21 September 2011
13 September 2011
In this short span between my fingertips and the smooth edge and these tense feet cramped to a crystal ledge, I hold the life of a man.
—Geoffrey Winthrop Young (1876-1958), climber, poet, educator, author, and conscientious objector
Geoffrey lost a leg during World War I… though he continued alpine climbing for years thereafter, using a specially designed artificial leg that accepted a number of attachments for snow and rock work. He even climbed the Matterhorn in 1928. Following is a poem he wrote that references his struggles over his loss…
I have not lost the magic of long days:
I live them, dream them still.
Still I am master of the starry ways,
and freeman of the hill.
Shattered my glass, ere half the sands had run,—
I hold the heights, I hold the heights I won.
Mine still the hope that hailed me from each height,
mine the unresting flame.
With dreams I charmed each doing to delight;
I charm my rest the same.
Severed my skein, ere half the strands were spun,—
I keep the dreams, I keep the dreams I won.
What if I live no more those kingly days?
their night sleeps with me still.
I dream my feet upon the starry ways;
my heart rests in the hill.
I may not grudge the little left undone;
I hold the heights, I keep the dreams I won.
10 September 2011
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.
—René Daumal (1908-1944), para-surrealist writer
25 August 2011
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
—John Muir (1838-1914)
8 August 2011
Banff National Park, Alberta
I’ve just returned from a week-long road trip to the splendid Canadian Rockies with Bettie Blue, my trusty Westie companion—more rest, reading, and reflection than climbing this year, but a splendid time of refreshing renewal nonetheless.
You can see more photos in a Facebook gallery, here.
25 July 2011
13 July 2011
—Franklin D. Roosevelt
This is actually a lesson we teach in basic rock-climbing (along with how to prusik back up the rope using only your shoe-laces and a bit of wisdom). For those who are under the impression that I am continually criticizing the USA, please note that the Roosevelt I am quoting here was your country’s 32nd president, at the nadir of the worst depression in your history, with a full quarter of the workforce unemployed (1933-1945).
Just sayin’… hang in there.
12 July 2011
The first ascent of the iconic Matterhorn (yes, the one on the triangular-shaped Toblerone chocolate package) was made by Edward Whymper, Lord Francis Douglas, Charles Hudson, Douglas Hadow, Michel Croz, and the two Zermatt guides, Peter Taugwalder father and son on 14 July 1865. Douglas, Hudson, Hadow and Croz were killed on the descent when Hadow slipped and pulled the other three with him down the north face. Whymper and the Taugwalder guides, who survived, were later accused of having cut the rope below to ensure that they were not dragged down with the others, but the subsequent inquiry found no proof of this and they were acquitted.
The Matterhorn accident was long discussed in the media, in Switzerland and abroad… newspapers all over the world reported the tragedy and no other Alpine event has ever caused more headlines. Read the full background to this memorable event in mountaineering history here.
“A single slip,
or a single false step,
has been the sole cause
of this frightful calamity.”
4 April 2011
If you’re a climber in or near these parts, mark the evening of 18 April (two weeks from today) to take in a talk by, slide show (yup, the old-fashioned kind) with, and a film about climbing legend Fred Beckey, sponsored by the Manitoba Section of the Alpine Club of Canada. Known variously as “the original dirt-bag climber,” “old man of the mountains,” “the climbing bum’s climbing bum” and a variety of other colourful monikers, Fred Beckey boasts an impressive resume of alpine first ascents second to few—and at the age of 87 (not a typo) he’s still climbing!
The Fred Beckey gig will take place at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre at 340 Provencher Boulevard in Winnipeg (more details still to come). In the meantime, read more about Fred Beckey here, and here; watch a 5-minute film piece that The New York Times featured two years ago here.
Image: a Patagonia climbing poster featuring Fred from a few years back.
28 March 2011
(even as they recede…)
When traveling across glaciers, it’s obviously best to avoid crevassed areas if at all possible. While skis lessen the possibility of punching through the snow layer in winter (a ski distributes your body weight more broadly than a boot), negotiating snow-bridges and moving safely above the snow- or firn-line* where underlying crevasses can lurk can be harrowing as well.
planetFear has recently published a great reference article addressing four key points:
1) Knowing Where To Look (for crevasses)
2) Spotting the Slots
3) Route Finding (on a glacier)
4) Roping Up
Photos (from the top): crossing The President Glacier, BC (photo by friend David Cormie); the sphincter-tightening process of negotiating melting snow bridges; belaying my partner Peter Aitchison as he jumps icy streams atop the firn (the water disappeared into bottomless sink-holes here and there with a terrifyingly-deep flushing sound); happily roped-up with colleagues on a Bugaboos ascent; crossing a tricky bit of steep glare-ice using French technique (pied à plat) for good crampon purchase, trying not to think about the long run-out below.
* the firn-line is the highest level to which the fresh snow on a glacier’s surface retreats during the melting season, or the line separating the accumulation area from the ablation area