Skip to content
Home » Departments » 15 Letters

15 Letters

Of Wondering and Wandering

Thanks for publishing the tribute to Charlie Porter (Alpinist 47). Many of the old tribe needed to say good-bye to this legend. Over the years, I’d heard rumors of his secret walls in the Chilean channels. As a climber and a sailor, I got it. Just like Montana in the old days: no records and no guidebooks. I was going to visit Charlie and find out everything. Instead, I missed him by three weeks. In March 2014, I lost my mast to the deep, and I found myself lying in a hospital bed, listening to Charlie’s doctor tell me the story of his death.

It comes down to timing, doesn’t it? But in a way, it’s also perfect: I’m left continuing to imagine the adventures of this driven man. Recently, as I sailed from Puerto Williams to Punta Arenas, we passed under a very accessible ice-climbing arena. I know Charlie fired these plums; I do not even need to ask. He is gone, but not gone–at least not for me. His boats are here; his home is here; his untold legends of the sea and the mountains remain. The wondering continues. Thank you, Charlie, for the vision.

–James Burwick, Punta Arenas, Chile

From top to bottom: a memorial service for Charlie Porter; two of Porter’s boats; a few routes that Porter might have climbed in the Chilean channels. [Photos] Somira Sao (all)

Quiet Brilliance

Last July, I had the privilege of meeting Charlie Porter when he came to do research at the American Alpine Club Library, where I work as a librarian. I had no idea who he was–I thought he was just another reserved geologist. He explained that he was making a map of Tierra del Fuego to submit to the Chilean government. When I brought out some rare books by Alberto Maria de Agostini, an early Italian missionary and explorer, Charlie told me about the history of Tierra del Fuego, and he pointed out a few unclimbed peaks that had potential. As he prepared to leave, I persuaded him to sign our guestbook again, but this time to list where he came from as Pto. Williams, Chile, instead of Maine.

I first heard of Charlie’s death when I cataloged Alpinist 47. Until then, I still had no idea that he had accomplished so much. I enjoyed learning more about who he was and his “quiet brilliance.” When I look back, now, what really sticks with me is his excitement–you know when you talk to people who have a passion that is all-consuming and their face lights up when they speak of it? I suppose you might even call it childlike delight and wonder.

–Katie Sauter, Library Manager, American Alpine Club Library, Golden, Colorado

Pickets Addendum

Thank you, Alpinist, and Forest McBrian for a superbly researched and beautifully presented article on the Pickets in Issue 47 (“The Ark of the Wild”). The article mentions that the 1990s were quiet in the Pickets. However, on August 5, 1991, the second ascent of the Degenhardt Glacier was done by Silas Wild and Sam Grubenhoff. On August 6, 1991, Mt. Degenhardt was climbed by Tom Degenhardt, Nick Degenhardt and Bill Finley. This was the sixtieth anniversary, almost to the day, of the first ascent by William Degenhardt and Herbert Strandberg. On January 30, 1994, the first winter ascent was accomplished by Silas Wild, Dave Creeden and Sam Grubenhoff. I hope you never stop publishing Alpinist.

–Tom Degenhardt, Santa Rosa, California

Oft-Forgotten Burdens of Mountain Tourism

I have just finished reading Tashi Sherpa’s excellent “Everest Interrupted” (Alpinist 47). What Tashi does not mention is that today the Khumbu is what I refer to as “Rai dependent” (Rais are from the poorer Makalu region). The “Everest jamboree” would not function if it were not for the often very low-paid labor of the Rais and Tamangs who work in the fields and lodges and who carry heavy infrastructure loads on the lower main trekking routes. The draw of Everest for “trophy hunters” means that today the Khumbu is overall more connected, modern and economically diverse, with airports, cell phones, radios, TVs and Internet access.

Yet boom or blight is one label for the dilemma posed by mountain tourism in the Khumbu–not all villages have “developed,” inflation is out of control, and not all ethnicities are treated equal. What has largely been missed in the current narrative in the wake of the Everest tragedy are the working conditions of the poorer ethnicities, i.e., “lowlanders.” A society or a community is often measured by how well it treats those most unfortunate. Let’s also not lose sight of these issues as we discuss the consequences of the whole mountain tourism industry, whether it is in the Karakoram or in the Khumbu.

–Rodney Garrard, Zurich, Switzerland

[For the past year, British journalist Ed Douglas has been working on an article for us on low-altitude porters in Nepal. The feature is scheduled to appear in Alpinist 49.–Ed.]