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The climbing world is rich with adrenaline, dangers and mysteries. Itís international beyond borders, and full of surprises, dark secrets, and obsessions to match Ahabís. Simply put, ascent is a writerís feast.
Great mountain tales can take you to the edge of destruction, and thatís where things start to get interesting. Because one thing Iíve learned on expeditions and climbs is that thereís nothing like the brink of the abyss to bring out the angels and demons.
All climbing stories reduce to a basic equation. Two or more people rope their fates together and go for broke. The rope represents a social contract. What happens when you break that contract makes for the real adventure.
This is my third climbing novel. In Angels of Light, I added an Adam and Eve twist to the story of climbers plundering a downed plane full of drugs (a true incident, which I fictionalized, and which became the basis for that world class howler Cliffhanger.) In The Ascent, I created a confrontation on Everest out of the tragedy of Tibet. With The Wall, I wanted to inject a new fear element into all the old standard fears.
Climbers break their way down into categories, which is their way of putting the dragon back in its cave. Objective dangers are the ones outside your control, including such things as lightning, avalanches, expensive beer, and rabid dogs in Tibet. (Actually, rabies has yet to get a foothold on the Tibetan plateau, or so Iím told. At least I didnít get it after a giant guard dog outside Rongbuk Monastery took a bite of me.)
Subjective dangers are those theoretically within your control. They include oneís hubris, risk threshold, and even the sweat on your hands (Iíve known climbers who tried anti-perspiration deodorant on their fingertips.)
Somewhere between these two categories lie what I consider the real dragons. These include the whims, foibles, warts and demons of your partnersÖand you. Think about it. Every time you rope up, youíre tying into a whole universe of unknowns. On a sunny day climb, itís rarely an issue. But in the pressure cooker of a high altitude expedition, or a life-and-death rescue, or a big wall climb that just went south on you, weird things start to surface.
All kinds of head games go on up there for all kinds of reasons. Iíve discovered part way through some big bad times that my partners were borderline mad. There was the time a Vietnam vet went nuts in his sleep and tore our tent apart. One night I tore my own tent apart. Once, at 26,000 feet, I made tea for a whole party of friends, and we sang and talked for hoursÖeven though I was alone in the tent.
In The Wall I wanted to weave a few of these dangers together into a sort of Gordian knot, one that couldnít be neatly untied, only cut.