On Climbing...I first learned to climb in New Hampshire as a teenager. It is wild how certain experiences ultimately impact a person and influence their behaviors from that point forward.
The climbing community is an interesting one to say the least. This tribe can vary greatly depending on geography. Some climbing areas are steeped in history and tied to strong ethics that have been passed down from prior generations of climbers. Other places seem to still be developing their own ethos and character. It seems to me that the character of a given climbing community can be attributed to the relative age of the area and the kind of attention given by the media.
It seems to me that the advancement of climbing in the media has altered the climbing lifestyle. Where I come from, people share stories about new routes, value climbing style and just as often recount misadventures. If a climber relays something they did in poor style or if they didn’t tell the whole story, they got called on it. Typically the “old guard” educates the climber as to why it is important to keep the facts straight. In this crowd, style and success hold equal importance. A proud ascent is clearly the ultimate goal. Anything less is to be taken as a lesson to learn from and improve in the future.
I feel very fortunate to have mentors that drilled this ethos into my head. This tutelage encouraged me to learn to climb and ski for myself instead of worrying about what the community or the general public thought of my actions. At baseline, alpinism is a pretty selfish pursuit. Unfortunately, the general public loves a story, especially when drama or perceived heroism are involved. Telling the whole story is not always a priority nor a reality.
When someone climbs a historic route, you often read about how that individual “conquered the mountain”. I have never met an honest climber that thought they had conquered anything. Most seem to realize that the mountains will be there long after we are gone and that it is only the line climbed and the style it was ascended it that should be remembered. This ideal continues to be passed down from climbing generation to generation via mentors. With climbing gyms prevalent in nearly every city today and folks climbing everywhere, its not always easy to find a mentor or peer that share this core belief. Today a person can get very strong without really having any idea of what they are doing. This presents a real problem. The dangers of the mountains cannot be taught nor understood within the confines of a climbing gym. If we don’t have the ability to pass on history, style and lessons learned, the future generations have little to lean on.
The new climber seems to leave the gym ready to climb hard, but that is only a small piece of the puzzle. There is still a much bigger picture out there. Getting down and coming back from a climb in one piece is just as important as getting to any summit.
I leave you with a question, “What is more impressive to you? The climber who talks the loudest about what they have climbed regardless of style. Or the climber who does something new, leaves no mess behind and lets their ascent do the talking.
NPS Ranger Dave Weber ascends Annie's Ridge during a recent Alaska Range patrol. (NPS Photo/Dan Corn)