Ethics of Ambition, 2013
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, skiing, ice, women, Switzerland, Europe (Tuesday October 29, 2013 at 11:25 am)

Why would a climber speak to a class on the Ethics of Ambition?  Does climbing pose ethical dilemmas? It may - if you’re a sponsored climber and under pressure by sponsors to perform. Or if you have a very ambitious goal.

Mt. Everest

I’ll describe recent scenarios  of climbers around the world that involve decisions made by climbers, guides, and Sherpas.

First, ambition requires a great deal of egotism and selfishness, as I’ve discussed before in previous year’s classes.

Once our ambition drives us to set goals such as climbing the world’s highest mountain, or being the fastest person to climb El Capitan, then these goals require much time spent training, and in the case of Mt. Everest, a very large sum of money - about $65,000 to $100,000 (per person) for a guided climb.

Today, many of the rich and would-be famous sign on with a guide to climb Mt. Everest, some inspired by the book, Seven Summits, by Dick Bass and Frank Wells.  In the book review, it states that, “For their third and final attempt on Mt. Everest, Wells had to choose between the summit try and his family.”

Driven and ambitious climbers, after paying $65,000 or more for their chance at the summit of the world’s tallest mountain, have walked right by dying men and left them on the side of the trail alone, to die.

In 2006,   German climber, Thomas Weber,  collapsed and died, less than 20 yards from the trail. A British climber, David Sharp,  became seriously ill and died. IN 2006, 40 climbers, intent on the summit, refused to help. Climbers often pass dying climbers on the mountain without stopping to help - either, because they lack the strength and skills … or, because they are intent on reaching the summit.

In 2012, the Guardian posted a blog about “the ethical dilemmas facing climbers” as they describe how one climber found many bodies attached to the fixed lines and had to walk around them. In conclusion, they ask, “has human life come to count for less than the fulfillment of a personal ambition?”

In 2013, Sherpas attacked Swiss climber Ueli Steck and two of his friends  and threatened to kill them.  Steck says that after passing the Sherpas on the climb, when they returned to camp they were met by “a mob of 100 people hitting us with rocks and they threatened to kill us.”

Swiss info asked Steck what his sponsors said, and Steck replied, “they understand but on the other hand … we don’t get anything for free. The sponsors want to benefit from me. And now, all three of us have to deal with financial disaster. We spent a lot of money…  the world keeps on spinning and I have to keep going.”  Steck said he would not return to Everest after this threat on their lives.
In Oct. of 2013, Steck returned to the Himalayas to solo climb the south face of Annapurna, and said that, though he’ll not forget what happened on Everest, that “I think I’m beginning to find the fun in life once again!”

Büchel and Deutsche Welle looks at the dark side of extreme sports and sponsorship in “the Dark Side of Red Bull - the Perils of Extreme Sports.”

In 2009,  three athletes died while doing (paid) stunts for Red Bull: skier Shane McConkey, parachuter Eli Thompson and basejumper Ueli Gegenschatz - who was  filmed when he was killed.

The press asked “who is responsible for deadly maneuvers?”

Büchel said that McConkey was under tremendous pressure: “In order to stay in business, McConkey perceived himself as challenged to perform ever-more reckless acts - like combining extreme skiing and base-jumping.”

Robb Gaffney, a medical doctor,  described Red Bull marketing as unethical.

And last, but not least,  what about kids climbing? In July 2013, 12-year old Tito Traversa was killed in a fall to the ground when his incorrectly-assembled equipment failed. The Italian prosecutors filed manslaughter charges against five people - the gear manufacturer, the store selling the gear, and the manager and instructor of the club the organized the trip on which Tito was killed.

But who’s really responsible? In my opinion, not the store or manufacturer, if the quick draws are sold unassembled, but whoever put the draws together incorrectly. And whoever checked (or failed to) check them.

Dick Dorworth, climber, Skiing Hall of Fame
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, skiing, Wyoming, California, Idaho (Monday November 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm)

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Dick Dorworth at City of Rocks, 2010

I met Dick Dorworth in the 1970s in the Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, Wyoming. I’d hiked in to the Cirque with big plans and two other girls - Anne Marie Rizzie and Linda Covert. I say “girls” intentionally, since we were teens, and college students.

Dick was guiding a client and had his wife and son with him. After the client, wife and son left, and my two friends departed early, Dick asked me to climb with him.

In my second summer of climbing and leading, I still felt new to the ropes. But, I figured, with a professional climbing guide, what can go wrong?

However, Dick wasn’t planning on climbing an easy trade route. No, he’d been eyeing an as yet unclimbed line on the North Face of Mitchell Peak (12,482′.)

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N. Face of Mitchell Peak

Photo by Jason Funk

We started up early in the morning. Dick led the first pitch, which he’d climbed before on his first attempt on the face (with his client, I believe). At the belay, he pointed up and said,

“Just follow that corner until you reach a good ledge and then belay.”

I was  a teenage girl. This was by far the biggest, and scariest,  wall I’d ever been on.  And the longest route I’d ever been on, by far. I also was used to climbing with my father, and doing what he told me. So I grabbed our nuts and hexes and climbed up the corner until I found a ledge to belay from.

We climbed about four pitches until the weather looked very threatening, and a Dick’s urging, we rappeled down.

A few days later, armed with a waterproof parka I’d borrowed form another climber,  we started up again. After the first four pitches, we entered terra incognito. Dick led the next pitch,  and at the belay, pointed up again.

“Just head up that flake,” he encouraged me.

I was even more nervous. Here I would lead an unknown pitch on an unclimbed route, with no idea of difficult it was. My habit of climbing up anything that someone told me I could do stood me in good stead, and I led the next pitch, which wasn’t too desperate.

We’d now climbed 6 pitches, with the angle and climbing difficulties easing off. However, the weather and nightfall more than threatened, as black clouds boiled up from behind the wall and thunder grumbled in the distance. Dick headed up quickly, and we reached the summit plateau it got dark and all hell cut loose.

Luckily I was wearing the borrowed parka. Dick found an overhanging ledge we crawled under, as hail pounded us and wild lightning strikes lit up the summit.

I’d never been in such a storm in such an exposed place.

“Are we going to make it?” I quavered, sure that we’d be forced to spend the night up here, and not at all sure that we’d survive it.

“I know the descent.” Dick reassured me. ” I f we can find the gully, I know were the rappel anchors are. We carried no headlamps - I didn’t own one, and headlamps in those days were big, clumsy things.

Once the brunt of the storm eased, we  crawled on hands and knees toward the edge, looking for rappel anchors during the brightest lightning strikes.

Somehow we found the anchors and commenced rappelling. After numerous raps on soaking ropes, from which  streams of water ran down our arms, we reached more crawlable terrain.

Eventually, close to midnight, we spied a roaring fire. Our friends,  knwoing we were out there, had built an enormous bonfire to help light our way back to camp.

We happily crawled in next to the fire to dry off, and eat some lunch and dinner.

Dick named our climb ‘the book of Ecclesiastes’, perhaps to commemorate out trial by water and fire.
This year, my friend and mentor, Dick Dorworth,   was nominated to  the Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame for his world speed record and his many books and articles.

Ambition and Ethics, 2011
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, women (Wednesday October 26, 2011 at 11:41 am)

In the past, when speaking on ‘Ethics and Ambition’, I’ve concentrated on ambition — clarifying what ambition entails for climbers, and the potential consequences of ambition.

This year we concentrated on ethics— what are the ethical dilemmas to which ambition drives us?

First, without ambition, climbing poses few or no ethical dilemmas. It’s a climber’s ambition to be the best, or the first to climb an unclimbed peak, or a new route on a mountain, that puts her at risk.

I’ll state two (dictionary) definitions of ethics:
1. A branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

2. moral principles, as of an individual
Why would striving to become one of the best climbers cause ethical dilemmas?

In one word: sponsorship.

As an example, North Face (TNF),
the world’s second largest expedition funder, pays a team of 71 athletes to — basically have adventures. Conrad Anker, a climber who helps decide which athletes’ projects become ad campaigns, looks for people who are among the top athletes in the world.

Other companies that make climbing gear, clothing, and camping equipment also sponsor climbers. Receiving such a coveted climbing sponsorship becomes a highly desirable goal for young climbers, and they attempt more and more daring feats in their quest to join the ranks of sponsored climbers.
Sometimes climber’s attempts to climb a new route ends in tragedy. Micah Dash,
Jonny Copp, and the photographer Wade Johnson died in their attempt to scale a new route on the southeast face of Mt. Edgar.

Chinese authorities had called the climbers before their trip to advice them of very bad weather and conditions on the mountain, and suggest that they not go at that time. Copp replied that he was booked for the next three years, and it was now or never.

This pressure to perform for sponsors, and to attempt new and daring feats, may cloud climber’s judgment and cause them to try climbs that they would perhaps not go on were there no pressure to retain a sponsorship.

Other examples of sponsored rock climbers and mountaineers daring difficult climbs include Alison Hargraves, who perished on K2; and Charlie Fowler, who disappeared climbing in China.
Solo climbing — without use of a rope — another way to do something new. Alex Honnold,, recently featured on “60 Minutes”, became the first person to climb Half Dome entirely unroped (TNF sponsors Honnold).
The ethical situation remains confounding. The quest for publicity and income encourages climbers to attempt potentially fatal climbs. However, the public watches the videos, much like the Romans watching the gladiators. Should climbers attempt dangerous feats? If they don’t, then someone else will, to whom they might lose their sponsorship.

Should outdoors equipment manufacturers sponsor climbers on dangerous trips? If one doesn’t, another will — but that’s not generally a good answer to ethical questions.

A third factor is young climber’s belief in their invincibility. I went to Shishapangma in 1994, despite having a 3-year old son, convinced that because it was “a small 8,000-meter peak, it was safe.” I even said that while Everest, K2, and others were dangerous, that Shishapangma was perfectly safe. Arriving at Camp 3 at 7,350 meters to find three corpses frozen in their tent disabused me of the notion that it was safe.

But when the Austrians invited me on the trip, I thought it would be safe, and I went. Likewise, many of the climbers who attempt climbs with a fatal end go on the trip firmly convinced of their potential success.

My father, Richard Hechtel, and the Peuterey Integral
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Eulogies, Europe (Sunday June 19, 2011 at 9:53 am)

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Richard Hechtel (l) and  Günther Kittelmann (r)

This Father’s Day, I want to remember my father for the things   most enjoyed - reminiscing about his climbs.

In 1953, my father and Günther Kittelmann completed the first ascent of the Peuterey Integral - the complete Peuterey ridge on Mt. Blanc.

The Alpine Club Guidebook describes this climb as “the longest and probably the most difficult traverse of its kind in the Alps. There is more than 4500m of ascent over all types of terrain and in magnificent situations” (Alpine Club Guidebook by Lindsay Griffin.)

Even today, the climb is described as one of the hardest and most committing climbs in the Alps.

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At the Col de Peuterey

My father  describes this climb in his book, The Merry-Go-Round of my life: an Adventurer’s Diary.

The climb starts in Italy and covers more than 4,500 meters of technical climbing.

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Kittelmann on the south ridge of the Aguille Noire

Jonathan Griffith  filmed a great video of this climb, which shows the length, magnitude, and exposure of this epic climb. Watching this film impressed me what a great climb my father had done.

Sadly, he has passed and cannot watch this film himself. Nor can I tell him  how I miss him; miss climbing with him; and wish he could do one more climb with my son and me.

Our German Christmas books
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, skiing, Germany, Colorado (Sunday December 26, 2010 at 6:40 pm)

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Der Kinder Weihnachtszeit

translates, roughly, as “the Children’s Christmas”

I grew up (near Stuttgart) with this book, and have read it to my son, now 20, since he was one year old.

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In Germany, Sankt Nikolaus (Santa Claus) comes on December 6 (Nikolaustag - Santa’s day) to bring children treats and goodies. Above, he first visits the animals of the forest to bring them their Christmas treats.

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Above, the children are making Christmas presents for their parents and siblings. Fritz is painting a picture for them; Grete knits a present. As a child in Germany, I learned to knit - we had handicrafts in school starting in 1st grade, and I started with making potholders. Soon, we advanced to socks, and when I was in my teens, I knitted sweaters for myself and friends.

That was the Germany of my childhood. I’ve lived in the US for a long time now, and don’t know if today children in Germany still make things for their family, or if that is a thing of the past.

When we immigrated to the United States, my Grandmother still kitted sweaters for me, and socks for my father. She baked our bread, and I learned to sew my own clothes.

Christmas makes me nostalgic for this simple childhood time, and I read my German children’s books aloud with my son. I’ll have to ask my cousins what Christmas is like in Germany today. One cousin still knits socks - she’s given several pair to my mother!

Ethics of Ambition, 2010
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, women (Sunday October 31, 2010 at 8:41 am)

For the past seven years, I’ve  spoken in a class at the University of Colorado called the “Ethics of Ambition”, taught by Dr. Paul Strom. In the past I’ve written about my talks about ambition and ethics.

Below are various definitions of ambition.

Wikipedia’s came up first on Google:
Ambition is the desire for personal achievement. It provides the motivation and determination necessary to help give direction to life. Ambitious people seek to be the best at what they choose to do for attainment, power, or superiority.

and gives us:
an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.
Ethical questions arise when we must decide what we are willing to do to accomplish those goals.
Time magazine discusses the science of ambition in their story,  Ambition: Why Some People Are Most Likely to Succeed . Scientists at Washington University used brain imaging to investigate persistence, the ability to focus on a task until complete, which may be critical for ambition. They found that students scoring  highest in persistence had the greatest activity in the brain’s limbic region. “The correlation was .8 [or 80%],” says professor of psychiatry Robert Cloninger, one of the investigators. “That’s as good as you can get.”
The authors conclude that  “Ambition is an expensive impulse, one that requires an enormous investment of emotional capital,” which in principal concurs with my estimate that for climbing, extreme ambition demands limitless egotism and selfishness.
In careers and politics, the ambitious pay the price of striving with their health, their family life, and their social life.  Mountaineers and alpine climbers (on snow and ice) risk a higher price: many who fail ultimately pay with their life.
Alison Hargreaves died on K2. She was described as “an outspoken mother who unlike her male colleagues was often criticized for leaving her children at home while she risked her life on big mountains.”
One student asked me: “Why, after my climbing partner died, did I continue climbing?”
I replied that I love to climb, and that climbing provides the greatest source of joy in my life. Now that I’m older, I can no longer be the best, or climb hard new routes, but I can still challenge myself. I continue to train, to work at improving my climbing, in the hopes of climbing routes that I personally have not climbed yet. My ambition has become more personal  -  I strive to achieve goals within my limits. I may not achieve “power, honor, fame, or wealth” with my climbs, but I attain happiness.
I left the students with some questions to ponder.
Should women with young children take less risks and be more careful than men with small children, especially when deciding whether  to go on Himalayan expeditions?
How far, and how long, should parents push their children to compete in sports?
On K2, Diemberger and his partner abandoned several climbers, at a high camp, to die in the storm.  When do we decide to leave behind our sick or injured climbing partners to die, and save ourselves?

An article in Time magazine discuses a gene for persistence, or ambition, and scientists claim to have found a “daredevil” gene, that encourages people to take risks.  If risk-taking is genetic, should that change our attitude towards people who take risks?

Landscape photography, by pro Mike Nakamura
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography (Tuesday October 12, 2010 at 7:54 pm)


Painted Hills, in Central Oregon

Guest post by Mike Nakamura

Climbers often visit spectacular landscapes.   Ever wonder how to capture the feeling of being there?  As a professional photographer, I’ve been asked to share a few tips for taking landscape photos using a digital camera.
Do: place the horizon near the bottom or top third of the scene.
Tilt the camera up or down to achieve this.  Unless the sky is the subject (eg; amazing clouds), you’ll often place the horizon line in the upper third of the photo.  Even a lightweight tripod will improve your images.  You’ll spend more time thinking about the shot and less time worrying about blurry shots caused by camera movement. Pick a high vantage point if possible.  It opens up the scene as in this image of the Painted Hills  (Central Oregon).  If you’re visiting Smith Rock, this makes a nice rest-day diversion.
The single biggest mistake:  placing the horizon in the middle of the shot.
Check your exposure (ie; too light or too dark) by looking at the viewfinder.   Or, if your camera offers a histogram mode, use it to judge the exposure.  Not right?  Use the “exposure compensation” to adjust.  Experiment with the exposure.  After all, a few extra shots are free.
Know how to determine whether your camera is correctly focused.  For most landscapes the preferred focus point is at “infinity”  (ie; on the distant mountain, not on the wildflowers next to you).  Some point and shoots will show the active focus point in the viewfinder.  For others, you might need to take a shot and zoom in after the fact to see if distant objects are in focus.  On an SLR this will be simpler. 
Mike Nakamura

Ambition and ethics
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, women (Sunday October 11, 2009 at 4:14 pm)

For several years, I’ve visited Professor Paul Strom’s class, The Ethics of Ambition, to talk with the class about ethics and ambition in the climbing community. In the past, I’ve mentioned various ethical dilemmas climbers encounter and we’ve discussed what would be the better, or best thing to do in a given situation.


On this visit, I began with a discussion of ambition. To clarify this concept, I looked up a few definitions:



1. An eager or strong desire to achieve something, such as fame or power.

2. The object or goal desired:

[Middle English ambicioun, excessive desire for honor, power, or wealth]


and in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary


1.   an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power


and in

an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment:


I like the last definition best, as it includes “the willingness to strive for its attainment.”


Climbers, like other competitive athletes, train hard, sacrificing much, and risking even more, to attain their climbing goals, such as a coveted first ascent of an unclimbed peak.


So where do we encounter ethical dilemmas – training hard and sacrifice are generally considered beneficial. Training hard may cause us to neglect our friends or family, and we may sacrifice time with our family to devote to our training. With young athletes, such as the Olympic gymnasts, track starts, swimmers and many others, where the most competitive athletes seem to be around 16 (supposed) years old, this sacrifice is made as much by the athlete’s parents as the athlete themselves. But with endurance sports, such as mountain climbing, marathons, and the Tour de France, the older athletes perform better. In this case, the competitor’s husbands, wives, or children often share the burden of sacrifice.


One big question arose:


Should women with children be less willing to risk their lives on Himalayan peaks? When Alison Hargraves died on K2, leaving behind two toddlers, the press expressed outrage at her actions. However, when numerous male climbers died on many Himalayan peaks, the press was much less vocal.

Is it less ethical for mothers, than for fathers, to leave their children to climb in the Himalayas?

I don’t think so!


However, I’d like to hear the class’s opinion on this and other questions I posed.








Alpinist resurrected?
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography (Friday January 23, 2009 at 11:07 am)


Earlier this month, I wrote that Height of Land Publications, publisher of Backcountry Magazine, bought Alpinist.

This week, Dougald MacDonald announced that “Alpinist lives”.

The publisher of Backcountry and Telemark Skier plans to bring back Alpinist as it was, and to honor all subscriptions.

“Alpinist fits perfectly into our family,” says HOL president and publisher Jon Howard. “We feel climbers, mountaineers, and backcountry and freeheel skiers all share the same DNA. It’s, at times, about being bold; at times about being cautious.”

MacDonald  analyzed why Alpinist didn’t survive.

Though considered by many (including Reinhold Messner) to be  the world’s best climbing magazine, readers were unwilling to pay for quality.
“It never attracted nearly enough readers to turn a profit,” said Macdonald. “Climbing and Rock & Ice . . .  deliver . . . what readers and advertisers want to see.”

Backcountry editor Adam “Howie” Howard has asked Christian Beckwith to stay on as Editor.

No word yet as to what they’ll do with the Alpinist Film Festival.
Shortly before they folded, Alpinist asked me to write about a first ascent of the Rainbow Wall in Red Rocks by Alison Sheets, Layton Kor, and myself. I wonder if they’ll resurrect that article?

Fun Climbs Red Rocks
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography (Saturday January 17, 2009 at 8:23 am)


Fun Climbs  Red Rocks

Sometimes I Google “Fun Climbs” to read reviews or comments about my book, Fun Climbs Colorado. When I recently checked, I found a new “Fun Climbs” – about Red Rocks, Nevada.

Red Rocks offers a wonderful assortment of climbing, from short sport climbs, to medium length moderate routes, to multi-day big wall climbs. Combined that with good weather, beautiful scenery, and pleasant camping, and you’ve got a great vacation and road-trip destination area.

Fun Climbs Red Rocks focuses on moderate routes for climbers who wish to toprope or climb easier routes. It describes thirty-one cragging and toproping locations and twelve multi-pitch routes, including photos for each area plus topos for the longer climbs.

I’m excited to see this book, and hope that more “Fun Climbs” appear. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all …..

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