This is a short post for you. I just need to get this notion of a summit game out there. It is quintessential and underlying most climbing stories. Dawn Hollis’ book, when it comes out next year, will indirectly uncover our modern perspective better, but for now, let me point it out this way.
Kristen Harila’s announcement that she climbed Cho Oyu and thereby completed reaching the true summits of all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks in record time got me thinking about reaching the true summits. She tagged the 14 tops in 12 months and five days.
But didn’t Nims Purja climb them in six months and six days? Of course he did. Well, actually he climbed them but missed two true summits. He returned to those peaks so the time clock kept ticking. Purja’s total elapsed time was actually two years five months and 15 days, despite a lot of popular media still citing the other figure. I think the nuance over true summits is a little ridiculous, as a recreational climber, except when I start comparing and contrasting his efforts and style to others competing on speed, it was as if he hit a triple but missed stepping on first base by an inch. If you play the summit game, and these days, most climbers that aren’t focused on routes alone do, the precise summit matters.
To the best of my knowledge, Harila reached the true tops. But her climb is unique in style; heavily supported, rather than lead, and was using supplemental oxygen. Good; it’s a lower bar for the next climber to try to beat.
Personally, I think Purja and Harila are both in separate categories within different approaches to the climb. The ultimate model of purity is still Jerzy Kukuzcka. He reached all fourteen with oxygen and by new routes.
Our chosen objective is climbing can be about quality time with friends on a mountain in wilderness, testing our fitness and skills, and seeking euphoria. Most of the stories we tell are spurred by a quest for firsts, new routes, and reaching the tops. The media, most of all, loves a higher grade and a true summit. The game we play and its variations are about the top. I do it. You do too. Less than that is called failure, which is just as made up as the game we play. It’s a beautiful game, but we take for granted that what we talk about and what we are all really are seeking from our climbs is more than the top.
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