On Friday morning, I’ll board a plane headed for Europe where I am meeting three Polish climbers for two weeks of ice and alpine climbing in Switzerland. Packing and prepping for the trip has left me with little time or mental energy to write a quality, original piece, so I thought I’d re-post this entry from June 17, 2014 (originally written in my journal about a month earlier). It’s a bit wordy; an open bottle of Jack Daniels was keeping me company as I wrote. At the time, however, it accurately and completely summarized my heart toward climbing. Nine months and a thousand life-changing experiences later, the words still ring true.
I fully intended to try to puzzle on paper about climbing grades and ratings, better climbers, harder routes, and my strange and somewhat disgusting, immature loathing of every climber who is better, faster, stronger, or gifted with more opportunity than me. But now that I sit here with time, privacy, and plenty of blank paper, the puzzle pieces no longer seem to fit together with the same ease they did just hours earlier.
If history is any indication, even the hardest, most cutting-edge routes of today will eventually become tomorrow’s warm-up climbs, beaten into submission with superior fitness, techniques, tactics, or technological advantage. In one way, this strikes me as sad – depressing even, in a nostalgic sense. Of course, I recognize this as an inevitability in such a rapidly-evolving sport. It also certainly has its advantages; cams, modern ice tools and crampons, and woven nylon ropes have been integral and essential components in some of the experiences of my greatest joy and self-discovery.
If, however, once accepts the unstoppable consequences of such rapid evolution as fact, then the logical progression of thought journeys down a somewhat fatalistic highway until one arrives at the conclusion that climbing can only ever be fully enjoyed when viewed and truly accepted as the following:
- An anarchical endeavor, where no man has the right to impose laws, boundaries, or ethics on another so long as the first does not engage in behavior that would hinder, impede, or in any way be detrimental to the experience of those who will come after him.
- A purely selfish pursuit, where the sole purpose is self-satisfaction and personal evolution. Sadly, a spirit of competition and egotism, so intrinsic to human beings, can be justified under this point. Such petty emotions do have their place in accelerating progress and standards; the purist, however, is able to (largely) overcome or at least circumvent these childish notions with a proper sense of perspective.
- A pastime that is really no better or worse than any other, except in the hearts and souls of those who hear and answer the siren’s call, knowing that only the vertical realm holds the antidote to the poison of this horizontal landscape in which we live.
To a non-climber, or maybe (probably) to everyone except a very tiny minority, the words above represent nothing more than a cryptic waste of ink. Meaningless drivel about a selfish, dangerous past-time. To me though, those words are the heartbeat pounding in my chest, my very soul and the credo by which I strive to exist. It doesn’t fucking matter that most people will never truly understand it; in some ways, it makes it so much better.