I like to keep this anecdote in mind whenever I think about how most news about alpine climbing accomplishments and attempts arrive weeks or even months afterwards: When the Erie Canal was built in New York State the rate news moved across the state accelerated the pace of life. Reports of a crop failure or family events like death or childbirth often proceeded the usual message delivers, like the newspaper or family members.
Supposedly, this was the first Information Superhighway. It was even said to have created anxiety about how to process the new information at its new pace. I heard this story a couple of times from representatives of the Erie Canal National Heritage Area when I was working as a Congressional aide helping to support the region. It made me think about several things, including how news from areas without a lot of information and media infrastructure travels, especially from the remote mountain ranges.
Of course, things aren’t what they were a couple of decades ago. Hayden Kennedy wrote in Alpinist 39 what his legendary father, Michael, said to him once after a climb during the hike out: “Dad told me stories of the old days, when going on expeditions was like launching into space — no SAT phones, no video dispatches, no blogs — just the mountains and your partners.”
Today, this is rare. Even if your team left the electronics at home, another team on the same glacier or mountain may still be tweeting about your activities, let alone their own.
So I get a kick out of getting news — “freshly” reported — of climbing accomplishments from a few weeks or months ago. It means the activity evaded the information stream or the network had gaps. The thought of that is somewhat liberating! News is news to the recipient, not because it was delivered through the immediacy of 24-hour news.
A language barrier was one factor delaying reporting in this case; in April, Anze Cokl led a Slovenian expedition to the Revelation Mountains in Alaska and climbed 11 new routes, which including first ascents.
The less traveled ranges, as in the Revs or perhaps Sikkim, can still be good for this. The Revelation Mountains are part of the Alaska Range — which, contrary to common belief, are much greater and longer than what resides in Denali National Park and Preserve. It’s southwest of Denali and Northwest or Anchorage for reference. Still, many expeditions or alpine teams launch from Talkeetna, and the additional cost to get there dissuades many climbers, except the truly resourceful and committed, from exploring there.
The Revs were pioneered by David Roberts in the 1960s and more recently by Clint Helander. The little information that is available is limited to a mere few pages in David Roberts’ narrative On the Ridge Between Life and Death and a few more pages in the American Alpine Journal, most of which are by Roberts and Helander. Anze Cokl paid a visit to consult Helander before his team’s expedition in April.
The news and rumors of the Slovenian ascents may have also been delayed because of their dominant language and that they were filming a documentary of their exploration, which was not immediately produced. Even those they met in Alaska apparantly treated what they heard about their ascents with little fanfare; they went to the mountains and climbed. That may have been news enough.
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Sources: 1) PlanetMountain.com; 2) Anze Cokl’s website; and 3) Clint Helander.