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Extreme Alpinism – Climbing Light, Fast, and High

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Mark Twight’s book is unique among mountaineering tomes: it’s considered kind of a master class taught by one of the acknowledged masters of alpine climbing.

Many of his routes in Asia, North America, and the Alps remain unrepeated.

Me, I’m scared of heights.

Even looking out the window of a tall building makes me woozy.

But I heard so much about this book I decided to buy it and read it.

And it was worth every penny of the $18.45 I paid for it at amazon.

You don’t have to know a cramp from a crampon to enjoy and benefit from the wisdom of this hard, practical, no-nonsense man.

I love competence, and this book reeks of it.

The pictures alone are worth the price of admission.

Some excerpts:

    At the edge of the possible, the rules and techniques of climbing become quite different from the nostrums aimed at beginners.

    Character means more than strength or skill.

    Extreme alpinism is a matter of will.

    In a dangerous environment, speed is safety. Climbing routes at the edge of the possible is akin to playing Russian roulette. Each time the cylinder spins, the chance of firing a live cartridge increases. Therefore, “keep moving” is the mantra of the extreme climber. The idea of speed permeates this book.

    Beware of accidentally succeeding on a route above your ability. Success tends to breed ambition. The next time, a route of similar difficulty and danger may deliver the hard lesson that a single success at a high level may represent luck and not skill.

    Nobody controls a situation in the mountains. It is vanity to imagine one can. Instead, grow comfortable with giving up control and acting within chaos and uncertainty.

    When self-discipline fails and and fear runs unchecked, the spiral into panic is not far off. Panic is uncontrolled, undirected fear and as such is unproductive. Panic blocks thought. If you can’t think, you die.

    In his book about soloing Nanga Parbat, Reinhold Messner wrote: “I only plan ahead when it is absolutely necessary. I believe in being independent – and that means I do not want to be dependent on my future.”

    The goal of physical training for alpine climbing can be summed up in one phrase: to make yourself as indestructible as possible. The harder you are to kill, the longer you will last in the mountains.

    Learn to turn back before losing all ability to influence what will happen to you.

    A bad attitude for a climber bears little resemblance to the usual meaning of the term. Many climbers complete hard routes out of rage or despair – some make a lifestyle out of it. These are atttitudes that some people might call “bad.” I define a bad attitude as a mental state that prevents you from realizing your desires.

    A good attitude consists of a psychological state that allows and spurs you to reach a goal. Both equanimity and rage could qualify. Personal torment has inspired great climbs and great creations. Outsiders may view torment as a negative state of mind or bad attitude. But confusion, questioning, and doubt often act as fountains of creativity, producing great works of art and action. They meet my definition of good attitudes.

    Unlike other sports disciplines, high-level alpinism becomes more dangerous the more you do it. The drug-like demands of harder, higher, lighter, faster have killed most of the very best climbers the world has ever seen.

    When Velcro ices over, it won’t close.

    Rock and ice fall is so common in the mountains that only a fool climbs without a helmet.

    Dexamethasone can mean the difference between flying home coach class or arriving there by freight.

    Remember, it doesn’t have to be fun to be “fun.”

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