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Long Live Eddie Sender

The shuttle picked us up at the Motel 8 as we finished our first cups of
coffee. Two young climbers in uniforms of fleece and Schoeller leapt
out of the van, grabbed our mule bags and helped us wrestle them into
the travel-cart. Another two men, somewhat older and more reserved,
eased out and without saying a word watched the proceedings, arms
neatly folded. The bags ensconced, they shuffled back in, identical
knit-wool hats pulled low over graying temples. We climbed in behind
them, and the van eased into the Anchorage traffic, headed north for

We traded questions with the two younger climbers up front, talking
over the older men: Where’re you headed, where’re you from, how long
are you going in for? Soon, though, the conversation ensnared the elders,
and we discovered that the man in the seat in front of us was the
British climber Victor Saunders. Saunders is perhaps best known for his
ascent of Spantik’s Golden Pillar with Mick Fowler, a route cherished
by climbers as one of the great feats in alpine history, and as the wooded
flats of Alaska became punctuated by ever-higher mountains, we
began to trade stories.

British climbing in particular has a tradition of style and boldness
that sets the bar for alpinists the world over. Driving north, we arrived
at the subject of Mountain Magazine, the voice of world climbing in the
1970s. Established by Ken Wilson in London, England, in 1969,
Mountain influenced a generation of alpinists, none more so than in its
homeland of the United Kingdom.

“Nick Colton,” Saunders said, his slightly Asian features tanned
from years beneath the sun, “is the only person to think that Wilson
was a detriment to British climbing. He figured that by holding up
bold alpine climbs for emulation, Wilson lured a generation of the
country’s finest climbers onto dangerous faces in a style that maximized
their exposure. Many died as a result.” He paused. “Do you reckon
yourself to be the next Ken Wilson?”

The question caught me by surprise. My respect for Mountain has
grown with every issue of Alpinist we create. Wilson worked with an
international network of climbers to present an accurate portrait of
world alpinism on a bi-monthly basis. That essence is one we aspire to
here at Alpinist–but by holding up alpine-style climbing as the ideal,
we’re aware that we’re celebrating a style as dangerous as it is alluring.
“Alpinism is alpinism,” Anatoli Boukreev used to say: accidents and
tragedy are natural bedfellows of the joy and beauty that draw us to the
heights. But by inspiring people to climb, are we responsible, as Colton
accused Wilson of being, for the tragedies that inevitably follow?

In 1998 I traveled to Kyrgyzstan’s remote West Kokshal-Tau in the
company of an all-star cast. Among our team was a climber I had heard
something about. Though he tended to stay off the radar screens, Guy
Edwards was a strong young Canadian who would quickly prove to be
the best climber of our group. Perhaps more importantly, he was also
possessed of an enthusiasm and unwavering positivity that made him a
great expedition partner.

We’ve been working with a character in the pages of Alpinist for over
a year now. Eddie Sender has penned a number of reports in our
Climbing Notes section; he has taken a photo or two, and he’s been in
our acknowledgements in the front matter as well. Originally the brainchild
of Hans Johnstone, a local hero here in the Tetons, Eddie embodies
traits we felt in need of celebration: well-skilled, humble, he is the
kind of partner you want on the other end of the rope, one who will
always get the sharp end up there and never feel the need to spray about
it afterward. In the last year, as the magazine evolved, we watched the
growing tally of great new routes established by Guy, often in the company
of his partner John Millar. Quite quickly, it became apparent to
us that the self-effacing, all-sending Guy Edwards and Eddie Sender
were one and the same.

In early April we gave Guy, John and Kai Hirvonen $1,500 as the
first recipients of the B-Team Climbing Grant. A couple of weeks later
I left for the Alaska Range, meeting Saunders in the process. My partner
and I flew in to the Ruth Glacier, put up our tent, and raced up to
The Mooses Tooth. Two thousand feet of climbing later, we retreated,
making it back to our base camp as a storm settled in. The next day we
skied down the glacier while the avalanches ran their course. As these
things happen, we met a friend from home less than an hour after leaving
the tent.

“Have you heard?” he asked, when we had dispensed with our greetings.
“There’s a search on in the Coast Range. Guy Edwards and John
Millar are missing on the northwest face of the Devils Thumb.”

Stunned, standing in randonee gear below the east face of Mt.
Dickey, I begged for details. There were few to give: Guy and John had
started up the face while Kai had remained behind. After four days of
waiting, Kai had gone for help. Efforts were underway to find the missing
climbers, but there was little hope.

Nothing could seem less real than to hear that Guy had somehow,
against any thread of coherency, disappeared. Guy Edwards. Eddie
Sender. Others might die in the mountains–alpinism is alpinism–but not Guy: too positive, too strong, too smart, too solid to ever disappear
like that. I could see Guy as an old man, perhaps, taking a final
wander into the hills he had loved for a lifetime, and simply not returning;
but it made no sense whatsoever that he would go now, so young,
so alive.

In the last year, Guy and John had accomplished a 1,200-mile ski
traverse of the Coast Range and established new routes (reported in
these pages) on Alaska’s West Witches Tit, the Cats Ears Spire and on
the west face of India’s Swachand. The northwest face of the Devils
Thumb is one of the great unclimbed problems of North America.
When we gave them the grant, we decided that of all the applicants,
Guy’s team, along with two others, deserved extra funding. They had
the abilities, experience, tenacity and commitment to climb it; their
partnership was tempered by numerous routes together; and they had
done their homework by reconning the mountain twice before. But the
question I asked myself as we skied down the Ruth that day in April,
the remnants of a storm lifting from the mile-high walls, was a simple
one: Did we play a part in their deaths by supporting their dreams?

An infinite number of factors influence any outcome. The team had
already left for Alaska by the time we had mailed the checks, and they
would have almost certainly departed regardless of our funding. Like all
competent climbers, Guy Edwards and his teammates understood and
accepted the risks involved in their chosen route. Eddie Sender understands,
too, and will continue to accept climbing’s risks in these pages
as he plays out a life inspired by the mountains and the people drawn
to them. In that commitment–in that passion for a life fully his
own–he will continue to have our full support.

–Christian Beckwith