The Bells! The Bells! – An extract from Andy Pollitt's Punk in the Gym
Following the release of Nick Brown's Statement of Youth, Andy shares an extract from his autobiography recounting his ascent of The Bells! the Bells!
'Beyond the Mountain', by American mountaineer Steve House is now available in the UK and Ireland thanks to Vertebrate Publishing. The book was first published in 2009 by Patagonia in the USA, and only 200 copies were sent to the UK. Adam Long is currently writing a review of the book for UKClimbing.
"K7 is my universe. This pitch, my world. The movement, the yellow rock edges toward which I direct my crampons, the crack in which I cam my pick. This is my moment..."
Read the whole chapter excerpt: 'K7 is my Universe' from 'Beyond the Mountain' by Steve House below.
Awarded the prestigious Boardman Tasker Prize in November 2009 and the Mountain Literature Award at the 2009 Banff Mountain Book Festival, 'Beyond the Mountain' is already a mountain classic, which offers a unique insight into the life of one of the world's greatest ever mountain climbers.
In the book's Foreword, legendary mountaineer Reinhold Messner calls Steve House the best high-altitude climber in the world today - an honour he declines.
“Being called the 'best,'” says Steve House, “makes me very uncomfortable. My intention is to be as good as I can be. Mountaineering is too complex to be squeezed into a competition. It is simply not something that lends itself to comparison. Climbing is about process, not achievement. The moment your mind wanders away from the task of the climbing-at-hand will be the moment you fail.”
Steve built his reputation on ascents throughout the Alps, Canada, Alaska, the Karakoram and the Himalaya that have expanded the possibilities of style, speed and difficulty. In 2005, Steve and alpinist Vince Anderson pioneered a direct new route on the Rupal Face of 26,660-foot Nanga Parbat, which had never before been climbed in alpine style. It was the third ascent of the face and the achievement earned Steve and Vince the first Piolet d'Or (Golden Ice Axe) ever awarded to North Americans.
Price: £12.99 (€18)
In this excerpt, Steve comes to terms with previous failure to climb K7 (6,942m) solo by a new route, and ultimately turns his frustration and failure into success. The 2,650m new route on K7's south-west face is independent from base camp at 4,400m to a junction with the Japanese route at 6,300m. In 2004 Steve climbed the route solo in a 41 hour roundtrip from base camp – in doing so making only the second ascent of K7. For this climb Steve was awarded Climbing Magazine's Golden Piton Award, and the Piolet d'Or's Prix du Public.
Back in base camp failure gnaws at me. And this time I use the word failure decisively. I did not summit K7, and I pushed too far. I had difficulty descending the complex gullies and snowfields in the dark. I was too cold to stop and rest, and one bad decision would have had dreadful consequences. That I escaped does not justify taking so many chances. I need to rein in the risk.
I wish I had summitted and so ended this baleful obsession. I hate that I must go up there again. I am angry that I train so hard for these routes but am unable to climb them. I berate myself for squandering my opportunity to be a professional alpinist; with all this time and support, I am still unable to do the big climbs, the groundbreaking climbs.
At night I lie in my tent, eyes closed, questioning: Where is the line, what risks are acceptable? What price am I willing to pay? Maybe a partner? Should I invite Marko to climb with me? What happened to my relationship with myself? Why am I so isolated from the rest of the world? In soloing did I travel so far within myself that I am unable to return to normality?
In the dark of early morning I wake to the realization that to complete this cycle I must follow the path before me. I am committed. Like the Slovak Direct with Mark and Scott, North Twin with Marko, I must climb up and off K7 to move on, to survive. Anger cedes to frustration. In the daylight my angst has receded; I laugh with my mates again.
K7 is my universe. This pitch, my world. The movement, the yellow rock edges toward which I direct my crampons, the crack in which I cam my pick. This is my moment.
I climb past that first bolt 7,000 feet up the mountain. Above a white granite wall I swing my ice tools into old, dirty-white, iron-hard ice. When I lever the shaft of the axe upward, the ice creaks and cracks and sometimes breaks. This time the weather is with me. I started before dusk yesterday and climbed the well-rehearsed lower mountain in the dark, leaving the warmest daytime hours to get past this difficult rock tower below the summit.
The sun is just kissing the western horizon when I stand on the summit. Deep orange rays are broken and scattered by the chaotic skyline of jagged clouds and rugged summits. I feel nothing because, suddenly, there is nothing to feel. My breathing slows. My movements cease. For several quiet minutes I take in everything between myself and the horizon.
K7 lies at the top of the mighty Charakusa Glacier. The peaks of the Karakoram – K2 and her brethren – lay before me, holding court over the world. I study this view to understand what I have done and where I am. Night is approaching. As I promised Rasool, I take a photo of myself with the Pakistani flag he gave me. Then I dig out my headlamp, flip it on, and start down in the gathering darkness.
I down climb the summit snowfield and traverse back across the stegosaurus's icy spine to where I am forced to begin rappelling. I pull a steel piton out of my pocket, something I scavenged from the Japanese climbers. I find a diagonal crack in the granite and drive in the piton. I attach a carabiner, one of only 20 I carry, clip in my skinny rope, meant to hold just thrice my body weight, and rappel into the night. I move ceaselessly for the next 14 hours, down climbing wherever I can to save gear and rappelling where I must.
It is midmorning when I walk into base camp. I have climbed K7 alone, by a new route, and in a single 41-hour, 45-minute push. I am exhausted, dizzy as I collapse on the offered stool. Rasool unlaces my boots while our liaison officer, Captain Amin, mixes a large pitcher of Tang. I eat only a little and fall into my tent for that first sleep,
the dreamless, unconscious sleep of exhaustion. At dusk I get up and eat again. That night I sleep like a man at peace.
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