It is not unusual to see rock climbers hanging around the valley in Yosemite National Park, peering through binoculars for hours on end at the half-mile-high canyon walls. If two rock climbers are shoulder to shoulder, eventually one will say to the other, without taking his eyes from the eyepieces, "There's a route." Such a cryptic conclusion to an afternoon of staring will sound anticlimactic to any tourists within earshot, but the other climber will know exactly what the first one means. He might reply, "No chance, there's nothing there." The first climber might not say anything more, but an imaginary line zigzagging up the face of the wall will be stuck in his mind like a recurring dream, and as he goes back to the valley with the binoculars, again and again, maybe for weeks, the line will grow until it reaches the sky at the top of the wall. From bottom to top, ground to sky, over and over, the climber will traverse that line in his mind until he can picture every inch of it on the bedroom ceiling when he's lying awake at night, thinking about climbing the wall.
Eventually he might convince his friend that there actually is a climbable route on the wall and they will go for it. The line becomes a reality to the climbers. If it should prove to be a false route, if the line should end, if it should fade away at 1,000 feet, they will fail. But if it is a good route, and if they are good climbers, they will move up the rock face with a fluid grace, the leader performing a slow-motion ballet to music that only he hears, to a routine he choreographs on the face of the canyon wall one step at a time. It may take three or four days and nights for the climbers to reach the top, but if they do, and if it is in fact a first ascent—a route no one has climbed before—they will be struck with a strange and powerful sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that will be part of them for the rest of their lives.
The question pondered by climbers far more than "Why?"—climbers leave that one to etiologists—is "Why not?" Take a board 12 inches wide and place it on the ground. Many of us could do pirouettes on the board without stepping off. Now put that board across a ravine 100 feet deep and watch what happens: insecurity causes us to be terrified of trying to so much as crawl across the board. We know it is a simple act, yet we cannot do it. We have, in effect, lost control of ourselves. Which proves? That it's all in the head. Climbers refer to the ability to control oneself as "mental balance."
Climbers tend to give considerable thought to mental balance. Perhaps they think about it too much, but a lack of mental balance can cause even expert climbers to blow moves high on the face of a wall that they could make blindfolded were they near the ground. Good climbers deal with climbing from a mental standpoint rather than from a physical one. Look at it this way: a climber's physical balance on the face of a canyon wall may be precarious, but his mental balance must, by necessity, be as close to perfect as it may ever have to be in his life. "Almost" falling doesn't count; almost losing a solid sense of control of yourself when you're 1,000 feet above the ground and gripping a rock with little more than your fingernails counts for everything.
Many climbers contend that both the challenge and the reward of climbing lie in the problems, and their solutions. And in fact, rock climbing does appeal to people with mechanical and technical minds, professional problem solvers such as scientists, engineers, even psychologists. A climber may be temporarily stymied at any point on the face of a cliff (the problem), and he may spend as much as half an hour at that spot, searching the rock around him for toeholds and fingerholds, weighing the possibilities of body positions for his next move, running each through his head (the solving process). He might attempt four or five different moves before he finds one that works; when he does find it, there is a strong feeling of both relief and satisfaction. It's not unlike the feeling one gets from balancing a checkbook after an hour of juggling numbers.
But rock climbing also requires a continuum: one correct solution is not enough. In that respect it is more like a chess game. In chess, a player may pay for the wrong move three or four moves later because he had committed himself. The same situation exists in rock climbing. A climber must plan his moves ahead, so as not to climb himself into checkmate, because there is usually no backtracking. Climbing down is more difficult than climbing up.
One climber tells this story of a deflating revelation: "I live in a third floor apartment, and the other day I bought a 60-inch oak schoolteacher's desk at an auction. I had to carry it up to my apartment alone, up a narrow staircase, and I found myself challenged by this task the same way I am challenged by rock climbing. First, it was physically difficult; I had to use my strength and energy carefully, not waste an ounce. But mostly, I found myself engaged in the same sort of problem solving that I find in rock climbing. Before I moved the desk around each corner, I had to consider every option, because the desk was such a tight fit that only one way would work. 'Should I tilt the desk on its side and pivot it, or should I put it in the doorway upside down and flip it?'—that sort of thing. I had to find the best leverage points, and I had to decide each move in advance—no wrong moves or the desk might get wedged. When I finally got the desk to my apartment, I felt the same sort of satisfaction I feel when I reach the top of a climb.
"That bothered me. I thought to myself, 'Is that all there is to rock climbing? Moving furniture! If that's the case, all I have to do is get a job as a piano mover and I wouldn't have to go to the mountains every weekend.' "
Climbing rocks is more involved than moving furniture, of course. There are two basic ways to tackle an ascent. There is free climbing and there is aid climbing. A free climber will not support or assist himself with any artificial device, although he will protect himself by anchoring his rope to the rock in case he falls. An aid climber will use any tool it takes to get to the top, including pitons, the steel spikes that can be pounded into the rock.
Ten years ago pitons were standard equipment; today they are spurned and scorned by many climbers because of the ecological and esthetic damage they cause to the "vertical wilderness," as climbers are fond of calling their rocks and mountains. Pitons are almost always left behind in the wall, and the leftover pitons reduce the challenge of finding a route; when a path is marked by tiny metal signposts from a previous climb, the problem of which route to take is [9/10] solved. Also, rusty old pitons take some of the insularity out of climbing; they rudely remind a climber that someone has been there before and has already done what he is doing—sometimes decades earlier. Such reminders may keep a climber humble, but they spoil the fun.
In climbing areas today; the sound of a hammer bonging a piton into the rock is met with angry shouts by other climbers. Nowadays climbers prefer devices called chocks—aluminum blocks, varying from fingertip-to fist-sized with holes for ropes—and runners, or nylon slings. The chocks can be wedged into natural cracks in the rock, the runners are looped over rock nubs; both of them anchor the nylon safety rope via a carabiner, which is an aluminum clip shaped like a giant safety pin.
The leader of a climbing party places the chocks for protection, and the last man on the rope removes them as he follows; thus the face of the rock is left unscarred, and there will be no trace of any previous climbing activity to deflate the spirit of the next party. The use of chocks instead of pitons is called clean climbing. (The British, especially Scotsmen, who were active in rock climbing long before Americans, are passionate believers in climbing clean.) While considered as secure as pitons, chocks seem to generate more thoughtful climbing because they demand greater awareness of rock textures. The climber must face reality; he can't hammer himself into security. It is sometimes said of a climber who carries pitons, even as a backup, "He carries his courage in a rucksack."
Pitons, as well as chocks with names like rurps and bugaboos, may be used on aid climbs, along with all sorts of specialized contrivances, strange bits of ironmongery called jumars, blobies, smashies, bashies, skyhooks, cliffhangers and copperheads. Virtually all the big walls—roughly defined as those requiring more than one day to climb—are aid climbs, so the best climbers are experienced at aid climbing as well as free climbing.
Still, since a difficult aid climb often turns out to be more of an engineering than a mental or physical exercise, aid climbing is looked upon as somewhat impure. It would be accurate enough to say that aid climbing begins where free climbing leaves off, but it would not be entirely fair. It would be like saying bicycle riding begins where running leaves off. Royal Robbins, the preeminent Yosemite big-wall climber of the '60s, puts the ethical dilemma of aid climbing into perspective in his book Advanced Rockcraft. "Technology in climbing is both a blessing and a curse," he writes. "It expands the limits of the possible but robs us of adventure. Since it is technology which makes anything in rock climbing possible, it is technology which we must selectively reject in order to have limits to the possible, for without limits there is no game."
Yvon Chouinard, an American climber renowned for his brilliance in developing and inventing climbing tools, quotes Albert Einstein, who, though speaking on a different subject, touched on the same ethical issue: "A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem."
Some climbers, especially older ones, are as disciplined in their style as they are in rejecting the temptations of technical aids. It is not always enough to get to the top, the climb should be made with grace and with adherence to an unwritten—and sometimes confusing—climbing ethos. It's very much like high diving: anyone with enough courage and coordination can dive from a 10-meter platform, but executing a graceful swan dive from that platform is far more difficult—and rewarding. Climbers are always striving for the graceful. Royal Robbins, who is also legendary for his unshakable self-control in scary situations and for his uncompromising approach to style, says, "The only kind of climbing that is ultimately worthwhile demands a spiritual effort that is sometimes agonizing.... Just getting up a route is nothing; the way it is done is everything."
A sloppy climber is not taken seriously by his peers, and contrary to the popular conception, muscling one's way up a rock with one's arms and shoulders is the trait of a sloppy climber. It is much more smooth and efficient to push the body up with the legs. Although climbers often have physiques like gymnasts, with great upper-body strength, it is the legs that give a clue to their style. A climber with big biceps and only average-sized calves will most likely be awkward on the rock; the best climbers have clearly defined calf muscles.
Women generally have better bodies for climbing than men, and are often more natural climbers because they must rely on technique rather than brute strength. And their suppleness is an asset; the most common climbing injury is a dislocated shoulder, a result of the contorted positions a climber often finds himself in. The ideal body for a rock climber would be that of a 14-year-old girl, about 5'8" tall, with the shoulders of a channel swimmer and the legs of a hurdler.
One of the best women climbers—some say the very best—is Beverly Johnson. At 18, Johnson was a debutante in Arlington, Va., a fact she never volunteers and only concedes with an embarrassed roll of the eyes—the expression people adopt when they recall the silly things they did when they were young. She was a fire fighter in Yosemite for three seasons, a job she took to be near the big walls.
Johnson, who is now 30, led the first all-woman ascent of Yosemite's intimidating El Capitan. She has seen two men die attempting that wall: one, climbing above her, almost hit her when he fell; on another occasion, she helped carry down the body of a climber who was killed. She has also lost a female friend climbing. In 1975 Diana Hunter—an excellent climber who was a perfect example of ability through grace rather than strength—was killed in a fall in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park.
"Rocks make no compromise for sex," says Johnson. "Rock climbing is not like some sports, where it is somehow made easier for women, or sports like, say, softball, which is only baseball for soft people. On a rock, everything is equal."
Everything may be equal between men, or between men and women, but not always between men and rock. Some climbers, in their pursuit of satisfaction, set their standards so high that the result, is an edge for the rock. Some climbers feel a climb has been too easy if they haven't missed at least one move, which frequently means falling. There is a motorcycle-racing axiom: "If you haven't fallen off once or twice in a season, then you ain't trying hard enough." Some would apply the axiom to climbing.
But there are also climbers who feel that one rarely falls unless he has overstepped his ability or gotten careless. To such people, a fall is considered the result of misjudgment, or worse, losing control of oneself, or worst of all, fool-hardiness, which is considered to be just about the cardinal sin of mountaineering.
The difference in viewpoints with regard to falling seems to lie somewhere in the climber's attitude toward danger. Roger Breedlove, a former climbing guide at the Yosemite School of Mountaineering, says, "I don't think many regular climbers are turned on by danger, although danger may be something that starts people climbing. You hear a lot about it in beginners' classes—people get a thrill out of it, they really get a charge out of being scared. They're truly terrified. It's odd, because when most good guides see this, they think, I got to find a way to calm this guy down, to get him off the rock, to get him out of this class, to make him feel better.' Then afterwards the guy feels elated. That seems to me to be perverse. I don't know any climbers who climb often and climb well who have ever expressed that sort of elation. If a climber gets terrified—and they occasionally do—afterwards he won't say or feel much more than it was a lousy day."
Rock climbing is by nature an existential act: the only risks a climber faces are those he chooses to take. Most climbers don't actually believe their sport is dangerous, because they feel they control the degree of risk. Climbers generally think hang-glider pilots are crazy, and they have a point: a hang-glider pilot tosses his fate to the wind, as it were. And other, similar comparisons may be drawn: an automobile racer is at the mercy of mechanical things such as wheel lugs; a mountain climber is at the mercy of the weather. A rock climber is at the mercy of nothing but himself.
Climbers recognize how easy it is to make mistakes, however. Says Breedlove, "Good climbers like the idea of making difficult moves away from their protection. I don't think that's from a desire for danger. Taking that risk signifies to a climber that he is confident and in control, that he's quite capable of making challenging moves."
In motor racing, if, during a race, a driver thinks about the risk he is taking, he is inviting disaster, because his mind is not where it must be. On the face of a cliff, however, a climber's concentration does not have to be so unremitting; there is time for reflection—but there is a caveat. It is tempting, especially to an inexperienced climber, to squander that time.
When a climber faces a difficult or dangerous move, he often uses the time to build up his courage or psych himself. It is during these moments that a climber is most likely to get scared, if he's ever going to. He might be struck by an attack of something climbers call "sewing-machine knee," a malady wherein one knee jerks uncontrollably up and down. It often occurs if the leg is tired or is being stretched. And it afflicts the best of climbers; fear is not necessarily involved. The only cure for sewing-machine knee is to take a deep breath, talk yourself back into relaxation, and maybe push on the knee in frustration until it stops quivering—although rarely is a hand free for such use.
During precarious seconds such as this, times when the climber is stuck, reality sinks in like a boulder tossed into a lake—"I really do not want to attempt this move, but it's impossible to turn around." The longer the climber stalls, the greater the likelihood he will look down at the ground and ask himself what the hell he is doing up there. When climbers say theirs is a lonely pursuit, this is what they are talking about. But, like some animals when cornered, the climber knows the only solution is to fight—to climb on. And he usually does. Once in a while, climbers do become paralyzed with fear or reluctance or indecision, in which case they must either be rescued or somehow rappel down, which most likely will also require assistance.
The emotional low that comes from this sort of failure is the worst. The pits. However, the high that comes from overcoming such situations and reaching the top of a challenging cliff is one of singular euphoria. This high is very difficult to describe because it is so intensely personal; it affects people differently. Sometimes it is slight, sometimes it is strong but subtle, sometimes a climber can float away on it.
Climbers disagree over just what this high feels like, and what it means—and what it's worth. It can almost become an addiction. "You don't feel the high every time," says one veteran. "You don't expect it, you don't even look for it, but you know it's there, and you know what you have to do to get it."
One neophyte climber describes the first time he ever felt the high: "It was after about my seventh or eighth climb. I was with a guy much better than me, and he thought it would be a good idea if I tackled something over my head, just so I wouldn't get cocky, because I had been progressing really fast. He felt I needed the experience of falling, to sort of bring me back to reality. So he put me on this expert route. It wasn't a long climb, maybe only 75 feet, but it was straight up, with only a few tiny nubs for holds. He looped the rope over a rock at the top and belayed me from the ground. It took me three attempts to get over the crux, the most difficult move, but I made it all the way to the top. The guy couldn't believe it.
"At the top I just kind of went, 'Whew, that was pretty good.' I knew I had made a move or two far more difficult than anything I had ever done before. Reaching the top wasn't exactly an anticlimax, but I didn't feel especially high—until late that evening as I lay in bed. It was a delayed reaction. The next morning when I woke up, I felt so terrific I whooped when I got out of bed. Nothing special happened that day—I can't even remember what I did—but I do know it somehow was the best day I had all year, no exaggeration. The high lasted for a few more days; every time I thought about climbing that rock I broke into a big grin."
Veteran climbers find it increasingly difficult to experience such moods; the more they climb, the more it takes to turn them on. Loid Price, who is the head of the Yosemite Mountaineering School, says, "Most climbers stay gung-ho for only about three years. I call a three-year period a generation because they come and go so fast. Three years is the average period of rapid improvement, which is not that much different from a lot of other sports, but with climbing there is so much more emphasis on the challenge. When a climber doesn't improve so fast, the challenge is lost."
A quarterback feels terrific when he throws a perfect 50-yard pass, and he will probably feel just as good if he throws another perfect 50-yard pass in the next game. The climber would need a 51-yard pass in the next game to feel so good again. Although this is far from a perfect analogy, it helps explain why first ascents are so cherished. Nothing contributes more to the high than for a climber to be able to say, "I did something no one on the face of this earth has ever done before."
Climbing is a non-competitive sport. There is no such thing as a climbing contest, and if one were suggested, climbers would surely consider such a thing preposterous—a prostitution of their sport—and scoff. But climbers are not noncompetitive people; it's just that their competitive juices must be kept in check by the harsh verities of their pursuit. Two men on the same climb cannot compete against each other for very long without disastrous results. But when a climber's competitiveness is unleashed, remarkable things happen. In Yosemite, for example, first ascents are often attacked by climbers with the same sort of lust some hunters have for big game. A few climbers even try to set speed records on the big walls, an insane approach that undermines most of the objectives of climbing.
One of the paradoxes of climbing is that because there is no direct competition, the goals become more abstract and climbers often push themselves even further than they might if they were facing a rival. A climber has to define his own goals, and he continually doubts whether he has made them challenging enough. He may look at climbing like target shooting—if he hits 10 of 10, then maybe the target was too close. At the top of a cliff, the climber will often ask himself, "Did I really earn the right to feel this good?"
Roger Breedlove recently quit serious climbing because it lost meaning for him; he couldn't feel high no matter how well he climbed. Breedlove is 27 and had an intense affair with climbing for 11 years. He knew it was time to quit when he found himself on the face of El Capitan—a wall that had been tempting him from the very first moment he laid eyes on it years before—feeling indifferent about whether or not he made it to the top. He still isn't sure why he suddenly became so dispirited. Even more bewildering to him is why the sudden loss of heart occurred when it did, in the middle of the most exciting climb of his life.
"For four years I had wanted very badly to climb the west face of El Cap by myself," he recalls. "It is a very difficult route; a fellow had gotten killed there the year before. I climbed the first half of the route in about a day and a half. I was climbing very well, very quickly, climbing better than I ever had in my life. I was extremely confident. But it had no meaning for me at all. I was living out this fantasy that had been so important to me for four years, and I found myself thinking about things I'd rather be doing. It was very hard to be by myself up there; I couldn't take being by myself in those circumstances. I thought. I'll get to the top and it will be a cheap thrill, a truly cheap thrill, and I'll get nothing out of it. I'm already climbing well enough that getting to the top is not going to prove I'm climbing any better. All I'll get when I reach the top is a headline, a pat on the back from a lot of people and an introduction tag at parties: This is Roger Breedlove; he solved the west face of El Cap!' That image pretty much cinched it for me. So I turned around and rappelled back down. Even though it was hard for me, that was a good time to quit. Just quit cold."
Breedlove does not argue with those who suggest he copped out. He concedes that it is not entirely honest to say to yourself, "I know I can do it, so why bother?" when, in fact, you don't know you can do anything until you actually do it. It is very easy, sometimes even smug, for one to predict how he might feel after doing something before he does it.
Breedlove was a climbing bum, as in ski bum, or surf bum. Many climbing bums manage to live on as little as $2,000 a year. They may teach climbing to support their habit and stay near the rocks, but a climbing guide doesn't earn much. It is not a satisfactory way to make a living; it is a summer job at best. It sounds to many like such a romantic way of life, but climbers don't think it particularly romantic at all.
In the foreword to Climbing in North America, Lito Tejada-Flores says, "The American climber has always been a maverick, often an eccentric, at times a virtual social outcast."
Breedlove's opinions on the personalities of American climbers are even stronger.
"Anybody who has an inkling of what goes into climbing probably has a great deal of respect for climbers," he says. "But not many people do, because climbers don't look respectable, not in the way they dress, the way they live. Climbers are generally far removed from anything neater than a pair of clean khakis. They don't look like they could do anything that requires any special talent. Most of them have a real iconoclastic sense to them. They won't knuckle under. They don't feel there's any higher power than themselves. They don't believe in anything. They create their own world and their own kinds of rules.
"As a group they tend to be interested in no other sports than climbing, although some of them are, or have been, gymnasts. They're not dedicated athletes. Their diets are normally atrocious because most of them don't have enough money to be particularly fussy about what they eat. Physical conditioning is merely a means to an end for them; they only stay in shape because of the climbing. If they didn't climb, I'm not so sure they wouldn't be in poor shape. They're not team players, and they don't care about winning. Most of them are a little crazy—probably maladjusted would be a better word to describe them. There are a lot of alienated intellectuals climbing.
"If 10 climbers could hear me right now, eight of them would scoff. They would say, 'Man, what a wooden bastard he is. We just climb for fun.' But where does that lead you? What is fun? Why is it fun? I don't believe people climb for fun; that's too crazy an answer. Climbing's not fun; it's too much work to be fun.
"It may be presumptuous of me to try to explain what makes other people climb, but I think climbing is something only somebody fairly smart could do, not because you have to be so smart to climb up a rock, but because you have to understand yourself enough to appreciate climbing as a method of expressing dissatisfaction with things. They may not consciously recognize it, but climbers have had to say to themselves, 'I need this. I need to go off and do this very personal thing. It's meaningless, it's not going to get me a job, people even may look down on me for it, but it's what I need right now.' "
Climbers were regarded as riffraff by the Yosemite Park and Curry Co.—the organization that provides most of the visitors' services—until 1969, the year Yosemite acknowledged the popularity and legitimacy of the sport by establishing the mountaineering school. "It's nice that today a climber is somewhat respected," says Breedlove. "Now you can introduce yourself as a climber. Fifteen years ago you didn't."
They may be able to introduce themselves as climbers, but they still don't like to. For one thing, they don't need to; their egos do not seem to require the adulation, the looks from others that say, "My, aren't you brave." Says George Willig, the man who climbed Manhattan's World Trade Center, "If a man wants to be famous, rock climbing isn't the way to do it. That's the wrong motivation, because when a climber starts competing with something other than himself, he loses touch with how to deal with certain situations on the cliffs. When a man gets into a tricky situation, he has to know exactly how he wants to overcome it and what he's willing to do to overcome it. A desire for glory gets in the way of that effort."
A lot of climbers will find it ironic that those words come from Willig, who is the most famous rock climber ever, although it was hardly a rock he climbed. The reaction to Willig among hard-core climbers ranges from indifference to downright bitterness; few climbers have cheered him. Following his Trade Center climb the July-August issue of Climbing magazine ran a facetious, first-person account of a climb up a brick wall, written with enough sarcastic references to suggest a put-down of Willig.
Climbers are a guarded, closemouthed lot, and in most cases prefer to downplay their accomplishments—even first ascents. There are many superb climbers around the country whom few people, even other climbers, have ever heard of. This alone largely explains the general mood of disdain among climbers for Willig's activities after his Trade Center ascent (in October he climbed the Bastille in Colorado's Eldorado Springs Canyon for live television). But another reason climbers are wary of publicity is that they are protective of their rock-climbing areas to the point of paranoia, and they regard publicity of any kind as anathema to the sport—let alone massive publicity for the climbing of an artificial structure. Willig is perfectly aware of this, and he is very careful not to reveal specifically where he climbs.
No climbers are more mum about their area than those who frequent the seven-mile ridge in New York's Shawangunk Mountains that offers the best climbing in the East. (Most climbers feel Yosemite is already lost to the tourists.) Shawangunk climbers don't talk to strangers much. Jery Hewitt, a frequent climber there, says, "I hung around the 'Gunks a week before I found anyone who would climb with me. It took a long climb to crack those climbers."
Part of what the climbers see as the problem with the Shawangunks is their accessibility. The range is barely a two-hour drive from New York City; the cliffs touch ground just a stone's throw from a road. On summer weekends, climbers park their cars and vans next to the road, and camp in the woods. Trucks sell hot dogs, sausages, honey, lobsters and clams. Tourists from the city often stop and stare up at the climbers, oohing and aahing between bites of their sausages.
Although the Shawangunks are a relatively small cataract of gray cliffs, nowhere near as awesome as Yosemite's walls—the highest Shawangunk climbs are no more than 350 feet—there is a great variety of climbs. The guide book, which is currently out of print, includes 393 routes, and many of them are white-knucklers. One local who moved to the area just for the climbing, tensing his body as he speaks, says, "There's stuff up there that will eat you alive."
Being eaten is hardly what climbers fear, however. H. L. Mencken once observed of hot-air balloonists, "They have an unsurpassed view of the scenery, but there is always the possibility that it may collide with them." And so it is with rock climbers. Again, Royal Robbins is the voice of rationality on the subject of colliding with the scenery. And in two eloquent, lucid paragraphs, he fairly sums up what rock climbing is all about:
"If we are keenly alert and aware of the rock and what we are doing on it, if we are honest with ourselves and our capabilities and weaknesses, if we avoid committing ourselves beyond what we know is safe, then we will climb safely. For climbing is an exercise in reality. He who sees it clearly is on safe ground, regardless of his experience or skill. But he who sees reality as he would like it to be, may have his illusions rudely stripped from his eyes when the ground comes up fast.
"We are, of course, all mixtures of sanity and folly, of clear vision and murky romanticism. Such conflicts are a mark of the human condition. And we climb because we are human. The rock is a field of battle between our weakness and our strength. We wouldn't touch rock if we were perfectly self-controlled. And he who would climb and live must continuously wage this battle and never let folly win. It's an outrageously demanding proposition. But I never said it was easy."