Alpine Warriors – History of Alpinists in YugoslaviaAlpine Warriors, Bernadette McDonald’s history of alpinists in Yugoslavia, has won this year’s award for Mountaineering History at the Banff Mountain Book Competition and is eligible for this year’s Phyllis and Don Munday Award, to be announced at the festival on November 5.
Alpine Warriors, Bernadette McDonald’s history of alpinists in Yugoslavia, has won this year’s award for Mountaineering History at the Banff Mountain Book Competition and is eligible for this year’s Phyllis and Don Munday Award, to be announced at the festival on November 5.
Excerpt from Alpine Warriors – By Bernadette McDonald
Of all the climbers on Makalu’s South Face, Aleš understood the European standards of alpine climbing best. He knew, even back in 1972, that climbing Makalu by its normal route was not enough for Yugoslavia to break into the rarefied air of the European alpine scene. Only the South Face would do. He had seen the reaction – some of it disbelief – when his team had climbed so high in 1972. Of course, this year they would reach the summit, but he wanted to get as many climbers to the top of the face as possible.
At 11:00 a.m. the radio crackled from base camp. They could see Šrauf reach the rim of the face and Marjan arrive not long after. Šrauf heard the chatter, stood up, took off his pack and waved. The radio came alive again. Whooping and hollering, base yelled, “Marjan, show you’re better than the Parisian!” Šrauf looked at Marjan, who stared back in stunned silence. They both understood. Four years before, a French expedition had stood on this same spot after climbing Makalu’s West Pillar. One of the climbers, Jean-Paul Paris, had reached 8,300 meters without the use of bottled oxygen. These simple words were a challenge for Marjan: to better the Frenchman’s altitude record. Maybe even go for the top!
Aleš came back on the radio. “Šrauf, we were going crazy here when you reached the ridge. Now you still have seven hours you can use to get to the summit. Tell the man from Bohinj [Marjan] that he can’t let the Frenchman get the better of him. Call whenever you want to. We’ll stay on the line at all times. It would be incredible if Marjan summited without oxygen. Help him, support him, encourage him!”
Before them reared a steep rock step, the last puzzle on the route. Once again, the depth of their partnership revealed itself, for who was there to belay Šrauf if not Marjan? Who would carry the full oxygen bottle as backup for Šrauf if not Marjan? Šrauf looked at him: “Maybe he is aware of my feelings…the elder, rope-team member. I am ten years older. Or maybe he is aware of his own hidden strength…It’s very beautiful to approach the summit with a friend like this. My friend’s gasps for air are slowly calming down.” They orbited around each other, offering their strength, composure and support. Their love.
As Šrauf began climbing, the rock crumbled in his hands. Finally he was able to pound a piton into a small crack. With the tip of his ice axe he probed above for possible holds on the scaly, frost-covered granite. The frost seemed to help, making the holds slightly more reliable. His complete absorption and focus calmed him as, hold by frosty hold, he advanced upward.
Marjan leaned against a rock and belayed Šrauf. The sun caressed him, and there was a gentle breeze. The rope slid through his hands a few centimeters at a time. Without even looking, Marjan could sense the difficulties. When Šrauf reached the edge of the rock step, he secured the rope and continued toward the summit. Years later, Marjan remembered these moments. “I said to him, ‘Go on, I will wait here for you. Only one person needs to reach the summit.’ I sat down and waited.” He continued: “It got cold. I got cold! Finally I was freezing. I could have gone down, but instead, I went up.” Bone tired, he clipped into the rope and forced himself to ascend the fixed line up the wall. Forty meters later, the route to the summit opened before him. The tension eased and a horrible exhaustion overwhelmed him. He collapsed into the snow, gasping in the thin air.
He swiveled around and looked back down the ridge. Could that be a human figure? He watched someone moving up from behind the sunlit curve. It was not a hallucination. His friend and partner had climbed across the rock pinnacle and was advancing toward him. Šrauf screamed with joy. To reach this summit with no oxygen! Could it be possible?
Marjan stopped and looked up. “I watch Šrauf as the dream of his life is coming true. He is shouting and whooping on the summit, he is ecstatic. I force myself to get up and go on. I slowly follow in Šrauf’s footsteps. By now the mind, which thinks of nothing else but the summit that has to be reached, is the sole one left in command. The body has given up long ago. Every few meters I sit in the snow and gasp for air. Šrauf is calling me. A few more steps.”
Marjan reached the summit 45 minutes after Šrauf. They hugged. For Marjan there was no exhilaration, joy or feeling of triumph. He was simply relieved that he no longer had to climb upward. Šrauf turned on his radio and started screaming, “Summit! Summit! Summit!”
Alpine Warriors ($30.00) is published by Rocky Mountain Books and is available from online retailers, your local bookstore, or direct from the publisher at rmbooks.com.
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