressive than VI M4.… But is it really harder? How does one objectively compare the overall difficulty of a long “moderate” route to a shorter but technically more vicious one?

* * *

From: Mark Twight

I believe it was John Bouchard who originally said, “either the muscle is exercised or it returns to its original weak state.” His declaration illustrates exactly why higher sport-mixed standards do not automatically raise technical standards in the mountains.

The human mind adapts to new conditions slowly enough that often, in the moment, man’s mental capacity appears finite. Because modern man is used to achieving goals with a certain degree of speed he won’t wait to naturally develop the improved mental capacities necessary to confront a new challenge. Instead man manipulates the challenge in order to successfully address a particular aspect of it.

Climbing routes at the highest level of gymnastic difficulty requires the use of bolts to minimize risk. Risk is the aspect of the problem most difficult to contend with, yet easiest to manipulate. It is not as easy to find shortcuts in the process of gaining movement skills, endurance, and strength. They require long-term attention and time.

And working out the hardest moves is likely impossible if a six-foot dirt nap is the result of falling short. Most minds are simply not strong enough to handle eating the whole elephant. It’s digested with one bite at a time.

Once bolts excise risk and the mind grows accustomed to playing freely on the overhanging consequence-free crags the mental muscle that allows man to adapt to high-risk atrophies, returning to its original, weak state. A withered ability to deal with risk is inconsistent with alpinism. No matter what level of technical ability a climber achieves at the crag, without a resilient mind, able and accustomed to entertaining high risk, that climber won’t be pushing any limits in the chaotic alpine environment. At least not until flaccid mental muscles are trained up to the task.

In this sense, Belcourt was right when he wrote that sport-mixed climbers are pansies. Gymnastically hard (but risk-free) routes make men better monkeys but they certainly don’t improve mental agility or resilience within the context of alpine chaos. Without being hunted every now and then a man cannot retain the skills required to stay at the top of the food chain. It’s all a game until the other guy is shooting back.

“Direct Action, No Prisoners.”

Mark Twight is a noted climber, writer, photographer, and commentator. His repeated attempts at self-immolation brought high-standard alpinism to the American consciousness during the ‘90s. With Andy Parkin, he put up the route Beyond Good and Evil, mentioned earlier in this article. He works for Grivel North America.

* * *

From: David Dornian

…and a cheery “Top o’ the food chain” to you, too.

Careful, you could extend the metaphor a little too far on that “mental muscle” conceit. Press the issue and you’d have to acknowledge that real, physical muscle doesn’t correlate that closely with climbing success at any level. Think about how heavy, directed training of a single type is typically associated with overweight thugs who gradually become a) inflexible, b) clumsy, c) egomaniacal, d) ill-humoured, e) indisposed to doing anything but more training, and f) bad dressers.

Smart people? Well, I think it’s generally accepted that smart people anticipate possible outcomes, solve problems, manage risk, develop tools and techniques, get help, practice, and prepare. Even most cows have enough sense to feel the cold wind coming and turn their backs to a storm rather than face into its fury. “Mental muscle” might just be another way of saying “stubborn” or “too stupid to come in out of the rain.”

Confront risk directly if you’re a nihilist or a fatalist—then I suppose it just doesn’t matter, by definition. Otherwise, confronting risk for its own sake can appear quite juvenile. It may count as “...being hunted every now and then,” or as “developing the improved mental capacities,” but it also may count as evolution in action.

Decide what you want to achieve, and then ask yourself WHY you want to achieve it. Only then should you choose HOW you want to achieve it, select tools, and decide on appropriate techniques. Mental atrophy only comes when you refuse to think.

I personally subscribe to the Blair Witch Project, or Halloween, or Stupid theories of alpinism, where with each climb I get all dressed up and grab the camera and initially set out to make—and then somehow inevitably become a player in—my own silly low-budget horror movie.

David Dornian is North American representative to the International Council for Competition Climbing, and the collector of this correspondence.

* * *

From: Abby Watkins

Same old pissing on the fire hydrant.

Good on ya, Will, for setting it straight. Anything other than the walk up is contrived. In fact, the summit is contrived, as there is nothing there we need for our daily lives. We climb because it feels so good. [We] can’t leave a pin scar in the rock, but it’s ok to mow down a forest to build our houses. We vote in governments who have no problem leveling a mountain range to find the evil terrorist, or destroying the habitat of the largest Caribou herd left in the wild to drill for oil. The true purists are those who live simply, whose efforts are spent wholly on feeding themselves and their family. Climbing itself is a luxury. Why get overheated about exactly how people are supposed to enjoy it? The [mountains] are big enough to house both sport and traditional mixed routes. Both exist in plenty. Most of us enjoy both types of adventures, and are glad that both exist.

Abby Watkins wins ice and mixed climbing competitions, climbs big walls by herself, and teaches women how to climb.

* * *

From: Barry Blanchard

We’re climbers, not the sharpest tools in the shed. I think we’re stuck trying to figure this out with lesser-evolved brains. But if no cow ever faces away from the herd how will greener pastures ever be discovered? If all cows went into the storm there would probably be no cows and no need of greener pastures.

I assume that Musashi perfected the two-sword technique in the dojo and did take it out to the battlefield to make a “cut” [Musashi is also the name of an M12 sport route in the Rockies]. Spend too much time engaging and you will probably get cut, though.

In my life the summit provides the point to turn around and I seem to need that as much as I need food. Don’t know if I am helping, but this sure is fun. I’m in agreement.…

* * *

From: Scott Johnston

Folks need to say what they mean or not say it. Sadly, I think that the salient point of the whole argument is being overlooked: “Where is climbing going and where will these various movements take climbing?”

[We] know very well what is entailed in alpine climbing and understand that sport climbing is but a sliver of the climbing continuum. But the bulk of the community is not participating in leading-edge breakthroughs and many participants lack perspective on the macrocosm of climbing. I’m seeing that the public has entered the sport in the last five years and that a 10-year vet is an old timer. I submit that these folks are in no way prepared to be handed the reins of climbing’s future. Most haven’t a clue as to its past. The closest they get to the full climbing spectrum is to thumb the pages of the rags. The direction climbing is going is being dictated by the media and newbies who [motivate] the marketing machine.

Sport climbing is a true sport in that it allows direct comparisons. [It] is easily packaged, with grades and cool photos. Average schmucks who read the magazines get their inspiration from what they believe the elite are doing. You can’t take a photo of, or put a meaningful number on, commitment. So the true adventure, the soul expanding aspect of climbing becomes downplayed. Do we really want climbing to become the sport of those who think adventure is defined by where they can drive their new Ford Explorer?

The next generation of climbers should be encouraged to discover challenges by seeking out commitment. What I fear is [regression] in climbing where the fixation is on numbers. [Numbers] can only truly affect a very small group of elite climbers. The rest of us slobs are stuck in the second, third, or 20th tier and we should be able to have defining moments even if we can’t crank one-arm pull ups.

[We have] the opportunity to steer the direction climbing takes. Acknowledge a differentiation between Sport and Alpine, and make it clear in the media, [else] climbers will come to know climbing from a very narrow perspective, doomed to be seen as just an extreme sport. Don’t sell climbing short, don’t distill out the essence and present only that soulless message.

Scott Johnston has climbed on most continents since 1973, and is currently a climbing and back-country ski guide for North Cascades Mountain Guides.

* * *

From: Valeri Babanov

When you are too high in the high mountains, you can’t be one way. It is too dangerous. Speed is important for safety, and you have to be flexible, or you break. Style is of course very important and you try to climb in the best style always, but you also need to CLIMB. You need to understand you are real people—skill and experience are knowing your limits.

Hans Kammerlander and Reinhold Messner are also flexible in this way, knowing when to use what style. So, I’m a realist! Me, I prefer to finish my dreams. I don’t want to be old and still have only the dreams.

Valeri Babanov has twice been awarded the world’s most prestigious alpine recognition: the Piolet d’Or; this year it was for his ascent of Nuptse East (see Yuri Koshelenko’s article Moonlight Sonata in this Journal).

* * *

From: Andy Kirkpatrick

I can't really comment personally as I haven't done any bolted M climbing. But as for nonbolted mixed, like we have in Scotland, well it’s the foundation of all the big mountain stuff British climbers do, and so when it comes to mental strength and commitment, plus that important and often overlooked gnarl factor there is no better training, and that’s maybe why the Brits seem to be leading the way in some areas of mountaineering.

Andy Kirkpatrick started from Hull and to date has made it as far as Sheffield, but he's done it the hard way – via an enchainment of the world’s worst alpine terrain. An intense writer, he has claimed in print “Don't believe the hype. Winter climbing is 10 percent physical, 90 percent mental. If you’re good at jigsaws you Vi probably be good at mixed climbing. It’s simply a frozen puzzle, your tools and crampons torquing and camming the pieces to fit. And like a jigsaw, the moves are easy. It’s just finding them that’s hard…”

* * *

From: Roger Payne

One really significant booster for climbing standards is international gatherings and meets.

When you get an international group of high performance climbers in one place things happen. People want to quickly climb the classics, then the testpieces, and then the hardest route in the guidebook. Suddenly that climb everyone has been waiting 10 years for the second ascent of has a queue at the bottom, and improbable blank spaces are being filled with harder new routes. Then sitting around the bar people talk about other big climbing challenges, and start to make plans for trips to get them done. It was at an international climbing meet in Scotland, fully refreshed in the bar and high on the buzz of climbing mischief, that a discussion about the use of bolts in the mountains highlighted the idea of a free ascent of Cerro Torre’s Egger-Maestri Route. Then sure enough, not long afterwards, three people from the meet (Leo Houlding, Alan Mullin, and Kevin Thaw) were packing their bags for Patagonia.

Roger Payne has climbed hard on gritstone and in the Himalaya, has run the British Mountaineering Council, and is presently steering the UIAA toward the Olympics.

* * *

From: Steve House

Admittedly, I had ulterior motives in stirring all of this up. I have tremendous respect for many of the M-routes that have gone up since I started waterfall climbing in the Rockies 10 years ago. There is an amazing pool of talent and experience and I would love to see that growth trend extend to alpinism.

The last of the new material should come from Andrej Stremfelj, of Slovenia: “The young people outgrew me in climbing a long time ago. All I can give them now is part of my rich experience. In the high mountains, such experience can be key to survival. Expeditions are my only opportunity to pass on some of my knowledge to the new generation. The young quickly acquire pure technical knowledge, but it is much more demanding to show them the essence of alpinism, which is in my opinion of capital importance for success. This is one of my future challenges.”

“…not for difficulty alone, but for elegance and style…”

Climb fast and take chances.

* * *