Art of Freedom may be the best biography of an alpinist ever written. Bernadette McDonald gives us a deeply human and insightful portrait of a man who was at once a hero and a reclusive enigma. In the mountains Voytek was one of a bold generation pioneering "night-naked" alpinism, bringing next-to-nothing, surrendering everything to the will of nature, and through the act of survival raising suffering to a spiritual, artistic level. On rock, he became the greatest free-soloist of his era. Yet all the while he exercised extreme discretion verging on paranoia, caring for the safety of his partners, frequently retreating, meticulously rehearsing his solos, and taking an almost neurotically conservative approach to risk and reward. His development of an intimate connection to the mountains and his partners led to a deep intuition that kept them safe and guided him to seemingly prescient decisions, averting disaster time after time. He is a mystic, believing that a creative energy pervades all acts, from living and breathing to artistic creation or the depth of suffering. More than a typical exposition of achievements, this book exemplifies the way mountains can give us true presence of mind if we approach the act of climbing with pure intention.
Voytek on compassion "if true compassion for others is awakened, you start ignoring your own misery"
On perfectionism "I dont like perfectionism, I am a perfectionist"
On self-aggrandizement "I now see clearly that climbing is Art. I also see that advertising is poison, while self-advertising is the oldest disease of the human soul."
On grades "The nefarious cult of the number took the art of ascent and made it one-dimensional, robbed of its soul and artistry."
On bottled oxygen: "thou shalt not blame thy neighbor for using spectacles, condoms, or oxygen."
On guiding: " the relations between man and woman and the relations between man and mountains are better without guides."
Erhard Loretan: " when he descended from Gasherbrum IV, Voytek had become a living legend. That is the outcome that mortals reserve for those who have cheated death."
on aging: "First commandment: thou shalt not pass by a toilet without due consideration. Second comandment: thou shalt not waste a hard-on. Third commandment: thou shalt not trust your own farts."
on ambition: "If the dream turns into public ambition, it's very bad for the dream."
With Chinese Maharajah, he was likely the first person to free-solo 5.13. He established a new route on Trango Tower. His high point on the great West Face of Makalu in 1981 with Alex Macintyre has never been surpassed, despite numerous attempts with superior equipment and training. The ability of his generation to suffer and overcome technical difficulty with rudimentary tools is without equal. The late great Todd Skinner met Voytek in 1988. After seeing Todd's presentation about free-climbing the Salathe wall, Voytek showed him a picture of Trango, igniting the fire that would eventually see Todd establish the Cowboy Direct in 1995 with a 4 man Wyoming team.
|Source: Steve Bechtel|
""What I remember most about that fortuitous meeting with Voytek Kurtyka was the wild look in his eyes," Todd said. " I recognized in him a kindred spirit." Voytek hauled out several photos of the East Face of Trango and spread them on a table. Todd was stunned. "Beautiful sunlit granite, laser cracks, extreme exposure," he raved."
Along with with One Day as a Tiger, the brilliant biography of Alex Macintyre by his friend John Porter (which features Voytek prominently), this is as good as mountain literature gets. I've had a long period of burnout with mountain stories. It seems all I can read anymore is Literary fiction and Sci-fi. I used to devour the classic mountain stories, but after editing the Alpine journal at my college, writing a few halfhearted pieces, and being inundated by the climbing media and it's commercially pumped nonsense for my entire adult life, I can no longer make it through an AAJ or even a story written by a friend. the events and challenges blend together and the combination of descriptive cliche's, a self-conscious dynamic between danger and reward, guilt and privilege, man and mountain, and uninspired pseudospiritual bullshit make it all blend together for a nauseating combination. What I wanted to read was a human element, a portrait of someone who is a genius in both climbing and life, a truly unique, iconoclastic character unlike anyone else. Alex was that unique character in One Day as a Tiger brought to life by a friend who lived it with him, and Voytek is a intriguing character without equal in Art of Freedom.