Contraindications by Alison Criscitiello Nominated for Banff Article Award

Squamish bouldering (All rights reserved)

The Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival is in the fourth year of going beyond honoring great films and books to also awarding great mountaineering articles. This year there are four finalists that are all outstanding, but for different reasons.

James Edward Mills wrote “The Force of the Soul” in the Alpinist 60 to profile a racially significant, yet underrated climber named Hughes Beauzille. Andrew Allport wrote “Suicides and Pirates” in the March 2018 issue of The Climbing Zine, which was a personal tour of the climbing life that I have since reread twice (making a total of three reads.) Ed Douglas wrote “The Other Annapurna” in the July 2018 issue of Rock and Ice, which goes into a significant climb on Annapurna’s South Face by Yannick Graziani and Stéphane Benoist that was overshadowed by the frenzy around another alpinist on the same face (sorry, there is no link to the article available.)

Alison Criscitiello wrote the most haunting of the finalists in “Contraindications” in Alpinist 59.

As Alison points out in her bio, she loves the cold. To make a living, Alison is a glaciologist and Technical Director of the Canadian Ice Core lab at University of Alberta. She also serves as a climbing ranger for Parks Canada and has guided expeditions to peaks in the Andes, Alaska, and the Himalaya. Her track record and consistency has also earned her grants to help her climb professionally, including the 2016 Mugs Stump Award (here is the announcement from Alpinist), which she received with her climbing partner Anna Smith, to attempt Brahmasar II and The Fortress in the Garhwal Himalaya, India. That’s where Alison’s bio stops and where “Contraindications” takes over.

Alison opens with several anecdotes, that, if like me, upon first reading, you don’t know why these stories of she and Anna in the mountains are so important to what is about to happen. We learn how close they were, and how much Alison deeply admired Anna. Alison’s prose in each one are both precise and mysterious — precise in that I can see and feel the cold air and pine trees below, but I feel like we’re destined to see a spirit.

Her language is precise in illustrating through examples how different she and Anna were. Before they leave for their big expedition to the Garhwal Himalaya, Anna texts Alison to say how nervous she was. Alison replies even if they didn’t make any summits, she would guard Anna’s life like a sister, and she would still be happy. Anna texted back: “Oh, I’ll get over it.” Was it the nervousness or the summit? But Alison successfully established their bond.

In the Garhwal, Alison and Anna had to change their objective because of the effects of the monsoon on their destination. After consulting Freddie Wilkinson, who had established “daring” new routes in the region a few years earlier, they headed for the Himachal Pradesh, sheltered from the monsoon where, according to Wilkinson, there was “alpine gnar galore.”

As the two of them had done dozens of times in less remote locales for years, Alison and Anna went into the backcountry seeking unknown objectives. Here, Alison tells us of examples of what I think we all do when we go to new places a little excited but completely unfamiliar, we think of comforts: ” I felt as though I were rising through layers of dreams. Flashes of home life — turning on the kettle for coffee, watering the jade plant that sits on my pine desk — came vibrantly to mind, then faded away.”

After arriving at their advanced base camp they started to advance to the peaks, but Anna lips turned white and turned short of breath then vomited. It looked like AMS. They started to descend back to ABC, but it became clear that it was ketoacidocis — complications of diabetes. For three days, Alison watched Anna as she “shuffled around slowly in a thirty-foot radius of our base camp tent.”

It’s a tragedy, but here’s where I will let you read the article for yourself, but with this one passage:

At night, I shattered into the landscape. Images of Anna — skipping across the river ahead of me, watching tennis and eating sesame bagels in Canmore, shaking the tent on Mt. Robson with laughter, running and climbing and drinking whiskey in Skaha — suddenly lost shape and faded, and I descended into murky, bogged woods where a shape-shifting threat waited behind an oak tree at night, hiding something behind its back. Terrified of getting out of my sleeping bag, I talked to Anna and clenched tiny prayer flags in my fist. I repeated Om mani padme hum for hours until the sun rose, dim auburn on the horizon. My only true belief is in science. It is absolutely absurd and out of my character that I was chanting. I did anything I could to distract my mind.

I had to look up contraindications in the dictionary. It’s mainly used in medicine and is the opposite of indications, as in indicating and directing the use of a particular medicine. But contraindications are the signs that point to not using medicine. After Alison sent messages to Anna’s mother and Anna’s partner from base camp, Alison contemplates the hardest question of love and risk: “What, really, was contraindicated? Oxygen-starved alpine objectives and a family and community at home held close? Climbing and falling in love?”

I read all four finalists, and I think Alison Criscitiello’s “Contraindications” in Alpinist 59 is deserving of the Banff article award. Read it for yourself and let me know what you thought, email, send me a message; I’m not hard to reach.

For a little more background on Anna Smith and her final visit to the mountains, the CBC published this online article with several photos that also appeared in Alpinist.

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Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei

2018 Banff Mountain Book Competition Nominee, Tabei’s and Rolfe’s Honouring High Places.

When my friend Rick Wood was still working at Rocky Mountain Books, the mountain book publisher in British Columbia, he and I exchanged emails about some of their upcoming projects. The one he was most excited about he couldn’t talk about, at least not yet. He just said: just wait!

Several months later what I was waiting for arrived in my mailbox. It was a significant new book for the publisher and the English language as a whole. Helen Y. Rolfe worked with texts from Junko Tabei, whom Rolfe knew, to bring Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei to life. It was written by Junko Tabei and Helen Y. Rolfe and translated by Yumiko Hiraki and Rieko Holtved (Victoria, BC: Rocky Mountain Books 2017.) Although we all know that she was the first woman to reach the top of Mount Everest and the first woman to complete the seven summits (the Puncak Jaya or Messner version,) there was less context for the challenges she overcame to accomplish so many great climbs.

What shined through Honouring High Places is Tabei’s spirit, which was extremely aware of herself and everything and everyone around her. And she wanted everyone to share in what she saw in the world, though she seemed to encourage it by urging her readers to go outside and explore new challenges for themselves.

Tabei wrote about how her birth in Fukushima Prefecture, a rural community, first distinguished her among her urban classmates in the city, later in life. She had a country girl accent, which stood out. She was also the dreamer, yet conscious of everyone’s limited imagination: When her women’s mountaineering club was organizing an expedition to Mount Everest, Tabei writes: “A common response was: ‘Wow! Himalayas! I would love to go, even just to see Everest.’ Then, ‘But … I don’t have that much skill, or time, or money….,’ and so on. I found it difficult to hear people crush their dreams with the word ‘but,'” (Tabei 128.) In fact, her attitude of “I will go on” without any excuse or any “but” to offer was her hallmark.

There was a disproportionate amount of chapters on the Everest expedition, for my taste. While it is what she is most known for, the other seven summits were much less encumbered with expedition and media politics; perhaps for that there really was more to tell; there certainly was more drama. Learning about her roots in the country, to trying to come to form in the big city, and navigating the mountaineering clubs hierarchy, was the most unique and enriching part of her story.

Rolfe bound together Tabei’s writings from several sources and leveraged Yumiko Hiraki and Rieko Holtved as translators to get to, what Rolfe understood to be, Tabei’s original tone and intent, regardless of the change of language. While previous interviews with Tabei have an affectionate and admiring tone, here Tabei’s energy and everlasting enthusiasm and observations left this reader impressed by the contrast to previous works, as well as feeling ready for my next challenge, regardless what the final outcome might be (Tabei’s enthusiasm is infectious, even in the written word.)

Tabei’s and Rolfe’s work with Yumiko Hiraki and Rieko Holtved has since been nominated in two prestigious competitions: Banff Mountain Book Competition (literature-nonfiction category), and the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature.

It’s a significant book that deserves a place on your bookshelf.

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What I Am Reading Now and the Right Sized Home Town

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Quite a week when all this arrived, plus another book just weeks earlier. (All rights reserved.)

I recently visited Portland, Maine for the first time on my way to take-in some trails further northeast. I really enjoyed the restaurants in and around South Portland in particular. I have always heard great things about the city (and they’re all true,) but I couldn’t help but compare it to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After much thought, Portland felt bigger than Lancaster, making Lancaster the ideal size for me. When I looked up the population, Portland had just 10,000 more people; I guess that’s my tipping point.

When I do need a “big city” (which I actually don’t,) I go back and visit friends in the Washington, DC area where I moved from. In fact, I’m hoping one of my climbing writing friends who has a Banff Mountain Book Competition book on the 2018 shortlist will be visiting those of you in DC very soon to do a book reading and signing. I recommended the usual event spaces for things like that, like Patagonia Georgetown, the new (is it still “new”?) REI flagship store, or one of the climbing gyms; I urged him to go to my favorite, Sportrock Alexandria. We’ll see and I’ll update everyone on Facebook and Twitter.

Well, I thought as I haven’t posted in a little while that I would start by updating you on what’s on my list. No award nominees right now. I hope to have a few new book reviews for you this fall, including a book that was just released from Rocky Mountain Books. I’ll let you know when I have that.

Alpinist 63 — Always stop, drop everything else, and read Alpinist. In this issue, Pete Tekeda completes the lengthy Mountain Profile on Nanda Devi. And I must admit to be being a sucker for stories about the supposed edge or future of alpinism, and I think Jumbo Yokoyama’s article on K7 West fits the bill. I am also really excited to see so many bylines in 63 that I haven’t read before.

The Glorious Mountains of Vancouver’s North Shore: A Peakbagger’s Guide by David Crerar, Harry Crerar, and Bill Maurer, published by Rocky Mountain Books (2018) — I love the Coast Range and I liked Vancouver very much when Natalie and I visited in 2008, just when their Winter Olympics were building up. This guidebook is bright, beautiful, and sets expectations for every reader by providing the traditional narrative (thought the print is a bit small) and a fantastic bullet summary made for bona fide peak baggers. It makes it simple to consider and compare to other mountains: The guide gives warnings, rates things out of five like “bang for buck” and “peak view,” and — I love this — says where there is and is not reliable cell coverage. Of course trails and mountaintops that overlook the sea are pretty compelling by themselves. Go get a copy and buy a plane ticket!

Blisters and Bliss: A Trekkers Guide to the West Coast Trail by David Foster and Wayne Aitken, Illustrated by Nelson Dewey 6th edition, published by B&B Publishing (2010) — The first edition was out in 1989 and it has quite the following, even if you haven’t or don’t plan to hike this short trail. The West Coast Trail is a relatively short, but complicated obstacle course, with a variation along the “beach” and the woods in some portions. Unlike other hiking trails, you need a tide chart and a watch to safely navigate this trail. The guidebook is sometimes tongue-in-cheek with comments and illustrations that never take itself too seriously. I just finished and highly recommend it.

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The current reading stack. (All rights reserved.)

2018 American Alpine Journal, 2018 Accidents in North American Climbing, and the American Alpine Club’s 2018 Guidebook to Membership — Members of the American Alpine Club receive this all around the beginning-to-mid-August. the 2018 Guidebook to Membership is the sixth they’ve published and is part magazine, part program directory, and part annual report and is surprisingly anything but dull. I’ll be digging into the new AAJ and ANAC in the next few weeks.

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Why Your Photos of the Summit View Are Overrated

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What’s Truly Importatnt? (All rights reserved)

In 2004, my beloved Uncle Tom, the man who made me a backpacker and a mountain climber, passed away after battling cancer for seven years. My sister took charge of the memorial service for my aunt and my three cousins. At the funeral home we filled his hiking boots and his signature external framepack with flowers.

My sister collected photos of Tom with the people from his life. Tom and my mom at the lake. Tom and his wife before they had kids. Tom and his kids. Tom and his best friend Marv in the camping. Big multi-generational family portraits at family gatherings at church or on vacation.

Slowly it became clear to us that something was missing. Why wasn’t there a photo of just Tom and me?
Momentum

Invariably, my life would be interrupted like this, just as it was on this Tuesday twenty years ago:

After I drove home from my afternoon college classes, my mom would tell me her brother called for me and wanted to know if I was free that weekend. I would go to the kitchen and pull the wireless phone off the wall hoping it was sufficiently charged. Uncle Tom was an environmental engineer for a chemical company in Niagara Falls, and for whatever reason he was home that afternoon. Without explanation, he said he wanted to “do” Mount Gothics and see if we could “bag” Saddleback and the Moose Jaws too. All were peaks in the Adirondack Mountains and on his tick list to becoming a “46r,” a person who climbed all 46 peaks over 4,000-feet in the park.

I was in; I was always in. I was never moved to be a 46r, but I liked that Uncle Tom’s tick list kept him going back, and more importantly, inviting me to go with him.

This particular weekend was different. We wouldn’t be back by Sunday morning for church. And I had a college math exam on Monday morning. I was pushing the limits on what was proper. I felt guilty. But I also had no doubt that I had to go.

Friday morning came and I was in math class. I wore some unusual for typical day at school: a button-down moisture-wicking shirt and pants that unzipped to become shorts. This wasn’t something that was done in Buffalo. Afterward, I drove straight home and met Uncle Tom. Tom had wiry hair, glasses that were out of style by a decade, and an old external frameback from REI when REI was something exotic on the east coast. My mom gave me a hug, before I buckled into Tom’s Mazda, and we drove away, with the Beach Boys blaring, down 90 East toward Syracuse before heading north and over the Blue Line, a fabled demarcation between the everyday and the Adirondacks.

We hiked in the dark to the nearest campsite. We were passed by hikers older than me much much younger than my Uncle Tom. We were quite the pair ourselves, about 35 years apart.

Two Cameras

At the trailhead we focused on the map and going out to find a rhythm that suited us, as a team, despite our differences in age. At camp, we worked together to use our shared stove to make a hearty dinner of pasta and spicy sausage. On some trips, I would ask Uncle Tom to take my photo by lean-to or snap a shot of him cooking on the towering stove apparatus. On the trail, we got back into our rhythm; sometimes I would get farther ahead and then wait. We agreed to stick together. We’d take out our cameras at vistas and at the summits.

Uncle Tom Collage

Tom brought us to Bluff Island on Middle Saranac Lake and showed me Algonquin Peak before I ever went to the top again and again. (All rights reserved)

At the top, we used our own cameras to each record a photo of the summit marker from placed there by the US Geologic Survey. Usually after that, I always handed my camera to Tom to take my photo at the top with a dramatic background. I’d take a photo of him.

I admired my older brother, to my envy, became an squad leader in the Marine Corps. He taught me to make a Marine smile in photos, which was really a stoic face. Uncle Tom fixed that; “Smile!” He’d say sternly. “You don’t want people to think you’re miserable out here or your mother or one day your wife won’t let you go.”

No more tough guy. In my photos, especially the one’s Tom snapped of me on the trail, I was authentic, from the inside out, from that point on.

The Scrapbook

I started making photo albums of the trips during college and updating them almost immediately after returning from the trip. Everything was on film back then. I even started carrying two recyclable cameras; one traditional rectangular frame and one panoramic. Around the time of Tom’s memorial service preparations, I had pictures of him, but I realized I never asked anyone to snap one of the two of us. And neither did he. Ever.

Earlier this year, I started taking all of my photos out of the albums to start making a proper scrapbook. I planned to include the photos, captions, parts of maps, and summit badges where I had them. I asked my mother whether she had any photos to share that I might have missed. The next time I saw her she handed me an envelope with about twenty photos I didn’t have and one of them was from the top of Mount Jo before I really started hiking. It was just Tom and me with the Algonquin Range in the background. It wasn’t the perfect shot, but there we were together.

My scrapbook had plenty of photos of vistas and peaks I’d been atop and valleys I’ve scampered through. I could share photos of cobalt blue sky days and stormy scenes. I could show you my favorite trees covered in snow or basking in summer sunshine. But the scenes didn’t tell the story of how I got there or why I was there. It illustrated the results of my Uncle Tom’s influence on my life, but didn’t let me show you how joyful my uncle and I were together during those trips.

My advice today is that you take the photos that really matter. Don’t overtake pictures of the view. Remember to take the selfie with your climbing or hiking partner or have someone else snap the shot. Looking back 20 years, those are the photos I want most. If I had mine with Tom, it would be on my desk next to me where I write.

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Lam Babu Deserved More Respect

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Alpine start. (All rights reserved)

Yesterday afternoon I got a text that read: “Everest used in publicity stunt gone wrong…. what is climbing coming to???”

There was no link, no context.

I don’t have the courage to repeat my flip reply. I engaged in name calling. I meant what I said. But I’ll leave it at that.

When my snarky reflex muscles relaxed a moment, I searched for the details and this from Fox News popped up as the top result, which was only hours old: “Sherpa feared dead on Mount Everest following ASKfm’s cryptocurrency publicity stunt.”

Essentially, a Sherpa made it to the summit and left a wallet with cryptocurrency to be found by some else with the interest and resources to go climb the mountain to go get it. What was this supposed to do? Cause a mad dash of money-grabbing, possibly inexperienced climbers to buy a ticket, hire a guide, and wait for the weather window? Was this the mountain version of the 1965 movie The Great Race?

ASKfm left $50,000 in digital funds in its wallet at the top. Considering an attempt costs about $40,000, there’s not much of a margin to make.

The worst part, and probably the only reason this story crossed my path when it did, Fox News and other media outlets, was the irony that one of its team members, Lam Babu Sherpa, who allegedly was left behind on the descent, was missing, and later determined to be dead. And ASKfm’s news release about the stunt omits this. Any death on any climb can’t go unacknowledged. Despite some ideas to the contrary, it is extremely rare for a climber to accept the risk of death as a possible outcome so absolute fashion to be nonchalant about it. This event taints the story. It also bugs me that the advertisers, and the climbers burying the wallet on the summit, didn’t treat the death differently. It should have canceled the publicity.

I like climbing, but the general climbing news from Everest is rarely worthwhile these days. It also ruins or suppresses the better stories about climbing, including climbing Everest.

For me, if it has to be news from Everest, I prefer this one. My sister recently came across an old issue of Sports Illustrated and immediately thought of me and saved it until I visited Upstate New York during Memorial Day. If I have to see climbing in the mainstream news, I wish is was more like this:

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Fritz Wiessner Has a Woods and a Bar but Here’s Why He Deserves More

Good morning, K2. (All rights reserved)

The trees rose from a cushion of pine needles to great heights with silence, except for a gentle rustling of branches through refracted rays of sunlight. Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak, with their ski trails — with once the highest aerial tram in the world — rose from this valley, but none of this could be seen or sensed through the woods. When we left our Subaru in the trailhead parking lot, we were in his territory.

I walked with one trekking pole while little Wunderkind walked with the other. Schnickelfritz was riding in the kid carrier on my back. Their mother and grandparents understood the significance of these woods here in Stowe, Vermont — the reason we came — but I had to tell the story of its namesake with a little more color for Wunderkind and Schnickelfritz. The Stowe Land Trust owns the 79 acres that makes up Wiessner Woods, which is the only permanent memorial to Fritz Wiessner.

While there were many stories to share, the one Wunderkind and Schnickelfritz had to know was from K2 on July 19, 1939. It was late in the day. Wiessner had climbed up above 26,000 feet (roughly 8,000 meters) on second-highest mountain in the world, which was 28,251 feet (8,611 meters) tall, with Pasang Lama without supplemental oxygen. They were alone; they had no radio or way of communicating down the peak to their teammates. They climbed up steep, black rock and were nearly to a point where the rock stopped and it was merely snow all the way to the top, at about 27,500 (8,382 meters). Wiessner was on the cusp to be the first person to climb K2. Except it was getting dark and Pasang was scared; he believed evils spirits dwelt on the summit at night. “No, Sahib,” Pasang said to Wiessner. With his partner unwilling or unable to go, Wiessner turned around with Pasang.

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A mere 79 acres of joy. (Natalie Stern)

Sadly, while Wiessner intended to return, he never would. His high point would stand for 15 years, until Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli became the first people to stand atop K2 in 1954. But Wiessner’s and Pasang’s record for reaching so high on K2 without supplemental oxygen would stand for nearly 40 years, when Louis Reichardt and John Roskelley climbed the mountain without supplemental oxygen in 1978 in only the mountains third ascent to date.

Since then, my kids set up the tent and grabbed their toy hammers as pseudo ice axes to pretend they are climbing K2. Wouldn’t you?

WORTH DRINKING OVER

The forested cushion of pine needles that make the floor of the Wiessner Woods doesn’t actually stop at its edges. The same woods rolls onto an adjacent 26-acre hillside where a rustic post-modern ski lodge called the Stowehof commands views of Mount Mansfield. It has a German-Austrian alpine flair at its core, that is best celebrated with it’s recently renamed bar.

Fritz Bar is cozy and has private corners and tables to make an evening intimate. It is also decorated with photos of Fritz Wiessner, with his hairless head and broad smile, surrounded by mountains and adorned with thick hemp ropes. I dropped in after our visit to the Wiessner Woods to buy Natalie, her parents, and I a round, get the kids a salted pretzel to share, and toast Fritz.

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At the Stowehof, down to the Fritz Bar. (All rights reserved)

Not everyone was always willing to toast Fritz Wiessner, however. Shortly after moving to the United States from Germany in 1929, Wiessner had raised the standard of American climbing at several remarkable North American destinations. In 1938, the American Alpine Club had secured permission to send an expedition to attempt K2 and they’re first choice to lead the team was Wiessner. However, his ski-wax business in Vermont had too many orders to fulfill so he graciously turned them down, and the AAC turned to Charles Houston instead.

Houston thought Wiessner’s decline had dubious intent almost immediately; why would he turn down K2? Both Houston and Wiessner knew that the AAC had a permits to attempt K2 for two years, so if Houston’s team failed to make the top, Wiessner could learn from Houston’s mistakes and get the glory. Although The New York Times celebrated the team’s high mark of 26,000 feet (roughly 8,000 meters), Houston was bitter. Not to get too far along into Houston’s life story, this illustrates how much ownership he claimed to K2’s first ascent: The year after his second attempt, and the year before he was to use his permit for an attempt in 1955, Houston briefly went missing and suffered from global amnesia after hearing the news that the Italians finally climbed K2.

The sad story that came out of Wiessner’s 1939 expedition was bad news for Wiessner and overshadowed all of Wiessner’s other accomplishments. While Wiessner and Pasang made it to 27,500 feet, Dudley Wolfe, the expedition’s primary financier was languishing and dying at Camp VII. With the exception of Wiessner, the 1939 team was by far a weakest group that climbed high on any Himalayan peak prior to the HImalaya’s Golden Age in the 1950s and 1960s. Wolfe was an enthusiastic, though inexperienced,  adventurer. Wiessner knew this, and despite this, he sincerely wanted to help Wolfe to the top. Except, Wolfe’s inexperience, lack of fitness, and the overriding effects of altitude took it’s toll. Critics blamed Wiessner both generally as leader and specifically for allowing Wolfe to climb and stay so high for so long, and finally not for returning for him (though the risks were significant, and his condition was too far gone.) Combine anti-German sentiment that festered during the years during and after World War II, Wiessner’s reputation was tarnished, and in some circles, his wrongdoings were exaggerated into shameless smears.

In the 1930s we were just beginning to understand the devastating effects of prolonged exposure to high altitude on the human body. No one had ever stayed in a high camp so long as Dudley Wolfe had before. Wolfe could climb up well enough with help, but descending the steep grade was a bit more technical. Wiessner, by contrast, raced up and down the mountain and in between camps, in a valiant effort to position his team to reach the top. Both men wanted to reach the summit, and Fritz probably, foolishly yet earnestly, promised it to him.

Despite the tragedy of the 1939 expedition, I sat down to toast Fritz. And I remembered Dudley Wolfe too.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENTS

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No, Sahib / Prost, Fritz (All rights reserved)

Wiessner was born in Dresden, Germany in 1901. After an impressive climbing career in Europe, Wiessner left Germany for the United States in 1929 for the chance to improve his beyond what Dresden and Germany offered. He quickly demonstrated that his climbing skills were beyond what had ever been attempted by Americans, making a similar impact to what Austrian-immigrant Conrad Kain had in Canada.

Between 1931 and 1937, he worked up quite the resume. Here are the most historically significant:

  • Cannon Cliff, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains;
  • Wallface Mountain, in New York’s Adirondacks;
  • Making the first-free ascent of the iconic Devils Tower rising up from Wyoming (predecessor’s used excessive aid); and
  • Climbing the mysterious Mount Waddington, in the Coast Range of British Columbia, Canada.

On K2, what also makes his high point so remarkable was his sharp analysis of the risks on the route past the bottleneck, where an oversized serac haunts the path to the top. Although it has been generally stable (and when it hasn’t been the consequences have been tragic,) Wiessner didn’t know that. Wiessner avoided the bottleneck and the hanging glacier by climbing the steep rock band to the left, which no one had climbed since. Ed Viesturs wrote, in his book on K2 he wrote with David Roberts:

It’s not easy to judge other people’s climbs, but I’d venture to say that nothing of comparable difficulty at such an altitude would be performed by anybody during the next nineteen years, until Walter Bonatti and Carlo Mauri’s brilliant first ascent of Gasherbrum IV in 1958.

After the 1939 expedition, Wiessner was the subject of an unprecedented investigation and accusations of being a Nazi spy. The AAC investigated the failure and criticisms of the climb, including what lead up to Wolfe’s demise. Though it was not a court of law, the conclusions loaded all judgment on Wiessner. As Ed Viesturs and David Roberts put it: “And Frtiz Wiessner was a German-American, at perhaps the worst time in the twentieth century to be one.” Two members of the investigating committee, Al Lindley and Robert Underhill, stood by Wiessner and disagreed with reports. Underhill wrote, that despite many poor circumstances:

Wiessner, and Wolfe behind him, was the only one who still wanted to climb the mountain… [T]his leads me to appreciate Wiessner the more. He had the guts — and there is no single thing finer in a climber, or in a man.

Wiessner passed away at his home in Stowe, Vermont in July 1988. While his moments on K2 were what everyone reads about, he lead a life where he shared climbing with others, particularly younger climbers, and had the enduring respect of his community. The blemishes from the turmoil of aftermath of the 1939 expedition are hard to forget, but Wiessner remains a constant light and joyful in what the mountains and climbing could bring. Perhaps Wiessner deserves more than a woods and a bar.

VERMONT AND THE ADIRONDACKS

When I stand in the Wiessner Woods, with the scent of pine always in the air, I feel much farther from the bustling ski resort at Mount Mansfield or event the sheik Stowehof. Maybe that’s why he liked it there.

While Wiessner had climbed major alpine peaks, and discovered landmark crags, like the Shawangunks outside New Paltz, New York, his favorite places were in Stowe and in a tiny corner of the Adirondacks that I touch on in this blog periodically: Wallface. Wiessner preferred going to and climbing at Wallface not because it was big, though it’s respectable in scale, not because it is firm because it’s a little chossy, but because it’s a long way from the road. It’s quiet. It’s rarely visited.

Wiessner never let the 1939 K2 expedition detract from his life, or hold him back from what he sought to do next. He lived his life. He had his children and grand children. He ran his business. He shared climbing with others. And he retreated for a respite, now and then, to the woods of Vermont, and sometimes making the long trek to Wallface.

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References: 1) Jennifer Jordan, The Last Man on the Mountain: The Death of An American Adventurer on K2 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010), 188-191. 2) Ed Viesturs with David Roberts, K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain (New York: Broadway Books, 2009), 151-153, 174-177. 3) Don Mellor, American Rock: Region, Rock, and Culture in American Climbing (Woodstock, Vermont: Countryman Press, 2001), 68-69.