ExWeb Interview - Steve House: Riding on the wild side, part 2

Posted: Apr 04, 2005 04:00 am EDT

Steve House stays loyal to the code of clean, light and fast. What really matters in the vertical world of Alpine style is not how high you go - but how you get there.

In todays second and final part of the interview, the heat is on. In reply to ExWeb's direct questions, Steve shares his view on "clean" climbing, Piolet d'Or - and - the brotherhood.

ExWeb: Some American climbers say that they don't go for the 8000ers because there's no challenge left there. And yet there are many unclimbed routes and virgin winter attempts left in the death zone.

Why do you think so few Americans (except of course for the Everest repeaters), compared to Europeans for instance, are found at 8000+ peaks? Do you think that will change?


Steve: In my opinion, in North America we have a lot more possibility for adventure in our home mountains (especially in Canada and Alaska) than Europeans have in the European Alps. Therefore Europeans have to look towards the Himalayas when they search for a higher adventure.

Thats why there will always be more Europeans in the Himalaya than North Americans, adventure and I don't think that ratio will change. Besides, climbing in Asia means a longer trip - and more expensive - for Americans.

However, to say that there is no challenge in the Himalaya is a ridiculous statement. That person should explore some more.

ExWeb: Sorry but we have to ask - what is your opinion on the Piolet d'Or award, after being nominated and awarded by the public, but not by the jury?

Steve: I could spend a long time answering this. My opinion is that the award is meant to bring attention to the most important ascent of each year. In reality these past two years the Piolet d'Or committee has chosen climbs done in what myself, and most alpinists, consider poor style.

Fixed ropes, fixed camps, and bolting for convenience are not part of cutting-edge alpinism. I understand that these tactics are not going away in mainstream alpinism, but that is not the point of the award.

Risk is part of the aesthetic of alpinism. If you can rappel to your Base Camp for tea on your fixed ropes, then there is not so much risk. It has been a very long time, more than 30 years, since a truly important climb was done in expedition style.

ExWeb: Anyways, what's in a prize? What real advantages, beside the prize's money, can someone get from being awarded?

Steve: The award belongs to and exists for its creators. Therefore alpinists should not put much weight on such awards, especially when they prove themselves irrelevant to modern alpinism by rewarding a style of climbing that does not respect the mountain environment.

ExWeb: There seems to be a growing gap between expedition style and alpine style climbing. Do you think both styles show a totally different attitude, or could there be a common spirit of adventure in the different methods?

Steve: Of course there is a common spirit. The difference is how we define success.

For some success can only be the summit. These people need to use the most climbers and equipment and the highest safety factor to reach that goal. For others success means engaging in the process of climbing on the most simple terms available. Personally, I believe alpine style is a much richer experience than "heavy" expedition style methods. And what is there, besides the experience?