TWELVE YEARS AGO, I was knee-deep in a dumpster digging for groceries. Inspired by legends like Yvon Chouinard, who famously lived on cat food for a summer, my friends and I considered bruised apples and stale bread to be a blessing that allowed us to extend our climbing trips from weeks into months.
FOR A LONG time, I used to work on Alpinist from twilight until dawn. In the small hours of the night, time appeared to stretch into an illusion of eternity. The boundaries seemed to grow thinner between the stories and my mind, until the snows of distant summits seeped through my cold apartment walls.
The day is done. In the darkness, bruised and battered hands react unconsciously and follow the familiar Braille trail of the desert pinstripes scratched in the fender, door and quarter panel of my car. It’s been a long while since I’ve felt boxes of slide film jostling around my cooler. At first, the empty space was a shock.
“Oh, shit! I have really fucked up. This is bad, and I know it. Kevin, take a photo.” My hands were rope burned almost to the bone. Far worse, my right foot blazed with pure agony. I knew that I’d seriously injured myself in the fall, and that I might never climb hard again. If this is it, I thought, I might as well document the ensuing epic.
To say that the mountains are a canvas on which we practice our art is one of the great cliches–and conceits–of climbing. Can comparing the act of climbing with that of creating art somehow elevate this pointless activity and give it social merit? We climb to be in the moment, savoring brief impressions as aesthetic in themselves: the varied textures of stone and ice; the way the light shifts across an ever changing landscape. We draw on our imagination to visualize a line, formulate a strategy or solve a sequence. But no matter how creative, significant and intense our experience of an ascent may be, at the end of the day, we are left with nothing tangible.
SO BEGAN THE LETTER. Marc Ewing wanted to start a magazine–the magazine, actually, that I had always worried somebody else would start. The timing was good: my seven years with the American Alpine Journal had just come to an end. Shortly after receiving the letter, I called Marc on the phone.
COLD CALLING has its place. In 1996 I saw a picture of Kitty Calhoun climbing a dazzling ice wall in an exceptionally fetching one-piece suit, and I decided she and I should climb together. Never mind that I was twenty and had never summited anything harder than Pyramid Peak in the Sierra and that Kitty was thirty-six and had just made a serious attempt on the sheer, ice-glazed north face of Thalay Sagar.