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Home » AFF Blog 2008 » Tami Knight: Blawg #8, The Mortal Coil

Tami Knight: Blawg #8, The Mortal Coil

Blog Entry . Stardate 23/1/2008 coord : 123W;49N

I wonder why climbers have more of a fascination with Death then surfers or
skiers. Or at least those who make films about climbing seem to. I’m not
sure if fascination is the right word. Curiosity? Questioning investigation
into it? Or maybe they just feel a need to justify their own feelings about
it vis a vis Western society’s perception that climbers have a “death wish”.

I’m not sure but there is a thread among some..many.I don’t know how many
but presented on Stone Night , death and it’s precursor accidents ( and also
the tangential recovering from accidents ), was a sub-theme if not the
primary thread in seven of the eight films. The exception was the wonderful
Sentinal: The West Face,( USA/1963/30 min.Dir: Roger Brown, Prod: Barry Corbet,
Tom Frost, and Roger Brown). a film now which is 45 years old. You can
forgive the cheesy narration “…he must now choose the rope..the right
rope.” ( I remember laffin’ my ass off at some of the narration in this film
about 25 years ago ) But even in Sentinal: The West Face, when it got dicey for
the boys, the music went all tweaky, janglin’ audience nerves and having us
wonder if the lads were gonna send. Oh, yah, well of course they were. Yvon
was sittin’ rite there in the audience with us. So, yeah.

And then I arrived home from my holiday at the Film Fest to the news a close
friend of my family was very badly head- injured in a climbing accident last
Sunday and now is in a coma and not expected to survive. But who knows? I
know others of that status ( Coma; not expected to survive ) and now he has
a wife and two kids and another one is still sendin’ hard and causin’
mischief in Colorado.

Hmmm. What to think? On one hand, I get tired of the Death thing. It’s like,
okay, you are a climber and you don’t seem to mind if you are going to die.
Have you thought about what your Mama would feel if she had to identify your
smutched body hunks? I recall a close friend telling me what it was like
identifying the body of a climber-friend of hers who had augured in soloing
the Grochan in Wales. She ended it with “Fuckin arse…’twuz disgusting.”
I’ve managed to avoid seeing the busted bones bent wrong, flattened,
possibly gooshy, visual of looking at the soulless meat that once was a
friend. And this: Tim Auger, ( now retired ) who described himself as the
undertaker of Banff National Park said ‘there are wrecks in which I know the
people and there are wrecks in which I don’t know the people….’ but he
referred to all climbing accidents as “wrecks”.

So you might be a great climber and you’ve squared up with findin’ the
bucket and kickin’ it but what of the poor fuckers who get to scrape you
from where you went spatch or your friends and family who mourn your
departure from these four dimensions? Well?

And then on the other hand, I think it’s a good idea to explore that outside
edge of the envelope. Joe Simpson who has stared into the twirling light as
he started to shuffle off the mortal coil does give pause in the film The
Beckoning Silence, ( United Kingdom/2007/73 min., Dir: Louise Osmond
Prod: Darlow Smithson Productions ). Arguably our Joe is a character from an
Anne Rice novel and therefore not physically able to die. It’s rumored he’s
not allowed into fortress America any more after something to do with an
issue involving a customs agent but perhaps homeland security is restricting
access to vampires.

With all that said, and to be blunt, Joe has had a number of climbing
accidents, at least three I can think of were mega-epics even one of which
would have had 99.5 percent of the rest of us quitting the sport and taking up
tiddly-winks. Joe got his start early Wondering About Mr. Death with his
inspiration to climb coming from The White Spider, the uber-classik story by
Heinrich Harrer. I’m not gonna explain more about this book, if you don’t
know it, go buy it. Read it. There. Now you understand Joe. Okay so you
don’t. He’s British. Does that help? How ’bout the vampire theory?

But if you do go to explore what’s in the envelope I think you might want to
be honest with yourself, and, if put on film, honest with the audience you
seek, about what you find in there. I was disappointed with Peter Mortimer’s
film Diamonds Are Forever, described in the liner notes as World renowned
rock climber Steph Davis takes the art of free soloing to breathtaking new
heights on the Diamond face of Longs Peak–America’s premier alpine rock

Steph Davis was very closed about what event(s) of loss she has undergone
recently to lead her to this journey of discovering self-reliance that Peter
Mortimer edits into Diamonds Are Forever. I do know others who have busted
up with partners or had parents/partners die or trauma listed under other or
just plain old fragile mental health ( most commonly bipolar disorder ) that
leads them to purposefully pound on the Challenge Myself button and exclaim
exquisite happiness. But q/v my notes above on “identifying the remains” and
this journey takes on a conflicted edge. Be careful what you wish for.

Climbers like to examine Death and Accidents but they really are in denial
about some of the shit they get up to and why they might have fascination for
the Above ( or Below if that’s where yer going ). Some are sitting on the
edge of their seat thinking heartily that way they don’t take up too much
room. But what about those left behind?

Aye, there’s the rub.