Before I describe the first ascent of Inscrutable Arete on Mt. Wisdom, I must give a short account of the device that was so useful in the effort: the CPS [Climber’s Positioning System--ed.]. It is amazing that even today, two years after its invention in 2013, this invaluable aid has been ignored--indeed, rejected--by so many climbers. Although such elaboration is likely needless for readers of so sophisticated a journal as The Alpinist, I will provide a brief description of this (to my mind) indispensable adjunct to our avocation. The device resembles the GPS which we rely upon in our automobiles. For a known route, one merely needs to type in the name, or co-ordinates of the first pitch. Thereafter, all is straightforward. The CPS will display and speak such guidance as “Left hand straight up to small ledge,” “Step far right--avoid loose orange flake,” and “Belay station 15 feet ahead.” Some of my friends have objected that such precision “takes the adventure out of it.” I find this an anachronistic complaint. Who, today, would use hemp ropes or clumsy alpenstocks, much less cut steps in the tedious fashion of years past? To ignore progress is an artificial indulgence, in my opinion.
The first CPS models, to be sure, were somewhat primitive, because they took no account of the individual climber. Thus shorter people frequently found handholds seriously out of reach. Larger people might not fit into chimneys. That deficiency has been corrected in all newer models, which record data such as height, weight, reach, agility--even attitude! Climbing experience may also be included.
As with any new technology, the CPS has been under rogue attack. There was a line of them which, although they did give accurate information, did so in an exceptionally disagreeable manner: ”How did you miss that foothold, you idiot?” “Who taught you to climb, anyway?” “About time you reached the top, isn’t it?”
Especially pernicious was their ability to sound perfectly congenial until the climb was half over! No respectable dealer will offer such models. In any case, we have always contended with disruptions of this kind. Recall those computer viruses that were so troublesome until they were eliminated a few years ago.
I would avoid the so-called “instructional CPS,” which gives patronizing encouragement: “That was much better. Soon you’ll be ready for 5.5” etc.
A far more serious problem is the faux-CPS. Like the abusive models, these seem perfectly legitimate for a few pitches. Then they send you completely off route, sometimes onto dangerous terrain. The El Cap fall described in the 2013 AAC Accident Reports was likely due to a bogus instruction to continue straight up rather than make the traditional pendulum to the left. These models, too, are not stocked by reputable outlets. They do, however, still exist, despite the threat of criminal prosecution. As with so much of our sport, if I may so call it, the correct response is to use common sense.
But to return to Inscrutable Arete. After due consideration, I decided to enlist Moshe Steigberger in the attempt. I had not climbed with him for several years, and knew of his controversial reputation and remote background. He is very much his own man, and rejects all instruction. Thus it was with some difficulty that I was able to enter his personal information into the CPS (he has of course kept it out of the AAC data base). I had the latest Tomtom Patagonia version which, among other features can broadcast progress directly on the Web. It also announces instructions in a voice of your choice: Beckey, Tommy Caldwell, Lynn Hill et. al. To be sure, the CPS is at something of a disadvantage with new routes. It must use its scanning abilities to obtain data, and current models cannot input past overhangs. Nevertheless it is a great adjunct, as I discovered on the first pitch. To Moshe’s consternation, I insisted on taking this lead. “Good holds to your right,” the machine told me. “Avoid that off-width crack.... Belay here. Next stance 120 feet up.”
I brought Moshe up to me. As I adjusted the CPS for him he said, “I don’t need that damn gadget. I can find my own way, already.”
“Just think of it as making suggestions,” I said. All my pleading was in vain. Moshe headed up in his usual style--graceless, but somehow unstoppable. When I followed, I encountered some difficulty with a thin crack that had not even slowed him down. Then I took the next pitch, which proved broken and easier than it looked (just as the CPS had informed me).
It was on Moshe’s next lead that unpredictable events occurred. I had the CPS on low, so that I could hear Steve House’s voice but Moshe could not. Again, his moves were precisely what the device advised. Then he approached a large overhang that spanned much of the ridge. Even from 80 feet below, I could see a clear traverse line to the right. But instead of taking it, Moshe moved in the opposite direction. “Recalculating,” the CPS said. Then, in a tone of some urgency, “Move back right 20 feet.” After some hesitation, I shouted up this instruction. Moshe ignored me. After he had taken a long step further left, the machine said, in a completely new voice, “Oy vey!” Then it started screaming in a language I had never heard [see biographical note--ed.]: “Mashugarna! You schmuck! Your mother should see you now, kolboynick, God forgive. Putz!” It was so loud that Moshe must have heard it. But it didn’t deter him. Soon he reached the edge of the overhang and, with a few very audible grunts, pushed past it. I was stunned. But when it was my turn to follow, I could understand Moshe’s choice. While the rightward traverse looked easy enough, the terrain beyond was soaking wet. Given the temperature, it was nearly verglas. Moshe’s route, while solid 5.11, was manageable. And dry.
There were six more pitches--none easy, but nothing harder than the occasional 5.9 move. As the ridge begins to narrow, choices are few. We were up in another three hours and descended by the usual rappel on the east. At the bottom, Moshe pulled off his helmet. I noticed a strange black lining. “It’s a yommaka,” he explained. “From the old country. Brings me luck every time.” Every good climber has his (or her!) mysterious little eccentricities.
I strongly recommend this route. It is 976 feet, seven inches in length. Bring a standard rack, with a few extra stoppers. And of course a CPS. All the data have been loaded. Just type in the route name: “Chutzpah.” Moshe tells me this means “independent thinking” in Carpathian slang. I wouldn’t know, but since Moshe had led the hardest pitch, he was entitled to naming rights.
Bosley Sidwell is Associate Master at The Crag, a preparatory academy in Marblehead. Mass.
Moshe Steigberger was born high in the Carpathian mountains in 1979, where he was raised by a covey of Yiddish-speaking ice climbers. He currently lives in a cave somewhere in New Mexico.
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