First Ascent Topos

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Jan 12, 2014 | By Matthew Ankeny

Siguniang, Southwest Ridge, Dylan Johnson and Chad Kellogg.

There are a series of hand drawn topographical maps of first ascents published on the American Alpine Journal's site. The maps reveal relevant information, like pitch lengths, gear sizes, and route conditions. On close read, though, they also reveal something much less technical, and more universally human.

Topo maps are designed to help climbers “read the rock.” For first ascents, they’re the guide that establishes the foundation of data available for future climbers. And yet, in the scribbles, sketches and notes, a small touch of personality shows through—an effort beyond transcribing data; a look at the heart of the climber.

London Tower: The Trailer Park, by Kelly Cordes and Scott DeCapio.

For Kelly Cordes and Scott DeCapio’s ascent of Alaska’s “London Tower,” humor is the order of the day. We dubbed our miniature shanty village, complete with redneck antics and unfinished building additions (the igloo project…), “The Trailer Park.”

And for the descent, slog south…for a quick butt-slide back!

St. Exupery: Last Gringos Standing, by Jesse Huey and Toby Grchne.

But levity is not the only prescription, as a side note casts a shadow of mortality on the climber’s triumph. Memories of great climbing, friendship, and life’s simple pleasures in this magnificent place will last forever. May the spirit of Seth Shaw rest in peace.

Dylan Johnson and Chad Kellogg have an equally sobering remark as they reached the peak of China’s Siguniang’s Southwest Ridge. To rock and corniced summit. Send Lara’s ashes free.

Johnson and Kellogg’s account is mired in difficulty, and despite the clean letters and succinct notes, there are signs of their difficulty. 42 hours since last sleep…1st meal in 2.5 days at 11pm.

Thunder Mountain: Dead Beat and Ring of Fire, by Kelly Cordes and Scott DeCapio.

It’s an apt reminder that when on the mountain, success only comes at the hand of extended suffering. And for these blazers of new trails, the challenge is that much greater. Still, they find the space to celebrate, and the joy of climbing is never far from mind, spectacular mixed climbing…blue ice, white granite, no shit!

And, when triumph finally shows on the horizon, the notes move to a well-earned congratulatory tone. The climbers have achieved what literally no man has achieved before, and they can appropriately scribble their climber’s call: Ever thus to deadbeats!

Murallon: Vom Winde Verweht, by Stefan Glowaz and Robert Jasper.

Topos via AAJ.