I first met Mark TVight when he worked at the North Face outdoors shop in Seattle's University District in 1982. He stood out even then—brash, confrontational, passionate, opinionated, theatrical, angry, funny, and driven, I liked him right away, but I had no idea what he would become, I was a climber of long experience but modest accomplishment and less ambition. I valued the times I bumbled into extreme situations. Making life-and-death decisions and willing my way to safety put some steel in my soul, but I never sought to place myself in jeopardy, and I looked toward the next inadvertent test with dread. Mark, on the other hand, needed to push limits all the time. Still, we became friends, and I followed his career through correspondence and in the mountaineering press.
In the next decade Mark focused on transforming himself, forging a new body, mind, and identity. He used alpinism as his crucible. At first his reach often exceeded his grasp, and he would return bitterly disappointed when he fell short, but each failure spurred him to overcome his faults. In a few short years he vaulted to the top of American alpinism, putting up routes in the purest style around the world. Although keen for recognition, Mark cared more about the style of the climb and the quality of the experience than nabbing a summit.
As impressive as his successes were, t was most impressed by his failures because they revealed depths of character that success never taps. I believe that his near-tragic experience on the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat is one of the great survival stories in mountaineering. While luck played a critical role, the strength, experience, and mental toughness of the team allowed them to fight their way to safety when others might have wilted and died.
As the years passed and Mark told me about his experiences, I noticed that his approach differed from common practices seen in less demanding mountaineering. His attention to every detail and issue seemed almost obsessive, and his knowledge was encyclopedic. I suggested that he and I collaborate on creating a book to document the world of extreme alpinism. It turned out he had already prepared notes for such a project, so we were on our way. I acted as amanuensis and photographer as we created a book that arose from Mark's experience, speaks in his voice, expresses his opinions, and reflects his character.
Mark has climbed with many of the world's best alpinists. During his apprenticeship he learned the open secret that at the edge of the possible, the rules and techniques of climbing become quite different from the nostrums aimed at beginners. Mark and his partners have tested the conventional wisdom and modified it when they found it wanting. This book distills the lessons Mark has learned in almost two decades of pushing his limits.
Mark TVvight n earing the top of the Frendo Spur on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi, Chamortix, France. Photo: © James Martin n
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