by Ted Welch
Wed Dec 5th, 2012 at 05:34:56 PM EST
This has little to do with economics and energy, nor is it a personal diary; it's more about what we do with life beyond bare survival and how some people only really come alive a fingertip from death - and create a frightening beauty in doing so. One of them summed up his philosophy of climbing like this (rough translation from French - and only a French climber would put it like this):
"I climb to feel in harmony with myself, because I live in the moment, because it's a form of ethical and aesthetic expression through which I can realise myself, because I seek total liberty of body and mind. And because I like it." Patrick Berhault
I like the way the net can take you to new areas; well, not exactly new, I even did some easy climbing in my youth (partly to challenge my vertigo). However I hadn't kept up with what's been happening in recent years. Then an ex-student drew my attention to an absurd irony: Patrick Edlinger, a legend in climbing circles in the 1980s, had been killed falling down the stairs at home. In fact the exact circumstances don't seem to have been established, but he did die at home aged only 52, after a battle with depression and alcoholism following a bad fall.
Today it is so easy to check up on something and I went to Google to find out a bit more about him, which took me to film on Youtube of him climbing, and then on to one of his climbing partners, Patrick Berhault, and also to their heir, Alex Honnold - the most awesome (really) climber today. Like them he's a modest guy who lives for climbing, but whose astonishing ability edges him ever closer to death.
Patrick Edlinger was one of the most extraordinary sportsmen of all time. He never won an Olympic medal. He never became a millionaire.
For a few years in the 1980s, he was celebrated far beyond his native France for turning rock-climbing into a compelling but terrifying version of gymnastics or yoga, performed far above the ground without safety equipment.
Mr Edlinger, whose death aged 52 was revealed this week, became a mythical figure partly because he defied the glitzy spirit of the 1980s. He had the looks of a film-star, the body of a ballet-dancer, and the long, blond hair of contemporary tennis and football idols. But he clung to an ascetic, bohemian existence, living in a white camper van and claiming that he survived on water and sandwiches."
Here's a tribute to him (it's 4.49 secs). Someone who climbed with him said that he didn't want to just succeed in doing a climb; he wanted to do it elegantly, you get a sense of this especially from the end:
But it was his style of climbing that left the biggest impression. In one celebrated scene in La vie aux bouts des doigts, a solo and ropeless Edlinger climbs out underneath an overhang, hangs effortlessly off one arm several hundred feet off the ground while dipping the other into a bag of chalk, utterly indifferent to the danger, before swinging his foot into a crack above his head and pulling himself up.
When such a scene was mimicked by Hollywood, most notably in the opening sequence of Mission Impossible 2, it appeared ridiculous. Yet Edlinger made the move look entirely natural -- if none the less terrifying. His physical prowess was awesome."
Here's a recent interview with him, discussing his climbing in a very philosophical way - Sartre would have approved his emphasis on freedom, even turning down sponsorships which would have inhibited his freedom:
But Edlinger was content to pursue climbing for its own sake, which he did with an almost innocent, childlike joy. "When I climb I feel an interior peace," he recalled in an interview a few years ago. "You can compare it to a form of yoga. You're obliged to concentrate totally on the here and now and you forget your problems."
Here's "the brother I never had", as Edlinger called him, Patrick Berhault. I thought while watching some of these videos how much more aesthetically satisfying I find it than the modern dance I've seen; it's real "grace under pressure" (as Hemingway described bull-fighting). Then I came across this video; the movement is just beautiful and charged with tension as he pushes his body to achieve amazing things. It's called: "Berhault Climbing like Dancing on the Rock":
But as I researched this, I found that Berhault had been killed in a stupid accident, doing a traverse, not roped to his partner as it didn't seem difficult, just four years before Edlinger's death:
Edlinger remained very close to Berhault and was particularly affected by his death in 2004. "He died stupidly after slipping, he told his autobiographer. "Maybe we'll all die stupidly."
"Roped up but free"
Today their pioneering efforts are carried yet further by a young prodigy, as obsessive as them, he too lives minimally, in a camper van most of the year. He's charmingly modest, while also demonstrating what a marvellous thing the human body can be. Can limits be pushed further than this ?
Free soloing--climbing without a rope--represents the ultimate extreme in rock-climbing, and Alex Honnold is perhaps the most gifted free soloist on the planet right now. "
It's 13 mins, but worth it, my palms were sweating by the end and I was so relieved he made it (though I knew he would):
"This is surreally cool ... it's awesome."
I hope his luck holds out, I think eurotribbers share his attitude:
"We should all strive for less impact on this earth. There are less destructive ways to live."