Anthology ‘Vantage Point’ collects ’50 years of awesome’ from Climbing magazine
The Aspen Times
Compiled by the editors of Climbing
256 pages, hardcover; $26
Falcon, September 2018
In a new anthology, Climbing magazine collects the best first-person reports and essays printed in its pages since the magazine was founded in 1970.
Inspiring, funny, challenging and at times wistfully sad, the reports in “Vantage Point: 50 Years of the Best Climbing Stories Ever Told,” published in September by Falcon, are written by the climbers who were there on the big walls and summits, clinging to rocks and ice and boulders around the globe and here in our Colorado backyard.
These dispatches are typically written with the stoic cool that distinguishes men and women who spend their lives gripping and slipping on rock. The book is broken up by decade, with introductory essays for each from a climber who was there, setting the scene for each distinct era as the sport and the dirtbag climbing lifestyle have evolved and exploded in popularity.
“Vantage Point” features two early stories from Michael Kennedy, the climbing legend who now lives in Carbondale and began editing the magazine in the mid-’70s when it was owned by Aspen’s Bil Dunaway and operated out of The Aspen Times building here on Main Street. Kennedy later bought it himself and kicked off its golden era as the world-renowned climber’s bible. Kennedy sold it in 1997.
Kennedy’s 1975 piece titled “Climbing and the Alpine Environment: Ethics of Preservation” is a call to arms for the climbing community to police itself and not to accept the physical damage to the climbing environment.
In it, he offers something of a mission statement for climber conservationists: “Climbing is about two things: ascending direct, natural lines with a minimum of technical aid and protecting and preserving the climbs through the use of the least destructive methods possible.”
The book also includes a short dispatch from Kennedy about his failed attempt, after 26 days, to summit Latok 1 in Pakistan’s Karakorum Range with a team that included the recently deceased Jeff Lowe. This brief one-pager is a dismissal of the very notion of adventure writing, a rejection of the self-aggrandizing suffer-fest narrative.
“How does one write about a twenty-six day climb?” Kennedy asks. “To describe each pitch, each day would be tedious, and the experience was so overwhelming and so ultimately disappointing that I’m not sure I could, even six months later.”
The book includes dispatches from climbing and mountaineering giants like Jeff Achey and Conrad Anker. It also shares tales from the early days of the modern era to today’s feats — from a 1973 report from Kark Karlstrom about a treacherous ascent of the Painted Wall in Black Canyon of the Gunnison up through Tommy Caldwell’s dispatch from his historic 2015 free-climb ascent of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall.
In an introductory essay about the 2010s, free-climber Chris Sharma details the rise of the climbing gym and its effect on the sport, calling on today’s gym rats not to lose sight of the climbing’s spiritual roots.
“It’s important for us all to see climbing as a personal journey and to realize how it can be about reaching for something just beyond your grasp,” he writes. “As the level gets higher and we get more gym crushers, it’s crucial to understand why we climb and also to share that journey with the next generation.”
Current Climbing editor Matt Samet, in an introduction titled “50 Years of Awesome,” comments on the seeming inherent futility of writing about climbing, a sport that must be experienced to be understood. The written word can’t quite put you there. But a thoughtful first-person account — like the ones in “Vantage Point” — can come close.
“Climbing is an immersive, sensory, visceral sport,” Samet writes, “one with high stakes at every turn (gravity doesn’t sleep); it is, like the best things in life (sex, fine dining, sleep), best experienced for oneself. But since no one will ever have the time or ability to do every climb everywhere, the next best thing is reading and seeing photos of others doing it. And the best writing is that which puts you there on the rock, ice, Himalayan big wall, or desert tower with the author, feeling his or her fear as your own.”
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