Eiger Dreams
Eiger Dreams

Eiger Dreams

No longer, however, did I feel compelled to push things right to the brink, to see God on every pitch, to make each climb more radical than the last. Today I feel like an alcoholic who's managed to make the switch from week-long whiskey benders to a few beers on Saturday night. I've slipped happily into alpine mediocrity. (Location 91)

The trickiest moves on any climb are the mental ones, the psychological gymnastics that keep terror in check, and the Eiger's grim aura is intimidating enough to rattle anyone's poise. (Location 127)

"I recognized that mainstream philosophy is a very binding force that can keep you locked into a certain perspective, and I didn't like that. (Location 393)

I decided that an easy way to avoid the restrictive mainstream perspective was to climb in solitude. (Location 401)

When I climbed in solitude I discovered that I had marvelous inner adventures." (Location 403)

The method is called the Yosemite Decimal System, and it rates the difficulty of technical climbs on a scale that originally ran from 5.0 to 5.9. (Location 424)

I noticed that I went into this different physiological configuration on life-threatening climbs. It was exhilarating and very intense, but almost in a relaxed way. There might be gripping moments, but there would still be this thread of relaxation throughout the whole climb. It was fascinating, but I didn't want to get hooked on it." (Location 451)

"When you reach such an advanced state of technical skill that you don't really notice exertion," he explains, "only then do you really begin to feel the climbing. You'll never feel the joy of movement if you're struggling. (Location 458)

"I've found that the easiest time for me to capture this hypnogogic state is during the middle of the night, when I awaken and then slowly drift back to sleep, but I have also entered a similar state while climbing, particularly when soloing those long, easy routes—those times when I feel as though I'm being sewn into the rock. I can come closest then to this second reality, this feeling of lightness. And that, really, is the transcendental poetry of climbing. I consider experiencing that hypnogogic state to be far more important than being able to climb extremely difficult boulder problems that nobody has climbed." (Location 481)

By the 1930s, the crampon had sprouted the additional pair of spikes protruding horizontally at the toe, and by the mid-1960s teeth had been notched into the pick-end of the ice axe. With these refinements climbers were able to develop the audacious technique of front-pointing, obviating altogether the need to chop steps, and allowing the leading climbers of the day to claw their way up ice gullies as steep as seventy degrees in the French Alps, the Scottish Highlands, and the Rocky Mountains of North America. (Location 559)

On a hunch, Chouinard—with the assistance of a climbing partner named Tom Frost, an aeronautical engineer—designed an ice axe with a pick that hooked downward in a gentle curve that matched the arc of the axe as it was swung. (Location 572)

Note: It took until 1970s for people to come up with the arched ice axe design. Something that is obvious to us today

The darkness does evil things to the mind, resulting in one or two suicides every year. Anything that gets you out, that gets you physically active, is going to be good psychotherapy and stave off winter problems. (Location 614)

But optimism is dangerously immune to simple facts and the hard lessons of experience. It can be difficult to admit that spending time in the unspoiled wilds, more often than not, means doing time within the walls of a dank nylon cell, tentbound. (Location 705)

Being tentbound isn't wholly an ordeal. The first few hours can pass in a dreamy euphoria while you lie peacefully in your sleeping bag, watching raindrops trickle down the outside of the translucent fly, or the snowdrifts slowly climb the walls. Wrapped snugly in down or the latest achievement of the chemical industry, with the daylight's cruel condition filtered by nylon into a soothing twilight, there is an atmosphere of guiltless relief. The tempest has blessed you with a sturdy alibi for not risking your life attempting the first free direttissima of that frightening pinnacle up the valley or laboring over yet another high pass as part of your partner's absurd plan to explore the next watershed to the east. Your life is secure for at least another day; needless toil has been averted; face has been saved—and all without anguish or pangs of conscience. There is nothing to be done but to drift back off to untroubled sleep. (Location 714)

Boredom (Location 723)

"Boredom kills, and those it does not kill, it cripples, and those it does not cripple, it bleeds like a leech, leaving its victims pale, insipid, and brooding. Examples abound . . . Rats kept in comfortable isolation quickly become jumpy, irritable, and aggressive. Their bodies twitch, their tails grow scaly." The backcountry traveler, then, in addition to developing such skills as the use of map and compass, or the prevention and treatment of blisters, must prepare mentally and materially to cope with boredom, lest his tail grow scaly. (Location 724)

In a series of highly publicized experiments, test subjects were placed in a small room painted a shade known as "Baker-Miller Pink." Within fifteen minutes of entering the pink chamber, say the researchers, the subjects' muscles were tranquilized to the point of weakness, and there was a dramatic reduction in "violent, aberrant, aggressive, and self-mutilative behavior" in criminals, paranoid schizophrenics, and "obstreperous youths." (Location 749)

"It is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly . . . that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again." (Location 824)

The peaks lining the Kahiltna rise a vertical mile and more in a single sweep from glacier to summit; the avalanches that periodically rumble down these faces at a hundred-plus miles per hour have so far to travel that they appear to be falling in slow motion. Against this immense landscape, Geeting's airplane is but a miniscule red mote, an all-but-invisible mechanical gnat droning its way through the firmament toward McKinley. (Location 865)

By trial and error, Reeve quickly developed a sense for steering clear of hidden crevasses, discovered that the incline of a glacier could be an aid, rather than an impediment, to making short-field landings and take offs, and learned that by dropping a line of spruce boughs or gunny sacks onto the snow before setting down, he could establish a horizon and judge the lay of a slope on cloudy days when it was otherwise impossible to tell exactly where the ground was. (Location 913)

But he had been too impatient in his ascent to acclimatize thoroughly, and he let himself become seriously dehydrated as well, thus violating two of the most fundamental rules of self-preservation at high altitude. (Location 1048)

Adrian was experiencing the onset of cerebral edema, a deadly swelling of the brain brought on by ascending too high, too fast. (Location 1051)

Even after encountering two Scotsmen whose teammate had just been helicoptered off the mountain with severe brain damage after taking an eight-hundred-foot tumble, and two other climbers on their way down after nearly dying from pulmonary edema—first a Yugoslav, then a Pole, both with Himalayan experience—the optimism of those fresh off the Cessnas remained unshakable. (Location 1101)

Dr. Michel-Gabriel Paccard, you'll recall, invented the sport of mountain climbing on August 8, 1786, by making the first ascent of Mont Blanc, in the company of a local chamois hunter named Jacques Balmat. Following the ordeal, Balmat reported, "my eyes were red, my face black and my lips blue. Everytime I laughed or yawned the blood spouted from my lips and cheeks, and, in addition, I was half-blind. (Location 1359)

It's a luminous fall afternoon in downtown Cham, and I'm sitting on the terrace of the Brasserie L'M, loitering over a strawberry crepe and a cafe au lait, wondering whether I might, given my limited talents, ever rise above the life of the terminally banal. (Location 1408)

In Chamonix personal safety is rightly seen as the responsibility of the skier, not the ski area, and idiots don't last long. (Location 1430)

The bad blood is also reflected in Franco-English slang. To the English, for instance, a condom is a "French letter"; to the French it's "une capote anglais." When someone sneaks away dishonorably the Brits refer to it as "taking French leave"; the French say "filer à l'anglais." In colloquial French, sodomy is known as "le vice anglais," and although the English in this case lack a precise etymological equivalent, British climbers have long considered the sartorial flair of their Gallic counterparts to be proof positive that all Frenchmen are latent deviants. (Location 1527)

The rock is warm, the September sky crystalline and absolutely still. Around me, so close I can almost reach out and touch them, the Aiguilles rise in wave after endless wave. Here are the crest of Mont Blanc and the thin fingers of the Peuterey Ridge; over there, the Grepon and Charmoz, the immense tusk of the Dent du Geant, the twin summits of the Drus, the formidable profile of the Grandes Jorasses. For most of my life I've read about these peaks, stared at fuzzy photos of them clipped from magazines and scotch-taped to my walls, tried to imagine the texture of their storied granite. (Location 1562)

We decided to make a game out of making our way from one end of the Jug to the other, and spent the day stroking across the pools and clambering through the spray of the waterfalls. Whenever the spirit moved us, we stopped to sit in the sun and watch the clouds slide across the cobalt stripe of sky framed by the rim above. Lying on a delicious slab of granite toward evening, letting the warmth of the pink rock suck the chill from my dripping back, it dawned on me that it was my birthday. I couldn't have picked a better place to spend it, I decided, if I'd tried. (Location 1749)