The Climber as Visionary


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 26, 2005 - 01:43am PT

This piece has been collected into more anthologies than I can quite recall, and translated into French, Italian, German (I think), Danish and I believe Japanese. The excitement of the idea begun here, that the physical and emotional challenges of climbing can trigger biochemical pathways in the brain leading to visionary experience in the mind, has become a lifetime project. The resulting book, titled
The Alchemy of Action, is still struggling into being and should be out—well, who really knows when. Soon, I hope, so I can get on with my life.

I finished this essay in January 1969, in a flat in the Haight Ashbury of San Francisco. That month I also completed five term papers to graduate from College. Then I moved to the Sierra. First stop was Tahoe City, into the midst of a 32-day snowstorm where good money was to be made shoveling snow off of collapsing roofs in Squaw Valley. When Visionary was published, the first mail in response was a scathing letter from a Nobel Laureate vitamin researcher whose political reaction seems to have upstaged his scientific curiosity. Welcome to the politics of consciousness. Then again, maybe he was just pissed off because his daughter had run off with Warren Harding. Anyway, others were less intimidated, and I have been greeted on the streets of Chamonix as "les visionaire."

Since writing this I have learned the language of biochemistry well enough to track a few of its disciplines to the research level. I have lugged textbooks and xeroxes of journal articles up into the Palisades and gotten sunburnt studying them. I have fallen asleep by the stove in Rock Creek with stacks of books open at my feet. The puzzle is intricate in part because there is a Catch 22 in the research: you can know exact chemistry from the brains of lab rats, but it is no use asking them about the visionary tone of their experience. On the other hand, climbers can describe delicate visionary details when their senses have been heightened by exposure to their usual and abundant challenges (some would call them stress), but we can not get inside their skulls to measure the hormonal cocktail behind their mood shift. Hence it is a circuitous path to connect up the human experience with the animal data.

I now know that two of the technical details in this original piece are wrong. My current thought is that it is extra oxygen, not carbon dioxide buildup, that fuels the breathing/chanting effect. And I mistakenly ascribed part of the visionary mood shift to adrenaline. It is a very common and popular assumption that the excitement of tense situations is due to adrenaline, but I now know that what we all mean when we say that is not adrenaline at all, but its cousin noradrenaline. The feeling of adrenaline itself is more like full panic, not something anyone would voluntarily seek or cheerfully repeat. The psychedelic transformation speculated here can happen just as easily starting from noradrenaline—the compounds are very similar, but their moods as opposite as bracing challenge and blind fear.

My evolving theories surrounding the climbers visionary experience surfaced a decade later in a piece about endorphins and forgetfulness, which is printed here in the last section, Return. With it, I have included a chapter, Two Afternoons in the Sixties, from the forthcoming book, to give a glimpse of where the idea is now going.

Finally, a direct request: From you who read the literature of mountaineering, I ask a favor. I have collected many written examples of visionary experience, accounts of the familiar 'summit euphoria.' If you run across a good one that I may have missed, please send it along to the publisher. The best of them will find their way into
The Alchemy of Action as prime examples of the visionary experience of climbers.

In 1914 George Mallory, later to become famous for an offhand definition of why people climb, wrote an article entitled "The Mountaineer as Artist," which appeared in the British Climbers' Club Journal. In an attempt to justify his climber's feeling of superiority over other sportsmen, he asserts that the climber is an artist. He says that "a day well spent in the Alps is like some great symphony," and justifies the lack of any tangible production—for artists are generally expected to produce works of art which others may see—by saying that "artists, in this sense, are not distinguished by the power of expressing emotion, but the power of feeling that emotional experience out of which Art is made . . .mountaineers are all artistic, . . . because they cultivate emotional experience for its own sake." While fully justifying the elevated regard we have for climbing as an activity, Mallory's assertion leaves no room for distinguishing the creator of a route from an admirer of it. Mountaineering can produce tangible artistic results which are then on public view. A route is an artistic statement on the side of a mountain, accessible to the view and thus the admiration or criticism of other climbers. Just as the line of a route determines its aesthetics, the manner in which it was climbed constitutes its style. A climb has the qualities of a work of art and its creator is responsible for its direction and style just as an artist is. We recognize those climbers who are especially gifted at creating forceful and aesthetic lines, and respect them for their gift.

But just as Mallory did not go far enough in ascribing artistic functions to the act of creating outstanding new climbs, so I think he uses the word 'artist' too broadly when he means it to include an aesthetic response as well as an aesthetic creation. For this response, which is essentially passive and receptive rather than aggressive and creative, I would use the word visionary. Not visionary in the usual sense of idle and unrealizable dreaming, of building castles in the air, but rather in seeing the objects and actions of ordinary experience with greater intensity, penetrating them further, seeing their marvels and mysteries, their forms, moods, and motions. Being a visionary in this sense involves nothing supernatural or otherworldly; it amounts to bringing fresh vision to the familiar things of the world. I use the word visionary very simply, taking its origin from 'vision,' to mean seeing, always to great degrees of intensity, but never beyond the boundaries of the real and physically present. To take a familiar example, it would be hard to look at Van Gogh's "The Starry Night" without seeing the visionary quality in the way the artist sees the world. He has not painted anything that is not in the original scene, yet others would have trouble recognizing what he has depicted, and the difference lies in the intensity of his perception, heart of the visionary experience. He is painting from a higher state of consciousness. Climbers too have their "Starry Nights." Consider the following from an account by Allen Steck, of the Hummingbird Ridge climb on Mt. Logan: "I turned for a moment and was completely lost in silent appraisal of the beautifully sensuous simplicity of windblown snow." The beauty of that moment, the form and motion of the blowing snow was such a powerful impression, was so wonderfully sufficient, that the climber was lost in it. It is said to be only a moment, yet by virtue of total absorption he is lost in it and the winds of eternity blow through it. A second example comes from the account of the seventh day's climbing on the eight-day first ascent, under trying conditions, of El Capitan's Muir Wall. Yvon Chouinard relates in the 1966 American Alpine Journal:

With the more receptive senses we now appreciated
everything around us. Each individual crystal in the
granite stood out in bold relief. The varied shapes of the
clouds never ceased to attract our attention. For the first
time we noticed tiny bugs that were all over the walls,
so tiny they were barely noticeable. While belaying, I
stared at one for 15 minutes, watching him move and
admiring his brilliant red color.

How could one ever be bored with so many good things to
see and feel! This unity with our joyous surroundings, this
ultra-penetrating perception gave us a feeling of contentment
that we had not had for years.

In these passages the qualities that make up the climbers visionary experience are apparent: the overwhelming beauty of the most ordinary objects—clouds, granite, snow—of the climber's experience, a sense of the slowing down of time even to the point of disappearing, and a "feeling of contentment," an oceanic feeling of the supreme sufficiency of the present. And while delicate in substance, these feelings are strong enough to intrude forcefully into the middle of dangerous circumstances and remain there, temporarily superseding even apprehension and the drive for achievement.

Chouinard's words begin to give us an idea of the origin of these experiences as well as their character. He begins by referring to "the more receptive senses." What made their senses more receptive? It seems integrally connected with what they were doing, and that it was their seventh day of uninterrupted concentration. Climbing tends to induce visionary experiences. We should explore which characteristics of the climbing process prepare its practitioners for these experiences.

Climbing requires intense concentration. I know of no other activity in which I can so easily lose all the hours of an afternoon without a trace. Or a regret. I have had storms creep up on me as if I had been asleep, yet I know the whole time I was in the grip of an intense concentration, focused first on a few square feet of rock, and then on a few feet more. I have gone off across camp to boulder and returned to find the stew burned. Sometimes in the lowlands when it is hard to work I am jealous of how easily concentration comes in climbing. This concentration may be intense, but it is not the same as the intensity of the visionary periods; it is a prerequisite intensity.

But the concentration is not continuous. It is often intermittent and sporadic, sometimes cyclic and rhythmic. After facing the successive few square feet of rock for a while, the end of the rope is reached and it is time to belay. The belay time is a break in the concentration, a gap, a small chance to relax. The climber changes from an aggressive and productive stance to a passive and receptive one, from doer to observer, and in fact from artist to visionary. The climbing day goes on through the climb-belay-climb-belay cycle by a regular series of concentrations and relaxations. It is of one of these relaxations that Chouinard speaks. When limbs go to the rock and muscles contract, then the will contracts also. And at the belay stance, tied in to a scrub oak, the muscles relax and the will also, which has been concentrating on moves, expands and takes in the world again, and the world is new and bright. It is freshly created, for it really had ceased to exist. By contrast, the disadvantage of the usual low-level activity is that it cannot shut out the world, which then never ceases being familiar and is thus ignored. To climb with intense concentration is to shut out the world, which, when it reappears, will be as a fresh experience, strange and wonderful in its newness.

These belay relaxations are not total; the climb is not over, pitches lie ahead, even the crux; days more may be needed to be through. We notice that as the cycle of intense contractions takes over, and as this cycle becomes the daily routine, even consumes the daily routine, the relaxations on belay yield more frequent or intense visionary experiences. It is no accident that Chouinard's experiences occur near the end of the climb; he had been building up to them for six days. The summit, capping off the cycling and giving a final release from the tension of contractions, should offer the climber some of his most intense moments, and a look into the literature reveals this to be so. The summit is also a release from the sensory desert of the climb; from the starkness of concentrating on configurations of rock we go to the visual richness of the summit. But there is still the descent to worry about, another contraction of will to be followed by relaxation at the climb's foot. Sitting on a log changing from klettershoes into boots, and looking over the Valley, we are suffused with oceanic feelings of clarity, distance, union, oneness. There is carryover from one climb to the next, from one day on the hot white walls to the next, however punctuated by wine dark evenings in Camp 4. Once a pathway has been tried it becomes more familiar and is easier to follow the second time, more so on subsequent trips. The threshold has been lowered. Practice is as useful to the climber's visionary faculty as to his crack technique. It also applies outside of climbing. In John Harlin's words, although he was speaking about will and not vision, the experience can be "borrowed and projected." It will apply in the climber's life in general, in his flat, ground, and lowland hours. But it is the climbing that has taught him to be a visionary. Lest we get too self-important about consciously preparing ourselves for visionary activity, however, we remember that the incredible beauty of the mountains is always at hand, always ready to nudge us into awareness.

The period of these cycles varies widely. If you sometimes cycle through lucid periods from pitch to pitch or even take days to run a complete course, it may also be virtually instantaneous, as, pulling up on a hold after a moment's hesitation and doubt, you feel at once the warmth of sun through your shirt and without pausing reach on.

Nor does the alteration of consciousness have to be large. A small change can be profound. The gulf between looking without seeing and looking with real vision is at times of such a low order that we may be continually shifting back and forth in daily life. Further heightening of the visionary faculty consists of more deeply perceiving what is already there. Vision is intense seeing. Vision is seeing what is more deeply interfused, and following this process leads to a sense of ecology. It is an intuitive rather than a scientific ecology; it is John Muir's kind, starting not from generalizations for trees, rocks, air, but rather from that tree with the goiter part way up the trunk, from the rocks as Chouinard saw them, supremely sufficient and aloof, blazing away their perfect light, and from that air which blew clean and hot up off the eastern desert and carries lingering memories of snowfields on the Dana Plateau and miles of Tuolumne treetops as it pours over the rim of the Valley on its way to the Pacific.

These visionary changes in the climber's mind have a physiological basis. The alteration of hope and fear spoken of in climbing describes an emotional state with a biochemical basis. These physiological mechanisms have been used for thousands of years by prophets and mystics, and for a few centuries by climbers. There are two complementary mechanisms operating independently: carbon dioxide level and adrenaline breakdown products, the first keyed by exertion, the second by apprehension. During the active part of the climb the body is working hard, building up its carbon dioxide level (oxygen debt) and releasing adrenaline in anticipation of difficult or dangerous moves, so that by the time the climber moves into belay at the end of the pitch he has established an oxygen debt and a supply of now unneeded adrenaline. Oxygen debt manifests itself on the cellular level as lactic acid, a cellular poison, which may possibly be the agent that has a visionary effect on the mind. Visionary activity can be induced experimentally by administering carbon dioxide, and this phenomenon begins to explain the place of singing and long-winded chanting in the medieval Church as well as the breath-control exercises of Eastern religions. Adrenaline, carried to all parts of the body through the blood stream, is an unstable compound and if unused, soon begins to break down. Some of the breakdown products of adrenaline are capable of inducing the visionary experience; in fact, they are naturally occurring body chemicals which closely resemble the psychedelic drugs, and may help someday to shed light on the action of these mind-expanding agents. So we see that the activity of the climbing, coupled with its anxiety, produces a chemical climate in the body that is conducive to visionary experience. There is one other long-range factor that may begin to figure in Chouinard's example: diet. Either simple starvation or vitamin deficiency tends to prepare the body, apparently by weakening it, for visionary experiences. Such a vitamin deficiency will result in a decreased level of nicotinic acid, a member of the B-vitamin complex and a known anti-psychedelic agent, thus nourishing the visionary experience. Chouinard comments on the low rations at several points in his account. For a further discussion of physical pathways to the visionary state, see Aldous Huxley's two essays, "The Doors of Perception" and "Heaven and Hell."

There is an interesting relationship between the climber-visionary and his counterpart in the neighboring subculture of psychedelic drug users. These drugs are becoming increasingly common and many young people will come to climbing from a visionary vantage point unique in its history. These drugs have been through a series of erroneous names, based on false models of their action: psychotomimetic for a supposed ability to produce a model psychosis, and hallucinogen, when the hallucination was thought to be the central reality of the experience. Their present name means simply 'mind manifesting,' which is at least neutral. These drugs are providing people with a window into the visionary experience. They come away knowing that there is a place where the objects of ordinary experience are wonderfully clear and alive. It may also be that these sensations remind them of many spontaneous or 'peak' experiences and thus confirm or place a previous set of observations. But this is the end. There is no going back to the heightened reality, to the supreme sufficiency of the present moment. The window has been shut and cannot even be found without recourse to the drug.

I am not in the least prepared to say that drug users take up climbing in order to search for the window. It couldn't occur to them. Anyone unused to disciplined physical activity would have trouble imagining that it produced anything but sweat. But when the two cultures overlap, and a young climber begins to find parallels between the visionary result of his climbing discipline and his formerly drug-induced visionary life, he is on the threshold of control. There is now a clear path of discipline leading to the window. It consists of the sensory desert, intensity of concentrated effort, and rhythmical cycling of contraction and relaxation. This path is not unique to climbing, of course, but here we are thinking of the peculiar form that the elements of the path assume in climbing. I call it the Holy Slow Road because, although time-consuming and painful, it is an unaided way to the visionary state; by following it the climber will find himself better prepared to appreciate the visionary in himself, and by returning gradually and with eyes open to ordinary waking consciousness he now knows where the window lies, how it is unlocked, and he carries some of the experience back with him. The Holy Slow Road assures that the climber's soul, tempered by the very experiences that have made him a visionary, has been refined so that he can handle his visionary activity while still remaining balanced and active (the result of too much visionary activity without accompanying personality growth being the dropout, an essentially unproductive stance). The climbing which has prepared him to be a visionary has also prepared the climber to handle his visions. This is not, however, a momentous change. It is still as close as seeing instead of mere looking. Experiencing a permanent change in perception may take years of discipline.

A potential pitfall is seeing the 'discipline' of the Holy Slow Road in the iron-willed tradition of the Protestant ethic, and that will not work. The climbs will provide all the necessary rigor of discipline without having to add to it. And as the visionary faculty comes closer to the surface, what is needed is not an effort of discipline but an effort of relaxation, a submission of self to the wonderful, supportive, and sufficient world.

I first began to consider these ideas in the summer of 1965 in Yosemite with Chris Fredericks. Sensing a similarity of experience, or else a similar approach to experience, we sat many nights talking together at the edge of the climbers' camp and spent some of our days testing our words in kinesthetic sunshine. Chris had become interested in Zen Buddhism, and as he told me of this Oriental religion I was amazed that I had never before heard of such a system that fit the facts of outward reality as I saw them without any pushing or straining. We never, that I remember, mentioned the visionary experience as such, yet its substance was rarely far from our reflections. We entered into one of those fine parallel states of mind such that it is impossible now for me to say what thoughts came from which of us. We began to consider some aspects of climbing as Western equivalents of Eastern practices: the even movements of the belayer taking in slack, the regular footfall of walking through the woods, even the rhythmic movements of climbing on easy or familiar ground; all approach the function of meditation and breath-control. Both the laborious and visionary parts of climbing seemed well suited to liberating the individual from his concept of self, the one by intimidating his aspirations, the other by showing the self to be only a small part of a subtly integrated universe. We watched the visionary surface in each other with its mixture of joy and serenity, and walking down from climbs we often felt like little children in the Garden of Eden, pointing, nodding, and laughing. We explored timeless moments and wondered at the suspension of ordinary consciousness while the visionary faculty was operating. It occurred to us that there was no remembering such times of being truly happy and at peace; all that could be said of them later was that they had been and that they had been truly fine; the usual details of memory were gone. This applies also to most of our conversations. I remember only that we talked and that we came to understand things. I believe it was in these conversations that the first seeds of the climber as visionary were planted.

William Blake has spoken of the visionary experience by saying, "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite." Stumbling upon the cleansed doors, the climber wonders how he came into that privileged visionary position vis-a-vis the universe. He finds the answer in the activity of his climbing and the chemistry of his mind, and he begins to see that he is practicing a special application of some very ancient mind-opening techniques. Chouinard's vision was no accident. It was the result of days of climbing. He was tempered by technical difficulties, pain, apprehension, dehydration, striving, the sensory desert, weariness, the gradual loss of self. It is a system. You need only copy the ingredients and commit yourself to them. They lead to the door. It is not necessary to attain to Chouinard's technical level—few can or do—only to his degree of commitment. It is not essential that one climb El Capitan to be a visionary; I never have, yet try in my climbing to push my personal limit, to do climbs that are questionable for me. Thus we all walk the feather edge, each man his own unique edge—and go on to the visionary. For all the precision with which the visionary state can be placed and described, it is still elusive. You do not one day become a visionary and ever after remain one. It is a state that one flows in and out of, gaining it through directed effort or spontaneously in a gratuitous moment. Oddly, it is not consciously worked for, but comes as the almost accidental product of effort in another direction and on a different plane. It is at its own whim momentary or lingering suspended in the air, suspending time in its turn, forever momentarily eternal, as, stepping out of the last rappel you turn and behold the rich green wonder of the forest.

[REVISED version provided by Doug Robinson as it appeared in his book A Night on the Ground]
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 4, 2013 - 02:14pm PT
self bump...
...though a little bio piece in Alpinist 42 hinted at more to come...
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
May 4, 2013 - 02:25pm PT
Ed, I'm amazed at how often I think of the piece Chouinard wrote way back when; Climber as Visionary. I'll read what you wrote more fully and get back. Thanks for the tip that there's something in Alpinist 42 as well - just got it 2 days ago.

Speaking of Visionary, I made a post here yesterday about the SolarImpulse. It seems like it deserves mention. I took it down because it did not get immediate response and was OT, but that plane is off the charts. Maybe I'll put it back up later if somebody doesn't beat me to it.

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
May 4, 2013 - 02:26pm PT
I grew up watching the New York City Ballet in the 70's, great years for a great company. I was lucky enough to witness, on my first day of climbing, a great climber transcend that same line I had seen the dancers cross; from simply moving into the world of expression through movement. It was the difference between simple athleticism and art. Seeing this changed the course of my life.

I think that one of the visionary aspects of climbing lies in this self expression. Bachar comes to mind of course.

right here, right now
May 4, 2013 - 02:28pm PT
McHale's Navy: not Chouinard, but Doug Robinson.
You're getting your television programs mixed up! Hahahahaha.

[edit] I know I'm just messing with you.
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
May 4, 2013 - 02:29pm PT
Oh yes, maybe it's just that he mentions Chouinard - speed reading kills! Thanks!

My tendency these daze is to go as slow as I can to get there, rather than thinking at all of the time to get there. Comes with age I guess!

Later. Am off to buy babanas! I finally fully realized what you meant with the TV reference Tarbuster. I did say I was getting slower!
Mark Force

Trad climber
Cave Creek, AZ
May 4, 2013 - 07:40pm PT
It's a wonderful piece and framed what I've been either looking for in the wild places or transiently experiencing since.

"A Night On The Ground A Day In The Open" is a wonderful book by Doug Robinson. One of my favorite reads and in the ilk of Thoreau.

If you like that read, you'll also love "On The Loose" by Jerry and Renny Russell.
paul roehl

Boulder climber
May 4, 2013 - 07:41pm PT
I remember that article and its influence. It was the time of the philosopher climber, a somewhat bohemian type who saw middle class American life as dissipating into a too safe mediocrity. It was this group of nearly mendicant enthusiasts that engaged adventure and an appreciation of sublime beauty in an effort to find a kind of fulfillment. These types seem to have largely disappeared as climbing has evolved (devolved?) into a kind of hyper competitive sporting pastime in which athletic achievement is the final goal. Or maybe i'm just too cynical and too much of a romantic to offer an opinion, but you have to give Robinson credit for writing two of the most influential articles in American rock climbing. The other for the C. Catalog in the early 70s on clean climbing.
Mark Force

Trad climber
Cave Creek, AZ
May 4, 2013 - 07:48pm PT
Paul, beautifully put!

Before it was all about the gear and the numbers; when the experience itself was the point itself.


Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
May 4, 2013 - 09:28pm PT
I'm going to cross list this on the God & Science thread. And I really wish Doug would finish his book!

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 4, 2013 - 09:41pm PT
Credit: Jaybro

Doug is the Man!!!
And Truly, an Artist and Visionary!!

Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
May 4, 2013 - 10:04pm PT
He's been working on a book-length update of that article for ages.

I wonder if it'll ever see the light of day.

I loved the article.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
May 7, 2013 - 04:39am PT
Thanks for asking.

The Alchemy of Action is done! It'll see the light of day by mid-summer.

Since you asked, here is the Introduction:


It was an old bread van that had slid comfortably into being a mobile home. One winter it began appearing around the ski resort of Mammoth. Those were simpler times; I did my taxes that year right on the bar at the Village Inn. You could emerge from there, blinking into a bright afternoon or an icy starscape, and there would be the van. Painted across its side in broad liquid lettering was “Metabolic Voyager.”

Never met the voyager, but I didn’t have to; his message was clear even in its wavy lettering. Plain to see in a certain light, and easy enough to understand, if you thought about it. I saw a mirror illuminated big chunks of my life, the parts that drove me up walls of rock and questing on skis out into ten thousand square miles of white wilderness. Both right beyond the edge of town. Those things were adventure, sure, but day-by-day it was just fun, thrilling. And the thrill comes from the metabolism. Flows right out of it, as fluid as that lettering.

The process is time-honored, and it leads to getting high. The voyage, the adventure, is arduous and dangerous. You pull yourself up a rock wall, and the muscles in your arms and shoulders begin to quiver with effort as the ground recedes. In your brain, the hormonal tide is rising. Glance between your legs at the prospect of smashing into the rocks below. Hormones transform, and the voyage becomes a trip. And the trip gets you high. Naturally high, organically loaded, but the metaphor, the closest experience to help explain it, comes down to drugs. Here’s William Burroughs in Naked Lunch:

Buddha? A notorious metabolic junky... Makes his own, you dig? So Buddha says, “I’ll by God metabolize my own junk. ... I’ll metabolize a speedball and make with the Fire Sermon”.

Buddha’s own speedball is a mixture, a blend, a hormonal cocktail arising from the brain blender when it’s activated by a lot of sweat and a bit of fear.

Like Burroughs book itself, this is banned information. Or at the least veiled, esoteric and subtle, a fire-tempered path that exists only out on the ragged edge of experience, say after years of piercing meditation under a Bodhi tree, or maybe like the tunnel of white light described by those accidentally snatched back to life from the jaws of death.

Well, I disagree. It’s tempting to call such remarkable experience once-in-a-lifetime stuff, locked away out on the nether edge of life itself. But that’s too easy, oddly dismissive, and anyway making such experience impossibly special is just wrong. I see the vibrant loveliness of the visionary hovering around me on even an afternoon jog. That little can sometimes be enough to kick in the necessary metabolism. And occasionally even less than that. The visionary state can arise spontaneously, unbidden, a gratuitous moment of grace. Suddenly your perception turns hot, and there before you is the burning bush.

Usually, though, it takes a degree of effort and a dash of fear to open the doors of perception, to jar your metabolism in the direction of profound sight. And insight.

We have arrived at the central insight of this book, that effort plus a degree of fear shifts your brain in the direction of seeing more sharply, more clearly. And feeling more deeply. It does that by shifting the dynamic balance of hormones in your head. And then, transforming some of them. The upshot is a change in metabolism that becomes literally psychedelic.

Yes, I’m saying that your brain as well as mine makes its own psychedelic compounds. Real ones. Potent ones. And that it laps them up. Eagerly. It knows them, it needs them. And when you challenge yourself, step up to the adventure, their effects magnify. You’ll be surprised to see the science behind this, because it’s just now emerging.

We’re all metabolic voyagers, every day. Mostly in little ways that we
can dismiss as mundane, as mere nuances of mood, we float on tides of hormones that define the timbre of consciousness. We take for granted, for instance, sweeping changes like waking up, and regularly brush past more subtle effects like a few tiny neurons whispering to each other about brightening their perceptions. Sometimes, though, when your day veers more directly into the face of adventure, when things get dicey around you, with sketchy conditions and uncertain outcome, the metabolism ramps up in ways that turn the voyage into a real trip.

In the end it turns out that the drugs are not just a metaphor but a signpost, pointing toward where our metabolism, acting under the stress of a meaty challenge, really leads.

Then, you become the metabolic voyager.

Don’t need no ticket,
You just get on board.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
May 7, 2013 - 05:44am PT

I am really looking forward to reading it!

Who's the publisher?

May 7, 2013 - 06:02am PT
Fkin A!
Dingus McGee

Social climber
May 7, 2013 - 08:33am PT

Just what kind of a vision might I have be seeking? Indeed I did have one. Yes, a rebellion to what was then the "way to do things". The vision was driven by the fingers in action, while the biceps pulled as in bent arm rows and meanwhile my toes and heels were hooking, not my feet just standing on the edges of the my shoes.

The vision was a rebellion to the espoused doctrine of trad, Kamps and the California Rules. From the days of first climbing with Kamps I wanted to do overhanging face climbs with some protection. Surely it was this chemical soup of my brain that Doug Robinson writes of that made me seek to be the metabolic voyager of overhanging faces. And these chemicals gave me the vision to say F*ck the trad rules, this is what I want to climb. And yes there is adventure in sport dogging. We don't miss trad.

for I do have my mother's mitochondria.

Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
May 7, 2013 - 08:45am PT
The Alchemy of Action is done! It'll see the light of day by mid-summer.

Looking forward to it!

But don't trust the release dates that any publisher gives you. Heh.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
May 7, 2013 - 12:21pm PT

Thanks, Jan!

My publisher is MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies ( We're about 2/3 through the editing process; midsummer is my guess. I'll post a bit more of it around then.

Jim Henson's Basement
May 7, 2013 - 12:35pm PT
It'll see the light of day by mid-summer.

Yay! Must feel good to finally get it done.

Social climber
An Oil Field
May 7, 2013 - 02:27pm PT
You did it! I thought this day would never come.

You should send a copy to my next door neighbor, who studies psychedelics and the mind.
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