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Soul Memories

So much of traveling is a memory of how other people do things.

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On the cover of 261: Fabian Buhl, with Alexander Huber at the belay, making the first free ascent of Sueños de Invierno (8a/5.13b), Pico Uriello/Naranjo de Bulnes, Spain. Sueños de Invierno was an 1,800-foot aid line from 1983 by José Luis García Gallego and Miguel Ángel Díez Vives. After 69 consecutive days on the wall, they topped out the 5.10 A4. Buhl and Huber did the first free ascent two years ago in about eight hours. “The grade is not extremely difficult,” says Buhl, “but I will always remember the way we protected it. Our main protection was skyhooks set in pockets. It was a very wild route and showed us once more that climbing is more than the grade.” Buhl and Huber took 50-footers onto the hooks. Photo: Heinz Zak.

“What you wanna do?” James, my British climbing partner of a few weeks, inquired. I was in Oxford doing graduate work and every weekend we rambled up north to sample the delights of the Peak District or Yorkshire Dales.

I knew James was fishing so I toyed with him. He obviously wanted to go to the pub. Umm. Well. Commented about the weather again. Cough. Got up and checked my phone, wandered to the loo.

Hmm. I cleared my throat. Spoke to the bartender. Sooo.

“How about the pub?…Then we go climbing when it dries,” he offered, as if the idea of the pub had just occurred to him that instant.

“See there …” He pointed at the sky through a water-streaked window pane. “There’s a blue cloud.” The blue cloud—aka the lack of clouds— was the size of a quarter. Unfortunately, I was about to give birth to my second food baby of the day, my stomach distended from two eight- inch sausages and a pile of creamy mash so tall it cast a shadow half way up my Guinness.

Another pint later and the blue cloud had grown. We raced to the car and sped to the Buckstone Dyno, my choice, mainly because of an old Red Chili advert of someone doing the dyno with a bikini-clad girl at the top looking down. James obliged and after topping out an hour later I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed she wasn’t still there.

[Also Read Hermann Buhl: Plaster Casts And A Hint Of Spring]

It was the hardest I’ve ever climbed in the summer, in prime humidity, two beers deep and on a full stomach. In truth I hate climbing anything but sober: It’s hard enough. Latching that sloper I felt like Michael Jordan sinking a three to beat the buzzer on game 7. It shouldn’t have happened. But that’s why this memory stuck. Racing out at the sight of the blue cloud, from pub to carpark, is just how they do it.

***

So much of traveling is just that—a memory of how other people do things. Each piece in this issue is a glimpse into habits, routes and ways of doing things. Call it what you will.

Michael Wejchert, in “The Wild Ones,” spins a classic Northeast yarn—with tales of elusive hard climbers, eccentrics and egos and bold, if reckless, undertakings. Wejchert cherry picked his way through hundreds of stories to, miraculously, arrive at a larger point seldom made—modern alpine climbing might just have American origins in the Northeast. You decide. In another feature, “Spirit Mentors,” a retooling of the classical obit, Kennan Harvey digs into his memory vaults, and gear shed, to ruminate upon what his friends have left behind: a TCU from Mugs Stump, a Big Bro from Craig Leubben, and more. Harvey honors his friends the best way a climber can.

“Songlines,” by Bryan Miller, is, in many ways, the exhuming of an ancient art: slab climbing. A week ago, I was telling a few friends about a nice slab climb I had done. From the look on their faces, it looked as if I was pitching them a Ponzi scheme. Slabs are out, volumes are in. Too bad. Miller might just convince you otherwise.

As for his own ventures into the land of fog and grit, in “To the Grit” Chris Schulte paints a vivid portrait of the U.K.’s crags, spirits, routes, boulders and people. Schulte’s ability to squeeze his way through hard boulders is, as you will see, matched by his ability to squeeze impressions and meaning from a place and put it on paper.


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