Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Brotherhood of the Rope

"I am immensely happy, for I have felt the rope between us. We are linked for life. We have approached the stars together and at such heights, the air has a special savor...Together we have known apprehension, uncertainty and fear; but of what importance is all that? For it was only up there that we discovered many things of which we had previously known nothing: a joy that was new to us, happiness that was doubled because it was shared."

I recently read this in Gaston Rebuffat's book Starlight and Storm, which for the most part I found to be a mildly interesting communication of his climbing of the great north faces of the Alps. Where I found the book overwhelmingly good and entirely worth reading was at the very end, as if the seminal knowledge was a reward for people who stuck through entirety of his work describing his climbs.

As I have developed as a climber and also as a guide, my reasons for climbing and my thoughts about climbing ethics have changed. When I first started climbing I was immature, reckless, and stupid. I clipped bolts and took big falls, built scary anchors, tempted fate with the first traditional leads during which my legs quivered while I dropped my nuts when I was only five feet off the ground. There was always the element of adventure and unknown. I would get on climbs and I didn't know if I would make it. I didn't know if I would get hurt, what would hold or was safe. The "apprehension, uncertainty, and fear" brought forth characteristics that have played out in my life to make me a better person, in facing considerable hardship never in everyday life do those hardships approach the difficulties I've felt climbing. One cannot look at work projects with anything but boredom having flirted with death on high.

I have always been attracted to adventure and the outdoors. I would often wander for hours in the woods until a parent had to come looking for me. I always want to go further, to find out what was behind the next bend. I still have this problem when I hike. I simply like exploring but with every corner of the globe categorized, graphed, mapped, and steralized it is difficult to find places not trodden by the masses. Vertical rock has always had enough of the unknown that I could deal with the many hands and feet that came before mine, which is why I am more of a climber than a hiker. As I have grown, though, I feel I have grown onto a distinctly different branch than the vast majority of climbers as well as normal human beings. As I go to almost any crag in the United States I see this proliferation of morally deteriorated climbers. They don't care about the adventure or the exploration, they simply want to climb that hard move, to tick that hard climb, adventure a byproduct that must be eliminated through the use of technology. In order to focus simply on the difficulty, climbs have been bolted into submission.

In his 1972 Catalog Yvon Chouinard emplores climbers to remember the rock and other climbers, employing restraint and good judgment in the use of his products and to climb clean. Early on he describes the moral deterioration: "Armed with ever more advanced gadgetry and techniques the style of technical climbing is gradually becoming so degraded that elements vital to the climbing experience-adventure and appreciation of the mountain environment itself-are being submerged. Siege tactics, bolt ladders, bat hooks, bash chocks, detailed topos and equipment lists, plus a guaranteed rescue diminish rather than enhance a climb. Even now existing techniques and technology are so powerfult that almost any climb imaginable can be realized, and the fear of the unknown reduced to rote excercise." This is extremely common today amongst climbers. They train in the gym and most of them learn in that sterile, plastic environment. This in itself is not so bad in that it gives fledgling climbers a few skills so they don't injure themselves or others. The problem is that the sterile environment does not provide new climbers with any direction or real knowledge for when they do get outside. What we have then are climbers barely interested in adventure or the outdoors.


Anonymous said...

You're going to look back at this piece of writing in a few years and think to yourself, "jeez, what was I thinking? What made me take myself so seriously?"

GB said...

heh, takes a lot of courage to write anonymously, though.

Jeremiah said...

Come on now, I don't take myself that seriously. You should climb with me. You should have climbed river tower with us. It was scary how serious I wasn't taking it.

GB said...

OK, now I am utterly confused. I took River Tower rather seriously. Gulp!