Saturday, December 4, 2010

Seven Summits

The point of lists is to take them under advisement and then make our own.

Okay, I’m breaking Dr. Schiff’s numero uno rule for a successful blog, by shifting topics, which thus far had been literary. But if the general theme were enlarged only slightly to passions, then, mountaineering is clearly on topic. The traditional Seven Summits list is comprised of the highest points on each of the seven continents. Done many times since first accomplished by Dick Bass, it’s become, well, a tad unimaginative at this point.

I decided to construct my own Seven Summits list, now, as I enter my fortieth year of climbing. Only Kennedy and Alpamayo were givens: top two, hands down. The others had to be culled from hundreds of outings. Hard to do.

The emboldened phrase that follows the entry is the at-a-glance note I made to myself as I put the list together. I’ve enlarged the descriptions to try to articulate why these have somehow become so memorable.

1975 Mt Stuart, North Ridge, North Cascades, Washington, partner John McInerney

An exponential leap forward, an unplanned extra night out, ice cold beer in the stream at the car, a gigantic elk in the middle of the road. Later, Steck & Roper would anoint this one of the Fifty Classic Climbs in North America. (I think I’ve done about ten of them, yet this one, accomplished before their list existed, is the only climb I’ve put on my list).

1977 Mt Kennedy, North Ridge, St Elias Range, partners: Scott Baker, Terry Boley, Jack Lewis, Alan Millar.

Another exponential leap forward (exponentially more exponential than the last entry!) 35 days in the range, in and out on skis, probable first over a pass, great friends, every day a gift. This was the second ascent. The third would wait about 25 years. It’s probably very much due to this trip, so many years ago, that I now live in Alaska.

1980 Tour Ronde, French Alps, with John McInerney

Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, starts with an illegal bivvy at the top of the Aiguille du Midi, then a night at the sublime Col de Forche hut. An early morning rappel from the hut to the Brenva Glacier, a long retreat, culminating in an esoteric ascent of the Tour Ronde from an obscure hardly-ever-climbed (if ever) ridge, and a dead man’s walk back up to the Aiguille du Midi. Unbelievable.

1984 Alpamayo, Cordillera Blanca, Peru, with Jim Lucke

High, remote, hard, the north ridge, reached from a high camp at the Quitaraju/Alpamayo col and then a long scary traverse under the famous southwest face. Another remote bivvy miles from nowhere at the base of the ridge. The third north ridge on this list, I now notice.

1990 The Snaz, Tetons, with Tom Huckin

Long, sustained, historic. Stands in for a lot of climbs in the Tetons, Wasatch, and even the Wind Rivers. Death Canyon: bear scat and elk herds. A long day, starting and ending in the dark. Midnight steak and a longneck beer at Tom’s sister’s house. First ascent by Chouinard and Hempel. Just before this climb we learned Aisha was pregnant with Dougal and somehow carrying that knowledge weighted the event.

1999 Hobbit Book, Tuolumne Meadows, with Jim Pinter-Lucke

Great, but also carries a huge symbolic weight as the only Sierra/Yosemite climb on list, (out of dozens and dozens of them, many great). Tuolumne is special, the route is just far enough off the beaten path so that it feels alpine and remote, even though it really isn’t. It’s runout, and just . . . cool.

2007 Cima Grande de Lavaredo, Dolomites, with John McInerney

Just freakin’ cool, (use of the word cool is kind of like giving up; translated: I can't really describe it.) One of the justifiably famous three Towers of the Lavaredo. Not a perfect day weather-wise, but wild and adventurous, in a most amazing setting. I suppose that having been weathered off the Eiger (no, not the north face) made our unplanned excursion to the Dolomites just feel like luck had unexpectedly turned our way.


I remember once, in my naiveté, asking the novelist David Kranes what was the favorite of his books. He laughed, very good-naturedly, and said that the answer to that question is always the last one. By that criteria, my last climb of any stature was in 2009—Italy’s Boot just above the Pika Glacier in the Alaska Range with James Chesher (see photo).

Or maybe the seventh position, the last on the list, should be always left blank, in anticipation of the next grand adventure.

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