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The Ones That Remain

Editor's Note from Rock and Ice issue 258 (July 2019), on sale now.

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A sad convergence of events comes together in these pages. Just as this issue was going to print, we learned that, on April 16, the climbing world lost three of its finest. Jess Roskelley, David Lama and Hansjörg Auer were killed on Howse Peak (10,810 feet), north of Banff, Canada. We don’t know yet what route they were attempting, or climbed. Likely, they were caught in an avalanche or a sheared cornice on the descent, as their bodies were recovered buried at the base. Details are trickling out.

I knew Jess and David. We worked together on projects for this magazine, and just a few months ago were hanging out in Ouray, Colorado, for the Ice Festival. Both gentlemen were just that— professionals in their trade, phenomenal climbers and passionate individuals. The climbing community is the worse in their absence.

It is a sad convergence of events because this is the Last Great Climbs special edition and these climbers were of the select few to try the big climbs on the ultimate, futuristic, ticklist. The Last Great Climbs are alpine routes that, to date, have repelled all suitors. Some of these features will remain unclimbed for years to come. The Northeast Face of Masherbrum comes to mind.

In 2014, David, Auer and Peter Ortner spent six weeks eyeing up the Northeast Face, and were never able to give it a proper go mainly due to bad weather. In fact, the peak Lama described as Cerro Torre stacked on top of the Eiger—at 7,000 meters to boot—has never really been tried. Of Masherbrum, Lama said, “There is no other wall that reflects the impossible as much as the Northeast Face of Masherbrum.”

[Also Read Jess Roskelley Remembered]

The author of our “Last On the List” feature, Gregory Crouch, went to great lengths to speak with alpinists who have been on these faces, and who intend to return. The climbs on the list are the biggest, baddest faces on the planet and will require the techniques and skills (and likely gear) of the future.

About skills—they are often a lost art. In “Our Loss” also in this issue, acclaimed writer and pioneering alpinist David Roberts ponders, deep in the Brooks Range of Alaska, the explorers who came before him. What he discovers is surprising, and humbling—the remnants of visionaries whose survival skills were better than his own, and traces of the native Nunamiut, for whom “life itself embodied everything we call exploration and adventure. And wilderness was the only world they knew—or needed.” Roberts converses with the ghosts of the past and muses on the purported “self-reliance” of modern expeditions.

Then, Neil Gresham serves up the skinny on the newest, and arguably the most fun, addition to climbing’s roster—deep water soloing. As for last great challenges there … well, it appears the young sport is just getting started. Coastlines around the world await the next generation.

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