My new Tuesday Night Bouldering column in Rock and Ice No 222 is titled “Dead Sherpa Walking,” and explores some of the ethical questions about Everest’s commercial culture, particularly the one about whether or not it is ethical to continue guiding on the South Side, with the dangerous Khumbu Ice Fall, where 16 sherpa died this year. Here’s an excerpt:
These people aren’t dying “doing what they love”—they are working to give their children an opportunity to succeed in the West. Somehow, intent and motive are philosophically important in this regard. All deaths, in general, should not be regarded equally. The deaths of those who die in battle while serving a country are somehow different than those who crash their $100,000 crotch-rocket motorcycle in a coke-fueled blaze of inglory.
Sixteen sherpas were swept away while working to install the infrastructure Western clients “need” to achieve their personally fulfilling but otherwise insignificantly middling goals. The true inhumanity of this incident has been diminished, in my view, by the fact that the general public perceives the sherpa to be climbers who died in a mountaineering accident—and not as servants who were hired by a much richer group of people to bear the brunt of a risky situation for them—and then died in that service.
Sasha DiGiulian recently completed the first female ascent of a stunning 1,000-foot 5.14 in Sardinia called Viaje de los Locos, aka, the Mad Men’s Journey. Reeling in the wake of her father’s unexpected death, Sasha found comfort in knowing that her dad would be proud of her for pursuing her dreams.
Before Daniel Woods was an eight-time National Bouldering Champion with the hand strength of a vice-grip and the ability to casually perform one-arm, one-finger pull-ups, he was a puny little runt on his local junior climbing team who got picked on by his teammates.
In advance of the Psicocomp–the biggest, best climbing competition of the year–Red Bull reached out to me to write a primer for rock climbing terminology. They wanted an article that would help the general, non-climbing population understand what climbing is all about, while also getting the news out that the Psicocomp, organized by Red Bull athlete Chris Sharma, would be taking place in a live stream last Friday night.
The biggest, baddest climbing competition in the U.S. is happening at Utah’s Olympic Park this week, with the finals streaming live online on Friday night, August 8. It’s called the Psicobloc Masters Series, aka Psicocomp, and the format is simple: Competitors will race each other up a grueling, technically demanding, 50-foot-tall overhanging wall in a single-elimination format.
There’s just one catch: They won’t be using ropes.
That means that if (when) they fall, they will plummet up to 50 feet through the air, before plunging into just 12 feet of water — far from a soft or even all-that-safe landing.
Add in the fact that these climbers will often be leaping between their holds on the wall and their momentum may send them flinging in a tailspin through the air, and you begin to see how this competition tests it all: strength, skill, composure and cat-like agility. Only the best climbers — those who don’t freak out five heartbreaking feet below the top of the wall — will survive Psicocomp and stand on top
“I’m not going climbing till I hit 12,000 followers,” Mike chortled. He was being facetious. But he was also gazing into his iPhone as if it held the secret to growing a bigger penis.
“Mike,” not his real name, was about 150 “people” shy of hitting 12K on Instagram. I say “people” in quotes because, for all intents and purposes, they aren’t actually people; they’re just numbers. Multiplicative, addictive stats that ping up on your phone’s screen at random intervals. Like a spinning slot machine, the notifications are awfully transfixing and cause you to check your phone every 25.8 seconds.
Check out my latest column about escaping the social-media trap and just going climbing for experience in Rock and Ice 220, on newsstands now.
I recently got to help 3 Strings Productions put together a cool video profile for National Geographic’s online video website. I spent the day with Jimmy Olson, a third generation ice racer in Denver, who builds custom studded tires for Jeeps that race around the frozen lake in Georgetown, CO.
We filmed all day at his garage and I worked with Jimmy during the interview to try to help bring out the best storytelling lines for the voice over.
My article on Chris Sharma’s five year battle–as both a climber and a human being–to send La Dura Dura, the hardest rock climb in the world, struggle with his place in the climbing world and relinquish the reigns to the younger generation’s most leading climber, Adam Ondra–and then of course, ultimately send La Dura Dura for himself–is now appearing in the pages of Climb Magazine in the U.K.
In climbing, attaining those ten minutes of Zen can be frustrating and humbling. As you practice the moves on the route by climbing on it day after day, ultimately striving to one day link all the moves together without falling, you begin to feel like you are at war with yourself. Before each attempt you may feel nervous; then, your foot slips on an easy section and you fall. You may find yourself distracted and drawn away from main goal when you begin measuring yourself up against others. You fall again. The scariest part is when you begin to doubt yourself and wonder if you might never be good enough. You fall and fall and fall again while trying to untie each and every one of these mental knots.
Waves walloped the seaside wall from which I hung—barely, I will add—by my own saline fingertips and wet climbing shoes. The waves struck with such force that mini earthquakes reverberated up through the rock and down my wooden limbs. I could feel a filigree of nerve endings in my body trembling, like the Aspen leaves do back home in Colorado in an autumnal gust of wind. Don’t think I even breathed. Everything I’d ever learned as a climber was in upheaval, churning in aqueous tumult and thoughtless panic.