Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Alpinist No 50! Q&A

The brilliant editor in Chief at Alpinist sent me a Q&A form seeking to get some background context to her Sharp End (Editors note) for the jubilee issue no 50 of Alpinist.

The email read like this:

"Dear David, 

Here are the questions that I've been asking people. These might not be the right questions, so feel free to share other ideas.... 

I’m grateful for any responses you have time to give. I’m hoping to finish this research soon, so if you have time to respond in the upcoming week, I’d be deeply grateful. 

Please let me know if any of your responses are off the record—and mark which ones are as such—since there’s a chance I may be drawing on some of these answers for quotations in the magazine."

Below with the permission fro Alpinist Magazine and Katie Ives I decide to public my answers in full her on my blog. I hope some of you enjoy it.



1) When you think back to some of the major ascents since 2002, which ones now come to mind as representing changes, controversies or advances in the art of alpinism? And why? 

Thinking for only a few seconds: Cerro Torre / Patagonia in my mind has been the center stage of efforts questioning the impossible and see if its possible. Alex Huber deemed a free of the head wall of Cerro Torre impossible. And even if it has been done now it might well be impossible in the future, all will be depending on the Rime conditions. 

When David Lama first tried to free the head wall all hell broke out. The style was questionable to put it mildly. Bringing Guides who helped him get on to the head wall, adding bolts and littering the mountain must be categorized as a toatal meltdown in terms of style. David Lama then cam back and set the record straight much to his credit.

The future is clearly laying in a free and clean effort, much like the one HK and Kurk did a few years later. To me the HK - Kurk climb on Cerro Tore must be one of the major break troughs in Alpinism lately. They changed the game in Patagonia by chopping the bolt on Cerro Torre and now the impressive Ragni Route is the "normal" route. Finally this aesthetical route is getting the attention it deserves. What is interesting with Ragni is that when Korra Pesce and Michi Lerjan (November 2011) climbed the Ragni route early in the season (much publicized climb) they said that it was the most exposed ice route they had ever been on. 

A few seasons some 200 (not sure of exact number) climbers did the route in a single season some of who had virtually never been on a major alpine Ice route before. In the season 2013/14 I think only one team managed to climb the Ragni Route and this past season we where back to a huge amount of top-outs.

I can't think of a single mountain / range with the heritage and statue that has seen more developments. It’s down to more predictable weather patterns and favourable conditions. Also the ability to share info has altered the game in Patagonia. One can basically sit in the US or Europe and follow the pressure systems and jump on a plane and hit a perfect window. Two Italian climbers manage to land in El Chalten and with in a week they had climbed Cerro Torre via Ragni and the Super Canaletta on Fitz Roy. The Anthamatten brothers showed up and climbed virtually "every thing" in Patagonia in 6-8 weeks. Then we have the Travers, Reverse Travers etc. It’s simply the central stage for cutting edge alpinism. 

One other observation I have noticed is the consistency among the top alpinists. If we look at the Piolet d'Or we se some names returning frequently to the list of nominations. That is a change.

I also notice one other major trend. Small team in the lightest of styles has carried out all the best and most interesting ascents. I can only remember the NW Face of K2 and the North Face of Jannu as major efforts on huge complex walls in the Himalayas carried out in traditional expedition style.

We in the alpine community tend to look at this type of expeditions and ascents as less impressive but I think they deserve credit. It’s a mind opener and nothing prevents future generations to improve the style. Its been proved its possible to climb this type of walls, not in the best of styles but its possible. Any one complaining is free to try and improve the style and set a new benchmark.  

1b) In a 2000 American Alpine Journal article, Steve House wrote that “the last stylistic climax in alpine climbing came in the mid- to late 1980s when many of the 8000-meter peaks were climbed in single-push style, often by new routes. Such climbing was termed ‘night-naked’ by Voytek Kurtyka; he, Jean Troillet, Pierre-Allain Steiner and Erhard Loretan were at the center of adapting this bivouac-less style to the peaks of the Himalaya. More recently, the ‘night-naked’ or ‘single-push’ approach has been applied successfully to more technical routes in the Himalaya by the Slovenians. But the Alaska Range and Patagonia are also important crucibles for this expression of light and fast.” 

Since then, do you think there have been other major breakthroughs in the overall development of alpine climbing, as significant, in their own way, as those of Kurtyka, Loretan and Troillet? 

Not really. Iconic walls like the West face of G4, Masherbrum, Makalu, Everest SW Face, the North Ridge of Latok, Meru, Thalay Sagar, Nuptse South Face (even if the two French Stéphane Benoist and Patrice Glairon-Rappaz climbed a new line in pure alpine style they opted to skip the summit snow ridge and bail out) are all mentioned mountains are still up for grabs to do in this light and fast style. Babanov made what I think is an underestimated ascent of the West Pillar of Jannu the Piolet d'Or was cancelled in 2008 otherwise that ascent would clearly have had to be awarded the golden axe. 

But no, I don't think we can say that we have really seen quantum leaps like the one you mention above outside Patagonia, but that’s explained above. In this perspective one might say that the Steck effort on Annapurna is such quantum leap forward, sadly that ascent is some what surrounded by some unanswered questions and even if I don't question Steck others do (for jealousy reasons I think) and Ueli is not a very vocal defender of his accent and I understand him, why bother. He knows he did it and he is at peace with that and so should the rest of us be! I think this is down to Ueli’s personality rather than an argument for Ueli not being able to be more detailed. 

2) Back in Alpinist 29 (2009), Chris Weidner wrote about Ueli Steck as an example of the future of high-end alpinism; Chris envisioned a return to the idea of a “climber” as someone who practices all forms of climbing (as opposed to the distinctions common since the later part of the twentieth century of trad climber, sport climber, gym climber, boulderer, and so on) and predicted that the great climbers of the future will be those who are able to blend the skills gleaned from those different pursuits in hard technical routes at high altitudes: “Now, more than ever, climbers must acquire an extraordinary level of competence in all genres to push the rising standards of cutting-edge alpinism.” To what extent do you think this is true now—or will be, in the future?  

It’s pretty much happening right now. Most good alpinist might not climb 9a but most can climb 8a that’s enough to climb 6c / 7a on a very big mountain with a backpack and crampons. Also the M-style climbing of former aid pitches in a semi dry-tooling style has altered this game and you need to be both explosive and have a huge amount of stamina to pull off M5/M6 at high altitude. When we are looking at the best and hardest climbs we see them carried out of climbers that are all round very strong climbers. Its super impressive!

3) In Alpinist 42 (2013), Kyle Dempster wrote of the shift between the climbers of Mark Twight’s cohort and young alpinists today: “minimalism is no longer seen mainly through the eyes of the rebel and the mystic…. The superiority of fast-and-light, single-push, disaster style is now largely the consensus [among high-level alpine climbers]. Today, it’s the spirit behind this form of alpinism, the art and beauty of climbing, that we must work to uphold. More and more people are taking cell-phones, computers and video cameras into the mountains. In emergencies, some of these tools can save lives. Yet the overuse of these devices can taint the internal clarity gained from time in the mountains….. In the future, the boundaries between bouldering, traditional, mixed and alpine climbing will also continue to blur. Lines like those that cobweb El Capitan, the Moonflower Buttress, Cerro Torre and the Eiger North Face will also cover mountains in the Karakoram and the Himalaya. With each first ascent, the next unclimbed route will be harder to find. We must focus on methods that keep mountains clean, so that future climbers will be able to see the ideals that they inherit: a legacy of nearly pristine walls.”   

To what extent do you agree with this prediction, today, two years later? What do you see as the current discourse on style and ethics as compared to ten years ago?

I think Kyle's right and spot on. At the same time its politically unstable in the world and the time and efforts involved with an expedition to Pakistan for example is complex, time consuming and expensive. Weather is an issue but the forecasts and availability to good forecasts are increasingly going to change that factor. 

What I think we will see in the future is drone reconnaissance of lines in the Himalayas and that will be a total game changer. Take the North Ridge on Latok. Imagine if you can scout that line with a drone and watch 4k footage from many angles and aspects of the climb, its going to change what can be done and it will spark huge controversies among climbers and alpinists.

Its not a development I think is desirable but I think its in the human nature to try and eliminate obstacles preventing dreams come true and using a drone might well be the key that can help some dreams come true. Is it worth the price? Is its cheating? Is it unethical? Probably all of them… 

What contradicts Kyle’s possition is the rapid growth of commercial expeditions to peaks a true alpinist can only dream of climbing with out degrading the style. I'm thinking of the disastrous HIMEX / Kenton Cool climb on Nuptse when they fixed the rout all the way to the summit for paying customers. Kenton Cool used the fixed ropes to claim some kind of record.

I just think that we will se this happen more and more as the crowds who paid to be guided up iconic peaks will unlikely decrease in numbers. I think that the commercialization of climbing in the greater ranges is a real and present threat to clean mountains and future generations ability to find and explore new things and show what they are capable of in terms of pushing the boundaries. Its so easy to think we are at the forefront of what is possible, but just look at a video you shoot 7 years ago and compare it to a GoPro of 2015 and your old video will look pre historic. 

4) In Alpinist 49, Kelly Cordes wrote, “This much is true: members of every generation, at every step, have thought they’d bumped up against the limits of possibility. In their time and place, they may have been right: at one point, 5.10 was unattainable, and 5.11 appeared blank and holdless. Many of the existing classics once seemed unthinkable. The Golden Age forever reemerges as climbers race ahead with newfound visions and abilities.” 

What do you see as some of the possible great climbs of the future (not necessarily specific routes, but more in terms of kinds of objectives)? 

Like I said above there is plenty to do in terms of improving style on existing routes. Technical difficulties will be pushed etc. 

5) In Alpinist 39, Luca Signorelli argued, “We make our ascents in an increasingly complicated and multilateral world. And thus, mountains may no longer represent extraterritorial regions where people can do what they want.” During the past few years, local communities have been increasingly vocal about their concerns with practices of both mountaineering and of mountain tourism—most recently with the writings by Sherpa and other Nepali journalists about the struggles that expedition workers face on commercial 8000-meter peak expeditions. To what extent do you see relationships between local communities and foreign climbers or foreign clients evolving now and in the future?

The climbing world are face with its own dilemma much like the issues Samuel P Huntington describe in his book "The Clash Of Civilizations and The Remaking Of The World Order. Again the commercialization and human desire to fulfil personal goals and dreams will trump what might be labelled as the greater good for local communities and future generations, not to mention sustainability form an environmental and economical perspective. 

6) Back in 1963, Yvon Chouinard wrote the famous article “Modern Yosemite Climbing,” predicting that “The future of Yosemite climbing lies not in Yosemite, but in using the new techniques in the great granite ranges of the world…. Yosemite Valley will, in the near future, be the training ground for a new generation of super-alpinists who will venture forth to the high mountains of the world to do the most esthetic and difficult walls on the face of the earth.” In the wake of the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall, and of all the publicity surrounding it, do you think that ascent will ultimately have an impact on climbing in the Greater Ranges, as well as in Yosemite big-wall climbing?

Yes - and No. 

Yes - to the extent that more people will start to understand what seasoned Himalaya climbers already know. Climbing complex routes in the greater ranges is not an easy task and most likely you will need to invest years of trying and return many times to the same objective trying and trying again and repeat the effort each time learning more and more of what is required in terms of technical skills, fitness and conditions to be able to one day finally stand on the summit. 

No - That was very much a media event that went ballistic and mainstream. I don't think we will see live broadcasts from an alpine style attempt of the West face of G4 or at least I hope we will not. To me adventures in the mountains are a personal experience that’s is primarily shared with the climbing partner.

Its great too share the experience but don’t go "reality TV style" climbing is way to personal and it would totally destroy and dilute the experience and pleasure of going to the mountains. We have to remember that climbing is a bourgeois hobby that is very insignificant to most people in the world where many live under duress on the run from evil in refugee camps or in other forms of misery. Any one who can afford the luxury of even the most insignificant venture out in the backcountry is living in luxury beyond comprehension for most of the world’s inhabitants. We should remind ourselves of the more often. 







Tuesday, 7 April 2015

New lighter Metolius Master Cams!

This is good news for any one who is serious about safety and weight of the overall rack! Made in the USA with out any compromise!

Good video walking you through the changes and the thinking behind the updated version of the Master Cam. I use them all year around, no matter if its in the Dolomites in summer or in Chamonix in winter.

https://vimeo.com/122761643


This is a very comprehensive review of the revised Master Cam.

http://blog.weighmyrack.com/metolius-ultralight-master-cams-updated-and-completely-rehauled/


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Keep it simple and fun! My Pre Spray for 2015

Last year was an utterly disappointing year for me in terms of climbing. I accomplished nothing of what I had set out to do. I was severely demotivated and I think I needed some time off to better understand what I really want.

This year I can feel the motivation coming back, the joy of moving over rock, ice and snow in exposed terrain is back and fueling me with positive energy. Climbing is so personal to me I find it hard to get on projects as I can't really explain them to potential partners and then I get sad I have no one I can pursue my dreams with.

I still have not figured out how to resolve that. Being talked in to going on routs don't usually work for me. I need to want it on a love affair level to fully engaged and commit.

This year I have structured my train so that I can focus on trying to climb Das Phantom Der Zinnen ground up. That is some thin I know I can do and some thing I have wanted for years. I alos like to finish AKUT on Cima Ovest. My love and obsession with Tre Cime is impossible to shake. Its simply making me so happy to climb there so thats what I will focus on. Climbing that makes me happy!

Below is a topo of Hannes Pfeifhofer's new and very ascetic route up on the left hand side of Cima Grande. I would love to attempt that with some one I experience some of the best climbing days I have ever had in my life. Lets see if she can be persuaded to go and try.



Looking at Tre Cime in sunset and one can only hope to be bless with more time as a guest on the immense walls of Cima Grande and Cima Ovest.



And off course I hope to be in shape in the fall so I can visit the grater ranges, Patagonia would be ideal as I have yet to top out the Super Canaletta. Family, time, work and other commitments will dictate what can be tried and what has to be put on a back burner.  

Monday, 9 June 2014

Pakistan climbing season kicks off with Terrorism

Last fall I wrote an article for Alpinist on the future of climbing in Pakistan post the Naga Parbat massacre. Even if the lates act of terrorism was conducted far from where climbers move, it calls for caution for visiting expeditions.

The situation is at best volatile and tension is high du to a number of reasons, they are all briefly summarized in the text below and I thin its good reading for any one planning to go to or depart Pakistan during this season. I know some expeditions are underway and some are going. I alos know some have been denied permits and that might indicate that certain areas are deemed unsafe. I'm not sure what the Government of Pakistan finally decided to do in order to better protect visiting expeditions and trekking groups. 

An other issue to factor in to the risk assessment is the fact that India has a new leadership in place with executive power as of this week. If tension would rise in the border areas I thin its safe to say that its not the best place to be in proximity of. Other than that I hope every one stay safe and have fun in Pakistan this summer.

As for safety and security updates just stay alert and pay attention to world news. Subscribe to standard risk mitigation procedures and keep a low profile. And most important avoid traveling by road to the Northern areas from ISB at any cost. Its a risky venture not worth it. 

http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web13f/wfeature-future-karakoram-nanga-parbat

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Top of the Agenda

Pakistani Taliban Claim Responsibility for Karachi Airport Attack
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility on Monday for an overnight assault on the Karachi airport that left ten attackers and nineteen others dead (NYT), an attack that Pakistani paramilitary Rangers initially ascribed to India. The militant group recently split over disagreement over peace talks with the government, which have faltered, while the military has intensified its air offensive in northwestern tribal areas. Karachi itself has been a city contested by militant groups, and tensions escalated there last week after a political leader in exile was arrested by British authorities; he was released on Saturday but remains under investigation. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will convene an emergency security cabinet meeting this week to debate the future of the talks (Dawn). Another suicide attack on Sunday night killed thirty Shias in Balochistan who were returning from a pilgrimage to neighboring Iran (Express Tribune).

Analysis

"Two years ago all the states in the region would have publicly or privately accused Pakistan's military and Interservices Intelligence (ISI) of supporting, protecting, or at least tolerating almost every terrorist group based in Pakistan. The ISI had links with all of them and often collaborated with them. Recently those relations have changed. Governments in the region now accept that Pakistan is in some ways trying to fight terrorism on its soil. But those governments are also concerned that the Pakistani military and political elite have lost control of large parts of the country and cannot maintain law and order. …There is still no overall political or military strategy to combat Islamic extremism. The Pakistani army tries to suppress some terrorist groups but not, for example, those that target India. Such a selective strategy cannot be maintained indefinitely and poses enormous risks to the entire world," writes Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books.
"The split likely marks a return to Pakistan's discredited policy of Good Taliban; Bad Taliban. While American troops head home from Afghanistan, while an election is under way, it would be silly of Islamabad to give up its proxies, runs the reasoning. Who knows what might happen across the border? Who knows what allies Pakistan might need? So long as the Good Taliban steer clear of Pakistani targets then all is well. Rather than clear the militants, the havens can be left for now. But while those refuges remain, the Bad Taliban will remain too," writes Rob Crilly in the Telegraph.
"The ISI's game of prolonging the post-9/11 insurgency in Afghanistan long enough for the tired American leviathan to pack up and go home – and for Pakistan to move in more forcefully – is the direct cause of this terrorist surge, which has taken over 50,000 lives.There are now three separate but interrelated insurgencies eating at the Pakistani state like overfed parasites: the sectarian Sunni jihad against Pakistan's Shia population, the Balochi insurgency, and the gangsterism and religious extremism destroying Karachi. When exporting militancy is a state's central foreign policy tool, it does not take long for the pawns to turn their guns on their masters," writes Omer
Aziz in the Diplomat.


SOURCE: http://www.cfr.org/about/newsletters/archive/newsletter/n1965  

For additional information: http://scroll.in/article/666777/After-audacious-attack-on-Karachi-airport,-Pakistan's-war-against-the-Taliban-is-in-limbo

Thursday, 3 April 2014

An open Letter to the Organizer of the Piolets d’Or

The 2014 Piolets d’Or – fails yet again to live up to its true potential

The Piolets d’Or is a fantastic idea and very cool event but its constantly fails to live up its potential. Surrounded with controversy and constantly struggling with its identity, organization and format it’s a doomed event. In recent years, GHM, the main organizer of the event and its patron Christian Trommsdorff have implemented some minor change in a desperate effort to stay relevant, but this years event shows the need for a major overhaul of the charter and structure of the Piolets d’Or if its going to survive as the prime event celebrating alpinism. 

The international jury of the 2014 Piolets d’Or was chaired by George Lowe who once was at the forefront of cutting edge alpinism when he along with Jeff Lowe, Michel Kennedy and Jim Donini where forced to turn around on the famous and still unfinished North Ridge of Latok in 1978. 

Legendary French female alpinist, Catherine Destivelle who unquestionably is one of the most distinguished female alpinist in modern times also served on the jury together with Denis Urubko who is a outstanding high altitude alpinist. The rest of the jury I have no idea how or why they where selected or what their merits where to be judging in an event such as this. But frankly speaking I think the rest of the jury lacked the insight necessary to judge today’s cutting edge alpinism. 


The jury and the nominations

The first singe that some thing was off with the 2014 Piolets d’Or came when the list of nominated accents was published. One of 2013 unquestionably most notable accents, the French South Face route of Gaurichankar was missing. I’m not saying any of the nominated teams did not deserve being nominated but leaving the Gaurichankar team out was truly bizarre given how significant that first accent was both in terms commitment, technical level and dedication to outstanding ethics. 

The Mount Laurens route was carried out in the finest of styles and with the highest degree of integrity and commitment but it was an effort comparable to other impressive Alaska accents in 2013 such as David Lama and Dani Arnolds accent of Moses Tooth so why was that accent not nominated? On top of that the Laurens accent is difficult to compare with the other nominated climbs.

It’s not an easy task to find a balance and in order to do so maybe the Piolets d’Or would be better off with a new format comparing comparable efforts or simply avoid trying to distinguish between outstanding efforts and stick to celebrate the nominated accents. 

The Jury and the Q&A with the teams

On Friday the 28th I sat in on a roughly three hour session where the teams presented their climbs and explain the decission making process behind the climbs. This was to my understanding the jury’s designated main opportunity to gain detailed insight to the team’s efforts. This was the decisive moment where the jury should get a deeper understanding of what the teams went through and how they dealt with the various issues they where face with on their climbs and trips. This is where detailed questions about grade, difficulties, judgment calls and other issues should be penetrated and claims verified. But none of that happened.

Each team where to make a 20 min and then the jury was meant to ask question. 

Media where allowed to sit in and listen and as a media observer I have to say I was very surprised that the jury virtually had no questions at all to any the teams. Of the few questions the jury asked the lack of relevance was even more surprising. This exercise was both pointless and utterly embarrassing in the sense that jury seamed to totally disengaged. 

I had expected a structured format where the jury followed some kind of script with questions tailored to give the jury context serving as platform for the jury’s deliberations and final decisions. Instead some random questions about the weight of the backpacks were asked. 

If this session is any indication of how the final jury deliberations where conducted I’m not surprised that the 2013 Piolets d’Or failed to award one of the most impressive teams of the nominees, again I don’t want to taking away any thing from the K6 team or Ueli Steck but its embarrassing on an unprecedented scale not to give an Piolets d’Or to the Kunyag Chhish East team. 

The organization of the Piolets d’Or have plenty of homework to do in terms of how the jury is selected and how it’s to conduct its work in the future. It’s pivotal for the jury to have clear instructions to lean back on when making its decission. Now its seams totally random and that dilutes the value of the event. 

Change the format

Even if the event has been surrounded by controversy for a long time it serves a very important purpose in celebrating cutting edge alpinism, but that is lost in the constant controversies the current format are creating. Maybe its wrong to look at the Piolets d’Or as an awards event and instead of just recognize the larger purposes an event like the Piolets d’Or serves. It’s very much an event where two countries situated on each side of Mt Blanc, comes together in a tremendous effort to pay tribute to modern alpinism. Is that not enough? 

Steve House who embodies the spirit of the ambitions the Piolets d’Or charter outlines was in Chamonix during the event week but House was no where near any of the celebrations, that if any thing is an indication that some thing is fundamentally wrong.  

The lack of ability by GHM to get the community of leading alpinists engaged is a formidable display of the lack of relevance the event is suffering from. It should be a natural meeting point and a week where alpinist comes together and share their experiences in an open forum discuss the future of alpinism.  

Kunyag Chhish East

The first accent of the impressive Southwest face (2700 meters) of Kunyag Chhish East, 7400m was carried out by Simon Anthamatten and the brothers Hansjörg and Matthias Auer over six days on the third attempt during the same expedition. This face has been the target of many expeditions and strong climbers such as Steve House who was forced to turn around very close to the summit on his attempt. In my opinion the success of this team was a magnificent display of exceptional alpinism, true passion, teamwork and determination. Very few alpinists can stay motivated for so long time in a remote basecamp being shut down twice and forced to endure a decent involving 41 abseils. To have the mental stamina to go back up a third time speaks volumes of the skills this team represent. Now they where left with out a Piolet d’Or. Can some one explain that to me? Not awarding this accent with a Piolet d’Or speaks volumes about the fundamental need for change. 


After the Piolet d’Or was finished Hansjörg Auer posted the following on his Facebook Page: 

”If a member of the Piolet d'Or Jury sees it critically why my brother Matthias never reported about his climbs until now, it´s time to change something. This is only one sign of how superficially they were dealing with our adventure on Piolet d'Or. In fact only George Lowe (jury president) and Catherine Destivelle (jury member) understood the challenge of climbing Kunyang Chhish East. But the teardrops of George and Catherine, when they apologized to us for the final decision are meaning a way more, than the headlines of the newspapers tomorrow. Now I know why Marko Prezelj rejected his award back in 2007. Congrats to Ueli, Ian and Raphael for the golden ice axe 2014 and Marek, Graham and Mark for the nominations.”

I think its fair to say that the Piolets d’Or has yet again reached an all time low point. 

David Falt