Thursday, August 18, 2016

Three Things Thursday. Issue #18

Topping out the Exum Ridge's "Golden Staircase" pitch just before sunrise. August 16, 2016. 

  • First, a follow up to my last, curmudgeonly blog post. I'm doing ok. I'm doing more than ok. Thorough acceptance of certain ugly truths is the ultimate in catharsis. Mountains are dangerous and hard. That is all. I'm not quitting, I'm not "toning it back". I am sharpening and tempering and examining, but the danger and difficulty is an inherent part of the draw. It isn't noble to be drawn to dangerous things, but it is ultimately human. And humanity isn't all noble. In talking with others about the thoughts I shared, and in examining my own motives and responses, it seems that there are two polarized viewpoints; some go to the mountains despite the dangers and work to minimize their exposure to said hazards, while others go to the mountains because of the dangers and work to minimize their exposure to said hazards. Notably, the end result is exactly the same. Because you may see my fascination with the risks as morbid doesn't mean that my approach is any less diligent than yours. As long as we are both letting our perspective sharpen our attention, the product is the same. 
  • Next, let's climb this fall! I'm mapping out my autumn and early winter. I will travel a great deal, and book up the remainder of 2016 in the next few weeks. With ever decreasing availability, this is a rough outline of the options for climbing with me (as always, bookings are made through a patchwork of partners, depending on timing and permits):
    • Bugaboos, BC. September 11-16 or so. 
    • Teton Day Tripping, WY. September 12-30.
    • Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO. First two weeks of October. 
    • Boulder, CO. October.
    • Red Rock, Vegas. October 19-23 and/or November 2-6.
    • Moab Area. Indian Creek, Castleton Tower, Etc. Mid October to early November. 
    • El Potrero Chico, Mexico. November or December
    • Silverton Ice. December.
    • Banff Ice. December
  • Lastly, this is throwing back to earlier in July. I was part of a bunch of Exum groups to summit the Grand Teton all together. In one of the Exum groups a marriage proposal was imminent. Most of us knew it was coming, warned by the soon to be fiance. The fiancee did not know it was coming. Anyway, this is how it unfolded

Monday, August 8, 2016

Mountaineering's Gritty Side

Peak climbing and alpinism are brutal. There is no way around it. It is strenuous, stressful, and dangerous. The occasional "Instagram-ready" moments aren't worth it. For those seeking the glory or "enlightenment" of accessing high and wild places, the stress and hazard will outweigh the rewards. In short, mountaineering fucking sucks. You will vomit. You will be scared. You will cry. You will stumble and bang. You will get hurt, bruised, and sore. You will dedicate immense periods of time to this ridiculous endeavor. You will hate huge parts of the experience. You will waffle and stress and beat yourself up. You may fail. You may die. Your friends may die. People will die.

Who likes this shit? What is wrong with the degenerate crew that seeks stupid, giant, technical, dangerous mountains? What is wrong with you that you think you might be into such a deviant pursuit? What is wrong with me? Whatever it is that draws and holds alpinists to their obsessive pursuit isn't pretty or healthy. But it is damn human. Whether we admit it or not, we are wired to work hard, face risk, and suffer. Some portion of the population is better at managing these darker desires, and those avoid alpine climbing. Others can't quite scratch that itch without getting real in the hills. For those, there's a community and landscape in the world's mountainous regions for you. You are not alone.

Screw the scenery. Most of many days is spent in the dark, inside your own head. Grant Teton. 4/2016.

Or in a tent. With dirty socks. And surly companions. And your own claustrophobic self-loathing. Mount Saint Elias. 6/2016. 

Much is made of the sunnier, brighter side of mountain pursuits. That is not "my bag" today and here. For a variety of reasons, I'm dwelling on the darkness. The ugly side. If there is yin and yang to everything, mountaineering is often represented by only the pretty stuff.  And it isn't pretty. There's the blisters and the failure and the deceased. That all sucks. There's also the ugly truth between one's ears. Boil it down, I dare you. Dig deep into your motivations. You'll have to admit, however reluctantly, that you get off on the hazard and the grit. And then, come up out of that pit you dug. What's left now? Confusion, probably even some shame. Ugliness on top of ugliness. Why the fuck are you ashamed of seeking risk? We're wired that way. Poets, artists, musicians are lauded for their expression of the deep and dark. Alpinists are there, playing and expressing in that dark pit, with front point photos and summit successes to distract themselves and everyone else.

Sometimes you get to get out of said tent. To dig the wind-blown snow off. Chugach. 5/2016. 

Before you even get on the mountain, you have to walk in dreary weather being pressed down by a giant parasite. Wrangells. 6/2016. 
Heck yeah I'm mad. I climb mountains. "Angry climber" is redundant. "Repressed angry climber in denial" is a ubiquitous reality. Alpinism is an angriness positive feedback loop. We go to the hills because we're mad, and they just piss us off more. The dark side of the human condition seeks challenge and grit and danger. The inherent difficulties and hazard of mountains shut us down and spit in our faces. It is an outlet, reservoir, and inlet of pain and suffering.

You are trying to climb a giant route on a giant mountain. You take a rock to the shin. You want to just "Harden the Fuck Up". But that gash to the bone demands attention. Mount Moran. 7/2016

Does this guy look "stoked"? No. Fuck you. Grand Teton. 7/2016

Even when it's awesome, and you are enjoying the sunset and eating a meal you prepared with your wife the night before and you're leading one of the best guiding teams on the planet, it can suck. Gary here died 14 hours later, falling off the Grand Teton. 7/2016