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Off Belay: Darwin’s Disappointment

Before his theory of evolution made him famous, Charles Darwin was an enthusiastic, if somewhat picky, mountaineer. Paula Wright considers the significance of his most disappointing ascents.

Sharp End: The Ice World, Beyond

During the Victorian Age, an intrepid group of women helped pioneer winter mountaineering–only to have their contributions largely vanish from mainstream history.

Sharp End: Off the Map

1953, Zanskar Himalaya: A small shadow of a woman moves slowly over a drape of white. The summit cone of Nun glows, no longer distant, its 7135-meter apex still untouched. Panes of ice lie scattered like thin glass, across drifts so soft and deep that French alpinist Claude Kogan can find nothing secure for her crampons to hold.

Tool Users: Realized Ultimate Reality Piton

Even in 1960, with the rudimentary gear of the era, the first fifty feet of Kat Pinnacle’s unclimbed Southwest Corner seemed manageable: an overhanging crack that could be nailed in an exhausting, but relatively ordinary way. Above the first section, however, reared a thirty-five-foot, dead-vertical hairline seam. Yvon Chouinard stalled, searching for a placement.

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.

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.