|By Sam Lightner, Jr. |
Jan 28, 2012
Given a week of input, responses, hashing it about with my alpinist friends, and then attempting sober thought on the subject of chopping the Compressor Route, I need to say something. I need to because I have friends heavily involved here and I want to make sure there are no hard feelings in any way. Even more, I need to because I often lay my feelings about the single biggest influence in my life out to the world via this forum and, to date, they are incomplete on this subject.
When I was 15 and started climbing, I can remember reading about "Astroman" and saying to my partner Mark Newcomb "If we really work hard, really focus on climbing, maybe we will be able to climb 5.11 some day." I was dreaming of what might be possible. In that same age, I read of Alan Watts working the East Face of the Monkey, and Jay Smith getting the first ascent of the Terminator. Those climbs were so far beyond my abilities then that they could only be dreams.
I didn't realize it then, but that dreaming, then the training and focus it took to get good at climbing, would give me the greatest moments of my life. With that kind of dreaming I found pumpy 5.13+ in Thailand, terrifying WI6 in Canada, A3 alone in Yosemite and Zion, all giving me a sense I was attaining more than I'd ever thought possible of myself. My accomplishments gave me the self esteem to try another goal, and they always started with a dream to get better.
A week into my first trip to Patagonia I walked to the Lagoon and got my first full view of Cerro Torre. This was the first time in my life, over 30 years of climbing, that I had to sit down in complete awe of a mountain. I have sat below El Cap, The Titan, The Eiger, To Bolt or Not to Be, Howse Peak, The Trophy Wall, Robson, and so many other peaks and walls mesmerized by their beauty. But Cerro Torre was different... not only was it beautiful, but I was in awe of the inaccessibility of its summit. I remember sitting there on a boulder next to the Lagoon and reasoning to myself that "The only way I could get to that mushroom would be via the Compressor Route." Remembering that moment has allowed me to change my mind about chopping THIS ROUTE on THIS PEAK.
In the alpine-world the hauling of a compressor up a remote mountain and placing over 300 bolts is a unique event. In the alpine-world Cerro Torre is a unique mountain with attributes that make it potentially the hardest mountain in the world to climb.
I don't know the reasoning that Hayden and Jason K. used to chop the route. What I do know is that I had reasoned that to climb Cerro Torre I would not get better, but instead use tools that should have never been taken to the mountain in the industrial way they were.
I still worry that the logic that is applied to this "chopping" will be applied elsewhere. IT SHOULD NOT BE APPLIED ELSEWHERE. To me, this mountain and these parameters are unique. We do not need to use this as a base for all of climbing because not all climbing should be like Cerro Torre. Only one mountain can be "the hardest". If the steps that can lead to Cerro Torre's summit are all removed, we will never attain that highest goal.
Also, to my friends who have reached the summit via the Compressor Route, you did an amazingly hard thing. Considering who has failed on that route, you can only be proud of your accomplishment. And be happy you got there when you did as it is even harder now.
In two weeks I will hopefully be on top of Poincenot or Fitzroy looking across the glacier at that torpedo of rock. I will be able to imagine what I might be capable of. I will do so knowing that without dreaming... without focusing again on ice (for the West Face), or training harder for alpine rock (South East Ridge), or gaining the rock climbing fitness that I only briefly ever touched on (Lama's Free Compressor), I will not get to its summit. Without the mindset I had when I got started as a climber, it will be beyond me.
And thus, Cerro Torre is something that I can dream about.