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No new route on Everest should ever be sniffed at, but critics contend that Mr. Park, as he is called in climbing circles, chose to make his ascent in a fashion more suited to 1975 than to 2009.

“From Base Camp, all we saw was a swarm of headlamps,” says Ed Viesturs. “The climb was massively supported by Sherpas. That’s the Korean style.”

Viesturs’s partner Dave Hahn was even more sardonic. “What I heard from the Sherpas,” he says, “is that they weren’t allowed to summit. They got the team in position, but only the Koreans could go for the top. They sent the Sherpas down.”

Whether the critiques are fair or not, Mr. Park’s hugely supported expedition stands in stark contrast to the season’s lightest and fastest ascent—the bold new route on 23,684-foot Annapurna South, soloed by the powerful Slovak climber Dodo Kopold. The man was truly out there, carrying only eight pitons, eight ice screws, ten quickdraws, a thin, 130-foot rope, a small stove, three energy bars, and some dried meat. Kopold completed the massive, 7,546-foot-high route on the southeast face in a nonstop 40-hour push.

If Kopold’s ascent represents the glory of unsupported climbing, the fate of three Boulder, Colorado–based climbers illustrates its tragic flip side. In late May, Jonny Copp and Micah Dash set out to tackle the rarely climbed 24,790-foot Mount Edgar in western China by a new route. When the pair, along with cinematographer Wade Johnson, failed to show up for an early June plane flight, Chinese and American climbers launched a search on Edgar’s southeast face. The bodies of Copp and Johnson were found crushed in a jumble of avalanche blocks; as of this writing, Dash’s body was still missing.

“They were hiking between base camp and advanced base camp in this tight gully,” says Nick Rosen, who worked with Johnson at Sender Films and traveled to China to help with the search and recovery. “A huge avalanche came down and just flushed the gully. Boulder is devastated. This is a community of pretty hard-core adventurers—so it’s not the first time they’ve faced a loss—but this blow is particularly intense.”

The tragedy served as a perennial reminder of just how dangerous mountaineering in the great ranges is—and, paradoxically, of how integral that danger is to the appeal of cutting-edge climbing. As Denis Urubko says, “The sharp of adventure is more and more spicy if you have very narrow bridge to come back.”

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