Majka Burhardt climbing Repentance in 2012. Brian Post

In the winter of 1973, two climbers marched to the base of a 400-foot frozen waterfall, which spilled down the sheer granite flanks of New Hampshire’s Cathedral Ledge. The climb, named Repentance, had been ascended in the summer, but clawing up the route in winter was a difficult and dangerous proposition.

The two climbers, John Bragg and Rick Wilcox, started up anyway. Mr. Bragg led the way, a new kind of ice ax lashed to each hand, tiptoeing on the glassy surface with the help of steel crampons strapped to his leather boots. Ice-climbing equipment was untrustworthy and untested; Mr. Wilcox recalled Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

K2, the second highest mountain in the world. Credit De Agostini, via Getty Images

It’s not often that a team of climbers attempts K2, the “Savage Mountain,” in winter.

Before this season, the world’s second-highest mountain, first climbed in 1954, had been tried only six times in the coldest months. Each effort ended in failure. Even so, last month two expeditions of Nepali climbers converged on the Godwin Austen Glacier in a remote corner of Pakistan to attempt the feat.

Neither of the groups was there to guide wealthy Western clients to the top and then take back seats to their accomplishments, as Nepalis in general and ethnic Sherpa in particular often do as the hired help.…  Seguir leyendo »

Alex Honnold at the 1,000-foot level of his free-solo climb of El Capitan. Credit Tom Evans

Alex Honnold woke up in his Dodge van last Saturday morning, drove into Yosemite Valley ahead of the soul-destroying traffic and walked up to the sheer, smooth and stupendously massive 3,000-foot golden escarpment known as El Capitan, the most important cliff on earth for rock climbers. Honnold then laced up his climbing shoes, dusted his meaty fingers with chalk and, over the next four hours, did something nobody had ever done. He climbed El Capitan without ropes, alone.

The world’s finest climbers have long mused about the possibility of a ropeless “free solo” ascent of El Capitan in much the same spirit that science fiction buffs muse about faster-than-light-speed travel — as a daydream safely beyond human possibility.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ueli Steck on the Col du Plan on the Aiguille du Midi mountain in Chamonix, France. Credit Jonathan Griffith

The Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck was probably the best mountain climber in the world. In a sport where a willingness to take risks is as crucial as fitness, he combined an Olympian’s physique and a calculated daring few could rival.

His death this weekend at age 40 — on the Nepalese Himalayan mountain Nuptse, which neighbors Mount Everest — on a training foray, came when he fell around 3,000 feet while climbing alone.

The equipment and terminology of conventional climbing are often difficult to convey to the layman. Solo climbing — which Steck excelled at — is not. It’s as dangerous as it looks.…  Seguir leyendo »

Josh Wharton, the author’s climbing partner, on day three of the pair’s first ascent of the Azeem Ridge, Great Trango Tower, Pakistan, in 2004. Credit Kelly Cordes

As a runt kid in a college town in Pennsylvania, I dreamed of grand adventures. Hidden treasures, human flight and sports, of course. I was going to be a football star. But in 10th grade, I weighed 85 pounds. The coaches refused to issue me equipment, breaking my heart but surely saving my life. Weight-class sports suited me better. I started boxing. My ethos was: train hard, never quit. It was enough to carry me to a collegiate national boxing title in 1990 (by then at 132 pounds). Then I moved to Montana for graduate school.

One day, one of my students mentioned that he was into climbing and was planning an ice-climbing trip.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mountaineering’s Greatest Climb Unravels

The greatest climb in the history of alpinism, a story of mythological proportions, occurred on Jan. 31, 1959. Cerro Torre, a 10,262-foot spire of granite, rises from the Southern Patagonia Ice Cap like a sharpened spear, so steep that climbing it had long been deemed impossible.

But in 1959, the Italian Cesare Maestri — the famed Spider of the Dolomites — and the Austrian Toni Egger made a futuristic dash to Cerro Torre’s summit. The ascent took a mere four days; the descent another three through a building storm. One of their teammates, anxiously awaiting their return, on the seventh day noticed a body lying in the snow below the mountain.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Calculus of Climbing at the Edge

Seven years ago, when I started free soloing long, hard routes in Yosemite — climbing without a rope, gear or a partner — I did it because it seemed like the purest, most elegant way to scale big walls. Climbing, especially soloing, felt like a grand adventure, but I never dreamed it could be a profession. However, over the years sponsors came to me one by one. I assumed that they wanted me to represent their companies because they supported what I was doing.

So it came as a shock last week when I came off a four-day climb of El Capitan in Yosemite to learn that Clif Bar, which had sponsored me for four years, had fired me along with four other well-known climbers: Dean Potter, Steph Davis, Cedar Wright and Timmy O’Neill.…  Seguir leyendo »

Isn’t climbing supposed to be one of “the” symbols of comradeship and team work? During the time Tenzing Norgay Sherpa — who would have been 100 years old Thursday — and Edmund Hillary climbed Everest in 1953, everyone was involved and shared the risk, the challenges and the joys of adventure.

How different it has been this year. As the world moves on to read of the next tragedy from Asia, the loss of 16 lives in an avalanche on Everest on April 18 at the start of the climbing season is for many likely to be yesterday’s news.

For us, though, our deep sense of sadness remains, only made worse by the tales of family and friends whom we have grown up or worked with in the Himalayan region.…  Seguir leyendo »

On a bright afternoon in June of 1922, the Mount Everest pioneer George Mallory was leading a group of 17 men tied together in three separate rope teams toward the North Col of the mountain when he heard an ominous sound, and turned to see an avalanche fracturing the steep slope above them.

Mallory and his rope mates were spared the brunt force of the slide, but the two teams following them — comprising 14 porters from Darjeeling, India — were swept down the mountain. Seven died. Mount Everest had claimed its first known victims.

One of Mallory’s companions, Howard Somervell, would later write, “I would gladly at that moment have been lying there dead in the snow, if only to give those fine chaps who had survived the feeling that we had shared their loss....”…  Seguir leyendo »

Sixty years ago this week, as Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay approached the summit of the world’s highest mountain, they were stopped by a 40-foot wall of rock and ice. It was, Hillary later wrote, “a formidable looking problem ...We realized that at this altitude it might well spell the difference between success and failure.”

Employing the skills he had learned in the New Zealand Alps, Hillary jammed his feet, hands and shoulders into a thin crack between a ridge of ice and the rock and, as he put it, “levered myself” up the wall. Then he brought Tenzing up on a tight rope, and together they climbed the final 300 feet to become the first humans to stand on the summit of Mount Everest.…  Seguir leyendo »

I am one of those people who can close their eyes and see Hillary and Norgay on the summit of Everest. I was born the year before that climb, and while I was growing up, Sir Edmund Hillary was the last word in simple, bold heroism. I quietly set him apart in my mind, knowing that I would probably never test my own limits of physical and mental endurance, as he did. What makes the news of his death Friday at age 88 so moving, was his modesty, the sense of a civilian heroism held in reserve apart from that one great moment.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sir Edmund Hillary was a mountain of a man. His physical presence was formidable, his spirit even more so. His face was as long and craggy as the Lhotse face he climbed on his way to the summit of Mount Everest, and his smile as bright as sun reflected off snow. When he conquered the world's highest mountain with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in May 1953, Hillary - and a new Queen - offered hope to the crumbling post-war British empire. For New Zealanders, and indeed for the Nepalese, he was and remains unmatched.

Countries will sometimes have a person who embodies the best of their national character.…  Seguir leyendo »

From when I was 3, I can only remember two things: shutting a little girl's finger in a door by accident in Bradford and the ascent of Everest by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing.

All else from those childish years has gone blank. There is no recollection of the Coronation of 1953; the concept of coronations is too complicated to lodge itself in a toddler's mind. But Everest and Bradford took hold, gripping the infant imagination. Bradford, because of fear. Not sympathy (I recall only a fervent wish the little girl would stop wailing), but fear that her mother would be angry.…  Seguir leyendo »

Por Rafael Argullol, escritor (EL PAÍS, 16/07/06):

Escuché en la radio que en los exámenes de Selectividad habían ofrecido a los estudiantes la posibilidad de comentar un texto sobre Rilke, y que esto constituía un acontecimiento, pero como, a continuación, me llamaron por teléfono no pude descifrar por qué se había convertido en acontecimiento algo que en principio debería ser normal. Incluso me parecía una buena noticia que Rainer Maria Rilke fuera objeto de comentario en un examen de literatura en estos tiempos tan poco sofisticados literariamente. Pero a los pocos días leí en un periódico la carta de un socio del R.…  Seguir leyendo »