Rewind: A Life Without Climbing?


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Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Feb 5, 2013 - 04:28pm PT
Thanks for sharing what (if I understood you correctly) you don't often share.

Yes. I never shared it with anyone (I shared that I was very overweight, and had asthma but not about how bad it was and not about my skin), till I told my climbing partner this last weekend. It made me feel a bit better about it, because I was not hiding/running away from my past anymore. That's why I decided to share it here. In the past, a few people asked me why I like hard outings in the mountains etc, and I think this story in a way answers that question. Since I couldn't do any sports for most of my life (not by own will), it is natural for me to have the desire to test my body and what I can do. Can I climb this peak? Can I climb El Cap? Can I climb 5.XX? How about all that in a day? etc etc. It is exciting to finally being able to do things. And since I was born after the Chernobyl disaster in an area that got so much radiation, I don't really know if my life will be long or not (lots of people died and continue to die do to cancer in that area). So I try to live the life while I can...who knows what is coming.
...thank you all for positive comments. It means a lot. But let's hear some other stories... :)

Feb 6, 2013 - 09:06am PT
Such a great op and continued probing, Tarbuster, and the responses (from funny to inspiring) are fabulous. Nonetheless, it has been a challenge for me to work through this thought experiment, and I’m not precisely sure why. Part of the issue is perhaps that much of my life without climbing was embarrassingly typical: frustrated, upper-middle-class-White-American-teen (who has to add the "upper" so you know I wasn't really middle class) = an undeserved abundance of resources, most notably a loving family, that all too often I took for granted and did not use for my well-being or others’. Climbing came during a positive transition for me, but what ailed (ails?) me is grossly inappropriate to juxtapose alongside real obstacles to life chances (e.g., radiation fallout from Chernobyl!). I was just a stupid, selfish kid yearning for risks big enough to quiet the angst…an angst that I believed was peculiar to me, but was nothing if not typical, average, commonplace.

So, yes, Roy: I would have found something risky, or at least kept searching, if climbing hadn’t found me. And, because climbing didn’t find me till my early-20s, I had some opportunities to try out alternative risk avenues: skiing and drugs, most notably. Skiing pretty quickly bored me stupid and the drug story isn’t anything we haven’t all heard a thousand times: “crack, yummy…hey where did all my family and friends go?”

Do I look back on pre-climbing pursuits differently than I viewed them at the time? Yes, having kids and teaching them to ski, for example, has been something of a family skiing renaissance – so much more fun than I remembered it.

Shortly before climbing found me, I got loved into a life worth living. Married at 20, we worked our way through college together and mid-way to our undergrad degrees, we started climbing together. It will be 21 years of climbing this year and 25 years of marriage next year.

But, what if the climbing part hadn’t happened? That is the piece I struggle most to answer. Contemplating this last bit evokes melancholy. I’m as screwed up as the next person, but I like where climbing helped take us and I fear that without it I would risk losing things of value. The only pursuit I have tried since climbing that seems similar in its potential to compliment my strengths, alleviate some of my weaknesses, and provide a buzz that keeps buzzing in a health-promoting manner? Surfing (yes, Roy, interesting that it is individualistic! What’s that about??). I’m sure there is other stuff out there too, but I’ve never found it.

Trad climber
Feb 6, 2013 - 08:38pm PT
cowpoke: You're awfully hard on yourself. Your criticism of yourself in your earlier years reminds me of how I used to view the pains of growing up, rebelling, trying on different pursuits, etc.

Throwing this out there a little differently...I strongly suspect that there are those of us that are driven to find something entirely physically and equally mentally challenging -- something that requires every part of our very being pulling its weight -- so that we can routinely push our boundaries.

There's something about engaging in this pursuit that acts like a "reset" button, after which we are returned to a state of equilibrium...until the clock gets wound again and it's time for another oil change, if you will.

The trouble is, when you're younger, you haven't the slightest idea what to do with the (at times) overwhelming urges to DO something or get rid of the pent up energy. It's not something that is taught -- there's a preconceived notion of what success means that's emphasized in school, advertising, etc. Very rarely are kids encouraged to try everything and not to worry about failure (i.e., everything is graded, with the looming judgment about whether success has been achieved). Try everything that is real (i.e., not a false attempt to escape the present) until you find your place in the world, doing whatever it is that gives you purpose and provides you meaning. Perhaps it is in the round about path that you are eventually able to recognize ultimately what this is?

I'm not sure if what I've written makes any sense. I probably need to noodle it some more.


right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 6, 2013 - 09:24pm PT

You're drilling into our findings here and hinting at characterization and I'm following you. Notice how few of us mention team sports? And even fewer would be surprised by the absence of team sport interest in the archetypal climber. So much so that it's cliché. But this small sample bears it out. We climbers are searchers.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Feb 7, 2013 - 06:09pm PT
I guess I'm one of the few.

I was a team sport enthusiast the first 30 years of my life. I played baseball and football in high school and in college and even continued to play football every year in my college alumni game until my 32nd birthday. Still love those years and still follow those sports, BUT then I discovered rock climbing in September of 1961 and my life changed forever. I was 29 years old. I played in the alumni game for the last time in 1964 and that was the end of team sports for me - climbing had become my life.

Within a year I was climbing in Yosemite and doing serious mountaineering routes in the Sierra, the Tetons , and the Wind Rivers.

I've posted in other threads and described how "the original Vulgarian" got me into climbing, so I'll just leave it there.


right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 7, 2013 - 08:19pm PT
Mugs Stump and Bob Carmichael both played football.
You know, just for the record.

Thanks for posting up Don!

Trad climber
Feb 9, 2013 - 07:19pm PT
Regarding the "team sport" types, versus those who were not: for me, it was probably partly a way of thumbing my nose at sports I was never particularly good at anyway, and developing a certain prowess that even the most fit and successful team sport person couldn't begin to do. Immature? Yeah. Cathartic? Yeah. :-)

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 10, 2013 - 09:08am PT
(mooser: yes, the aspirational misfit card ... having played it, I'm familiar. shhhhh. It'll be our secret.)

Feb 10, 2013 - 09:55am PT
The more i think about the individualistic aspect of this question, the more i am convinced that it isnt, for me, individualism per se, but the interaction of individualism and being in the wild. As a kid, I liked team sports (and don't dislike them today), particularly football. And, most individual sports are not my thing, e.g., golf. But being "alone" with nature to challenge myself = self actualized.

Trad climber
Feb 10, 2013 - 11:34am PT
(mooser: yes, the aspirational misfit card ... having played it, I'm familiar. shhhhh. It'll be our secret.)

Mum's the word...

Trad climber
Mancos, CO
Feb 11, 2013 - 09:52pm PT
A life without climbing?


No transition sports prior to climbing. Just from the suburban couch to outdoors and rock. I entered this domain for psychic reasons. I wanted to do wondrous, impossible things, far from the ordinary. It had to be individualistic, not a team endeavor. I went to Colorado Outward Bound as a 16 year old and admired the instructors tremendously. My instructor was John Evans (Humingbird Ridge, Mt. Logan; first ascents in Antarctica and Yosemite). I found my greatest inspiration to enter the world of climbing from reading about the American ascent of Everest's West Ridge by Unsoeld and Horbein in 1963. Kind of an eggheaded point of entry as opposed to motocross dirt biking or other high risk activity transitioning into climbing.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Feb 11, 2013 - 10:42pm PT
You finally roped me in, Tar. . .
I risked things early as a kid--slid down staircases in a box (ouch)!
climbed up steep dirt piles, just things kids do. . .

I played team sports as a kid--baseball, football a bit--too small,
then soccer, which I did well at. But I was kind of a loner--loved to
be outdoors by myself, hiking, just enjoying being outside. I'd visited Colorado as a teen and had seen climbers--those people are nuts, I thought.
A few short years later, trying to find some other friends to backpack with, I went to a class "backpacking and mountaineering". . . wasn't much about
backpacking, but it got me started -- and though it was kind of a slow,
rocky start, it just kept going, and still does.
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
May 1, 2013 - 05:11pm PT
Bump for another cool Roy thread!
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