Vertebrate Press Simon McCartney
Jack Roberts and Simon McCartney knew little, perhaps by choice, about the need to systematically acclimatize before considering an immensely long and technical route up Denali whose 5,500 m base to summit rise summit exceeds any Himalayan peak. The consequence of this omission plays itself over three weeks instead of the planned one. It’s a voyage into the outer limits of what was possible alpine style in Alaska in 1980 and Roberts and McCartney’s second new route up an avalanche-prone and cornice-riddled face in Alaska. The other being the north face of Mount Huntington in 1977. recounts these climbs, along with an early ascent of The Eiger, with a heart-stopping immediacy that belies the fact that decades passed before McCartney chose to write about them. Admittedly, never had a month gone by that the emotional currents of those days didn’t light the night sky of the author’s consciousness even though he did not climb another since.
If ever there was a great Anglo-American alpine climbing partnership, RobertsMcCartney surely stands to the fore. Jack Roberts was a Stonemaster to the core; a disaffected SoCal youth whose refusal to fail on a climb was sufficiently absolute to set out on a route so long and hard as to dwarf either the Eiger or El Capitan. McCartney drew from a tradition of irreverent British climbers that would gather in Chamonix every season Snell’s Field offered free camping. A chance meeting at the Bar National – where piss taking took precedence over fine dining – sparked a partnership that took alpine style to Alaska as it had never been done before. The book both provides a previously unwritten chapter in mountaineering history and explores the intimacy of setting out to do the impossible with someone whose dreams and fears become your own.
The cross-currents of climbing bring home some immutable truths in this book. Just as Roberts and McCartney hobbled back to Talkeetna by plane, four climbers from Ontario arrived to make an ascent of the Cassin Ridge, the descent route taken by McCartney. They were the leading figures in the province at the time, and brought in solid 5.11 and established themselves on the wider North American stage. All trace of them disappeared in an avalanche.–