Worth Dying For

Loren simul-soloing on one of the purest alpine climbs I've ever done. We went light, fast, and with a minimum of technology; we truly met the mountain.

Loren simul-soloing on one of the purest alpine climbs I have ever done. We went light, fast, and with a minimum of technology; we truly met the mountain.

I have been called a purist, old-fashioned, and an idealist. Those terms I usually take as a complement if I have any respect at all for the person labeling me. I have also been told that I am stuck in the past, hindering the progress of our sport, and afraid of change. The first is true, the second debatable depending on your definition of our sport, and the third patently false. I have never put a drill bit to rock, and I know for a fact I never will. I usually wear that distinction among my peers quietly, but always with pride.

Mark Twight once wrote an essay about bolting entitled “Barbarians at the Gate.” I first saw it nine years ago, and the proud, angry words resonated strongly with my impressionable young mind. Some primitive, righteous entity was birthed inside me as I worked my way through his discourse, and I felt the nervous thrill of encountering some great pearl of truth. Having not lived the words the way Twight had, I couldn’t grasp the full weight of what he wrote, but the concepts fit together with my desired evolved self like a puzzle piece. I have read it scores of times since, and the idealistic phrases and uncompromising lines are now permanently imprinted on my heart.

Perhaps that obsession with his words is why I now find myself unable to write anything worth reading on the same subject. Anything I pen either sounds like plagiarism or weakness; I’ve torn up or erased several attempts over the last three months. Quitting is not my usual modus operandi, but I am of the opinion that Twight’s words were complete, lacking nothing. Since I’m not interested in producing an inferior product solely for the sake of autonomy, I have posted a link below to his original piece. If you read it carefully, you will understand – although perhaps not agree with – my title for this post.

“Barbarians at the Gate” – by Mark Twight

As a final note…I was texting my brother yesterday, telling him what I had decided to do with this piece. I remarked that Twight had said everything there was to say on the subject of bolting ethics, and in my opinion he had said it perfectly. Matt’s response was thought-provoking:

“…[John] Muir said it all. Twight only needed to say anything because people forgot Muir…you didn’t need climbers to talk about climbing ethics at all until climbers forgot to appreciate the mountains and just treated them as a big gym for their personal use.”

Truer words were never spoken.


Lost and Found

I got lost this morning.

I laced up my running shoes, flipped the hood of my sweatshirt over my disheveled mop, and walked out the front door of the townhouse at exactly 0437. I jogged slowly down the street past flickering streetlights and silent cars and trucks. Even the neighbor’s dog must have been sleeping, as none of the usual frantic barking answered the sound of my soles slapping the pavement.

When I got to the first traffic light – the place where I always turn right – a little voice in the back of my head told me to turn left. Half asleep still, and with no reason to resist, I scanned the empty road for signs of life and then ran across to the sidewalk heading towards the highway.

I crossed the bridge over the interstate, turning left and then right into a part of town that I had never visited. Houses, businesses, and churches passed by me in a blur as my mind wandered. Another right turn and the icy wind cut through my sweaty clothing like a knife. It was miserable and I was shivering, but the discomfort was cathartic somehow.

Ten minutes and a few turns later, I was lost. I stood on a dimly-lit street corner beneath a sprawling willow tree, watching as the shadows of the branches played a chaotic dance on the sidewalk. Tears welled up as I stood there…tears of sorrow for recently lost relationships? Maybe it was just the bitter wind on my eyes.

Ten more minutes and I found a street I recognized. As my pounding footsteps carried me closer to home, I thought hard about the last two months, about what I had lost and what I had found. What I had gained didn’t trivialize what I had cut or let slip away, but it did justify the loss.

Lost and found, or sometimes found and then lost. Those simple sequences repeat themselves every single day in big and small ways. It’s the way life works, and it’s one of the reasons that life and love are never as easy or simple as I think they should be.

The important thing – and I’m learning this slowly – is to be able to recognize when you find what you’ve been looking for, what you have been moving towards and preparing for all your life whether you knew it or not. To recognize it, and then fight for it and never let it go…that’s what matters.