Introduction

Extreme alpinism can mean different things to different climbers. In this book, we define it simply as alpine climbing near one's limits. We use "extreme" to denote severe, intense, and having serious consequences. To survive in this dangerous environment where ability and difficulty intersect, the climber must visualize the goal and the means to realize it. After training and preparation, the climber tackles the route, moving as swiftly as possible with the least equipment required. For a fully trained and prepared athlete at the top of his or her game, only the hardest routes in the world offer sufficient challenges to qualify as extreme.

The discipline of mountain climbing originated in the French Alps, so the word "alpinism" derives from the French root "alp," Alpine style is mountain climbing reduced to its purest essence, and extreme alpinism takes us to the cutting edge of that style. Alpine style means attempting to climb mountains on the most equitable footing possible, neither applying excessive technology to overcome deficits in skill or courage nor using permanently damaging tactics, and adhering to this ethos from beginning to end. It means being equal to the challenge imposed by the natural state of the mountain.

Back when alpinism first moved to higher ranges like the Andes and I limalayas, the climbing became more logistically complex. The technique of leaving the ground with nothing more than what one could cariy, relying only on the skills of each climber and the rope strung between them, disappeared into a mire of fixed ropes, stocked camps, supplemental oxygen, and Sherpa support—a veritable siege of the mountain. The modern variant sees climbers applying big-wall tactics to high mountain walls: fixed ropes, portaledges, and hauling hundreds of pounds of equipment.

Our definition of extreme alpinism follows in the tradition of Bonatti and Messner, with its ethos of climbing the hardest routes with the least gear, Anyone wishing to apply the term to another style is free to do so.

This book is a report on the state of the art of extreme alpinism. It is akin to a manual for using a room full of power tools. Used improperly, the tools will wreak havoc. Although the text reads like a set of instructions, it merely describes how top alpine climbers, with emphasis on Mark TWight's experience, approach the challenge of the world's hardest mountain routes. Other top alpinists may quibble about details, recommending alternative tactics and techniques or advocating other styles, but all will recognize the methods outlined here as common practice among the world's climbing elite. Every climber is free to accept or reject any or all of the book. Personal responsibility is central to climbing.

We look upon both the preparation for climbing and climbing itself as a process of f«ark Twight irs Lhasa, Tibet. More prayer ffags than anywhere else in the world. Photo.- © Barry Blanchard o m

INTRODUCTION

self-transformation, of character building. Character me,ans more than strength or skill. We will belabor this notion because it is the core truth at the heart of hard climbing. Extreme alpinism is a matter of will. We all know this to be true. In every endeavor, people, who concentrate and refuse to quit become the elite. "Know thyself" is the first rule, because Self-deception kills, If you are not willing to pay the price exacted by edge-of-the-art routes, ratchet your ambition down a notch or two.

Broader knowledge allows a more competent response to danger. Alpinism requires detailed information, and the ability to use it, on many facets of climbing and mountain living. An alpinist needs to acquirc facility in rock climbing, ice climbing, weather forecasting, snow safety, approach methods, retreat techniques, bivouacking, energy efficiency, nutrition, strategy and tactics, equipment use, winter survival, navigation, and so forth. The more you know, the safer and more efficient you will be in the mountains.

In a dangerous environment, speed is safety. Climbing routes at the edge of the possible is akin to playing Russian roulette. Each time the cylinder spins, the chance of firing a live cartridge increases. Therefore, "Keep moving" is the mantra of the extreme climber. The idea of speed permeates this book.

Select the techniques that fit your style and ambition, Itead, digest, test, adapt, and employ the ideas that work for you. Discard or ignore what you will. Then make sure you and your partner arc playing the same game. For some climbers, freeing a climb is everything. Pulling on gear while cleaning a pitch or in a rush will always be out of bounds for them. If you're not quite such a purist, you may want a different partner.

Despite its title, Extreme Alpinism has something to say to climbers ranging from beginning mountainee,rs to experienced alpinists aspiring to move into the first rank. Each reader can decide what is personally useful,

A host of books introduce beginners to techniques for climbing in the mountains, but none describe how elite climbers ascend their toughest routes. Despite the presence of disclaimers warning of climbing's hazards, most of these books tacitly advance the fiction that proper tactics and modern equipment make climbing safe, while common climbing practices are relatively safe and appropriate for most routes, their efficacy can break down in extreme situations. We believe that an understanding of how climbers survive the hardest routes and an appreciation for the severity and omnipresence of alpinism's dangers will benefit all mountaineers, not just aspiring supermen and superwomen.

The popularity of indoor gyms has bred a class of climbers with extraordinary rock climbing ability but paltry experience in the wild. The ability to climb 5.12 in the gym will do little more than allow you to get into deep trouble on a big route. Extreme Aljtin-ism alerts gym rats to the skills and preparations needed to apply their ability in the real world. However, we do not cover the basics of mountaineering. For that, consult Mountaineering: The Freedom of the HiUs (see Appendix 2, Suggested Reading) or any number of other texts. It's also essential to climb with experienced mountaineers. Judgment takes time to acquire. Mentors speed the process and point out pitfalls that could slow your learning or strike you dead.

Experienced alpinists aiming to climb the classics also will find valuable information

INTRODUCTION

in the book: tactics for moving quickly, ways to pare down equipment, regimens to increase fitness, unconventional uses for common gear. We discuss how to think about alternative risks. While these alpinists may never apply these techniques on an extreme climb, knowledge of the tricks of the trade will give them ideas for climbing more efficiently and could rescue them from dangerous situations.

Finally, the book is a guide, a source of ideas, for alpinists ready to elevate their art to the highest level. We hope to help shorten the period of trial and error most climbers endure when fiTSt pushing their limits after learning the basics and paying their dues.

We organized Extreme Alpinism into four main parts, starting with the all-important subject of an alpinist's character and attitude. Bear with our hectoring. Experience shows that the difference between success and failure is in the mind. Most botched attempts were doomed before the climbers arrived at the base of the route.

The next part details how to prepare for the demands of hard climbing through training for psychological fitness, strength, cardiovascular conditioning, and good nutrition.

Then we review favored equipment, including clothing and a range of devices for climbing protection.

The final chapters, on climbing technique, are the heart of the text. We've included discussion of equipment in these chapters as well, because the use and choice of gear is inextricably intertwined. For example, it makes no sense to discuss stoves outside the context of bivouacking. The technique chapters take you up the route and back down again, along with information on safety, communication, and bivouacs.

Throughout the book you'll find climbing stories illustrating aspects of hard alpine climbing. Mark lived most of them. Acquaintances and friends related the others. Consider Extreme Alpinism a report from the edge.

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