NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
11 Feb 2000
New HampshireCarroll County
- North Conway
- 44.05306 -71.12806
- 8:54 - 45:40
- 42.33694 -71.20972
- 49:07 - 1:28:04
- Sennheiser MKH 40
Stereo=1; Split track
NPR/NGS RADIO EXPEDITIONS
Show: Mt. Washington
Log of DAT #: E-4
Engineer: Flawn Williams
Date: February 11, 2000
ng =not good
g = good
vg = very good
David Breashears (DB)
Rick Wilcox (RW)
Alex Chadwick (AC)
0:12 FLAWN WILLIAMS: Okay. I'm rolling on Tape 4.
6:34 WILLIAMS: This is Friday morning, February 11th about 8: 15 a.m., and we are setting up in the Bed 'n' Breakfast to record Rick Wilcox. This is split track, MKH40, microphones on both channels.
8:54 ALEX CHADWICK: At least in this case, we have both of you rolling. So, we've got him dislodging the thing; and we've got you kind of catching it. And we also have that earlier one --there's a big chunk of ice on the second pitch ...
RICK WILCOX: ... He almost hit me with ...
CHADWICK: ... That he almost hits you with ..and we've got that too --both ofyou. So, tell me just what's going on there when that piece of ice is going by you
RICK WILCOX: This would be at the top of the second full-length pitch. And David is leading the third pitch, which is toward the top of the climb. And on our right is a steep wall of ice, which is actually just the right angle for climbing. And on our left is the normal exit from the gully, which is low angle, and actually makes it a little more difficult to climb because with your short ice axis, you have to lean way over forward to reach the ice rather than having it closer to you (which steep ice, of course, is right in your face). So, David was above me about 50 feet, had put in an ice groove so that if he fell off he'd be protected from a long fall, and was trying to decide whether to go right up a little more challenging ice (it would be a nice finish to the climb) or to go left. Now, David had never climbed a gully before, and I had climbed it many, many times over the years. So, I told him we really should exit the normal way for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's the logical way to end by going up and to the left, and it brings you out on a large rock buttress, which is flat. And you have big drops on both sides of you and just a spectacular situation --where you can un-rope, you can have a snack, and you can put all your gear in your pack. And then it's a hike from there to the top of the rim -the rim being where the change of angle in the Alpine Gardens (the upper levels of Mount Washington) are flat versus the steep terrain that we're on -the technical terrain where we needed ropes and things. As he sort of procrastinated himself over whether he wanted a little more challenging finish or not, he began to realize that if he did climb to the right, he would be more directly above me; and because this upper part of the gully was very brittle, meaning it was very cold -it wasn't warm ice, it wasn't wet ice -that it would dinner plate, meaning it would be more like breaking glass. And all of these little pieces of ice, and maybe a big piece of ice, would come directly down on top of me, making it a very dangerous situation for me. So, David started to kind of hedge to the right a little bit and immediately realized that he was going to break a lot of ice, and it was going to be dangerous for me, and immediately made the decision to go back to the left and finish the gully in the normal manner. And that was sort of the discussion that we were having at that point.
CHADWICK: Tell me earlier on, when you're waiting on ... I want to go back down a little ... Actually, let me finish off right here. How steep is it where you are? You all have just been in a situation at the end of this pitch where he's clipping in, he's clipping out, he's saying "I'm unclipped now," and then "I'm clipped." Do you really need to be clipped onto a rope here? How steep is it? How steep is the terrain that you're on?
WILCOX: The terrain is much easier in lower angle than the first 400 feet of the gully. The gully's about 800 feet altogether. This upper section is maybe 45 degrees, which is fairly low angle. It's what we would consider Class 2:terrain -very easy terrain. The problem is that if he were to fall and we weren't hooked into anything (if we didn't have any ice screws in), we would fall the entire gully. The idea would be taking a lake of hard ice and tipping it up at about 45 degrees and then slipping on it. And immediately, you would rocket down the gully; and there'd be no way to stop yourself. And many people have been killed in this gully for exactly that reason. High in the gully, they've let down their guard. They've not taken the time to put in the ice screws and do the protection thing, and then they've fallen. And by falling, they would not only fall themselves; but they would take their partner with them. The two people fall the entire length of the gully and are killed. There'~ no survival--falling all the way down this gully. You'd rocket first down 45-degree ice, and then you would go airborne over the first part of the cliff that we had climbed, which is up to 60 degrees -and then land down on a pile of rocks. It's just not a good thing. So, that doesn't work. So, I had explained to David that my philosophy in climbing, which he totally agreed with, was that if you're going to be roped together, then you're going to use the ice screws. If we had chosen to solo the top part of the gully, then we would want to un-rope from each other because then if you fell, you would die but you would not kill your partner. The other thing is by soloing, you're 100 percent aware that the rope is not going to help you, and you don't fall. It's the safest way to climb. But, you just can't screw up. You know that if you slip. So, every time you stick in your ice ax and every time you stick in your crampons, it's a much more positive L???) than if you think, "Well, I'm coming up. The rope's going to hold me, and if something goes wrong, it'll catch me." As long as the rope is properly used, that's okay. But if you're not anchoring it properly, then it's a very dangerous thing to do.
CHADWICK: When you say that this is an easy place to be ... It's an easy place to be maybe if you've climbed Mount Everest ... Now, I don't like heights. I'm afraid of edges. And I don't know -a 45-degree slope that's covered in ... This thing is absolutely covered in ice?
WILCOX: It's blue ice -just like on a lake. It's not as smooth as a lake because it [onus up in bulges and bumps and these little steep sections. It's kind of like cauliflower almost. But it's very slippery, and there's no way if you fall, you're going to stop yourself without the rope. The rope will be what catches you.
CHADWICK: Are you nervous being up there at 45 degrees -a place covered with ice? You guys sound like you're being a little cautious. You're at least aware when you're unclipped from a screw or when David is shifting his rope from one fixture to another. You're at least telling each other when you're doing that.
WILCOX: Absolutely. There's a lot of communication between us because if he ... one of two things is going on: Either he is holding the rope' for me if I should fall, or I'm holding the rope for him if he should fall. When we change positions at the belay, meaning that I've just come up from below, I've hooked my rope directly into the anchors, these ice screws that are put into the ice; now, I'm off belay, meaning I'm safe, I cannot worry about falling down the gully --that the screws will hold me; I'm very secure. Then he unhooks himself slowly from the ice screws. I take his rope, put around into a belay position, meaning I'm controlling the rope, very tightly connected to him -no slack in it --so that I can hold him in the event that he should fall; even as he's unclipping the ice screw from himself, he would not fall a long distance, and I would be control of his life right now in that situation.
CHADWICK: In that situation ... So, he's unclipping, and you are holding ...
WILCOX: ... the rope ...
CHADWICK: ... the rope, and there's no slack in the rope. So, he's not connected to anything but your hands holding the rope.
WILCOX: Correct ... and a mechanical device that we use to help with friction on the rope because, obviously, if he fell 50 feet directly on me, there'd be a tremendous impact. One of the techniques that we use to make it much safer is we climb up ten feet or so and immediately place another ice screw, clip the rope through it, and this. works like a pulley. So, no matter how far he falls, I'm going to have a half force fall on me by having this pulley effect. Even if he's fallen past me, the pulley is still upwards on me through the ice screw. And this makes for a much, much safer situation. And on easy terrain, you don't want to be putting in an ice screw every ten feet. We were putting them in approximately every 50 feet ...
WILCOX: ... which meant that we were setting ourselves up for a 100-foot fall, if
someone were to slip. But we could, believe it or not, control that fall. The odds were we weren't going to fall, but even if we did, we would survive the situation.
CHADWICK: Have you ever had a fall on that climb? On that gully?
WILCOX: Not on that particular climb. No. In general, many ice climbers go years and years and years without falling because they know the consequences of falls are not good. The biggest problem we have falling is not so much getting killed. It's because we have these very, very sharp instruments on our feet called crampons. Almost any fall over ten feet, there's almost a 100 percent chance you're going to sprain or break an ankle because they will catch in the ice and flip you. And that torque on your leg will almost immediately ... the most common accident in ice climbing is a broken leg or a broken ankle from the cramp-ons(???) hitting the ice, and they absolutely just snap your leg. And being 3-... 400 ... 500 feet up a gully with a broken ankle is going to be an all day situation getting back down to the road. So, you want to avoid that. So, don't fall. It's simple. . ' ..
CHADWICK: It's really quite a pronouncement that it's safer to climb solo -because you're more focused?
WILCOX: Absolutely. It's life and death. Your life is, literally, totally in your control.
See, when you're leading ... and I'm holding the rope for David -if he falls, it's up to me to save his life. It's a partnership. But if you're soloing, you're now sole proprietor. You're the one responsible for your life and, if your fall, you die. So, it's a much different psychological experience. And you talked a little bit about the emotions. And I want to get back to that for just a second. I think you go through three stages of emotions in the climb: You have the anticipation of the climb, which is a little stressful: Is the weather going to be okay? Is the avalanche danger a problem? Are there other people in the gully that are above you dropping ice? And there were some people there when we first arrived. And we sort of took our time hiking up the last little bit to the gully once we realized there were people in it. They were very high in the gully; they were just finishing the last pitch. So, we gave them the time to finish. And there was a bunch of ice that came down that they knocked down. It's normal to knock down ice. So, we avoided that situation. Then, we climbed the crux of the gully, and this was the first 200 feet or so that averaged about 60 degrees. And once we were over this section, we realized there's an emotion that says we did real well on that. We went up it very efficiently. We climbed it in less than 45 minutes, which is very efficient. People take three, four hours very often on this section. And we're moving well. We're moving good as a partnership. And now we have an easy section of the gully to climb. And we
move very quickly on this easy terrain. But it was funny from that last belay where you're actually hanging in the gully rather than at the top where you feel very secure ... I looked down the gully and I couldn't see the first section because it's so steep; it drops off below you. I thought to myself, "Well, I sure don't want to slide down there and go catapulting off of that." And I looked back at the ice screws and double-checked the __(??), and just made sure that everything was as it should be in the event that either I or David slipped. When he went to the top, he found a big boulder right at the very summit and he wrapped a rope around the boulder, and he made a terrific anchor up there. So, even if! came up this very easy section and slipped, he would be able to easily hold me. And that's the kind of guy you want to climb with -a guy who's looking out for you --because your interests are his interests, obviously. You don't want to make a mistake on easy, simple terrain. And, like I said, more often than not, people are killed on easy terrain than difficult because on the difficult, they put in the eye screws, and they're very careful with their belays, holding the rope for each other. But when it gets easy, they get sloppy. And that's where you make a mistake, and that's where you get killed.
CHADWICK: You're at the bottom of the climb. You've gone past the __??__-catch, and you're at the bottom of the climb. You look up, you say, "This is the place." What is that place? What does it look like?
WILCOX: The gully is hidden from view from most people who would look up at Mount Washington. Maybe from Wildcat, they'd get a terrific view of the eastern slopes of Mount Washington because the gully splits a huge granite cliff., And what the gully is -it's a basalt dike in the granite, and it's eroded away over the years and left a ... if you can think of a slot, maybe 30 feet wide at the bottom, maybe ten feet wide at the top ... that's eroded away, and it's a natural water cause. So, the water coming down from the Alpine Gardens up high near where you picked us up in the snow cap at the seven-mile mark, where it's very flat -this ground water comes down to the top of the ravine and funnels into this gully. And during the summer, this is a beautiful waterfall there. In the winter, it freezes up and becomes a fabulous ice climb. At the last 400 feet, the rock is at an angle facing the north where you're actually under the roof of rock all the way to the very, very top. You sort of exit it, like coming out of a pipe almost ...and very spectacular situation -very, very sheer rock granite walls on both sides, particularly the rock over your head which overhangs for a good part of the distance up the gully.
CHADWICK: At the beginning of the second pitch, you've run through a hundred and sixty-five feet of rope, and you say that David at that point ... you've completed two pitches in one pitch.
CHADWICK: And what do you mean by that? Just put yourself back in that situation. You're saying that to him. And what are you saying and what's going through your mind? You're the guy who's actually done a lot of climbing on this thing. So, what's
going through your mind as you're saying that to him, and you're thinking about what you've done and what lies ahead?
WILCOX: Correct. When we started up the gully, we set up a belay at the base of the gully. And the first 50 feet or so are a little bit easier than the crux, which is about a hundred feet of this 60-degree ice. And I explained to David that the best route to take would be to climb diagonally slightly to the right of the gully --starting on the left side, diagonally to the right over maybe a hundred feet or so, crossing this 30 feet, following the line of least resistance; and then he'll find a place where, when he goes over it, I'll lose sight of him. And he should look for a place to belay; and you cannot belay just any old place. You have to find a place where you can stand; maybe you have to cut out a platform to stand on in the ice. But it has to be a little bit of a feature in the ice where you can put ice screws into very high quality ice. The strength of the ice screws is 100 percent dependent on the quality of the ice. If the ice is hollow or rotten or platy--you know this brittle ice that we get from extremely cold weather -then, they're not going to hold. And if they don't hold, then you're in a very dangerous situation. You could fall and pull the other guy off, and the ice screws fail, and then you're both down at the bottom of the gully. And that's not good. So, I warned him to start looking for a belay when he reached this certain point. So, he climbed up, and he put in a couple of ice screws; and then he yelled down to me that he saw up ahead a very excellent place to belay. But it was thirty more feet, and we were out of rope. So, he said, "Are you comfortable climbing with me at the same time?" Now, this is a technique used only by experts, meaning that he's not holding the rope for me and I'm not holding the rope for him. If either of us falls, it'll be a very bad situation --maybe not life-threatening because the screws that are in between us will still hold. But we don't have the normal belay. It's particularly bad for him because if he climbed up 30 more feet, and I climbed up 30 feet and fell, I would pull him off and he would fall 60 feet to the screw holding; him. So, we decided that this would be okay, and we would both be extremely careful and we would not fall. That's what's in your mind. So, I climbed up an additional 30 feet; he climbed the additional 30 feet to the nice belay point. The rope stopped going up. I knew he was at the belay point. I stopped and waited, keeping the rope tight between us. He put in two ice screws, tied himself off to the belay, yelled down to me that he was secure and he was going to put me on belay (meaning he's pulling up the rope tight to me); and now I could climb and now I could fall because he could easily hold me, particularly coming up second.
26:46 CHADWICK: So you're starting in this section ... This is the second pitch?
CHADWICK: ... which for normal climbers would be the third pitch.
WILCOX: Well, what we did by climbing together for 30 or 40 feet is we did the second pitch together. He led it, and I followed at the same time without setting up the normal belay. In other words, he should have been a little bit lower belaying. But he felt that it was safe enough to do what we did. Obviously it worked, so it was okay. And we eliminated a pitch of the climb by doing this. We had a little longer rope than normal, too. Most people would use a 165-foot rope. We were actually using a 200-foot rope on this climb. So, that's why we were able to stretch it out and eliminate some of the pitches in the gully.
27:55 CHADWICK: This is an unusual thing for you to be doing -to be climbing like this?
WILCOX: This is a technique that would be used only by experts that had a lot of
confidence in each other's abilities. Also, there is communication. If! had said, "No, David, I don't want to climb with the chance of pulling you off because I don't feel secure enough; I feel like maybe I'm rusty or I just don't feel okay with the ice," then he would have to improvise a belay to the best of his ability, maybe compromising a good place to be for a not so good place to be. But it would be his job to make solid anchors so that I could climb up safely. And that's something that he and I kind of worked out together as we climbed the gully. This is problem-solving, and problem-solving is such a wonderful part of climbing because the gully is never the same twice. Jt's not like a rock climb, where every time you climb a rock climb, each handhold' is. exactly the same. ; Each time you climb an ice climb, it is totally different. The bulges are different, the ice texture is different, the temperature is different ... the wind, the snow, the kind of day ... As you know, we had a perfect day. The sky was blue; there was no wind. We were climbing in our lightweight gloves. We carried two kinds of gloves -heavy gloves for very cold weather that are very cumbersome, and nice lightweight gloves which, if you can use them, are fabulous because you can grab all the little different gadgets -these __71_ ... We used the metal clips with the springs in them for hooking the ropes and the ice screws. It's just a lot more pleasant to work with your fingers than heavy gloves. We had that all going for us on this climb. We were able to use more aggressive techniques. On a nastier day, we certainly would have been more conservative in the way we were climbing.
CHADWICK: Let me go back down earlier in the day. We're walking up the trail, and we stop to do some stuff. And some people happen by, and they say, "Oh, my God, it's David Breashears!" I really was amazed at the reaction to this guy ... I thought this kind of thing was reserved for rock stars, but maybe David is a rock star.
WILCOX: He is a rock star. Yes.
CHADWICK: He's a ROCK rock star, not a rock star. You've known him for 20 years. What's it like for you to climb with someone who was a kid coming into your store, and now I guess he's become pretty famous?
WILCOX: He's very famous. And he's certainly world class. We all have our little niches in the world, and we both are pretty much on the same page with a lot of that because of our interest in the Himalayas and big mountains. We're both very good at big mountains. And I think that his situation of coming across some individuals who recognized him from watching television, and watching NOVA programs and things like that was pretty neat ... that there's a small, small group of individuals out there that actually pay attention to the world of mountains, and know who some of the players are. I felt not surprised at all that these people would have that reaction. I think that's a normal reaction, and David is quite a celebrity in the big world of mountains. There's no question about it -particularly on television. He spends a little more time on television than the average world-class climber because of his profession. He creates NOVA movies and all these different documentaries on __??_ and ??_., ,and let's just face it: He's an authority on Everest, and Everest is big stuff. So, that's why these people have this reaction to him.
31 :48 PAUSE (Radio Click)
32:43 CHADWICK: What about you two guys who have both been to the top of Mount Everest , ... both led big expeditions to the tallest mountains in the world; .. for you two to be climbing this gully with beginning climbers? ... Maybe they think. that it's okay for them to go up it because these mountains don't seem very intimidating, and I bet people would not expect people to encounter you guys, especially David,' climbing up this little .Mount Washington.
WILCOX:¿ Well, they have to understand that the reason that we're there is because we really enjoy this kind of stuff. This is kind of a fun day off for us to go up and do a neat climb on a mountain like Mount Washington, that has so much to offer. We have a nice two-hour hike up to the base of the gully. We have a challenging life-and-death gully -if you screw up, you can kill yourself; and, very easily, experts do. Dan Duty was killed in Pinnacle Gully, and he was on the 1963 American Everest expedition. He was considered one of our best climbers in the country. And he was killed there when he fell and all the ice screws failed, and he and his partner fell the entire length of the gully in --I think it was 1970, around there some time.
CHADWICK: That same gully?
WILCOX: That one, yes. And I'd say probably that gully has claimed eight or ten lives over the years. So, even when the beginners go there, they have to go with experts. It's an expert gully. It's not something that intermediate or beginner ice climbers could safely climb. They need to be expert climbers. However, on the scale of experts, it's a relatively easy climb in the big picture of climbs. But it has all the seriousness of any major climb for ice. David and I enjoy the sort of overall experience of six or seven hours of hard work. It's hard work. At the end of the day, we walked very slowly up the
last few slopes to where you picked us up with the snow cat. There's a snow slope up about a quarter of a mile that we have to go from the rim to the flat area where the snow cat picked us up. We walked very slowly, and I led this section, and David was walking behind me; and he was saying, "Gee, we're beginning to feel a little bit like we're at high altitude here. We're slowing down." We're not going footstep, footstep, footstep. We're going step, rest; couple of steps, rest. And this is how we climb at high altitude. And it's because we'd had a great workout --not a workout in the gym for twenty minutes -I mean a seven-or eight-hour workout. It's a wonderful feeling, and it's something that we need more of. We crave it. But, in our everyday lives, of going out and earning a living, we can't do as much of this as we'd like to, even though it seems crazy to some people to put yourself in a dangerous situation. But the danger is very controllable. It really is. And you have the options of making it more or less dangerous, depending on your style.
36:00 CHADWICK: Just tell me, what did you all do when you emerged at the rim?
WILCOX: Well, David got to the top first. He led the last pitch up, where he was procrastinating which way to go, and finally went the way that I sort of suggested because it has a logical exit. The reason you want to come out in this particular place is also because the slopes above ... there's a little bit of a rib that you can walk on that drops off a little bit on both sides. It's not technical, it's hiking. But it makes it very easy to get to the rim, which is about another 600 feet. It takes maybe ten or fifteen minutes to hike up this section. ¿So, what he did is ¿he found a big rock. He wrapped a rope around the rock, using it for an anchor. He brought me up, meaning as I climbed, he pulled in the rope~ When we were together, we sort of did two things. He went to work sorting out the ice screws, the carabiner, and those things. I went to work sorting out the climbing rope. We sat down on some flat rocks; I pulled out my thermos bottle; we both had a cup of coffee. We ate a snack -a little bit of food. He pulled out the cell phone and tried to call you guys. I don't think he was able to get through. But then, he called his girlfriend in Boston and got through to her; and they had a nice chat, and [he] told her that we were done with the climb, we were un-roping, we were taking off our harnesses, and that we would now climb to the rim, which is the proper top of the ravine, and we would continue on to the seven-mile mark, where we would run into you guys around three 0'clock. And that's what we did.
CHADWICK: As you were walking along that rib, you say it falls away sharply on either side?
WILCOX: I don't think "sharply" is quite the right word. When you look at a slope full of rocks, snow and ice, you have to pick out a route. And this takes some experience and you kind of look at it and you say, "Well, if I go up this bit of snow here and then I step a little bit to the left, I can get onto another little section and go up that and avoid that rock, and then I can avoid the ice by going a little bit more to the right. And so you sort of zig and zag your way up the slope, following the line of least resistance and staying on non-technical terrain --meaning terrain where you don't need a rope, you don't need any special gear to be safe. If you fell and slid down some of the sections there, you could possibly go right back down in the gully. You have the gully under your heels below you. You have this rock buttress which you had your snack on right below you. But for our skill level, it's a very, very reasonable thing to do. Now, you mentioned that you don't like hanging over edges of buildings or bridges or things like that. I think a person who had a lot less experience in the mountains probably would want to rope there. And if I were guiding the gully with a relatively inexperienced climber, I would do what they call short-roping. I wouldn't necessarily belay every inch of the way to the top like we did in the gully. But I would keep the client on a short rope, maybe 30 feet; and then if he came to a section where he might slip, I would be watching him very carefully -this section where he could possibly take a long fall --I would stop and brace myself so that if he did slip, I would prevent him from getting hurt. These are guiding techniques that climbers like David and I would not necessarily need to use because ofour skill level. The pinnacle gully experience for many ice climbers is the climax of their ice-climbing career. It certainly was not for David or I. But when I climbed the gully in 1969 with that first group that tried to climb it without cutting footsteps, I thought I was on the Eiger north _??_. I thought I was on one of these climbs ... I for sure thought that if I lived through today, it would be so wonderful. And that has changed over the years to an easy day for a couple of climbers that are fairly experienced. And there are other climbs that we have done that are much more challenging. But it's a classic; it's what we call a classic, and it has all the elements of a great adventure. And that's what we're really looking for --some great adventure up there, and the situation with the big, big drops under you, and the granite cliffs and the frost on everything and the r_?? and everything -it's just so neat!
CHADWICK: How do you feel when you get done with a big adventure like that?
WILCOX: The third emotion is one of the reward of doing a nice job. We were very pleased with both of our performances on the climb. We didn't wimp out, we didn't slip, we didn't fall, we didn't whine. We had a good time. We kind of kept it together. We were a good team. We actually climbed very well together. We didn't have to, "Hey you, could you hold the rope a little tighter? Hey you, you're not letting it out fast enough" There was none of that. We worked very efficiently together as if we'd been climbing together for years. This comes from years of climbing in general, and respecting each other's abilities and things like that. When we sat on top and had our cup of coffee and our snack, we looked down in the gully -which is right under your feet -we felt very satisfied that we had done a good job. And we checked the time and we knew that we would be able to rendezvous with you, which was also one of our goals. And we weren't going to hold you guys up. So, with less adrenaline running through our veins now, [we] started up these slopes. And like I said, after we got to the rim and we crossed this long, relatively low-angle snow slope, our pace became very slow. And the reason it slowed down was because that adrenaline is gone and the reserves that you climbed with are not necessary any more. We don't need extra power to put in the ice axis, we don't need to be concentrating on a slip here and I'm going to die and I'm going to take a long fall. All those emotions are gone. So now, we're just hiking up a snow slope, sort of looking around. The clouds are coming in. David, at one point, said, "Now, you know where you're going, right Rick?" because we took a short cut. We went off the trail that normal people would follow because I knew where I was. It was my backyard. It was very comfortable. He said, "Normally, we would go across here and then up." And I said, "That's correct. But we're cutting off the triangle by a short cut here, which might save us ten or fifteen minutes" --but only because I know where I am and what I'm doing. And it was actually easier __??_, at this point, going up the snow slope. So, just that kind of ... you know, here comes the storm. Aren't we happy we're not going to be up here tonight when the storm comes in and things like that?
43:04 CHADWICK: You've never climbed together before?
WILCOX: Not like that. Nope. We've been together in the Himalayas in base camps. He's been running his, trip; I've been running my trip. We've done programs together where we were co-lecturers, but never on the rope like that together after all those years. So that was kind of a nice thing to do finally after all these years.
CHADWICK: Where are you climbing next?
WILCOX: Well, I'm leading an expedition at the end of March to Troy_" ??_' -there's a real household name if there ever was one -the sixth highest peak in the world". And¿ similar to Everest, Troy??_ is a boundary peak between Nepal on the south and Tibet to the north. In 1985, I climbed the south face of Troy_ on a three-month expedition, just missing the summit by a few hundred feet because of a rock cliff that we couldn't get up on the very, very last summit ridge after completing the face" climb. As I sat up there on the ridge and we actually climbed the peak next to Troy_ (which is over 26,000 feet tall) and sat there on top of that other peak called G_??_-1 (there's another household name), I looked over at Troy??_ across the ridge and I said, "Well, if! ever have an opportunity, I'll come back and try and climb the peak from the north side." And the north side is quite a bit easier. It's a similar expedition. It'll be about two months total time. And, after 34 expeditions now, I decided it was time to go to the north side of Troy_??_. I rounded up some people to go with me, and we'll be heading over at the end of March to go to the north side, which is quite different. The northern side of the Himalayan is totally different from the south. We'll go to Lhasa, Tibet to see a little bit of the Buddhist culture up there, or what's left of it, and Jeep across the desert rather than hiking through lush jungles like you do in Nepal, and set up our base camp and go to work climbing the north ridge of Troy_?_. Then, hopefully, some time around the first week of May, we'll be putting some people up on top -ten-man expedition. So, it's what I love to do. I do a major expedition like this every two or three years, and in between I'll do shorter, one-month expeditions into easier areas. And I've been specializing in the last 15 years on Himalayan expeditions actually.
45:35 CHADWICK: All right. Thanks a lot. Thank you so much for coming down.
49:08 AC: what does it feel like when you're setting an ice ax and you're climbing. Cuz one time :you say next time I do this I'm just gonna take one ax.
DB: the climbing wasn't very hard, and I didn't find it very challenging with 2 ice axes. And one ice ax means that one has to use the crampons on their feet better. And be better balanced. And in order to increase the challenge and use better technique, one ice ax instead of two will do that.
So if you can imagine that if you only have one ice ax then while you're swinging that ice ax your other hand is just laying flat against the ice. So if you slip, if either of your feet pop off, you'll fall. Whereas when you have two ice axes it's very very forgiving. And that's all it is. If you have one ice ax on ice that is not very steep it causes one to focus much more on technique and footwork.
AC: it's funny; Rick was talking about the same thing in a slightly different context. He was talking about if you were going solo you'd be so much more focused, you wouldn't be roped, and he said that's actually the safest way to climb, which is surprising to me.
DB: for a gully of that difficulty solo climbing with two ice tools, one in each hand would be fairly safe. You get such good placements that, if the ice is good and you're careful, that you have to try to fall off. Now things can happen that are completely beyond your control. You could break an ice tool. That is extremely rare. If you treat it properly. That could cause fall off while soloing. Or if you made the mistake of soloing while people were climbing above you, which no one would do that, then big pieces of ice knocked down on you could knock you off. But the thing about soloing is you have to have faith in the quality of the ice as much as in your technique and the quality of your tool. Because that's the medium, which is enabling you to ascend, is the ice. Yesterday's ice was what I would call extremely fine ice in terms of its quality. It wasn't' very brittle, it took the ice tools and the crampons with a great deal of elasticity, and ... the pleasures and challenges of climbing ice, is that water flows over bulges and little rock steps, it'll flow one way an a morning and freeze a certain way, and because of that bulge be diverted the next morning. And so a climb changes daily or weekly, an ice climb is never the same from year to year. But the you read an ice route. You look up it and there are places where you know by looking at the color of the ice, the texture of the ice, and the shape of the ice, you have a good idea of the quality of the ice. Certain bulges are very very awkward because it forms a lens as the water pours over a bulge and freezes, when its extremely cold, that ice may not be as well attached ... Smokey ... that ice may not be as well attached to the underlying ice. And it fractures. Its very unnerving when big pieces of ice just from a nominal blow from the ice ax ... big pieces we call dinner plates because it comes off in the shape of a dinner plate but of course much thicker. And it can fall and it can knock your feet off.
54:25 AC: tell me what as you go up does the character of the ice change?
DB: it can change dramatically. Some climbs can have very very beautiful soft well-formed ice at the base and have very poor quality chandelier ice at the top. Chandeliered ice is just what one would think. It's layers of small vertical or even large vertical icicles. And so there's a lot of air in it and the ice ax doesn't have anything to grip. It just pulls through the chandelier. Sometimes these things can be many feet thick, or just 6 or 7 inches thick. sometimes you have running water over the ice, which makes the ice very soft, but it's very annoying because it runs down one's arm and into your armpit and down into your chest. Or it just gets your gloves wet. And then once you get higher maybe things are colder things start to freeze, the rope starts to freeze. That can be a real problem on a nice climb is in warmer weather getting your rope soaking wet, and then at the top trying to deal with a piece of cable.
DISCUSSION OF HEATING SYSTEM IN HOUSE
56:22 DB: the ice can change on a route in a matter of five feet, the quality of the ice and it can change even more quickly from side to side. And when I look at a piece of ice, I look at its texture, the shape of the flow, and the color, whether it's clear or opaque. And you choose where to place your ice ax, it just comes with experience. And a dimple in the ice, as opposed to bulges, small dimples, concave places as opposed to convex, often have better quality ice. Well, a dip has a better quality of ice than a bulge, that's fairly typical.
57:09 AC: If I just look at those crampons that you're wearing, and you see these spikes sticking out the front of them, and you're going up this wall of ice, kicking in, just from thinking about the physics of it, it doesn't look as if those crampons would actually stick in the ice. I imagine them making a gouge and the point of the crampon not actually hooking in. So what's the technique, cuz we can hear and feel you climbing up, but I don't really know what you're doing with your feet.
DB: I'm kicking and I'm trying to not kick too hard, because you can kick out the ice. You can kick so hard that you chisel out the piece that you're trying to stand on. And once again it all has to do with the air temperature and the quality of the ice. When its minus below zero below F, the ice can shatter like glass. In pinnacle gully it was warm enough that the ice was very forgiving, and I could just kick in ¿very lightly and I could get the purchase I needed. But those h\lo front points at the end of our crampons, each of which are a vertical blade of metal about a n inch and a half long and abut 3/16 of an inch wide and about a half inch tall, they offer quite a good purchase. It comes down to technique as it always does. You can give a certain golf club to any ten golfers and the golfer with the better technique is going to hit the ball better. Its just not in the tools. What I'm concentrating on doing when I'm using my feet is to get a good stance, with my feet about shoulder width apart, so I don't feel as if I'm barn dooring. And what we call barn dooring in climbing is when you release one hand and you start to feel as though you want to swing off the root, the way that a barn door opens. So you have to be properly centered over your feet. The other thing that's v important is to keep your heels low. Your heels are generally a little bit lower than your crampons, when you look a t an ice climber using good technique standing on ice. So I'm thinking about a slight flex in my knee, and keeping my heels slightly lower than my front points.
1 :00:01 AC: it's not a normal way for humans to go about. Normally your toes are lower.
DB: the most common mistake in ice climbing is to straighten your leg, which negates all possible kind of shock absorbing effect of your legs. cuz now they're straight. .. and to raise your heels as you try to reach to far with your ice ax. And as you raise your heels you actually pry out the front points and they pop out. And ... the way I look at it when I'm ice climbing and I'm in pinnacle gully standing there my hips and knees and ankles are detached from my upper body. Any movement I make swinging an ice ax or hunting around for an ice screw-placement, I make and it is not transmitted or telegraphed down to my feet. You want to keep your feet still. It's easy to keep swinging and swinging to get a placement, you're swinging an ice ax, it's attached to your wrist and your shoulder, and if you're tired you tend to use your upper body for extra leverage. And as you swing and swing your feet get pried further and further out, and you can pop off the ice. If you watch really talented and experienced ice climbers and they swing that ice ax you watch their heels. Their heels don't move. And that's what I'm thinking about. . paying attention to my feet, and not letting the movement of my upper body be transmitted down to movement in my boots or feet.
1:01 :50 AC: you're thinking about that but you're not stationary, you're going up all the while.
DB: I tend to like to get a good placement with my left hand, my left ice ax, bring my feet up till my left elbow-is bent completely, as far as I can tuck it in against my chest, place my feet, feel comfortable, relaxed, swing with the right hand tool, plug it a placement, and then before you pull out the tool you know is placed well, that would be in your left hand, you test, slightly tug, on the new placement. Just a few quick little tugs, imperceptible to the someone watching you. You then feel free to first release your left hand, bring up your feet, and swing in your left ice ax. And so it's a very rhythmic movement, everything is very planned, and looking up the icefall. one plans the moves, many moves in advance.
1 :03: 10 AC: you say at one point, hey Rick, this is you're on the second pitch, and you're a good ways up there, and you yell down to Rick, how much rope? what are you asking him?
DB: a standard rope is about 165 feet long. when we climb a rope length we call that a pitch. A pitch isn't always a rope length. And we go from stance to stance. Or belay stance to belay stance. On an ice climb, its' not always natural that if you run out the entire rope length, 165 feet, that you are at the best place to belay. Because of the undulations in the ice. It's the same for rock climbing. So I might want to belay after only 140 feet. Because if I don't belay on this nice ice ledge, I'm going to try to belay on a vertical piece of ice, that's a very poor quality ice. On a route that bulges like pinnacle gully I could no longer see Rick down at the belay stance and it was hard to communicate because of the gully we were in. So when I got to a point t where I thought I should belay, I wanted to know how much more rope I had left. I could only guess how far above Rick I was. He is the one on the belay; standing there looking at how much rope is remaining. And he shouted up to me you're almost out of rope, well I'm almost out of rope, I have to belay. And I placed two ice screws and I brought him up.
1:05:05 AC: there's one point in the climb where you're nearly at a point where you need to stop. And you call down to him and he's moving I think and you ask can you continue to climb and he says yes. And so for a while the 1wo of you are climbing. And he explained this morning that this is something only quite experienced climbers should do. But what is going on there?
DB: I had come to the end of the rope. And I didn't like the place where I would have to. belay. Because what it meant to me was that if Rick was standing there, if I belayed there .. .it was a secure place to belay, but it s not a place where I wanted someone to be standing when on the next pitch I would be above them knocking office. When you are the leader and you're looking for a belay, you not only look for a safe place for you to bring up the person behind you, you look for a place where you are protected or out of the way of the ice that will be knocked down from the next pitch, So I didn't think it was a good place for rick to be, the climbing had become quite moderate at this point, the climbing that tick would be on when he left his belay was also very moderate. And with ice screws already in the ice on the pitch between us, I continued climbing, and when the rope came tight, he removed the anchor and he started climbing. Now it's not a very common technique, it's for very experienced climbers on moderate terrain. The end result of any fall, given that good ice screws were already attached to the rope in-between us, would be that I would take a long fall and he would get jerked up a few feet and the weight of his body would act as a counterbalance and stop me. But it's not something I encourage people to do. I trust Rick, he trusts me, and the ice was very good.
1:07:37 AC: when you say its moderate, he's described this stretch to me, and he also said its quite moderate. And he said its approx 45 degrees there, and it's covered with ice, and very very good climbers have died there in pinnacle gully. Guy who was on the 63 Everest team died there in 1970. I know it's quite moderate, but any person who saw this I think might view it differently. Not a climber, but say a person likes myself.
DB: it would have appeared to be a little bit dangerous, but I felt absolutely no danger at that point. I had placed a good ice screw ...just before I placed that ice screw I just described I was 80 feet above my last piece of protection, which meant I could have fallen 160 feet to the base of the climb. Once I put that ice screw in and Rick and I were climbing simultaneously, I only climbed 20 feet above that ice screw, I could only fall 40 feet. And I have great faith in the protection I place. If any of that ice protection had been poor or I didn't have faith in it, we wouldn't have done that. But you know people die walking down he sidewalk. You know they fall over hit their head and get a hematoma. You know just because someone dies in pinnacle gully doesn't mean it's a dangerous place. It means .. .it's more likely that it means somebody made a terrible mistake. When we finished the climb, we got into an area called the alpine garden. Which is normally windswept, but it wasn't that day. And it's covered with patches of ice. And I try to step from rock to rock and grass hummock to grass hummock, these little pieces that poke through the ice. And Rick, very wisely and I assume learned why he wore his crampons. I didn't want to wear them. I don't like walking in crampons on level ground. But I was probably in more danger of slipping and falling, having my feet go out from under me, and bash an elbow or hand or my shoulder, than I was when I was leading in pinnacle gully.
1:10:33 AC: let me just ask you about the beginning of the climb. You're starting out, you're at the base, and you go up about, you make this climb up about 50 feet. Rick's at the bottom and I can hear you moving away from him. clamping ,with the ice axes, and it feels quite enclosed by the sound of. .. the quality of the tape is enclosed. In that space, is there light in there?
DB: there's light in pinnacle gully. It's a slot that runs diagonally thru a vertical rock wall. And as you approach pinnacle gully, you can't see it. You step right up to the best and it appears slanting diagonally up to the right through a rock wall. The slot at the base is quite deep and wide. Its maybe 50 feet , wide, and 100 feet deep ,with the left wall overhanging the gully. And it's a remarkable setting for a climb because as one gets higher, the slot gets deeper and narrower until overhanging one directly is this wall covered in bright green lichen in places and its a dark wall, making the lichen even more vivid, and you can see the power of the wind some days on mt Washington, because snow is blown into the most unlikely places and plastered to overhanging rock. I really like that experience of being on that climb, because in the space of 15 feet you emerge from this dark gully, you're not in the sun and it feels very enclosed, and I took a few steps up onto the buttress and I was in the sun, and now all of the white mt range to the east and north was revealed to me. whereas you can't see much when you're back in that slot. And its very comfortable, it was windless, and I just sat down on a big rock threw the rope around a boulder for a belay, and brought Rick up. And those kinds of transitions are what make certain kinds of climbs so enjoyable. Cause, we went from hiking up Huntington ravine, with tremendous views of this beautiful mountain above us ... we climbed into this dark slot that was quite beautiful actually, the ice in that slot, and the lichen and the rock, and then for several hours we couldn't' see very much..., we could see slightly across the ravine. and then we emerged into this glorious view, looking back across to wildcat , to the summit of mt. washington, and in the sun. If it would have been a colder day, that sun would have been very much welcomed, but on that day it was just nice to be out of the shadows.
1: 14 :03 AC: is there anything that you would learn on a climb like that? It struck me partly that the reaction to your presence from the climbers that were going up the trail-gosh, here's David Breashears climbing mt washington-is there anything that you would learn from that or does it seem so tame that its scarcely worth your while.
DB: on a climb like pinnacle gully, in terms of technique, or how to improve my climbing, you don't learn much. It's the kind of climbing I was doing when I was 18 years old. (AC: laughs-smoke doesn't think much of it either.) (DB: now he's insulted...you take off buddy). And so ... but that's not why I go on a climb like that. What you learn on a day like that is you learn about life and nature on a mountain in a very harsh winter environment. Its just remarkable to walk through those woods and through the hardwoods and the spruce, and then the hardwoods disappear as you get higher, and then as you finally leave the spruce forest, its now reduced to trees only 8 or 9 feet tall because of the wind and the altitude and the cold, and there it is, for you to see. That in the span of two hours you can walk from -in our planet-from a place which is quite comfortable for big trees to grow tall and survive, to a place where life's a little more difficult. And then to know-that we've developed these tools to explore these little areas on these mountains like ice gullies or waterfalls, and then to climb back into that slot and to see the beautiful colors of the lichen. And to climb out of the gully and tiptoe across the alpine garden up into even more different snow conditions, and to look at the rime ...rime ice, which surprises people because it grows into the wind as these pellets, small pieces of airborne water vapor build up-they almost look like a form of plant life. They're just such exotic and yet beautiful shapes. So on a day like that I don't go out to be as much a climber as a winter visitor to a off the beaten path on a remarkable part of our country, a remarkable place, mt Washington.
1:17:15 AC: maybe you get something too out of climbing for the first time with your friend Rick, who you've known for ...
DB: Well, Rick. .. Rick's a great companion, and I learned a lot about the mountain during that walk and that climb. Rick has been on that mountain I think for almost 30 years or maybe longer ...he's climbed all aspects of that mountain, he's skied it, he's climbed it, he's hiked it. And it was really a pleasure. You know I haven't paid enough attention to that mountain. l\nd I could easily walk up again w-ith Rick and not be bored for a moment.
1:18:05-1:18:48 AMBI: ROOM TONE
1:18:49 DB: I wanted to say a couple of things that I think you'll find useful. And that is that when, when I'm climbing... climbing, especially on ice as well as on rock, is very absorbing. The great thing about it is what really matters is what's right in front of you. Staying attached to that piece of ice in a calm and self assured manner. And yet there's other things to keep track of: how much rope you've run out, how far below you placed your last ice screw, and of course what route you'll take above. But when I am climbing, technique is very important to me. To execute climbing in a very refined and effortless manner. So I'm always thinking about the shape of my swing and the movement of the ice ax through the air, and where I start the swing and how I end the swing. And I have a shape for it, and I visually that shape. And when I really start-if I get tired, and start to hack away, and just bang away, you lose the shape to your swing. But there's this dialogue that a climber has, and maybe it's on many levels. There's the dialogue of how much strength do I have? What do my calf and forearm muscles feel like right now? How much rope is left? where am I going to place the next ice screw? How far below is the last ice screw? How do I kick and not hit the rope? Cause sometimes the rope is running down right between your feet, and it's not a good idea at all to kick that rope and cut in half your lifeline. You won't cut clear through it. And then you control your breathing and then when you finally get to the end of a pitch and can relax, you get to enjoy the place at which you've arrived. And look down and admire the route above and below.
1:21:20 AC: there's a great place where you come and you do that, and you turn around and you describe the hills that you're seeing and you're looking down the gully ...I think a lot about you controlling your breathing because you're huffing when you're going up, but. . .I mean this is a real workout that you're going through. I mean you're breathing hard but its quite controlled, and when you do stop to rest, very quickly you're not heaving at all. I guess that's a tribute to your physical condition, which is obviously very good, but it's got to be more than that.
DB: I was climbing faster than I normally would, I felt we were behind schedule ... I wasn't climbing really fast, but I was probably climbing twice as fast as I normally would. I haven't worn a pack for a w-hi1e. I don't like to wear a pack ice climbing because to me its like if you asked someone who enjoys modern dance or ballet, no matter how good they are, its about the movement and about the freedom. And for me a pack is very constricting. when you're on really hard ice climbing, you don't wear a pack. And so it's cinched up around your waist, the strap's, the arm straps compress your chest, so one breathes harder than they need to on a climb of that difficulty because of things like that. But its very important to control you're breathing. I think a lot of people, when they get scared in that fight or flight response, there's a great constriction of the muscles in the chest area. And it's not good. You have to keep taking nice deep relaxing breaths..... which you probably didn't hear, I'm up there going (PANTING)
AC: no you're not, you're not. You're going (breath) chop chop, and, both of you are ... neither one of you is breathing nearly as hard as I though you would be.
DB: you probably got better breathing as we were kicking steps up to where we unpacked the gear. I was breathing there, man.
AC: your breathing is hard when you're walking in the forest as 'when you're climbing, or almost. I mean its quite remarkable you both are, and hmv steady the ascent feels from, just from hearing it,
DB: that's due to the climb being reasonable.
AC: when you talk about how focused you are w-hen you're climbing, and how it's wry absorbing, I gather this is not really a very challenging place for either one of you to be. But are you absorbed in your own physical safety while you're on that?
DB: on a climb like pinnacle, the thoughts were not focused in that manner that' they would be had I felt in any kind of danger from the difficulty of the climbing, poor quality of the ice, or the poor protection. Because you can do some really hard climbing if you have faith in the protection that you won't fall very far or hit anything. Cuz they're two different things. You can take huge falls off vertical cliffs where there's nothing to hit, the rope is kind of like a bungee jump in a way. But on cliffs that aren't vertical or have protrusions, you hit things on the way down, and its very very dangerous. So...you don't fall ice climbing. That's not part of it. But the concentration and the focus on a day like yesterday or on the climb of pinnacle gully, were about focusing on technique, not about any fear of falling off. It was just about, I'm trying to find the right rhythm, and not just make a mess of it. There are ways to just. .. two or three or a dozen people can all climb the same ice climb, and all of those ascents are of a different quality, depending on the expertise and the ability of the climber. You can go up there and beat that climb to a pulp and hack away and kick away and place ice screws every 10 feet, and use really modem tools and reduce the climb instead of-by technology instead of by superior technique.
1 :26:35 AC: so you're trying, even on a place like that. a 'very modest place, its important for you to be elegant in your climb, to make a ...to finish a piece of work that is.
DB: it's important for my climb to be an expression of the way that I think climbing should be done. But only the way I think it should be done by me. Economy of movement and control generally mean safety to me, you see. When one is out there bashing around, and scared, and swinging harder and harder, then that's not a good place to be. Because it's a time when you could be nearing a fall. So to me the proper execution of climbing and climbing technique means a safe ascent and one that you can feel pleased about. I could do a much harder climb than that, but if I made a mess of it and slipped off or just generally beat the climb up, I would feel less satisfied than having done an easier route better.
1:28:03 END OF CONVERSATION