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Fast & Light, A Concept

 Fast & Light, A Concept

by Jonathan Copp

December 31, 2001

The living trait among my finest partners is the ability to change by way of experiential learning. At times this can mean discarding tried and tested methods for techniques only before used in the mindís eye. At other times it can mean giving and accepting criticism without any egocentric hang-ups. And at all times this ability and agility enabling change in a person will coincide with that personís accepting the risk of failure. To me, it is this acceptance that allows for the greatest possibilities, be it ascending a gargantuan piece of earth and ice on its own terms in a way no other has done before or confronting the challenges that find us daily.

I find it difficult to compare the merits of different styles of climbing because I authentically agree with the late Alex Lowe: "The best climber is the one having the most fun." When a partner and I are planning and packing for a big route, we arenít necessarily striving for "fun". We may be sharp with each other, "Youíre gonna take THAT?" Or "Dude, if we climb it fast enough we wonít get cold enough to need that." Or "I donít think we should take an ice axe on this route. If we have to climb some snow or ice we can always chop hand holds with a nut tool." The reasoning behind these self-depriving exclusions is that to carry less, especially in the vertical world, means to move faster. And to move faster gives a ghastly storm or hanging serac less of a chance to attack. Weíre planning on being cold, and hungry and run-out and without the standards of safety and protocol. This is fun? Are we striving to be the "worst" climbers with regards to Alexís quote? Why do eyes widen and grins become painfully hard to wipe off our faces when we are finally on route? Why the hootiní and holleriní with numb hands and cramping calves? There is no one out there in the Himalaya, the Yukon, Patagonia, wherever that is going to hear us laughing and screaming (which is good lest they think us maniacs). We are kids building a tree fort with scraps of bamboo and twine and a couple nails maybe and a few rotting logs. There is no box with instructions on it. There are no color-coded, injection-molded ideas to hold on to or to blame if the whole project fails. The fun of climbing light and fast is in the boundless possibilities for creativity within the adventure.

Within the last hundred years of climbing and mountaineering, corporations and even governments have become involved in the pursuit of improbable summits. Many times this involvement begins and ends in the form of monetary support for an expedition. Well, any good businessperson will tell you, the only reason to lay the money down is to get a return on that investment. This goal of trying to guarantee a summit straight from the onset of an expedition has led to the implementation of what we call siege tactics, basically draining a mountain of its lifeís blood. By throwing all the rope, manpower, bolts and time that can be afforded at a fantastic mountain objective, even an untalented group can chip away at that mountain spirit until it has fallen, until they have speared their flag into its heart of stone. This is proven. So whatís the challenge? This question is not a new one. The truest explorers have always asked this question. The revered duo of Eric Shipton and H.W. Tilman, adventurers ahead of their time, always considered excess gear, supplies, manpower, and time as parasitic upon the spirit of exploration. To them, the style of an ascent or traverse was paramount to the final objective. Shipton writes, ďThe springs of enchantment lie within ourselves; they arise from our sense of wonder, that most precious of gifts, the birthright of every child.Ē By applying ascent techniques to eliminate the risk of failure, the sense of wonder connected with a soaring wall or fantastic mountain is compromised.

Espousing the fast and light ideal is more than a climbing style for me; itís a way of life. It means to leave no trace. It means to learn on the fly. It means to risk failure and uphold a sense of wonder in my world. It means to give and accept criticism freely, to brainstorm. It means to laugh when there is no one around.

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