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Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 6, 2010 - 04:41pm PT
This article appeared in Mountain #83, January/February, 1982. (The issue also contained Largo’s “The Only Blasphemy”, Randy Vogel’s detailed piece on Joshua Tree, Rakoncaj’s report on Nanda Devi, North Face, among others.) Donnelly’s piece is a really interesting essay and I think some here on ST will find it relevant. Donnelly is a PhD and Director of the Centre for Sport Policy Studies, U of Toronto, last I checked. He also authored a considerable amount of work after this particular piece as well. Most notably, Inside Sports, along with Jay Coakley.

The question Donnelly addresses here stems from the fourth of four commonly held fallacies, the first three having been treated in essays like this one but in the prior issues of Ken Wilson’s magazine. Essentially he eviscerates the platitudinous assumption that the fellowship of the rope somehow is also “real friendship” rather than situational effectiveness of a sort or even worse, mere placebo to real living. Anyway, have at it, it’s a good read. Keep in mind it the fourth part of a larger essay, spread across apparently 4 Mountain issues.

Deemed Useless

Social climber
Jan 6, 2010 - 05:05pm PT
I read some of it, not all. That said...good find ol' chap, I'll be back to finish it later.

Isn't it like a "Band of Brothers" type thing? Sometimes you get into some very unusual type situations that are apart from modern society. Though it is just us that placed ourselves in that situation.
rick d

ol pueblo, az
Jan 6, 2010 - 05:08pm PT
hunh? peter?


A long way from where I started
Jan 6, 2010 - 05:19pm PT
I always found it best to kill any partner I've done a successful hard climb with, because if they were good enough to get me up it, then they're unwanted competition in the future. The "Fellowship of the rope" should always end in a noose.

Seriously, though, most of my long-term friendships are with people who were once, or may still be, climbing partners.

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Jan 6, 2010 - 05:32pm PT
Peter: I was concentrating so hard on reading and trying to comprehend the article, I didn't notice the nurse come in.

She says I need to work on my slide show presentation for tonight and rest up for the beer drinking and story telling.

Sorry, Fritz ---at the Old Climbers Home.

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Jan 6, 2010 - 05:39pm PT
Common experience allows for common understanding that allows for friendship based on that shared aspect. The kinship of the rope isn't causal, it is correlative and encouraging of friendship. In other words, a sufficient, but not a necessary condition for friendship between climbers. But if that's all he's saying, then it's not too profound and slightly verbose for the point.

conclusion: the analysis is reductionistic for something that is broadly philosophical and debateable. Aristotle described friendship as 'friendly feeling' toward the other: that what you would wish for yourself, you would wish for the other. It is by that "natural" perhaps, human, endeavor of friendly feeling, that maybe we find ourselves 'akin' to our climbing brethren wherever they are, but that doesn't mean a causal nexus for friendship per se.

still, an interesting topic...


Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Jan 6, 2010 - 05:40pm PT
The "Fellowship of the rope" should always end in a noose.



A place with poppies & flying monkeys...
Jan 6, 2010 - 06:21pm PT
Well Peter, after laboriously struggling up/through/out of this Everest of an essay, I have 3 or maybe 4 observations from my dubious summit:

1. When Mr. Donnelly stated "It is to be hoped that this series has been more than an academic, myth-exploding exercise"... I fear he was destined to disappointment on both heads.

2. Mr. Donnelly, when he wrote his essays, may have styled himself another Joseph Campbell of sorts; again he was destined to disappointment.

3. When Mr. Donnelly ended by stating: "If we are to have any control over the future of climbing we ought to attempt to understand what climbing is all about, what it is that we are attempting to protect"... I fear he is either delusional in regards to his own true motives, or stupendously oblivious to the nature of people and their passions. Or both.

Control the future of climbing??? What? Put little sticky notes all over the gym and around the crags, warning people "You won't make any real friends here. DON'T START CLIMBING!"

4. Mr. Donnelly could be the posterchild for having been educated beyond his intelligence.

Having said that, I'd certainly like to thank you for posting this, Peter. Mr. Donnelly gave me a whole new level of understanding about what it means to be trapped in your mind. ;-)

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Jan 6, 2010 - 09:23pm PT
Hey you guys are being to hard on Peter-He is just trying to show you that it is possible to think outside the box, or was it inside the box, or maybe it was on top the box or hell maybe it wasn't even a box?

Trad climber
Jan 6, 2010 - 09:35pm PT
well, i liked the piece more than l and some of you others did. weirdly, i don't remember this piece or the earlier ones in the series, although i must've read them.

it is worth pointing out that donnelly was writing before the rise of sport climbing. the [hrase "belay slave" was unknown. folks hadn't yet widely begun paying randoms to hold a gri-gri for hours.

the idea that there was a common "brotherhood of the rope" that joined all climbers generally and partners especially in some sort of transcendent bond really was a popular cliche. and you do still hear it from time to time, even here on st, where the range of social interactions on display ought to make most folks more skeptical.

and in retrospect, i think deonnelly is correct, that david roberts was one of the only period popular writers to comment in a more realistic way on the "brotherhood" of the rope.

peter, do you remember what the three other "fallacies" were?

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 6, 2010 - 10:41pm PT
thanks Guido/Joe McKeown.

May I remind you characters I did not write this 28 year old article but am posting it for discussion. The reactions so far are really effing strange.

Thought-pieces like this appeared often on Mountain, Ken Wilson's publication. It was a great magazine, for years was in parallel to Ascent and carried on from where Ascent left off, finally closing to everyone's dismay. Wilson was amazing also.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jan 7, 2010 - 12:05am PT
More than a boX!

very cool article.

Most (all?) of my best friends are climbers.

Trad climber
conejo valley, california
Jan 7, 2010 - 01:58am PT
Since this is article is several decades old, I wonder about the topic of "those individuals that climb at a high level, even after marriage". I know many married individuals who climb at a high level, myself included. But that could all be perception about what is a high level.

I actually liked the article, did shine some light on our sport of choice, seems like much of it still applies. However, some of it was a little too cut and dry for some topics. If he was wondering what 30 years in the future holds, I wonder what 30 years from now will hold for climbing?
Paul Martzen

Trad climber
Jan 7, 2010 - 03:16am PT
I enjoyed L's response much more than the article.

Interesting that several respondents who enjoyed the article then stated that most of their close friends are climbers. That is exactly the opposite of Donnelly's thesis. The point of the article is that climbing does not lead to close friendships. Or at least no more so than any other sport.

It seemed that he was arguing against some literature that romanticizes the character building and friendship benefits of climbing. I can sort of relate to that. People make all kinds of nonsensical claims about the benefits of sports and different programs in order to get support and money and customers. When I was doing a lot of ropes course instruction the training and literature stressed some deep meaning of each activity, which (in my opinion) was mostly Bull and distracted from the actual meanings that could be derived from the activities.

What I would find interesting is hearing about others experiences with climbing friendships. I enjoyed the article when Donnelly related his personal experiences.

Like him, I had many partners and have enjoyed climbing, kayaking and adventuring with a wide variety of people. Most of them, I would do stuff with again. A few, I would rather not do stuff with again. Some people I enjoy being around occasionally, but not too often.

My closest friends are people that I do a variety of adventures and activities with. I like the activities but they are also excuses to be with my friends. Seems to me that the greater the range of activities I do with someone the more opportunity to understand them in different ways. That is assuming there is a basic compatibility and understanding to begin with.

Mike Latendresse is one of my best friends, though I do not see him very often. He was a climbing partner and a partner in kayaking and skiing and other activities as well. I like being around him and almost anything I might do is made better by his participation. Climbing did not make us compatible, but climbing gave our compatibility a medium to grow in.

Another fellow was a regular partner for a couple of years. We got along and had good times, but were not super close. I got the ambition to climb Magical Mystery Tour, above Reed's Pinnacle area. It is probably a piece of junk, but I had my heart set on it. We get up there and I climb the first pitch. He watches and says, "Nope! I am not climbing on that crap!" I was bummed. We bail, drive home in silence and never climb together again. We were still part of a group that did stuff together, but we found other partners for climbing.

A couple years later 2 good partners and I were going up East Buttress of El Capitan. I lead up the 3rd or 4th pitch which is basically a knobby 4th class wall. My partners freak and refuse to continue. I plead and cajole, but they are adamant, so we bail. At the base, I am bummed and morose and disappointed. But we talk about it, then go over to some one pitch climbs that they want to do. We get climbing and in a little while I was over it and having fun again. Good friends were able to cheer me up even after they disappointed me.

Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 7, 2010 - 05:07pm PT
I don't necessarily agree with what the article says, and in fact think it risky to draw generalizations about the subject. There's very wide variance in climber-behaviours. But I do think it's interesting to read and discuss such subjects.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 7, 2010 - 05:57pm PT
There is nothing risky here, Anders. Heavens.

Donnelly is not saying that:

if you have a climbing partner, then this is not a suitable friend.

Nor is he saying:

if you have a friend, then this is not a suitable climbing partner.

Rather, he is examining that merely by climbing together, people do not necessarily form by extension, substantial and regular life friendship from their roped partners. This point is almost a given, really. Again, he is not saying it does not happen at all but that to expect it to always produce friendship is to be mislead. And I guess if you tie this up with his meta-fallacy construction, there are supposed to be critical issues.

And he goes on to variously cite 30 sources. I think he has worked pretty hard on this subject. Probably the most offputting part of the article are his conclusions at the end of the sixth page, as others have noted upthread. But recall that this is the fourth part of a much longer essay. So overall, he proposes that if one takes all four parts of this thinking, he says he has shown that “the fallacies are not isolated” but all parts of a bigger fallacy and we are currently living with “a picture of climbing that is blatantly false”.

I think the four fallacies he has in mind are supposed to be:

Climbing is not really dangerous
Climbing is non-competitive
Climbing is character building
Climbing leads people to form close relationships.

And if so, then his essays are worth really understanding and also explains why he is gets a bit excited at the end. Maybe someone has the prior Mountain issues and can grunt out the rest of the writing here. I assume it would be the 3 prior issues to #83.


H2O..what the heck is this H2O thing you speak of?
Jan 7, 2010 - 06:23pm PT
Sorry Peter--I didn't mean to make it sound like Mr. Donnelly was a total bozo or something. He did a heck of a lot of research (look at all those citings!)...and really thought about this thing. I just found it an odd sort of bone to chew...but in 1982, it was probably prime rib.

Perhaps it was the way he tied off the haul line at the end that bothered me the most. That, and his intent in writing the article. It gets a bit murky, if you ask me. The entire "protecting climbing and knowing what we're protecting" invocation vanilla frosting on roast beef.

I also realize that your intent in posting it was for thought-provoking discourse...which I believe was achieved in spades. It was thought-provoking! My thoughts were provoked! It was great! ;-)

Seriously--I meant the "thank you" in my earlier post. Apologies for any vicarious criticisms you may have fielded.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 7, 2010 - 06:40pm PT
Thanks L. Donnelly's academic field is just this sort of stuff. Social policy and sports. Very unusual discipline. I remember when I bought this issue back in 1982 I did not read his article... I thought was another Ken Wilson welded shut hairball. But now I find it interesting if not maybe as directly written as it could have been. So many academic essays are turgid, if truth be told, and aren't written very well----they lose readers as the pages turn. I guess his points aren't actually huge but just "writ large".

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jan 7, 2010 - 06:44pm PT
Paul M, do you 'get' Irony, even a little bit?

Big Wall climber
Jan 7, 2010 - 06:54pm PT
Peter i read that article many years ago (some old timer gave me like 15yrs worth of mountian mags just for my reading enjoyment) from the original mag and i liked it.
however don't feel bad because most people on the "taco site" hide behind their computer.
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