I've retreated from an alarming number of routes during my career. Sometimes 1 fled storms; other times technical difficulty defeated me. Often I forgot to eat and drink enough, so my strength fizzled, and along with it my confidence. Sometimes I was scared, plain and simple. I've failed in the hut by realizing, the instant my feet hit the cold floor, that I couldn't do what I wanted to do. The hours sleeping in the wake of a decision like that are some of the most refreshing I've had. And I failed at 27,500 feet on Everest after four attempts on a new route in the lightest of styles: no bottled oxygen, no fixed rope, no climbing rope, no sleeping bag—just one partner, my tools, a pad, a stove, and a shovel. 1 wasn't willing to risk doing "just a little more"—the same "just a little more" that distinguishes the good from the great,
I failed 1.200 feet below the top of the biggest wall in the world—the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat—after climbing just under 14,000 vertical feet in five days. 1 failed to climb a new route on the 10,000-vertical-foot north face of Pic Communism because I misinterpreted conditions both on the face and in my head. 1 wanted to be the guy in the magazine who soloed the hard, new route. Unfortunately my mind wasn't in the mood. I retreated. TWenty-four hours later, I soloed the Czech Route on the same face, a climb more closely corresponding to my state of mind. I knew myself, but it took failure from eight pitches up the virgin line to make me see what I needed.
I've failed on routes because J did not know how to do them, but each attempt was another foray into the classroom. I usually graduated with enough information to complete the climb. The route called Beyond Good and Evil, on the north face of the Aiguille des Pelerins in the French Alps, required three visits to the schoolroom before we figured out how to do it. I retreated twice from the South Pillar of Nuptse, even in the company of a much wiser climber, because for me the route should have been ten years in the future. Blind, foolish ambition coaxed me onto the wall. I'm glad I lived through it.
I have failed a lot. But my attitude toward failing and toward learning keeps me from considering myself a failure. I learn ten times more from every miscarry than from any success. The knowledge 1 gain gives me the confidence to return to these faces and attempt them again, or to try bigger, harder routes several years down the raad. I know how to get down off any mountain, and I can do so in almost any conditions. These skills and this confidence allow me to progress instead of repeating myself, and to imagine the evolutionary routes of my future.
Mark Itoight In Kahiltna Base Camp, Alaska. Sometimes after failing the only thing to do Is get good and drunk. Photo: O Michael Kennedy
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