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Give It All You've Got!
by Jeff Salz

In 1972, at 19 years of age I set out on a one year climbing odyssey that would span the length of South America. Three friends and I gathered more free mountaineering gear than we imagined possible by making up a name, printing stationery and sending out letters to equipment manufacturers. We were the "American Andean Ski-Mountaineering Expedition" headed to Patagonia; wildest chunk of real estate on the planet, we proclaimed. Crampons, ice axes, ropes, and skis - the stuff just came rolling in. The response was intimidating as it was exciting; now we actually had to go do something.

I turned 20 on a windy day in the middle of nowhere. Not yet a grown-up but no longer a child, our attempt on Mt. Fitzroy was a self-induced rite of passage, a mortal combat with the ultimate elements - life and death. I forget with who I was in love at the time, but I'm certain I was carrying some fair damsel's handkerchief in my pocket. It did not matter that Mt. Fitzroy was a mile of rock and ice, raked by the fiercest weather in the world and rising like the lower fang of the devils mastiff. It did not matter that the massif had claimed more than one life. We wanted to measure ourselves against one of the grandest mountaineering challenges of all time. We were noble youths in pursuit of the grail, rendered invincible by the purity of our hearts and the glory of our quest. We did not know we could die.

November of 1973, two fell to their deaths on the Super Couloir of Mt. Fitzroy - Kevin Carrol, the most promising young mountain guide from New Zealand, and my best friend, a climbing cowboy from Hereford Texas named Steve McAndrews. David Kilcullen and I survived to tell the tale.

2003 is the year I turn 50. November is the 30th Anniversary of our ill-starred climb and the month I will head to Argentina, journey to Patagonia and cross the windy pampas to finish what I began three decades ago.

Of the Six Steps to the Top outlined in my book The Way of Adventure, none is more basic to human happiness than the principle "Aim Higher Than Everest". It reminds me that when I set mediocre goals, I am rewarded with mediocrity. When I set great goals, no matter the outcome, I move toward greatness. Yes, Fitzroy is more technically difficult than Everest by magnitudes and has had fewer total summit successes than Everest has in a single season; but what it has come to represent in my life, exceeds all physical geography. Fitzroy occupies a place of mythic proportions in my life: the sum of my deepest uncertainties, the embodiment of my greatest aspirations.

So why FitzRoy at 50? Because last week I climbed a 5.11. (For the non-climber - when the rating system was created there was no such thing as a 5.11. The most difficult climb imaginable was a 5.10. In recent years extreme sports enthusiasts have pushed the numbers up into the low teens.) Until two weeks ago, I had never in my life as a mountaineer climbed at a technical level above 5.8. My current challenge is already pushing me to exceed all pre-conceived self-limitations.

The key to success in life is not that you become the best you can be.

It is that, on a continuous basis, you become the best you have ever been.

Therein lies the excitement, the gift. Therein lies the adventure.

Fitzroy in 2003... Success? Failure? Lessons along the way? I can't wait to find out. And I promise to keep you posted.

Copyright Jeff Salz. All Rights Reserved.

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