The Full Rad Butts UKC Series:
- A Winter's Tale - New Year Special with Rad Butts Jan/2010
- Park Front - Font 9A - The First Ascent Apr/2009
- A Winter Ascent of Aphrodite - E7 Feb/2009
- Winter Climbing with 'Rad' Feb/2009
An outlandish attempt on Everest's final challenge, Fantasy Ridge, completes another solid year for Rad Butts and Creagan Beaulay. Creagan reports live from a location close to the east Rongbuk Glacier, Everest:
One morning in April, Rad he told me he was no longer merely a climber, but more of a brand. 'Everything I do, it counts,' he said, noisily sweeping the pile of take-away Chinese meal containers and discarded tins of 5.6% alcohol Zywiec Polish lager across the concrete floor of the old Ministry of Defence bunker that was still his living room, mission control room and disaster-analysis HQ.
Early in summer 2010 Rad and I spent six days on the classic Cassin Route on the North East face of the Piz Badile. The guide book tells you that although long, this is allegedly one of the easiest of the great north faces of the Alps, with the hardest pitches being at 5.10a-b -- that's about HVS in difficulty -- and sustained. It's typically described as something that can be done in a long day with a long descent.
But Rad told me that our six-day ascent would break headlines because Rad was aiding sections that were aided during the first ascent in 1968 – before man first walked on the moon. According to Rad, the route had been climbed free by what he called 'impatient iconoclasts' since. 'The way I see it,' said Rad, 'the route has been damaged by being climbed free since it first went up. So we're returning to purer ethics,' he said -- before, during and after the climb.
Rad has a deep understanding of these things and as always, he convinced me he was right to want to aid every single pitch. So it wasn't difficult for me to turn the length of our ascent to advantage and get sponsorship for Rad from the iconic heavyweight vehicle of the US, Mack Trucks.
Trucks, climbing. What's the connection, you may ask? 'Mack Trucks, here for the long haul,' said the ad's tagline, and the ad cut between action shots of Rad thundering down an interstate highway at the wheel of an articulated lorry (or semi, as they're called in the US) and hauling bags of gear on the vertiginous face of his climb on Piz Badile.
Of course, a vehicle manufacturer doesn't have much to offer a climber in terms of climbing shoes, ropes, harnesses or clothing, but Mack did offer to help out with various journeys across the United States provided Rad accompanied a cargo.
Sniffing the Dream
So it was that Rad was driven with a consignment of Hello Kitty merchandise from Chicago to Florida, a load of torque wrenches from Pittsburgh to Michigan and a container full of bananas from New Mexico to Utah. The trouble was, we were never really that close to a climbing venue at the end of each journey as the places we ended up at always had an industrial feel to them, but Rad said he was still 'sniffing the dream.'
As far as he was concerned, Rad said, the gap between living and sniffing the dream was getting smaller and smaller. He made a symbol with his forefinger curled up inside his thumb, and held it up to one eye. Every time Rad did that, I felt Rad was transmitting good energy to me. I was fortunate, one of the chosen. In fact, the only chosen one.
One day in Rad's bunker, he was talking at virtually mania pitch about various past exploits: our first winter ascent of Aphrodite, XVI, 13, the bouldering masterpiece of Park Front, V17, and many more. I suddenly said I wanted to tell him something important. He looked at me quite unconcerned, grabbed a chair and pulled it up next to mine, popping the ring-pull of a can of export lager with ease.
'Listen Rad,' I said, 'you don't need to impress me.' There was a silence during which I heard only the sound of Rad swallowing a gulp of lager, but long enough for me to wish I hadn't said what I'd just said. 'What's that, dude?' he said. Our relationship had always depended on him impressing me to a large extent. It was a closed system. Rad claimed something, I agreed, and he believed it all the more strongly. 'That's right. You don't need to impress me, it's the others you need to impress, the non-believers.' The colour had completely drained from Rad's face in an instant.
'See, those non-believers, they don't bother me', said Rad. Rad leapt up, ripped open a packet of mackerel fillets using a pair of scissors, flung both fish onto the platter of the microwave, turned the timer with a rapid zipping sound and jabbed the switch that made the thing buzz. I'd thrown some fly-blown tomatoes from the fridge into the bin just a few minutes earlier on health grounds, but now Rad took them out with great care and laid one on each of two plates.
The tomatoes were so mouldy that each had split open in several places like an old wound. Now Rad placed some florets of faded broccoli into a saucepan and sat down again. If you knew Rad, you understood that these rituals showed care on his part, not indifference. The microwave tinged to a stop. I opened the door and peeled the oily mackerel fillets off the platter, leaving bits of burnt skin behind. Rad pressed his tomato with a fork, bursting the contents all over his face, but he was so deep in thought that he ignored the seeds and left them exactly where they were. He ate in deep silence and walked off. I didn't dare disturb him.
A few days later, Rad was exuberantly back in touch again. 'Dude, I have a plan! Come over and I'll tell ya.' When I got to his place, he showed me a massive cache of tins of tuna and tins of peas, stacked neatly in one corner of his kitchen. Rad flung me the usual mandatory can of export lager and popped one open for himself.
'Dude, remember Hamish McInnes? He said it was better to live one day as a tiger than 100 years as a sheep, remember? But I've been thinking, how is that even possible?' The question caught me by surprise, so I gave the simplest answer I could. 'Well it obviously means intense is better than steady,' I said, wrongly thinking it was a no-brainer. Rad put his hand up to stop me. 'It's just not possible! 36,500 days of life can't be worse than one day under any circumstances. Three thousandths of a percent can't be better than the whole thing. It's nonsense.' Rad looked really agitated. 'A gnat can't be better than an albatross, can it?'
Rad went on to explain how this 'false tiger' attitude had held back many talented climbers from achieving their potential. A couple of cans later, he had revealed the logical conclusion in climbing terms. 'See, in mountaineering, fast and light is tiger talk. The way of the sheep is the path to true meaning.'
Rad was unstoppable as he explained the further advantages of choosing to live as a sheep rather than as a tiger. 'You've got your renewables, too. Sheep are regularly groomed or sheared or whatever the hell you want to call it. They give up some of their bodies. Over a hundred years, that's quite something. They're the beasts that go on giving. Tigers, they just scare people in short bursts.'
The Ovine Path
By the end of the evening, Rad's philosophy had led to an obvious course of action. He felt called to climb Everest's Fantasy Ridge, but by applying what he called 'the way of the sheep', or 'the ovine path.' Fantasy ridge was so far unclimbed. There were 23 different ways to get to the top of Everest, he said, but no-one had done Fantasy Ridge before. So nobody was likely to compete with us on speed. As far as Rad was concerned, that meant the route had our names on it.
Just a few weeks later, Rad and I flew out to the Himalayas and set up a base camp close to the East Rongbuk glacier – and that's where I'm writing from now. There, we recruited a team of 12 elite Sherpas.
Rad piled up various essentials. Car batteries, he insisted, were the best way of providing intense illumination high up on the route so that it could be enjoyed to the fullest extent. These were stockpiled in advance of Rad by the Sherpas, and the lights powered up as he approached on ropes also fixed by the Sherpas. The batteries were charged by wind turbines installed at base camp. Rad also ordered several hundred chains of outdoor Christmas tree lights to remain lit behind the party as it made progress across and up the ridge. These would 'mark out the path for the non-believers.'
But Rad's best innovation was a series of 'sheep pens', complete with straw bales for insulation, where Rad could stretch out and get a good night's rest up on the route. These are fully equipped with oxygen and heated blankets to provide the necessary degree of comfort for maximum psychic performance.
Rad's Sherpas are equipped with the cutting-edge technology needed to fire out the next section of rope mechanically. This has left Rad free to 'feel the fundamental and harmonics' of the ridge.
Early one morning, Rad, sitting atop several bales of straw, leapt up with joy as he 'felt the 3rd harmonic of the ridge slicing through his consciousness.' (I could understand this even through Rad's oxygen mask. There had to be someone who could be trusted to capture Rad's utterances.) The sun had risen behind Rad and he seemed to be irradiated, as if specially chosen. To be in Rad's presence as he achieved this state was indeed truly humbling.
Helmet-cam video of Rad is being continuously sent back to the main Everest base camp and before long, this enlightened figure had a poster put up in his honour. It was quickly covered in prayer flags, and soon base-camp tourists were generously posting dollars into a collection box to fund the next stage of the expedition.
Rad's latest comment is that he is delighted with our progress on Fantasy Ridge, which doesn't look as if it will end any time soon, as he's only about 300m out of base camp so far. Rad is aiming for a time that will be slow enough to stand as a record for very many years, in fact at the rate he's going, it'll be a good few years before he makes it camp two.
And as I'm sat here at Base Camp, watching Rad on the video link, watching the magic unfold, I've realised it really is better to live for a lifetime as a sheep than a day as a tiger.
The image of Rad, pushing on in to the unknown, strong willed and with his gloved forefinger curled up inside his thumb and held up to one eye: I know that I too am sniffing the dream.
EDITORS NOTE: Creagan Beaulay is waiting patiently at Everest Base Camp as you read this article. He is documenting the whole expedition in words, images and video. We at UKC are confident that Rad will succeed on his mission, and when he reaches the top, UKC hope to have the full multi-media exclusive.
Watch this space...
© Al Siddons. All rights reserved.
Al Siddons is a writer, environmental journalist and editor.