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Rock Climbers Learn to 'Get on the Wall

Todd Skinner was one of the most respected rock climbers of his generation, but his greatest challenge was tackling Trango Tower, the world's highest freestanding spire, with a near-vertical drop. It's also located in one of the most hostile and remote regions on the planet. When Todd went to find a sponsor for his expedition to free-climb Trango Tower, the experts told the sponsors that a wall that big, in a place that remote, was simply not meant to be climbed.

But Todd moved forward anyway, finding the right climbing team, and planning logistics like travel, food, jeeps, porters, permits, equipment, clothing, and tents. The biggest challenge came when, after years of preparation and a rugged 10-day cross-country trek, the climbers came face-to-face with the largest, tallest, smoothest, steepest rock wall they had ever seen.

Here's how Todd described that moment: "We turned a corner and there it was … Trango Tower rose stunningly before us. The reality hit us like a shock wave. We stopped dead in the middle of the track … no amount of bluff or bravado could hide the fact that we were absolutely horrified."

The team members had come for this challenge, but now it seemed too high, too vertical, too difficult, even for some of the best bigwall climbers in the world. Todd realized that there was only one way forward. In his words, they had to "get on the wall" even if they weren't completely prepared. Todd said,

The final danger in the preparation process of an expedition is the tendency to postpone leaving until every question has been answered, forgetting that the mountain is the only place the answers can definitively be found. … No matter how well prepared you are, how honed your climbing skills, how vast your expertise, you cannot climb the mountain if you don't get to it.

So Todd and his three teammates "got on the wall." After 60 days on the wall, they finally reached the summit. Despite years of preparation and training, much of what they learned about climbing the tower was only learned after they "got on the wall."

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