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The Cutting Edge

A podcast from the editors of the American Alpine Journal

 Presented by Hilleberg the Tentmaker

The Cutting Edge brings to life stories from the pages of The American Alpine Journal (AAJ), the annual publication of the American Alpine Club (AAC). Each month, an AAJ editor interviews a world-class climber just back from a wild new route or expedition, with in-depth discussion of the tactics behind the climb, along with the highs and lows of these adventures. 

Follow along on iTunesSoundcloud, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. New episodes are shared the 15th of each month.

The Cutting Edge is produced by the AAC and hosted by Dougald MacDonald, editor of The American Alpine Journal, with interviews by all of the AAJ editors.  AAC members receive a free copy of The American Alpine Journal each August. (Join the AAC.) 

Special thanks to Jason Burton (www.jasontylerburton.com) for sound effects and original music.


Marc-André Leclerc died in a climbing accident in Alaska in March, along with Ryan Johnson. Eighteen months earlier, AAJ associate editor Chris Kalman had recorded a long interview with the young Canadian, in preparation for an article that appeared in AAJ 2017. To honor Marc's life and provide a window into his unique character and intelligence, we offer this edited version of the interview, covering bold climbs from Canada to Patagonia.

A celebration of Marc's life is planned for May 12 at Pavilion Park in downtown Squamish, British Columbia. The event begins at 5:30 p.m., and all are invited. No RSVP is required.

You can read the wonderful AAJ article that Marc and Chris collaborated on here: Two Climbs Alone


Jim Donini first climbed in Patagonia way back in 1974, and in 1976 he made the first ascent of Torre Egger. Now nearly 75 years old, he's still at it, exploring the wild mountains near his summer home on the shores of Lago General Carrera in Chile. Just back from another Patagonia season, during which he bagged yet another unclimbed peak, Jim spoke with AAJ editor Andy Anderson about the beautiful Aysén region of Patagonia, the peaks he's climbed, and his passion for exploration.

 Cerro Chueco, the peak climbed by Jim Donini and Tad McCrea in February 2018. Their route ascended the right skyline. Photo by Tad McCrea.

Cerro Chueco, the peak climbed by Jim Donini and Tad McCrea in February 2018. Their route ascended the right skyline. Photo by Tad McCrea.

 Jim Donini leading on Cerro Chueco. Photo by Tad McCrea

Jim Donini leading on Cerro Chueco. Photo by Tad McCrea

 Living the good life on the shores of Lago General Carrera, Chile. Photo by Angela Goodacre.

Living the good life on the shores of Lago General Carrera, Chile. Photo by Angela Goodacre.

 The view from Donini's home in Aysén, Chile, looking across Lago General Carrera. The high peak on the left is Monte San Valentin (4,058m), the highest mountain in Patagonia. Donini and partners have made the first ascents of two of the peaks on the right. Photo courtesy of Angela Goodacre.

The view from Donini's home in Aysén, Chile, looking across Lago General Carrera. The high peak on the left is Monte San Valentin (4,058m), the highest mountain in Patagonia. Donini and partners have made the first ascents of two of the peaks on the right. Photo courtesy of Angela Goodacre.


Conrad Anker made a dozen trips to Antarctica to climb and guide in the 1990s and early 2000s. But he hadn't been back in over 15 years. In December 2017, after two years of planning, he led a team of North Face athletes to Queen Maud Land, an area of spectacular granite spires, where Anker had done a first ascent in 1996. In this episode, Anker describes the big new route he put up with Jimmy Chin on Ulvetanna, the highest peak in the area, as well as dealing with cold, the team dynamic on expeditions, and the environmental impacts of climbers.

 Climbing on Ulvetanna in the otherworldly landscape of Queen Maud Land. Photo by Jimmy Chin / The North Face

Climbing on Ulvetanna in the otherworldly landscape of Queen Maud Land. Photo by Jimmy Chin / The North Face

 Conrad high on Ulvetanna. Cold was a constant companion on the climb. Photo by Jimmy Chin / The North Face

Conrad high on Ulvetanna. Cold was a constant companion on the climb. Photo by Jimmy Chin / The North Face


Swiss climber Stephan Siegrist has visited the Kishtwar area of India five times in the past seven years, making numerous first ascents. In late 2017, he returned to India with Thomas Huber and Julian Zanker to climb a direct new route up Cerro Kishtwar, an extremely difficult mountain that he had already climbed once before! In this episode, Stephan talks with Dougald MacDonald about Cerro Kishtwar, his climbing partners, maintaining health and motivation for extreme expeditions at age 45, and much more.

 Siegrist cleaning a stretch of hooking during the six-day ascent of Cerro Kishtwar's northwest face. 

Siegrist cleaning a stretch of hooking during the six-day ascent of Cerro Kishtwar's northwest face. 

 Challenging aid on Cerro Kishtwar. Some of the pitches took up to six hours to lead, creating frostbite danger for the stationary belayers.

Challenging aid on Cerro Kishtwar. Some of the pitches took up to six hours to lead, creating frostbite danger for the stationary belayers.


 Rungofarka (6,495m) is the central peak. The north ridge is a hard-to-see prow in front of the left skyline. The north face is central. Photo by Harish Kapadia. 

Rungofarka (6,495m) is the central peak. The north ridge is a hard-to-see prow in front of the left skyline. The north face is central. Photo by Harish Kapadia. 

Until 2010, the spectacular mountains of India's Zanskar Range had been off-limits to climbers for generations. This fall, American climbing guides Alan Rousseau and Tino Villanueva took advantage of newly available permits and made the first ascent of a stunning, 21,309-foot peak: Rungofarka. After first attempting the north face, Alan and Tino regrouped and spent four days climbing the north ridge and descending the west side, with about 50 pitches of climbing and difficulties up to M6 WI4+.

Andy Anderson, one of the AAJ's associate editors, spoke with Alan about climbing in a former war zone, what went wrong on the first try, the all-time greatest bivy site, and the seductive power of hidden cruxes. 

 The elegant upper crux of the north ridge of Rungofarka, key to gaining the summit slopes. Photo by Alan Rousseau.

The elegant upper crux of the north ridge of Rungofarka, key to gaining the summit slopes. Photo by Alan Rousseau.

 The dreaded six-inch crack near the end of Day 3 on the north ridge. Photo by Alan Rousseau.

The dreaded six-inch crack near the end of Day 3 on the north ridge. Photo by Alan Rousseau.

This episode of the Cutting Edge is sponsored by Cilo Gear, Grivel, and Beal.

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 Stanhope (left) and Leo Houlding on top of South Howser Tower, 23 hours 36 minutes after starting.

Stanhope (left) and Leo Houlding on top of South Howser Tower, 23 hours 36 minutes after starting.

In late August, Will Stanhope and Leo Houlding linked the three biggest faces on the Howser Towers in British Columbia's Bugaboos, climbing them all free in 23 and a half hours. Stanhope, 30, a Canadian climber, had been dreaming about this unprecedented enchainment for eight years, ever since he first saw the remote western faces of the Howser Towers. In 2016, he teamed up with Houlding to free a 5.12 route on the Minaret on the west side of the Howsers and to scope the potential for the enchainment. After some rehearsal last summer, the two pulled off the completely linkup, climbing approximately 60 guidebook pitches up to 5.12+, plus complex alpine terrain to move between the towers.  

The AAJ's Chris Kalman spoke with Will about the planning for the enchainment, how to free climb so much ground quickly, and the primal energy boost from an alpine sunrise after 23 hours on the go. Find this episode on iTunes, Soundcloud, or your favorite podcast source.

 Will Stanhope cruxing on the Chocolate Fudge Bunnies route on Central Howser Tower. Photo by Adrian Samarra.

Will Stanhope cruxing on the Chocolate Fudge Bunnies route on Central Howser Tower. Photo by Adrian Samarra.