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


  1. Dude. I liked you before. You just ramped the hell out of that. 10/10. Also, check this out - should make you feel better.

  2. Jed,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Every time I think of Gary, and Scott, and Matt, all recently fallen in the mountains and rock, it makes me cry and I feel for those they left behind. I know that those we love who do mountain pursuits are doing what they love, but sometimes it makes me think about the risk and what we all are willing push that risk to. Having Arwa too has made me think even more about the risks we take. Thanks for sharing the reality that sometimes this climbing lifestyle can suck. We love you guys and miss you over here in the Sierra. Hope to introduce you to Arwa Jade soon, maybe we can all meet up in the hills or crags soon. I am so sorry about Gary and both Viren and I are thinking of Kate and the boys. All our love.
    Julie Perumal

  3. "Does this guy look "stoked"? No. Fuck you. Grand Teton." Awesome. Gave me the lulz :^}

  4. "Does this guy look "stoked"? No. Fuck you. Grand Teton." Awesome. Gave me the lulz :^}

  5. Great read. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great read. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks for this Jed.
    As someone who is testing the waters of alpinism, I'm curious as to how many experiences I'll have to have before I can determine whether it's for me or not.
    Then again, it may be akin to an alcoholic showing up to an AA meeting to figure out whether or not he has a problem. Quickly, one of the "regulars" points out that non-alcoholic people never find themselves in AA meetings. Just being there is his answer.

  8. Gary was a good guy, a really, really good guy. Sorry for your loss, sorry for the entire community that lost someone of that caliber. I've been struggling with the question "Is it worth it?" and don't know the answer but tragedies like occurred a few weeks ago shine a light on the risks we take to pursue our passions.

    Hope you stay safe out there.

  9. I want to share this to my FB page since this is so me, but I'm afraid my daughters will see it and beg to stop climbing mountains. We do it because we love it. Pain, blood, guts and all since ultimately the joy of reaching a goal that was fought so hard is bliss beyond measure. And heck, we are outside in the mountains, in snow, in a throne of granite nearly touching the sun. Great writing, Jed.

  10. God damn. It's true. Thank-you, man.

  11. The world needs alpinist Jed. They and you are the subtle reminder that the world has some grit left. Anything worth doing is going to be hard. When I look around at how stagnant life has the ability to be I'm reminded of the people and the things that give it value. Mountains and the individuals that choose to explore, share, and learn from them are high on my list. Good shit man.