Archive for Reinhold Messner

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).

Reinhold Messner gets Piolet d’Or

Posted in Kids, Mountains with tags , on April 11, 2010 by xi'an

Yesterday, Reinhold Messner got the 2010 Piolet d’Or lifetime achievement. This is quite an appropriate reward for the most exceptional climber alive who imposed the ethics of Alpine climbing in the Himalayas and who opened new routes on most of the 8000’s… In addition, teams from the nominees will receive the 2010 Piolets d’Or for extremely technical climbs accomplished last year. To celebrate this event (!), I went climbing indoor with my daughter this afternoon. The place was empty and it was great to practice again after an almost two year [finger] break. Although bagging 5c routes was harder than before. (Kudos to my daughter for belaying me on a Saturday afternoon!)