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Should Climbing be Political?, Jerry Moffatt’s Cinderella Story, and a Modern Epic on Annapurna

Saying climbing has nothing to do with politics is like saying science had nothing to do with putting a man on the moon.

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Politics is kissing babies, riding horses shirtless in Siberia (Putin) and blaming your wife for buying a $31,000 table, as Housing Secretary Ben Carson has recently done. Right? Wrong…well, mostly wrong.

Sport, on the other hand, especially god-almighty climbing, is pure. It’s just us, the stone, our stoke, glistening biners and we should, to quote a recent Facebook commenter, “keep fucking politics OUT of climbing.” It seems lots of people share that view. “Politics has NOTHING to do with climbing,” another wrote.

Wrong again.

Yet, saying climbing has nothing to do with politics is like saying science had nothing to do with putting a man on the moon. In as much as you climb on actual rock, you being there is a result of a political decision. A government, either local or federal, has granted you access.

Whether we like it or not—I don’t—it’s our reality and baked into any sport that uses nature as its “field.” The only good counter argument is to promote full anarchy or refer to a time period before the invention of property ownership, when bands of nomadic hordes roamed a vast borderless territory, without ranchers with guns or No Trespassing signs. I can dream too, but there would be a better chance of coming across Don Quixote at the gas station.

Public land may belong to the public, but remember, that it is so is a result of politics. Climbing isn’t liberal or conservative, and neither should be its politics, but climbers, should we want to continue climbing in beautiful places, need to be aware, for instance, that every Access Fund has a non-access fund in it’s shadows, the latter often out-hustling the former.

Like politics, climbing is decision making. Sending your project is the sum total of small decisions made on route just as a government decree on a plot of land with cliffs is (i.e., should be) the result of decisions made in local councils that are carried to the state legislature only to later wash upon the shores of the grand ol’ swamp for a final ruling.

But what should guide our politics? In Rock and Ice’s current issue, Conrad Anker, a student of the earth sciences, observes the following in his article “Climate and Climber” : “Whether we are pulling on ancient gneiss that predates atmospheric oxygen or recently exposed volcanic rock, we intuitively understand the rocks’ geological time.” Anker is talking about climate change, and starts with the basics—climbers have a privileged position in that we already have a connection with the earth. Where to go from there? Pick up an issue and let Conrad take it from here. His piece is thoughtful, original and he supplies some great advice.

“I knew I had to try, so I did. I had to follow my dream, and at age 17 I left school and went for it.”

The rest was history. Jerry Moffatt, one of the strongest climbers the U.K. has ever produced, would go on to become a professional climber in an era when the job description didn’t exist. But his story isn’t that of Cinderella, and he had to work hard for the shoe to fit. Early on, the urge to compete got him.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I won my first competition, he thought.

However, in 1987, in one of the earliest competitions to take place, Troubat in the French Pyrenees, winning wasn’t in the stars. Moffatt performed dismally. After, he was determined to avenge his performance. He trained like hell. Got more endurance. Dropped weight. Then, in a following comp in Munich, Germany, just when he was feeling at the top of his game, his foot popped 10 feet up on the finals route.

What happened next? To find out, read his essay, “The Winning Mind” in the current issue. Teaser: Apropos of the Amazing issue, Moffatt pretty much won every competition he entered for the next two years.

Next up is Stéphane Benoist and Yannick Graziani’s epic on the South Face of Annapurna, one of a handful of alpine-style ascents the behemoth—10,000 vertical feet, topping out at 8,091 meters—has ever witnessed. Never has their full story been told in English, but there’s a reason for that.

Two weeks before Benoist and Graziani’s ascent, Ueli Steck claimed to have soloed, and FA’d the same route initially attempted by Jean- Christophe Lafaille and Pierre Beghin in 1992. Yet what took Ueli 28 hours (solo, round trip, up and down, through the notoriously difficult rock band at night) took Benoist and Graziani 10 grueling days.

In “The Other Annapurna,” Ed Douglas provides the full account, not only of the epic descent, but Benoist’s recovery after losing fingers and toes to frostbite, how Annapurna changed his partnership with Graziani, and how Ueli Steck fits into it all.

There was a time when if you wanted to do a wall, it was an adventure, whether you were Chuck Pratt in the American desert in the 1960s plucking off untrod towers in Moab, or Allen Steck blasting off into the unknown up the West Face of the Sentinel in 1950. Climbing walls then wasn’t anything like it is today. Now, with SuperTopo, Google Earth, guidebooks with colored lines to keep you on route and admonitions such as, “don’t forget to double up on #3s” to keep the pucker factor at bay, the climbing culture of today is a spray-down, a sad excuse for adventure.

To have a real adventure today you have to ignore the beta, live in a Sprinter van without a portable hotspot … or, like Kieran Brownie, Paul McSorley and Dave Allfrey, you could book a flight to Bogota, Colombia, make your way to the rain forest, charter a boat upriver and venture off in search of some granite domes you saw in a movie.

Kudos to Brownie and crew for an old-school escapade. With their first ascent of El Abrazo de la Serpiente (V 5.11+ 12 pitches 660m), Brownie and team might not receive National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year award, but, as the old adage goes, “He who has the most fun wins.” They won. Read their tale here, “Dark Dome.”

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