A few thoughts on: Renouncement

In the world of alpinism the line between noble renouncement and getting things done is blurry.

Last year, I did the first ascent of a sport climb in Tyrol that my friend Florian Klingler had bolted ten years earlier. An unwritten rule in climbing says that the person who bolts the route has the right to do its first ascent. At around 8c/8c+, the route was much too hard for him at first, but he continued to try it, got stronger, and came closer. Then an important hold broke and sending the route suddenly seemed far away. He realized that the route, in its new state, was out of reach, and was left with the choice of either artificially reconstructing the broken hold, or moving on from the route and leave it for someone else. He chose the latter instead of making the route possible for himself. Because he did not finish the route, I had the opportunity to play on it in its original, unclimbed state, and eventually, to send it.

Florian renouncing the first ascent of his route preserved the playground that this little piece of rock is to climbers. In the world of alpinism, it is the same, but the line between noble renouncement and getting things done is blurry. Whether or not it is okay to use certain means is a controversial discussion that is as old as climbing. Purists normally prefer renouncing to the “crutches” of expedition style. But what to say no to? Bottled oxygen? Bolts? Since the fifties, some mountaineers have attempted only lines they could envision in alpine style – that means without porters, oxygen, etc. They did not try the most difficult walls. Others put the goals in front of the means and managed to open new levels of absolute difficulty. I think a healthy development needs both approaches. One school demonstrates ideal style, the other one shows what is possible. Each way on its own would lead into a cul-de-sac, but together, they create equilibrium.

I think that climbing Mt. Everest without bottled oxygen was possible because everyone knew: climbing such a high mountain is possible, the route is well known. The pioneers had laid the foundation by accepting the use of oxygen. Others had developed the art of alpine style on smaller peaks. The two managed to combine both.

For me, adhering to my ideals is more important than a summit.

The success of my own alpinism depends not only on which projects I succeed on, but whether or not I climb in a style that allows me to express myself in a creative way. I will thus not be the one who will conquer the most difficult faces on 8000 meter peaks in expedition style. It is clear that as chances of success decrease on a long-term project, it is never easy to limit yourself in terms of acceptable means as you had originally planned. After many attempts, would, e.g., a high camp be an acceptable compromise on a big mountain?

Should I reach the point where renouncement is the better alternative on my dream project, Masherbrum, I hope that I accept that and renounce. Someone in the future will be happy to find a blank canvas on which to draw his line. That is the heart and soul of alpinism, and the next generation will want their share of it.

Published in Magazin Bergwelten

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