Archive for Everest

insanity at its height

Posted in Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2019 by xi'an

Ueli Steck dies on Nupse [Ueli Steck tödlich verunglückt]

Posted in Books, Mountains, Running with tags , , , , , , , on April 30, 2017 by xi'an

Ueli Steck was a Swiss climber renowned for breaking speed records on the hardest routes of the Alps. Including the legendary Eigerwand. And having been evacuated under death threats from the Everest base camp two years ago. I have been following on Instagram his preparation for another speed attempt at Everest the past weeks and it is a hug shock to learn he fell to his death on Nupse yesterday. Total respect to this immense Extrembergsteiger, who has now joined the sad cenacle of top climbers who did not make it back…

神々の山嶺 [the summit of the gods]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2017 by xi'an

The summit of the gods is a five volume manga created by Jiro Taniguchi, who just passed away. While I do not find the mountaineering part of the story realistic [as in the above stripe], with feats and strength that seem beyond even the top himalayists like Reinhold Messner, Pierre Beghin, Abele Blanc, or Ueli Steck (to name a few), I keep re-reading the series for the unique style of the drawing, the story (despite the above), and the atmosphere of solo climbing in the 1970’s or 1980’s, especially as a testimony to Japanese climbers, as well as the perfect rendition of the call of the mountains… Reading Taniguchi’s obituaries over the weekend, I realised he was much more popular in France, where he won a prize for his drawing at the BD Festival in Angoulême in 2005, than in Japan.

new New-Zealand $5 banknote

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , on May 1, 2016 by xi'an

Everest [film review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2015 by xi'an

A few weeks ago, I saw Everest with my daughter and was less than impressed. In fact, I had read the Karkauer book, Into Thin Air, quite a while ago (actually it had been recommended to me by George Casella, who thought this notion of climbing Everest on a commercial expedition was sheer madness!) and enjoyed it to the point I bought the French translation for my father. The book exposed the contradictions in the commercial approach to climbing Everest (and other mountains). From installing fixed ropes all the way to the top to guiding inexperienced or unfit clients to the top with a fair chance of not bringing them back. (It is not that I opposed guided mountaineering, hiring guides in most cases I am out of my comfort zone, i.e., above scrambling. But hiring a guide means that he or she is making decisions about where and when we can go and that I cannot argue when we have to turn back, as it happens about half the time. Obviously, I often feel we could try at least the next level of difficulty, however I consider I gave up that choice when hiring the guide. Which is most likely wise!) The book also covered how the accompanying guides dealt [or not] with the clients stranded above the highest camps. And the murky issue of the empty oxygen bottles that helped into the final disaster.

The movie did not enter into such details. Nothing revolutionary there, as feelings and hypotheses do not turn up well into a scenario, even though the script writer seemed too careful in depicting everyone in a rather positive light! In my opinion, the film did not do enough to connect the deadly outcome of this Everest climb with the commercial pressure of the success rate advertised by this company. Hence with the competition between companies and guides. It all sounded too much like the old superficial drivel that mountains are dangerous places, the possibility of death is part of the climbing ethos and glory, and so on. Missing the fact that the clients were not taking part in many aspects of climbing, from carrying gear, to reconnoitring, to setting camps, etc. That they were not equal to the task of climbing Everest. Thus ending up as an unconvincing melodrama, with everyone crying, a miraculous resuscitation, and an heroic helicopter rescue. And with surprisingly very little on the climbing itself, which sounded boring in the movie. And, last but not least, with no major role for the Sherpas. Who did partake to the rescue attempts in the real story. And of course laid all the ropes, set the tents and brought oxygen bottles almost to the top. Now that helicopters can theoretically reach all the way to the top and that there are talks of installing a permanent ladder on Hillary’s step, there is little doubt the pressure will grow and similar disasters happen again. Unsurprisingly, Krakauer did not like the movie very much, as he called it ‘a total bull’.

speed [quick book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains, Running with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2014 by xi'an

Ueli Steck is a Swiss alpinist who climbed solo the three “last” north face routes of the Alps (Eiger, Jorasses, and Cervino/Matterhorn) in the record times of 2:47, 2:27, and 1:56… He also recently climbed Annapurna in 27 hours from base camp, again solo and with no oxygen. (Which led some to doubt his record time as he had lost his camera on the way.) A climb for which he got one of the 2014 Piolets d’Or. (In connection with this climb, he also faced death threats from the sherpas installing fixed ropes on Everest as reported in an earlier post.) He wrote a book called Speed, where he described how he managed the three above records in a rather detailed way. (It is published in German, Italian and French,

the three major languages of the Swiss Confederation, but apparently not in English.) The book reads fast as well but it should not be very appealing to non-climbers as it concentrates mostly on the three climbs and their difficulties. The book also contains three round-tables between Messner and Steck, Bonatti and Steck, and Profit and Steck, which are of some further interest. The most fascinating part in the book is when he describes deciding to go completely free, forsaking existing protection and hence any survival opportunity were he to fall. When looking at the level of the places he climbed, this sounds to me like an insane Russian roulette, even with a previous recognition of the routes (not in the Jorasses where he even climbed on-sight).  I also liked the recollection of his gift of an Eiger Nordwand climb with her wife for her birthday! (I am unsure any spouse would appreciate such a gift to the same extent!) The book concludes with Steck envisioning moving away from those speed solos and towards other approaches to climbing and mountains…

As a coincidence, I also watched the film documentary Messner on Arte. A very well-done docu-fiction with reconstitutions of some of the most impressive climbs of Messner in the Alps and the Himalayas… Like the solo climb of the north face of Les Droites. With a single icepick. The film is also an entry into what made Messner the unique climber he is, from a very strict family environment to coping with the literal loss of his brother Guenther on the Nanga Parbat. With a testimony from his companion to the traverse by ski of the North Pole who saw Messner repeatedly calling him Guenther under stress.

Himalayan fight

Posted in Mountains with tags , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2013 by xi'an

“Today,  Everest is too much of a business and there are too many heroes.” Simone Moro

I was reading in Le Monde yesterday about an ugly fight occurring between a team of alpine-style climbers Ueli Steck, Simone Moro, and Jonathan Griffith) and the team of sherpas installing fixed ropes on the normal route to Everest in preparation for the hundreds of clients waiting at Base Camp. The sherpas apparently did not accept the parallel  and faster climb of the three independent climbers to their tent at Camp 3, as well as resented these climbers having completed the fixed rope equipment in a gesture of good will (?). When the latter came down to Camp 2 they were faced by a mob of 100 angry sherpas ready to lynch them and had to be evacuated… Obviously, I have no further details than those I read in various interviews, from Ueli Steck‘s, to Simone Moro‘s, to the sherpas’. So I cannot judge of the responsibility of either side. However, facts are such that the team of three came closed to being stoned to death and that it had to leave Base Camp under a death threat.

This awful story reflects very badly on how much money has perverted mountaineering on Everest: while Steck and his team-mates were working on a genuine mountaineering feat by climbing a new route on a three person team, alpine-style, with no sherpa backup, the sherpas were working for half a dozen commercial companies and the millions of dollars behind (rates range from $50,000 to $100,000 per client!). Preventing climbers from climbing nearby (as long as they do not endanger anyone on the route) goes against the #1 mountaineering rule that mountains (and routes) do not belong to anyone, not even locals, and that faster teams should get priority. As shown in the book Into Thin Air, commercial expeditions have already demonstrated not caring about the #2 rule that one should bring assistance to anyone in danger: helping a perfect stranger down safely rather than bringing a $100,000 client to the top does not seem part of their equation. To be fair, Simone Moro also has commercial interests in the Himalayas through his helicopter rescue company, but I do not think this had anything to do with the current fight, besides being for the general “good—this is arguable, though, given that it gives a false sense of safety to people who should not be there…

Just a note on why I was shocked by this story: Ueli Steck is an amazing Swiss climber of Messner-ian class, who opened new routes in the Alps, Himalayas and Patagonia, often climbing them solo. (See Messner’s interview on Steck’s website, where he states that independent climbers are now perceived as parasites by sherpas.) One of his greatest feats so far is soloing the Heckmair route (the ultimate mountain climb in my opinion, see e.g. Joe Simpson’s missed attempt) on the Eiger Nordwand in 2 hours 47 minutes (it took Heckmair and his team three days in 1937).