Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,
always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one
elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that
the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things
occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events
issues from the decision, raising in ones favor all manner of unforeseen incidents
and meetings and material assistance, which nobody could have dreamt would have come their
way. I have learned a deep respect for Goethes couplets:
can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in
We arrived in the Romsdal Valley, four hundred
miles north of Oslo, on July 1, 1965. As we set up our camp, the entire valley was filled
with cloud, the surrounding peaks invisible to our curious gaze. Finally, after four days
of rain and fog, the mist began to clear and we caught glimpses of jagged rock pinnacles
disappearing straight up into the sky. These were the Trolls, the mythical Norwegian
giants, which defended the upper reaches of the face and which gave the mountain its name.
The next day, the weather
began to clear and we could, for the first time, see the full extent of what we had come
to climb. It was not only vertical, but overhanging almost from top to bottom. As it
neared the summit, the cliff flared out for over 100 feet, like the prow of a huge Viking
In retrospect, I realize
now that the hardest part of this climb, after all our planning and preparation and
dreaming, was actually getting started. The night before, we had lain in our camp, trying
to sleep, gazing up at that great black precipice and knowing that the next day we would
be coming face to face with the unknown. We had established our advance camp on the scree
at the base of the cliff. As we tried to sleep, avalanches thundered from the summit
gullies above and huge boulders crashed down through the mist.
A mixture of great
apprehension and tremendous excitement infused the night. Turning restlessly in our
sleeping bags, we wondered what it was going to be like up there on the wall; yet at the
same time, we worried about everything that could go wrong. We knew that unless we got
started first thing the next day, we would never discover if we were up to the challenge.
That is the time when you are most tempted to turn around and go home. But you know if you
do, you will never find out what you might have accomplished. Your pride says youve
got to try, and so you do.
Looking back today, I
realize that our attempt to make the first ascent of the Troll Wall was a huge leap of
faith for us all. We probably did not fully appreciate the risks we were taking. At that
time in Norway, there were no mountain rescue teams. If we had become stuck halfway up the
face, there was absolutely nobody around who could have reached us. It was a real
adventure, an exploration. It was going where nobody had gone before.
My father had asked me
before we went to Norway how I could possibly think of climbing something which the
experts said was impossible. My answer was, "Well, if we can climb 150 feet the first
day and another 150 feet the second day, then we'll have gone 300 feet. Another 300 on top
of that and we'll have done 600 feet. If we just keep doing that, we'll eventually climb a
mile." By taking it one step at a time, the impossible could become possible.
And so we forced the fear
to the back of our minds and began to inch our way up the cliff. By nightfall we had
reached a small cave 100 feet up the wall, with just enough room for the four of us to
squat in our down jackets and sleeping bags. Tying ourselves to metal pegs driven into the
rock, we settled down with our backs hard against the cliff, our heels dangling over the
The next day, we climbed
for sixteen hours straight, inching our way up through the maze of overhangs and grooves.
Often the surface was too smooth to allow purchase and we had to drive metal pegs into the
rock. At one point it took us over an hour to gain only three feet. But by late that
night, we had reached a tiny snow ledge, where we rested below a foreboding sweep of
smooth granite we dubbed the Great Wall.
When we awoke next
morning, the sky was clear, but the wind had changed direction, driving storm clouds
towards us from the sea. As the black clouds boiled out of the valley, the temperature
dropped and the winds picked up. A light rain began to fall.
weather, we pressed on up the smooth face of The Great Wall, listening to the rocks
whistling by behind us as they fell through the clouds from the overhangs above our heads.
Again the climbing was
painfully slow. As lead climber, I would inch my way up, standing in foot loops, anchored
to the rock by metal pegs. Balancing with my foot in one of the loops, I would drive a peg
into the rock above my head and then attach the other foot loop to the higher anchor.
Stepping up, I would then repeat the process and could thus laboriously cover long
stretches of smooth terrain.
By midnight in the twilight of
the northern sky, we had gained just 250 feet as Tony climbed up to join me on a tiny
foothold right on the edge of a thousand foot sheer drop. We were only eighty feet from
the top of The Great Wall, but a blank section blocked our progress.
By now the weather had closed
in on us completely. The wind was gusting and driving torrents of freezing rain at the
rock face. After twenty-three hours of climbing we were exhausted. We could not possibly
spend the night exposed to the storm in this position. Dejectedly, we realized there was
only one thing to do retreat to the snow ledge that we had passed hours before at
the beginning of this difficult section.
It took all my courage to
descend. Earlier in the day, I had been standing on a spike of rock when it suddenly broke
off and I found myself hanging on the rope some fifteen feet below. With that memory still
fresh in my mind, my body trembled as I fought to conquer my fear, my nose pressed to the
cliff face, my hands gripping the anchor driven into the crack above my head.
Beside me, Tony Howard, the
most experienced of the group, took control of the situation. Before I realized what was
happening, he had disappeared into the void, calling for me to follow. I took hold of the
rope, sucked in a deep breath and slipped over the edge. One hundred feet down the wall,
exhaustion overcame me and I fell asleep, hanging by my climbing harness from a peg driven
into the rock. Tony shook me awake and urged us all on as he struggled to bring us back to
shelter. Four hours later, our bodies shivering violently, we crawled onto the snow ledge
and safety. Within minutes the full force of the storm struck.
As the storm grew in
intensity, the four of us lay sandwiched in our nylon bivouac tents above the void.
Inside, we snuggled together in our wet clothes, drawing warmth from our companionship. No
one spoke. Each was occupied with his own thoughts and fears. In the gloomy world of mist
and dripping rock outside, the rain turned to sleet and it drifted down, forming wet heaps
in the hollows of our sacks. Before long we were lying in cold, wet puddles which quickly
froze into solid ice.
Occasionally, we managed to
scrape snow from the ground outside and melt it over the stove for a warm drink. Then we
closed the flaps of our bags and lay inside, listening to the sleet splashing over our
heads. I lay dozing in my sack with only the smallest of openings for air. Inside, the
condensation of my breath trickled into my down jacket. Soon I was soaked to the skin and
my outer clothing became as stiff as armor as it began to freeze. We each suffered
silently in our frozen cocoons, shivering violently through the two days and nights that
the storm raged around us.
As dawn broke on the
third day, the morning light barely penetrated the thick gloom of the mist. The wind was
still raging and the sleet had turned to snow. Suffering from exposure and exhaustion, we
lay there, too lethargic to move.
By now we were starting
to get hypothermic. Because of the wet and cold, our bodies were losing heat rapidly. We
knew that death could occur as our body temperatures dropped. And in extreme conditions,
the entire process can take as little as three hours. If we were to get down alive, we
knew we had to leave now, while we still had the strength.
With great effort of will, we
crawled out into the driving snow. Huddled against the wind, we forced our frozen fingers
to sort gear and anchor the rope. Then, one by one, we lowered ourselves into the gloom,
swinging down through the plumes of cascading water falling from the wall above. For
twelve desperate hours, we descended sheer rock shimmering with newly formed ice.
As we progressed, the ropes
became completely soaked and picked up grit off the rock. Sliding down them caused the
gritty rope to cut into our soft, wet skin and, before long, our hands were raw and
bleeding. When we finally reached the foot of the wall, we staggered to our tent and
collapsed into our sleeping bags in utter exhaustion.
It was the nearest we came to
We should never allow ourselves to be
completely satisfied with our achievements in life. Because once we become
satisfied, complacency will set in, and we will start to repeat things we have done