Jean Ravier, Pyrenees by proximity, mountaineer and rock artist by the intervention of unknown forces, has missed it… just barely. Pierre’s twin, this one still alive, died a little over a year ago at the age of 89, leaving an immense legacy full of bold openings in Pyrenean rock walls. But not only. In 1962, Lionel Terray, the man who best defined mountaineers as simple “conquerors of the useless,” refused to conquer Jannu (7,710 m, also known as Kumbhakarna) without his help. And together they did it, climbing the southwest ridge. From the top of the mountain they could feel all the cold, the verticality, the disturbing and threatening shadow of its northern slope, a plumb drop of 2,700 meters. This wall was immediately baptized as “the wall of shadows”, the symbol of verticality and the impossible. Terray and Ravier imagined, perhaps, a future for which no one was yet prepared. So, conquering said wall was a futuristic dream. Unimaginable.
A Japanese team managed to overcome it in 1976, but avoiding the most direct option and choosing, instead, a line on the far left of the wall. In 2004, a Russian team won the Golden Piolet by conquering the very central part of the wall, drawing an almost direct line to the very top: ten climbers took turns using a heavy style, with numerous fixed ropes and equipment, making good the adagio written by Peter Boardman: “If you try hard enough, any mountain can be climbed.” His Golden Ice Ax was criticized because in avant-garde mountaineering the style counts much more than the result: “The Russians have climbed the north, a feat of engineering and perseverance, but they have also mutilated it with their heavy style,” Steve House would conclude. .
Now, a few days ago, three mountaineers who declare themselves North American but who were possibly born Martians, have managed to climb the north face in alpine style, with less equipment than the Ravier twins used in their already light Pyrenean adventures. It is one thing to besiege a mountain with human and material means and quite another to do it with almost nothing on your back, as if you were going for a walk with your dog around the block. The obvious difference is the commitment acquired. Jean, if he were still alive, would have been the first to ask the three Americans (Matt Cornell, Alan Rousseau and Jackson Marwell) how they had managed to discover the weaknesses of the wall, to play with its friendly flanks, to avoid the dead ends. , to resist the pressure of fear of falling, of being trapped, of perishing.
Like the Raviers, the three North Americans are ahead of their time, guys who have managed to combine physical strength, unparalleled technical skill, audacity, speed, commitment and determination to conquer the most iconic wall that avant-garde mountaineering has been pursuing for decades. They have also shown patience (it was their third attempt) and a perseverance fueled by dreams of this caliber. “Our route shares sections with the Russian route, but between 7,000 meters and 7,500 we travel through virgin terrain, very vertical and complex. This section is where we experienced the most intensely wonderful mixed climbing any of us would have had the pleasure of participating in,” explains Alan Rousseau.
For now, the trio, who spent seven days climbing the mountain and returning, have only published a few written summaries on Instagram, but the images speak for themselves and say everything that words have not yet corroborated: theirs has been a journey that takes your breath away. While they are writing their story, Matt Cornell announced the following on Monday: “We have immersed ourselves deeply in the confines of what we considered possible and have returned with an experience of enormous significance. Consumed by the obligations of ascension, we lost the meaning of individualism… We still need to reflect in order to offer the appropriate words that evoke this activity…”
Alan Rousseau is a high mountain guide and is the element of sanity of the group. Cornell and Marwell are pure inspiration, instinct, mastery, guys who know no fear, who never find powerful excuses to give up. Together, they work like a steamroller. Marwell, a welder by profession, was so unknown until two years ago that his sponsor, The North Face, has not yet filled out his profile on its website. Only the photo of him appears. Just three years ago, Cornell was a marginal, unknown character, a guy who lived in a hammock in the forest, a character who had the fortune of meeting the great mountaineer Conrad Anker, at that time captain of the team of athletes of the firm The North Face. Then, Cornell climbed solo (without a rope) a mixed (ice and rock) route known as Nutcracker, opened by Anker himself and which stood out for the poor quality of the rock. In fact, the route was protected by expansive insurance because climbing it without them seemed impossible, unless one observed suicidal tendencies. For weeks, Cornell tried the movements alone, cleaned the rock as much as he could, and one day he climbed it alone without telling anyone of his intentions. No one would have believed him if it weren’t for some photos that a hiker obtained. Pure coincidence. The feat earned him a place on The North Face team and the possibility of changing the hammock for a bed and a roof. His second big moment came in the company of Alan Rousseau and Jackson Marwell, in May 2022: the trio climbed the Slovak Direct route to Denali (6,910 m) in 21 and a half hours. You had to sit down to assimilate so much speed and mastery.
His third masterstroke, now on the Jannu, places him directly in the golden book of mountaineering, in what may be a testament to mental strength combined with mastery in the use of ice axes and crampons in terrain where that, in alpine style, surviving seems like pure chance.
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