I really wonder why people do this climbing thing


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Social climber
Feb 6, 2013 - 01:51pm PT
I didn't get the title right away...
Credit: Crodog

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Feb 6, 2013 - 02:10pm PT
This is why....

Credit: survival

Also this....

Credit: survival

Trad climber
4 Corners Area
Feb 6, 2013 - 03:38pm PT
John Hansen,

You use to climb, but you were never a climber.

You don't seem to understand that climbing is only as dangerous as you make it. I would hope that those who climb while being ignorant of the risks they are taking are in the minority. Not all climbing is equally risky. You must have climbed enough to realize this.
Real climbers choose the amount of risk they take, and choose it willingly. Is this not one of the ultimate expressions of freedom?
But freedom comes with responsibility. You had better know what you are doing. Ignorance and hubris equal death, but neither is a requirement for pursuing climbing.
You can't just paint us all with the same brush like that. Very shallow.
BTW, I've been climbing for 32 years and I have no desire to quit now.

Trad climber
Feb 6, 2013 - 04:00pm PT
H_ll I don't know why I climb.
After more the thirty years, my hands don't work worth a da_n, the rest of my body is only in a little less pain.
But I wake up each day & think about the Mountains, or bouldering & off I go knowing that the next day my hands will barely open, I will have to put them in hot water just to hold a cup of coffee.
I won't get a good night sleep cause my right shoulder will send shape pains through my whole body if I roll over on it & I will.

If I don't go I get irritable. A few years ago I stopped climbing because my hands were in bad shape & I could do my job or climb. The job had to go. Sold the business.

I no longer care about the ratings -- I just climb.

Trad climber
4 Corners Area
Feb 6, 2013 - 04:04pm PT

At this point climbing will do more to keep arthritis at bay, than to make it worse. Keep moving, that's the secret.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Feb 6, 2013 - 04:42pm PT
I climb because it makes people think I'm a badass risk-taker when in reality it's not that dangerous.

I like that explanation, Dave!

In John Hansen's defense, though, I've often wondered how we justify climbing in the face of deadly accidents, too. A little over a week ago, sending condolences about another climbing death got me to thinking about it. If no one died climbing, and no one was at risk of serious injury, would the sport be the same?

This got me to wondering whether I found, in some way, the possibility of tragedy to be an essential part of my personal climbing game. If so, how can I justify the existence of a mere game that requires the death of even one of its participants?

Ultimately, it comes down, to me, to relative probabilities. I think, at my age, I'm more likely to die of a heart attack on a climb than a fall on one. If anything, my climbing provides an incentive to maintain overall fitness, which enhances the likelihood of living a healthy life longer. I know of no other activity that motivates me like that, so the marginal risk of injury in doing another climb is, for me, less than the marginal risk of poor health in quitting climbing.

I think Jan's post was excellent on a number of points, but I'd like to focus on the effect of others on personal risk management. When I got married, 30 years ago, I stopped free soloing technical routes. Even though I always felt safe, I didn't feel it was fair to my wife to continue to take that particular risk. While my daughters were financially dependent on my earnings -- and my presence -- I did lots of things more carefully than I would if I were unattached. I think that's merely a manifestation of love. Of course, I also taught them how to climb, which shows the side of the risk calculation on which I conclude.


Trad climber
AKA Dwain, from Apple Valley, Ca. and Vegas!
Feb 6, 2013 - 05:04pm PT
I can attest to that Reeotch! My body hurts all the time from injuries
and I hurt worse if I don't get out and exercise

Everyone also should stop Driving. Way more dangerous I think.
Not only do you have to watch out for your own stupidity behind the wheel,
you gotta watch out for all the other stupid drivers.
The roads are way more crowded with stupid people than the cliffs are.

If you are questioning the reasons and safety of climbing,John,
it's probably good that you don't climb anymore. You could be a danger to
yourself and partner due to insecurity.

Feb 6, 2013 - 05:10pm PT
There are a million ways to be a human being and they are ALL worth while.

Death isn't the end my friend....
Jebus H Bomz

Reno, Nuh VAAAA duh
Feb 6, 2013 - 05:13pm PT
Simple. It's good to feel superior to someone, even though you'll never be the king.

Good enough. When I was into running I'd feel hot sh#t over having done a 20-effin-mile run on Sunday instead of sitting on my ass. As I get to the heart of my passions though, I realize that the simple joy of expressing my being through movement is greater than any of the numbers attached. Of which realization, of course, I now feel even more smugly and subtly superior.

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Feb 6, 2013 - 05:41pm PT
Sorry I posted at all. F*#K!

Like I said, I wasn't after you in any way. I just found the ping pong thing a little unbelievable.

And no, I don't care enough to go research it some more. And I totally understand if you don't either!

Climbing is way better!!

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Feb 6, 2013 - 06:20pm PT
If no one died climbing, and no one was at risk of serious injury, would the sport be the same?

I think that for trad climbing the answer is no. Risk, or perhaps I should say the confrontation and management of risk, is an intrinsic part of trad climbing. I don't think this point is arguable, in fact I think it is one of trad climbing's defining characteristics. Anyone who doubts this will have to find an explanation for the endless passionate debates about the effect of adding bolts to run-out traditionally protected climbs. The folks who add the bolts say, correctly, that they are reducing the risks. Those arguing the other side say the bolts destroy the challenges of the the climb and make it something less than it had been. In brief, less risk = diminished climb.

Of course every climber, at every stage of their career, has a broad range of options about how much risk they want to confront. Some, at least some of the time, crave a lot more than others, and nature, at least nature unmodified by the drill, is happy to oblige.

I'm not saying that trad climbers climb in order to take risks. There is no shortage of ways to take risks and climbing is far too much work if all you want to do is roll the dice with your life. I think the attraction of climbing is fundamentally biological, and that makes it unique among voluntary human pursuits. As I've written on some other thread, just hang out in one of the parking turnouts on the Needles Highway in South Dakota and watch what happens when a car with kids stops for a look at the scenery. Before the parents are even out of the car, the kids have all rushed to the nearest formation and are trying to climb it. No one had to tell them about climbing, they know what it is and they want to do it.

You can be sure that if you scattered a bunch of tennis rackets and some balls and nets around, the kids wouldn't be grabbing the rackets and trying to volley the tennis balls. No matter how ultimately compelling, tennis is an entirely artificial invention; climbing is on the other hand in the human genes. If anything, we should be surprised that more people aren't drawn to it.

Further evidence for the human climbing imperative comes from our language, which is rife with climbing analogies for describing achievement and success. We speak of climbing the corporate ladder, the pinnacle or height of achievement, reaching for the stars, upward mobility, and so on. Mythology and religion ensconce the gods, whether malevolent or benign, on mountain-tops, and seekers make pilgrimages to high places to encounter the sacred and the divine.

So really, is there all that much to wonder at? It is perhaps more interesting to wonder how such a primordial urge is educated or socialized out of so many people.

But there is a missing connection between the two aspects I just described. The kids in the Needles turnout are drawn upwards by the human instinct to ascend, but they are not interested in taking risks, are usually unaware of the risks inherent in the activity, and are typically overwhelmed with fear when they suddenly realize they have gotten a bit too high and don't know how to get down. I've had to "rescue" a few, as have many other climbers in similar situations.

Before the advent of the motorized drill, I'd say that risk came along with the territory, and if, as you grew up, you managed to hold on to that climbing imperative, then you understood that nature imposed certain hazards and that you would have to learn how to deal with them. This was the implicit contract in the "freedom of the hills" concept.

Then came, I think, a new aspect: the ability to perform in the face of those risks, the ability to deploy both skill and equipment in the neutralizing of those hazards, provided its own sense of fulfillment, and as climbers learned to develop the necessary emotional and technical control mechanisms for performing safely in a dangerous environment, they came to respect and value the ability of others to do so at a high level of achievement, and they incorporated performance in the face of danger into their views of what was fulfilling and worthy of respect.

And so we got mountaineering and then trad climbing. Sport climbing upended the situation by (frequently if not universally) filtering most (but not all) of the risk out from the activity of ascending, and so it is that the majority of climbing deaths occur in an alpine or trad environment.

Even if we appreciate and even embrace the role of danger in the activity, we can nonetheless be saddened and horrified at the deaths that result. I've lost two dear friends, a number of acquaintances, and know of many more. I've been on rescues of desperately injured climbers and have recovered the bodies of others. I don't share the illusions of some who claim to have made adjustments that render them completely safe. I introduced my daughter to climbing, but unlike many posters here, I breathed a long and heartfelt sigh of relief when she found something else, music, to be a far more compelling pursuit.

Although it hasn't been my path, I think I understand how you climb, give it up, and then wonder how anyone can bear to do it. I would never accuse John of not being a climber because he now wonders why people do it. He has arrived at the other side of an arc of experience that not all of us follow, but his moments in climbing were like our moments in climbing and his pleasure and fulfillments are ours as well.


Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Feb 6, 2013 - 06:41pm PT
Of course, but that isn't my point, which is that the risk of that happening is intrinsic to trad climbing and not to sport climbing. And it is a mistake to think the distinction is between gear and bolts. The climber who starts up an unknown face with a drill in his back pocket, not knowing when and whether he or she will be able use that drill, is engaging in a form of trad climbing as demanding as any.

By the way, I'm not trying to argue some kind of "superiority" for one or the other.

Trad climber
June Lake, California....via the Damascus Road
Feb 6, 2013 - 07:00pm PT

"Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end."

Edward Whymper

Trad climber
Feb 6, 2013 - 07:14pm PT
I started thinking about people I had climbed with over the years, who got killed in the mountains; Charlie Fowler, Alex MacIntyre, Kevin Bein, Tom Hurley(UK), and Al Rouse (UK).

I'll keep doing it while I still can.

As Jimmy Dunn told me, "it's better than a god damn nursing home!"

Trad climber
Las Vegas, NV.
Feb 6, 2013 - 07:14pm PT
rgold, great post. Nice to see you posting in the thread, been a while since I've seen you write - have missed your other posts here I guess. Enjoyed the read.

Trad climber
Western America
Feb 6, 2013 - 07:17pm PT
Thats an easy one to answer

because ordinary views become a glimpse of heaven on earth when your all jacked up on fear of falling, maximum heart rate, and oxygen starvation.


Trad climber
Feb 6, 2013 - 07:26pm PT
Lots of good food for thought, here. Thanks to everyone for contributing such a broad range of perspectives and approaches to the question.


Trad climber
lost, far away from Poland
Feb 6, 2013 - 08:23pm PT
I think this is pretty funny:

Climbing is like nothing else. Thousands of men and women have heroically explored frontiers literal and metaphorical while pushing themselves high on cliff faces and into remote mountain ranges, sometimes with uncertain odds of success and survival. Countless of essays have been poetically written about it, idolizing the mountains, climbers and climbs, and creating a mythology around the sport.

But some things about it are kind of dumb. Like, for example, when everyone wore Lycra to do it. And some other stuff:

1. The Fit of Shoes
Have you ever listened to a climbing shoe salesperson try to describe to a first-time climbing shoe buyer how shoes should fit? They might as well be trying to explain an eggplant parmigiana recipe to a space alien. “So, you want them to be tight, but not uncomfortable, and your toes should be bent, but not curled, and there should be no room in the end of the shoe, but enough room that blood can still circulate, but barely, in your toes. The rear part of the upper of this shoe is leather, and that will stretch one-fourth to one-half size with use, but the front is a synthetic material and sticky rubber, and that won’t stretch at all. How do those feel? Do they hurt when you walk in them? That’s great.”

2. The American Difficulty Rating System
So, rock climbs are rated from 5.1 to 5.15c, and the higher the number following the decimal point, the more difficult the climb is, and after 5.10, we start using letters to denote the next levels of difficulty, i.e., 5.11a is harder than 5.10d, and so forth, unless you’re climbing without a rope, which is called bouldering, and that’s a scale from V0 to V16, which roughly equates to the 5.1-5.15c system, except it’s way harder — V0 is roughly equivalent to 5.9 climbing, and V5 is approximately 5.12, etc., and then ice is rated on two different scales, WI (which means “water ice”) and AI (which means “alpine ice”), except if there’s rock on the ice climbing route, in which case a “mixed” rating is added to the end, like M4, M5, and so on. Got it? You know what, just forget it.

3. Uphill Walking
Fact: To get to most climbing areas (besides a few things in Joshua Tree and a couple other places), climbers have to walk uphill, which is a strenuous, often sweaty, activity. Climbers will shoulder heavy packs full of ropes and gear and spend hours, even days, to get somewhere promising. Wait, you say there’s six pitches of marginally exciting rock climbing and it’s only seven miles and 2,500 vertical feet away from the trailhead? Where do I sign up?

4. People Don’t Get It
People who don’t climb understand the process of moving upward on rock. The gear, how you get the rope up there, not so much. Try to tell someone that you spent your weekend trying to send your project, which in layperson’s terms is, “Well, I tie a rope to my harness, take my shirt off, cover my hands in chalk and try to climb up 65 feet of overhanging rock, where there’s a set of chains…” — and they start to glaze over. I mean, come on, it’s easily no more ridiculous than, say, golf, or cricket, right?

5. Ice Climbing
When a block of ice the size of a toaster falls and smashes your kneecaps on its way to the ground, and you caused it because you’re hacking at a frozen waterfall with ice picks and crampons, and you grit your teeth and deal with the pain, and you finish the pitch and find that you have the painful “screaming barfies” (the phenomenon in which your fingers fill with searing pain for several minutes as they warm back up from being numb and held high above your head hanging onto ice tools, and you become nauseous), and you’re freezing through several layers of clothes and dodging chunks of ice that fall from above, and on Monday people ask you if you had a nice weekend and you say “Yes, it was nice — I went ice climbing,” well, you know. It’s a little hard to rationalize, isn’t it?

6. Using A Toothbrush To Clean Off Rocks So You Can Climb Them
One of those things that makes sense when you’re doing it, but in the broad scheme of things, seems a little … dumb. And by “dumb,” I mean, like, making artificial snow to ski on in drought-prone areas, stripping your bike down to one gear, hiking out to the middle of nowhere and risking getting eaten by a bear in the name of finding meaning. You know, stuff like that.

7. Free Soloing
Thousands of words have been typed on the internet endorsing and condemning free soloing. As a sometime practitioner, I can attest that free soloing is exciting and totally worth the experience when you don’t fall and die. When you fall while free soloing and die, you’re not on earth anymore and people miss you. And probably nobody thinks that last free solo was a good idea.


Trad climber
Feb 6, 2013 - 08:40pm PT
I really like that Jimmy Dunn quote. That is friggin' hilarious. My favorite climbing quote is Alex Lowe saying the best climber in the world is the one having the most fun. I used to tell my clients that guidng.

I have had numerous moments when I doubted climbing as a good thing in my life. All in all though, I keep coming back and now my life is pretty much based on it everyday. I kind of have a "Well, I have nothing better to do," sorta attitude. Seriously, if I wasn't climbing, I'd probably be bombing sh#t with ELO or god knows where.

If I fall and eat it, on a rope or not, at least it was a blast getting there. Every trad climber has been in that situation where it could have been game over with one lapse in concentration and everyone keeps coming back. So ya, sh#t is bound to happen to someone at some point. Obviously we wish things didn't happen but isn't that what keeps us coming back? The thrill that "oh sh#t I'm fuked," moment followed by the euphoria of getting past that.

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Feb 6, 2013 - 08:49pm PT

Further evidence for the human climbing imperative comes from our language, which is rife with climbing analogies for describing achievement and success. We speak of climbing the corporate ladder, the pinnacle or height of achievement, reaching for the stars, upward mobility, and so on. Mythology and religion ensconce the gods, whether malevolent or benign, on mountain-tops, and seekers make pilgrimages to high places to encounter the sacred and the divine.

Very nicely said rgold. Fvckin' awesome in fact!
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