High Pressure

Posted on: July 1, 2005


Deadlines. Stephen Venables may love them (see "Himalaya Alpine-Style—Ten Years On," in this issue), but we suspect he has forgotten a few of the key elements, such as the jaw-grinding stress that wakes editors up at night to ponder whether an accent mark was correctly placed over the "s" in a Slovenian's name. Nonetheless, he is right about the adrenaline rush: the details that make up each issue always seem to narrow in focus until the entire issue loggerheads into an all-inclusive push as the cycle comes to a close. It's enough to make us buy stock in Peet's Coffee.

One of the last tasks here at Alpinist is to compile the Climbing Notes. With one week to go before we closed this issue, we knew of only a handful of routes that had been done—all fine efforts, but there had to be more climbs out there. This situation is not unusual—we hold our Climbing Notes open as late as possible for a reason—but it does have a way of raising our blood pressure as we peer around the globe in search of noteworthy routes.

We were still searching for a few last route lines for the Mountain Profile as well. Thinking he was in Germany, we had emailed Kurt Albert, author of two free ascents on Trango Tower; but the response came from Patagonia.

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Hi Christian,

I can't open the files here in Chalten, where everything is fine... we have had excellent weather for 3 weeks now. I will be home 2nd of March.... Is it OK when I draw the lines back home? It doesn't work here with this computer!!!

Cheers, Kurt

Three weeks of excellent weather in El Chalten, the town at the base of the Argentine Patagonian peaks, is akin to discovering a 2,000-foot buttress of perfect granite an hour from the trailhead here in the Tetons. We knew who was down there, and we knew they wouldn't be playing Hacky Sack in camp if the weather was good. They had to be putting up new routes—routes that you, our readers, would want to know about.

Editing a magazine about climbing is not the same as climbing itself. Even so, there is a thrill to pulling together each issue, and deadlines add a sense of urgency to the process. Rumors of perfect weather in Patagonia, one week before the magazine had to go out: in moments like these, the immense effort that goes into every issue is distilled into the closing stages. The Notes are essential elements of bringing you the most important climbing in the world. But how to get them? It's not as if we could simply call the climbers up on their cell phones and ask them what they'd been up to.

Or could we?

Bean Bowers had been telling us about El Chalten's La Chocolateria, the divey little coffee shop that has been the de rigueur hang for Patagonia climbers for the last few years. In the modern world of Google, nothing remains hidden for long, and in minutes we had the number. We dialed it, despite a decided lack of familiarity with Spanish. Fortunately for us, the woman who answered, Carolina Codo, spoke English.

Slowly we explained who we were, and why we were calling a coffee shop in Argentina.

"I see," said Carolina, in a charming accent made more so by our relief that we had found someone with whom we could communicate. "Well, perhaps you want to talk to Thomas Huber? He's sitting right here."

Thomas is a fit lad, and he has done some climbing in his day, so yes, we did want to talk to him. Soon he was telling us of his efforts to link Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron and Torre Egger—efforts that ticked the third, fourth and fifth ascents of Punta Herron in the process. That's great, we said—write us a note! And what else got done?

Thomas rattled off what he knew. Furthermore, he agreed to go back to camp and spread the word to other climbers to come to town and send us their news as well. A day later, stories started coming in, first in a trickle, then in a flow. Bean wrote to tell us of what Jonny Copp has dubbed the "Miracle Whip on the Tantalus Project"—his hundredfooter off the summit mushroom of Torre Egger straight onto the belay, a fall that ripped the anchor out of the face and dragged Jonny into the air. Steph Davis got back to us with tales of her good luck: although her husband, Dean Potter, had been hunkered down in camp awaiting good weather for a month, eight hours after she joined him they were new-routing, however inadvertently, on Cerro Standhardt. And Andrej Grmovsek, who, with the veteran Silvo Karo, had just established a sitdown start to Cerro Torre, casually mentioned that his wife, Tanja Grmovsek, had made the first all-female ascent of the peak, with Monika Kambic—but not without the struggles and near misses that make Patagonia the proudest testing ground in the world.

These climbers and their adventures are our inspiration. Let's be honest: most of us are never going to find ourselves on Torre Egger with seven others, getting bouted by weather so good it melts the ice and turns the cracks into running fissures that soak through our clothes and threaten us with hypothermia. But in reading about the experience, we can generate a small bit of our own excitement, and the next time we sink a finger lock into that perfect crack, slot a bomber nut, look up at the next thirty feet, and know we can do it, we feel the element that makes us all part of the same tribe: that unexpected instance of levity when everything fits together—body, mind and mountain—and we feel intensely at home in the most precarious and incongruous places. That shared element is why Alpinist exists: so that as you look through our pages, you can link disparate times, landscapes and individuals with your own experiences.

In a small way, our efforts to capture the magic of those three weeks in Patagonia, just as deadline was upon us, allowed us to live, however vicariously, through some of the adventures of the climbers themselves. We hope you find more of that same frisson as you read their stories, and that the next time you're out there, they help you get fired up about your adventure, wherever it unfolds.

As Bean says, go do something wild today.

—Christian Beckwith



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