The Cutting Edge podcast 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.
The Cutting Edge is produced by the AAC and hosted by Dougald MacDonald, editor of The American Alpine Journal, with additional interviews by AAJ assistant editors Chris Kalman and Andy Anderson. Follow along on iTunes, Soundcloud, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Special thanks to Jason Burton (www.jasontylerburton.com) for sound effects and original music.
Published annually since 1929, The American Alpine Journal is the world's most respected source of information about long new routes and mountain exploration. AAC members receive a free copy of the 384-page book each August. (Join the AAC.)
Vitaliy Musiyenko is the most prolific climber of long new routes in the Sierra in modern history. This summer was no exception, including one line that recently was called the "Rostrum of Sequoia National Park." In this interview with AAJ contributing editor Whitney Clark, Vitaliy describes how he transformed from an overweight and apathetic high schooler to the master of modern Sierra climbing, plus the joys of 18-mile approaches, his planned guidebook to the Range of Light, and how every age of climbing can be a "golden age."
At sunset on August 5, 2019, Steve Swenson, Graham Zimmerman, Chris Wright, and Mark Richey stood on top of Link Sar, a 7,041-meter peak in Pakistan that had resisted numerous attempts dating back to 1979. The successful climb of the southeast face was the culmination of two months of effort by a powerful team of American climbers: two veterans in their 60s, and two of the leading alpinists of today’s younger generation.
Our guests for this episode are Steve Swenson, author of the recent book Karakoram, about 40 years of climbing in Pakistan, and Graham Zimmerman, the youngest member of the expedition. The two describe this very complex mountain, where just identifying a reasonable line took multiple years of attempts. Their nine-day round trip from base camp on the final push drew on the deepest reservoirs of every member's strengths.
Thirty-one-year old Barbara "Babsi" Zangerl is one of the world's most accomplished all-around rock climbers. She started climbing at age 14, and early on she focused on bouldering. After herniating a disk in her back in 2009, she switched to roped climbing and rapidly expanded her horizons. She was the first woman to complete the so-called Alpine Trilogy of long, often run-out 5.14 testpieces in Europe. And in June she completed her fourth El Cap free climb. Only Hazel Findlay from Great Britain has done as many.
Babsi has done the first female free ascents of Zodiac and El Niño, both 5.13+, and in December 2017 she and her partner Jacopo Larcher did the second ever ascent of Magic Mushroom, said to be El Cap’s second most difficult free route. In June this year, she free climbed PreMuir with Jacopo. This wasn’t Babsi’s most difficult El Cap free route, but it exemplified the style she prefers: ground-up ascents of extremely difficult big walls.
Chris Kalman caught up with Babsi at her home in Austria, shortly after she returned from a climbing trip to South Africa. They debriefed the PreMuir climb, including the many double dynos the 5-foot-3-inch climber required to free the route, and spoke about her future ambitions on the world's great walls.
This episode received additional support from Black Diamond Equipment.
In this episode we’re venturing into the world of FKTs: the Fastest Known Times for mountain ascents, alpine traverses, and similar feats. Our guest is Karl Egloff, a mountain guide who was virtually unknown outside his home in Ecuador until 2014, when he set the fastest known time for running up and down Kilimanjaro in Africa. The previous record was held by some guy named Kilian Jornet.
Since then Egloff has broken two more records set by the famed Spanish mountain runner, first on Aconcagua and then, just last month, on Denali.
This was Egloff’s second attempt on Denali, and he did it in just an eight-day visit to the mountain. On June 20, supported by his friend Nicolás Miranda, he raced up the West Buttress Route from Kahiltna base to the summit in 7 hours and 40 minutes, more than two hours faster than Jornet. Then he turned around and ran back, beating Jornet’s round trip by a few minutes, even though the Spaniard skied most of the way down.
In this very specialized side of mountaineering, Karl Egloff is on another level. The AAJ’s Chris Kalman caught up with him at his home in Quito.
This episode received additional support from Black Diamond Equipment.
In early April 2019, Luka Lindič and Ines Papert teamed up with Brette Harrington to climb a major new route in the Canadian Rockies: the complete east face of Mt. Fay. Chris Kalman spoke with them about this wild new line, along with the paradoxical allure of these complex and dangerous mountains.
Ines Papert wrote a feature article for AAJ 2017 about her first major expedition with Luka: “The Line: Third Time Lucky on Kyzyl Asker’s Prized Ice Line.”
This episode received additional support from Black Diamond Equipment.
In October 2018, Jerome Sullivan, Martin Elias, and Francois Poncet succeeded on the south pillar of Cerro San Lorenzo, perhaps the most difficult unclimbed summit in Patagonia. It was a "terrible" climb but a truly grand adventure, Jerome says. For episode 18 of the Cutting Edge, Chris Kalman interviewd Jerome to learn all about it.
Jerome wrote a very enjoyable account of this new route for the 2019 AAJ. Find the article and loads of photos at the AAJ website.
After the 2018–2019 Patagonia season came to a close, we asked the experts, Rolando Garibotti and Kelly Cordes, to go beyond the headlines and talk in depth about a wild new route, a ground-breaking, no-rope solo climb of Fitz Roy, and a series of very bad accidents and rescues. What's it all mean? Find out in this episode's deep dive into all things Patagonia.
Read Rolando Garibotti’s full summary of the 2018–2019 Patagonia season from the 2019 AAJ.
Scott Coldiron is that rare and lucky climber who gets to discover and develop an entirely new area: the massive ice and mixed climbs of the Cabinet Mountains in Montana. After a few years of under-the-radar development, 2018 and 2019 have been the biggest years yet on the Thunderdome cliffs and the alpine walls nearby. AAJ editor Andy Anderson gets the full story.
In mid-November, Chris Wright and Graham Zimmerman spent three days on a new route up Mt. Macdonald, high over Rogers Pass in British Columbia. Just getting onto the mountain required years of waiting for the exact right set of circumstances to line up. In this episode, you'll hear about this wild new route (The Indirect American, 1,000m, WI4+ M7), the strategy required, and the two climbers' strong partnership, which will take them back to Pakistan this summer for a second attempt at one of the world's great unclimbed peaks.
In late September, Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison completed the first ski descent of Lhotse, the fourth-highest mountain in the world. Their route was the stunning Lhotse Couloir, a plumb line from the summit down ontto the vast Lhotse Face, right next to Everest. In this episode, Hilaree talks in depth about their preparation and how they made this impressive descent.
Austrian climber Hansjörg Auer, 34, pulled off a rare feat in July: a solo new route on a 7,000-meter peak in the Karakoram. In this episode, Hansjörg talks with Chris Kalman about his new route on 7,181-meter Lupghar Sar West, the pleasures and perils of soloing big mountains, and that terrifying rappel video that went viral last winter.
After Brette Harrington's partner, Marc-André Leclerc, disappeared during a climb on Mendenhall Tower in Alaska in March, along with Ryan Johnson, Brette felt compelled to return to the Juneau Icefield in southeast Alaska repeatedly last summer, and she climbed numerous new routes in the Mendenhall Towers and elsewhere. In September, she and Gabe Hayden completed a difficult first ascent on the rarely climbed Devil's Paw. In this episode, Brette talks with Chris Kalman about this new route and about how her climbs above the Juneau Icefield have helped her through such a difficult time.
This episode received additional support from Julbo.
On August 9, four decades years after the first ascent of Latok I in Pakistan, Aleš Česen and Luka Stražar from Slovenia, along with Tom Livingstone from the U.K., completed the second ascent of this stunning peak (and the first ever from the north side). We spoke with Luka and Tom to get the full story, including their take on the great north ridge of Latok I.
In early June, Colin Haley set a new speed record for the Cassin Ridge on North America's highest peak, soloing the 8,000-foot route in a little over eight hours. In this episode, Colin chats with Andy Anderson about the new record on Denali, his previous speed solos of Mt. Foraker and Mt. Hunter, and the future of climbing in the Central Alaska Range.
Anne Gilbert Chase and Chantel Astorga made the first all-female ascent of one of Denali's hardest climbs, the Slovak Direct, in June. In this episode, Chris Kalman chats with Anne Gilbert about how she got hooked on Denali (she and Chantel attempted this climb two years in a row), the joys of climbing steep ice with a 30-pound pack, and how she feels about first female ascents.
In early June, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell not only smashed the speed record for climbing the Nose of El Capitan, they also broke the four-minute mile of climbing: the Nose in under two hours. In this episode, Alex and Tommy speak with Chris Kalman about the preparation and tactics for the climb, the risks of speed climbing, and what comes next.
This episode of the Cutting Edge is co-sponsored by:
In February 2018, Matteo Della Bordella from Italy and Silvan Schüpbach from Switzerland did the first ascent of a very remote peak on the west coast of Chile in Patagonia. What made their adventure truly exceptional was their "fair means" style, paddling sea kayaks for 100 kilometers to and from base camp, carrying all the food, expedition, and climbing gear for up to a month in the mountains. The AAJ's Chris Kalman spoke to both of them to get the story, including their close call with a tsunami!
Click the photo below to launch a slide show from the expedition...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.