Emilio Previtali, The STORY.teller

A new story written by Emilio Previtali to present his latest project: the The North Face STORY.teller yearbook, a book distributed by The North Face which recounts the stories, thoughts and adventures of his fellow Team TNF members.
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This is a window on our world
Those who read planetmountain regularly have by now probably understood that we love stories and tales (defined by the French as recit d'ascension, but not only these). It's not as if we're not interested in the technical side to alpinism and climbing, better still, those famous numbers which at times only the "initiated" can understand. These too are a part of the bigger picture. But, we confess, more often than not this yardstick, i.e. this measure of how difficult something is and how big an undertaking may be, becomes hard to deal with . It seems to us as if something is missing, that aren't enough to fully understand the mountain experience or, if you wish, experience a certain adventure. It's because of this that, once again, we're offering this "story" sent to us by Emilio Previtali, the Italian climber, alpinist, snowboarder and writer. It's a story within a story. An unpublished collection of what lies behind the The North Face STORY.teller yearbook, Previtali's collection of photos, texts and interviews which talks about his fellow TNF team members. The stories range from Gasherbrum II in winter by Simone Moro, Denis Urubko and Cory Richards to the big walls climbed by Iker and Eneko Pou, via the Matterhorn ascended by Hervé Barmasse and James Pearson's climbing at the limit of what is possible. And includes the "sense of and for the snow" by Xavier de le Rue, Giulia Monego, Marja Persson, Karina Hollekim and Davide Cusini as wekk as Hansjörg Auer's dream of the solo ascent of the Fish route.
"I didn't ask my friends to talk about grades, or records or athletic performances" writes Previtali in his introduction to The STORY.teller "instead I asked them to share their feelings, ideas, what they try to do and how they go about it. I asked them above all to remember because memories, the act of providing a sense to individual behaviour, are the seed for the future." And the "unpublished story" below is all about recollections and how memories announce what may happen in the future...


I had to interview Simone for STORY.teller, the book I am editing for The North Face. Simone and I both live in the same city, in Bergamo. Things went more or less like this: I asked Simone when he had time to do this thing and early one morning he sent me a text saying “Here I am, today I’m at home. Come by whenever you want.” It was 7.45 a.m. and I was just going out for a run. “I’m going for a run and then I’ll be there,” I replied. “Ok, see you later,” he said. We fixed an appointment for 10.30, at his place. It was all very clear.

Simone and I met at junior high school, we were 11 years old. I remember our first day, he was sitting in the second row, on my left. He would gaze straight ahead, at the teacher and at the blackboard and he never spoke to anyone. Nobody. He didn’t seem like a fun person. His older brother was already in third year and a kind of class captain. He delivered the school bulletins, carried the class registers for the teacher, things like that. Simone already had a reputation to defend, his brother’s. He was a “good guy” as our headmaster Don Gabriele Micheli used to say. Yes, he was a priest and our school was run by priests. Simone’s mother the night before the first day of school must have told him to stare straight ahead and not speak to anybody. Not get distracted and behave himself.

The same things my mother said to me, only I did it my way and spoke a little. Junior high passed quickly. Quite quickly. In time Simone and I became friends. Kind of friends. We couldn’t be great friends because we were constantly competing against each other in everything. Soccer, cross-country running, high-jump, getting into the cafeteria queue. Everything. Except girls, because they were not part of our universe, they came later. Ours was an all boy’s school, 430 guys, no girls at all. It was a tough life at the “Casa dello Sudente ”.

Then there was senior high school, five years. More or less five years, there were a few hitches. For three years Simone and I lost touch completely, then once, purely by chance we found ourselves climbing in an abandoned cave, the Cava di Nembro. I used to cycle there secretly, without telling my mother. He didn’t. He was already climbing with his Dad every now and then, and he had also climbed a few routes in the Dolomites with Alberto Consonni, an alpinist from our city who had always enjoyed teaching younger climbers. I had never been to the Dolomites. But to make up for it my Dad would take me ski-mountaineering every Sunday and sometimes even on Saturdays. When we first met up again, after a long time, things between us were just as they had always been at school: complete rivalry, on all fronts.

The main thing between the two of us was to establish which of us was better than the other at whatever we tried to do. Climbing, running, cycling. To go climbing, we would cycle from Bergamo, almost every day. Twelve kilometers one way, twelve back. Then Simone got given a moped by his father - a Tomos, the worst moped in circulation at that time after the Velosolex – and that is how we started to become “partners” instead of “opponents”. Rivalry slowly turned into complicity. I think that at one point, Simone also went climbing secretly, or at least sometimes, because his grades at school were no longer impressive and knowing how strict his Mom was in terms of school matters I thought it was very strange that he could be there every afternoon. Almost more than me, I say almost. For example, I would always say that I was in the library studying during the afternoons. Once, by chance, my Dad caught me going climbing instead of to the library, but that’s another story. Our trips to the Cava di Nembro became full blown training sessions by bike. One would sit on the moped while the other would follow in his wake. Our speed was 40 km/h. Sometimes we changed places on the bike, taking turns in getting our energy back to be more efficient. Before becoming climbing partners, Simone and I were a cycling team.

We then came of age and got our driving licence. First I did, since I was born in March, Simone’s birthday is in October - and then he got his licence. Simone had a car, a very old and battered car, given to him by a climber friend, called Camòs and I had nothing, no car. Taken individually we couldn’t have gone anywhere, I had no car, he had no licence. But together we could go anywhere compatibly with the car’s obviously low efficiency level. Our field of action thanks to that old Fiat 127 Coriasco which was on its last legs, spread out from the Cava di Nembro to Cornalba, Lecco, Arco, Lumignano, Finale Ligure, and Erto. We were always together, we felt we owned the world. That was probably the best time of my life, the one where I fully appreciated that sense of freedom. Then came the time to think of my future, and my future started before Simone’s because when it was time to enroll at university Simone had still to finish off high school. We both chose ISEF (Institute of Physical Education) in Milan, a school to become PE teachers, because we believed that this would allow us to train every day and climb as a job. The choice of the mountains as our future had been taken together a long time ago. I started and almost finished university waiting for Simone. I say almost because after having taken all exams except for one – the last one - I never got my university diploma. Simone did, it took him a while, but then he finished.

Amongst all those who knew my story at university - I only needed one exam to finish and keep my parents and family happy, my neighbours, the faculty president, my fellow students, the girl who today is my wife, in a few words almost everyone - Simone was the only person who said nothing. He never criticized me. He never insisted on me finishing my studies and getting my diploma, and he never tried to convince me or make me change my mind. He always believed - I think - that my choice, even if based on the highest and pure of principles, was a stupid idea. But he always respected it. That is his best characteristic - I would never have admitted this a few years ago - Simone never tries to convince you. He simply comes to terms with the situation, establishes the facts and then acts accordingly.

Thinking about this with hindsight: if you want to climb an 8000 meter peak in winter, you don’t have to convince yourself or hope that it won’t be cold, that it won’t be too windy, or that it won’t snow too much. It cannot be a struggle against nature, you simply have to establish how things actually are, and act accordingly. Deal with anything which is thrown at you, whatever this may be; the discomfort, the unexpected or someone else’s decision and you cannot waste your energy fighting against it. You have to rationalize your effort to make it productive. Efficient. Adapt yourself, or in the worst case scenario, put up with it. And then fight back. This is an unusual strategy, which is not fashionable, apparently passive, probably not even spectacular,

Today adrenaline is what sells best. Real life is not like that. But Simone’s long term results tell another story. He takes intelligent risks and when necessary knows how to wait or absorb a setback, push his limits forward. History has never been written by those who have set off to win at all costs. I must admit that at least on this Simone outclass me. “Mi ha dato il giro” how we say, there in Italy. I have never been content to accept a situation. I have always tried to change things around me using all my power. This can sometimes be an advantage but at other times a defect. In alpinism it is almost always a defect.

Those days at Cava di Nembro, seem to be light years away. Simone has become one of the greatest and strongest living Himalayan climbers ever. I have spent my life looking for the perfect line with my snowboard or on telemark skis on the world’s most beautiful mountains. Personally and professionally even if with different levels of fame we have both achieved what we wanted from life, exactly what we had imagined and planned many years ago. Not only in climbing terms of course. We have five children between us. We have happy families, trying to pass on to our children the same enthusiasm and the same joy for life which has led us to becoming happy men. We continue doing what we like with simplicity, what we learned in the semi-darkness of the Cava di Nembro: practicing sports, going to the mountains. Living. Nobody here is talking about success or measuring it. We are talking about the universe’s feelings which makes soap bubbles blowing inside your soul. This is happiness. This is what I am talking about. You probably expected to read in this story a technical description, a philosophical essay on survival and Himalayan alpinism. Or maybe not.

Maybe you too are just like me and Simone. Simple people, encouraged by the will to do something and explore without wasting time in useless chatter. In that case, you have probably understood what I wanted to say.
At exactly 10.30 am I am under Simone’s house. I ring the door-bell it is pouring. He opens the gate for me and looks at me from the terrace. He’s laughing. He knows I have just trained in this rain.
“You ran with this rain, huh?” he asks me.
“Of course. My usual luck.” I say ironically.
I dry myself a bit and then silently sit at the table, I pull out my sheets, a pen, the tape-recorder and get ready. In a few weeks he sets off for GII. He has a million things to do but is very calm. He observes me and in the meanwhile makes some coffee. We start chatting.
“What the hell do we have to do today?” he says.
“You have to tell me a few bullshits about GII and winter ascents in the Himalayas. For STORY.teller. And especially for the videos I have to make for you while you are away on the expedition.”
“Ah, ok!” In the meantime outside it has stopped raining and the sun comes out a bit.
We talk about climbing styles, the Himalayas, of winter ascents, Makalu, Shishapangma, videos, satellite phones, of our friends Càmos and Vito Amigoni. About our wife’s and our kids. In the meantime Simone is doing another radio interview with a national radio network. While he is talking live on his cell phone he finds time to go to the toilet for a pee. We laugh. “The main thing is not to flush, if not they realize,” he tells me. Ours is not a real interview, it is impossible with me and Simone.
More than anything we try to get it over and done with quickly. Do what we have to. After an hour and a half we put everything away.
“Are we done?” he asks me.
“Finished. Don’t you worry, in one way or another I’ll manage.”
“Perfect. That way I am good. I am going for a run then…”
The sun has started shining outside. His usual luck, I think.
We say good-bye. I get into my car and head home. I park the car, walk up into the house, get changed and go out running again. Because luck doesn’t exist. It is all about training. Simone says it all the time.

by Emilio Previtali
The North Face STORY.teller
This is a window on our world.
It’s a promise to every enthusiast and passionate fan.
It’s the silence, the wind, the dirt, the dark side of every adventure we live.
It’s about fear and joy. It’s about success and failure.
It’s about the conflict between one’s expectation and cruel reality.
It’s about what we feel during our expeditions.
It’s about the land we venture in, the people we meet, the friends we have.
It’s about our own personal heroes, legends and inspirations.
It’s about laughing and crying, about excitement and desolation.
It’s about the lines we decided to draw, to follow or to repeat.
It’s about the borders we respected or crossed.
Sometimes ignored, sometimes extended.
It’s about our dreams.
It’s about exploration.

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