Rewind: A Life Without Climbing?


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right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 29, 2013 - 10:17pm PT
Thanks for humoring me everyone!
So much good stuff in here and a somewhat busy homework assignment to boot up for. Ha ha.

Why didn't I just say: "dude, what's your back story?". It's the antecedents to climbing that I was looking for and that are coming out so well here.

Donini is correct: what you didn't do is pure conjecture. Using the phrase life without climbing was used more as a hook than anything, but it serves to get the juices of reflection going because it's a subtractive tactic, to see what's underneath.

After carefully reading these, the first nugget I'm gleaning here is that nobody sits down with a beer in high school and thinks to themselves: man I really need to get me some risk and adrenaline happenin' for my bad self ... Where should I turn? We are simply drawn to activities.

Micronut nailed that one:
but its what's around the next bend in life that fascinates me most.

We are all highly curious cats, drawn to places in life that for reasons perhaps not yet so well understood, compell us outward, beyond where we stand.

Trad climber
Bolinas, CA
Jan 29, 2013 - 11:06pm PT
Wow Tar, What a great thought provoking thread. And on topic! Parallel lives.......We were so lucky when younger. We actually had a motorcycle shop in middle school! Rode cycles around the school field instead of baseball. Probably the first and last of it's type. And the first ever GP motocross race was held in Marin at China Camp.
Dick Mann ciraca 1971  Photo: Dave Duffin
Dick Mann ciraca 1971 Photo: Dave Duffin
Credit: wstmrnclmr
That's me lower left holding the helmet about '70 or 71' and that's Dick "Bugsy" Mann who just won the AMA championship. He came out and flat tracked the ball field for us.

Your line about motocross being dangerous and getting in the way of climbing so true although they both are very individualistic sports. But interesting how many here share cycling in our pasts.

I started climbing later (31) and found climbing to be the only thing that could make me focus so intensely and take me as close to meditation as I'll ever come. And that reason still keeps going now. But you are right in that perspectives change due to physical and life changes. The favorite book you read in your youth maybe a completely different read later in life. But that focus is what keeps me climbing. It used to be about goals and numbers but now it's about the experience. And none of us has more or less fun or adventure then anyone else. It really has become relative. So that singular reason for climbing is still much the same as when I started.
Surfing was and still is the parallel to climbing and is also an individual pursuit. I think most who come to climbing are very unique characters for the most part but still, somehow find their people.
Someone on another thread said that the generation before mine thought of athletic pursuit as having a short shelf life and thought that in the case of climbing, you were done by the time you were thirty and you moved on to more serious life pursuits. That perception seems to have changed dramatically and many of us feel that we can climb, at whatever level until old age. Maybe we look at what climbing, as a pursuit means to us differently? But certainly age brings us pause to look back with perspective as you have done Tar. Thanks for a great thread. It's why I come back.

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 29, 2013 - 11:27pm PT
wstrmrnclmr: I was just reading about Dick Mann the other day. He and some of those other 60s & 70s guys still ride and race from what I've understood.

Sports car racing guys: I'd like to know what years you were involved. Again I was just a spectating kid, my old man was a turn worker. I got to see the 1971 'n 1972 Can Am Series: Dennis Hulme in the McLaren, Jackie Stewart in the Lola T260. Followed by the Penske/Donohue Porsche 917 10K 30 dominance which essentially ended it. The Shadows were cool, but didn't get it sorted out in time. Big bore racing like that hasn't been seen since, except perhaps Group B rallying in the mid-80s? Other names of less heralded but keen campaigners come to mind, Milt Mintner, Lothar Motschenbacher, Scooter Patrick, Dennis Hobbs & many more. My father liked to call the guys who could really get it on Doers.

Jan 29, 2013 - 11:30pm PT
october 1990: got chucked out of the back of a pickup truck that was trying to evade a police car. dislocated pelvis, shattered wrist, yada yada. had a month in traction to re-consider the kind of people i was hanging out with. had a dream about snowboarding in powder so i got a board and clipped tickets at mt. baldy (mt. san antonio). quit hanging out with shitbags and thugs. snowboarder friend was a climber and i prayed he would never asked me to go because i though that sh#t was bananas. he asked anyway and i had to go because i didn't want to look like a punk. climbed some chossy 5.7 underneath the bridge in victorville. saw a picture of the southwest face of el cap and was hooked. climbed a bunch over the next ten years, never sent anything harder than 11+ but whatever. utility player mostly. then i moved to moab and got a mountain bike. solo rides with the pooch started to appeal to me more than digging for partners to go flounder up the sandstone. legs got strong, arms got weak. then i had an accident last september that took me out of the game for a while. tendons, nerves and my ulnar artery. the hard sends are behind me. i'll probably never climb 5.12 but i have my eye on some chossy easy towers and domes with a summit brewski clanking around in my pack. i do want to send standing rock so i'm going to have to get it together at some point. but i'm definitely riding my dirtbike out there for that. and that's where we're at, a climbing career thusfar bookended by serious injury to my left wrist. tommy caldwell is trying to send the hardest route ever with half an index finger so i guess i have no excuse.

see you at the crags.

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Jan 29, 2013 - 11:36pm PT
Good reads up in here!

Thanks for starting a proper thread tarbuster!

Mountain climber
honeoye falls,ny.greeneck alleghenys
Jan 29, 2013 - 11:47pm PT
utility player mostly
if that does not sum up just about everything in my life so far ,i dont know what would.sorry for my mediocrity,hockey,surfing,bouldering ,lifelong cyclist,bc skiing,kayaking and climbing and mountianeering.

i just hope it does not stop

however you arrive,lets hope it was a hell of a ride,great thread,some real inspiring reads.cheers wilbeer

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 29, 2013 - 11:47pm PT
Thanks Jefe! Glad to be of service.

willbeer: brevity works!

T Hocking: thanks for that wonderful pictorial spread from your father!

Illustrative to say the least:
My parents had told me that when I was a toddler they would often find me
climbing or on the top of furniture or cabinets around the house. They had a tall dresser/armoire that I would climb using the drawer handles for holds, I'd get to the top and just sit up there until they got me down.


Trad climber
Jan 30, 2013 - 12:10am PT
Alpine ski racing that led to bordem of organized racing. The goal became to climb steep backcountry lines and ski them. After scaring myself on the climb portion a number of times, I figured it was time to fall in with some true climbers and learn rope skills. College in Boulder and the realization that I was going to kill myself skiing increasingly steeper and more dangerous lines led me to the relative security of the rock :-)

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jan 30, 2013 - 12:10am PT
thanks for the best concise topic on this forum, except perhaps for the too open-ended "A life with Climbing" thread (sorry if that was said up-thread, I didn't read it all).

()= over-share alert
For me it's just so difficult to imagine. I don't climb enough now; but I do some, and climber is still how I think of myself. I think back to high school (1968) and my mom was dying and I needed something. I hope it wasn't a choice between life and death, but it kind of still feels that way.

Mike Friedrichs

Sport climber
City of Salt
Jan 30, 2013 - 07:45pm PT

Really interesting, and pertinent question. I had to have enough time to give it a proper response.

Do you think it was inevitable you'd find something else sort of risky to sharpen your teeth on?

Were you already doing some parallel physical activity, perhaps similar in terms of passion and risk prior to becoming a climber and would you still be doing it instead?

I'm not sure I ever jumped into climbing because I was attracted to risk. I very well may have been attracted to risk but it wasn't conscious. Unlike most of the posters here I wasn't very athletic, I wasn't very strong, and I wasn't particularly good at physical activity. I played violin in the orchestra. PE ruined my GPA. I often ran stairs other than participate in team sports during class. I was on the swim team but I wasn't very good.

What I found when I went climbing was something that I was, or at least could be, good at. It was a big deal. It had a huge effect on my self esteem. I think it changed my life in that it gave me confidence in my career, socially, all those non-climbing things. I was also attracted to the colorful cast of eccentric characters that seemed to populate the sport in those time. Some of those are still great friends. I'm not sure there really was another sport that could have fulfilled me in those ways.

What would that alternate activity to climbing be in your case?

Possibly back-country skiing since most of us do that anyway. Mountain biking? Hard to know.

Has that pursuit evolved to your dis-taste, or diverged from the values which climbing has inculcated within you since you left your earlier path?

This is perhaps the most interesting aspect to this research to me. I think there are negatives, although probably not in the sense many do. I never thought that gear, protection, styles and ethics would remain constant. I'm mostly a sport climber myself these days and love clipping bolts on steep rock. Seems a natural progression.

What concerns me is my reliance on climbing. It is integral to my validation, my happiness, my social life. I'm not sure I like being dependent on something like this as a single source of contentment. What happens if I have an injury that I can't recover from? What happens when I get older and can't crank hard anymore? I'm seriously worried about that.

Climbing has for me been about goals. It doesn't even matter what they are, so much, whether it is a wall on El Cap or the green route in the gym. Those goals, that sense of purpose, seem hard to find a suitable substitute for. For me, it's all about the process of working on those goals, much more so even than the outcome. What would life be like without those little projects to aspire to?


Social climber
flagstaff arizona
Jan 30, 2013 - 07:50pm PT
Wow Roy, good one! I'm gonna have to think on this, because it pretty hard for me to rembember much about before climbing...but I ca say I was headed in that direction by 4th or 5th grade...

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Jan 30, 2013 - 08:33pm PT
Seems like I may be a little atypical, but I was totally a jock my whole life. First football/baseball/basketball, then swimming and water polo, and then rock climbing. Well, actually the last two overlapped. When I'm really being honest with myself, I have to admit that I was only a decent football player (receiver), mediocre baseball player, and an average white guy with below-average jumping ability as a basketball player. If it wasn't for climbing, particularly in light of the athletic success of my (4) older brothers in all of the non-climbing sports, sheesh, for all I know I would have committed suicide. There was a particular moment in my baseball "career"...I think I was a freshman in high school. Anyhow, in left field I ran up (that is, towards home plate)on a fly ball that soared over my head (that is 180 degrees away from home plate). I'm sure if I met any of my former team mates, they could and would hold this over me (damn them!)

So what was the question? Oh yeah...I would be some pathetic weekend warrior pondering the fact that I was the 5th-most talented brother in my family in my pathetic little other sport of choice.

Social climber
Toshi's Station, picking up power converters.
Jan 30, 2013 - 08:55pm PT
I've always been doing alot of stuff outdoors as well as individual sports or dance. Gymnastics, artistic skating for years, dance, cheerleading (yes, seriously). I started snowboarding but never liked hard lines, more of the big sweeping turns and I like to xc ski. I did some kayaking, but again, nothing extreme. and then..


I blew off my engineering degree and haven't looked back. I'm cool with how things turned out, despite the many ups and downs. I wouldn't be the person I am today :)


right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 30, 2013 - 09:13pm PT
Mike Friedrichs answered one of the questions:
question: "Has that pursuit evolved to your dis-taste, or diverged from the values which climbing has inculcated within you since you left your earlier path?"

Answer: This is perhaps the most interesting aspect to this research to me. I think there are negatives, although probably not in the sense many do. I never thought that gear, protection, styles and ethics would remain constant. I'm mostly a sport climber myself these days and love clipping bolts on steep rock. Seems a natural progression.

I know you are a reader Mike so this tells me I didn't pose the question so clearly:

What I'm looking for is a comparison with climbing to your previous passions. And I'm asking if your morals, ethics, worldview and that kind of stuff have changed because of your climbing having taken you to a different place than you were.

For instance: I was into motorsports, they may not be the most ecologically sound pursuits, while conversely, climbing trends in a direction of ecological conscience. So would I now look on motorsports through a different lens, perhaps even negatively. Well, with me particularly the answer is no. But someone else might say: "I saw the light and gave up all of that nasty polluting ripping around in cars and on motorcycles, tearing up the desert and so forth".

Or the flipside might be: "I was a bike racer and that got fouled up by doping so I'm glad to be out of it and glad I didn't stay with it. Climbing is 'cleaner'".

Jan 31, 2013 - 12:53am PT
It's simple. A life without creativity or discovery would be dreary. Climbing is only one aspect, transitory for most at that.

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 31, 2013 - 12:56am PT
I had to know this list of questions was a bit lengthy and potentially convoluted.
I'm really psyched to read what people have done with it!

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 31, 2013 - 12:56am PT
Question:Where the hell are we?


Geographically: Northern Hemisphere
Socially: on the margins
Narratively: with some way to go!

 From: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Jan 31, 2013 - 08:21am PT
Imagine you'd never been introduced to climbing: big fork in the road type hypothetical thought experiment.
This is a direct query about our innate drives and how we find an outlet for them and what other kinds of things might have met that need for self-expression.

At the risk of hyperbole, I believe you have posed a beautiful call to introspection. The beauty is, I believe, in recognizing from the outset the confounding dilemma of gene-environment correlations, and forcing us to wrestle with that correlation in our own lives. Thus far, I have found the challenge too great to finish formulating my personal reply (I keep going back and re-writing my history, and struggling to see it in a coherent path, for better or worse), but the alternative life-trajectory hypotheses (and evaluations relative to contemporary state of pre-climbing pursuits/passions) of those of you who have tackled this head on are fabulous.

In a further effort to delay posting my story, and yet feel I have managed a contribution to the thread (small as it may be), I'll add a story of a field grappling with the issue that makes Tarbuster's clever question(s) so elegant.

In 1983, the Yale developmental psychologist Sandra Scarr and her then graduate student Kathleen McCartney (recently announced as the incoming president of Smith College) published a theoretical slap on the wrist to the field of psychology (and all disciplines tempted to understand human development and behavior simply through observation of person in context). The point of the paper: genes and environments are correlated, in a developmentally progressive manner.

In a nutshell, here is the progression:

First, genes and environments are correlated in a passive manner. The correlation is considered passive because the child has no choice in the matter: both the genes and the environment are provided to the child. For example, parents who are athletically gifted pass along both the genetic material related to that giftedness and, usually, provide an environment correlated with that giftedness (e.g., sports are emphasized in the home).

Second, genes and environments are correlated in an evocative manner. Beginning early in life, children evoke from their environments responses that are correlated with their genes. Imagine, for example, an elementary school field trip is taken to the mountains for a nature hike: when the naturally gifted climber/scrambler takes off ahead of her classmates, jumping from rock to rock and scampering up talus and choss, her teacher might exclaim: "Suzzie, you little mountain goat, you! Hey, everyone look where Suzzie is, up on that boulder!" Which, in turn, likely reinforces for Suzzie a continued engagement in the activities for which she was genetically predisposed.

Third, genes and environments are correlated in an active manner, because we niche pick in a fashion that is correlated with our genes. Suzzie, for example, when choosing between colleges very well may think about matters other than academics such as: "How far is school x from world-class climbing?"

If of no other use, this rambling underscores the beauty of the original question(s): it took me multiple paragraphs to explain the crux of a question that Tarbuster sets up in a couple sentences and a few bullet points on chance, choice, and innate drives. Parsimony = elegance.

Now, back to introspecting...

[But not before saying: I hope my effusive praise is not mistaken for anything other than genuine delight that you are back around these parts, Roy. Like the hero come to save the damsel in distress, just in the nick of time. (uggh, speaking of evoking: ST as a fair maiden, huh?)]

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 31, 2013 - 06:24pm PT
Nice, furthering and deepening the discussion is worth more than any praise! Great job.

And remember the question which elicited the fewest responses:

Has that [pre-climbing]pursuit evolved to your dis-taste, or diverged from the values which climbing has inculcated within you since you left your earlier path?

To paraphrase: do you see your starting point differently now?

Cowpoke: following your deconstruction of my study and looking into the extra stuff that you brought with, namely the nature/nurture collusion as the antecedent, I would hazard to guess that none of us really broached that orphaned question (controlling for it just being poorly written of course) because we don't typically encounter much friction or cognitive dissonance with our past passions. Climbing is an outgrowth of those earlier pursuits. Those earlier pursuits were the incubator!

As with bronze baby booties, or our "eggshells" ... We have little other than fondness for them!

Trad climber
Feb 2, 2013 - 09:03pm PT
I happened upon this by skywalker:

...but I'm NOT a climber!...

However the theme in my life has been one of "alternative" recreation, so I think I'd be O.K. without climbing but will always be a weirdo.

...and then went back to the beginning and read everything, my eyes practically popping out of my head by the time I finished reading cowpoke's post on genetics & environment.

All this being said, I don't think I'm in a place to comment on climbing from the perspective of it being a fork in the road, having only very recently ever even entertained the thought. Lest you think I'm going nowhere with this, and to prevent your eyes from rolling back in your head in boredom over a n00b's ramblings, I'll try* to address the questions.

I grew up believing that I had no athletic ability, that I was too big/cumbersome, that I was lazy and at best, a bookworm. I didn't discover this side of myself (except for having been on skis since I was 4) until my 20s, and only later then that I'm mad about adrenaline.

A word about being "A" anything (see skywalker's quote above): This struck a chord with me because I've always resisted calling myself anything, except maybe a skier because I've been on skis for as long as I can remember. I'm not a climber, swimmer, golfer, blader, gymnast, yogi, lawyer...whatever. These are things in which I engage and/or that I train at/am learning to do. I would mostly consider myself an aspiring any-of-those-things -- life is a learning process until the sun goes down and the stars don't appear.

I've always challenged myself with the things I'm least good at. Perhaps because this is where the unknown lies. This particular trait caused a lot of friction in my family growing up, as did my innate stubbornness, which, as my parents will tell you, they tried to quash. The harder they pushed me towards conformity, the more steadfast I became in my belief that there was a conspiracy amongst "normal" people to override and crush individuation, original thought and the very idea that any "known" entity could and should be questioned (if for no other reason than it was a good mental exercise, and who knows, something new might pop out...gasp). As an 18-year-old, the idea of flock-dom scared the sh*t out of me due to its blind uniformity...and very dull prospect of ever involving anything remotely new or interesting, so I decided to take a year off and head to Germany to work as an au-pair. (The school called my parents and asked them to try to talk me out of going abroad because it would have a negative impact on the school's "straight to college" percentage. True story.)

I'm a "weirdo", too, I guess. I've stated elsewhere that when I went to Facelift 2012, it was the first time I ever felt like I fit in anywhere, which in and of itself was a r e a l l y s t r a n g e experience. I'll leave it at that.

I'm not doing a good job of answering questions, I don't think, but I'll just offer that these are the thoughts that the questions evoked, for whatever it's worth.

Twice I've been climbing on rock. Thank you, Ben & Dale and Ed & Anders...for introducing me to the dark side...wicked, tantalizing master that it is. Great BIG grin.

Prior to learning who my birth parents were, I never once entertained the idea. Madness. Horrifying. And totally pointless. Somewhere between early March of last year and some unidentifiable point in time thereafter, I got clipped in to a rope to which I'll be attached until my sun goes down for the last time. I'm not a climber, but am drawn to climb. (Where did my paralyzing fear of heights go, I'd like to know?)

cowpoke highlighted some really interesting concepts and observations, and I'll have read about the research. TFPU, cowpoke.

I don't think that I would have ever wound up climbing had it not been for Don Lauria posting up the Dolt Stories thread. (I tried for months to figure out what a "mountaineer" is before learning in April or so last year that my birth parents were connected through a love of climbing, certain affinity the Dolt had for ( . )( . ), which apparently run in the big and beautiful category in my birth mom's family and, naturally, skipped my genetic lottery. LOL.)

Yet, at the same time, from the limited exposure I've had to actual climbing, voracious reading of stories, articles, books, forum posts, etc., climbing just As far as I can tell, it requires balance, with a desire and willingness to move and play with every possible variation of balance one could intuitively explore...100% presence and complete awareness of all things external and internal (including all 5 (maybe 6) senses), with the ability to absorb and process all of this information in a non-linear fashion...ability to control emotions and be disciplined mentally together with 100% access to unbounded creativity at the same time (and the understanding that these are not inherently opposing forces). There's a certain desire to be continually bombarded with puzzles, dead ends, what ifs, failures...and the knowledge that in one's deepest recesses the strength and will are there to try to overcome any obstacle again, and again, and again, even when reasonable prospects are dim (and to be enlivened by these prospects...and to genuinely desire more).

An idea I've been thinking about for many months now, is whether there is a possible genetic necessity to continually bump up against and exceed previous physical limitations and knowledge of terrain, including regular, all out efforts, for both mental and physical survival. Switching to a no-grain diet and swimming 6 days per week literally saved my life almost 1.5 years ago. Prior to that, I had been virtually house-bound for 5 years (and chronically depressed for 40), without medical explanation. Until I climbed with Ben for the very first time last year, I had never experienced a sport that completely exhausts the body from head to toe and that was simultaneously so mentally stimulating and exhilarating. If I didn't have to work to both dig myself out of the financial hole being sick for 6 years created and provide for my little muppet, I can tell you without hesitation that I would be climbing anything and everything I could find.

While I may have figured out how to get my life back health-wise, I would never have ever known who I AM relative to this world but for Don Lauria and BooDawg, who provided me with the connections to the origins of my life...right here on the Taco. In my heart I will be forever grateful. Thank you Don, BooDawg and CMac, for giving me the gift of climbing and more.


* I tried, I really did.

Edit: Okay, I did a mass edit and will give it a go again another time. I don't enjoy re-reading my garbage at all! ;D
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