Climbing of the next century: how to climb Denali twice as fast as in the year 2000 | The Mountaineer | Sports | The USA Print


On the final access ramps to the top of Denali.
On the final access ramps to the top of Denali.

Mountaineering has always advanced by comparison; the new generations experience the need to measure themselves against those who inspired them and the mountains that made them great. Just to get to know your site. The best always approach with a different look, hungry to leave their mark and improve what is established. But what North American mountaineers Jackson Marvell, Alan Rousseau and Matt Cornell have just signed on May 20 on the route known as the Slovak Direct to Denali (or Mc Kinley), Alaska’s iconic mountain, goes much further. . It is a revolution that will force the rest to assume radical changes in their way of understanding how to progress through a severe mountain.

In 1984, Slovakian climbers Blazej Adam, Tono Krizo and Frantisek Korl spent 11 days climbing the south face of Denali (6,190 meters), signing a technically difficult route with severe ice and mixed sections, and a huge commitment in its 2,700 meters of unevenness Here, the prevailing bad weather often derails any rescue attempt, and a simple sprained ankle can kill you. In the year 2000, the incomparable American climbers Mark Twight and Steve House, together with Scott Backes, carried out a true coup and signed up the Slovak Direct in an attack that lasted just 60 hours. Twight and House had decided that mountain climbing was not for the enlightened, hippies and misfits, but a sport like any other in which training, planning and well-applied logistics should be mandatory. His ascents are still impressive, although now they pale under the spotlight of what his three compatriots have achieved: they have repeated the route in 21 hours and 35 minutes. The future has come a long way.

Top photo: from left to right, Cornell, Marwell and Rousseau.
Top photo: from left to right, Cornell, Marwell and Rousseau.

In 2019, the Catalan mountaineers Marc Toralles and Bru Busom climbed the Slovak Direct in four days of fighting. They found the mountain in appalling conditions, and despite this, they continued to climb, in part because they had already passed a point of no return. Marc Toralles then came to a conclusion: for the committed mountaineering he pursued, he had to train much more.

Well trained and with clear ideas, Jackson Marvell and Alan Rousseau, two who usually climb together and who had been following the route for three years, arrived in Alaska. However, they had promised each other that they would only attempt it under a long window of pristine time. When it arrived, Matt Cornell joined them. The trio had been climbing Yosemite together for three years, and had opened several new routes in Alaska and believed it was possible to go under 60 hours. They weren’t obsessed with the idea either, but it was a source of inspiration. “We wanted to see where we stand against the record of House, Twight and Backes, but not to beat them but because the road is beautiful,” explains Jackson Marvell on his social networks.

The trio divided the 2,700 meter route into three sections: Rousseau climbed the lead first, was relieved by Marwell and Cornell finished the job. Minimalists, they carried just 10 ice screws, two sets of lockers and only a rope plus a gas charge and a stove to hydrate. Only the three most complicated pitches were safely climbed, and they advanced the rest of the route simultaneously, which allowed them to fly over the route… Counting, yes, with a dazzling technical, physical and psychological solvency. Near the top, exhaustion forced them to slow down, but the job was done. “We were highly motivated, we were all extremely curious about how fast we could be, and we spent many hours discussing strategies and defining our roles,” confides Marwell. Now, they say, three is the perfect number to face their next challenge: the north face of Jannu (7,710 m, Nepal), next September.

Rousseau, in the third of the route that he had to climb in the lead.
Rousseau, in the third of the route that he had to climb in the lead.

If Rousseau and Marwell are two special mountaineers, their partner Matt Cornell is one more link in the inexhaustible quarry of gifted mountaineers in North America, along the lines of Alex Honnold or Canadian Marc André Leclerc. In 2020, a short little note in a magazine on-line An American introduced Cornell to society: he had just climbed a rock and ice route solo. It was not a minor route, but a jewel of difficulty located in Montana (USA) with three pitches of rock to connect with two of ice. The rock, so rotten and of poor quality, was secured with expansion insurance. Cornell went through there without a rope in one of the most hair-raising solo exercises known.

Just when he had to decide whether or not to start college, Matt Cornell called time out on his life and hit the road. He did not see himself working eight hours in an office, nor tied to “what society considers normal”, but he did not know what exactly he wanted, except to find himself somewhere in his inner journey. He needed perspective. So he came to Montana, where he met Conrad Anker, one of the most prestigious North American mountaineers, who offered him a job shift at his mother’s restaurant. He slept in a hammock in the woods, with a grill and a coffee pot as the only furniture. “If you do without material things, nothing binds you and you are free to do what you want with your life: climb in my case,” Cornell usually explains.

Thus six years passed. On those hammock nights, loneliness howled. But climbing requires money, and his salary from the restaurant barely allowed him to travel on expeditions, so he sold his van and bought a bicycle… It can be said that he embraced the most severe training by accident, such as when he was hit by a truck and fell. fractured the sacrum. Recovered, in 2019 he climbed in Alaska, Patagonia, and Pakistan. He is still homeless, although he now lives with four other roommates in the cheapest rented flat he has found. He keeps riding a bike with panniers and hitchhikes when he touches her. And he continues to climb without a rope, although when he is tied to a history of mountaineering he suffers a mind-boggling electric shock.

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