A TRUE STORY by Enrico Maioni.
It happened on July 2, 2008
I did not see Tony for long periods of time, but I knew him well, as happens when two people tie into the same rope: this is a truth that climbers know well. On the wall, especially in difficult situations, everyone’s defects and merits come to the surface, they cannot be hidden.
I can say about Tony that I have seen, and I relish in remembering, his merits: a real man, tenacious, good, and generous. A rich man, yes, but above all a man with a rich heart, with a simplicity at times disarming. I’m truly sorry Tony is no longer with us. Have a good trip, Tony.
June 2008: An unexpected e-mail informs me of the arrival of Tony. “Terrific” I’m thinking. Beyond being an excellent client,
Tony Scott is above all a friend and an unusual person; born on the 21st of June 1944 in Stockton, On Tees, in the countryside on the north of England, he attends the west Hartlepool College of Art and the Sunderland Art School. In the 80’s Tony starts his career as a film producer.
His success comes with the film Top Gun, which is followed by many others (Beverly Hills Cop – Revenge – True Romance – Crimson Tide – Enemy of the State – Spy Game – Domino -Déjà Vu). His latest work will come out in 2009: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.
Notwithstanding his high social standing, Tony always behaves like a regular person without putting on airs.
But Tony is also a true alpinist, who in his youth has climbed with friends many peaks in the Alps and in the Dolomites, climbing routes that even now are test pieces. We met first time in 1987, and over the years we have gone along many climbs, some one quite difficult, like the “Yellow Edge” on Tre Cime, the Lacedelli on Cima Scotoni, the Cosantini-Apollonio and the Leviti on the south pillar of Tofana di Rozes.
This time he will be coming to Cortina with the family: his wife Donna, his two twins 8 year old Max and Frank, and the babysitter Lucy; and all of them want to climb. Obviously, we will need more Guides, and so I ask my friends and colleagues Davide Alberti, and Paolo Da Pozzo to give me a hand. They accept gladly.
The Scott family arrives on the 20th of June and the next day we are on the Five Towers outside Cortina, the ideal place to get your climbing legs back after a long period of inactivity, in Tony’s case, and to see how the rest of the party will do on those walls.
We also decide that, if necessary, a helicopter will pick us up at the top. Even if easy, the descent route is long, and could be very long and very tiring if undertaken by someone already exhausted from the climb. Thus we alert the pilot to be ready, and we set the time of departure the next morning at 5:00.
Tony Scott climbing adventure – July 2, 2008
At the end of this brief conversation, Paolo starts to climb. The day before, in fact, we had decided that he would be the leader, while I would climb with Tony, standing near him to better help him in case he needed it. The first two rope lengths of this route are easy, just the thing to loosen and warm up your muscles before the real difficulties.
Quickly, we reach a comfortable little terrace dominated by the imposing north wall of the Cima Grande, , and from here we become aware that another twosome has arrived at the base of the wall.
Yesterday, Davide told us that he too might be coming on the north face with his client Galileo, and in fact there they are getting ready to get on the route. We greet them from up high and Paolo is off. Ideally, the wall can be divided into two sections: the first half of the Comici – Dimai is very difficult, often on an overhanging wall which requires an athletic style of climbing and good technique.
The second section is clearly easier (but always in the 5th grade of difficulty), and the route follows a series of cracks and water conduits to end on a ledge that encircles entirely the upper part of the Cima Grande.
While I belay Paolo, the Spaniards and Davide arrive. They seem quite good and are very likable; we exchange a few humorous remarks. Now it is our turn: Tony leaves first and I follow shortly thereafter. The first difficult pitch proves to be truly that for my friend.
We continue for two more pitches; Tony has gotten his second wind and is doing well. In order to help him, Paolo pulls on the rope and this tires him out more than the climb itself; he is beginning to feel some cramping in his arms. After another pitch, I propose that we change leads. My arms are still fresh and I feel well. But he refuses saying: “Let’s go up another couple of pitches and we’ll see”.
We skip the usual rest stop, and while Paolo starts to climb again, Tony and I eat a candy bar and we drink thirstily. As we leave the belay stop, we feel the first few raindrops and in the distance we hear the sound of thunder.
We try to move quickly but, though Tony is very capable, he has already given much, and he simply cannot go any faster.
In the heart of the storm
We stop for a moment to put on our rainproof jacket, but the first drops have already been transformed into a continuous rain. We reach Paolo who takes off in a hurry. We are climbing a long series of cracks and water channels, the worst place to be when it is raining. The water finds these deep grooves in the wall, loosening up rocks and small stones; furthermore, climbers know well that these lines are also the principal discharge points for electrical currents when the wall is hit by lightning.
While we are climbing, an electrical shock hits Paolo who is belaying us. It is not a violent discharge, but it is enough to force him to release the ropes. This is the biggest danger: to let go of the hold while you are leading can be fatal.
In fact, on the more difficult part of the wall protection pins are more numerous, and a fall results in a flight of a few meters in empty air. Here, on the other hand, we are on a 5th grade wall and the pins are few and far between. One risks falls of 35 meters on a wall which is very articulated and where a fall would surely result in slamming violently on protruding rocks and ledges.
Then it is my turn; I also feel an electrical shock, it is not very strong, not much more than the 220 volts that you feel touching regular household current, but this certainly doesn’t help in making me feel at ease. I would like to climb more quickly but I have to stay close to Tony, who luckily is not showing any fear and is staying very calm.
We reach Paolo ensconced in a niche formed by the widening of the crack in which we are climbing. The little cave offers minimal shelter but unfortunately even niches have to be avoided during thunderstorms, thus we leave quickly. Paolo takes off again; he is climbing very skillfully, especially under these conditions.
I don’t ask him if he wants to exchange leads anymore.
Exiting from the cave there is a long traverse, but it is raining so hard that we cannot see the route and even though we know it well, Paolo makes a mistake and goes off route. He climbs, he descends, he climbs again, and after a while finds pins on which he belays Tony and I.
A sea of water is flooding the wall; I cannot wait to see the end of this climb. I join Paolo on the small terrace and turning back I see Tony having difficulties: “Don’t fall” I am thinking “Not here on the traverse” but Tony is exhausted, he slips on the holds covered with hail and falls. The “Friend” that Paolo had put into a crack does not hold, and after a long pendulum Tony is below us. Luckily he is not hurt, and somehow he manages to climb up and join us on the small terrace.
Now it is hailing fearfully. It is impossible to continue; we have to stop. We are completely soaked down to our underwear and it is getting much colder. The temperature has plummeted and the three of us are shaking uncontrollably. No one is speaking; all of us have retreated into our own thoughts. I look below trying to find the Spaniards and Davide but the overhang underneath us hides them from view. Surely they must be going down. You would have to be crazy to continue climbing under these conditions.
While we are waiting in silence, we hear a great thunder, a blinding red light illuminates the wall that seems to catch on fire, and rocks and stones fall all around us.
Fortunately, we know the wall and we also know that a few meters below us on the right there are a few pins on the right route. So I lower him and he traverses to the correct belay point, on route. I also lower Tony and he quickly joins Paolo. Now it is my turn, but no one can lower me down and down climbing under these conditions is too difficult and dangerous. The maneuvers for the descent are complicated, I have to think well which technique to use, and I really have to concentrate in order to avoid making any mistakes. While I am getting the ropes ready, I look at my hands and see my skin is shriveled as would happen when in the water for too long.
I finally get to the others and Paolo takes off immediately. From the belay point above, Paolo calls for us to climb. This must be the last rope length I think and I take off feeling a little bit better. My feet feel like two pieces of wood. They are completely numb and I have to find the larger holds in order to trust my climbing shoes. Tony has fallen a bit behind. I stop and wait for him and shortly the three of us are reunited. Paolo takes off again. We can’t be more than 20 meters from the end, I can’t wait to get to the top but Paolo is taking longer than expected. The exit on the inclined gravelly ledge is full of hail. One last trial for Paolo. Even the final meter of wall is adding to our difficulties.
So we have to proceed roped up. It takes us longer than a half hour to do what normally takes 5 minutes. Still, we reach the end of this great effort at the point at which the helicopter has enough space to touch down with its skids. tony scott climbing
I find my cell phone and call Hansi the pilot but with bitterness I realize the telephone is irretrievably ruined by the water. I try a couple of times, I open it and dry the contacts of the battery, but nothing works. In the meantime, Paolo realizes I have a problem and tries his cell phone and… it doesn’t work. We can’t believe it, descending along the normal route in these conditions would be a very tough trial. One last hope: we try with Tony’s telephone and… it works. Thank God. tony scott climbing
We’re ecstatic! Another ten minutes and in the distance we hear the noise of the helicopter getting closer; sweet music to our ears. With great skill Hansi touches the skids on the ledge with the same speed and facility we park a motor scooter. We get on board and with a dizzying dive in less than a minute we are at the hut where we are warmly welcomed. I will always remember the pleasure of eating the steaming bowl of hot soup. I could not hold the spoon because my hands were trembling so much from the cold, so I had to use pieces of bread to dip into the soup in order to eat it. Then, finally, we are in our car heading home. Now it is raining again.
And I would like to think, to conclude, that an old instinct transmitted to our genes from generations of alpinists and mountain people helped us and guided us in making the best decisions.