Just climb. Nothing else. Fred Beckey died aged 94.

He was called dirt bag, even in the film about him that premiered this year, although he himself rather disliked that description. But actually he didn’t care about what others said about him anway. He just wanted to climb. And really just climb. He refused to have a professional career or even to have enough money. Uncompromisingly, through to his old days. »He chose to eschew climbing fame, financial security, marriage, and all other aspects of the ‘American dream’ in pursuit of climbing, back when it was an unheard of choice,« Colin Haley said in a speech about Beckey in 2015.

Fred Beckey became 94 years old, although he never quit climbing, again, through to his old days. And he died a natural death. Well, what is a natural death for a climber with this history? Beckey’s the climber with the biggest record of first ascents in America. Simply a legend. Moreover he was  a chronicler and historiograph. Someone who’s being adressed with demands to judge accomplished climbs.

In a nice and detailed article about Beckey by Alpinist Magazine, Beckey’s friend Megan Bond is quoted:

I know Fred mostly never wanted to be considered a “dirtbag”…. He actually worked a TON [and] saved every cent—he was not a bum…. He was not only a climber, but an academic in every sense of the word—a scholar of the mountain world: terrain, flora, fauna, geology. He was meticulous in his research, careful with his relationships, protective of wild places, and never wanted to die in the mountains. He out-climbed two generations, and outlived three. He made numerous trips to the Himalaya, many of these in the last 30 years, interested in uncharted landscapes, or at least untrodden…. He didn’t smoke, rarely drank, was the king of one-liners. He would become so one-thousand-percent fixated on a topic or project that there was no rest for anyone in his orbit until it was finished and complete; he hated to leave things undone. Most important to him in friendships was loyalty. If someone made a commitment to him to spend time with him and cancelled or didn’t follow through, he would continue to be gracious to that person, but the trust would be gone. Time was critical, and not to be wasted.

The legend goes that he was ignored in the selection for the first American Everest expedition in 1963 due to his dirt bag image. But actually, he seemed to have disliked such big team efforts anyway. Probably the dirt bag image is equivalent to what in German is called Bergvagabunden (mountain vagabond), as in the old alpinist folk song. Or a climbing bum: just living for and in the mountains, subsiding almost on nothing. Almost unimaginable, given today’s hype and an incredibly large outdoor industry with its colourfully dressed urban customers imprisoned in the rat raced of their work-life-balances, or should I say: earn-spend-balance.

No surprise, Beckey said about his desire to climb: »For me, the appeal of climbing has many sources: a longing to escape from the artificial civilized order, a need for self-rejuvenation, a desire to restore my sense of proportion. When you are climbing, you experience freedom from constraints.«

Still, Beckey was not outside of the system. But to a wide extent he gave a shit. Or a dirt; a dirt bag. Maybe he was an outsider in the best sense of the word. Almost unimaginable.

Read the entire Alpinist article here.

Source: Wikipedia/Peter Stevens

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A few more words about Ueli Steck

When Ueli fell to death three months ago, it really came as a shock to me. It did, because I supposed that he had reached a point where he would slow everything down a bit. Because he recognized he had to.

It seems that Ueli mostly was a very reflective person, at least to me. After his fantastic but questioned success on Annapurna in 2013 he continued to reflect on his risk-taking. In an interview he told me he was very aware of the risks that climbs like the one accomplished at Annapurna bear, and that he could not continue on that level forever. He really wanted to slow down everything, it seemed. And in this regard his honesty was impressive, although perhaps he was not consequent in following his own conclusions.

He perfectly knew what the consequences are when you fail on such a high level of both skill and risk-taking: »Failing means dying,« he said in his last interview.

The climb he planned, a traverse of Lhotse and Everest, was probably not very demanding in technical regards, but definitely extremely demanding in length and altitude. If we believe his own statements, he even chose the climb because it was relatively free of risks, compared to the majesty and size of the enterprise. He would either push through, or get too exhausted and descent.
But still, this climb would take alpinism a step further, as also Reinhold Messner recognized.

In October 2016, I asked Ueli why he had continued to do solo climbs, despite writing in his book that he wanted to stop it, for respect of his wife.

He admitted,

»yes, that is in fact a delicate topic for me. Actually, I have to be careful with those solo climbs, because you largely go to the limits there. But on the other hand, that is a part of me and I cannot simply say “No, I won’t do that anymore.” Not, as long as I have the feeling that it’s something that drives me. So you somehow have to settle this with yourself. It was a phase, in which we thought about it very much and my wife would certainly prefer if I wouldn’t do it. But still, solo-climbing is a part of my personality. And that was the reason I always turned back to do solo stuff.«

Ueli’s very honest answer basically says that he cannot simply quit something which he is driven by, and he would disregard his wife’s feelings in this concern. Is that an exaggerated interpretation? To say he is driven, or, possessed? Probably not. Continue reading

“When it’s not boring, it’s dangerous” – Former pro-cyclist Phil Gaimon about Tour de France

I encountered this highly noteworthy article on Phil Gaimon’s blog who last year, 30 years aged, “retired” from pro-cycling and talks about what makes up the appeal of the Tour de France, criticizing it for being either boring or dangerous, with spectacular crashes as being perfectly normal, again in this year’s version when riders crashed already in the beginning.

In the first stage, lots of riders ended up on the ground, trying to gain time on a tight course in the rain. I’ve been that guy many times. You get up. You get back on your bike. You’re going 30 mph again within twenty seconds, because that’s your job and you’re lucky to have it. A friend was watching the Tour for the first time, and she was horrified: “So he crashes and hits the fence at full speed, one guy jumps out of the follow car to pick up his old bike, another guy jumps out to hand him a new one off the roof and give him a push, and nobody asks if he’s okay?”
That never would have occurred to me. But yeah. That’s weird. Two big names didn’t get up that day—out of the race with broken bones before it even started.

He also writes about old-fashioned traditions like sexism and states it was still 1903. Lance Armstrong does not come off very well either.

Read the interview here.

An exceptional one has gone: Ueli Steck is dead.

We are shocked by the message, the climbing community has to recognize the loss of one of its grandest. Ueli Steck’s dead body was found in the Mount Everest area, as the Himalayan Times reports, where he was preparing for a traverse of Everest and Lhotse.
It is hard to believe and words don’t come easy, although one might not be extremely  surprised by the message. Yes, in fact, there might not have been many other ways of dying imaginable for a person who loved the mountains and climbing as deeply and amply as Ueli Steck and who was as irresistibly attracted by them. Mountains were his life. But still, the message comes out of nothing and as a shock. Still it is hard to imagine a climbing world without Ueli. In an interview around three years ago, after his fantastic alpine-style climb of Annapurna’s south face, he told me that if he continued on that level, eventually this wold go wrong; »Irgendwann geht das schief.« What a fatal sentence.
Now it did go wrong, although he had seemed to have drawn consequences and did choose his recent project, the Everest-Lhotse-traverse, in particular because he did not want to continue climbing as risky as on Annapurna.

His death leaves questions, at least to me.

Ueli leaves a wife, and the climbing community mourns for one of its greatest lights of inspiration, possibly with a disturbing shade of dark fascination.

I need time to think about his death. You will certainly read more about this in the next days and weeks.

Inspiration on Women’s Day: Alison Hargreaves

Eiger North Face

The Eiger North Face. A.k.a. Eiger “Mordwand”. Epitome of a mountain face, filled with myth to its snow-edged brim: hair-raising tales of darkness and cold, death bivouacs, nationalist instrumentalization, and immense rockfall. First climbed in 1938.

Fifty years later, Scottish alpinist Alison Hargreaves climbed it in 1988, pregnant in her sixth month.

In August 1995 she died after having reached the summit of K2 – acknowledged as the world’s most dangerous mountain – without supplemental oxygen at the descent; and after having climbed Everest before, without supplemental oxygen, as the first woman, and as well, solo. She had a husband and two children, aged four and six. Continue reading

Ueli Steck über Trail-Running: „Das ändert die ganze Einstellung zum Bergsteigen“

Ueli Steck hat in Interviews eigentlich immer etwas Substantielles zu sagen. Deshalb habe ich die Gelegenheit neuerlich genutzt und mich beim vergangenen International Mountain Summit in Brixen mit ihm unterhalten. Wir sprachen über sein Buch und seine letzte Himalaya-Expedition, vor allem aber über seine Karriere als Solo-Alpinist und den Trend des Trail-Runnings, den er auch als bedeutsam für das heutige Bergsteigen ansieht.

 

Dieses Jahr im Frühjahr wolltest du zusammen mit David Göttler eine neue Route in der Shishapangma Südwand begehen. Was für eine Route war das? Ist sie vergleichbar mit deiner Route von 2011 oder in der Annapurna von vor zwei Jahren?

Ja, da bin ich die Girona-Route gegangen. Wie schwer das ist, das kann ich gar nicht so genau sagen, da wir es gar nicht richtig probieren konnten, weil wir nicht das richtige
Wetter hatten. Aber das wäre schon eine direkte Linie auf den Shishapangma gewesen.

Bist du sehr enttäuscht gewesen, dass es nicht geklappt hat?
Logisch ist man immer enttäuscht. Man geht mit dem Ziel los, etwas zu erreichen,
aber das ist die Realität beim Bergsteigen, das muss man akzeptieren. Wenn man das
nicht akzeptieren kann, dann hat man ein hartes Leben, das ist normal im Sport oder im Bergsteigen, dass man nicht gewinnt. uelibuch

Ihr habt dort ja auch die Leiche von Alex Lowe gefunden. Welche Bedeutung hat das, wenn man die Leiche von einem so bekannten Bergsteiger findet? Was geht da in einem vor?

Das ist die nunmal Realität. Ich habe schon viele Tote in meinem Leben gesehen und von daher war es für mich nicht so ein tiefgreifendes Erlebnis. Ich hab den ja nicht
gekannt. Wenn das Leute gewesen wären, die ich gekannt hätte, dann ist das natürlich was komplett anderes. Aber so ist es der Alex Lowe, ich habe den nie vorher getroffen und dann ist das eine relativ abgestumpfte Angelegenheit.

Du hast ja eigentlich vor ein paar Jahren beschlossen, mit dem Solo-Klettern aufzuhören, vor allem auch aus Rücksicht auf deine Ehefrau Nicole. Warum hast du dann trotzdem weitergemacht?

Ja, das ist für mich schon ein heikles Thema. Continue reading

Jauchzet, frohlocket – Klettern wird olympisch!

Wenn das kein Grund zur Freude ist!

Es ist mittlerweile paar Wochen her, da gab das Internationale Olympische Kommittee (IOC) bekannt, dass Klettern eine Disziplin der nächsten Olympischen Sommerspiele 2020 in Tokyo sein würde. Nachdem die Feierstimmung bei den wichtigen Lobby-Organisationen, allen voran dem IFSC langsam abklingt, melden sich in der Kletter-Community mehr und mehr kritische Stimmen zu Wort, wie etwa auch bei der Online-Plattform climbing.com zu lesen ist. Nicht überraschend. Warum? Das olympische Klettern wird genau genommen ein Dreikampf sein: aus den Teildisziplinen Lead, Bouldern und Speed. Am Ende siegt diejenige mit den meisten Punkten in allen Disziplinen. Das sorgt für Unverständnis bei einigen der Top-Kletterer_innen, da sie ein Problem mit der letztgenannten Disziplin, dem Speed-Klettern haben. Auf Climbing.com höhnte Corey Buhay schon über den “vertikalen Triathlon”.

Adam Ondra at Epic TV

Adam Ondra at Epic TV

Ein Aspekt, der vielleicht ausschlaggebend für die Entscheidung des IOC gewesen ist, könnte die größere Attraktivität von Speed-Klettern für ein vor allem kletterfremdes Publikum gewesen sein. Speed ist für jede_n verständlich, Weltrekorde sind viel einfacher möglich. Während der Welt-Sportkletter-Verband IFSC froh ist nun einen “Fuß in der Tür” des IOC zu haben und sich naturgemäß über die Entscheidung freut, obgleich seine Vorstellungen ursprünglich auch 3 Wettbewerbe für jede Einzeldisziplin vorsahen, sind die Gefühle bei den Athlet_innen gemischt. So sagte etwa Adam Ondra, einer der derzeit weltbesten Fels- und Wettkampfkletterer in einem Interview mit Epic TV, dass das Speed-Klettern eine eher künstliche Disziplin sei und mit der Philosophie des Kletterns nicht viel zu tun habe. Continue reading