It has been a long, long week.  My professors and my thesis are both ramping up because the quarter ends next Friday, so midterms need to be taken care of.  Despite the hustle and bustle and hours in the lab, I managed to find some time this week to make it to a pair of slide shows in the Portland area.  The first was that of Colin Haley, regarding his multiple climbs on Mt. Hunter up in Alaska, and the second was that of Steve House, chez Patagonia store, talking about the genesis of his book, Beyond the Mountain.  Both are world-class alpinists, but are characters of very different personality, who have two very different takes on climbing, which I found very interesting.

Colin Haley has been highlighted in Alpinist as a Young Alpinist on Fire, though he is known in the Pacific Northwest as a prolific climber in the North Cascades.  Even while he has devoted much of his energies towards iconic international ascents, especially in Patagonia, he also retains a solid presence in the local scene.  The climbing-culture forum, Cascade Climbers, even features Haley’s work Colin’s Equipment for Alpinism, a guide for the up-and-coming which is typical of his very helpful and approachable style.  While I think that Haley and House can find a lot of common ground in alpinism, (and indeed they did find such ground on the House-Haley route on the Emperor face of Mt. Robson in the Canadian Rockies) I don’t think that they’d agree about the goal of their climbing.  While for House “climbing is more about the process”, Haley spoke frankly about his belief that the summit is a very important element of a climb, even if topping out means a 7 hour slog after several days of world-class mixed climbing.  He even went so far as to voice his suspicion that those who stop at the top of the ‘difficulties’ and declare a route established after the major hurdles have been tackled do not forgo the top out of aesthetics or a fear of mediocre climbing, but because they’re tired, and that kind of work really sucks.  Words of the young and idealistic perhaps, but he was bold enough to belittle some achievements of the venerable Mugs Stump for just that reason.

House, on the other hand, is more like Mark Twight in that he values the process of climbing above any other aspect, accepting survival as success.  His is not an opinion to be lightly taken either, as he has been endorsed by Reinhold Messner as “the best high altitude climber in the world today”.  He won the Piolet d’Or in 2005 for his ascent of the central pillar of the Rupal Face on Nanga Parbat (4100m, M5 X, 5.9, WI4), thought to be the largest alpine face in the world.  In typical House style he called the ascent the culmination of “years of a physical and psychological journey”.  And come a long way he has; his slideshow quickly took us back to his 20th birthday at the base of Nanga Parbat under strange circumstances and then even earlier to his years in the boyscouts, when his acne-marked, buck-toothed grin stared out at us from the screen.  It would have been impossible then for him to imagine the long way that he has come since then, but I suspect that it is this “physical and psychological” journey which has sculpted his view of the mountain into a different form from that of Colin.

That is not to say that I think Haley’s approach immature and in need of temperance, but that a lifetime’s worth of mountains may change what one considers to be important in a climb.  For Haley, his climbs seem to be about whether he can successfully commit himself to the objective dangers of a route and succeed, whereas House seems to pick his routes both on aesthetic grounds and on the basis of which will take him deepest into his psyche.  While this might be a result of having spent far too much time in a tent with a younger Mark Twight, it is a practice worth noting and an idea worthy of significant consideration, because climbing is, in House’s words, an inherently selfish act.  So how might we as climbers best serve ourselves in our climbs?

Check out–

Colin Haley’s Blog:  Skagit Alpinism

Steve House’s Patagonia Profile:  Ambassador Steve House

and his Gym Jones Profile: Steve House

Also Recommended: Colin Haley’s Article “Going Square” in Alpinist 23.

Advertisements