(MountEverest.net – Book Review) Highly skilled sport climber but 8000+ newbie, Swedish David Falt is moved by Steve House’s recently published book Beyond the mountain.
“Reading it is a voyage in to the past – a fulfilling one, if you are one of us who has been sitting at the bottom of a alpine face with a dead friend, trying to make sense of it all,” David says.
Who better to review House’s book than Falt, fresh from a cool attempt on GIII and GIV. Here goes.
Steve House’s “Beyond the Mountain”
Review by David W. Falt
Climbing big mountains is no easy task. The number of things that can go wrong far outnumber the odds for bagging the summit or finish a route on a major alpine face – and still alpinists bet high when the chips are down. If we really fall in love with a line, a face or a summit we have to be realistic and count on the fact that it may well demand several attempts and sometimes even death.
In this sense alpinism is unexplainable to the outside world.
A sport climber can be working a route for weeks in order to figure out the best way to do the moves and make it to the anchor. It’s easy and convenient to “dog” a route in order to figure it out.
Bringing this concept to the greater ranges on huge walls at altitude in winter conditions goes beyond investing a few weeks for a goal important to yourself or your partner. Now we are talking about years of suffering, pain and sometimes loss of trusted friends.
Taking it higher
“Alpinists die – it’s part of the game,” someone once told me. If red pointing sport climbing routes helped pushing grades and opened new horizons to what is possible, one has to ask: What has this style done for alpinism? What have climbers like Steve House really meant to modern mountaineering?
The simple answer is, that his contribution is huge – but trying to quantify it would be stupid and pointless; even offending.
I have always been impressed by the relentless efforts some of my friends are putting in on big dangerous mountains around the world in order to fulfil a dream.
What is the driving force behind Billy Piersson’s efforts to do a new line on K2 when he already has bagged the mountain once? Why have the Benegas brothers tried Latok multiple times? Why did Steve return to Nanga Parbat, K7 and a long list of other mountains so many times – risking it all?
On one solo attempt in Alaska described in the book, Steve is worried because, if he falls off and dies, he will ruin his sister’s wedding the following week, but still he can’t just leave it – he has to try. How can one explain that decision? Does it need explaining?
“…I’ve seen pitiful weakness,” Steve writes. “I’ve watched myself crawl, belly-down, across a mountainous landscape of fear. Climbing has shown me that I am all of these things: strong and weak, brave and coward, both immune to and at the mercy of the fear of death – all at the same time. Risk is the fee to learn these lessons. The cost is not negotiable. It is a price that, for now, I pay gladly.”
It’s for sure not glory Steve is after. I don’t think he is displaying obsession either. It’s just the rules of engagement in the alpine game. It’s the harsh reality of trying to solve complex problems in an even more complex environment.
Daring to bare it all
In order to get it right in alpinism and do new routes that previously were looked on as impossible, not only physical and technical skills have to be in sync, but the team’s dynamics have to be right as well.
Also, to complete a new project the alpinist has to deal with a number of external factors. It’s a complex equation to solve. Few attempt it and even fewer pull it off; that’s why alpinism is so big, so untouchable and so private.
When I started to read Steve House’s book “Beyond The Mountain” I expected the book to be written in a way that would grant the bigger audience access to his epics and endeavours in the greater ranges.
Several of my friends are truly great climbers and some of them are also exceptional writers. But one thing have disappointed me in their books: their effort to try and explain to someone who has never been there what really goes on in the mountains between the climbing partners.
The chemistry, the relationships, the emotions, the moments when nothing is said or done but stay with you forever – these moments are all part of a climb which may take you to the summit or just barely off the mountain alive.
These moments will end up defining who you are, and how you will approach your next project. I’m not sure you can or want to record and share these moments. Yet Steve is opening the doors to his inner thoughts without explaining them or seeking justification for his actions.
Raw and borderline rude, but real
I think “Beyond The Mountain” reflects the style Steve has adopted in his climbing. He is not looking for approval or recognition – he is just telling us his story the way he lived it. It’s naked, sometimes raw and borderline rude – but it’s his reality.
The chapter “Partnership”, about the Slovak Direct on Denali is a “live” snap-shot of the ascent he made together with Mark Twight and Scott Backes. After that climb Twight wrote: “I’m an elitist prick and I think posers have polluted mountaineering. They make of the summit, not the style, the yardstick of success.” This is how the book is written as well.
It’s about what goes on, not only in the mind and body. It’s about what happens after the climb. It’s about the impact mountaineering has on relations beyond the mountains.
Moreover, the book gives you a hint about the motivation that has allowed Steve to be in the absolute fore-front of modern alpinism.
It will not give you any instructions of how to move your own borders, but it will tell you how Steve has moved his limits for what he can physically and mentally endure – and how he finds fulfilment and inspiration to go after new lines and new mountains with new partners. It’s a great buy. I loved it.
David Falt, born in Sweden, started climbing in 1986, bagging 30 plus winter accents in the alps up to ED3. David undertook his first Himalayan expedition at 18; two years later he led an expedition to the then unclimbed Hunza Peak (6,270m) in Pakistan. In summer 2009, Falt joined Don Bowie, Bruce Normand, Guy McKinnon and Billy Pierson for an attempt on GIII/GIV; from where David was airllifted after a crevasse fall.
UIAGM guide Steve House (1970, Oregon) is one of the best-known climbers in America. He has led a number of new routes in Alps, Alaska and the Himalayas – mainly focusing on new routes and/or unclimbed faces on difficult 6000ers, 7000ers and -in later times – 8000 meters+ peaks. An alpine style purist, Steve critiziced the Piolet d’Or jury in 2005 for awarding a Russian team for their first ascent on Jannu’s North face in expedition style. One year later House got the Golden Ice-axe himself, for a new route on Nanga Parbat’s Rupal face (together with Vince Anderson). Steve’s latest attempt on an 8000er was Makalu West face, teaming up with regular mates Anderson and Marko Prezelj.
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