Mountain climbing renders many stories of heroic deeds: people overcoming many difficulties to be in the mountains and then to reach their summits. These become news, books, films, and are awe inspiring and makes us think that those are the full stories and tell how things always go. It makes people think every try renders a summit, no matter how hard it may be. But we never hear much of failure though. When one comes down from the mountains and is asked “did you summit”, if the answer is negative usually it is a quick and timid one, and the conversation switches to other topics in a matter of seconds.
|Bad weather and dark days in the Blanca.|
I have many stories of failures and in fact, I failed on most mountains I attempted, for the most various reasons. If seen from the perspective of reaching summits, I am by far one of the most mediocre climbers I have met, although I am not afraid to say I have not summited. Having coming down from attempting what would be my hardest route so far, the North Face Direct on Ranrapalca, a D+, but giving up for an idiotic reason, and now counting 8 mountains this season and only 4 summits, I could not help but feel like the shittiest and most incompetent wannabe climber I can think of. I still have close to two months to climb, but in a way I already feel like this season has been either a total failure, or close to absolute success because I´ve come so far from where I began two years ago, and this dichotomy has been killing me ever more as days pass. More and more though, I feel like I should quit this altogether – I started too late, I cannot train in snow and ice in Brazil, I´m getting old, I´m never the strongest, etc, etc. Unfortunately, it doesn´t make me feel any better to know this is a shitty season weather wise and that 90% of the people I know here aren´t summiting anything significant.
Every story has a few sides to it though, and albeit it may seem idiotic, this same reason which could be a reason for laugh for some, may also have avoided a major disaster that would have been even more idiotic and laughable. In the end, it is a matter of point of view, although the responsibility for my life and the safety of my partner is none but mine to decide upon, and I feel no shame on my decisions. My partner forgot his headlamp, but we still got onto the route. Close to the second rock band, since I was leading most of the climb, my common sense spoke louder and my instinct helped on the decision to turn us around after about 200 meters up on the route. I do feel responsibility for not checking his equipment as well as I do mine.
People don´t really care to congratulate much on success but are very eager to criticize failure without knowing the effort that was put into reaching a certain limit, and it hasn´t been different this season. Unfortunately, this bothers me more than it should. Bellow is the reason why.
As of mid August 2014 I will have completed two years of the ascent of my first high altitude mountain, being it Point Lenana in Mount Kenya, a walk up acclimatization hike reaching the modest altitude of 4985m – altitude which is nowadays absolutely common place for me, or as I call it sometimes “moraine camp height”. I feel I have come a long way since then, in all possible aspects: I´ve developed skills as independent climber which was my main goal, decision making, route finding and slowly am sharpening my technical climbing abilities, which is something that requires an amount of regular practice I simply cannot have while living in Brazil. I´ve also learned to endure climbing in bad weather since that´s what I had in about 80% of my climbs. I faced new feelings though, experiencing longing while alone with my partners in high and sometimes not so high camps with no other climbers around. “What if something happens? No one will know about it until it is too late” has been on my mind quite a few times. Those feelings I confess, sometimes made me want to give climbs and simply pack up things and go home, so that´s how strong they were, making me question one of what I thought was my strongest ability – that of enduring isolation, loneliness for extended periods of time… our innate Brazilian ability to endure suffering. I too need human contact, I learned. And quite often.
It was in Ecuador that I had a slight experience of “technicality” in the mountains. Shortly after I made a conscious decision although led by heart, that height didn´t matter to me, and that I wanted to climb hard, technical routes, however big mountains would be. “I´d rather not summit a hard route than summit a walk up one” has been quite the controversial motto since then. As awkward as that would sound for Brazilian mountaineers – most of whom are 8000m, volcano and Seven Summit chasers, I would eventually meet many like minded people, especially from the US. This has brought me comfort, as I met numerous highly experienced climbers who had never been above 6000m or such, but who were highly accomplished in extremely difficult routes all over the world. In the private rumblings of my head, I was timidly comfortable with chasing routes and not necessarily summits, although always bothered by some people in the local community asking me about the latter.
I have not met people who are trying D+ routes independently with less than 2 years of climbing in big mountains. Most climbers I know attempting the same routes as I have at least 5 or so years of climbing on their backs. It may be irresponsible to some, but I wouldn´t be doing it if I didn´t feel capable of. I do feel I´m climbing within my limits, but going beyond on this specific route without the headlamp felt like I would stretch that limit beyond my ability to later handle any issues that would arise from it. And I knew issues would arise from it. To me this was too serious a route to be gambling on.
I think it takes a split second of a decision to make a fatal error. And I am humble enough to recognize my mere existence as a human and realize that big, serious accidents can happen to me as well. Nothing really makes me or anyone else more special so as to render us immune to getting into serious trouble or dying because of stupid mistakes, bad decisions or simply bad luck. As much as I am ambitious, I also maintain a decent distance that separates me from being reckless and I am not afraid or ashamed to put it into practice.
To some that may seem as weakness, inexperience, inability, and it may well be all that. But the most precious thing for me, although it may not seem like it, is not really the high of finishing hard routes or reaching summits, but the high of having people I love around me. And to have that, I need to be alive. I do not intend to ever overcome the immenseness of mountains for they are truly unconquerable, as much as you may stand on their summits for a few minutes. I am satisfied in feeling part of them, be it in a hard route, be it on their summit. This all may be idiotic rambling, and unfortunately I have not yet had a chance to discuss these feelings with more experienced climbers although I know many. Maybe they´ve been through all this, and maybe these doubts are part of the process of developing into a more experienced and mature climber. I am sure that when opportunity arises I will learn a lot from feedback, but as of now I need to vent onto the web in order to understand my own doubts a little better, and this is my little space to do so.
All this has brought me to a familiar wish: today I feel like soloing something, as easy as it may be. This realization of things that could have happened – not the summit, but trouble – sometimes need to be digested in their own environment. As of this moment in time, I am eager not only for climbing my most desired mountains in company of the great people I´ve been meeting, but of the arrival of August, in which I plan to spend a few weeks completely alone in some easy but unexplored mountains, learning and humbling myself in a way only soloists understand how. This communion with the land you step on – this synergy of matter, body, air, mountain, the soul – is the epitome of the feeling of life, as if you could hold it with your bare hands, and sometimes the only thing that can take my mind off of this dreamy, selfish and obsessive state that climbing provokes, and bring me back to Earth, to remind me there´s people waiting for me to come home (now, if I decide to go on being selfish or not is a different post).
I need to digest Ranrapalca. My failure may be not finishing the route or having so many summits, but I feel that being here trying to understand this is for now, a small personal success. I came down alive and harmless one more time, and that suffices, as mediocre as it may be.
P.S. I: As I finish writing this, more news arrive regarding the death of a climber on Piramide de Garcilazo, a mountain I would very much like to climb by the end of this month, and then that would be my hardest route ever, a very respectable TD+. It makes me wonder what decisions could have been made differently to avoid this death? Because in reality, this could be, at any time, any of us climbers: me, my partner, or any of the countless climbers I´ve already met here and sometimes run into at the street or at the bar.
P.S. II: Yesterday morning I had a first hand encounter with one of the rescuers and the best friend of this boy who died in Piramide (they are staying in the same hostel), and it is heartbreaking to watch them crying over the details and the whole situation. I definitely do not want to make anyone go through that.