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Mountain Profile: The Aiguille du Dru Part II (1955-2015)

“It seemed built to perpetuate our dreams”–thus Guido Magnone described the Aiguille du Dru in The West Face. Ian Parnell relives the history of a peak poised between mountaineering fantasies and environmental realities. Royal Robbins, Claude Remy, Andy Parkin and Jerome Sullivan share dispatches from the past to the future.

Local Hero

IT WAS CLOSING NIGHT OF THE YEARLONG RUN OF PAVLA OVER THE PRECIPICE, AND EVERY SEAT IN Ljubljana’s Slovenian Youth Theatre was occupied. Actors lowered themselves from the ceiling, or edged in from stage left, tiptoeing along holds attached to the wall. I sat spellbound, absorbing the energy from 270 audience members, concentrating on every movement, every word that celebrated the life of Pavla Jesih. The strength of her character seemed to fill the room.

What the Heart, Only, Sees

February 20, 2015: I lay awake in a small cave, high above the Torre Valley in Patagonia. Storms echoed across the giant arena of granite spires, hidden in the night. I listened for avalanches and rockfall, but the deep rumble of rain eclipsed all sound. A cold fog hovered over my face.

Tool Users: the Joe Brown Helmet

The rock was about half the size of a brick, Joe Brown guesses; it’s hard to be precise when these things hit you in the head. Brown, “The Baron” of British climbing, was on Torre di Valgrande in the crumbling Dolomites, wearing only a cloth cap. Les Brown, who dislodged the rock from the pitch above, climbed down to find Joe stunned, with blood pooling inside his hat.

Going Home

One after the other, their toes compress then release from the cliff’s edge. Shoulders hunch forward, chins are tucked in. Toes are pointed. Legs are spread apart, holding their wingsuits open. Streaked granite surrounds them: El Capitan, the 3,000-foot wall they’ve climbed for years, its golden polish framed by ponderosa pines. Rushing air fills their ears. They thread a channel that opens toward the Cathedral Spires across the valley floor. The orange sky feels thick, heavy.

Sharp End

IN A BRICK HOUSE in the tree-lined village of Hildenborough, England, a Tibetan woman listened to her British husband translate books and newspapers, so she could hear how foreign writers depicted her homeland. It was the early twentieth century, in the midst of the first British attempts on Everest.