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  1. #1
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    SURVIVOR’S GUILT IN THE MOUNTAINS

    This is a fantastic article about survivor's guilt and climbing but I figure it'd resonate here.

    n mountain towns, an early-autumn snowstorm is a nuisance and a lure. It runs some people out of the high country but draws others in. During the first week of October, 2017, a foot or more of snow fell in the peaks south of Bozeman, Montana. Before dawn on the fifth, a group set off from a parking lot in Hyalite Canyon, a popular outdoor playground, just outside town. The man at the head of the group was spooked by the new snow. To minimize exposure to avalanches, he made sure that everyone ascended with caution, keeping to the ridgelines and bare patches, away from the loaded gullies. This was Conrad Anker, the famous American alpinist. It is often said that there are old climbers and there are bold climbers, but there are no old bold climbers. So far, Anker, at fifty-four, was an exception.

    There was nothing intrepid, really, about this particular outing. It was basically a hike up a minor mountain formerly known as Peak 10031 (for its unremarkable altitude of 10,031 feet), which had been rechristened in 2005 in honor of the late climber and Bozeman idol Alex Lowe. The group was headed to Alex Lowe Peak to spread Alex Lowe’s ashes. Anker recognized that it would be cosmically stupid to kick off an avalanche on the way.

    Lowe died in 1999, at the age of forty, during an ascent of Shishapangma, in the Himalayas. At the time, he was considered by many to be the world’s preëminent alpinist, and, even in a pursuit where untimely death is almost routine, his came as a shock. He was game for anything yet prudent, in his way—more dervish than daredevil. Still, snow is water, and it aims downhill. On Shishapangma, a massive avalanche entombed two climbers, Lowe and the cameraman David Bridges, under tons of frozen debris. A third, Anker, who’d fled in another direction, got flattened and engulfed by the blast, but after the air cleared he found himself stumbling through an altered landscape, alive and alone.

    Lowe’s wife, Jennifer, back in Bozeman, got the call from base camp twelve hours later. Through the static of the satellite connection, Anker confirmed that her husband was gone. She’d had premonitions and dreams about this trip and—uncharacteristically, because she’d been a climber, too, and a supporter of her husband’s exploits—had begged Lowe not to go. But he’d felt obliged, both to his climbing partners and to the North Face and NBC Sports, which were underwriting the expedition. “It’s my job,” he’d told her. “It’s a work trip.” She and Lowe had three sons, aged ten, seven, and three.

    Lowe’s peers had admired him not only for his exploits on rock and ice but for his attentiveness as a husband and father, though it says something about the mountaineer mind-set that a man who spent several months of the year away from home was considered a dutiful dad. “We were all in awe of him because he was able to climb and be a father,” Anker told me. Anker and Lowe were best friends, kindred spirits, and regular partners. Anker took it on himself to look after Jenni and the boys, spending more and more time in Bozeman with them, doing what he could to help them muddle through, and also to find a purpose for himself—a reason to live. Less than two years after Alex’s death, Anker and Jenni were married. Anker adopted the boys, and Lowe-Anker, as Jenni now called herself, had another world-class climber for a mate, with all the glory, anxiety, and exasperation that entails.

    In 2016, while in Nepal, Anker got one of those calls where, as he puts it, you know what the news will be before you even put the phone to your ear. It was from his friend and colleague David Göttler, who was climbing on Shishapangma. He’d come across some old North Face gear, and after some digging had uncovered what appeared to be the bodies of David Bridges and Alex Lowe. Their corpses had melted out of the glacier sooner than anyone had expected—climate change. A couple of months later, Anker, Lowe-Anker, and the three boys travelled to the Himalayas to recover the bodies.

    For the boys, the trip was proof that their father was indeed dead, that there was no chance of a miraculous return, something that Max, the eldest, had fantasized about as a child. Anker, for his part, had had a recurring dream in which Lowe showed up to reclaim his brood. “It was all super heavy-duty for me,” Anker told me. “Here’s his wedding band, here’s his camera, here’s my water bottle in his daypack.” Lowe was found on his back, arms crossed over his chest. “He had his hand with his wedding ring curled against his heart,” Lowe-Anker said. It was hard work to dig out the bodies, wrap them up, and haul them down to base camp, including a rappel off a cliff. They’d lugged in a cord of wood and some accelerant. There is no real template for an encounter, in the high alpine, with the frozen corpses of a father, husband, and friend. “We looked at them for a day,” Anker said. “And then we wrapped them and cremated them.”

    These were the ashes that the family brought up to Alex Lowe Peak, a year later. At the top, they scattered the remains and said their farewells—closure, of a kind, eighteen years to the day after Lowe disappeared under the snow. It was dark when they got back to the car.

    Earlier that week, Anker had run into a young climber named Hayden Kennedy at a Bozeman climbing gym. Kennedy, twenty-seven, had a few years earlier won a Piolet d’Or, the yearly mountaineering awards, for a first ascent of the south face of an infamous tower in Pakistan known as the Ogre. Kennedy, from Colorado, and his girlfriend, Inge Perkins, from Bozeman, had recently moved in together in an apartment in town. Since graduating from high school, Kennedy had lived out of his van, as he built his climbing résumé; Perkins, twenty-three and a strong skier and climber, too, was a senior at Montana State University, majoring in math. Anker lived down the street from the Perkins family and had helped introduce Inge to climbing. He had climbed decades ago with Kennedy’s father, Michael, an accomplished mountaineer, and had known Hayden since he was a boy.
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  2. #2
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    Two days after the ceremony on Alex Lowe Peak, Kennedy and Perkins, while ascending Imp Peak, a remote backcountry-skiing spot in a range southwest of Hyalite Canyon, were caught in an avalanche. That early-season snow. Kennedy, partly buried, dug himself out, but there was no sign of Perkins. He searched the debris field for hours, probing and digging, although he must have known that a buried victim almost never survives for longer than twenty minutes. Eventually, he gave up, skied out, and drove back to Bozeman. One can only guess at the panic, anguish, and self-recrimination that coursed through him in the hours that followed—he called no one. In the apartment that night, he wrote a fifteen-page letter and then took a fatal dose of painkillers and alcohol.

    Kennedy had never seemed depressed or violent or rash. “He had as untraumatic a childhood as a kid could have,” Michael Kennedy told me recently. “What did we not see? We are baffled.” Compared with the Ogre, Imp Peak was supposed to be a routine jaunt, a bit of fun. “In his note, he said, ‘It’s my fault we were there,’ ” his father went on. “I think what was troubling him in those final hours, though there was nothing explicit about this in his letter, was that he felt he hadn’t lived up to his own ideals.”

    A week before Hayden Kennedy died, he had published a sorrowful essay, on a climbing Web site called Evening Sends, about the recent deaths in the mountains of some of his climbing partners, among them Kyle Dempster, who had accompanied him on the Ogre. Dempster and two others had disappeared the year before in a storm during an attempt on Ogre II. In recent years, the community of the world’s top climbers and skiers has seemed to suffer the death rate of a combat platoon. In the essay, Kennedy posed the question that has often dogged people who live through experiences that kill others: “Why do some of us survive and others don’t?”

    ne afternoon last fall, Anker showed me a page in a journal with about three dozen names handwritten on it—friends and partners who’d died, all but a couple of them in mountain accidents, many summoning up tragedies I knew as well as some do Bible stories or baseball lore. The list began with Anker’s mentor, Mugs Stump, who fell into a crevasse while descending Denali, in 1992. Scott Adamson, Justin Griffin, Hans Saari, Doug Coombs, Ned Gillette, Mira Šmíd, Hari Berger, Todd Skinner, Walt Shipley, Ang Kaji Sherpa, Ueli Steck, Dean Potter. Martyrs without a cause, except perhaps that of their own fulfillment.

    “I had reached out to Hayden before and had talked to him about what loss was,” Anker said. “You fall into this pit, right after. It’s totally dark. You think about taking your own life. I hadn’t really talked much about it before, because there was shame or weakness associated with it.”

    Late one evening, a week after Kennedy’s suicide, Anker called Tim Tate, a psychotherapist in Bozeman. Anker and Tate often went for hikes, and talked about their lives. Tate had helped him and the Lowes work through some dark periods, often marked by the reverberations of what Anker had come to identify as his survivor’s guilt—the nagging feeling that he was living someone else’s life.

    The conversation with Tate was brief, as Anker’s conversations often are. Anker wondered if Tate would be open to consulting with the North Face, the outdoor-gear company founded in the Bay Area in 1966, about the problems of loss, grief, and harm. Anker was the captain of the North Face athletes’ team, an assemblage of more than a hundred outdoor adventurers—rock climbers, mountaineers, extreme skiers, snowboarders, ultra-runners—who are sponsored by the brand.

    The deaths of Kennedy and Perkins had a profound effect on many of the younger North Face athletes, even though the two of them hadn’t been affiliated with the company. In the spring of 2018, Anker brought Tate to Alameda, California, to meet with some North Face executives. “I’d like to introduce my mentor, Gandalf,” Anker said. This was a reference to Tate’s bearing, and his shamanistic attributes, which are deeply rooted, perhaps even innate, and yet not uncultivated. A Jungian by training, and a friend and acolyte of Jung’s purported successor, James Hillman, Tate has woven into his practice and self-presentation a variety of rituals and beliefs borrowed from Zen Buddhism and from the indigenous tribes of the northern plains. Tate laid out his approach to mental health and his version of what wellness might mean. “Rather than manage symptoms or problems, I prefer to give people a context for their experiences,” he told me recently. “Athletes have a particular calling we need to address. It isn’t a mythology of proving themselves. It’s a calling they cannot refuse. They have it on a loudspeaker in their brains. They can’t help but do what they do.”

    Soon, Gandalf started appearing at North Face functions, as a kind of visiting sage, and some of the athletes, charmed by his presence, his way of speaking, and his connection to Anker, signed on to see him. Several of them went to Bozeman, on the North Face’s dime, to undergo what Tate called intensives, which consisted of two two-hour sessions over two days, the assignment of various tasks, and, if the stars aligned, some mentoring from Anker and Lowe-Anker.

    “I grew up as a cowboy,” Mark Carter, a snowboarder for the North Face team, told me. “Therapy isn’t something we do.” Carter was brought up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming and has a side business selling beef. He also has a toothpick sponsorship. He said that the biggest loss in his life was the death of a cousin—same age, same name—a Navy seal who died in Iraq in 2007. “Tim gave me homework,” Carter said. “He had me write a letter to my cousin. I’ve spent two months working on it.”
    .”


    Hillary Allen, known to friends as the Hillygoat, is an ultra-runner sponsored by the North Face. She also has a master’s degree in neuroscience. In 2017, when she was twenty-eight and competing in a thirty-five-mile “skyrunning” race along a ridge in Norway, a rock gave way, and she fell a hundred and fifty feet. She broke fourteen bones in her back, rib cage, arms, and feet and tore a bunch of ligaments. “I was pretty shaken up,” she said. “I had nightmares forever. I was mentally trying to figure out a way to get back. I was dealing with the guilt of wanting to devote myself to something that nearly killed me. People suggested a sports psychologist or a regular counsellor, but that wasn’t really the right fit.” Instead, she travelled to Bozeman for an intensive with Tate. “He’s my cup of tea. I’m a mountain person. I’m not an ooey-gooey dress-everything-in-pink kind of woman.”

    Tate, seventy-one, has had a therapy practice in Bozeman since the early eighties. After the suicide of a friend who lived near Bozeman, Ted Yates, who had fallen into a cycle of depression and addiction following a bad car accident, Tate discovered that he had a knack for working with grief and loss. Yates’s father had been a highly regarded television documentarian who was killed by gunfire while covering the Six-Day War; Yates’s stepfather was Mike Wallace, the “60 Minutes” correspondent. Tate presided at Yates’s funeral, at an Episcopal church in Georgetown. Afterward, in the back seat of a limousine, he found himself ministering to a distraught Wallace, who’d lost a son in a hiking accident in Greece, in 1962. Wallace told him, “I don’t know what you just did there, but I have deep respect for it.” Katharine Graham asked if Tate would preside at her funeral, too, he recalled. Tate now wears the Concord Navigator watch that Wallace had given to Yates.
    .
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    POC Auric Cut BC Spin XL

    https://www.tetongravity.com/forums/...90#post5923890

    If you're in the Northeast and would like to borrow some Jigarex Plates I have:

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  3. #3
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    “Grief opens the gate to vulnerability, and for whatever reason that’s where I can stand up and be present,” Tate told me. “The motif of the elder, the wise man, the shaman, or some sort of wizard dude—it’s not anything I promote. It’s just me as I am. It has worked well with the athletes.

    In late September, Anker and Tate sent me a selfie video: two silverbacks on a ridge during a golden-hour hike. They were inviting me to Bozeman. “Come into our house and see where I work, and see my life with Alex,” Anker said. I wondered if he’d meant to say “my life with Jenni,” or if this locution was a testament to Lowe’s enduring presence, in that house and family and psyche. “It will have been twenty years, on the fifth of October,” Anker went on. “And all that we’re going through is a really important part of our connection, so—”

    Tate said, “And stop by my office for a quick analysis. That never hurts.”

    Tate greeted me at the airport—with a hug and a “my man”—and we drove into town and went for a walk. My wife and I had lived in Bozeman in the early nineties, just out of college. Alex Lowe was already a celebrity. A friend who lived across the street from the Lowes introduced me to him one day. It was like shaking hands with Michael Jordan. At the time, I had vague notions, inspired by magazine articles and films, of a mountain life—of pushing the envelope a bit on skis—but I quickly ascertained that I had neither the talent nor the tolerance for risk or suffering that any accomplishment on that front would require. My father had lost his father and his sister to avalanches, twenty years apart. The shadow of those tragedies had darkened the lives of my relatives for decades.

    I wanted to see the apartment my wife and I had rented. When I pointed out the house, Tate paused a moment and said, “This is also where my wife and I lived, when we first moved to Bozeman.” The same house: the coincidence was unnerving. He added, “We moved out after we heard that the last person who’d lived in the apartment had hanged herself there.”

    That afternoon, we spent some time in his office. Tate sees clients on the ground floor of an old brick house in downtown Bozeman—“behind the blue door,” as he often says. (He took the blue-painted front door, his local trademark, from his former office, on Main Street.) He’s tall and fit, with a white mustache and soul patch and long, receding poodley hair that he often pulls back in a bun. He wears a tie in the office, on this day with a checked shirt and hiking trousers and boots. The space is decorated with feathers, bones, and cowboy and Native American art. A deluxe edition of Carl Jung’s “Red Book” sits on a stand, open to a chapter about Hell. He does as many as seven sessions a day. “I burn cedar between each session for a ceremonial purpose,” he said. He harvests the cedar from a tree in the Kootenai National Forest, close to the Canadian border—the same tree every year. “Lots of people are New Age groovy people with sage and all that stuff. I apprenticed with a renegade Crow medicine man for twelve years. So I come by these things honestly. I earned this shit.”

    Tate has never been a climber or a skier, at least not of the calibre that the North Face athletes who come to see him are. He is, to them, a little like one of those coaches who never played the game but nevertheless grasp something fundamental about it.

    Most of the athletes seem to know little of Tate’s past, which is a colorful one. Behind the blue door, they talk and he listens, but, when I got on the couch, I was the one who got to say, “Tell me about your mother.” She was a Swede from Michigan, and she met Tate’s father, a Presbyterian, at the Moody Bible Institute on Chicago’s North Side, where they were training to be missionaries. “He was old school, austere, a fiery man who delivered fire-and-brimstone sermons, using no notes,” Tate said. “These were always followed by an overdone roast.”

    Tate was born when his parents were in their forties, the youngest of four kids, a mistake. Childhood was “belt to the butt,” he said. “I wasn’t allowed to go to dances.” Tate followed an older brother to a Presbyterian college in Dubuque, with plans to join the ministry, and fell in love with a cheerleader whose father, a German, was also a Presbyterian minister. The couple spent their junior year abroad with her family, near Stuttgart, and got married so they could move in together. Tate was twenty. That year, they had a son, whom they sneaked through customs and back to Dubuque at the age of six days. “Then it was 1969,” he said. “Senior year. That’s when I was radicalized. I bailed on pre-seminary and got a teaching certificate.” After graduating, amid the chaos of student protests, he and his new family returned to Germany, to Schiller College, where he worked as an instructor and became the dean of students. “I burned through the mythology of my youth. I replaced it with Heidegger, Goethe, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, and then depth psychology—Jung.”

    A mid-century apostate explores the horizons of the mind and the sins of the flesh: by the mid-seventies, Tate was in Southern California, teaching psychology and personality theory at community colleges named Golden West and Orange Coast. “It became clear I wasn’t one for the marriage,” he said. “All I got out of the divorce was my 750 Yamaha and an electric-blue beanbag chair.” (He’s now close to his son.) Picture the apostate disembarking from the motorcycle, in a paisley shirt, a scarf, and tight pants tucked into high boots, and rolling into his human-sexuality class at Golden West. “Faculty guys took exception to me and my character, and my teaching style,” he said. “I was into learning theory.” A woman named Susan, who had been unhappily married to a Mennonite from Intercourse, Pennsylvania, began showing up to his hum-sex class.
    Cont
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    POC Auric Cut BC Spin XL

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  4. #4
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    Tate and Susan hit the road in his Datsun. They wound up, after some months, in Miles City, Montana, the home of Tate’s older sister, where he’d spent his teen-age summers working on haying teams and combine crews. Susan worked as a waitress at a bar called the Hole in the Wall, and Tate got a job as a counsellor at the Pine Hills School for Boys, a state institution for hard-core juvenile delinquents. “The approach had been all Thorazine and nose-to-the-wall,” Tate said. He was hired to try a more progressive regimen. “These were tough, tough kids. It was there that I lost any residue of naïveté about how dark the human psyche can go.” The couple moved to Bozeman in 1982, and had a daughter. Susan got a job at a hair salon called A Head of Our Time, and Tate taught history and started his therapy practice.

    In the early eighties, Tate fell in with a part-Crow, part-Sioux, part-white Montana man named Scott Frazier, who had had a near-death experience while working at an oil refinery in Billings, and who, not without some tribal resistance, had become a Sun Dance chief and opened the notoriously gruelling ceremony to outsiders. Tate participated in ten of these, each comprising three or four days of intense physical exertion, without food or water. At Frazier’s urging, he found and retrieved four eagle carcasses in the wild, for the plumage. He also put himself through traditional high-country fasts—vision quests, of a kind. “When you sit by yourself for three days on a mountaintop with no food or water, shit goes down,” he said. “All of the boundaries disappear.

    “Whatever I’m into, I go deep,” he went on. “But it became clear that it was becoming a little culty, and so I excused myself.”

    Tate also became involved in the nascent men’s mythopoetic movement led by the poet Robert Bly. An article about Bly and the Grimms’ coming-of-age fairy tale “Iron John” (which would become the title of Bly’s 1990 best-seller) piqued Tate’s interest, and he attended a Bly retreat on Lake Hubert, in Minnesota. “There were more than a hundred men there,” he said. “It got pretty Western. At one point, they had set up maybe six sweat lodges. The guy who did it was way past his skill set, and at that time I was three years into my work with the Crow medicine man, and I intervened. I got it back on track.” At the men’s gatherings, you were expected to discover your animal totem. Tate’s was a moose. Bly’s was a bear. “I would do a moose strut, and then Bly and I would wrestle,” he said.

    “I love big men,” Tate told me. “I’m a big guy. I like being around big guys. Big personalities, big stature. That’s really why Conrad and I get along so well. I feel most comfortable with accomplished men who don’t have huge egos.”

    That evening, we met up with Anker and the writer David Quammen for a drink. These three are among the regulars in informal meetings of Bozeman men who call themselves the Scotch Club: occasional well-oiled nights in backcountry cabins. Stories, verities, the shedding of masks. At this mini-session, as at other gatherings in town, I kept hearing references to regular people (that is, those who are not world-famous alpinists) who’d lost loved ones to climbing and skiing accidents; in this cohort, it seemed almost as common as cancer. Anker and Lowe-Anker, as the mahatmas of the mountain scene, seemed to have connections to all of them.

    Anker is sandy-haired, strong-jawed, intense, and introverted; people in Montana have urged him to run for office, but he is certain that he is too thin-skinned. He grew up in central California, just outside Yosemite National Park, on land that had been in his father’s family since the gold rush. His mother, from outside Dresden, met his father, a serviceman, in Germany, just after the war. Anker got his start as a climber on California granite, then gravitated toward the icy amplitude of the Himalayas, before becoming a pioneer of a new kind of challenge: high-altitude big walls. He made the first ascent, with Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, in 2011, of Meru, a tower of rock and ice in India that Mugs Stump had attempted twice in the eighties. It became the basis for a documentary film. Anker has a knack for dramatic story lines. He first made a name for himself outside climbing circles in 1999, when he found the body of the early British alpinist George Mallory, not far from the summit of Mt. Everest, where he’d perished seventy-five years before. Anker, whether by fate or by his own design, was caught up in a cycle of disappearance and reappearance, of death and its aftermath.

    Anker had inherited Alex Lowe’s celebrity mantle in Bozeman. After drinks that evening, he took a curious route on the walk home, opting for back alleys instead of Main Street, slouch-darting along an archipelago of shadows. “Hungry eyes,” he said. He explained that people around town often looked at him in a way that indicated they wanted his time or attention. Fame was part of the deal—he’d chosen it, as a high achiever and the well-compensated face of a sport and a big sporting-goods brand—but he was uncomfortable under the public’s imploring gaze. He found greater ease at the planet’s harsh, unpopulated extremes, in the company of another superhuman or two, whose hungry eyes were invariably trained upward. Happiness is a cold bivy sack. Recently, Anker met a fan in an airport: “My hoodie’s up. I’m disappearing. And now here comes this guy, super hungry eyes, and so I talk to him. He’s, like, ‘I named my company Meru.’ He was your classic business dude, a bankruptcy guy. And then I was pissed.”

    We went in the back door of his house: garden, garage, toys and tools, dogs. Lowe-Anker met us in the kitchen. She asked about our plan to spend the next night in the mountains above Hyalite Canyon. “Who’s going?” she asked me, in her mordant high-country drawl.

    “Just Conrad, Tim, and me.”
    Cont.
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    POC Auric Cut BC Spin XL

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    If you're in the Northeast and would like to borrow some Jigarex Plates I have:

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  5. #5
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    “The poor sad men,” she said, with a mocking sigh. Lowe-Anker is sometimes reluctant to indulge the climbers in their sorrow. Later, she elaborated: “We have so many friends here, including young women whose husbands have died. Certainly, there are some women who are the ones who die, in this arena, but it’s mostly men. And there’s a lot of brokenhearted women and families left behind.” She cited a remark she’d heard decades ago that comes up all the time, in reference to mountaineering: “It’s not that different from young men going off to war. Women like me, it’s not new. How many women are there in war-torn areas who have lost their husbands and a raft of sons and family members?”

    Anker said, “A fundamental difference, and why people are critical of this, is that we do this by our own volition, whereas if you’re a firefighter, a soldier, or a police person, you’re a hero, you did that on behalf of other people in society, or because you had to.”

    Mountain climbing is a modern curiosity, a bourgeois indulgence. It consists mostly of relatively well-to-do white people manufacturing danger for themselves. Having been spared war, starvation, mass violence, and oppression, its practitioners travel great distances and endure great sacrifices to test their bodies and minds, encounter beauty, and experience the precariousness of existence and the terror and whatever revelations, fleeting or otherwise, may come of it. Though the whole enterprise may seem crazy or stupid or pointless, to many people it represents a necessary extreme of human endeavor, that combination of excellence and aberrance which propels a sliver of the population to set about going to the moon or writing symphonies, or dropping out entirely, as latter-day hermits and monks.

    Each climbing season, there is a new tale to baffle the flatlanders. Last year, a climber named Daniele Nardi left behind a wife and their six-month-old son to make a fourth attempt on one of the most dangerous routes in the world, the Mummery Rib, on Nanga Parbat, in Pakistan. His partner, Tom Ballard, had lost his mother on K2. What a story the two men made: the obsessive and the undaunted son. Nardi and Ballard died, of course.

    Max Lowe, who is thirty-one, is finishing a film about his family. “They aren’t so sure about the whole thing,” he told me recently. “They’re, like, ‘Why do you need to do this? Why do you need to stir up all this grief?’ Maybe I should’ve just gone to therapy.” Some people compare climbing to heroin: addictive, selfish, deadly. And yet, while society tends to condemn people who abandon their families for opiates and die of an overdose, we often treat fallen climbers, including Max’s father, as heroes. “It’s a lot to ask someone to give up something they love for you,” Max said. “But if you can’t expect your parents to give that up for you, what can you expect in this life?”

    nker had proposed a night of camping—three sad men, one small tent—at his go-to getaway in Hyalite Canyon. The Perch, as he called it, was a recurring location in his dreams, but it was also, I soon learned, a narrow ledge on a cliff, requiring some exposed scrambling on a rock face, which was well above my pay grade, and, besides, the forecast was calling for a blizzard and temperatures in the teens. “It’s going to get nasty,” Anker said, grinning.

    “It’s gonna get real Western,” Tate said. Instead, we’d go to a cabin belonging to a family friend: a Scotch Club hang. On the second anniversary of the deaths of Kennedy and Perkins, with a truckload of provisions, we four-wheeled it to the cabin, which was in a clearing above a steep slope, with a view toward the snow-clad Hyalite peaks, including the one named for Alex Lowe, and one that, in a certain light, looked—to nobody but me—like the painted face of Gene Simmons.

    We opened up the cabin, then drove to the end of the canyon and began hiking up a trail that wound through a conifer forest toward a band of cliffs. The men had a permit to harvest firewood, so we carried a couple of axes, and Anker had a chainsaw, which he soon revved up and sicced on branches, limbs, and trees, as we made our way uphill. Slightly hunched and a little duck-footed, in a hoodie and orange earmuffs, he stomped around and called out commands, amid a bedlam of sawdust and exhaust. On his orders, we carried the debris deeper into the woods. Tate worked hard to maintain his balance as he heaved boughs of spruce.

    The trail led up to the most popular ice-climbing spot in the canyon, called Genesis, and though I’d begun to suspect that Anker had us throwing stuff around just for kicks, he explained that we were tidying up the trail in time for winter, to improve the hike up and the ski down. “This is how I climb mountains,” he said. I’d always thought of ascending big peaks as a slow and methodical undertaking, but it occurred to me, watching him John Henry his way through these woods, that, if you were to adjust the frame-per-second dial, what climbers do is attack a mountain, as though to demolish it.

    He attacked the rest of the evening this way: splitting wood, making a fire, rigging a tripod over the fire for the pot, cutting vegetables, cooking a stew, drinking beer, playing air guitar, crushing empty cans with the side of an axe. “I had A.D.H.D. as a kid,” Anker said. “Hyper-situational awareness.” His energy was palpable. Semiretirement didn’t suit him at all, but hanging around a bonfire with a few dudes certainly did. The snow started to fall before midnight, and by morning there was half a foot on the ground.
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    year before, the North Face had invited me to Puerto Rico to speak on a panel for the company’s annual athletes’ summit—not my bag, typically, but the roster of big-name mountaineers and skiers who’d be there promised that it would be a laid-back Chautauqua of mountain badassery that an old harness-sniffer like me couldn’t resist. Some fifty athletes on the North Face team, plus a dozen or so marketing executives and support staff, took over a beach resort that had been closed since Hurricane Maria, a year before.

    I arrived late the second night, after dinner. Most of the athletes were sitting around a bonfire on the beach. A theatrical white-haired gent was leading a storytelling session: Tim Tate. An extreme skier named Angel Collinson, from Utah, was telling a story about the death of her boyfriend in a skiing accident. Other tales followed. Tate’s flamboyant Rolling Thunder demeanor, and the communal baring of souls amid a circle of fervent firelit faces, made me—stranger and city boy, fresh off the plane—feel ill at ease; I hadn’t had what they were having.

    Everyone was up at dawn. Yoga, jogging, surfing; a legation went inland to plant trees. The resort grounds were a bustle of hyperactive, impossibly hale young creatures on holiday. Climbers—the men shirtless, the women in bikini tops—rigged up ropes and slacklines and did pullups and bouldering maneuvers off the villas’ eaves. Such lats, such tats. I kept my shirt on, and cracked a Medalla Light.

    The panel that afternoon, featuring Tate, me, and a social-media guru, was on “storytelling.” What did I know about the kind of storytelling that they were there to ponder—the framing of their adventures, which they refer to as projects, in such a way as to secure funding, attract an audience, and burnish a brand? It is the job of a professional adventure athlete to create media: films, photos, articles, social posts. You go out and perform amazing feats in amazing places while wearing the amazing gear. The framing and the depiction of these feats give them scale, reach, and meaning—and commercial viability.

    “Climbing is not a quantifiable sport,” Anker told me. “Usain Bolt was the fastest runner—we could measure that. Climbing is this sort of introvert-type activity that we do. It’s experiential. Two people alone on a mountain. Or even just one. So how do you share that story?” In the early nineties, as a young marketing associate at the North Face, Anker had helped conceive of a climbing team, which was the first of its kind; as its founding captain, he brought in Lowe, among others. It was a loose affiliation, and there was no league, or even competition, at least of the measurable kind, but he and the others sought to cultivate a network of camaraderie and support. Later, the team expanded to include other extreme endeavors, in part because it was a skier, Scot Schmidt, whose exploits flying off cliffs in a black-and-yellow North Face Steep Tech suit juiced the retail sales that made such a generous system of sponsorship possible.

    It’s a strange business: the artifice of a film shoot combined with the real-as-real-can-be physical exertions and technical challenges of surviving in the mountains. Renan Ozturk told me, “Filming makes it more dangerous. It slows it down, and you’re not quite as focussed. It taxes your body, complicates the logistics. It’s also what you have to do on these trips if you want to get funded.”

    At that moment, the big hit was “Free Solo,” the documentary about Alex Honnold’s ascent of El Capitan, in Yosemite, directed by Jimmy Chin and his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. (Honnold and Chin are both North Face athletes. Neither was in Puerto Rico, since they were busy promoting the film’s Oscar candidacy, telling the story about the story.) “Free Solo” is in large part about the emotional and ethical challenges of documenting what could well be the hero’s gruesome demise. Jenni Lowe-Anker said, “Don’t think for a minute that Conrad and Jimmy and all of us who know what Alex was doing weren’t terrified he was going to die. It was kind of like, Shit, if he dies, everyone is going to be vilified.”

    The best athletes were pushing the threshold of what was possible, partly because the gear allowed them to, and partly because the gear manufacturers expected them to. “You’re only as good as your next climb,” I’d heard people say. “You can get insecure, because you’re expendable,” Mark Carter, the snowboarder, said. “People want my job.”

    Meanwhile, because of global warming, the mountains were changing. Ice was melting, and so conditions that had always been lethally unpredictable were becoming more so. Experience, both of the individual and the transmittable kind, isn’t keeping pace. The beta, as climbers call accumulated information about a route, has a sell-by date.
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    The North Face does not offer its athletes health insurance or life insurance. The pay can range from substantial six-figure annual salaries for the stars (who have agents that typically handle the negotiations) to four-figure stipends, or even just free gear, for up-and-coming “ambassadors.”

    “The athletes would pursue these activities with or without us,” Arne Arens, the president of the North Face, told me. “We know the inherent risks. We try to limit them as much as we can. They choose the objectives. Our role is to make it as safe as possible.” Generally, the athletes develop their own projects and pitch them to the company, which in turn shapes them not only to market the brand but also to road test new technology and gear. “If it weren’t for the athletes, we wouldn’t be able to push the limits ourselves,” Arens said.

    At dusk, a thunderstorm swept in over the beach in Puerto Rico. Lightning struck a nearby headland, and the surfers panic-paddled to shore. Most of the athletes had gathered under the mess tent, the metal poles of which were anchored in what the storm had turned into an ankle-deep pool of rainwater. One bolt and we’d all be toast. Faces shone in the blue squall twilight. I talked to runners, rock climbers, snowboarders.

    “Do you want to hear my story?” Jim Morrison asked. With his partner, Hilaree Nelson, Morrison had recently completed a long-coveted first descent on skis of Lhotse, the summit adjacent to Everest. He took me aside and solemnly told me about the deaths, in an airplane crash, of his wife and their two young children. The accident left him alone, completely gutted, considering suicide. The story he was telling, and pitching, was one of renewal: his partnership with Nelson; his life with Nelson’s sons, who were with them in Puerto Rico; the triumph on Lhotse. I heard about other projects. An English climber named James Pearson was exploring sawanobori, the Japanese art of climbing up flowing streams and waterfalls. The Italian mountaineers Tamara Lunger and Simone Moro were planning a winter ascent of Pik Pobeda, in Siberia, reputed to be the coldest climb on earth. Jess Roskelley, of Spokane, and Hansjörg Auer, an Austrian, huddled to discuss some big icy rock walls, of the kind that Anker favored; a route in Canada had caught their eye. All of it seemed a long way from a beach in the Caribbean. As the night wore on, the climbers refilled their camping mugs with rum punch from a cooler, while the skiers and snowboarders twisted up joints on the porch of their villa. The ultra-runners mostly stuck to seltzer.

    The main event that night was the passing of the team captaincy, from Anker to Hilaree Nelson. The athletes assembled under the tent and laughed and hooted along as a procession of them stood to toast and roast Anker. Lowe-Anker, at her first-ever athletes’ summit, made a few remarks on the courage and forbearance of climbers’ mates—the loved ones at home. Humbled and a little tongue-tied, Anker stood and introduced Tate, who, adopting a priestly stance, said, “Hilaree, come here. You stand here. Conrad here.”

    “This seems like it could be Catholic or something,” Anker said. “But I think this is more pagan.”

    “The love I have for this man is as deep as I’ve ever experienced,” Tate said. “We have a heart connection.” A few weeks before, he said, he’d been on the Lowe-Anker family’s ranch in Montana, building a jack fence with Anker and Max Lowe, and had floated the idea of “a ritual of transfer of power.” Now he produced some ritual objects. “This belt I’ve suffered and worn in ten Crow Sun Dances. I’ve earned the right to be an elder. So know that. And this silk scarf comes to me from a women’s collective in India.” He described a traditional dancing troupe from India he’d got to know.

    With the scarf, Tate bound together the wrists of Anker and Nelson, their mates looking on with some measure of bafflement at this quasi-matrimonial sacrament. A few people in the back got the giggles. “The energy in this room, and the love of these people, is the authority that this moment signifies,” Tate’s voice boomed. “This man is transferring the power to this woman. We honor them and bless them, and we wish you the best, Hilaree.”

    Confession: I was one of the gigglers. As a knee-jerk eye-roller, I was wary of Tate at first. The apparent hodgepodge of recycled folklore, cultural appropriation, performative grandeur, and Jungian bubble magic reminded me of some people I have chosen through the years to avoid. And yet before long I felt drawn to him—to his charisma, his sense of humor, his eagerness to listen, his over-the-topness. He’d been around. He had heft. He seemed to be tuned in to a cosmic thrum. “Within the first seconds of sizing each other up, you just know,” Sam Elias, a climber, said. “He’s the elder in the tribe who’s modelling for the younger people in the tribe. He is proof that it’ll be O.K. in thirty-plus years.”

    Although tropes like the hero’s journey, or the pitfall of persona, did not seem immediately germane to my meek and cynical urban existence, they struck a note with this adventuresome, big-horizon crowd. The mountain people routinely and purposefully put themselves into states of extreme privation—exposure to the elements, and to gravity and chance. Days, even weeks, in a tent or a bivouac, the hours empty of all but numbing chores and the howling of the wind. Occasional, life-defining epics of survival or attainment, stumbling half blind through storms, all hope lost, along with some fingers and toes. Ecstatic or even numinous encounters at the edges of the earth. To such people, the Crow Sun Dance, or the ordeal of the vision quest, or Buddhist principles of nonattachment and transience might be more than metaphor. The hero’s journey is a better description of a doom-hounded ordeal up and down a sacred peak in the Karakoram than of, say, a product rollout or a takeover war.

    In the elements, performing tasks, the climbers achieve a narrowness of focus—a lizard-brain braid of adrenaline, expertise, and choice—that becomes a demented kind of meditation: Zen, on ice. Tate told me, “The challenge for each of them that I’ve met is how do you live a life of mountain sport and then return to your community and your relationships. It’s a little like soldiering. The absence, when you go home, of that intensity, that danger, that high-stakes energy, that camaraderie.” Back home, as high-country conquerors and life-style salespeople, the climbers tell their stories, over and over, until even they risk coming to believe in these versions of themselves. A guy like Tate, in spite of the affectations, helps them figure out who they might be.
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    Tate and Anker began pitching the idea of a “wellness initiative,” a comprehensive approach to mental health, for the North Face team. But, by this past fall, the company was in the midst of some upheaval. It was moving its headquarters from the Bay Area to Denver, into the same building as its parent, the Vanity Fair Corporation, the owner of more than a dozen brands, including Timberland and Vans. More than half of the North Face’s workforce wouldn’t be making the move. The turnover and the transition gummed up whatever momentum there had been around the initiative. “For now, it’s kind of bespoke,” Arens told me. The new executives didn’t know Tate, and the idea of building a company-wide program around a single character, especially one like Tate, with a practice based seven hundred miles from Denver, was not easily digestible to what one climber in Puerto Rico had half jestingly called “the corporate fucks.”

    “ ‘Chaos’ is too liberal or romantic a term, but there’s some tension in the organization,” Tate told me. The new global head of marketing had come from Nike. “At Nike, nobody dies,” one athlete said.

    Still, some of the athletes said privately that they loved the idea of therapeutic conversation, but that Tate might not be their ideal psych. I talked to a couple of them who wondered if he was full of crap. (As for Lowe-Anker, Anker said, “She likes Tim, but she doesn’t go in for all the woo-woo, which is what she calls it when people talk about chakras and yoga and all that.”) But athletes kept asking to see him, and the North Face kept paying for them to do so. In 2020, it has allocated as much as ten per cent of its marketing budget for wellness. Anker said, “There’s never an excuse for not doing the right thing.”

    A climber from Boulder, Madaleine Sorkin, had recently launched, with the American Alpine Club, an initiative called the Climbing Grief Fund, to support members of the climbing community dealing with the losses of friends and partners. “This is a heavy profession,” she told me. “What is the responsibility of companies when their athletes don’t return from a trip?” As with the North Face’s wellness program, she isn’t sure what shape the fund will take; it targets the climbing community generally, and not just the pros. On the Grief Fund’s Web site, she has posted interviews with two dozen climbers, in which they talk about loss. Sorkin’s wife, Henna Taylor, a filmmaker, is turning the footage into a documentary. Sorkin was a friend of Hayden Kennedy, and also of Brad Gobright, a highly regarded free soloist, in the Honnold mold, who died in November in a rappelling accident in Mexico—a samurai lets down his guard.

    Last April, the North Face team suffered a grievous loss. Three of alpinism’s brightest stars, two of whom I’d met in Puerto Rico, disappeared on Howse Peak, in the Canadian Rockies. Their bodies were eventually found at the base of a pitch called Life by the Drop. Postmortems suggested that, during their descent from the summit, an avalanche had swept them off the face. Jess Roskelley, Hansjörg Auer, David Lama: thirty-six, thirty-five, twenty-eight. The climbers had been testing a line of high-performance gear called the Advanced Mountain Kit. Five months later, two of them were posthumously awarded Piolets d’Or for outstanding first ascents the year before—Auer for a solo climb of Lupghar Sar, in Pakistan, and Lama for a solo climb of Lunag Ri, in the Himalayas.

    As it happens, Lama and Anker had twice attempted to summit Lunag Ri together. The first time, in 2015, extreme cold turned them back not far from the top. A year later, they returned, but, six pitches up, Anker told Lama that he was feeling pain in his chest. Lama persuaded Anker to retreat and, over Anker’s objections, to use a satellite phone to call in a helicopter rescue. Nine hours later, in a Kathmandu hospital, Anker learned that he’d had a heart attack. You could say, and Anker does, that Lama saved his life. Lama, who’d stayed behind at the base of the mountain, decided to go back up. He got just past the point they’d reached the previous year but again had to turn back. Two years later, Lama returned to Lunag Ri alone—climbers are often bewitched by unfinished projects—and finally got it done. “I would have loved to share this moment with Conrad,” Lama wrote, in his account of the climb for the American Alpine Journal. He died on Howse Peak just days before the article went to press.

    Anker, whose heart problems had forced him to give up his high-altitude-climbing career, got the news while on a lecture tour in the U.K. He’d been following the climbers’ progress. He told me, “From the moment Joyce Roskelley’s name came up on my phone to when I put it up to my ear, I thought, I know exactly what this is.” Anker had brought Jess Roskelley and Lama onto the team. (They were born into the guild, in a way. Lama’s mother, an Austrian climber, had met his father, a Nepali guide, on an expedition. Roskelley’s father was the decorated mountaineer John Roskelley; they’d summited Everest together in 2003, when Jess was twenty.) A week later, Anker appeared as a guest on a podcast called “Terra Incognita.” His feelings were still raw. “I’ve seen far too much of this,” he said softly, in his flinty, diffident way. “We celebrate the mountains, because they create this wonderful connection between people. . . . But, when you run up against what just happened, you have to question whether it’s really worth it.”

    As the families, the team, and the climbing community all tried to process the loss, the North Face, with Tate as a kind of chaplain, sought to honor the dead and to provide succor and support to the living. For an overnight memorial at a campground in the redwoods near Santa Cruz, it flew in some of the climbers’ family members and several of the company’s executives, including Arens, and everyone gathered around a bonfire for a boozy, improvised wake. Anker persuaded an opera singer who was staying at a nearby winery to come sing something, to get people’s attention. Then he said, “And now Gandalf will say a few words.” Anker threw a staff to Tate, who stamped the ground with it twice.

    “You don’t want me to stamp it a third time,” Tate said. And then he began to talk. As he recalled later, “I went into a riff on the nature of invisible reality.” When he was done, he sat down next to Jimmy Chin. “Deep,” Chin said.

    Tate also ministered to the families. He presided over Jess Roskelley’s service in Spokane. “Jess had no will,” his sister Jordan told me. “He had nothing written down. We had to guess. A pastor wasn’t appropriate. So that’s where Tim came in. He just has this way about him. It feels like he’s looking into your soul. He really understands the world these boys were in.
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    The company wrestled with how best to do right by the climbers, without tilting into morbidity. Death and life style are at odds in the marketplace. As Madaleine Sorkin told me, “There’s a stop point where the companies don’t want to be talking about those climbers anymore.” Some companies, such as Clif Bar, decided to pull back from the business of sponsoring climbers, in large part because of the moral hazard of financing risk. Fine, but that also deprives climbers of a source of income and support.

    After Santa Cruz and Spokane, the Roskelleys went to Austria to meet the families of the other climbers and attend their memorials. (The North Face handled the costs and the logistics of their travel, as well as the repatriation of the bodies.) The company sent Tate along, too, and he went for long walks in the foothills of the Alps with Auer’s mother. In September, Anker and John Roskelley flew to Poland for the Piolet d’Or ceremony. (John Roskelley presented the results of his investigation into the accident on Howse Peak.) Anker accepted the award on Lama’s behalf, alongside his parents. They stood onstage, all of them in tears, as an audience of some two thousand people applauded Lama for several minutes.

    By the time Anker was in Poland, he had been experiencing some misgivings about his leadership role in the climbing community and at the North Face. His mother had died. His heart was unwell. His best days as a climber were behind him, and yet he was prone to restlessness at home. He’d been battling bouts of depression and self-recrimination.

    “Conrad is coming to a head in his life,” Max Lowe told me. “He’s lived a long life in this world where a lot don’t. Most of his friends are dead. I think he also feels responsible as an Old Guard guy who introduced a lot of them to climbing. Aging and the heart attack have kept him back from the mountains. Which is harder in a way than just dying in the mountains and being deified. Dying in the mountains is easier than having to live and watch your peers and friends die and having to face your own mortality and give up living on that beautiful edge.”

    “Alex died a hero,” Anker said. “There was no old age. Just a short bit of physical pain and then you’re getting carbon-recycled again.” With me, he was relatively circumspect about his own struggles. Tate, he said, had helped him identify “the difference between my character and my persona—what masquerade is, and how the root of that is ‘mask’ and ‘masculine.’ ”

    The day after Christmas, Anker travelled to Antarctica for a month of climbing on and around the Vinson Massif, the continent’s highest point. For the first time since the early two-thousands, he was working as a guide. His client was a hedge-fund manager and an outdoor enthusiast, with nine companions, who were spending forty-five thousand dollars a head. All but two of them made the summit. Then Anker joined up with his North Face teammates Chin, Morrison, and Nelson, for a quick jaunt up Vinson, followed by an attempt on a nearby peak called Tyree, which had a sublimely steep and technical face for Chin, Morrison, and Nelson to attempt on skis. The weather didn’t coöperate; Antarctica, likely because of climate change, has become more humid. The face was loaded with deep snow, the cold was brutal, and everyone had kids back home. “It just wasn’t worth it,” Anker said the other day. “We turned around.” It wasn’t yet clear what story their film of the trip would tell, and how it might help the North Face, but Anker had cherished his eight days holed up in a tent with Chin. “Each of us has his side—it’s always the same. We have a routine,” he said.

    Sam Elias had shared a tent with Anker on Everest in 2012. He remembers Anker, seemingly spent, powering up alone to the summit like a zombie, driven by a force he couldn’t quite fathom. “That expedition destroyed my life for a number of years,” Elias told me. “Feeling so close to death and then not dying and stepping back into the world.” Elias, who is thirty-seven, is from Detroit, the son of a Syrian immigrant and a Pole; he came late to climbing and mountain culture. He’d been working with Tate since Puerto Rico, and did an intensive in Bozeman in December. He said recently, over the phone, “You go into the mountains, and your friend dies and you don’t, and that’s O.K.—it doesn’t have to fuck up your life for years.” He went on, “Maybe I’m deluded or haven’t lost the right person, or enough people, but I just have a different view. I’ve always felt strange about death. I’ve never been personally that troubled by it. I haven’t gone through what Michael and Julie Kennedy have, or the girlfriends of my friends, or what Conrad has. Hayden was a really close friend of mine. I was living in Carbondale when he was in high school. I watched him—” And then Elias began to sob. ♦
    Figured I'd post this here. Sorry for any copy and paste errors, the NYMag has a paywall if you read too many articles for free.

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2...bs43rm9l_tiHt4
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  10. #10
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    Read it yesterday....Amazing.
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    Good read. Thanks.
    PE, Mechanical Engineering
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    Excellent range in that piece. Thanks!

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    Thanks for that link. Nick Paumgarten is a really good writer. I met him some years ago at straightchuter’s wedding (and introduced him to wra/Bob Athey) which Paumgarten wrote up and that article is a fair companion piece to this article.
    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2...dangerous-game
    And I guess that I just don't know

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    I was wondering if it was the same guy who wrote the MacLean article years back, because of the reference to his "aunt?" who died skiing OB at Ajax back in the day, and the mention of avalanche deaths touching his family.
    Aggressive in my own mind

  15. #15
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    Thanks for sharing - great article.
    sproing!

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    Nick Paumgarten is a fantastic writer, and he's a passionate skier and mountain person. He wrote one of the best articles on the 2008 financial crisis, and he's also written entertaining pieces on Ueli Steck, GoPro, dating sites, the Hahnenkahm, and elevators, among others. You can find links to a lot of his work here: https://longform.org/archive/writers/nick-paumgarten

    Couldn't you just link to the article instead of plagiarizing it? It's right here, for those who want to read it at the source, including photos and cartoons.
    Last edited by AlexC; 03-07-2020 at 10:26 AM.

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    Great article

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlexC View Post

    Couldn't you just link to the article instead of plagiarizing it? It's right here, for those who want to read it at the source, including photos and cartoons.
    New Yorker has a limited amount of free views per month and I believe you can't use an incognito window to get around it as I mentioned in the final post. Felt like it was courteous to cut and paste if people had used theirs up rather than say "sucks to be you".
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    Salomon Ghost 130 (Orange and Black Model Year) 26.5

    POC Auric Cut BC Spin XL

    https://www.tetongravity.com/forums/...90#post5923890

    If you're in the Northeast and would like to borrow some Jigarex Plates I have:

    Rossi/Look plates
    Salomon Warden 13 plates
    Marker Kingpin Plates

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Posts
    13,217
    NYskirat,

    thank you for taking the time to cutNpaste that.

    Its a long and painful read at times. I had friends out visiting and we stayed up late one night talking about friends from the past. At one point she said something like, "damn you have a lot of people in your life that have died in avalanches". I got to thinking about it and the number is over 15. Not all were close, but close enough that at one time or another we shared days.
    Ooof!

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Location
    F'n Midwest again
    Posts
    2,226
    Quote Originally Posted by nyskirat View Post
    New Yorker has a limited amount of free views per month and I believe you can't use an incognito window to get around it as I mentioned in the final post. Felt like it was courteous to cut and paste if people had used theirs up rather than say "sucks to be you".
    Thank you for cutting and pasting the article.
    Aggressive in my own mind

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