On the 11th February, I attended one of those small but significant events that happen now and again in the climbing world. It was a chance to reconnect with the cutting edge of Himalayan alpinism and to recognise that the values there are equally valid at the more modest altitudes of the Alps.
The occasion was the launch of the French translation of Sandy Allan’s book about the Mazeno Ridge, In Some Lost Place. Entitled “L’arête de l’éternité”, it’s published by Guérin and the event took place in a small back room of their shop in central Chamonix.
Between 30 and 40 folk were there to hear Sandy and his partner, Rick Allen, talk about their intense experience above 7000m for 2 weeks. There were several telling moments – Sandy’s description of early days in Chamonix in the 80’s, drinking in the Bar Nash and 3 day party sprees with Mark Miller contrasting sharply with Sandy’s spiritual approach that borders on the religious.
For me it was a moment to remember what it feels like to be on the edge in big mountains, particularly when Sandy describes hallucinating during the descent, seeing rabbits in the snow and then working that they must be illusory as there were no tracks in the snow. The ability to have a split mind and work out which bit of the mind should be put in charge is an important one!
But the key section for me was towards the end when he describes the mountain giving them permission to make the ascent. In the current world of social media, eGoPro footage, sponsorship contracts and general hyperbole, it was great to be reminded that we don’t conquer mountains. The only confrontation takes place internally, between the ears, wondering if or how one can be capable.
Well done Sandy and Rick for a great achievement, and kudos to Sandy for such a great book which uncovers what it takes to operate at the level of the Mazeno.